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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

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 (249)


In Which Nella Larsen Went To Europe To Escape Her Marriage

In Quicksand


She had just published her masterpiece, Passing, but Nella Larsen was alone every weekend in the summer of 1929. Her husband Elmer Imes was a brilliant physicist. After ten years of marriage, he vacated the premises to meet women, sometimes in faraway places like Canada. "He needs it," she wrote sadly in a letter to her friend Carl Van Vechten. Nella was left to amuse herself in Harlem, where the heat was usually pretty sticky. She decided to learn how to swim.

Carl Van Vechten
Her husband was denied a lucrative position at the University of Michigan at the last moment, and decided to relocate to Fisk University in Nashville. She had no intention of going with him. All her friends were in New York. She did long to be in a new situation, but Nashville was impossible: Nella had been expelled from Fisk as a teenager for violating the dress code, and some of those administrators were still there. She channeled her planning into her work. She would pen a novel "partly in the United States and partly in Europe," she wrote in her application for a Guggenheim Fellowship.

As George Hutchinson notes in his phenomenal biography of the writer, Nella went on to explain that "the theme will be the difference in intellectual and physical freedom for the Negro – and the effect on him – between Europe, especially the Latin countries Spain and France. I have never been in these countries and therefore feel I am not prepared without visiting them to judge attitudes and reactions of my hero in a foreign and favorable or more unfavorable environment."

Before her departure for the continent, she found out the name of her husband's Nashville-based lover. It was Ethel Gilbert, a white administrator at the school. She said nothing to Elmer Imes — what could he tell her about their marriage that she did not already know? Privately, she was a mess. She spoke only to Van Vechten about the situation. Elmer wrote to the author of the controversial Nigger Heaven, that he should "cheer Nella up occasionally. She seemed a little blue about my leaving."

Nella traveled to Nashville in May, dreading having to look the woman her husband was sleeping with in the face. lmer knew that she was shortly off to Europe on her fellowship, but she when she confronted him with evidence of the affair in New York, he begged her not to end the marriage. They agreed to separate and revisit things upon her return.

The S.S. Patria departed for Lisbon, after a brief stopover in Boston, on September 19. Nella stayed in the Avenida Palace Hotel there. The best room in the place was ten dollars a day. Lisbon struck Nella as a clean, happy city. Two white Virginians who had relocated to Nice showed her around the theater district. Much of Lisbon featured citizens darker than Larsen herself. She could not get Elmer's affair out of her mind. It was all the more present, knowing he was with Ethel and in love while she was all alone.

She took the train to Madrid and sailed from Barcelona to Majorca, an overnight jaunt that had her arrive at dawn. She found the island a charming refuge, meant as it was to be a safe haven for expatriates and tourists. She moved into the Hotel Reina Victoria, a lavish outpost where she contracted a mild case of pneumonia.

the Hotel Reina Victoria

She was yet to begin her book on Europe, instead focusing her attention on a story about a cheating man living in New Jersey. She wrote to her husband and Van Vechten regularly. To the latter she suggested that she was "trying to make up my mind to take a house. I can get a very good and a servant for fifty-five dollars a month. Food for the two of us will come to about thirty dollars a month. The only thing is that I have to take the house for six months and how do I know what I'll want to do next May?"

She ended up taking the villa until May 1. She struggled to meet people, even expatriates. "Perhaps being a bit lonely is doing me good," she wrote Carl optimistically. Elmer sent Nella a check for her expenses beyond what the Guggenheim Fellowship covered; at Fisk he pulled down a salary of $5,000 a year. She spent what he sent her quite freely, troubling Elmer, who told Carl that "I am rather holding my breath and pocketbook for Nella's needs. She has seemed to need a great deal so far."

"The work goes fairly well," she reported to the fellowship committee. "A little slower than is usual with me. But – I like it. Of course that means nothing because I really can't tell if it's good or not. But the way I hope and pray that it is is like a physical pain almost. I do so want to be famous."

