How To…Open a Prohibition Pub

Myself & my sister Jess, known colloquially (and solely) as Doodles, have been  plotting an illustrated How To…Get an Interesting Career, Guide Book.  We thought we’d indulge ourselves by giving a snip of one of the chapters here.


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Story & Doodles

 

Its legal to sell alcohol in the UK, (you may have noticed?) But in order to do so you must have a nice (or indeed functional) building, a piece of paper from the government and be, what is known as, ‘an upstanding citizen’. In doing so, you become a Publican. You can even be the reference on someone else’s passport application, if they don’t know any doctors or teachers or managers or soldiers of God and have, as such, sunk out of situational society into the unleavened heaven of petty alcoholism. You know, a big enough drunk to mean they don’t know any ordinarys, but not so big a drunk that they don’t occasionally go on holiday. Or have cause to escape the Law. We all know these people. I have a feeling that me and (my sister) Doodles are these people. In any case, we have their sympathies at heart.

Basically, you can’t just be ‘a Person’, and start a pub. Life just does not work like that. Just starting a random pub in – like – your garden shed, or in the woods or something, is either illegal, or frowned upon or both. I dunno. I’m not an expert. And because it is probably illegal or frowned upon or both, I can’t actually recommend starting your own random pub as an option for alleviating your joblessness. But I can suggest how I myself would go about doing it. In theory. Devil’s Advocately. Allegedly. Whateverly.

I have issues with being an illegal, mostly because I’m afraid of public speaking, and as such, court rooms scare me. Its possible that prisons also scare me, but I do somehow feel that, if I spent time in one, I would soon find myself falling in love with some heart-of-gold lumpenprole, who would teach me the true meaning of life. Or at least, the true meaning of prison. Useful fodder for a human interest memoir that the good folks at The Guardian could champion to the hilt. I’d get invited to lots of liberal media parties and subsequently dump my prison hoodtser to formulate an intense love affair with Billy Bragg. I would hitherto become a bit of a minor celebrity, like Caitlin Moran, and The Guardian would get lots of column inches out of mine and Bragg’s torrid break up. They would of course, be partially ironic about it… in order to try and pull the wool over the eyes of the fact that they have been reduced to running Gossip Columns.

But in the ‘trying to be a writer’ stakes, its a big gamble.

Being frowned upon, on the other hand, is a state of affairs I have learnt to curry with aplomb. Doodles also.

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Prohibition Pub

So to the pub. It occurs to me that in order to make it a tasty number for the squirrel heads at Hipster Head Quarters, it probably needs some kind of ‘Theme’, and most appropriate would be Prohibition.  Of course Britain never had Prohibition.* It was one of those winky American things. But seeing as, these days, making any differentiation between Britain and America is deemed churlish… I don’t think it matters.

The most useful place to start my in theory/allegedly illegal boozer would be my garden shed. But I don’t have a garden shed, or a garden. Or a house. So I have a choice of either to manifest this ‘in theory/allegedly illegal pub’ with increasingly unrealistic abandon (and pretend I do have a garden shed. And a garden) or stick wholesomely to the theme and take my jobless, gardenless arse to the nearest abandoned woodcutter’s shed. I am, however, going to take for granted that such places exist. Doodles also.

Once we found our shed we would decorate it with a hodge podge of pseudo Prohibition paraphernalia. Mostly downloaded and printed out off of the Interweb, with some fill ins by Doodles. It would not therefore,  be a terribly realistic looking Prohibition pub, because one imagines those Crims did not advertise themselves quite so recklessly. Furthermore, they did not have the Interweb.

Then we would need some bathtub booze. Of course, booze is actually readily available, and so manufacturing it in a bathtub is highly unnecessary. As opposed to piddling about trying to turn potatoes into gin, (or Vodka, I dunno, I’m not being paid to do ‘research’), my rough calculations conclude that it is best just to buy a load of the supermarket own brand variety, on Dole Cheque Day. The stuff that people always reckon tastes like paint stripper or nail varnish remover or toilet bleach. But I’ve never tried paint stripper or nail varnish remover or toilet bleach, so these comparisons are lost on me. Or, indeed, nor have I tried nice, expensive, luverly people alcohol, so my pallet is quite imbued with tolerance to total shite.***

The idea would then be to empty our bottles into a bathtub and charge per dunk. The getting of glasses would either be a collectivisation of all the random tumblers we’ve nicked from legal pubs over the years, or indeed, we could function on a BYOT policy.

The bathtub would have to be discovered utilising the mobility and parochial wisdom of the MumClunker… from some kind of furniture graveyard. But she has days when she is heady with the scent of her Singer, after spending hours making skirts for the doll collection she is steadily founding, and so if ultimately unavailable, we’d probably just find a load of buckets.

For entertainment, I’ve got a guitar which still has five strings and I can play about four or five chords, in no particular order. Doodles has a bust up Casio keyboard which she could use, alternately, as a percussion instrument and a talking point for a Marxist consciousness raising event about the futility of modern capitalism.

Minds would be blown.

Story & Doodles.

Note: Story and Doodles take no responsibility for any illegal pubs that slip out of the ground as a result of this How To. This is merely an exercise is unremarkable creativity and wishful bohemianism, not an actual incitement to criminal silliness.

Up next…How To Be A Literary Busker, & Variations of The Theme.


You can view some of Doodles’s illustrations here and follow her own twitter @jeessebessy 

And you view some more of my scribbles, well, here and follow me on twitter

@radfemsocveg

*This may or may not be true. I don’t, in fact, know.

