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Alex Carnevale
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Mia Nguyen
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Senior Editor
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 (203)

Tuesday
Feb022016

In Which Chip Baskets Has Lost A Considerable Amount Of Body Fat

Renwah

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Baskets
creator Louis CK, Zach Galifianakis & Jonathan Krisel

Chip Baskets' mother (Louis Anderson) has these plants in her house with large fronds. She won't trim them because it would be like doing harm to something she loves, no matter how much they get in her way as she attempts to ascend the stairs of her home. This is the kind of compassionate, dispassionate attitude assumed by virtually everyone in the brilliant new FX series Baskets, except for its central character: a California clown named Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis). Unlike the rest of the people in his life, he knows exactly who he is.

Chip's identical twin brother Dale runs a correspondence degree mill that pumps out certificates in occupations like middle management and cell phone repair. He is used to his brother coming to him for money, and doesn't really resent the imposition. Chip asks him for $40, money he plans to use to fund the HBO subscription of a French woman who no longer has any interest in him.

Louis CK recently released the painful first episode of Horace and Pete, a three camera comedy that stars himself and Steve Buscemi as white brothers running a bar. You can feel CK's presence in Baskets, but it is more in the subtle diassociation from reality.

CK has not received enough credit for bringing some of the character of live theater to television; in Horace and Pete this melding such a disaster the show feels like a parody of Death of a Salesman. On his own HBO series, Louie, this unique feel to the television product made it seem vaguely otherworldly, and the same effect is achieved by the marvelous Baskets.

Chip Baskets' world is Bakersfield, California, which consists of the places he ventures as he rollerblades from the rodeo to his home base and back again. He only goes somewhere else when he is escorted, since he cannot afford a car and a bee caused him to crash his scooter.

Galifianakis is at his best when he is not playing too weird. The fact that he is about half the man he once was made him look like a turtle without his shell in recent performances. By now we are used to the slimmer version. At base, Chip Baskets is the kind of good-natured simpleton, but Galifianakis plays Chip with a depth the character sorely requires and maybe does not deserve. As Chip fails out of French clowning school because he amusingly speaks no French whatsoever, we have quickly finished sympathizing with his naivete: the man is no charity case, he simply needs to figure things out.

To set him on the garden path, his mother purchases him a Costco executive membership from Chip's only friend, a woman named Martha (Martha Kelly). The role of Chip's buddy is written exactly to suit the stand-up comedian, whose deadpan, unenthusiastic delivery never exactly made her a roaring hit onstage. Some of the ways Chip dismisses Martha seem a little too pat, but Baskets works better as a personal journey rather than a love story anyway. Chip responds well to Martha's understated nature and tries to ape it in his clowning, and eventually in his life.

Although Chip performs at a rodeo, lots of obvious jokes are avoided in favor of more personal storylines. In the show's second episode, Chip takes an interest in the clowning career of a Juggalo (Adam William Zastrow) with no experience in the art. Through Chip's intervention, the young man is able to pursue a fruitful career as a cashier at Arby's. Amidst the dark humor involved with Chip's maudlin existence in Baskets, there is an inspiring undercurrent about what positive things we can absorb from other people without even meaning to do so.

This is maybe not the hilarity audiences would expect from Zach Galifianakis as a clown, but who cares? There has not been a comedy as good as Baskets on television for a long time. Watching other comedies becomes the observation of a race towards a singular joke. Once achieved, the entire paradigm is thrown away for some other gag. Angie Tribeca, a horrid series which recently premiered on the equally unwatchable network TBS, at least attempted to turn this into a Mel Brooks-type zaniness.

Unfortunately Mel Brooks is not funny unless you are under ten years old or substantially more interested in puns than you ought to be. Rashida Jones is wasting her career as the titular detective, and honestly she was never really cut out for these sorts of gagfests anyway.

What comes across in Baskets is the same sort of basic humanity that is represented in everything Louis CK admires. He honestly appears to respect regular people a lot more than he does his actual friends and peers, so he casts them in the roles of working class individuals. Horace and Pete descends too far in this direction; it is too obvious that the entire cast not who they appear to be. The show even makes Rebecca Hall resemble a regular person, forcing her to kiss Louis CK on the lips as part of the show's opening moments. Although this dull sense of normalcy is more deftly done in Baskets, on the whole this humbling is a welcome change.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"You're Mine" - Lola Marsh (mp3)

Friday
Jan222016

In Which It Has Only Been The Two Of Us For So Long

A Little Less Spirituality

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Just tired and busy and amazed and amused and charmed and horrified. - Maria Huxley, in a letter

In 1913 Aldous Huxley began to lose his sight. His eyes clouded over, his vision was "steadily and quite rapidly failing. I was wondering quite apprehensively what on earth I should do." After seeing an oculist, it was decided that a milder climate might help him, so Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria Nys went to Italy. Their son Matthew spent the first four years of his life in Florence and Rome.

