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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
(e-mail/tumblr/twitter)

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail)

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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 (237)

Friday
Nov042016

In Which Whit Stillman Remakes Metropolitan For Some Reason

Lady Susan

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Love & Friendship
dir. Whit Stillman
93 minutes

Whit Stillman is always saying things he half means. "In terms of almost everything, I think it’s a superior time, for music, architecture, manners, thought," he told an interviewer about the 18th century. What he actually is trying to say is this: "Now is terrible. Why now? Why is this now?"

During one scene in Love & Friendship, a character named Frederica (Morfydd Clark) sits in a parlor and reads a book, a collection by the English poet Cowper. Her suitor approaches and can't believe his eyes. "You read both verse and poetry," he gawps. This is not a superior moment. In 1990, which was also not the best year, Whit Stillman made Metropolitan, and for the next quarter century he has tried to remake it five times, with less and less fidelity.

You see, Stillman had a set of satirical observations about the world and the society in which he grew up (prep school, Harvard, etc). It is to his credit that these were not positive impressions, but it is to his detriment that he never developed any other observations. Now in his 60s, he continues to set the basic story of Metropolitan in a variety of settings: once he even wanted to do Metropolitan in Jamaica! The general undercurrent is usually the same; it is no accident that Stillman mentions the superior manners of the late 18th century, because he has always been obsessed with bad manners.

Jane Austen shared this passion, but unlike Stillman, she felt the need to explain what good ones were. Lady Susan Vernon (a weirdly tan Kate Beckinsale) is one of Austen's great characters – a woman so intrisically diabolical that when she walks into a room the inhabitants shudder. At the beginning of Love & Friendship she has no money, she has one friend and her daughter has no husband or future. By the end, this situation is completely corrected.

Austen found Lady Susan as detestable as some of the other characters in the milieu, but to Stillman's great credit, he sees her as the heroine. She takes an interest in the younger brother of her sister-in-law Catherine (rising star Emma Greenwell), but abandons her plan when the family objects to the merger. She is deeply in love with a married man, a certain Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearáin, who does not have a single line), who has an obstreperous wife. After they separate, she keeps him around even though he has no money, and marries a man who can get along with them both.

Beginning in 1998's The Last Days of Disco, Stillman saw something in Kate Beckinsale that other directors have struggled to extract from her performances. She projects an aura of genuine feeling at all times that allows us to relate to her despite her varying behavior, even as her availability vacillates between unlikely and impossible. Her sexuality has altered slightly as she enters middle age. Whereas before there was the sense that she might have been preserved in amber, now we verifiably know she has been in the shit. I believe she dated Michael Sheen for quite some time.

Stillman's favorite actress remains Chloe Sevigny, who probably has a good thirty years of playing Ellen Burstyn-esque roles ahead of her. Both actresses excel at the Stillman banter, which is best described in this fashion: one woman makes an observation, the other woman agrees, the first woman demurs, the second woman demurs, accommodation is reached. At times the patter goes a bit quickly, but the writing is so much better than Stillman's brief, insanely boring Amazon pilot that we are just glad he is having fun again.

Hidden behind the incredibly amusing dialogue is a more meaningful story, one that expresses the kind of feeling a mother has for her daughter. Metropolitan itself became quite moving at times, and these are the moments where Stillman himself seems surprised at the depth of his creations: that they almost have their own agency. It is just as inevitable, however, that he becomes appalled by their transparency, as in his 2011's Damsels in Distress, so it is probably for the best that Love & Friendship ends after 90 minutes.

The problem with Austen, and to be honest the 18th century in general, is that it was a real dead end. To see men and women relating to each other in such a dishonest fashion is actually a bit jarring. Stillman draws particular attention to the misogyny of the period, and it is this view which persuades us that he believes the 18th century is no better than any other. He is forced to conclude there is really no special time and place to be a part of, unless you were gay and in Berlin before the war. That was not to be missed.

Allowing for his critical observations of the time period, Stillman finally seems to be enjoying himself at all times. Love & Friendship, besides being completely hysterical and the best comedy this year, unfolds its enthusiasms over even the simplest scenes. Stillman is a fantastic editor of Austen, a fact he openly admits, since he rewrote the epistolary version of Lady Susan into his own novel. If only he were this excited about tomorrow.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Tuesday
Oct112016

In Which He Was Iris Murdoch's First And Last Jewish Boy

Falling In Love With I

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Like Socrates, perhaps love is the only subject on which I am really expert?

