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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Durga Chew-Bose
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Brittany Julious
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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in alex carnevale (158)

Monday
Apr282014

In Which Amanda Knox Remains The Victim In All This

Mindful Malaise

by ALEX CARNEVALE

La Grande Bellezza
dir. Paolo Sorrentino

142 minutes

The central character of The Great Beauty is the rather unfortunate-looking Jep (Toni Servillo). He postulates himself as a journalist of sorts, but he is more a critic of his culture. Since he resides in Rome this is no culture at all: it is a series of sex scenes bookended by lonely walks among ruins.

Rome began to fall for the first serious time in July of 1776. America was born on that day, or didn't you take social studies?

There is a scene in The Great Beauty where Jep, the master indiscriminator, happens upon a woman in a pool. (He has been peering through her fence.) "Aren't there any men who want to just tawk to you?" he growls while she paddles. Naturally, she accepts this peeping tom's invitation to a degrading party that evening. Jep was watching her bathe, what else could she have done?

Like any Roman after the fall, Jep requires no reason to use a woman, it is only a function of his being a Roman that dictates the misogyny. None of these people have ever even had the decency to watch Treme.

Toni Servillo attempts a brusque affability in the role, but he is badly undermanned for the part, appearing to be at most a disturbed creeper obsessed with his own failures, at best a non-murderous Patrick Bateman. He has a terrible habit of never moving his head to look at people, and this is not the only way he has totally abdicated his humanity. Humbert Humbert had like a scary amount of charm compared to this doltish fellow.

After publishing a mournful novelette, Jep acquires a kind of notional cache with some very desperate and pathetic people. Some have family who were complicit in the Fascist takeover of their country. Others are only intelligent enough to believe what they read.

Jep treasures this gross social life because he has not been able to write any fiction in over forty years. This case of writer's block leads him to go around interviewing artists, mostly women, who differ from him mostly because they have something to say and he does not. This disparity in inspiration angers him, so he tells the women that their art isn't very good, or goes off to have unprotected sex when his editor thinks he is reporting.

The party he invites the stripper lounging in the pool to is terribly unfun. The Great Beauty makes a congo line look like a scene in The Human Centipede; the viewer has no choice but to avert her eyes. In the shadow of neon and garbage, Jep and his friends wonder aloud what other countries think of Italy. This is most important to him, as if he were content with a bronze at a beauty pageant.

Rome is a pretty rough city for women, who at the very least are met with constant catcalls. Many of the men are not afraid to approach a woman alone and harass her, touch her body, suggest she put on winter booties when they are out of season, or make her murder someone in an Amanda Knox-esque fashion. It is even worse to be a man in Rome, The Great Beauty argues for like eight hours, because you have to witness all of this and are thus incriminated in the sexist effluvium by proxy.

These decadent events that celebrate the fall involve a great mix of ages. It is implied there is family money at work in these gatherings. The great mass of people at the soiree are constantly peeling back their heads and aiming them skywards. It isn't that the dancers don't enjoy their escapades, but it seems best to check if something more funsies is on the horizon.

There is little mention of God in The Great Beauty, for he is forsaken in the end, and that is why the city of Rome is cursed. In the painful and over-elaborate cinematography of the dying metropolis, Jep trolls for women in the shadows; there by the river! He is a connoisseur of people who he can decide not to be sympathetic towards later on.

"There is no reason anything is beautiful," wrote John Cage, who was beautiful. The Great Beauty attempts to convince us that even something aesthetically appealing on the surface can be disgusting underneath, a lesson most of us learn before third grade. Jep is unable to absolve himself from the decline that surrounds him, and that is the only heartening part about this cynical film. If a man tumbles from the roof of a building, he might very well enjoy his ride down. But coming down so quickly is a bit disorienting. A man could, probably, only fall so far so fast.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Country Life" - Jaki Whitren (mp3)

"Ain't It Funny" - Jaki Whitren (mp3)

Tuesday
Apr152014

In Which Jean Cocteau Gives Elan To This Milieu

The Marvel

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The first thing Jean Marais noticed about Jean Cocteau was that he kept a scarf knotted so tightly around his neck he could barely imagine how blood got to the man's brain. Marais was a mimbo of 24, an aspiring actor. (He was born when Cocteau himself was 24.) A procurer had selected Marais for Cocteau, who hoped to find an unknown star to feature in his adaptation of Oedipus the King.

