Friday, 29 July 2011

Louie, Louie You're Gonna Cry!

“Every episode has a goal, and if it messes up with the goal of another episode… I just don’t care” Louis CK

When it comes to drama The Nathalie and I don’t always see eye to eye. In fact in the last couple of years a war has been declared between her (Breaking Bad) and me (MadMen, House) with Justified and The Wire being the only two dramas that the mention of their name will make us cease fire, put our fists down and discuss, with just as much passion, how much those series’ are brilliant. 

Lucky for her, and for the poor people we both know, who found themselves involved whether they like it or not, when it comes to comedy, at least for now, not only do we share love for the same kind of humour, sometimes we are the only ones who share it, which makes the people we know not so lucky after all.

Louis CK has been a stand up comedian in the US for over 20 years, opening for Jerry Seinfeld and working on the usual talk shows. In fashion with his generation and most quality comedy of today, CK’s humour is black, wild, non pc and rude. Oh and very funny. He is a loveable loser, evil in his humour but impossible to hate. In 2009 FX (?) has given him very little money, but no limitation to create his new show Louie, in which he is writing directing, producing, starring and apparently editing. This doesn't sound like something that would usually appeal to me, but Louie is not usual.

The general premise of Louie is loosely based on CK’s life as a divorced middle aged man with 2 daughters, but this doesn't really do justice to the show. It is made out of a collection of his stand up comedy clips and random moments in life, frequently surreal and usually represent what might go on in his head rather than what actually happens. As a result Louie is often bizarre, always surprising and always very funny.

Louie gives you a glimpse into Louis CK’s brain, which alarmingly (or not) I find is very similar to mine. What could I, never married, still finding myself, living in London, originally from Israel, mid thirties gal, possibly have in common with a middle aged divorced New Yorker, originally from Washington D.C? With kids (!)

Despite his black and wicked humour, Louie shows that actually Louis CK has a genuinely good heart and really good, sometimes maybe too good, intentions. This makes him stand out from all other comedians of his time. It is hard to imagine Ricky Gervais (guest appearing in 2 episodes) or Larry David trying so hard to impress a girl or making an effort to cook a nice dinner to their children. I can't even imagine them having children at all.

CK’s good nature constantly clashes with reality and provides a strong contrast to his black humour. The shattering scene in which his younger daughter tells him she loves mum more than him and prefers living with her while he is lovingly brushing her teeth, makes it less cringing when, in his stand up, he says he wishes they were never born just as much as he loves them. This turns him from just another bitter middle aged man to a heart warming gentle soul. 

Louie is currently half way through the second season on FX channel[1] and it continues pretty much in the same direction as the first season, perhaps sharper and even more poignant than before.

The way the show is built, you can join it at any point. Each episode has its own agenda and stands independently. Bear in mind, having an agenda doesn’t guarantee that the episode will have an internal continuous logic. Nevertheless, you should watch all of it, simply because that together with community, Louie is not only the funniest comedy on television these days but also the bravest.

[1] FX channel is quite a strange channel, but it keeps picking unusual and excellent shows.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amy Amy Amy

“I told you I was trouble, you know that I'm no good.” 

As if watching someone self destruct and walking to their death makes it less tragic, or easier to dismiss as just another member of a stupid myth club.

Unlike with films and television, which I feel at home with, when it comes to music there is a lot I don't understand. I know what I love, but always bow down before my more knowledgeable friends, who help shape my musical taste.

There was something about Amy that grabbed me Immediately and wouldn't let go. I didn't need my music expert friends' seal of approval to know that I found someone rare and beautiful.  

With the right kind of voice for it, Amy wore her extensively reported pain on her sleeves. However, behind her tortured soul there was also a beautiful girl with the kind of talent that made me believe she was beyond her self destructive urge, and I wanted to believe she will overcome it and come back stronger and better.

In many of her interviews Amy said she started writing her own lyrics and music because she couldn’t relate to the songs of her time. She wanted to find her own voice, and what a voice that was. I wish she had found her peace of mind as well.

Her first album Frank, which she mostly wrote and produced on her own, is my favourite of her only two albums. It is what it says on the tin, frank. The songs are raw and not as polished as they became under Mark Ronson's wand in Back to Black. I love this simple honesty and Straightforwardness of this album. It is this kind of honesty, in her interviews as well as in her songs, which gave the impression she was a strong an confident woman.

Mark Ronson said in an interview about his work with her on Back to Black that once she had decided to work with him she wrote most of the lyrics within an hour. Like she was just waiting for the "go ahead" to pour what's on her mind and in her heart. 