** I’m guessing. What? This isn’t a history book.

*** That being said, come near be with a bottle of Blossom Hill and I’ll knock your fucking teeth out.

**** I won’t actually. Remember the bit about prisons? Oh and like, morality and that.

Review: Fatal Attraction

 

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Fatal Attraction

Glenn Close made it clear that she was not happy with the denouement of Fatal Attraction. The film, she argued, has done a disservice to the image of those suffering with mental health issues, portraying as it does, a hyperbolic narrative of a near demonic, sex crazed lunatic who throws herself into full scale mania, after a one weekend encounter with the decidedly average family man, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas). Perhaps more specifically, it has perpetuated the mythology of the psychotic women who, so unbalanced by her own sexuality, is willing to set in motion actions that would potentially destroy her own existence. Simply after a few fumbles with a character predominately  constructed out of prosaic vapidity: otherwise known as, The Most Boring Man Who Ever Lived. All apart from anything else, all these years on, this controversial pot boiler just seems pretty unrealistic, to the point of carnivalesque absurdity.

Mr Gallagher is a successful lawyer married to a beautiful, devoted house maintainer, Beth (Anne Archer), father to a six year old girl, and walker to a docile, old dog. His personality, his life, his family, yes, even the dog, are all pretty beige and benign. Devoid of any hard edges, darling Beth is even shot in hazy focus, her loveliness and the loveliness she represents going so far as to soften the film reel. Anyone wishing to tip poison onto this domestic bliss would surely be evil indeed.

However, bliss must dull the senses, because our mate Dan, is not especially resistant to outside temptation. Whilst Beth is away for the weekend he encounters Alex Forrest (Close), a seductive publishing agent seeking to produce a novel about a women’s affair with a married politician. The writing is very much on the wall. As a lawyer, Dan’s assistance is required to defend the novel against an accusation from a real life politician that the story is based on his own affair that would, if published, destroy his career. Dan, with soft shouldered nonchalance, agrees to take on the case.

As has been established, Dan has a nice family life, but all the backbone of boiled spaghetti; clearly disassociation is required when considering the destruction of lives lived ‘over there’. Even his own wife’s, as is evidenced by the fact that after his meeting with Alex, he quite casually goes with her for a romantic dinner, followed by a brief, intense, sexual affair. Later he trundles home, displaying all the ambivalence and guilt of a cat slaying a mouse. Until, of course, the phone rings, and Alex makes her first invasion into  his cosy, marital home. Henceforth, their former jocular relationship, devolves into a stalking attack, with Alex being inflated into an obsessive Beelzebub gagging for a romantic clench hold onto this morally disengaged, ‘Every Man’.

What might have been a nuanced socio-cultural drama about infidelity and moral responsibility, turns into a horror story of operatic proportions. It is possible to enjoy the film in this vein; to delight in the unlikelihood of this previously successful women losing her rag after such a brief encounter, to such an unremarkable man. To scoff at the obnoxiousness of a narrative that permits his almost entire moral absolution, so enthused is the spectator to find the devil, not at home, but out amidst the deep blue sea. But really it is just a bad film, playing into some fairly weather worn anxieties about female desire and proliferating the conservative notion of the siren on the rocks. And perhaps therein lies the nub of this masculinist masochistic fantasy; what perverted bliss is it to be so unremarkable, yet to be so badly, so destructively desired?


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My Favourite – Art Films

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Persona

The art house cinema finds its definition, firstly, in how its main imperative is the need to achieve expressive merit… as opposed to entertainment value or commercial gain. That is not say that art films cannot, like high concept Hollywood, provide entertainment sustenance, but this is secondary to the aim of the continuous re-invention of what the cinematic form can be. As a result, the art house film is less easy to define, in some respects, than genre cinemas that have aesthetic and narrative specificities.

So art house cinemas are perhaps best approached in terms of creative history and film movements.  What constitutes an art film movement? Arguably the first art filmmakers were the Russian formalists. A group, mostly known by the works of Sergei Eisenstein, who helped re-invent film form via the utilisation of the ‘edit’. Soviet films like Strike and Battleship Potemkin, cinematic weaponry in service of the Soviets, employed editing techniques designed specifically for audience manipulation (it is worth noting that all forms of cinema have to degrees, employed their editing techniques ever since). Unlike previous cinemas, that imitated theatre techniques simply to ‘tell the story’, these films sliced shots together to ‘build a picture’.

It may seem obvious to us now, because we are so literate in cinematic language, but the early cinemas began by simply training the camera onto the subject or object and rolling the film. The camera was, then, a conduit for the ‘theatre spectator’. Eisenstein and his mates went their own way. They cut up the film reel and glued the shots back together into formed sequences. Instead of just watching the Tsarists forces crushing the proles,  those scenes are spliced into shots of a bull being slaughtered. Two different events, no literal relationship, montaged together, and you have a new meaning. And because this is an incredibly insidiously emotive methodology, you can manipulate your audience into making them feel what you want them to feel. Often, and eventually, so subtly, that the don’t even know it is happening.

Spend any time at all consuming not only films, but advertisements, music videos even party political broadcasts, with this history in mind, and you will realize that Sergei and the Formalists have a lot to answer for.

So on the one hand, art film is about recreating what the form can do (which can then be later assimilated into commercial culture) but it is also about recreating, re-evaluating, how we view the world, people, relationships. Not simply a mode for telling dramatic tales, but for exploring the nature of storytelling itself. Not simply a method for introducing characters, but for investigating what it means to be a character, or human more generally.

David Bordwell suggests that art cinema follows the modernist literature of the 20th century in this respect. Makes sense, like time wise, and stuff. The author creates protagonists that are psychologically complex and stories which may not achieve a simplistic resolution. However unlike the author’s pen, the auteur utilizes the ‘camera pen’.

Influenced by the previous decade’s Italian neorealists, and Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, members of the French New Wave, such as Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, wanted to move away from literary adaptations to realize the cinema as an art form in its own right. Not simply another way of telling old stories or bringing the theatre to the screen.

The New Wave’s work, in films such as Godard’s Breathless – an art house cult classic if there ever was one – and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, proved influential to the High Modernists of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Auteurs such as Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Bergman created films that can be seen as the paragons of the art cinema. Bergman in particular, with his mode of high seriousness and philosophical inquisition, and Fellini with verbose tales of Italian society, sexuality and hypocrisy, were indeed the grand masters of the art cinema. Like the Hemingways and Scott-Fitzgeralds of literature, they weaved their creative worlds, employing distinctive styles recognizable across a body of work.