Iris Murdoch, July 1976

She was an only child. She thought of her little family as "a perfect trinity of love."

The first sentence she ever copied down was, "The snowdrop hangs its head down. Why?"

She wrote, "Jesus: my first (and last?) Jewish boy." She was the best student in her class; a mother of a friend called her a Botticelli angel. After she died, Harold Bloom wrote that there were no more first rate writers left in Britain. A variation of this escaped his mouth whenever anyone died, so that someone else might say it of him.

1927

Hitler invaded the Rhineland; her Jewish and Indian classmates would go on hikes together, four at a time. Iris' closest friend was the school's headmistress. Auden came to visit her boarding school. According to her, he was "young and beautiful, with his golden hair."

Her first boyfriend was in training to be a dentist; they bonded over Virgil. She had her first drink at seventeen. She said, "the experience comes back to me surrounded by a halo of the purest and most intense joy."

Her first real boyfriend was David Hicks, three years her elder. He sent her C.S. Lewis' Allegory of Love, even now known as a strong move. As she grew into a charming young woman, many desired Iris, women as well as men. All the boys she knew at Oxford left to die in the war.

There she was the pet pupil of Eduard Fraenkel, who recognized her talent immediately and would spend countless hours talking to her. He would later call her the only truly educated person of her generation. Others were forced to agree. A classmate described her as having "a lioness' face — very square, very strong, very gentle."

Her first real love was a guy named Frank Thompson. Even as she dated someone closer to home, she believed she would marry Frank. A self-described "left intellectual," he was captured and executed by Bulgarians, with a volume of poetry by Catullus in his front pocket.

In 1980, she had a dream that she, Frank and her husband John Bayley were living together happily. She wrote, "A dream about Frank. I was with Frank and he told me he loved me. (As he did on that day in autumn 1938 in New College.) I was very moved but not sure what I felt (as then). He went away and then I realised I loved him. (As I really did come to love him later.) In the dream, realising I loved him I felt great joy at the thought that I could tell him now, and I sent for him. He appeared at the top of a steep slope, dressed as a soldier, with a black cap on. As I climbed up the slope towards him I felt sudden dismay, thinking I cannot marry him, I am married already. Then I thought, it is all right, I can be married to both him and John. We met and were all somehow very happy and yet awkward too."

Iris was a prolific letter writer: "When I was younger, I remember I loved writing long letters to all sorts of people — a kind of exhibitionism I daresay." She often wanted her boyfriends to send her pictures of themselves, under the guise that "I hate to not know what my friends look like."

She visited Paris and met Sartre. He signed a copy of Being and Nothingness over to her. She was starting to feel like a philosopher again.

She became engaged to a man who showed little to no interest in her work, and confessed "doubts & terrors" towards the prospect of their marriage. In Prague, he left her for a girl named Molly. Even after they dissolved their arrangement by postal mail, Iris still gave him money.

She spoke only French to Raymond Queneau. They went on hikes together. He told her about his analysis. He introduced her to the work of William Faulkner. He never liked to talk about his work, except with her. Queneau described Iris as "Irishwoman. Big. Blonde. Common-sensical. A little bun. A perked cap. A decided walk, somewhat heavy, military. Beautiful eyes. Charming smile. She loves Kierkegaard. Is interested in the problems of blacks. Likes Colossus of Maroussi. She is weary. Her work interests her sufficiently. She skis."

She thought he "had a very beautiful head."

When she returned to England, she took up with Donald MacKinnon, in almost full view of his suffering wife. She became more and more depressed. She went to visit the widowed mother of Frank Thompson, which did not help matters. The old woman gave Iris the volume of Catullus that had been returned to her.

She came to Cambridge, where she met Wittgenstein. She thought of him as a handsome but disturbing figure, with "a trampish sort of appearance." They never connected, but Cambridge was full of romantic possibilities. She took up with a number of men, but none of them for very long. Later she would write, "that business of falling in love with A, then with B, then with C (all madly) seems a bit sickening."

To break the pattern, she considered a relationship with Wittgenstein's protege, a woman named Elizabeth Anscombe. The relationship was never consummated, but Iris fantasized about kissing the back of her neck, and the emotional side was very real.