Jonathan Ross asked her, in an interview about her album Frank, if her management company, who also managed S Club 7, ever tried to mould her into something she's not. Her brilliant reply was "They tried to shape into a triangle and I said nooooooo." She didn't compromise and was brave enough to sing her, but I she couldn't handle it. 

So I turn to my very humble CD collection and reach for Frank, and just before I cherish and hold on to every last note of the beautiful Amy Winehouse, my gaze rest on Shotter's Nation the only album I have of the Babyshambles (mock me if you will, I think Pete Doherty is another rare talent lost) and my stomach turns as I grievously wait  one more inevitable end of another musical legend.

I agree with every word she says about Doherty and it breaks my heart.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Super Heroes, Super Bitches and Lisa

I turn to the women of the small screen and look back at the television shows I watched and adored as a child, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are more TV women I like than I first thought. It makes me have a certain sense of accomplishment as if it was I who created those women, or better yet as if I was one of those women. 

I may have not conjured any of these wonderful ladies but I feel I have achieved something great by discovering them and letting them into my life.

The first woman I ever admired on television was Wonder Woman. Being both a woman and a wonder sort of guaranteed my devotion towards her. As a young, and quite feisty girl, I was naïve and an idealist feminist and Wonder Woman fitted nicely into my ideal of a strong woman. She was much better than Super Girl. Though I liked the idea of  Super Girl, I couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated. All she was is a female version of Superman and that’s just lazy. Also Super Girl’s outfit was a bit rubbish and she didn’t look half as great as Wonder Woman did.

I spent months of my childhood running like Wonder Woman, sneaking into hidden alleys and corners and spinning like a mad woman, making special effects noises and holding my hands spread, hoping that one day instead of dizziness I will actually become Wonder Woman.

Being the bad fan girl that I am I have to be honest and say that I remember very little of the premise behind Wonder Woman. I don’t think I was even aware that her outfit is made out of the American flag; to me her outfit was just really funky and had lots of shiny accessories. 

The fact that she was based on a comic book character came as a revelation to me at a much later age; to me Wonder Woman only existed on television. She was an awesome super woman who saved the world, and useless men, from other evil men.

Then came the short lived Isis (The Secrets of Isis) and I abandoned the exhausting spinning and running in favour of calling on upon the goddess Isis, much less tasking way of becoming a super woman.  

Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) the science teacher who found the amulet that gave her Isis’ powers, was quite a cool woman even before she became Isis. She was a curious and intelligent scientist with good intentions. Unlike with Wonder Woman, when I was under the influence of Isis I wanted to become Andrea Thomas just as much as “oh mighty Isis.”

For a long time I never really found the appeal of male super heroes. I always preferred the more resourceful men like MacGyver and Indiana Jones, who saved the world with mortal and earthly initiatives. I always felt that women throughout history had to fight and struggle on a regular basis, their lives always harder than men. So if on top of a day to day battle for equal rights and acceptance, a woman also takes the task of saving the world, AND looks good while doing it, that impressed me.  

When I was allowed to stay up late, I turned my attention to Dynasty and my love turned from super women to super bitches. Alexis Morell, Carrington, Colby, Dexter (oh how I hated Dex Dexter) Rowan (phew), was the ultimate super bitch and the one that paved the way for all my other loveable super bitches, from Miss Piggy to Wilhelmina Slater (Ugly Betty), Sue Sylvester (Glee) and the beautiful Santana Lopez (Glee).  

Alexis (Joan Collins), with her wonderful clothes and enormous hats, was, for me, the corner stone and rule maker of the ultimate super bitch. Firstly, she always looked fabulous a lot better than Krystal, with her extensive shoulder padding and pastel coloured dresses. Alexis made all clothes work for her, which was a real challenge during the worst decade for fashion; the 80s.

Watching the show as a child I was a bit scared of Alexis at first. She was the villain of the show after all, and I was worried she might kill the ever so fragile Krystle. In retrospect, perhaps she should have. Alexis seemed to have endless lifelines during the time Dynasty was on. She was constantly destroyed yet she kept coming back over and over again more glamorous than before and always bringing the drama to new heights.

I love that Alexis has kept all of her names, a testament to all the men in her life. It is the feminine, 80s equivalent to notches on a belt and was and still is quite unladylike, fabulous. Long before Sex and the City’s Samantha, Alexis was promiscuous and outrageous.
I remember being surprised when I found out Alexis was a mother and her children kept popping up from nowhere. I was even more surprised to see how old they all were. I could never imagine Alexis being pregnant, going through labour and taking care of babies, and so many of them. Conveniently and probably luckily for me, television made them appear all grown up so the horrible notion of Alexis changing dippers has been spared from me.        

Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) introduced me to two kinds of women who she embodied. The first was a fierce, feminist, business woman, who is not a bitch, the second a funny woman. The latter, retrospectively, was very significant in my life.

Funny women are hard to find both on television and on films. Surprisingly it is even harder, for me at least, to find likeable women who were created by women. Most of my most beloved female characters were created by men, but that may be another post. I liked The Golden Girls, but they didn’t really leave a lasting impression over me. I wasn’t born when Lucille Ball was on television and only realised her brilliance as an older person.  As a kid I thought she was just a house wife. 

Murphy Brown was an older woman working for a younger man. She was confident, intelligent, witty and most importantly generally happy with her life. She was funny without being humiliated or humiliating. In many ways, probably because of her age, she was comfortable with who she is and where she is in her life. It was the first grown up woman I met that wasn’t a stereotype or a cliché.

For the first time the woman behind the character Candice Bergen interested me as much as the character she played. She was one of the first, if not THE first actresses, who had a respectful and established film career, and chose television at a time when most television actors and actresses wanted to make the move into films. Bergen’s move was uncommon and brave for its time, and made her a bigger star than she was. 

There are more women in television comedy today than there were during Murphy Brown. Two of my personal favourites are Catherine Tate, who is not only a fantastic comedy actress. but also brought me to tears in her dramatic roles, and Miranda Heart. I don't know Miranda will be a great drama actress, nevertheless, she is delightful and very talented in her style of comedy; she is one of the few female comedy actresses who manages to master the craft of slapstick to the same level as Laurel and Hardy. She has real charm and heart (hehe) which makes her clownish comedy one of my favourites.

To this day Buffy The Vampire Slayer remains the one show which had the most amount of women I adored in one show.   It still amazes me the verity of women and just how much I loved them all (well apart from Dawn). Usually, if there is more than one woman in a TV show, if the show is good,  I will find one woman I like and the rest would, in the best case scenario, irritate me.

Here was a show with above average amount of women for a television show and all of them were brilliant. More importantly I cared and related to them all, even though each of the was a very different kind of woman.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer dealt with the heavy weight and darker consequences of being a super woman and having a destiny to fulfil. This lead to a bit of a simplistic cliché “woman power” type of ending to the show, but in retrospect I think it was inevitable and for its time very novel and brave message for what was basically a teenager's television show.

Unlike any male superhero I know of, and the super women I mentioned before, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is not invincible or immortal (I honestly don’t know if Wonder Woman or Isis were Immortal, please don’t kill me) her only super power is that she is extremely strong, physically. Despite healing fast, she often hurts and aches and she is definitely not immune to emotional pain and misery. She is often as vulnerable as anyone else. I am no expert on superheroes, so I may be wrong, but I don’t know any male super hero that his powers are a source of pain and vulnerability as well as victory and supremacy. Buffy’s obligation to world saving is often a burden and sometimes leads to deep depression, wishing she could give it all up and disappear and eventually to having a death wish, not something I would expect to find in my local superhero.
Being a chosen one sounds cool on paper, and the privilege of super strength is an appealing one, but at the end of the day, who wants their lives dictated to them, particularly based on the premise that they would die before their time? Throughout history women had their destinies dictated to them by men, is it any wonder that super power just doesn’t really compare with freedom?  

To write about all of Buffy’s women and what makes them so unique would require a much longer post that this one is turning out to be. I would just like to say that for me Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a very feminine show. Being feminine doesn’t mean sitting in on women’s conversation about men and sex, what Buffy tries to do, and sometimes fail, but often succeed is to understand womanhood. If you are looking for a definite conclusion about womanhood than perhaps you should watch Sex and the City. Buffy doesn't give a conclusive insight to womanhood it realises that women, like people really, are complex and vary.

I can’t end this post without mentioning my current top favourite woman on television and probably my top five women of all times,  Doctor Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) from House.

Lisa, Cuddy and Edelstein, had such a great influence over me that following her announcement she was leaving the show and the void that was left within me as a result, I considered dedicating a post just about her. 
Doctor Cuddy (Cuddy) has been a regular House character from the first episode. Of all female characters in the show, she is the only character and the only actress whose charisma appeal and general coolness match those of Gregory House and Hugh Laurie.
It is hard to find, on mainstream American television, a lead female her age, who is not someone's mother. Cuddy is the dean of medicine at the hospital in which House is employed. I think she is quite beautiful, but like with men, it is her character and charisma that appeal to me more than anything. Like many other female characters in a position of power on TV, Cuddy dresses sexy and with great taste, but unlike other similar characters, she doesn’t use her sexuality as a weapon, not only because that won't work on House, but also because Cuddy is comfortable and confidant with herself and her body, and dresses accordingly.