Since then, the auteur and the art house have been near inseparable. In the 1980s, this was as broad as Peter Greenaway’s theatre of debauchery and colour in films such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, David Lynch’s surrealism in Blue Velvet, and Kieslowski theology in Dekalog.

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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

In 1995, however, a group of Danish filmmakers, established The Vow of Chastity, a new set of rules for a new brand of filmmaking. The Dogme ’95 manifesto’s precepts included sole use of 35mm, on location shooting and handheld camera use,  and, importantly, a lack of film credit for the director. However, although it sought to disavow the auteur as the harbinger of the work, its proponents, particularly Lars von Trier, were nonetheless strongly associated with the manifesto’s creative vision. His first film associated with the movement, The Idiots, based on a group of people who play act idiocy and instigate impulsive orgies, helped forge Trier’s reputation as a cinematic provocateur par excellence.

In the last twenty years, directors like Iranian Akira Kiarostami (with films such as Ten, set entirely within a woman’s car) and Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-Liang (with a film like Vive L’Amour, containing very longs sequences often totally devoid of dialogue) have continue to push the cinematic envelope.

The movements of cinematic art are, however, far from concise. Its influence has proven discursive, as art house cinema’s influence can be distinctly seen in the larger Hollywood productions.  The indomitable Quentin Tarantino named his production company, A Band Apart, after the youthful Godard film of the same name, and Tim Burton’s aesthetic can be clearly traced back to the German expressionism of the 1920s. If you want to see Burton’s roots, watch The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.

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The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

 

At the risk of over-simplification, then, art house is less a set of distinct visual and narrative specifications than it is the result of creative desire. The desire to constantly re-form and re-create what the medium can be and do. Like many artistic forms, then, the periphery is always one step ahead of the centre; the art films often (but not always) precede in style the more commercial films that are influenced by them. But it’s far from a one-way street. Head back to the New Wave and you’ll see a set of art house directors heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, a filmmaker who displayed with finesse a personal style that long outlasted the commercial considerations of the then film studios.

Five of my Favourites

F.W Murnau Nosferatu (1922)

Often cited as the first vampire film, Nosferatu was, in fact, preceded by several other films now out of print and lost to the cultural consciousness – and almost itself disappeared. F.W Murnau’s German Expressionist classic was almost destroyed when the courts ruled it an unauthorized adaptation of the Stoker novel.With its stark chiaroscuro lighting and oblique, gothic style, Nosferatu embodies the art film’s potential for visual creativity as a representation of psychological realism. In this case, the psychology is the fear of the seductive capabilities of the dreaded other/unknown.

 

Jean luc godard, Breathless (1960)

 

Godard’s most well regarded film by both critics and audiences, Breathless ranks in the British Film Institutes poll of films as the best work by a still living director. Despite its art film status, Breathless utilizes some of the themes and tropes of the Hollywood gangster and film noir genres. Michel Poiccard, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, is on the run from the Parisian law after shooting a police officer.  Caddish, charming and whimsical, he refuses to leave the country for Italy, until Patricia, American Jean Seberg, leaves with him.The genre narrative is painted in a unique and creative style; Breathless is an example of jump cutting and fourth wall breaking interspersed with long and languorous conversations between the two title players. In this way, the film is a good example of the cross roads between art and entertainment cinema.

 

Ingmar Bergman, Persona (1966)

 

An ideal specimen of an art house picture if there ever was one, Persona is one of the most critically acclaimed of the Swedish directors oeuvre. David Bordwell specifies complex psychology as of major importance in art film and this Ingmar Bergman has it in bucket loads.A nurse and an actress come together in a beach house when the actress, Liv Ullman, relinquishes her power of speech. The nurse, Bibi Andersson, becomes enchanted by the muteness of the actress and, corrupted by the intensity of the circumstance, falling into a desperate desire for a contact that is unrequited. Identities merge whilst surrealist and horror imagery abounds. Persona is, then, as much a tale of the lady vampire, as it is of psychosomatic degradation, borne of the inevitable loneliness of being.

 

Abbas Kiarostami, Ten (2002)

 

Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten is set entirely within a young Iranian woman’s car in the capital Tehran,  and is predicated around a set of ten conversations she – Mania – played by Mania Akbar, has with her passengers. In it, Mania talks with a friend, her sister, an old woman and a street prostitute she gives a lift. The conversations often considering  the role of women in modern Iran. Her young, quite belligerent son also makes several inclusions in the film, and as the only male, it is arguably the case that Kiarostami is making a statement about the petulance and selfish self-aggrandisement of masculine society.

Even if not (and it is for the spectator to decide), a female focused film with a meandering, loose narrative and tightly interiorized setting goes against the American commercial grain, with its preference for exterior, male driven, action heavy and ‘resolvable’ narratives’.

 

Lars von Trier, The Idiots (1998)

 

A controversial remedy to more saccharine or simplistic cinemas, The Idiots is perhaps one of Lars von Trier’s most tendentious pictures. Seemingly splitting the critics down the middle, The Idiots deals in the performance of disability by a group of bohemians.

Trier’s film is both the tracing of its protagonist’s social discomfort and their sense of being on the borderline of society – as it is also a political manifesto arguing against the exclusive nature of Capitalism’s purported ‘meritocracy.’

My Favourite – ‘International’ Cinema

Originally Published in the now defunct Subtitled Online


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Persepolis

International film, or world cinema, is largely a sort of genre category utilized by film distributors and retailers in Britain to designate non-British, Australasian and, more specifically, American produce. The category is loaded with notions of otherness and exoticism, political, racial and sexual complexity and, in many senses, the highbrow. In effect… international cinema holds a firm place in the populist, collective consciousness as inaccessible, designed for the subtle eye of the critical spectator and not for mass consumption, or ‘entertainment’.

