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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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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 (228)

Friday
Aug192016

In Which We Have Frozen All Of Our Desires

Smilla's Sense of Smell

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Engagements
play by Lucy Teitler
dir. Kimberly Senior

Sex Object: A Memoir
by Jessica Valenti
224 pp., Dey Street Books

"Why does anyone want to get married knowing what we know now ?" whines Lauren (Ana Nogueira) in Engagements, a play by Yale graduate and Mr. Robot writer Lucy Teitler. She spends the rest of the play's 80 minutes complaining about how degrading it is to live in Boston.

Whit Stillman has resorted to making period pieces since his own knowledge of what to satirize was last relevant in the late 1990s. It used to be that the upper, educated class of any society was the first to understand new things and create trends, but this is no longer the case. Technology democratized haute. As she pursues a PhD in Victorian literature, Lauren faces detractors who denigrate her chosen field because it is gauche to study the novels that first attracted you to literature. She possesses no special knowledge or distinguishing trait.

Lauren sleeps with her best friend's boyfriend Mark (Michael Stahl-David). She fucks him in a gazebo and it is admittedly great: really emotional and both of them come at the exact same time, like Prince having dinner/sex. Mark turns out to basically be a dirtbag, but what the hell, like most satire these days, Engagements is really about women and how they relate to the concept of men as objects.

I recently read Jessica Valenti's memoir about guys masturbating on top of her during her subway trips. The best chapter in Sex Object is about this Brooklynite with whom she shared a certain emotional connection named Ron. Ron was very clear about one thing: he was a feminist. He also had what appeared to be a titanic addiction to cocaine, and in lieu of a sexually transmitted disease, he passed that on to Jessica Valenti. Once, while he was in missionary, he asked the author to marry him.

lucy teitler

This was the most upsetting moment of Sex Object, and incidentally, of Engagements as well. Ryan (Omar Maskati) gets down on one knee to illustrate a point to the girlfriend (Brooke Weisman) he met at Yale, and she mistakenly believes that he is about to ask her to marry him. Any proposal should be answered at the time in which it is administered. If you want to be with someone for the rest of your life, what difference does it make how they ask you this question? And if you don't, you should end things then and there. This basic rule would have allowed Jessica Valenti to avoid a lot of trouble.

Instead of telling her friend about this gazebo-sex, Lauren decides to learn more about Mark at first. Since he is such a paper-thin character these scenes are not totally satisfying. He sends her anal beads in the mail and follows that up with a vibrator. This is not usually the sort of psychology employed by a man who is serious about a woman, and there is something bizarrely childish about Engagements that parallels the worldview of the show Teitler writes for, Mr. Robot. Neither show is filled with particularly good liars.

jessica valenti

Eventually Jessica Valenti meets someone she really cares about, a bro named Andrew. Almost immediately she is in couples therapy with this guy, and for some reason he is really resentful of the trauma that she has gone through. Men are so exhausting to pacify. She makes a really specific point of mentioning, in Sex Object, how keen her sense of smell is. A lot of times she will come home from her day of work, and she detects a bad smell in the apartment that he does not notice or care about.

Maybe that's something important in compatibility. It's a word I have been thinking about a lot. In memorable scene in Sex Object, even the most simple act is enough to convince Jessica of her husband's value. Valenti writes

Once when I was pregnant I refused to drink a glass of water Andrew had brought me because it smelled terrible. Water doesn't have a smell! he yelled, but he brought me another, because he is a kind person in that way. Boston smells the worst.

The Boston of Teitler's Engagements is a sad and lonely simalcrum. There was recently an article about how bad single women in New York have it. It's true that in New York these creatures outnumber their male counterparts by two to one, but things are far worse in Boston. There are like three guys in all of Boston with any personality, and even those men can barely plan an afternoon beyond, "I have Sox tickets" or "we should stay in." Being an unmarried woman in Boston is a recipe for a lengthy stay in psychoanalytic therapy.

There was an emotional moment on The Real Housewives of New York this week when Skinnygirl mogul Bethenny Frankel told her friend that she had a picture of her fiance cheating on her. "I don't want to know," LuAnn sobbed, and married the guy anyway. I don't know exactly why the rise of female empowerment also precipitated a dramatic lowering of standards among powerful, sexy intelligent women. Bethenny Frankel's boyfriend, for example, looks like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers.

Even Jessica Valenti ends up settling. Two years into her difficult marriage she becomes pregnant for a second time and decides to have an abortion. Her daughter Layla struggles with selective mutism, despite communicating well with her mother. Boston is so far from the city of her dreams. Sex Object is a woefully depressing book, both for the ways it tells us our culture treats women, and how the author has managed to make a meal out of these desiccated ingredients.

