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September 09, 2007

Burlesque and the Art of the Teese


"I advocate glamour. Every day. Every minute."

- Dita Von Teese

There is no need to introduce Von Teese in this review, for I'm sure that everyone that comes across this post at least has a passing knowledge of who she is. I picked up her book today, without really having planned on it. Browsing, I happened to open it on a photo that I had infact, never seen before. Thrilled, I bought the book.

Perhaps she was more interesting when she was less exposed, and possibly a very dirty girl; before she really spoke, in all honesty. In one pictorial in the defunct publication The Face, she appears at her most decadent. She is wearing crystal studded stilettos and a delicate white chiffon cape, perched atop a bar and placing a glacécherry between her rubicund parted lips. It's almost frightening how much she seems to be enjoying herself. Literally, enjoying herself. Like some kind of personification of the feminine ego run amock in a rhinestone factory.

I find her surprinsingly articulate in this book, and i'm slightly ashamed of that. I'll admit I had my doubts; lost in the cliché that a naked woman cannot possibly be a happy woman, or a thinking woman. I searched the dust cover print and acknowledgements section for the crediting of a ghostwriter, but found nothing. The cover bears only her name under her photograph.

The book is as much history as it is the reproduction of a whole trove of her photographs. It celebrates the history of morality-baiting girly entertainment and throughout is underpinned with the moto of self-creation and creativity. Good fortune, and accidents of nature, especially where beauty is concerened are fine, but craftsmanship and the discerning eye are what marks out the truly memorable. It's not for everyone, but it is an interesting standpoint. There history lessons are quick and easy, concerning the cabaret of prohibition era America, or rationales behind her fascination with satorially extravagant aristocrats - all of which go into proving that Dita is hardly "a pervert without precedent."

Split into two halves, the Fetish part of the book (with it's own cover) suggests rather wonderfully that all clothing is in fact fetish.  During her exploration of the etymologies of 'fetish', Von Teese succeeds wonderfully in retuning the reader in to the real pleasure of dressing up:"It may seem weird - even dangerous- to acknowledge the power of clothing. After all, doing so would seem to limit a woman's freedom to dress any way she pleases."

In addressing one of the many criticisms she admits that her advocated life of hyperfeminine glamour is not for everyone. The stripper addresses the question of the F word in concise statement: yes she is a feminist, if that means that she lives by the ethos of being "being as feminine as possible." In an interview with one broadsheet, she laughs with approval at the idea of being thought of as a 'homovestite.' Alongside The Face pictorial, the accompanying article seemed to attest that she was some kind of deviant of gender politics also. When asked what she thought of American foreign policy, she answered:" Ladies don't talk about politics." The girl has a sense of humour obviously, hopefully, she isn't being serious.

Although fondness for her particular retro aesthetic may wax and wane for those who do not share her obsessions, her ridiculous dedication is forever charming. She is champion of the choosy, the non-compromising, the obsessives, all the contrary little bastards and the downright uncool. As a motivational/inspirational tool for anyone whose most sacred desire is to implant beautiful artefacts into this world, it's perfectly entertaining as a seamed-stocking filler.

September 05, 2007

Audio poetry ( Poetry on Record volume 2 )

'this evening' was an evening occuring several weeks, almost a month ago. It's in italics because I says it is.

I spent a few dusky hours this evening starfished out on my garden lawn, eyes closed, listening to my first ever iTunes purchase.  I had to admit that there was a definite sense of dignity contained in being able to see the mp3 track trundling along its glowing blue line on my iPod display. This stemmed mostly from - I think - it's not having been stolen - like most of my auditory accoutrements*. Never fear, I've been thinking long and hard about my music theivery and all it's pros and cons. More on that at a later date. I had bought Poetry On Record Volume 2, and it was awesome.

I burst out laughing and my laughter bounced around my garden in the middle of my quiet neighbourhood as Amiri Baraka says "Boom boom boom boom.... tinkle!" Obviously I didn't see the tinkle coming. Sylvia Plath's unexpectedly throaty and full voice leaves me feeling slightly arrested during 'Daddy', despite being already familiar with that one. Diane Wakoski's tract on what life might mean without beauty: 'I Have Learned To Live With My Face'was another arresting moment. It's a great introduction to a real variety of well and lesser known poets, effortlessly zooming through humour to confessional. You also really need to hear Anne Waldman's 'Uh-Oh Plutonium'. I just bought the third and fourth volumes....

