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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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Mia Nguyen
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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 (152)

Thursday
Mar132014

In Which We Visit The Grand Budapest Schmotel

Delicious Frosting

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Grand Budapest Hotel
dir. Wes Anderson
100 minutes

Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) is an apprentice baker at Mendl's, a famous patisserie in the greater Zubrowka area. She is ostensibly content; she has a boyfriend and a caring mentor at her workplace. She sleeps in an attic room that occasionally becomes cold during the winter, but that is when the warmth from a wood stove fills the room with a comforting heat. Still, something troubles her placid existence: she is the only female character of any note in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.

There is something profoundly satisfying about Wes' movies, since you know no one will ever change or be altered by the events around them in the slightest, except possibly a small note of recrimination or exuberance at the completion of their tale of woe. This rejection of the traditional satisfaction of narrative turns The Grand Budapest Hotel into a sort of vapid picaresque, something like eating the frosting off the top of a cake.

The masterstroke here is casting Ralph Fiennes in the role of a bisexual concierge who seduces rich old ladies. At first we are disgusted by this frothy caricature, but we soften to him like we do to so many other Wes Anderson protagonists, who succeed merely on the enthusiasm of their love of their world: its elevators, booby traps, perfumes, handsoaps and keys.

Fiennes has a protege of his own, the precociously-named lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). The two travel to the home of a Dowager Countess (Tilda Swinton) who Fiennes has masterly seduced in the confines of his hotel. She is a disgusting creature, basically a less ambitious Cruella de Ville, and in the wake of her death Fiennes hopes for a bequest from her estate.

The concierge discovers she has been murdered by her family, and the rest of The Grand Budapest Hotel concerns itself with what will now happen to her ample holdings. In a particularly disturbing scene, Willem Dafoe pursues and executes the family's Jewish lawyer in an allegorical fable of anti-Semitism. Attorney Deputy Kovacs is the most virtuous character in all of Wes' movies, for he is the only one who gives a shit about his duty.

The hotel itself is rather deprived of joy before and after the war, and the other major set, a prison camp, is also a design disappointment. It would be weird to repeat the detailing of the Life Aquatic's submarine on a concentration camp, but it is hard to believe there wasn't a better prison movie here. What the director is really in love with is how style should overwhelm anything, and nothing will survive when pitted against it. He proves this so often we must agree it is mostly true.

Abandonment of people and places is foremost on Wes' mind here. "I can't go back to prison," the subtly ethnic Fiennes whines about his tenure in a Harvey Keitel-infested jail, but he could equally be talking about the hotel itself.

Rather than a celebration of anything, the hotel is a cauldron of bad memories and unexpected feelings, just like every long lived-in place. When we move on from painful environs, The Grand Budapest Hotel points out over and over again, they are never the same upon our return to them. This is an ancient, romantic theme; but then most of Anderson's recent movies feature an intense aversion to anything contemporary. It is only his best work which tell us something about the world we live in, rather than the one they lived in.

In his debut as young Zero, Tony Revolori's laconic expression makes the most of his unforgiving role as Fiennes' refugee lackey. He is never given very much to do in the part; he only really changes his clothes once or twice in the entire movie. The full depth of his affair with Agatha is avoided at all costs: we are never permitted to watch anyone show real love to each other in The Grand Budapest Hotel, as if that would violate the sanctity of the place. Ronan offers even less in her slim role. We are mostly told, in grating, purposeless voiceover, about what a remarkable and brave person she is.

Despite this coldness, there is some kind of underlying sympathy in The Grand Budapest Hotel, although it takes great pains to really locate it among dark jokes about dead cats and Jews. You actually have to admire the director for not pulling the heartstrings more, since both of the protagonists of the film are poverty-stricken orphans. But had we been informed of that at length, we would have instantly forgiven them anything. Forgiveness and pity is never what such people want, and they are loathe to accept any.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"When You're Older" - Fair Oaks (mp3)

"See What the Sun Gave" - Fair Oaks (mp3)

Friday
Mar072014

In Which We Saunter Jauntily Down A Red Road

Always There

by ALEX CARNEVALE 

The Red Road
creator Aaron Guzikowski

Jason Momoa's sexuality is like an extruding pimple on some poor sap's face. When he bends down to retrieve something from underneath a car, he always looks up, as though there were something above he wanted to view him as well as whatever was below. His sex is always there. Momoa's jawline is rearranged by a scraggly beard that constantly has to be reworked on set. There is a person whose job it is to only deal with Jason's facial hair. If something goes wrong with the facial hair, this person, whose name we can presume is named something like Anne, will be disemployed and have to do a much worse job, like be responsible for Channing Tatum's goatee or work construction.