In truth, many world cinemas, like Hollywood, have their own brands of majority produce, designed to satiate the audience’s most straight forward leisure needs. Bollywood, in India, is a notable example, for its gargantuan output of romantic musicals and historical epics. China also has a long history of family dramas and, of course, its martial arts Wuxia pictures, and Egypt was termed the ‘Hollywood on the Nile’ for its large yield of tragic, often female centred melodramas. These films are not, in the main, what immediately springs to mind when one considers ‘international cinema’. Often less exported and translated for the English speaking audiences, much of these various national cinemas are created for, and consumed by, the home audience. In this sense, then, no cinema is ‘foreign’ or ‘world’ until it is transported or translated. And that counts for Hollywood, too.

With that in mind, this introduction is mainly concerned with summarizing a diversity of international pictures currently absorbed by the English speaking audience in, most specifically, Britain. What carries a film here from Africa, Asia, the Middle East or the rest of Europe is dependent primarily on the funding capabilities of that particular nation. It will probably come as no surprise that Western European countries such as France and Germany have much greater financial muscle that many African countries, where little or no money for production and distribution is available.  Aligned with that, exhibition at film festivals, such as Cannes and Sundance, is often imperative in getting a film to reach a wider, international audience and thus engage critical notice. However, combined with marketing and distribution costs, entering films into festivals is an expensive business. Finance is one of the primary reasons why most audiences will have seen more Hollywood pictures then French pictures, and even discerning audiences will have seen more French or Chinese than African or Latin American pictures.

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All About My Mother

Western and Northern European cinema is often considered the apotheosis of cinema as ‘art form’ due to the reputation of past masters ranging from Vittorio De Sica, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarkovsky, if one wanders as far as Russia. However, long after these cinema deaths, the legacy of the European masters continues with the camp and burlesque melodramas of Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother, 1999), the often sexually bleak dramas of Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4 Ever, 2002), the controversial experiments of Lars von Trier (The Idiots, 1998) and the psychological thrillers of Michael Haneke (Funny Games, 1997).

Veer to the Middle East and cinema production seems to be most heavily concentrated, contemporarily, in Iran. In the last two decades, the country has been responsible for a plethora of both male and female cinema authors, dealing often in the socio-political tensions of the age, to critical acclaim. Abbas Kiarostami, in particular, established a strong reputation with acclaimed pictures such as A Taste Of Cherry (1997) and Ten (2002). Aligned with this, a high percentage of female filmmakers’ projects have been exported. Samira Makhamalbaf, for example, has told the stories of Iranian and Afghani women in films like Apple and At Five In The Afternoon (2003). These socio-realist films are also complemented by films like the internationally successful Persepolis (2003) by Marjane Strapi, a darkly comic look at a woman coming of age during the Iranian revolution.

As mentioned, African films have struggled to find finance and, as such, much of its international head rearing has been intermittent. In the Northern country Tunisia, Moufida Tlatli,  achieved a hugely positive critical reception with Silences Of The Palace (2004). The film, about servant women prostituted in a Bey palace, demonstrated the relationship women have with nation, as representatives of nation. Travel further south to Senegal and you will find two of Africa’s most well renowned directors. Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki, 1973) and Ousmane Sembene (Borom Sarret, 1963) both dealt, in their differing ways, with the social traditions and tensions of Senegal, the hierarchies and sexualities of its people, and the corruptions of government.

Into East Asian and an eclectic diversity of film practice. Park Chan-wook has cultivated an aura of brutal creativity with the martial artistic The Vengeance Trilogy (2002-2005) and the vampiric Thirst (2009). Much less brutal, Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films are slow and idiosyncratic, using themes of nature, sexuality and spirituality, in pictures such as Blissfully Yours (2002) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). In Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang has been lauded for his brave employment of slowness and sparse dialogue in Vive l’Amour (1994) and What Time is It There? (2001).

Some Latin American works, in Mexico in particular, have amassed large, global audiences. Alejandro González Iñárritu gained popularity with, what could be called, ‘gritty’ and complex narratives, in Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003). After these films, Babel (2006) completed what has become known as his ‘Death Trilogy’ – a film that incurred Academy Award success and belongs in the pantheon of global narratives, telling its story in Japan, Morocco, Mexico and the USA. Outside of Mexico, Fernando Meirelles drew British attention to the early mortality of the gangsters of the Brazilian favelas in the hugely acclaimed, MTV style film  City Of God (2002).

What is evidenced from this brief compendium is the English speaking audience’s proclivity for International films with political narratives. The inequities between men and women, between rich and poor and, specifically in Tsai Ming-liang’s films, between heterosexual and homosexual, and the anxieties that arise as a result, are common across the films mentioned. However, if one were to watch all these films, what would also be evidenced are the vast differences in the aesthetic and narrative qualities across, and within, nations. There is a heterogeneous miscellany evidenced between East Asian brutality or slowness, Senegalese casual performance, Iranian social realism and Latin American MTV culture creativity.

So, as suggested, International or world cinema is not a coherent category, but exists in terms of its opposition to the national product, in the first sense, and the commercial product, in the second. Once they manage to surpass the financial difficulties, in particularly in the instances of the developing nations, their ability to capture an audience’s attention comes from their artistic, cinematic handling of human difficulties that are both specific to nation, as they are also, transcendental across place and time. The troubles of women in Tehran, recall the upheavals of the Western feminist revolutions, and the poverties of the urban classes of Brazil echo the kitchen sink realism of 1960s British cinemas, and the trials and traumas of the working classes detailed therein.

 

Five of my Favourites

Pedro Almodovar, All About My Mother (1999)

In many ways, the Spanish auteur’s most highly considered film, All About My Mother is often credited with being a goal post in Pedro Almodovar’s creative maturation. The film retains the kitsch camp of his earlier works, but extends itself more fully in to the melodramatic.In a sense the film is not simply all about the mother, but all about the feminine and the performative nature of contemporary women-hood in Spain.