*I realise the phrase 'auditory accoutrements' as a somewhat experimental phrase, in this context, actually makes sound as if my iPod is stolen. I'll leave it in.

July 28, 2007

The Rose Tattoo at the National Theatre

Originally sought as a back-up plan to failure to aquire tickets to the Globe that same evening, Tenesse Williams' The Rose Tattoo turned out to be anything but second rate.

Ushered in eight minutes late, precariously navigating to our seats in the dark (stacked seemingly vertically in the upper balcony), so began our attempts to quickly contextualise these characters - their backdrop, without the fact-sheet adventage of having even a passing familiarity with the play.

My discovery that 'My Family' actress Zoe Wannamaker is cast in the lead role of Serafina Delle Rose  threatened to blight my anticipation of the play with unpleasantly haughty reservations. However, she truly carried the play with a passionate performance, as voluptuous yet dignified as you'd want a Sicilian widow to be, a woman far from young and trim, sexy in her sweat-stained nightgown, proudly proclaiming her faithfulness to her deceased husband - her inability to move out of this state (the surrounding characters continually implore her to dress herself) speaking of a self-imposed chastity.

The other noteworthy aspect of the production was undoubtedly the set design, where a small, 4-bedroom working class house, dressed in a homely, southern chintz, is set atop a revolving platform. The genius of this is that the chaos of the first act is punctuated by a gaggle of small children and a live goat that run around the set. By contrast, the second act is a darker affair, relying far less on staging to make way for exploration in depth of the central characters. I felt cheerfully smug in the knowledge that our bargain £10 seats probably afforded us the best view of this open-plan staging.

The heavy themes of family, faith, spousal bereavement, adultery and the manipulation of sexuality were interpreted in an essentially warm, often comic manner that did not cost the play any of its' itensity. 

July 05, 2007

A lot of films

'Blood Diamond' starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly teeters between issue movie and blockbuster ground. Any terse flirtation between an antihero and the feisty female journalist at the beginning of the film threatens to make me roll my eyes so hard I almost went blind. Consider that this eyeball jiggling is before she delivers the line: "So if you're not going to help me, and we're not going to screw - why are you still here?" as an ultimatum for him to change his swindling ways. The half-hearted stabs at screwball comedy and the recurring, 'I'm the cameraman?' line also failed to impress. At this point you are unable to decide what kind of genre movie you are watching, or more to the point, what kind of movie you'd like to be watching. Too glossy in its characterisation, not as impressive with its script, to be as hard-hitting as say, City of God. Overall impression - educational, exciting, but the presentation of characters came off as trite and sweeping.

Next film to provide an evenings food for guilt was the documentary 'Black Gold', a film about the global coffee industry and the exploitation of farmers by multinationals.These educational films are all the more harrowing if you don't actually enjoy them that much. I was probably just extremely sleepy and, if I recall correctly, my mind was elsewhere. Documentaries should be mulled over on the comfort of your own sofa, watching upside down with your legs bicycling the air. Overall memories are of a well-made film. I blame any other feelings on myself.

A few nights later, jerking me out of any emotional inertia brought on by the previous two movies, 'Water', is easily one of the most moving films I've ever seen. I could be biased. Anything that reminds of your own culture and traditions, the faces and the voices onscreen reminding you of family and 'community' is sure to tug at the heart strings of someone living so apart from their ethnic heritage. Listening to the Hindi dialogue, I realised, was an intensely comforting experience. Although Hindi is not the language spoken at home for me, it is pretty similar to our Gujerati tongue, and is of course the language of Bollywood and Asian satellite channels. Onto the film itself; you may know that in India the common choices for female widows were as such 1. Death on her husbands funeral pyre (saathi - literally meaning 'together'), 2. Marrying the younger brother with familial consent 3. To life a life of deprivation, separate from the rest of the community. Be warned, this film takes not only one but two completely heart-in-mouth downturns towards the end. As a seasoned grumbler, I say one is enough, but the intention was obviously to stop produce something utterly soul-destroying to watch. I put it on the shelf of ‘Amazing film, don’t want to ever see it again’ along with the Green Mile and the Elephant Man.