Marais approached Cocteau for the audition at the man's opium den in the Hotel Castille. Cocteau was unimpressively, disgustingly clad in a bathrobe dotted with cigarette holes and various other fluids. His hands were ghastly pale because he kept his shirtsleeves buttoned so tightly. Marais was not one for detail; furthermore he would take any suitable work. He later wrote, "I felt intimidated, lost, declassed in this milieu given to strange forms of glory."

The only true word was strange.

Cocteau absconded with Marais to his country villa in Martigas: he had many various routines that sated his artistic, sexual and chemical needs, and Marais would be crucial in each sphere. Starring as Galahad in Cocteau's production of The Knights of the Round Table, Marais was just as useful in preparing his lover's opium pipes and allowing the older man to swallow his semen. When Cocteau was too far gone to be wakened by a firm shake, it was Marais' job to blow opium into his lungs to bring him back to life.

The second World War interrupted this idyll. The pair were vacationing in Saint-Tropez at the time. Marais was forced to enlist, and Cocteau abandoned his apartment at Place de la Madeleine.

the author in 1920

It was the unexpected end to a great love story, for Cocteau had written, "It isn't uncommon for a man to become the captive of some zone in his city and to remain imprisoned there for life. Some spells binds him to the forms and fluids that emanate from it. In my case, the temple of the Madeleine forces me to radiate about its columns. From hotel to hotel, flat to flat, I have been stumbling about for years within that geometrical shape which prolongs, like some baleful halo, the bulky, green-gabled church." He was now 50.

Cocteau used his influence to get Marais a relatively safe post as a chaffeur. Having flunked out of that position, he was assigned to a bell tower where his job was to identify incoming German aircraft, which due to his myopia he could not see. He spent most of the time tanning and talking to Cocteau on the phone. Coco Chanel sent Marais various shirts and accessories.

When a squadron of German planes did finally arrive, not even a blind man could mistake it. Now everyone left Paris, and the darkening pall of soot and ash over the city made it impossible to see more than a car's length in front of you. The French wanted out, the Nazis marched down the Champs-Élysées. The city archives had been bundled on a barge for preservation; the structure sank.

Marais and Cocteau returned to Paris during the occupation, taking an apartment in the Palais Royal. At first Cocteau made a great show of dining out on black market steak, but as homosexuals, the two were better off hidden. For others these were lean years, but for Cocteau and Marais, the next buffet was continously at hand. If the war ruined one meal, the next was always in the offing.

It was occupied Paris, but more importantly, it was still Paris. Simone de Beauvoir recounts her first meeting with the playwright:

Cocteau looked just like the pictures of him, and his torrential flow of conversation made me dizzy. Like Picasso he dominated the conversation, but in his case words were his chosen medium, and he used them with acrobatic dexterity. Fascinated, I followed the movement of his lips and hands. Once or twice I thought he was going to trip up; then - hurrah! - he recovered, the knot was neatly tied, and he would be off again, tracing a new series of complex and exotic arabesques in mid-air.

He expressed his admiration of No Exit in several most gracefully turned compliments, and then began to recall his own early days in the theatre, and especially the production of Orpheus. It was at once apparent that he was absolutely absorbed in himself, but this narcissistic streak neither contricted his vision nor in any way cut him off from contant with other people: the interest he had shown in Sartre and the way he talked about Genet both offered ample proof of this.

When the bar closed we walked down the Rue Bonaparte till we reached the quais. We were standing on a bridge, watching the Seine rippling beneath us like black watered silk, when the alert sounded. Pencil-thin searchlight beams swept the sky, and flares exploded. By now we had become used to these noisy, apocalyptic displays, but tonight's seemed an especially fine one, and what good luck to find ourselves stranded near this deserted river, alone with Cocteau!

When the aircraft fire died away, all was silent except for our footsteps - and the sound of his voice. He was saying that the Poet should hold aloof from his age, and remain indifferent to the follies of war and politics. "They just get in our way," he went on, "the Germans, the Americans, the whole lot of them - just get in our way."