The only person I've ever been attracted to as much as Jason Momoa is Robin Wright Penn. The year was 1998.

In his new show The Red Road, airing exclusively on the Sundance Channel, Momoa portrays a half-Indian ex-con named Philip Kopus making collections for his crooked white father (Tom Sizemore). In old age Sizemore looks an emaciated shell of his former self, yet he still clings to a certain firmness of spirit that matches Momoa's artful solidity.

After Philip gets out of prison, he spots a police officer with whom he matriculated from high school searching for a missing boy. He immediately knows the boy is dead and suspects the killer, resolving to protect this person from harm.

His high-school buddy, police officer Howard Jensen (NZ actor Martin Henderson) appears to be a repressed homosexual former football player. The man just wants to protect his two girls, both of whom are named Rachel for no reason I can fathom. Having white children appears to be a considerable responsibility, and when the older Rachel takes up with an adorable local member of the Rampough Indian tribe named Junior, Rachel' mother Jean (Julianne Nicholson) freaks out. In a fugue she takes her husband's gun to go find her daughter and accidentally (oops) runs over a local Indian boy.

The casting of Julianne Nicholson in this role is against type, and basically all wrong, which is the point. We cannot conceive of what interest Howard would have in this prissy woman, and indeed he sleeps in the guest room.

Putting Jason Momoa in a storyline where he has an adversarial, pseudosexual relationship with a police officer is certainly most thinking people's dream scenario, right up there with him playing Mr. Darcy opposite Selena Gomez. Momoa has the bad early George Clooney habit of looking up through his brow to deliver his line, which I believe Steven Soderbergh cured through shock therapy. It absolutely fucking ruined ER though, I can tell you that much.

Momoa's Philip calls up his cop classmate for a reunion. They meet at a goat farm in New Jersey; I guess there had to be one. The officer looks as out of place as Momoa, feeling out jitters while he holds the biggest gun he can find, cradled in his arms like a baby. At first Momoa stays in the car in order to give the officer command of the meeting. Before long, and when he feels it is safe, he steps out of the vehicle to hand the officer his own firearm, jostled as it had been from the man's wife SUV as she manslaughtered a boy.

The rest of The Red Road concerns the cover-up of these events. Several times, but not sequentially, Momoa will lift his shirt over his massive head for a pinup pose, and in the briefest of moments we can see the chance he had of being the one approaching Pemberley on horseback, instead of the ruffian-type roles he plays now.  Momoa was on that Stargate spinoff, and it was amazing. Khal Drogo was a crying little baby in comparison to this individual:

Even with his trademark scar, Momoa is always complete in himself. In contrast, the teenagers in love on The Red Road resemble each other too closely; we can suspect that Rachel and Junior may share the same father, or at least much of the same blood, and this more than anything else is the reason for their coming together. (We know that this sort of conglameration often happens when children are not told who their parents are, and recognize something of themselves in their cousins.)

Sherman Alexie is probably turning over in his bed, but there is a lot of unmined material here. The Red Road's Juliet/Rachel is not so fetching really, and Junior makes even worse decisions than Romeo, bringing his girl to places as dangerous to him as they are to her. Momoa is like a brazen Mercutio at times, and those moments where his absence of malice seems most obvious are when we permit ourselves to like the characters in The Red Road. It is the grace period we afford the people in our lives before, inevitably, they disappoint us.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"This Blue World" - Elbow (mp3)

"New York Morning" - Elbow (mp3)

Wednesday
Mar052014

In Which She Had Never Wanted A Daughter

Helen the Obscure

by ALEX CARNEVALE

On her twelfth birthday, Helen Lawrenson's mother told her that she had never wanted a child. She informed her young daughter she had tried everything she could to end that pregnancy: hot mustard baths, huge castor oil doses, enemas, riding horseback, skipping rope. Even falling down stairs.

Helen's mother cried every time she heard Christmas carols.

Helen copied in her diary that quote from Wilde's De Profundis: "I have got to make everything that has happened to me good for me. The silence, the solitude, the shame - each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience."

at age twelve

When she lost her virginity at 19, she contracted syphilis. After her treatment, she was never once sick again in her life. Instead Helen would have many abortions of her own, including three in a single year. Or at least that is the claim in her marvelous, forgotten memoir Stranger at the Party. I have always prided myself on being able to tell exaggeration from the truth, but Helen Lawrenson made them indistinguishable in her own work.