Elmer Imes
Nella amused herself with an another self-exile, a Scotsman named Norman Cameron who had fled the civil service in Nigeria. He introduced her to Robert Graves and Laura Riding, more permanent residents of Majorca confined to their own seclusion. Norman introduced her to the local society, but she did not stay in Majorca long.

Because she did not look her age – she was 40 – Nella fit in well enough with younger people. Learning polo and going out at night left her precious time to work on her New Jersey novel, which she had titled Crowning Mercy. Her relationship with Mssr. Cameron had been unceremoniously ended by a younger German girl was living with the Graves. She went on to Paris in May, where a plan to visit Carl's friend Gertrude Stein was foiled by problems of timing.

In Paris she met Arthur and Rose Wheeler, who had retired to Paris after Arthur had made substantial sums in the New York finance world. She heard less and less from Elmer, for whom his wife's absence was a case of out of sight, out of mind. He was also upset about her spending and lavish Paris digs near Montparnesse (Man Ray lived underneath her). Elmer sailed to Europe with Ethel Gilbert, and they toured Austria and Italy together. Nella's novel, now called Mirage, was rejected by Knopf.

Fisk University

By the time Nella Larsen finally returned to the United States, both parties had lost any faith in the possibility of salvaging the relationship. Nella briefly moved to Nashville to enhance her standing in the divorce case. A judge would award her alimony of $150 a month, which was around half of Imes' weekly salary.

She wrote to her friend Dorothy Peterson,

About the divorce. I've about come to the conclusion to get it here. It can be done discreetly in ten days for a hundred dollars or so. Can you imagine that? There are about eight grounds for divorce in Tennessee:

1. Adultery.

2. Desertion for two years.

3. Failure of wife to remove to the state if husband is living and working in Tennessee (Note these last two. It explains a lot, especially why I am here still after coming for a mere visit).

4. Habitual drunkenness contracted after marriage.

5. Non-support.

6. Commission of a crime.

7. Bigamy.

8. Cruelty.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Nella in nursing school, second from left


In Which Josephine Baker Endures An Overlong Childhood

So Far


Before he permanently disappeared from her life, Josephine Baker's white father did her one favor. He paid for her mother Carrie to receive six weeks of treatment in a white hospital in St. Louis. Josephine Baker's given name, Freda, was German and so, probably, was her father. Three letters on her birth certificate testified to his identity, letters she would not see until the document had to be procured when she left the United States: edw.

When she was five, Josephine Baker's mother was finally ready to take her and her brother Richard into her own home. They called their mother's new husband Papa. The poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis were composed largely of Russian Jews, Italians or blacks. Josephine and Richard slept with Carrie's two other children on one mattress, riddled with bedbugs. For food they raided the trash of a local outdoor market. Oddjobs occasionally made them a dime. With her brother, she tossed coal to the rest of the kids from freight cars.

As Josephine got older, babysitting was a safer way to make money. Sometimes she would be screamed at by black housekeepers for kissing their white babies. Weekends brought the ghetto alive with massive street parties. Josephine told a redheaded street urchin that she considered him romantically. He responded, "You're a nigger!" and dashed off.

She found consolation in animals, once picking up a snake she found and bringing it into the house, where it was quickly stepped on. Later, she was very close to a pet pig. At seven, her mother sent her away to work in a white family's house.

with Golda Meir

Her new mistress beat her ferociously, and then woke her up at 5 a.m. to start work the next day. She did not last long in service, and was sent back. Her next employment was nearly as brief: she screamed when the man of the house tried to fuck her at night. Her mother only asked her, "How could you ruin such a wonderful chance?"

Josephine Baker's first experience of school was at the segregated institution sometimes called Dumas, often referred to as Colored School No. 1. Richard and Josephine had to pass by white schools to get there, and would be heckled with various slurs on their way. Meanwhile, Josephine's mother's drinking had gotten out of control, and she criticized her daughter for the girl's lighter skin color whenever she could. The girl's only relief from this life was the local black theater, named after Booker Washington. Her friends there would cover for her when she ditched school.