When Cuddy stands up to House it is not because of a power game or to prove a point but because someone has to stand up to him and she is the only one who can. House is the one who takes their relationship, at least in the earlier seasons, to the place of power games, and it is hard to blame her for taking part in it, sometimes because she enjoys it, and between us who doesn’t enjoy the occasional power game? Other times because it is her only way to communicate with him.

Lisa has such a strong emotional impact throughout the show, and the actress’ own story touched so many people that her fans are made out of as many if not more female fans as male. She is one of the few straight mainstream female characters that I know of who appeals to so many straight women so strongly.

At the age of 16 Lisa Edelstein became a cheerleader for Donald Trump’s New Jersey Generals and when she was asked to stand in bars wearing her uniform, Lisa not only refused, but organised a protest claiming this was akin to prostitution. This is not the kind of awareness or conscience I would have expected from a typical American cheerleader. Go Lisa!

Later she moved to New York and became involved with the Club Kids scene in New York. She was known as Lisa E and caused a lot of stir without getting sucked in to the dark side of the drug abuse an violence associated with these hardcore party people. 

From a very young age she has been aware and fighting for many great causes, including animal rights, Aids awareness at a time that Aids was considered a gay disease, abortion rights and more. She is passionately active yet at the same time, both on screen and in her rare appearances on twitter she comes across as very gentle and sweet.

I love Cuddy and would love to give her a warm loving hug for everything that House has put her through. Lisa Edelstein inspires me greatly. What woman who names her dogs Shazam! And Kapow! is not an inspiration?
   One of my favourite Lisa Edelstein's interview with one of my favourite fag's hags.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Bittersweet and Strange

By Leslie McMurtry

GASTON:  Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking—
LEFOU: A dangerous pastime—
GASTON:                                I know.

It’s hard to believe this year is the twentieth anniversary of what I consider the best animated Disney film of all time, Beauty and the Beast.  It was the first animated film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination, and while I didn’t appreciate this at the time (I was only 7!) and it hasn’t always been my favorite, with the years its appeal hasn’t waned.

“Beauty and the Beast,” referred to in anthropological folk-text study as Ǻarne-Thompson folktale type 425C, may first have seen the literary light of day with Apuleius’ The Golden Ass from the first century CE.  The version most of us know is by Madame Leprince de Beaumont, an eighteenth-century moral tale to prepare young girls for successfully navigating marriage.  It’s amazing that Disney had not tackled the story before 1991 in its pantheon of classic folk and fairy tales.  I contend their version was much influenced by Robin McKinley’s 1978 novel Beauty whose strong, bookish, compassionate heroine turns much of the received wisdom of the folk and literary tale on its head. 

The Disney Beauty and the Beast involves a spell placed on a cruel young prince (Robby Benson), transforming him into a beast and causing his castle to be concealed and his servants to turn into objects.  He has ten years to make a woman fall in love with him if he wants to reverse the curse.  Meanwhile, in a nearby village, an inventor named Maurice sets off into the forest.  When he is kidnapped by the Beast, his daughter Belle (Paige O’Hara) must rescue him.  In trading places with her father, she begins to see behind the Beast’s forbidding façade.  However, the village’s egotistical hunter Gaston (Richard White) wants to make Belle his wife at all costs. 

BatB is different from its nearest stylistic predecessor, The Little Mermaid, though both tales are taken from literary sources.  The Little Mermaid is situated in a true fairy tale kingdom; BatB is recognizably set in a provincial French village, some time in the eighteenth century.  Various clues would lead me to believe it’s around the time of French Revolution.  Credence is lent to this theory when thinking of the story’s climax.  The enchanted castle has lain hidden from the villagers’ memory for at least ten years, which suggests a distant monarchy with no taxing powers—so far, the villagers would be surviving much better than their counterparts around Paris who would be spurred into action by a bad harvest.  However, in “The Mob Song,” Gaston foments the villagers to storm the castle, their motive to protect themselves and take revenge on the Beast (“we don’t like / what we don’t / understand, in fact it scares us”)—though of course no one could be convinced to take action when Maurice asked for help to rescue Belle.  By the time the raging mob, armed with axes, shovels, knives, and pitchforks, reaches the castle, their objective has changed to pillaging; after all, “fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong”!

Furthermore, there is just enough of a suggestion that Anglomanie has filtered down to the country:  the characters of Mrs Potts and Cogsworth are interpreted to be English, suggesting this is slightly before the Revolution.  Certainly Mrs Potts and her china brethren are out of place in France—besides, drinking black tea with milk and sugar would not have been the done thing (Madame de la Sablière may have one to popularize tea with milk).  What a coup for the writers and producers of BatB to come upon the idea of Enchanted Objects to aid and abet the Beast.  Traditionally, the good and magical spirits in the Beast’s castle were unseen whispers, which is no good for animation.  Instead, these characters really do shine in a charming manner (as well as being eminently marketable):  louche footman Lumière the candelabra, fussy butler Cogsworth, the French maid feather duster, and motherly housekeeper Mrs Potts and her son Chip.    