She took a post teaching at St. Ann's College, where she became the resident expert on moral and political philosophy. Her circle of friends, largely the ethnic misfits of the school, grew and grew. (In The Black Prince she wrote that "most friendship exists in a state of frozen and undeveloping hostility.") Her skill involved paying her friends exactly the amount of attention they required, but not so much that they lost their desire for being with her. Once, she offhandedly remarked to one of her students that didn't she agree "that any worthwhile person ought to have at least some Jewish blood?"

Iris became engaged to another man, but cheated on him with the philosopher Michael Oakeshott. A friend described them both as "addicted to love at first sight." She did not like to ask things of her boyfriends, and she generally hated if they made any demands on her. She contrived an exception to this rule by taking up with a frail Jewish philosopher whose debilitating heart ailment was aggravated by sex. He died.

As a consequence, her next relationship was with the writer Elias Canetti. He was very different from her other boyfriends. Their three year affair was kept secret from all close to them; she was neither the first nor the last of his mistresses. Canetti was the king of flattery, an expert manipulator. He would often read a writer's entire oeuvre before meeting them so he would know what to say. Behind their backs, he could be extremely cruel. Iris' friends suspected that Elias was the sort of literary intellectual monster she feared becoming.

Among other things, Iris found him to be the best sexual partner she had ever had. She wrote, "He holds me savagely between his knees & grasps my hair and forces my head back. His power. He subjugates me completely. Only a complete intellectual and moral ascendancy could hold me." She compared him to Zeus. "He takes me quickly, suddenly... When we are satisfied, we do not lie together, but contemplate each other with a sort of amused hostility." Her next boyfriend did not like Canetti, and was nothing like him.

Even though I never knew her, I still miss her.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Friday
Oct072016

In Which We Return To Montana For Horses And The Law

Survival Gear

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Certain Women
dir. Kelly Reichardt
107 minutes

The setting for the new film by Kelly Reichardt (Night Moves) is rural Montana. The landscape in this place explodes with color along a narrow scale. Darkness is almost complete, but there is never any morning – just a freezing day that plops down without warning. There is no music in Certain Women until about ten minutes before the movie ends, when it seems like the farmhand played by Lily Gladstone is on the verge of potentially displaying an emotion. She never does.

Earlier, Laura Dern has intercourse with Michelle Williams' husband, who is portrayed by James Le Gros. He breaks it off with Dern for reasons we never really understand. It reminds me of when Billy Bob Thornton married Angelina Jolie. "My boyfriend left to do a movie," Dern explained later, "and he never came back." Both Dern and Williams do an incredible job making us forget who they actually are. Reichardt has a true gift for bringing natural performances out of famous actors whose notoriety might otherwise be inclined to overwhelm the diegesis.

Dern is a lawyer with a difficult client (the English actor Jared Harris). Like all three of the short stories Reichardt has adapted here from Maile Meloy, the actual events are very slight. The psychology revolves around a similar type of relationship in which one party can't get away from the other; until she does. Dern achieves this separation by getting her client arrested. He forgives her, even though she does not ask to be forgiven. Reichardt's moral point is that no relationship can exist unless both parties ask for something from the other.

Along those lines Michelle Williams purchases a batch of sandstone from an old man (Rene Auberjonois). He eventually permits her to take it away; she intends to use it in construction of her new house. We see in her conversation with the older man why her husband may have disrespected her by straying from her marriage. Also, she is a smoker with a teenaged daughter. As she enters her late thirties, Williams has become so much fun to watch – here she is a tightly wound ball of anger and persona, expressed as softly as the character can manage.

Visually, Reichardt always knows the correct angle. She is the master of using walls and confined, normal spaces and turning them into subtle psychological aspects in a scene. The clothing that these certain women wear also tells so much of the story. Certain Women begins with Laura Dern in a bra in bed, and as we watch her slowly accumulate enough professional clothing for her job at the law firm, we see how fabric itself is used as protective gear. I mean, Jesus, Kristen Stewart's vest.

Certain Women concludes with its disturbing centerpiece, a story about Lily Gladstone falling in unrequited love with a teacher in a night class (Kristen Stewart). Stewart's lesbian outerwear is truly magnificent, but we get the vague sense that Gladstone is actually the more attractive, complete person as they sit across from each other at the only place in town to get a meal at 10 p.m.

There is one scene where Gladstone's farmhand is brushing her hair in particular where we see the kind of care she could give herself if she only had the inclination or reason to do so. Reichardt falls in love with Gladstone's movements, replaying her routines as she takes care of a beautiful group of horses, circling a pasture to drop hay in the snow. It feels like it has taken her the entire running time to find something she really adores.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


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