Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

It is only 6pm and already the crowds have made Times Square impassable. I am holed up in my hotel room, with internet and room service. The crowds are roaring outside my window (and there are 6 hours to go).



Grey Gardens the musical was a lot of fun. In general, I kind of hate musicals that are based on films or tv shows - like sequels, they seem to be cynical attempts to cash in on an existing audience, and the music is often forgettable, sacrificed for the high concept. But whatever. It was very good. The first half was set in the Beales' heyday, with "Big" Edie presiding over the home, with her gay pianist, and Little Edie on the verge of marrying one of the Kennedys. By the end of the first half it's all gone wrong and both Edies have been deserted by all the men in their lives - even the gay pianist. The second half followed the film more closely, with lots of lines quoted verbatim. Mary Louise Wilson played Big Edie in the first half and Little Edie in the second, and she was pretty fantastic, earning a standing ovation at the end. Her chin certainly worked. The Marble Faun (shown in the picture above) also doubled as Little Edie's Kennedy beau in the first half. If you hadn't seen the film, it would all be much weirder and nowhere near as enjoyable. I've booked seats for Company as well, so feel like a total showtunes queen.



The weather is pretty cold, so we've been catching a few matinees: The Last King of Scotland (Idi Amin biopic), For Your Consideration (the latest from Christopher Guest) and Dreamgirls (another musical). Did a big walk from 48th Street all the way down to about 8th street, mostly on my favourite avenue: 8th Avenue - it's one of the seedier avenues with "adult" stores like The Playpen, one of the few reminders of scary, naughty 1970s New York. When we came here in 2001 with my (then) 13 year old niece, our hotel window overlooked The Playpen. My niece spied on who went in and out of it, and made notes in a little pad, eventually concluding that "pretty normal people" used it. That's the sort of education you don't get from school. Having been to New York more than a few times now, I tend to go for the atmosphere rather than the museums - I walk everywhere, soaking up the different neighbourhoods, revisiting a few of my favourite restaurants, browsing the massive Virgin Megastore on Times Square. I like walking through Chelsea and seeing how uber-gay it is, with all the steroid taking muscle marys walking hand in hand.



I also like going to the Quad Cinema, which shows lots of small budget gay movies that quite frankly, aren't usually very good. Never mind.



And Ultrasparky, a New York native (now in Reading, England) took me to Kim's Video on St Mark's years ago, and I always make a pilgrimage to it, stocking up on rare and cult DVDs that you can't get in the UK. It used to be a bath-house up until the 1980s. And it's kind of weird going in and imagining the ghosts of hundreds of gay men wandering the different floors, clad only in little white towels.

The nice thing about going to New York once or twice a year is that every time I go, it's changed just everso slightly, but there's always so much that's familiar. It's my favourite place in the whole world. And I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather see in the New Year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

In New York

I arrived last night in New York for a week's holiday. The whole trip has been done on hotel and travel points so that is rather nice. I read Ben Elton's latest book Chart Throb on the plane - it's a "deconstruction" of the X Factor, and very evil it is too. Overall funny, though a bit repetitive. I didn't get the surprise twist because I wasn't paying enough attention (I never get surprise twists, I am an author's dream).

I am staying in a massive hotel on Times Square, which is predicted to have one million visitors on New Years Eve. I think I might stay in that night. Right next door they are showing the Grey Gardens musical, which I'll probably try and see. They're also showing Company which is another musical I'd quite like to see.

For my New Years Resolution I am going to try and cut down or even give up coffee, starting today. Every time I do it, I get banging headaches and feel sick. So it might not work. I already feel a bit ill and it's only 8.51 a.m.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

People will talk...

A short post because I am in Liverpool today, in preparation for visiting family. I
have visited a red squirrel sanctuary (sadly no squirrels were out today, but I did see a fox instead), and went to a massive Waitrose (my favorite shop) for lunch. I also went to this exhibition, which I had a hand in creating, so it was quite nice to see the pay-off.

Anyway, wishing my fellow bloggers and the readers of this one a Happy Christmas and
Wonderful Things for 2007. You are my among my favourite people.

Here's a clip of Divine David, giving a make-up masterclass. As it's the time
of year for Christmas parties, his tips should come in particularly handy for us all.



David killed off his "Divine" persona a few years ago. I miss him. In a previous web persona, I used to be in regular contact with Count Lovely and Spike who maintained his website, and I always suspected that they were the Divine David as they had far too much of a Davidesque sense of humour to be mere fans. However, they too vanished from the internet eventually. Where are they now?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Oh my goodness!



The posting below on Penelope Pitstop got me wondering about Paul Lynde who did the voice of the Hooded Claw. There are a lot of sites out there about him. He reminds me of an American Kenneth Williams. Both men were somewhat belligerent, both played vile comedy cartoon characters, both were staples of light entertainment panel and chat shows. And both died under slightly odd circumstances (Williams possibly took an overdose, Lynde was found naked and dead next to a bottle of poppers).