There is a Facebook group I belong to called “I’D MARRY THE BEAST FOR THAT LIBRARY!”  Visually, the Beast’s library in BatB is stunning and calls to mind the mini-museums Italian aristocrats of the Renaissance would cultivate.  By the eighteenth century, the novel was still a relatively new form of writing, so the townspeople’s bewilderment and disapproval of Belle’s obsession with them is understandable.   One wonders what kind of books she has been able to borrow in the village and how they got there in the first place.  Is it surprising that she knows how to read at all?  In previous versions of the story (including McKinley’s), Beauty’s family is a wealthy merchant one (and she has two sisters) whose consumerist lifestyle is destroyed, forcing the family to move in penury to a distant village.  This would seem a critique of the bourgeoisie (this is certainly the feeling I get from the Faerie Tale Theatre version with Susan Sarandon as Beauty).  It is far from clear how long Belle and Maurice have been living in the village or if they ever enjoyed a better standard of life.  Maurice’s inventions suggest this, but Belle’s yearning for acceptance and independence is inspired more by parochial suffocation than missing a former mode of living.

Another element the Disney version neatly adapts for its own purposes is the rose.  In the literary tale, the father journeys back to the city in the hope of regaining his fortunes.  He comes backs sadly deceived, but on the way spends the night at an enchanted castle.  Motivated by Beauty’s humble request of a rose for a gift, he tries to take it—enraging the Beast who had so freely given his hospitality.  In BatB, the Beast’s plight is symbolized by an enchanted, ever-blooming rose which loses petals the longer the enchantment lasts.  In the literary story, Beauty leaves the Beast and he pines for her, near to death; in BatB, the newly-smitten Beast grants Belle her wish of seeing her father even though he knows the ten years are swiftly approaching.  It is a strong visual element that heightens the tension and seems to have influenced the Phantom of the Opera phenomenon (see Susan Kay’s 1992 book Phantom and the 2004 film). 

I have always admired Belle, as she’s one of the few Disney “princesses” who is not actually a princess (whether she’s nouveau-riche is a point discussed above).  Her loyalty is to her father; she is courageous, kind-hearted, and intelligent.  Though the other characters maintain “her head’s up on some cloud,” she must have some practical abilities to keep her and her father from starvation; she doesn’t balk at the thought of going chasing after her father into the dark forest; she even maintains outward calm upon pledging herself to the Beast and only cries when she thinks she’s alone.  She repulses Gaston long before she knows there’s an alternative.  She even serves as a Henry Higgins to the Beast’s Eliza Doolittle, teaching him to act like a human being.

The idea of immaturity is an interesting one in BatB.  One of the film’s notorious goofs[1] is that the prince must have been 11 years old if the spell can be broken until he’s 21 and the Enchanted Objects have been rusting for 10.  While it’s not impossible that an 11-year-old should have been submitted to the Enchantress’ test, it seems a bit unsporting.  Of course, the Beast’s temper tantrums and lack of knowledge about the world are admissible if he’s been living off the example of Enchanted Objects from childhood.  (Can you imagine his developmental psychology?)  Belle seems by far the most mature character of the story.  Her father, while good-intentioned and clearly intelligent enough to invent steam-powered objects, seems a bit helpless.  Gaston is a real man-child; his interest in Belle is purely in the decorative, and all his bravado barely conceals his truly cruel and barbaric nature.  Yet, he is reckoned to be the “handsome” man with many of the heroic traits other Disney princes share.  (As the ultimate irony, Richard White originated the role of the Phantom in the Yeston/Kopit musical version of Phantom.) 

However, like Bluebeard’s wives, Belle’s singular fault is her curiosity.  Her desire to know what the Beast is “hiding” overpowers both her better judgment and her innate compassion.  By visiting the forbidden West Wing, Belle conforms more than ever to the mould of an eighteenth century Gothic horror heroine.  Their minds were certainly taken up by romances.  The Beast’s lair which she enters contains no dead wives, but it’s like looking into the embodied version of the Beast’s mind.  The tatters and ruins conceal one table that has not been destroyed; the prince’s portrait has been razed by a self-pitying Beast in a hint of Dorian Grey.  There is an enchanted mirror in BatB with functionally magical purposes, and in perhaps the most arresting scene of the entire movie, Belle walks past a shattered mirror which reflects her in all its shards.  Julia Kristeva, I think, would have much to link this with Mrs Radcliffe’s books, though the music in this scene sounds lifted from Säens-Saint’s “Carnival of the Animals.” 