Stranger at the Party is full of such revelations:

Even my erotic dreams had a literary tinge. I never dreamed of Rudolph Valentino or Clark Gable. Not me. My all-time favorite is the night I dreamed that President Franklin D. Roosevelt went down on me in celebration of his having been elected for a third term. When it was over, we lay on the bed, side by side, smoking - he with a long ebony cigaret holder, I with a short ivory one - and talking, but not of sex or politics. In the dream he said, "What was the first book you ever read?" "The Sunbonnet Babies," I replied.

The idea that women were nothing before the revolution is severely misguided at best, outright sexist at worst. Born in 1907, Helen knew from her first moments that she was the center of all subjectivity, and she determined to prove this at length. (Her grandmother told her not to read Jude the Obscure, it was "a dirty book.")

Helen entered Vassar like it was Oz. "Certainly my standards were higher in those years than they have ever been," she suggests, and it is not the only time she is both funny and sad at once. Helen took a job doing all kinds of writing for Hearst newspapers, where she was willing to take advice from anyone, given that she did not have to accept it then and there. "One of my fellow reporters said to me early on, 'Don't rush around like a fart in a mitten. The idea is to do your job but never act like you take it seriously.'"

with Bernard Baruch

She had first learned about sex from a wayward aunt, who had described it in some detail and revealed that everyone did it, "even Lillian Gish." She dated around some when her job afforded it, but struggled to find meaning in it. She wrote in her diary

I can never mix for long in the fluid exchange of social life. Every once in a while I must withdraw from it and revert to watching. My mind is always standing off and criticizing, seeing myself act, hearing myself talk even watching myself think. Sometimes I have wished that I could feel in an experience, in a relationship, the ecstasy of the moment, aureoled with an ironic consciousness of what went before and what would come after. The trouble is that I want to have that intellectual detachment and also at the same time completely to submerge myself in unself-conscious emotion, drench my ego in feeling, render it momentarily impossible, for it to hover in the air, observing coldly the material me.

She never found this, even when she fucked the most famous rabbi in America.

with Nast

Then Helen met magazine publisher Condé Nast. Their relationship was not aesthetically pleasing on most levels. At 5'9" and losing most of his hair, Nast possessed wonderful posture and never carried cash on him. He said he would not lie to Helen, and she reports that he never got angry with her. "Above all else," Helen writes, "he was a man who loved women. This austere-looking, sedate, fastidious, impeccably-mannered, dignified man, treated with deference by everyone, was perhaps the most deeply sensual person I have ever known. To put it bluntly, he was cunt-crazy. He loved to taste it, smell it, feel it, look at it, above all, fuck it.... It was his primary interest in life, and he pursued it with wholehearted, shockproof, uninhibited enthusiasm."

She claims he never traded anything for sex, although "there were also those who truly liked him for himself, not for his name or worldly position." Helen was hired at Vanity Fair because no person who currently worked there could have been considered any kind of expert on the arts. When Nast interviewed her for the position, he concluded the meeting by commenting, "Even if you don't get the job, perhaps we could have dinner sometime." Her salary was twenty-five dollars a week. 

She disliked the magazine at first, along with the ignorance of those who edited it. "It's a mechanized wit, all triviality," she writes in Stranger at the Party. "These people and their friends don't seem to know what is going on in the world, except in their own rarefied purlieus." She had her first date with Nast later that year. He didn't touch her, and had his chauffer drop her off near her apartment on West 3rd. "Tell me, madam, do people actually live down here?" Nast's driver asked her.

Eventually Nast suggested she marry him, using the following words: "We get along together so well and I love you very much." She declined half-because of his backwards political views and also because she was not in love with the man. When Helen had her first childe, Nast sent roses for the mother and a dress of organdy for the baby, "trimmed with real Valenciennes and a pink satin bow." Some people will always be grateful for how you treated them.

with her husband Jack

She met her husband Jack in the trade union movement, and in her book she claims he was the love of her life. They shared all the same views, Helen tells her readers, in such a maniacal tone I was eventually convinced that this was the least important thing two people could have in common.  

Stranger at the Party makes a show of pointing out of how indiscriminating Helen's travails in love were when it came to race. A convict named Bumpy (you don't want to know the reason he is called this) occupies an entire chapter, and Helen concludes that he was "ahead of his time." She also had a thing with the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and any number of Irish men, though she complained of her husband's drinking.

Even being the complete center of all subjectivity has a shelf-life.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Can't Remember To Forget You" - Shakira ft. Rihanna (mp3)

"Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte" - Shakira ft. Rihanna (mp3)

 

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