Let us leave the comfort of the Arts Center cinema now, and move to a scene where three girls recline on a sofa after an impromptu post-curry rave in the living room and yawn like greyhounds, avoiding each others cold feet under the communal duvet. 'Dangerous Liaisons' is apparently one of my friends’ favorite films and I can certainly see why she likes it (funny to hear that the inflections and the speaking rhythms of the characters are very similar to her own.) Watching the movie at last helped me pinpoint the type of movie I most enjoy: 'Period romp where people in the olden days go around doing very bad things' I didn't stay for the whole movie but I’ll probably watch the rest of it soon. Hooray for public libraries. 

Which bring us to the movies I rented out yesterday. 'Miss Potter’, as recommended by my sister, was as expected, a piece of tripe. I hate telling my sister that the films she recommends when we rent things together usually turn out to be rubbish and no doubt makes me appear to be a giant beeatch. Usually I am pretty open minded with the one exception that it can't be anything with Nicole Kidman in it (ever noticed how people in their late twenties and thirties seem to fixate on that slightly older guard of Hollywood actors still working today? I guess it must be a leftover afterglow from the late eighties and early nineties when stars still seemed like more enlightened human beings than your average cinema go-er.)

I also rented Al Gores much talked about documentary on climate change, 'An Inconvenient Truth.'  I'll always remember the Simpsons regular send-ups of Gore as an emotionless android, being too young to really remember much useful about Gore and his political career. I confess I haven't really kept up with international politics since Politics A-Level. We all can't help but noticing that it's July for Gods sake, and we're sat indoors with windows and doors locked, wearing jumpers and making cups of hot chocolate, whilst outside the rains show no sign of letting up and making way for a heat wave any time soon. Those of us driving cars around are especially prone to biting our lips and wringing our hands in guilty anguish behind our backs. All are in agreement that the last few weeks of term were thoroughly bizarre, especially compared to last year when a trip outside halls of residence at 9am in early June could have easily lead to sunburn. The presentation of this film was really very good, with the scientific information presented in neat and digestible terms, with Gore standing flapping around at a screen behind him, alternating serious and playing the data for laughs with his studio audience. 

Last but not last, 'Transamerica' was a genuinely funny, witty road movie featuring a male to female transgender individual going by the name of Bree and her struggle to accept her male prostitute son, who calls her up out of the blue asking for bail. Juicy stuff right. The film manages to allow us to take Bree seriously, to feel as if we understand her struggle to define herself and find dignity, without really going into too dark or unsettling a tone.

Returning home from university seems to lead towards even later (earlier?) bed times than usual. I caught a little of 'A Clockwork Orange' on satellite last night. The first time I watched the movie I was around fifteen or sixteen years of age. I remember that the same year my pals and I dressed up as the droogs for Halloween, in white outfits with black bowler hats. A merry time was had by all. A mother asked us if our costumes were not a bit adult for the kids. But back to the film, I’m not sure how I feel about it, other than it is obviously a landmark piece of cinema and it is certainly not a meek or an unexciting effort and the set design and costumes are amazing. Perhaps it’s the overall coldness of the film that puts me off. A film that draws obvious influence from this is the much more recent Belgian film 'Man Bites Dog', which I borrowed from the university library in the first year. There were times when sitting in the kitchen which stank constantly of bacon butties reading old copies of FHM just got a bit too much for a young girl, and she had to retire to her boudoir with a bit of European video nastiness. So anyway, that was me making good use of 'alone time' in the first year.

Just now I watched 'Swimming Pool' in its entirety. It was as I thought it would be, one of those languorous films set in Europe where dialogue is minimal, people spy on each other from balconies, and naked body parts droop about the place - seemingly superfluously, until someone gets inexplicably horny. On the whole I really liked it. Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier were great playing off each other and the ending was deliciously mysterious.

And so now I might put my square peepers to bed.