Although Marais was as gorgeous as ever, Cocteau had found the playwright Jean Genet. He romanced the younger writer using completely opposite tactics, showing only a slow appreciation of his artistry and tip-toeing into his life. Genet's sincerity matched Cocteau's extravagance, and though the affair was brief, the important thing is that two genuises were able to take the full measure of one another. Genet later wrote,

A thick layer of human humus, always fetid, exhales puffs of heat which sometimes make us blush with shame. A sentence, a verse, the pure and almost innocent stroke of a drawing pen emits smoke between the interstices of words, at their intersection point: ill-smelling and heavy air which reveals some intense, underground life. Thus, the work of Jean Cocteau had the apparance of a light, aerial civilization suspended in the heart of ours. The poet's very person adds to it, thin, gnarled and silvery like olive trees.

Despite their respective affairs, Marais and Cocteau retained their relationship. Along with a friend, the three purchased a house in Milly together where Cocteau planned to retire. Eventually their sexual arrangement dissipated into mere friendship, and the corporation which purchased the property was dissolved. Cocteau still needed every ally he could muster.

Pablo Picasso never requested or enjoyed Cocteau's visits, gaining a healthy approbation of the man over time. Cocteau would therefore attach himself to various groups visiting the artist so that his arrival would not seem so unwelcome. Jean employed the biographer James Lord for this very purpose once, and when Lord returned to Picasso's estate for a second visit by himself, Picasso asked him, "Why did you bring that whore to my house?"

piasso, francine weisweller, jacqueline roque and cocteau

It was in this unsettled state, lacking some friends who had perished in the war or simply died of old age, that Cocteau wrote Diary of an Unknown. Cocteau biographer Frederick Brown looked down on the fanciful work: "Vacuums are not empty, time and space are but points of view, and Cocteau's duplicity is a metaphysical phenomenon for which he cannot be held responsible." In Brown's defense, it is almost impossible to write a serious treatment of Jean Cocteau's life without laughing.

"I wonder," Cocteau says in that volume, "if I could be otherwise than the way I am, and if my difficulty in being, if the faults which impede my career are not my very career, the regret of not having some other?"

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

with Stravinsky in the early 1950s

"Un Peu D'Innocence" - Miracles (mp3)

"Quand Je Tombe" - Miracles (mp3)


Tuesday
Apr082014

In Which The Whitney Biennial Contains All Our Macaroons

Allan Sekula

Passover Treat

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Whitney Biennial 2014
curators Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms & Michelle Grabner

There is an overwhelming number of penises in the Whitney Biennial. In order to deal with them properly lest the sensation of mass phallus overtake you, it is prudent to rename those cocks "jimmy-jammies." You will find this expression goes much more smoothly in your art-based convos e.g., "did you see the macaroon at the end of that guy's jimmy-jammy?" (Macaroon is a Yiddish expression that refers to the tip of a jimmy-jammy, or alternately a sweet, fluffy after-dinner treat.)

The worst part of the exhibition itself is undoubtedly the pron room, or as it is technically referred to, Bjarne Melgaard: Intimate Transparencies. There, among greasy couches and oversized models of vaguely erotic resemblances, you have a "reaction" to the jimmy-jammies. Light satire is the opiate of the masses. Artists and media types are ironically the most prudish among thinking peoples, mostly because their consumption of culture prevents them from focusing entirely on the practice of sex as a moral imperative. The Biennial itself, despite all the macaroons and full frontals, is as Puritan as the Mayflower.

Bjarne Melgaard

As the exhibition notes detail, "Melgaard intends for his installation to communicate the effects of what some scientists call the Anthropocene, a new geological age created by human activity, especially through global warming. He proposes that our collective psyches have been abused and damaged in much the same way the environment has, resulting in sadism and an utter disregard for humanity." Global warming did this, you guys.