Belle is one of the rare storybook heroines who saves the men in her life.  Certainly the Beast fends off a pack of starving wolves intent on eating Belle and her horse, but she rescues her father and sets the Beast free from his curse.  I remember as a little girl being rather disappointed when the Beast transformed into the grown-up Prince; there was a campaign on the internet called “Turn him back!” which also seemed to prefer the Beast as he was.  Certainly the complexity of “Beauty and the Beast” has inspired and obsessed since at least when I was 7, and this film has had a huge part in that.  But if obsession causes us to think, then unlike Gaston and Lefou, I don’t think it’s a dangerous pastime at all.  

[1] Another is, if Chip is younger than 11 (which he seems to be when he transforms back into a human at the end), does that mean Mrs Potts was able to conceive while a teapot?  The answer scarcely bears thinking about!

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Notorious Ladies of the Silver Screen

It is hard to explain, but there is something about the classic ladies of the past that makes my heart leap with excitement every time they appear on screen. It’s a combination of admiration, being inspired by them and wanting to be their best friend and have have a chat over dinner and some wine. 

Looking at the red carpet of the latest Oscar ceremony, not one of the ladies on it, even those I like, had that kind of impact over me. The few actresses that are still alive that have this affect on me are older than is usually allowed on the silver screen. 

As you may have noticed (gentle reader? I think I'm done with that now) from my previous post, my first lady is Ingrid Bergman. Mostly in her wonderful role as Alicia Huberman in Notorious, but Bergman has a certain quality that really brings out great affection out of me. 
She’s not the most beautiful woman I’ve seen but there is something quite captivating about her. To me she embodies both weakness and strength in a most heart warming way. She is a bit of a child and a bit of a woman and I love that about her.  

I give you my favourite women of the silver screen.

Rita Hayworth – “I can never get a zipper to close. Maybe that stands for something”  

It might be an obvious choice, but Rita Hayworth, for me, is Gilda more than any other part she played.

The first thing that comes to my mind is just how beautiful Rita Hayworth is. No but really, she is stunning! It might be the black and white, but to me Hayworth is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She makes the screen light up when she appears and I can't take my eyes of her. Hayworth is all woman. She is graceful, glamorous and sexy without loosing her class and elegance. Even when eating a massive sandwich with passion she still looks amazing! I can't explain just how happy this picture makes me. I have a special kind of love for a glamorous woman who enjoys food.

Gilda is a testament to what a truly beautiful woman can get away with. Gilda’s behaviour in the film is almost as bad as Alicia’s. Considering Gilda was married and Alicia single, one might say Gilda is worse. Yet she doesn’t get treated the same. Yes Gilda was kept prisoner by the man she loves, as a revenge for all the pain she caused him so, with reason, even if not exactly justified. This is a walk in a park compared with Alicia who was forced to work for the government, pressured to a marriage and eventually poisoned, all mostly to make up for her father's crimes and a little bit because she is a bit Notorious.

Gilda has plenty of character as well, it's not ALL about the looks. She is impulsive and emotional. Despite acting like a strong woman, she breaks a lot quicker than Alicia. I find it comforting that an amazing woman like her, who is beautiful (have I mentioned how beautiful she is?), smart and talented (Gilda is a singer and a dancer), seems to be in control, but is in fact she is as emotionally messed up as us little people.

Rita Hayworth is the kind of woman I would like to hang out with to feel a bit of glam and hope maybe some of it will rub over me.

Lauren Bacall – “I’m hard to get, Steve. All you have to do is ask me.” 

Her first role and the film where she met the love of her life, is my defining role of Lauren Bacall. If ever there was a strong woman Slim, from To Have and to Have Not is one, and if there was ever a dignified woman, Lauren Bacall is one.

Slim (Marie Browning) is amazing in every way. Always ready with a comeback and leaving Steve (Humphrey Bogart) two steps behind. At the same time you can feel her falling in love with him as the film progress. 

Slim is the only woman I know, of that era, who is completely confident, independent and yet feminine and gentle. She will never marry the wrong man to make the man she loves jealous like Gilda. She doesn’t play games. More importantly she doesn’t let the man play any games either (like Alicia). 

Lauren Bacall, or her image in my mind, always was of a grown, confident almost aristocratic woman. The men in her life were the coolest men of their time. She married her first love, Humphrey Bogart and stayed with him until he died. She had a short affair with Frank Sinatra, and married (and divorced) Jason Robards, who looks uncannily like Bogart. As handsome and cool as these men were, their involvement with Lauren Bacall makes them a little bit cooler in my view. Despite Sinatra's reputation as a womaniser, and Robards' Alcoholism that lead to Bacall's divorce from him, her reputation remains classy and noble. 