I've got an urge to rent some more films tomorrow. I need to see 'The Libertine' again, because, and I also want to see Vin Diesels' 'Pitch Black' for some reason. I feel a yearning for far fetched stories awakening.

Updated… ‘The Libertine’ I admit I mostly liked this for Johnny Depps performance, not really understanding the dynamic between Rochester and Barry (Samantha Morton) the first time around. It’s a great film with great cinematography, but far too short. It isn’t enough of a psychological movie, but it can’t be, within its relatively miniscule (for a period film) time frame. But on the whole, I’d watch it just for the ‘prologue’. You know what I'm sayin. I did watch ‘Pitch Black’, along with ‘The Crow’. Both movies I would’ve probably liked when I was younger. Movie making has obviously moved on from the special effects both of these rely on. Both suffer from weak plotlines and bad acting. I rented both of these to see if I could reawaken my love of the campy Goth / sci-fi tinged that reigned supreme in my heart during the teen years. Unfortunately I seem to have grown up. What a pain.

March 15, 2007

Anais Nin – Delta of Venus

Anais Nin - Delta of Venus
3 out of 5 stars

The first time I ever became aware of this book, I was around the age of sixteen. I stood in a hidden section of the public library, feeling slightly criminal. I nervously thumbed a short story entitled 'Artists and Models'. The prose was full of all sorts of sexiness. Some actually sexy. Some intriguing. Some faintly disgusting and frightening, even.

If you haven't read 'Artists and Models', it concerns an outsider's efforts to find out the sexual leanings, or physical characteristics, of a Parisian, gender-ambiguous artist named Mafouka.  Mafouka turns out to be a hermaphrodite. At the end of the story, the narrator - so aroused by Mafouka's revelation, begs to make love to Mafouka. This is rather jarring, but perhaps a clever plot device. The sudden change in the narrator's feelings, from strict observer, to suddenly being overcome by desire, is a shock to read, especially when the visual imagination is seeing a "small, atrophied penis..."

My favourite way of thinking about this work as a whole is that it is perhaps an attempt at 'sexual anthropology'. It seems that the main purpose in collecting these varied stories together is to show a variety of psychological condition. A married woman does not orgasm until she has a sapphic encounter with her best friend on a trip to the cinema. A young male life model can only become sexually aroused when he is observed in the nude, and to the frustration of the female artist, has no interest in the sex act itself. The book is low on emotion. It is about sex drive; not romance. Orifice upon orifice. It's a work with a lot of holes in it. There is bizzare violence in places, certainly, which always has its place in anything primarily about sex, however there is only one piece that strikes me as being absoloutely taboo. 'The Boarding School' contains a priest who abuses young boys, is merely three pages long, and concludes on a gang rape scene. For a collection which is marketed (the intent is a more difficult question - scroll down for my confusion on trying to contextualise the book) as being primarily intended to arouse and inspire, this makes for uncomfortable reading.

One way in which the book surprised me in its' tone was Nin's characterisation of her female protagonists. They are a bevvy of cheesecake-beauties,  all tiny waists, ample bosoms and flowing hair. I knew nothing of Nin before reading the book, and vaguely thought of it as something that was probably penned in the sixties or the seventies. My research (wikipedia) informs me that the stories in 'Delts of Venus' were written in the 1940's for "a dollar a page", by a Nin deseperate for cash. This explains all the Vargas girls, then. The "dollar a page" bit suddenly makes the book seem as cheap and crumbly as a packet of Jacobs  crackers... and this new perspective on when the book was written both explains a lot and makes a lot seem bizzare. It fulfills some of my ideas about forties culture, in that it's a bit  like a really dirty film noir, but in book form. But why does Nin put homovestites and hermaphrodites side by side, mixing symbols of submissive feminity with trangressive and highly individualistic figures? Wikipedia tells me that Nin hung out in the highbrow literary circles, so this qualifies her status as a 'serious' writer, I guess. She luurved a few serious writers, anyway. Gore Vidal? Henry Miller?...

Maybe next stop De Sade? He is by reputation of course, much nastier, and probably very funny. It should be interesting - if I can work up the courage to borrow it from the public library.

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