Tuesday, April 27, 2004

My DVD of Girls Will Be Girls arrived in the post yesterday and it's so good. I am a sucker for films about showbiz that focus on women as the lead characters (Valley of the Dolls, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Sunset Boulevard, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) and Girls Will Be Girls is a kind of sick, drag-queen take on these films. We have 1) has-been Evie Harris, whose career high came with B-movie flop Asteroid. Evie is a decrepit, drunken, selfish, deluded, slutty bitch: "I've had more children pulled out of me than a burning orphanage!" 2) Coco Peru - her permanently bitter companion/servant. Life hasn't been good to Coco - her singing career failed to take off and she's lived in Evie's shadow for most of her life. She goes through the film on a razor-edge of barely disguised rage and hatred for all around her. It's got so bad that she's cutting off her own toe with a nail-file and she doesn't know why. 3) Varla Jean Merman - a wide-eyed and wide-hipped ingenue who wants to make it big and will stoop to any lengths. Varla has a gorgeous wardrobe, although most of her clothes still retain their security tags on them for some unexplained reason.

The film contains a lot of gross-out humour (abortion, dead dogs, small penises and farting being typical areas under examination), but its strength is in the characterisation of the actresses and their detailed histories. We get to see clips from Evie's movie (complete with bad continuity, forgotten lines and shaky camera work) and the house is littered with photos from her past including her Christmas Special "A Christmas Evie". A full gallery can be found here. The film's look is also great - Evie's house is a homage to kitsch with garishly mismatched walls, retro furniture and even a "Bicentenial" bedroom. The film climaxes when Evie mortages her house to buy airtime on a tv station in the middle of the night so she can relaunch herself. This "Specimerical" (a mixture of a "Special" and a "commercial") is doomed to failure - particularly because someone has spiked Evie's pre-show cocktail with LSD, triggering a bizarre flashback to a 1970s pool party... I love it.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Eileen - My New Favourite Person

Yessssssss, you are the frumpy, overweight, constantly put-upon, hot-tempered 'almost-strong' Single Mum of Coronation Street who manages to wade through life with both arms weighted down with shopping bags from Aldi, the problems of her thick sons and a case history of failed relationships that would take Trisha a whole series and several lie dectotor machines to get through. Harrumphing, tutting, cajoling and exclaiming - this Beast of Burden just puts up with it all. Her latest storyline - gay son who could have gone to Oxford but ditched it all for a life in the closet with going-nowhere Sarah Louise, is a triumph.

I think that a new gay son is exactly what Eileen needs. He could take her in hand - ensuring that she finds a flattering wardrobe, fashionable hair and a smart social circle which will elevate her status. You go girl.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Hurrah for Sean of the Dead, a sort of good zombie comedy film and a wonderful antidote to a slew of British films which depict a non-existent Britain where it always snows at Christmas, everyone is white and rich and speaks in a "received pronunciation" accent and works in publishing. Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary, Notting Hill - you have a lot to answer for. This is the "vision" of the UK which Hollywood likes, so these are the only films that have commercial success.

Shaun of the Dead is refreshingly different, showing a Britain which is full of corner shops, kids playing football in the streets, depressing pubs and boring suburban gardens. The humour isn't exactly my cup of tea (I identified more with the somewhat nelly pacifist Irish lecturer) than the loser-protaganist who has a dead-end job, doesn't impress his girlfriend and hates his step-father. However, the film addresses the fact that society is undergoing a stretched-out adolescence, where now it's perfectly normal to have no direction in life at 30. My favourite part of the film (spoilers here) is at the end when the zombie threat has been dealt with and society copes by turning the remaining zombies into a new underclass to be exploited on gameshows and reality tv (Trisha and Keith Chegwin showing what good sports they were by going along with the joke) and made to push trolleys around supermarkets. It was also nice to see so many British actors popping up for cameos. Whether this film will get a wide release in the U.S. is debatable, but I urge American readers to try and see it.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

A kind of liberation?

Thanks to Comatose I have become addicted to ChavScum - "a humorous guide to Britain's burgeoning peasant underclass". A chavie is someone who wears chunky gold jewellry, Burberry baseball caps and sportswear (although ironically does no sport), watches Trisha, listens to Rap, only likes sequels to films (because they won't pay to see anything they don't like already), owns a pitbull terrier, loves 2 txt and "gyp-ups" their car. There are lots of photos of real-life chavies (female=chavette, child=chavling). I think this is my favourite.