A local family of musicians offered to take Josephine in for a time, and her mother instantly agreed. The matriarch of the Jones family was a virtuoso on trumpet, and the Jones children played instruments as well. She was relieved to be out of the company of her natural family, which was further ripped apart by her mother's frequent infidelity, but she was still dreadfully poor. "When I think about the troubled days," she wrote in her autobiography, "I feel like crying: it is so far."

Many whites in St. Louis were convinced of their racial superiority; they harassed black woman and men in the streets without fear of reprisal. Riots broke out frequently, killing as many as seventy people of color. Many blacks were driven from their homes into Josephine's neighborhood. The year 1917 accounted for 38 lynchings in St. Louis.

By the time Josephine was 13, her mother decided it was best to simply marry her off. Her new husband Willie Wells was nearing thirty, and he had a job as a steelworker. Their furnished room cost $1.50 per week. This marriage lasted a better part of a year before Josephine cut Wells' head open with a beer bottle. Her next job was that of a waitress at the Old Chaffeur's Club. She performed at the Booker Washington when she was allowed.

This job let her leave St. Louis on a tour, and she could not have been happier to be gone. In Memphis every hotel had bedbugs and the traveling blacks weren't welcome anyplace decent. The "theaters" Josephine played in usually served other masters: one was a blacksmith's shop, another a salon. New Orleans excited her more, and Philadelphia the most. She could not follow the cast to New York, since you had to be sixteen to perform there. So she stayed behind in Philadelphia and married a light-skinned dancer named Billy Baker.

After Josephine was old enough to hit Broadway, she made her way to Boston, too, where local families would take in chorus girls. Critics noticed Josephine's act even in the background. "One of the chorus girls is without question the most limber lady of whatever hue the stage has yet disclosed," wrote one admirer. In racially divided Chicago the production had to advertise that it did not want. blacks to attend.

Instead of returning to St. Louis, Josephine went to Atlantic City for the summer, where she hit the stage at the ominously named Plantation Cafe. Atlantic City was also deeply segregated, and hotels had signs that read "NO DOGS, NO JEWS." That no blacks were permitted to enter was implied.

Josephine Baker was living in Harlem when she was discovered by a rich American woman named Caroline Reagan. Mrs. Reagan had an amorphous gender identity – Gertrude Stein said of her that she was "neither fish nor flesh nor fowl." Lacking any appreciable identity, she looked to black culture to provide one for her. This plan entailed bringing African-Americans to Paris, where they would entertain the French with their very different type of show. Mrs. Reagan offered Josephine $150 a week and was turned down, but $250 sealed it.

In order to get her new black friends to Paris, Mrs. Reagan used all the connections her diplomat husband possessed. Josephine had never been divorced, but that is not what her passport said. She was terrified the amorphous circumstances of her marital past would prevent her from setting sail on the massive Berengaria.

Josephine's farewell happened at Club Bamville on 129th Street. She was deeply ambivalent about leaving the only country she had ever known. "I can only recall one single day of fear in my life," she wrote. "One day, which lasted only one hour, maybe one minute... it was over between America and me." Caroline Reagan described the scene of the Berengaria's departure: "A quarter of Harlem was on the docks."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.


In Which We Land In The Childhood Of Ingmar Bergman

Invisible Ink


The difference between a dated film and a timeless one is measured by the lengths of the skirts.

Irish hermits colonized Faro Island, halfway between modern day Norway and Iceland, in the eighth century. Ingmar Bergman shot The Passion of Anna there during the fall of 1969. Anna (Liv Ullman) appears almost out of nowhere in the film's opening minutes, gripping a shabby cane and asking to make a call to Stockholm. Andreas (Max Von Syndow) forces himself to listen in on the conversation.

In his notes for the film, Bergman writes, "One morning I awakened and decided to abandon the story about the two sisters. It feels too large, too unwieldy and too uninteresting from a cinematic point of view." Instead The Passion of Anna revolves around Andreas' interest in two women, neither of whom he has any idea how to love.

Shortly after the introduction of Anna, we meet Eva (Bibi Andersson) who is her more desirable double. It is the performance of her unhappily married woman opposite Andreas that gives meaning to the entire film, for where Anna's style is basically dated, Eva is disturbingly modern in contrast. "It is hard to realize one day that you're meaningless," she informs Andreas, inculcating his worst fears. After the overwhelming eroticism fades, both ourselves and Bergman's hero are left with not very much. Therefore he looks to Anna.