Here are some of my favourite Lyndisms from his long stint on Hollywood Squares. At a time when it was wrong wrong wrong to be gay, Paul pushed the boundaries back about as far as you could go, with his fabulous "zingers" that earned him the accolade of being "Centre Square".

Peter Marshall: Paul, Snow White...was she a blonde or a brunette?
Paul Lynde: Only Walt Disney knows for sure...

Peter Marshall: Paul, why do Hell's Angels wear leather?
Paul Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

Peter Marshall: In the "Wizard of Oz," the lion wanted courage and the tin man wanted a heart. What did the scarecrow want?
Paul Lynde: He wanted the tin man to notice him.

Peter Marshall: Who are more likely to be romantically responsive. Women under thirty or women over thirty?
Paul Lynde: I don’t have a third choice…?

Alcohol and pills made him increasingly erratic and unpleasant, and he was eventually dropped from the show. However, ratings dropped also, and he was eventually reinstated.

This site has dozens of Paul Lynde clips, including lots from his bizarre sitcom (The Paul Lynde Show), where he played a married man with kids (unbelievable). I think he was better suited as "funny" Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, telling Samantha "Oh Sammy you really know how to turn me on!" when he magically appeared on her tv screen. He wasn't just in Pitstop and Bewitched though - another bizarre cartoon had him playing a snippy neighbour of football jocks called "Where's Huddles?" And he also played the wolf in "It's the wolf", permanently trying to get his teeth into little Lambsy, and constantly thwarted by Lambsy's "protector" - a big old sheepdog. It's not too difficult to spot the gay bar subtext in all of this.

Here's my favourite Paul montage, a selection of clips of him saying his catchphrase "Oh my goodness". The last one of all is about the queenliest enunciation of all.



And if you want the "dirt", then this site goes into the details of his death and the infamous "Burger King" incident. I'm not sure I would have liked to know Paul in real life, but he's one of those people who's fascinating to know about.

Friday, December 22, 2006

She's not a CHRISTIAN-AH! SHE's TAMPERED in DARK-SIDED STUFF YES YES!



Thanks a million to Lord Boyzici who alerted me to this fabulous clip from Trading Spouses (it aired a couple of years ago). Trading Spouses is one of those wife-swap programmes, where the mothers have $50,000 to allocate to their host families at the end of the week. But I don't think the producers could even begin to suspect the dramatic meltdown of fundamentalist Christian Marguerite Perrin when she returned home, after a particularly stressful and strange week with a family of "New Age" hippies who were into tarot and astrology. Marguerite has an interesting physical presence, I suspect she'd be well-suited to appear in a John Waters film. Or on second thoughts - a Stephen King film. I never thought I'd say this, but she makes the crazed performance of Piper Laurie's Momma in Carrie look rationale and under-stated.

Within seconds of stepping through the door, Marguerite freaks out in a spectaculor fashion. Ignoring the "welcome home" posters and balloon-animals that her long-suffering family have prepared in celebration, Marguerite instead embarks on a terrifying/hilarious rant, which makes you fear for her mental health and her family's safety.

There are so many great lines in this, and a whole host of new words and phrases for you to learn.

  • She's TAMPERED in DARK-SIDED stuff
  • I am a GOD WARRIOR!
  • This is TAINTED, I don't want it, whatever it is!
  • Gargoyles!!! Psylkicks!!!
  • They only believe in the MOON and the GODS and the THIS and the THAT!
  • Every dark sided person get out of my HOUSE, if you believe in Jesus you can stay here
  • I don't want to see a BOOK OF WITCHES! I don't want to see any STARS!
  • I was thrown in the PIT! Thrown in the PIT!




After seeing the clip I had to download the whole episode and watch it. I think it's my favourite piece of tv ever. I became a bit obsessed with Marguerite, and I'm not the only one. There are a number of video parodies of her homecoming on youtube. This is my favourite. But this is scarily accurate. And I love the authentic props used in this one.

I also found the official Marguerite website which has also made much of parody (Margaret is on a rap record), suggesting that the crazy lady isn't so crazy as to realise a money-making opportunity when it comes her way. Indeed, what I find most compelling about the original clip, isn't Marguerite's spiralling out of control, but the cynically angelic uplifting music at the end and the subtitling which indicates that after giving it some thought, she decided to take the $50,000 after all. This is played over a shot of a full moon. The (dark-sided) symbolism was not lost. And there's something horribly final about that last low piano chord - as if the devil had his way after all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Byebye Pitstop

Or rather, byebye Joseph Barbera, who has just died, aged 95. He and his partner William Hanna were responsible for hundreds of cartoons, which were a staple of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, when all I did pretty much was watch tv.