In Engagements, Lauren dates a series of unimpressive men, a list that includes a janitor, her college-aged neighbor and the boyfriend of her cousin. None understand her or even attempt to do so, and she cannot bring herself to like or respect them; it is only important whether or not they like and respect her. Her friend Allison (Jennifer Kim) eventually finds out that her boyfriend and husband-to-be has been sending the sexual gifts to a variety of women, and keeping a spreadsheet so that he doesn't mail the same vibrator twice. It emerges that this meager, sadistic amount of attention was basically enough to captivate an educated woman who studies the Victorians, and the excitement of betraying her annoying friend sufficient erotic charge. Who could ask for anything more?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


Tuesday
Aug162016

In Which We Generally Keep Everything Light

Enthusiasm Curbed

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Joshy
dir. Jeff Baena
93 minutes

Rather than marry Josh (Thomas Middleditch), Rachel (Alison Brie) hangs herself with his belt from a door on his birthday. In Jeff Baena's second feature, Joshy, no one seems particularly upset about this. (Rachel had recently had sex with her fiancé and found it profoundly unsatisfying.) His friends decide to throw him the bachelor party in Northern California that they had planned despite this. Josh's buds are similarly unhappy:

— Adam (Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry) was recently dumped by his girlfriend of ten years for being too clingy

— Ari (Adam Pally) is somewhat bored with his marriage and when he meets Jodi (Jenny Slate) they talk about how Jewish they both are

— Eric (Nick Kroll) is Nick Kroll.

It emerges that every single person at the party recently dated a woman with a Jewish name. "You are meant to be happy," screams Greg (Brett Gelman), the only individual there for the weekend who doesn't realize that Josh's bride-to-be suffocated herself to death.

What is most surprising about this mostly improvised film is how completely dull it is. Nick Kroll tries to liven things up by mugging his way through every scene, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is the most masculine of anyone present, setting something of a low bar. As the bachelor party goes on, erstwhile director Ross Perry/Adam explains the particulars of time travel paradoxes. "We're living in what's called the alpha timeline," he suggests. "We're waiting for a momentous event which has yet to occur."

Ari and Jodi have the exact same haircut, and when Ari cheats on his girlfriend their curls touch. Adam Pally is high for most of Joshy, a decision which restricts his innate likability to a soft disgust. The fact that he is unfaithful makes things even worse. All we want is someone exactly like us, Joshy suggests, and when we realize that this is not the case we turn back.

In the morning Joe Swanberg and his wife show up with their five year old son. Eric hides the bongs and the cocaine. Swanberg immediately takes over the mantle as the most masculine of the group, and Nick Kroll's Eric is feminized by his simple presence. Swanberg's facial hair alone is the most important cinematic aspect of Joshy, he is also twice the performer of anyone involved in this project. He looks like if Chris Hemsworth passed on steroids for a full calendar year.

Swanberg leaves immediately after breakfast when he and Eric fight, and before everyone takes mushrooms. Northern California is fuzzy and overcast; the weather is as improvised as the dialogue. In the fog you can't see anything, really. Eric hires strippers but Adam just ends up talking with one of them about how he resembles her stepdad. The various mid-life crises dealt with by these boy-men take over completely and Joshy becomes incredibly depressing.

The music of Joshy is the real highlight. An original score by Devendra Banhart plays over the various arguments. Rachel's parents accuse Josh of killing her and try to tape his confession, others fight over the various sex workers that visit this bachelor retreat, and Ari's internal struggles over his infidelity rotate around Banhart's drifting guitar loops.

Baena (Life After Beth) never delves more specifically into any of the character's dilemmas, giving Joshy more of a realistic feel. There is no greater moment of catharsis, and the interplay between those who know each other and those who don't is roughly the same. History, even the memories between people, have vanished in this awful place.

Women are absolutely on the outside here, but not in a way that seems purposeful or distracting. They are just other people, and so these men might easily be as feminine as their wives and girlfriends. At the center of the loss, Middleditch doesn't get very much screen time, and the lame hijinks that surround him don't seem to mitigate his grief any. As in life, he is just left with a mess of emotions and no outlet for them whatsoever. Hormones belong to everyone.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Thursday
Aug112016

In Which We Always Elevate The Star Of Another

Not Complaining

by ALEX CARNEVALE

for Michael S. Harper

In 1957, Ralph Ellison told his second wife Fanny McConnell that their marriage had been a disappointment to him.

Ralph and Fanny met thirteen years earlier. She was slightly older, still gorgeous, having changed the spelling of her name from Fannie to Fanny as a way of putting the sexual abuse by her stepfather behind her. She had studied theater at the University of Iowa after transferring from Fisk College in Nashville. Due to Jim Crow laws she was never allowed onstage.