 

Marjane Strapi, Persepolis (2007)

 

A modern animation classic if there ever was one, Marjane Strapi’s adaptation of her own autobiographical graphic novel helped translate the dilemmas and tensions of the Iranian Revolution to the wider audience.Helped along with the vocal talents of legendary French actor Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, Persepolis looks at the growth of girl torn between her country’s conservative values, and the more liberal values of her parents.

 

Moufida Tlatli, Silences Of The Palace (1994)

 

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Moufida Tlatli’s film, a rare success for the North African country, traverses the decade before and after colonial Tunisia.Young Alia (Hend Sabri) is the daughter of a servant in a Bey palace. Unable to receive any formal education, and watching her mother, Khedija (Amel Hedhili), having to submit to servitude and sexual exploitation, the future for Alia looks bleak. However, in this reflective film, there is an aura of optimism for the emancipation for, not just women, but women as emblems of the Tunisian nation.

 

Tsai Ming-Liang, The Wayward Cloud (2005)

 

Image result for wayward cloudCherry picked out from the Taiwanese director’s oeuvre to demonstrate the true eclecticism of foreign pictures, this tale of love in the pornographic age has the capability to shock (possibly rather, surprise) even the most blasé cinema spectator.Set amidst some outré musical numbers and set pieces, often involving watermelons, Tsai Ming-liang’s exercises his common themes of sexual, romantic and familial repression.

 

Fernando Meirelles, City Of God(2002)

 

A good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with non-Hollywood produce, this Brazilian film from Fernando Meirelles harnesses the visual techniques of the music video – in a similar style to Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie – to tell its tale of corruption and violence in the Brazilian slums.When other young men around him are turning to cocaine dealing and gun toting, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) has dreams of becoming a photographer to make his escape from poverty and early death.

Fat, And?

BigYoga

Let me confess. I am a bit of fatster these days. It feels like confessing to being a heroin addict or a dogger or a Trump supporter… but the funny thing is I genuinely don’t actually give much of a shitehorse about it. My anxieties and my feeling the need to ‘confess to fatness’ has a great deal more to do with the importance that other people place on ‘the fact’, rather than my own values or feelings. Like, having to ‘warn’ people about it before I meet them, or make jokes to relax their tensions when I eat a biscuit or watch television in my pajamas, or go swimming without my moo-moo.

Lets make no mistake, women’s cultural anxieties about being Fat relate hugely to our obsession with aggressively manipulating our bodies into suitable eye candy for masculinist voyeurs. Some people pretend it has to do with health, but I shall believe that when such people are as interested in insomnia, stress, work and financial pressures, air toxicity, povertous mental health provisions and the ramifications of abuse… as they are with the contents of women’s draws.

Being a woman makes you – or at least your exterior – public property. Being a fat woman, makes you public property that nobody wants or likes.

No, scratch that, many people love the existence of large women, because we provide a socially acceptable sounding board for other people’s anxieties or insecurities. A worthy object upon which they feel justified in dumping their pathological thirst for passive aggression. People actually  believe that they have the inalienable right to stand around and deliberate on your structural and aesthetic ‘flaws’, as though you were the living, female manifestation of The House That Jack Built.

And even if you have not even ventured an open dialogue about your waist band, and the ‘convo’ has been thrust upon you like a soggy nappy, there is still a pressure to be gracious about people’s ‘concerns’ or criticisms, lest you seem defensive or persnickety. As though your being unhappy with someone’s dissection of your form is some insight in to your own desperate unhappiness with it, rather than your fed-up-ness with being taken to be a problematic speck on other people’s otherwise fruity landscape.

Even people ‘trying to be kind’ fall foul, because they still are participating in a discourse that promotes the idea that women’s bodies are some kind of problem if something ‘beautiful’ or ‘admirable’ cannot be found about them. Such as those people who tell me I have a pretty face or nice coloured eyes or a good ‘rack’.

To these people I say, Stop. It. You are being about as subtle  as a set of novelty underpants… par exemple…

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Or those people who ‘helpfully’ recommend diet books or Fat Clubs. To them, I say, flat no. They don’t work, they make people miserable, they are naughty, naughty  fascistic bollocks by another name. Oh and they usually involve spending money and making someone else rich. If you want to spend your life weighted to the scales in a effort to stay slimmer than is common for a female over the age of 12 to be, that is your look out. Don’t drag me into it. Oh, and while we are at it, don’t recommend holdy in pants, corsets, growing my hair long to compensate or proffer the fallacy that Marilyn Monroe was a dress size 16. She wasn’t, OK? She was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen, with her fine comedic talent, and guess what, being commercially beautiful? it did not make her any less unhappy.

Also, if it is all the same with you, don’t peddle the idea that I was super brave to leave the house or to eat a muffin in public without a sign on my forehead saying ‘yes I am fat, but I am working on it!’. I don’t want to be dis-empowered or treated like shit for being fat, but I also don’t really want a medal for it either.

Do you know what I want? I want it to not be a thing. Or at the least not your thing. But it is right? My body, someone else’s thing. Like Katie Hopkins!

Indeed, when crud cultivators like Katie Hopkins make a big, fat issue out of big, fat people, you know why she does it? Many aspects of the human person — how we judge each other, how we make preferences or create ideals — are very subjective. Intelligence, creativity, decency, morality, even charm and beauty are very ephemeral and shifting. People like Hopkins hate subjectivity, nuance or personal preferences because they are authoritarian in their bent. They like things to be simplistically demarcated, and one of the primary reasons that is so, is because then they know how to ‘win’ at being an elite person. Or, as important, how to ascertain where someone else is placed in the social hierarchy. Who to kiss up to and who to piss down on.

Katie Hopkins may not know how to be (or how to be seen to be) intelligent, creative, decent, moral or even charming and beautiful — but she has worked out quite easily how to be thin. And in being thin – in a culture that prioritizes this as a commodifiable goal in women particularly – she wins.