Matthew was an extremely large and difficult child. Aldous and Maria were a bit taken aback by who they had created; Matthew Huxley would later become a prominent epidemologist. The child was a picky eater and stuck to a vegetarian diet, causing Aldous to remark, "he realizes that meat is dead animals."

Matthew had no desire to read, which made him the polar opposite of his father. The entire family was practically grief stricken at the young boy's non-literary habits; only Aldous was able to be patient with him. "Too early a passion for reading distracts from the powers of observation," he told everyone.


The whole family liked Italy, but Aldous was the only one who admired it, more in theory than in practice. Florence never suited him; it was more a place where culture had been rather than a city where it was. He chose Rome as the young family's landing spot. "After a third rate provincial town," he concluded, "colonized by English sodomites and middle-aged lesbians, a genuine metropolis will be lively." They could not stay in Italy, however, as fascism was in the air. They left Matthew in Belgium with his grandmother and took a boat to Bombay.

Aldous despised the architecture of Lahore, and loathed Kashmir worse. They kept incredibly active, fortified by a gnawing fear and the weight they burned off from their time in Florence. At Srinagar they visited the lunatic asylum.

Every place that they visited, Aldous asked question after question, ostensibly as research for a series of articles that helped pay for the journey. He also did it when he felt he did not have something himself to say.

An attempt to travel second class did not go well - a holy man spit his mucus all over their car - so they paid the extra rupees for first class, money they knew they should not be spending. Maria could barely eat the food. "India is depressing as no other country I have ever known," Aldous wrote. "One breathes in it, not air, but dust and hopelessness."

Aldous was most put off by the beliefs of the people he met. "A little less spirituality," he wrote, "and the Indians would now be free - free from foreign dominion and from the tyranny of their own prejudices and traditions. There would be less dirt and more food. There would be fewer Maharajas with Rolls Royces and more schools."

He was not impressed at all by the Taj Mahal, and told everyone so. "These four thin tapering towers," he wrote in Jesting Pilate, "are among the ugliest structures ever erected by human hands." Whatever one thinks of the Taj Mahal, it seems a greater dissatisfaction with the world and his place in it may have been the cause of this observation.

Things got better as soon as they left Calcutta for Burma. Dutch ships took them to the Philippines. From there they landed in Japan, taking the train to Kyoto and departing via Yokohama. Aldous watched Maria's eating closely, preventing her from having too much caviar, the only food she felt comfortable consuming at sea.

Japan was almost as nauseating to Aldous as India, but for different reasons. Kyoto was "such a collection of the cheap and shoddy, of the quasi-genuine and the imitation solid, of the vulgar and the tawdry." The industrial city did not suit Aldous' taste at all:

Little wooden shacks succeeds little wooden shack interminably, mile after mile; and the recession of the straight untidy roads is emphasised by the long lines of posts, the sagging electric wires that flank each street, like the trees of an avenue. All the cowboys in the world could live in Kyoto, all the Forty-Niners. Street leads into identical street, district merges indistinguishably into district. In this dreary ocean of log-cabins almost the only White Houses are the hotels.

with D.H. Lawrence

San Francisco was next, and from there Maria and Aldous took the Daylight Limited train to Los Angeles. They did not stay long in any one American city; Hollywood was "altogether too Antipodean to be lived in." (Aldous would spend the majority of the rest of his life in Southern California.)

When they returned to England from New York, Maria went to see Matthew while Aldous stayed in England. It had been only the two of them for so long.


While they were apart, Aldous wrote Maria long letters. They prefigure a latent unhappiness that would lead him to adultery, but also the connection that would allow the marriage to survive his mistakes until Maria died of breast cancer in 1955.

I think myself it's rather nice to be busy and practical on the outside - and daydreams, as you call it, inside. The things one cares about are all inside, like seeds on the ground in winter. But one has to attend to the things one only half cares about. And so life passes away.

Luckily, the inside thing corresponds with the inside thing in just a few people. I think it is so with us. We don't fit in very well outside - but the inside corresponds, which is most important.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Pretty Words" - Crissi Cochrane (mp3)

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Friday
Dec112015

In Which The Scarecrow Probably Did Most Of This

Giving Up

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Walk
dir. Robert Zemeckis
123 minutes
 

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Northern French accent is very impressive in Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. “He never gives up,” says his girlfriend Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon). After Philippe Petit walked across a high wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center, he dumped her for a woman who came onto him after his appearance on the local news. In the movie, we never see the infidelity; Annie just peaces out in a cab like nothing too bad happened.