They look like the sort of boys you see sitting outside local shops, making farting noises at anyone who walks past who isn't bigger than them. And they'll leave school with exactly 1 GCSE in Geography Grade C between them. A great deal of popular culture is aimed at chavies - I'd venture that popular culture actually helped to create them by investing them with the symbols of a group identity, one which has a veneer of "coolness" or "bling" although is easily affordable. Chavies (or the under/working class) consist of about 95% of the UK population - no wonder the liberal classes are so panicked about them - they could seize power whenever they wanted - although they never will because they're content to squabble amongst themselves in their council estates. And if Daytime Tv won't sedate them, then there's an endless line of drug-pushers waiting to take over. However - I've always suspected that chavies actually have more fun than the middle-classes. Not being aspirant, and constantly having to worry what your neighbours or work colleagues think is a kind of liberation in itself. And it must be great to turn on the radio or the tv and actually enjoy almost every single thing that's being offered to you, instead of hating everything. And you never have to think about what to eat because McDonalds, KFC and Burger King have it all taken care of. Who cares about obesity, drug-addiction, county-court decisions and looking 50 when you're 30. The chavies don't.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Friday, April 16, 2004

Back from my holidays - I don't think I'd realised how much I needed one. Today has been full of all sorts of petty everyday things and none of it has mattered as I'm still high on the residue of Holiday Time - let me return to being a Type A neurotic bitch next week...

We were staying in a beach house which was a few doors down from the home of Kate Winslett and her husband Sam Mendez. I decided to do a little Celebrity Stalking, hoping that they would kindly have a Sex Party in their living room with the curtains open so that I could take photos and make money from Heat magazine. Unfortunately, they were quite boring all holiday - she simply read a book practically the whole time. Even when a seagull pooed on my sister's head, I was hoping she would notice and come out with offers of clean clothing or at least to let us use her bathroom, and this would result in me charming her and becoming lifelong friends with them, and oh how we'd laugh when we told acquaintences the tale of how we'd met years later. But none of this happened. Oh well. It's probably for the best. I'm sure we would have gotten on each other's nerves eventually - I have a habit of lending DVDs to friends, and I'm already envisaging having to replace my Miss Marple Boxed Set because Kate "forgets" to give them back to me.

It was so warm on the south coast - there were actually men wearing shorts in Falmouth. I have decided that I must retire to the south coast so have undertaken to find somewhere nice to live (it's only 30 years off). I'm going to start at Bournmouth and work my way along. My requirements for retirement are a) I must have a seaview b) I don't want to be too close to London - don't want that boisterous blaggy lot coming down for their weekends of loud "fun" c) But there should at least be a dual carriage way going somewhere nice. Also d) a university and e) diverse population would be nice.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Writing from an "internet cafe" in Newquay, Cornwall, where I am spending Easter. Am currently doing nothing except watch DVDs of I Claudius, walk along cliff-tops, reading (I bought the New Penguin book of Gay Short Stories and it's very good so far) and driving to the usual Tourist Locations. The Eden Project was interesting although a bit too eco-guilt-ridden (everywhere there are signs warning you about replenishing natural resources - by the time I'd got to the end I felt like burning some fossil fuels just for the hell of it) and also quite heteronormative (e.g. pertaining to heterosexuality).

After it I decided to hunt out the "gay scene" in Cornwall. There doesn't seem to be a very big one. Now where I'm from isn't what you'd call a Buzzing Metropolis, but at least it has a gay pub, a switchboard and an active lgb soc at the University. But here! Here it's just nothingness. Or so I thought. After doing some research I found a gay hotel which had "sauna" nights on Sunday and Wednesday. I decided to check it out. It took ages to find, being a terraced house in the Middle of Nowhere. Once inside, the owner, who was wearing a bathrobe and one of those scary waxed moustaches that only gay men who lived through the 1970s still have, showed me the premises. There was a room with 5 ancient old dears sitting in towels, watching porn on an old tv which has encased in an antique cabinet. The rest of the room was full of piles of books, junk, old furniture, paintings, cabinets etc. It was like wandering into a Charles Dickens novel - an odd mixture of high culture and very very low. The toilet was the owner's own bathroom - which had a corner bath, an old screen, huge ancient sink, lots more books and the toilet roll was hung on the arm of a male nude statue. The place had style at least.

The sauna was very small and very cramped - once you got inside it, you couldn't leave without getting everyone else to stand up and go outside too. Everyone else was "local", either morbidly obese or in their 50s or both, and very friendly. As someone who was young and "new", I was the source of some interest, not that I had any intention of doing anything more than having a sauna. At one point, the owner with the waxed moustache held an impromptu game of "Who wants to be a Millionairre?" in the crowded sauna cabin. I'm afraid I didn't do very well - but as most of the questions were about pre-decimalisation money and as they kindly pointed out, I was too young to remember that, it didn't seem to matter. Then talk turned to the Outside World. "Have you been on that Internet?" asked one. "Oh no," said another. "I don't do anything more technical than a calculator." "I hear they have huge saunas up in London," another one said. "And they have parties where you have to wear only your underwear!" There was a respectful silence of a few seconds while the others internalised this concept. "It's absolutely outrageous what goes on!" I told them I was from "Near Manchester" and this got them talking. "What's that famous street? Do you go there?" they asked me. "I said I had been once or twice." I don't know if I found them more exotic than me or vice versa.