Compounded… the sexism of men like Trump or MRAs arrives out of their ability to delineate on the worth of women, as it relates to their body size. Their power is in holding jurisdiction over this authoritarian, simplistic and rigid value in women. You can see who probably wins in all this.

So women, often those who are not especially overweight in any case(by medical standards) trundle on to the hamster wheel of weight loss, fornicate with false and extreme remedies to the mythological disease that is ‘them’.

Not caring, despite everything, about what I look like and my scaled ‘fuck-ability’ (who wants to be fucked anyway?) — genuinely not caring — is probably the most radical thing I can do, vis-à-vis my own womanhood. I don’t wish to have myself decided upon by the metrics of those philistine, misogynistic authoritarians, whose love for ripping asunder the bodies of women derives from the political and social power they feel it gives them.

And for those who mean well — but who are utterly rigged in to the zeitgeist of beauty fascism that this promotes (and thus seek to help me out of my corrosive ugliness) — for them I wear an invisible sign. It says ‘just because you’re giving a fuck about Fat, please don’t ask me to’. Because I have other things I prefer to do, and other things I prefer to think about, than the fatness of my own arse. Or anyone else’s for that matter.

Sex and Social Media

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Sensuality is not easily reproducible.

You cannot take a sensual experience – in all its ready, unready, bluster and breach – and copy and paste it over and over again, ad infinitude.  Oh people try, in long drawn out couplings they slog through the motions of repeated patterns of coitus. Patterns they have  come to the conclusions of, not together, but individually, privately, working around each other like a pair of fishes swimming about a small pool. Their intimacy is based on the fact of their proximity in body, but their heads are half witted, and wandering elsewhere.

Sex is just another in a list of things to get done. In the evening, they flounce in from their grey labours, shoulder down in front of a wide screen, and hand grab their small screens, ready for a long old twiddle. It contains the endless entertainment needed for all the sitting down they are about to do. Sitting down with acid cheap wine, bought because of their acquaintance with the brand. The brand so often used to slice, in advert, between those buddycoms they are so fond of. Because you don’t need actual friends! You have Sit Friends! And industrial grade gut rot.  You can ride right up Jacob’s Bunch of Shit Creek, and you don’t ever have to feel alone.

They, literally of absent mind, flick their fingers along the cracked rim of each glass and glaze over the screen(s). They could sit there for hours, couldn’t they? Watching back runs of that buddycom or that panel show – programs designed to instigate a feeling of familiarity  that they don’t experience with each other. Or anyone else. Depictions of jovial and easy friendship and society repeated day in and out, week and month too, on some channel or media outpost, somewhere, always. These are our simulated fraternities. They half watch, half fiddle, always sit.

Ah but work calls them in the morro. This ‘living’ has to stop.

They trunk up the staircase to their bed (or across the room; its a studio, its all they could afford, we made houses an investment, remember?) and fall in to it and go about their fuck or rub or frottage routine, with all the build up of a tired corporate soldier stepping in to a lift. And they ‘do it’ to completion, wandering their fractured thinkings over whatever slice of pornography or predictable ‘bend over, fuck and cum’ fantasy they can muster, just to reach something like a peak. Enough to get them to sleep without a thwack over the head by an absconded boxer or a stick shoved up the back entrance by a sexual cynic, dressed in cheap PVC.

Oh how I go on. Sauced up? Your goings got? Boots filled? I can barely bang out a question mark, let alone an exclamation.

But I am asking a question, all the same. The question is, where is our sex?

The sanitary, work to just-but live, nature of our daily lives interspersed with an endless array of small-fry digital actions (flipping between screen and screen and screen and screen), lead us inexorably to experience being in entirely fragmented and, ultimately bland cognizance, a set of mind that does not have the scope for sensual exaltation.

No wonder we experience lust as wandering our eyes over pretty pictures of lentil pies. Not lust, we note the prettiness of the spectacle and  sink notionally into “Why are my own pies not as thus?” It is the width, breadth and stretch of our sensuality.

Besides the dearth of sensuality, our cognizance, even, is not raw, let alone analytic. It is not an enthusiastic  and curious engagement with our world, our lives, our bodies, and more importantly, with their world, their lives, their bodies. But for their pretty lentil pies. Yes we live in our heads, heads attached to our digital systems, heads not up to much. Bodies up to nothing. Yes we ‘do it’. And that is about it.

Back to another night, and our lovers, wedged into a sofa like a pair of stationary bikes tied to the roof of a stationary car. Back to those pretty pictures of lentil pies. All stacked up and herb trickled; cute nosh she can’t eat, she won’t make, she probably doesn’t even want. And while she zips through them – chastising herself for your own bland plates of re-hydrated pasta drenched in  heavily sugared sauce  –  the fella sat next to her is scanning through  synthetic depictions of oblate women, greased and buffed by front on lighting, until they score an uncanny resemblance to bratwursts. Not the rich oozing sausages of October Fests even! But the orange tinged pickled dogs of the American jar. Tinged, hard and just, just squidgy. Why do men insist upon gaining their sex from images of women designed to look like projections of their own, very much imagined, hard, throbbing cocks? Why do I even ask.

And he looks up from his small screen, only, to see some hard shouldered masculinite on his big screen. Blowing to smither some sucky, sucky mouthed lizard, with green scales and a pink gob, ripping up from the Deep. You will not be forgiven for that being lost on you. And yes, she is still looking at the pretty pictures of lentil pies.”We’ll make that one day…” she yawns. He isn’t listening. He’s mentally eating his own bratwurst and watching that wet mouthed lizard get blown to a thousand, sticky bits.

This is our sex. This is our foreplay. This is the run up. Are you not entertained?

Yes screens, digitization, provides us with hallucinated-form projections of our own fantasies, extracted from us and sold back to us, so we don’t even have to leave our seats.