Even as an older woman Bacall had the kind of charm and air about her. I remember watching Michael Parkinson falling in love with her as he interviewed her. Who can blame him really? Sadly I couldn't find a clip of the Parky interview.

Slim is a woman I would like as a friend. I think she could be my rock if I was down. She can take care of herself as well as other needier women.
Lauren Bacall is the kind of woman I would like to learn from.

There are many more Black & White ladies that left a lasting impression over me, but I will only mention Katherine Hepburn, who is my favourite Hepburn and Tracy Lord, the character she plays in The Philadelphia Story. Hepburn is one of my favourite actresses, talented and funny. Tracy Lord is just crazy, but in a good way. Just watch the film! 

With the exception of Lauren Bacall most of my favourite ladies have passed. All of them belong to an era that has long gone. Now I give you my ladies of today, or arguably the ladies of several years back.   

Julia Roberts – “I’m Sorry I meant to say, this f***ing shoes are killing me.” 

Admittedly not all of Roberts’ films are great, which is a real shame because she kinda is.
Like Rita Hayworth, I find Julia Roberts quite stunning. It is almost as if she comes from those Black & White films and brought their glamour with her. Her famous smile makes her and everyone around her radiant. No other actress today, in my opinion of course, is as breathtakingly beautiful as Julia. A bit like the Doctor (Who), she is the last of her kind.

Unlike Rita and other glam girls of the time, Roberts is best known for playing the most common women characters, which, as time goes by, gets harder to pull of. Never in my life have I seen a hooker as beautiful as Julia Roberts. I think most viewers haven’t either. People have stopped buying into this illusion, which is why she had to take different kind of roles.

I like the illusion. My personal favourite is the fiery Daisy Arujo from Mystic Pizza. That was the first Julia Roberts film I have seen and as the angry teenager I was, I was immediately drawn to her. I love this contrast between Roberts’ looks and the characters she plays.  

There is something quite gentle and about Julia Roberts, which works nicely for me with the roughness of the characters she plays. It's hard for me to explain why, but I prefer my Julia a bit rough on the edges (the inuendo is only slightly intended). I think her gentleness helps me relate to her anger and cynicism more than I would if there was an angry feminist in her place. Surprisingly she gets gentler and softer as she gets older.

I think Daisy and I would have got along like a house on fire when I was a teenager. Together we would have been disappointed and angry at the world for not giving us a chance.

I can't say I get the same feeling from Julia Roberts. I love her, and I love looking at her, but, since Daisy she hasn’t really played a character that wowed me as much, which is a shame because I think she is very talented. I think my love for Julia Roberts is because she is pretty more than anything else.

Emma Thompson – “I love you with so much of my heart, that none of it is left to protest”

Ho Emma! What a wonderful woman. I think what strikes me most about Emma Thompson is that she looks genuinely happy most of the time. I of course have no way of confirming her actual mood at all times, but I like to believe she is.Whether it is real happiness or not (it's real), I think this is Emma Thompson's secret.

When I think of Emma Thompson I always think of the final scene in Sense and Sensibility. It's not my favourite film of hers, but that scene captures Thompson's magic in my view, she owns the scene. Hugh Grant gives a speech and confesses his love for her, but I didn't really care. Her happiness and relief at that moment makes all the rest unimportant. 

Apologies for the lack of sync in this clip, it is the only one I could find. 
Emma's powers work without sync as well I think.

Naturally I chose for Emma, my favourite Shakespeare woman, who is of course Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. Emma Thompson was the second woman I have seen bring to life this brilliant character (The first is The Nathalie, a fine woman herself, who played her in a school play).

There is not much I can say about Beatrice that hasn’t probably been said about this unique woman for her time. I will just say that when I watched the film I thought Emma and Kenneth are forever. The perfect couple. Considering her past with Hugh Laurie and the fact she brought him together with Stephen Fry, I also thought she knows all the right men. Lucky woman! She may have not stayed with Kenneth forever, but I approve of her current husband.

With or without a husband Emma Thompson continues to shine whatever she does. She makes me happy just watching her. This makes her, in my eyes, a special kind of beautiful.

The only other woman of films I would like to mention is Liz Smith, who is kind of a hero of mine. I became aware of her when she was on television for playing the role of Nana at the Royle Family. However Liz Smith has started her career (at the impossible age for women in films of 50+) in Mike Leigh's film Bleak Moments which I still haven't seen. 