It has been over a month since Islamic terrorists killed 130 people at a concert in Paris. One month later diplomats are in Paris, talking about who will pay for the cost of fighting climate change. The Associated Press article reported that the countries were close to an accord; a group of hard-line countries represented by a Malaysian lawyer named Gurdial Singh Nijar explained that the meeting was “going backwards," since India, China and Malaysia would never agree to any of the conditions set forth by Western democracies.

Annie Allix has had to watch her relationship with Petit glorified. She is presented in The Walk as an ultimately innocuous bystander to his 140 foot-walk across the sky. One hundred and forty feet does not sound like a very far distance, but Petit managed it several times. Bystanders clapped and cheered. Afterwards, his criminal charges were dropped and he was even honored as a local hero.

That was 1974. Two years earlier, eleven Israeli Olympic team members had been taken hostage and murdered by the Palestinian group Black September, with support from anti-Semitic German groups. It did not take much time for people to forget about that. We all have short memories, so it is nice to remember what Mr. Petit did. His girlfriend remembers it, too. In the documentary about Petit's walk, Man On Wire, she explains, "My life was completely consumed by his, and he never thought to ask me whether I had my own destiny to follow. It was quite clear I had to follow his.”

It is remarkable how people can ignore what it happening all around them, and at times even necessary. In The Walk, Petit explains to a customs guard what his plans are, and the guy laughs and waves him through LaGuardia. Petit even employs more than one willing American in his act of terrorism. Such a thing would never happen today, and in fact in seems an insult to towers lost to history that Petit even suggested he would perform his feat again. I mean, why would we want him to? He’s a dick who forced his girlfriend to watch from the ground below through binoculars.

In order to drag out the tension during his walk, Zemeckis includes the appearance of a seagull. A helicopter emerges shortly thereafter, further disturbing the relative peace of Mr. Petit’s walk. The seagull looks angry: there were seagulls before men built towers, and decided to walk across them for no discernible reason.

Now some white men want to set back the economies of developing nations in order to ensure that pollutants are no longer pumped into the atmosphere, and fossil fuels burnt at quite the same rate. If the gesture is reasonable on the part of the assorted diplomats involved, it is also somewhat hypocritical. After all, Western nations were the perpetrators of the original crime to the environment — now that historically less prosperous nations finally have the economic advantages that come with industry, the West explains, “No, we've decided that’s enough!” and has the gall to ask them to pay for it!

It is easy enough for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to substitute for a Frenchman. He actually plays Petit as a bit of a narcissistic asshole, and the constant smirk that dashes back and forth across his face is never wiped off, not even as he crosses skyscrapers. In the days after the walk he was so happy. He had become a sort of honorary American, and as a showman, he enjoyed this new caricature of himself.

Zemeckis' movie, which is about a half hour too long, tries to turn The Walk into a sort of heist caper. This would be great, except that every single one of Petit's associates was a white guy with a beard or moustache who had absolutely no personality. Gordon-Levitt is forced to carry the day. He is entertaining enough, but it's clear that Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne have no great love for Petit himself, who comes across as a maniacal dick.

Philippe Petit did not care why his girlfriend helped him walk on that wire. It only mattered to him that he achieved his goal, and what happened afterwards was a mere consequence of his desire. This subtlety was completely excluded from The Wire, constituting a great disappointment, because it is only interesting thing about the story. Petit's fuck-everyone-but-me perspective is a very Western attitude, and it is not just a destructive one — it is a self-destructive one.

What stuns me is the lack of empathy in The Walk, and by the West in general. Terrorist attacks are awful, sinister stuff. Any regular murder becomes a mystery that is never solved until we understand the motives of the perpetrator. For some reason, we have a different perspective on mass murders, actions so objectionable they seem to most people to defy motivation. That is a mistake in judgment, for every murder should demand an equal amount of horror and introspection. With the attacks on the Bataclan, the general understanding seems to be that some specific villains are involved: maybe the Joker, or Scarecrow, or Lex Luthor? I mean, who really cares, get them!

You know, Donald Trump is a disgusting creature, but at least he identified a problem and explained the steps he would take to solve it. A bunch of politicans are more concerned about striking non-binding "agreements" to limit emissions from countries that will never stop polluting, and couldn’t care less about the vagaries of international accords. The West is in a war, but they do not know the war they are in, and would not be able to identify the villains or their motivations if asked. Meeting in Paris at this time proves how exactly dense they are.

Petit could never stroll into Manhattan today to start making his terrorist-esque plans. Walking across a wire seems quite hard, but maybe not as difficult as taking your own life in order to destroy the lives of people you never even know. That our enemies are willing to go to such lengths for either their religion or their hatred of our world should say something about the conditions in it. This violence is a sickness, but it is also a symptom.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"One Last Time" - Broadway cast of Hamilton (mp3)

"It's Quiet Uptown" - Broadway cast of Hamilton (mp3)

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