After I left, I decided to find a restaurant to eat, but everywhere was closed, so I returned back to the holiday flat and had a bowl of Alpen instead. This is turning into a strange sort of holiday, but I'm glad I'm here, rather than be in some tacky hotel in Gran Caneria.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Blackpool. Tackpool. Call it what you like - it's about 20 miles from where I live and an oozing mess of decadence, trash, gay men in white jeans and sunbed tans, boozy hen and stag parties and families on day-trips who can't afford the £5.50 EasyJet flight to Somewhere Hot in Spain. You either love or hate it. I've loved it, but for the past few years have mostly hated it as it's gone more and more downmarket - they're about five years off building a big wall around it and calling it Morlock Central.

Anyway, all this is due to change, now that Blackpool is going upmarket (or at least its version of "posh") - cue the possibility of numerous "high-class" gambling venues. Blackpool is set to be Lancs Vegas. I'm not sure if high-flying gamblers constitute anybody's idea of "classy" but in comparison to what's already there, it's a start.

And Blackpool has suddenly decided to have a moral panic about its trashtastic nature and has embarked on a clean-up as a first step towards attracting investors (although the new guidelines are justified because "Blackpool is a place where people come to have fun, but some people's idea of a good time is offputting to families and older people," said Lawrence James, chairman of the group that has drawn up the code.")

A collection of objects are to be "dumped in a bin" today on Blackpool pier. These may include luridly explicit confectionery breasts and penises made from tooth-shattering rock, obscene, offensive, immoral or lewd printing on clothing, inflatables of an obscene, offensive, immoral or lewd nature, plastic tie-on body parts of an obscene, offensive, immoral or lewd nature and vibrators in sometimes lurid colours. As someone who hates food that is shaped like rude body parts, I'm glad - although I think it'll take a lot more than putting some pink vibrators in a bin to give Blackpool the much needed class-lift it deserves.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Back from a weekend at The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Some of the highlights and lowlights I saw:

Superstar in a House Dress - a documentary about Jackie Curtis (Warhol "superstar" of the film Women in Revolt, which is one of my favourite difficult-to-watch films). It had interviews with some weird and wonderful people, but could have done with being 20 minutes shorter.

Eating Out - romantic comedy along the lines of straight guy pretends to be gay to date the gay room-mate of the straight fag hag who he fancies - hilarity and complications ensue, especially when straight boy gets his first gay blow job. All of the women in the film stood in for typical bitchy camp queens, while the men were pretty-boys with six-packs. I miss the camp queens.

The Porno Picture of Dorian Grey - is it art? is it porn? Director Wash West (from Leeds of all places) went to America to make porn with Bruce LaBruce and this won him lots of awards (Bruce compared him to Eve in All About Eve). The film addresses the question "is porn is helped by a fully-fleged narrative, character development, humour, pastiche etc." It's about as postmodern as you can get. And it has rather nice Eric Hanson as the main character.

Komrades - a documentary about Russian soldiers and their homoerotic bonding etc. It was all a bit cringey, leaving me feeling like a dirty old man from the first world perving over straight lads from a poorer country who the interviewer had got drunk. Dirty dirty dirty.

Beloved Sister - a German remake of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Except this time the Baby Jane character has the word "FUCK" tattooed on her forehead, listens to Jimmy Hendrix and drives a car with flames painted across the bonnet. Kind of hilarious.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Why I love Margaret Rutherford.

A recently released DVD box set of the four Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films has recently been released. For people with absolutely no cultural capital at all, Miss Marple was a genteel lady detective written by Agatha Christie who lived in a small English village and solved murders that had baffled the police etc. She was very much the front-runner for Murder She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher who I always thought was a pretty poor copy (sorry Zbornak). Between the ages of 12 and 14 I practically read every Agatha Christie novel ever written, and the Miss Marple ones were always my favourites. Miss Marple was a gay teen's dream.

Maraget Rutherford perhaps wasn't the most authentic Miss Marple (that dubious award goes to Joan Hickson), but she was the most fun Miss Marple, as her four films show. They're best watched as Saturday matinees when you have nothing better to do. The opening theme tune is a bizarre clash of 1960s pop music and classical orchestra. It's jaunty, silly and groovy - the kind of music that was popular for about 3 years in the early 1960s - the square old man's attempt at being cool, and also appeared in films like Lolita and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Margaret Rutherford has the most wonderfully baggy face, full of weird expressions - watch her mouth closely - it can't keep still - the tongue keeps darting in and out, the lips purse briefly, then open absent-mindedly. I can't keep up with it. In some shots it's possible to see Margaret's moustache. I also love her choice of clothing - usually a cape over sensible tweeds, but as the franchise grew, audiences demanded that she be seen in more and more outrageous costumes. Miss Marple is a wonderful redoubtable lady - the sort of woman who no longer exists (she probably never did), but gives truth to a myth of 'Britishness' (the films were popular in America apparently), someone who would never need 'counselling' after discovering a dead body or having yet another murder attempt carried out on her - she'd just give one of her saggy sighs, turn the radio up and make everyone a nice pot of tea. I love her and wish she lived next door to me so I could get her shopping in.