Her story and her amazing personality have been an inspiration to me. She got her first break at an age when most silver screen women forced to retire and she hasn't got an ounce of bitterness in her about that. I haven't seen enough of her films sadly, but I read her autobiography, Our Betty and to me, Liz Smith is a super star. 

These are the kind of ladies I wish I could see on the red carpet. I have a special place in my heart for each of those women, and they each represent something I wish I could have, something I can relate to and understand and something I look for in the women I give myself to for a couple of hours. 


Friday, 1 July 2011

"First Last and Always Not A Lady"

I think it is high time I took a moment to explain to why Notorious is a title I choose to relate myself with. 

Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) is my default answer to the impossible question, "what is your favourite film?" and indeed it is often my favourite Hitchcock and easily one of my general all time favourite. It is the film that introduced me to Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), definitely my favourite woman of the silver screen.

The first time I was introduced to Alicia Huberman was in university. I was already a passionate Hitchcock fan and quite confident that I know my Hitchcock and no film of his would be a great surprise. It seems Hitch had other plans.

The premise of Notorious is often associated with the story of Mata Hari, the famous exotic dancer who was accused of being a double agent during the First World War and was executed despite possibly being innocent. Mata Hari developed a dramatic reputation of femme fatale and a men eater. Her story became a legend and she an icon.

Unlike Mata Hari, however, Alicia is not exactly a men eater, though some may consider her to be, and definitely not a famme fatale. Her story is not the stuff of legends and I doubt that many, other than myself will consider her an icon. Alicia is first and foremost a misunderstood woman and, as the song goes, “A Woman in Love.” Morover, the position of a "Mata hari" is forced on Alicia by various men and, unlike the impression you might get from the Mata Hari myth, was never her choice.

Daughter of a Nazi spy convicted of treason against the USA, Alicia is put in a defensive position right from the start. She walks out of her father’s trial stoically, ignoring the reporters demanding her to take a stand against her father and prove her loyalty to the US. From that moment on Alicia is doomed. Her reputation, notorious, like her choices is forced upon her by the men in her life and her loyalty, private or national, will forever be questioned.  

There is a wonderful scene in Notorious in which Alicia meets Devlin, her handler, at the horse race track to give him information. In a desperate attempt to make him jealous and admit his love for her, she tells Devlin that he can now add Sebastian to her list of "play mates". This indeed makes Devlin angry and jealous, but instead of confessing his love, he tells her he knew this would happen and it was just a matter of time. When she tells him that all he had to do is tell her that he loves her, Devlin essentially admits he was testing to see if she would agree to do the job despite its unorthodox requirements and she failed him. What a terrible thing to do and what an impossible position to put poor Alicia in! If she refused to take the job, that his bosses forced on her, not only would she be considered “non patriotic” and would suffer the consequences of her father’s crimes, but also, and perhaps worse, she would have given in to the bullying of a man who is incapable of telling her he loves her. 

Ingrid Bergman is most wonderful as Alicia Huberman. She beautifully portrays the bitter, angry self destructive cynic as well as the love-sick child hidden within waiting to come out. Bergman is so sweet and so compelling as Alicia that I found myself waving a very angry fist at Devlin crying “How can you be so cold and stupid Cary Grant? Can’t you see how much she loves you?” It was the first time I loved an onscreen heroine more than the hero, something I never believed would happen, especially when the hero is Cary Grant!

Several feminist academics have, in the past, pointed a disapproving finger at Hitchcock's problematic represantation of women in his films. Feminist theory has evolved since and there were those who pointed out that Hitchcock's men are not exactly portrayed in a better light and that perhaps his films are not so much about representing women or men, but rather the complexity of the relationship between them.

In his well documented personal life, offscreen, it was clear that Hitchcock had a problematic attitiude towards women and he was often described as difficult and abusive, though with the exception of Tippi Hedren with whom he have crossed a line, it's hard to tell if it was Hitchcock or the way men in position of power used to behave at the time. Whatever the case may be, it was, and still is, quite unexpected that it would be Alfred Hitchcock who would portray a woman like the notorious Alicia Huberman so sensitively that though within the world of the film she is crushed by all the men around her, it she who conquers the screen and the heart. It is rare, even today, to find a film, with same scale stars as Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, in which my heart would belong to the woman. In comparison, in Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman's character, Ilsa, is flat and almost insignificant next to the mighty Bogart. 
For me, Notorious, the film and the adjactive, goes hand in hand with a powerful woman, whose power is to make me so angry with Cary Grant I actually turned my back on him for this film, a woman who can take the notorious label and throw it back in the faces of the men who have given it to her, a woman I care about, a woman I would like to have a conversation with and a woman I love with all my heart.

   Definitely my all time favourite kissing scene