Once, at a conference, a male academic rejoiced! in the very fact of the amount – the sheer amount (never has a cliched phrase been so appropriate) of what he called  the availability of free pornography. An academic be hell! I said to him…I said to myself, awkward and tired, in my plastic chair, listening to endless papers of sociological ‘interest’ without analysis…you are not getting it for free! You are participating in a process by which, for every thing you consume you permit yourself to be advertised to! Advertised to along the lines of your own consumption, solidifying you, forever in the process of being catered at, usually shuffled – slightly, slightly – in the direction of your crudest of oils. And when your cock stops working because it is in a lethargic state of over reaction, your free pornography will helpfully point you in the direction of a pharmacological cocktail, that can get it going again. And then you can see to your inter-acted sex rituals with your tired lentil pie obsessing girlfriend, whilst you stew your frazzled dreamscape around images of bent over bratwursts going through the motions of fucking labour.

You haven’t bought pornography with your money. You’ve bought it with your consciousness, your dependency, your obsession, your willingness to consume. Porn. Social Media. Advertisement Television. Billboards in the street.

And the academic, who should be a wit capable of abstracting himself, to some degree, is just another consumer, sucking on his litre box pop of porn. And the activist, the feminist, who should, with thinking bayonet, sharp stick in to the flanks of these consumptive demons, clap their fins like fish breathed seals putting on a  show. Suck, suck, suck, yup, yup, yup.

Warms your fragile heart, don’t it?

And why? Why are we so easily ridden?

Because the structure of payment – which is payment via our attachments and obsessions – render us in a constant state of processing repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, repeated, messages, repeated messages, repeated messages, you get it? you get it? you get it? You do? Like.Like.Like.Like. Dislike!

All platforms work using boxes of messages or images or clips, which we have scanned over like crude algorithmicals, searching for the right ideas (diluted) to which our social, personal, political and sexual ‘identities’ have decided most appeal. Within these same same platforms that spit out an abundance of 140 character messages or clippings of grey eyed bratwursts withstanding vaginal tears, we persist in our search for the new, only in the details, the micro moments, the slight shifts in our digital mise-en-scene.  Gazillions of these shifts wandering like spots of water amalgamated into a thundering along-ness. We capitulate because bantam novelties are easier and more saccharine to swallow than the risks of heavy change. We are willing to sell our everythings for little bursts of novelty.

There Is No Such Thing as Conversation. It Is an Illusion. There Are Intersecting Monologues, That Is All.

Rebecca West

Is it no wonder such a dense political philosophy  as feminism – which ought to be out to flay the monsters of ‘extract from us and sell back to us’ –   can be so thoroughly eviscerated from the internals? Like a cadaver lost at sea – it is being chewed up by micro monsters and in the watery tumult, bloated beyond immediate recognition. Ready for the sharks to jettison it in to the watery nether. Oh it still bobs away, just. From our boats – those of us who are trying to escape – we point, we say, ‘There is Feminism! There it goes!” Its salted and thin skin you can just-but hear implore us to save ourselves. And all those other revolutionary political philosophies that seem to have been trammeled into students hive-minding language policing methods. The age of digital repetitions does not encourage us to think up or out, but in, in, in. Give vindication to ourselves, in our ever increasing shrinkage, in our pokey self obsessions.

The so-called sexual liberation of our time seemed to me then, and seems to me still, to be the intensification of the  focus on self -pleasuring, and is fundamentally masturbatory, hence its reliance on external stimuli which work on sexual fantasy. The appeal of self-gratification as the key to self-realization was and is its adaptability to marketing.

Germaine Greer, The Mad Woman’s Underclothes

Sensuality and critical engagement share a need for scope, patience, dedication (as opposed to obsession) in our choices about how we live as individuals (as much as we can) and as a society. Porn and social media require no such long term commitment to feeling and thinking good. Just as porn can take a tired, angst ridden person and flip them, like a switch, straight to orgasm, so too can social media ignite our political and personal danders in a beat.  Just as you can, in a Pavlovian fashion, become erect (whatever your genitals) – without any previous seduction or participation – when gawking at video of a  just eighteen year old being ripped to shreds by – not one – but several cocks of gargantuan proportions, so too can your frisson be got by the news of a celebrity of some distinction (or otherwise) saying something, like, the wrong words. Developing hunger and working towards the process of being filled, is not the same as salivating the minute someone or something rings a bell.

It really should not come as any surprise that pornography and social media are our most jealously guarded of enterprises. And, particularly in the case of pornography, we talk about it as though it has ever been thus. Just as a child guarding their packet of the same same sweets, tinged with chemicals to give them  saucily different colours, we guard the tedious repetitions of our sexual and thinking lives. Because what good is ecstasy and eureka, when you could have easy?


 

If you would like to help Rae Story in her penwomanship, you can donate at this link here.

 

 

Fitting In, Standing Out

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In the UK, we have a television program called Room 101. Taken from Orwell’s 1984, the concept is that people of note make the case for things that they don’t like to be obliterated from society, via the subterranean torture chamber, used in the novel to punishingly confront the socially ‘deviant’ with their greatest fears.

The TV faces, in accordance with the values of ‘offend- confront -or-challenge-no-one’ television, never come out with real, painful, human anxieties. Like Ingrid Thulin’s Ester in Bergman’s The Silence finding the smell of semen rotten, as a result of her fear of impregnation, or the fictional author of Notes from the Underground’s fear of social humiliation (leading him to, in affect, seek out social humiliation) or even Peter Pan’s fear of growing old. They usually put in littering, or gum on bus seats, or the assumed pretentiousness of liking herbal tea (I like herbal tea. Happy to lay my cards on the table). Its a way of ‘not liking things’ via the public gallery of courting popularity.

What goes into Room 101 for me this month?

Indeed, it is a society that functions around persuading people to court popularity, whilst punishing those who draw attention to the craven spinelessness of our structured social interactions, by courting popularity poorly.