Bergman hated the miniskirts that Bibi and Liv Ullman suggested their characters wear, but he gave into their instinct. "That misfortune was not noticeable then but revealed itself later," he complains in Images, "like writing in invisible ink." Miniskirts are the least of the horrors on the island, since such things come into fashion again. Elsewhere, eight sheep are mutilated and killed; an innocent man is pushed to suicide after he is accused of the crime. Andreas finds a dog almost dead by hanging and serves it milk, but he is fighting a losing battle against the universe. His despair is Bergman's.

Between scenes of Andreas' desolate hermit life on the island and his seduction of the women there, Bergman blends straightforward interviews with the actors about portraying their provincial characters. He later regretted including these departures, admitting "the interviews should have been cut out."

Watching a documentary about a movie alongside the movie itself is not so nearly disorienting today, and it gives The Passion of Anna an inflated importance, making the film's chaotic events seem to add up to more than they really do. The masterfully subtle performances Bergman receives from Von Sydow and Ullman further distract from the inadequacies of the script. The Passion of Anna is not near one of Bergman's best films, but it is his messiest.

During the forty-five days it took to shoot The Passion of Anna, Bergman fought endlessly with his cinematographer, Sven Nyquist. Bergman felt he needed The Passion of Anna to be a success after the financial failure of Shame, and he was handicapped in his ambitions by the fact the screenplay he took to Faro Island was incomplete, comprised mainly of "moods." Images finds Ingmar musing that "The Passion of Anna could have been a good film."

It was their first color effort together, and although the natural light they received on the island is perfect, the final color of the film is disastrous, frequently displayed as overexposed and especially hard to look at in interior scenes. Sometimes this is intentional, as when infidelity occurs. Other times, the spectrum is simply chaotic. The Passion of Anna is one of Bergman's only films to not rate highly in its overall presentation, suggesting why he was so frustrated by the process of filming it.

Faro Island for Bergman was a kind of hell, representing what he called a Kingdom of Death. Any tendency towards isolation, The Passion of Anna suggests, is self-annihilating. This anoints the present as a sincere improvement on the past, for the reason that we are all closer together now than we ever were. "You are scared," Bergman writes, "when you have for a long time been sawing off the branch on which you sit."

from Ingmar Bergman's Images

There are two godfathers to Fanny and Alexander. One of them is E.T.A. Hoffmann.

Toward the end of the 1970s, I was supposed to direct Hoffmann at the Opera House in Munich. I began to fantasize about the real Hoffmann, who sat in Luther's wine cellar, sick and nearly dying. I wrote in my notes: "Death is everpresent. The barcarole, the sweetness of death. The Venice scene stinks of decay, raw lust, and heavy perfumes. In the Antonia scene, the mother is intensely frightening. The room is people with shadows, dancing, and mouths gaping. The mirror in the mirror aria is small and gleams like a murder weapon."

In a short story written by Hoffmann there is a gigantic, magical room. It was that magical room I wanted to re-create on stage. The drama would be played out with that room set on stage. The drama would be played out with that room set in the foreground and the orchestra in the background.

There is also an illustration from E.T.A. Hoffmann's stories that had haunted me time and time again, a picture from The Nutcracker. Two children are quivering close together in the twilight of Christmas Eve, waiting impatiently for the candles on the tree to be lighted and the doors to the living room to be opened.

It is that scene that gave me the idea of beginning Fanny and Alexander with a Christmas celebration.

The second godfather is Dickens: the bishop and his home, the Jew in his boutique of fantasies, the children as victims; the contrast between flourishing outside life and a closed world in black-and-white.

One could say that it all began during the fall of 1978. I was living in Munich and felt ill at ease. I was still enmeshed in the tax imbroglio, and I didn't know how or when it would end. On September 27, I wrote in my workbook:

There is no longer any distinction between my anxiety and the reality that causes it. And yet I think I know what kind of film I want to make next. It is far different from anything I have ever done.