Using three different curators for this year's event, the last to take place in the museum's Madison Avenue location before the Met takes it over as storage space for its lesser paintings, was a bold move. A bold move is what you call something when it doesn't quite come together the way you want it to, like The Lone Ranger or the Munich Pact.

proposed mock-up of the new Whitney

I attended the event with a local painter, a woman who goes by the nom de plume of Medium Rosenstein. She made several observations about the Biennial that I jotted down so that you can get an idea of how a working artist perceives such an occasion:

- "I just heard someone say a sculpture was rococo. It sounded like the way you would describe a roof."

- "This is an eight minute video. It easily could have been on YouTube."

- in reference to spooky music and creepy stuffed animals prominently featured in the staircases between floors: "It's harder than you would think to confuse high art with like, a really good Halloween party."

- "The guy wearing the tutu has a massive jimmy-jammy. When I was a kid I thought the word penis ended in a vowel."

Shio Kusaka

- "I find it difficult to take seriously any exhibition with space for Gary Indiana."

- "I just saw two girls crying at the David Foster Wallace exhibit." I asked whether she attempted to console them. "No, I just told them the mock-science video about the guy with HIV was pretty good."

- "I've heard Susan Howe is a bit of a prost."

- "If I see another flaccid JJ, I'll scream."

- "Carol Jackson is a genius":

Carol Jackson

Eroticism has always been an important part of art, but none of that was terribly present at the Biennial. There was only evidence of the exertion required not to get turned on by something that would ordinarily be stimulating to the senses. It is something like going to a rodeo and being upset when a rider is bucked off a horse.

Many of the pieces included by all three curators were collaborations, or re-imaginings of artwork produced but never officially displayed as intended. Such works rarely cohered, like the photographs and artwork commemorating the relationship of a couple in which each party was changing gender in the opposite direction. It all seemed like a slice of something real rather than the actual thing.

from "The Relationship", Rhys Ernst & Zachary Drucker

Work by Jackson, Ken Okiishi, Dashiell Manley and Joseph Grigley's hilarious tribute to the dead critic and painter Gregory Battcock were the clear highlights. The modest number of paintings seem to recede into the background, taken over by the most extensive installations, and the arrangement of Battcock's papers as a series of clues to the mystery of his murder made for the best room in the building.

The fact that so many of the artists were either deceased or being reinterpreted really should not matter, but an event like the Biennial always feels like a hodgepodge, and implicating the dead seems like a distraction from the purpose. I really hate to be harsh, but Medium Rosenstein agrees with me: It's a bit morbid to only have buildings full of art by people who can no longer enjoy or profit from any of the admiration the work engenders. It is even stranger to make this part of what is supposed to be a modern, contemporary exhibit. David Foster Wallace's notebooks might be worth a laugh, but they surely don't belong in a glass case to go untouched by human hands. They were meant for somebody.

the deceased Gretchen Bender

All told it took just over two hours to cover the Biennial and trifling permanent exhibit of the Whitney. The latter element contained a variety of mediocre Jasper Johns and Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, and who ever thought those artists would ever be thought of as entirely sincere? If they knew introducing satire in the context of visual art constituted an irreversible change, I doubt they ever would have been so glib.

The Whitney generally has a thing about not showing off the best parts of their substantial collection. It is the reason they are moving their base of operations to a location in the meat-packing district, where they will have ample room to fete a wife-beater like Edward Hopper more lavishly. Again I am being overly unkind  the presentation of paintings in their respective rooms has long been far more pleasant at the Whitney than at the cramped Met or overly spacious MoMA. You would not think it would be so hard to know how much of one thing to pour into something else, but it is.

Dashiell Manley

Afterwards, I bought Medium some Jane Austen temporary tattoos from a nearby gift shop, and I applied the one relating most closely to Mr. Darcy to the inside of my left thigh. We talked over a malt what the very best of the exhibit was. "I liked the stuff by the woman in her 90s," Rosenstein informed me, swallowing the edge of a Pop Tart she had been housing in her purse in order to keep her blood sugar up. She was referring to the Beirut-born Etel Adnan. "It felt like she was putting everything into it, holding nothing back for later. If she had an idea, it was there, even if it did not fit just right." I nodded and stroked my tattoo with a plastic fork. It itched.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Etel Adnan

"Moving to the Left" - Woods (mp3)

"Leaves Like Glass" - Woods (mp3)

Rebecca Morris

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