In social groups, there are often people who have proffered upon them the status of lowliness or ‘not requiring of respect’. Even whose ‘job’ it is to stomach the domineering, aggrandizing, repetitious, hierarchical, conformist and petty elitisms of other people…a person who anyone can lord it over, attack or deride with more or less safety from resentment or reprisal. Someone who tries to fit in, or do right, and is seen to fail… is one of those people.

OK so we live in a society of ‘kiss ups and piss downs’ and more or less unsubtle hierarchies. The extent to which we ‘succeed’ in terms of popularity and social respect depend on our ability to seamlessly – as opposed to obviously – accord ourselves with the wants, wishes and ideals of people who have already been designated as having high status. In other words, studies show that people who are deemed more popular, generally are more astute to the behaviours and attitudes needed to be so, largely because they value popularity in the first place, not because of some other ineffable aspect of their character.

But the idea that popularity is achieved due to sensitivity to social expectation, does not take into account people who value popularity (or at the least being liked) but try imitate its tenets clumsily (often as a result of social isolation or insecurity), in a way that ultimately draws attention to the attempts, and thus the very artifice of popularity – or social currency – as an ideal. People who – to the hive minded – ‘try’ to be ‘cool’ or ‘overestimate’ their ‘attractiveness’ or tell jokes that ‘flop’.

The contemporary talent show is mandated by this tendency, because people who succeed are purported to be interesting or have the X Factor, but are actually just some forgettable, seamless derivation of previous tropes (women warbling a la Maria Carey, white troused boy bands. I’m probably out of date on the specifics) and people who are there to be mocked in the early stages are those who attempt to imitate these repetitions, albeit poorly.

Of course, someone can hit musical notes or not, but it is also the case that the demonic production decision to put people ‘out there’ with the full intention of having them humiliated, is done purposefully, to give those who invest in social hierarchy and elitism a pressure valve. In order to mock the very pretensions to which they are invested. We laugh at those who ‘try to be cool’ but fail, so that we don’t have to challenge the drive to seek vindication via other’s expectations of what has already been deemed ‘good’, in and of itself.

Of course counter or high culture does this too if with less salient nastiness. We snub those who poorly attempt to emulate the urban economy of a Beat writer, or the language twists of a philosopher, or the hair cut of a punk.

Of course you can probably guess that the term to be floated up from the dregs abouts now, is authenticity. Simon Cowell uses it a lot. Don’t ask how I know that. The person who is considered cool is a maverick, who is seen, or believed, to make things that are new, or create things that are fresh, and as such becomes the locus of our social, cultural and intellectual orientation. We worship at their alters, we – even  strangers – put flowers on their graves.

Everyone wants to be authentic, so our tendency to copycat others or imbibe the zeitgeist – perhaps out of necessity – needs to be screened out of our consciousness. The fact that most of our behaviours, attitudes and values are handed to us and are not a result of our own intuitions or, indeed, because of some essential, transcendental good sense (see, common sense)… needs to be kicked under the carpet. Again, those who attempt to be popular, or even ‘normal’ – but fail – undermine this. They draw attention to the persistence of human interpretation, imitation and replication.

Indeed the contemporary trend setters are more those who successfully combine various facets and textures of other subcultures. They make up their brands out of a  strange bricolage of ideas, thoughts and practices gathered from a multitude of places, which, again, is presumed to be seamless, convergent, cohesive, but is actually often discordant, confused and contradictory. In such an environment, success depends more on an emotive assimilation of different outputs to make up this one ‘brand’. Despite an awareness of the multitude of people and organisations that enable these brands, there is still an attempt  to pursue the idea these cultural creators as intuitive artists, of the modernist variety, rather than successful coordinators of social expectation. If you think about it for more than a minute, it all falls a part. So you don’t. Think about it.

So social currency is on the one hand a process of behaviours, attitudes and appearances that have already been intuited to have value, but the Holy Grail of popularity is to be considered the very source of the value in the first place. However, because we deem such capacity – whether trend setter, game changer, genius – to be of such rarity, most of us settle to be good emulators (whilst maintaining, for psychological comfort, the idea that we are still ultimately ‘unique’) . Or at least as good as we can be. The winners are the ones who emulate and play good at pretending their birthing their own genius, or at least are riding the waves of those who deem it to be so.

The social climber is perhaps, in this genre of those who try and court popularity badly, the most enduring of stereotypes. Hyacinth Bucket (or as she pronounces it Bouquet) from Keeping Up Appearances, is one example of a lower middle class women suffused with pretensions of high social status. Basil Fawlty of the Towers is persistently on the look out for ‘the right class of persons’ to stay at his hotel, and is often, as a result, taken in by what we are to see as charlatans who look the part. Del Boy’s entire personal output is predicated around the hope that “This time next year boy, we all be millionaires.”

In comedy (in the UK at least), these people can be lightly ribbed, but in life, being perceived to implore the vindication of those around us – and to fail – is one of the most devastating of humiliations. As ever, being the person who tells the flat jokes, or organizes the parties that no-one attends, is the thing that many people fear most.

Of course it would be easy for me to admonish those who vie for vindication as driven by narcissism and vanity, but given that we do live in a society that rewards people on the basis of their ability to ‘to fit in’ it seems hopelessly unfair to judge only those who do it least well. To give out platitudes to selfish psychopaths capable of glibly rubbing people up the right way, in order to get what they want, but to dish out mockery to those whose just want to be liked for being liked sake.

The saddest thing, is that because of our fear of being that person, many people opt for social isolation, afraid to make friends, crack jokes, offer insights. And it is ever increasing, with Like culture and Reality TV persistently organizing us into social winners and losers. But like the Capitalist system, in terms of money, the Popularity system is predicated on harsh competition, and it is a game that the vast majority of us, by its very nature, cannot win. By giving those who court popularity successfully their status, or by flattering them with hapless imitation, we are rendering ourselves subordinate.