Anton is eleven years old and Maria is twelve. They act as observers of the reality I wish to depict. The time is the beginning of the First World War; the place is a small town, exceedingly quiet and well-kept. There is a university, a theater, and a hotel some distance away. Life is peaceful.

Anton and Maria's mother is director of a theater. When their father died, she took over the management of his theater and now runs it with authority and shrewdness. They lie on a quiet street. in the back of the theater lives a Jew, Isak, who owns a toy store. It contains some other interesting and exciting objects as well. A frequent Sunday visitor is an old lady who used to be a missionary in China. She performs Chinese shadow plays. There is also an uncle who is a little crazy but is harmless and who takes certain liberties. The house is well-to-do and extremely bourgeois.

The grandmother is an almost mystical figure who lives in the apartment below. She is fabulously wealthy and was in her past a royal mistress and a great actress. Now she has retired, but sometimes she will appear in an occasional part. In either case, it is a world completely dominated by women, from the cook who has been around for a hundred years to the little nanny who is cheerful, freckled and limps because one leg is shorter than the other, and who smells deliciously of sweat.

The theater is both a playground for the children and a haven. Sometimes they are allowed to participate in a play, which they find enormously exciting. The children sleep in the same room, and they have many things to keep themselves occupied - their own puppet theater, their own movie projector, toy trains, dollhouses. They are inseparable.

Maria is the one who takes the most initiative. Anton is rather anxious. Their upbringing is strict, and severe punishment for even the most trivial offenses is not out of the question. The church bells measure the passage of time; the small bell at a nearby castle announces when it is morning and when it is evening. The Vicar is always a welcome guest, even at the theater. One might suspect that Mother has a special relationship with the vicar. However, this is difficult to know right away.

Then Mother decides to marry the vicar. Mother cannot continue to manage her theater; she must become a wife and mother. It is already apparent that her belly is swelling. Maria does not like the vicar; Anton does not like him either. Mother transfers the ownership of the theater to her actors; crying bitterly, she bids her people farewell and moves into the vicarage with Maria and Anton, who are raging with anger.

Mother is a good wife to the clergyman. She plays her part irreproachably: she gives birth to a child and invites the parishioners in for coffee after the morning service. The church bells ring, and Maria and Anton brood, thinking of revenge. They are no longer allowed to sleep together in the same room, and the cheerful Maj, the nanny, who has become pregnant, is fired and replaced by the vicar's sister, who is a dragon.

With my divining rod, I searched the ground for a source and came upon a vein of water. When I began to drill, it gushed out like a geyser. My notes continue:

Through my playing, I want to master my anxiety, relieve tension, and triumph over my deterioration. I want to depict, finally, the joy that I carry within me in spite of everything, and which I so seldom and so feebly have given attention to in my work. To be able to express the power of action, decisiveness, the vitality, and the kindness. Yes, for once, that would not be a bad idea.

From the very beginning one can see that with Fanny and Alexander. I have landed in the world of my childhood. Here is the university town and Grandmother's house with the old cook; here is the Jew who lived out back; and here is the school. I am already in the place and beginning to roam around in the familiar environment. My childhood has of course always been my main supplier, without my ever having bothered to find out where the deliveries were coming from.

On November 10, I write in my workbook:

I often think of Ingrid Bergman. I would like to write something for her that would not be too demanding, and I see a summer porch in rain. She is alone, waiting for her children and grandchildren. It is afternoon, the whole film is set on a veranda. The film will last only as long as the rain. Nature is showing her fairest face; everything is enveloped in this soft unceasing rain. When the film opens, she is speaking on the telephone. Her family is out on an excursion around the lake. She talks with an old friend of hers, who is much older than she. A deep trust exists between the two. She writes a letter. She finds some object. She remember a theater performance - her big breakthrough. She sees her reflection in the windowpanes - and can catch a glimpse of herself as a young woman.

The reason she has stayed at home is that she has sprained her ankle - it is only a slight sprain; mostly it feels good to be alone. Toward the end of the film, she sees the family returning from their trip; the rain is still falling, but it is now a peaceful, quiet drip.