Disillusionment came to Fanny quickly. When she enrolled at Fisk, she told her mother, "I think I am the best looking girl in the freshman class. I am going to make it my business be one of the smartest too." She transferred from Fisk to Iowa, where she was even unhappier at the larger, almost all-white school. Chicago treated her no better.

Fanny's first husband was the drizzling shits; her second husband ran off to join the 366th infantry and decided he liked it a lot better than his wife. She lost her job at the Chicago Defender for no reason and found Washington D.C. to be the most racist city she had been to yet.

In New York, she took a position at the National Urban League. It was here that she met Ralph Ellison, who, she wrote, was "the lonely young man I found one sunny afternoon in June." In reality, the two were introduced by mutual friend Langston Hughes. Their first date occurred at Frank's Restaurant in Harlem.

Ralph encouraged his new girlfriend to read Malraux. He was planning a novel about a black man dropped into a Nazi prison camp, who would rally the group together before perishing as a martyr. It was meant to be "an ironic comment upon the ideal and realistic images of democracy."

Three months after they kissed, Fanny moved into Ralph's apartment at 306 W. 141st Street. She could not tell anyone she lived there, since she would have been fired from her job if they knew. Soon after, she left for Chicago to finalize her divorce papers. Ellison panicked that she would not come back. She had barely hit city limits when he telegrammed, YOUR SILENCE PREVENTING WORK. WIRE ME EVEN IF MIND CHANGED. Fanny replied, NOTHING HAS CHANGED. I AM THE SAME AND LOVE YOU.

When she returned to New York, Fanny was so happy she chanced an enema and threw out her old clothes. They adopted a puppy, a Scottish terrier named Bobbins. The two were rarely apart in the years that followed.

World War II ended, but Ralph's own battles continued. They spent part of that summer after their marriage in Vermont, where among the detritus of backwards New England, Fanny's husband developed the basic concept of Invisible Man. Ralph found it difficult to write in Harlem, so he rented a shack in scenic Long Island that served as his office. The rent took up most of his savings, and Fanny's job at a housing authority provided the rest of what they had. The two were married quietly in August 1946.

At the same time as Ellison was putting down roots, his friend Richard Wright was leaving America for Paris, exhausted by the insults an invective marriage to a white woman had brought into his life. In Paris, Wright would have powerful friends in the expatriate community; Ellison had already found these resources in America.

With Fanny by his side, Ralph hoped for the kind of acclaim and financial security of which he had long dreamed. In order to really get down to completing Invisible Man, he plotted a sabbatical from his wife in Vermont where he could finally wrap up the novel. He took Bobbins and their new dog, Red, with him. He missed his wife intensely: "To paraphrase myself, I love you, write me, I'm lonely, and envious of your old lovers who for whatever pretext, have simply to walk up the street to see you."

Fanny wrote back, "My dear, all my former lovers are dead. I don't even remember who they were."

with a friend's bb

Ralph encouraged Fanny to spend the time writing, which she had done for the stage in Chicago at the Negro Theater. In New York she was expected to keep up relationships with Ralph's wealthy white friends, who enjoyed parading her around a bit too much.

By the time Ralph made it back from Vermont where he was basically the only black man in a small college town, Invisible Man was yet to be completed. Fanny felt major pressure to produce a child. At 38 this would have been difficult, and Ralph was resolutely against adoption. Still, she could not conceive despite fertility treatments at the Sanger Bureau. Frustrated with his wife, Ralph pretended to seek other intimacy without ever consummating it.

He took out on Fanny his anger at not being able to complete the book, at what he felt was a token role in a white-dominated literary world. All this he also channeled into his writing. When a friend offered the use of an office in Manhattan's diamond district, Ralph gladly accepted. Perched in a window that looked out on Radio City Music Hall, passerby were often scandalized to see a black man smoking at a typewriter.

By 1949 Ralph had to abandon his temporary office, but Invisible Man, after so long, seemed close to being finished. An excerpt published in the magazine Horizon heightened anticipation for the book and elevated Ralph's star, pushing him to complete the final manuscript. Fanny did much of the typing as he revised, focusing the text by eliminating an Othello-like subplot.

Manhattan seemed a more hospitable place than ever. In these last months of putting together the book, Ralph would do anything to distract himself from saying it was done; he even constructed an entire amplifier from parts to avoid working on it. Fanny gave him the space he needed: husband and wife were on more solid ground. Finally, with a new agent and new publisher, Invisible Man appeared on store shelves on April 14, 1952.

"We feel these days," Fanny wrote to Langston Hughes, "as if we are about to be catapulted into something unknown — of which we are both hopeful and afraid."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

with Lyndon Johnson

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