Everything should happen in a major key.

The porch in summer - everything is enveloped in a soft chiaroscuro. In this piece there are no hard edges; everything must be as soft as the rain. A neighbor's child comes and asks for other children. She has bought wild strawberries, and she is given a treat. She is wet from the rain and smells wet. It is a kind life, a good, simple, incredible life. When she sees the child's hands, the most unusual thoughts come to her, thoughts that she has never had before. The cat purrs, stretched out on the sofa, the clock ticks; the smell of summer pervades over all. She stands in the doorway to the porch and looks out over the meadows with the oak tree, the meadow that leads down in the old bridge and the bay. To her, everything looks both old and familiar and yet new and unexpected. It is strange how longing emanates from sudden solitude.

This looks like a different film, independent of the first, but the material came to good use in Fanny and Alexander, the decision to depict a life, luminous and happy, was there from the moment I found life truly difficult to bear.

Harmony is not a feeling that is totally unusual or foreign to me. If I am just allowed to live quiet and create in a calm environment without being tormented, where I can have a clear perspective of my existence, where it is possible for me to be kind and not need anything or have to keep lots of appointments, then I can function at my best. Such an existence reminds me of the good-natured passive life of my childhood.

On April 18 I wrote, "I don't know much about this film. Yet it tempts me more than any other. It is enigmatic and demands reflection, but the most important thing of course is that the desire is there."

On April 23 I note: "Today I wrote the first six pages of Fanny and Alexander. I actually enjoyed doing it. Now I am going to write about the theater, the apartment, and the grandmother."

Wednesday, May 2:

I must get away from rushing and straining. I have the entire summer in front of me to do this, more than four months. On the other hand, I should not stay away from my desk too long. But no, it's all right to walk around a bit! Let the scenes settle themselves down as they please. Let them become what they will. Then they will be on their best behavior!

Tuesday, June 5:

It is dangerous to invoke the infernal powers. In Isak's house lives an idiot with the face of an angel, a thin, fragile body, and colorless eyes that see all. He is able to do evil. He is like a membrane for wishes that quivers with the slightest touch. It is Alexander's experience of the Secret that makes him what he is. The conversation with his dead father. God showing himself to him. His meeting with the dangerous Ismael, who sends the burning woman to annihilate the bishop.

The manuscript was finished on July 8, not quite three months after I began it. There followed a year of preparation for filming, a long and surprisingly pleasant time.

Then, I suddenly stood there and had to materialize my film.

Watching it today, I see that the long version could have been trimmed down half an hour to forty minutes without anyone noticing it. As it was, the work was heavily edited down to the five different episodes for television. But from that point down to the reduced theatrical version was a long step.

The basic chords in Fanny and Alexander are summed up exhaustively in The Magic Lantern:

To be honest, it is with delight and curiosity that I think back on my childhood. My imagination and sense gained nourishment, and I cannot remember ever being bored. Rather the days and hours exploded with these strange wonders, unexpected sights, and magical moments. I can still roam through the landscape of my childhood and re-create the lighting, smells, people, places, moments, gestures, intonations, and objects. Seldom do these memories have any particular meaning; they like bits of film, short of long, with no point, shot at random.

This is the prerogative of childhood: to move in complete freedom between magic and oatmeal porridge, between boundless terror and joy that threatens to burst within you. There were no limits except forbidden things and rules, which were like shadows, mostly unfathomable. I know, for instance, that I could not grasp the concept of time: You must learn to be punctual; you have been given a watch, you must learn how to tell time. Yet time did not exist. I was late for school, I was late for meals. Unconcerned, I roamed around in the park by the hospital, looking around and dreaming; time ceased to exist, then something reminded me I was hungry, and trouble began.

It was difficult for me to differentiate between what existed in my imagination and what was real. If I made the effort, perhaps I could make the reality remain real, but then, for instance, there were always the ghosts and the visions. What was I supposed to do with them? And the fairy tales, were they real or not?

Translated from the Swedish by Marianne Ruuth.

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