My favourite ever Hanna-Barbera cartoon was the Perils of Penelope Pitstop, possibly the queerest cartoon ever made. The heroine, Penelope was impossibly blonde, dressed in a tight hot-pink aviation costume and forced to say all her lines in a helpless southern belle voice. She was always falling into dastardly traps set by the uber-camp Hooded Claw, and then having to be rescued by the Ant Hill mob - a gang of incompetent midgets. But in a triumph of feminism, it was usually Penelope who saved herself, by employing a nail file or small mirror in order to cut or burn through the ropes that tied her (as well as the feminist "reading" there was also a lot of BDSM going on in the show.)

But the Hooded Claw was the best of all. Voiced by Paul Lynde (who also played Uncle Arthur in Bewitched - another gay-coded show), he had the most wicked laugh ever and delighted in telling Pitstop exactly what he was going to do with her, while rinky-dink music played in the background.



I was also suspicious about the Bully Brothers - who, in retrospect, resembled two bits of trade whom the Hooded Claw had picked up. They don't make cartoons like Pitstop anymore. And you know what, it's a shame!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Where did your sexuality come from?

I've been thinking a lot about sexuality recently (for work/academic reasons), and was wondering what you think of the subject. Where does your sexuality come from? Are we born with it? Or does society give it to us? Or do we have a choice? Or is it a mixture of all of the above? Historical studies have questioned the idea of firm categories like "homosexual" and "heterosexual", pointing out that in other cultures, sexuality is organised along different lines - there's a tribe called The Sambia, for example, where all the young men have homosexual sex for a period of their lives. In Greek times, it was considered normal for a man to have sex with a teenage boy. In western society, Kinsey has claimed that most people are bisexual, but the majority of us end up identifying as "heterosexual", with a minority as "homosexual", because that's how society likes to classify things.

So if you'd been born into a different time or place, you'd have ended up with a different way of expressing your sexuality.

But is sexuality just society? Are we all born with the same fluid potential, and then society imprints us a sexuality? Or is there more to it than that? I was "different" from a very early age - for some reason I didn't seem to pick up on the cues that little boys should be rough and not like dolls. I played with girls. I had dolls. Why didn't I get the right social conditioning? Perhaps we start off with a set of sexual potentials, and for most people they're pretty wide, and society shapes them, but there's still a "biological" bit which specifies the absolute parameters. So no matter what society I was born into, I still think I'd have ended up mainly fancying men and being a bit girly.

Maybe it's a bit like your body shape. Society determines to an extent how fat or thin or muscly we are. We might be born into a society where there's lots of food and advertising to eat. Or one where being a skinny super-model is lauded. Or one where it's good to be a Charles Atlas figure. So we eat, starve or exercise accordingly. But our bodies still have limits on how muscley or thin or plump we can get. Or maybe it's like being right or left-handed. Most people apparently have the capacity to be ambidextrous, but because most of the stuff in our society favours right-handedness, we simply go with the flow. It's only the really really left-handed people who can't do that.

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing what you think about your sexuality and how you think you ended up the way you did.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oh Everard



Did anyone see a Channel 5 documentary called Guys and Dolls which appeared a few months ago. It was about men who own real dolls, expensive silicon sex-dolls. They were mostly American, but one was British, a chap called Everard, who lives in Dorset and owns 4 dolls. Like many of the people on the documentary, Everard lived alone and seemed to have difficulty relating to real women. He had had a close relationship with his mother for a long time until she had died, and it wasn't only model women he was interested in - he's also into model planes. He also does hang gliding. In the documentary, he went hang gliding while one of his real dolls sat in the car, waiting patiently for him.

I was in a coffee shop in Cardiff yesterday, and happened to read a magazine article about him. The article had him with his dolls, all gussied up for Christmas festivity. Everard was a good sport about it, despite the fact that he was clearly a bit uncomfortable with it all. At doll forum he says "The photographers decorated my room and my dolls while I was being interviewed by Rebecca in the kitchen (a different Rebecca -- a live one...). I had misgivings about the whole thing, mainly because I do not celebrate Xmas at all."

His website is here. Scroll to the bottom and there are black and white pictures of Everard's real dolls, dressed in clothing circa World War 2.

Everard's biography, also linked from his site, contains excerpts from his as yet unpublished novel. This is my favourite piece "In the fall of 1995, I went to see Apollo 13 with one of my hang gliding friends at a cinema in Bournemouth. Clips from the movie apeared on television when I watched it in my mother's room at the nursing home. I assured her that the full movie would be shown on telly soon, maybe as early as the following spring. She could see it then."

There is no follow up to this.

When I saw Guys and Dolls, I my initial reaction was to sneer at Everard. By the end of the programme, I felt sorry for him - the documentary seemed to "explain" his liking for real dolls, hinting that somewhere along the way, his sexual development had been arrested - hence the model aeroplanes and the "Mother" references. Everard was positioned as a benign Norman Bates, with real dolls rather than corpses populating his home.

After I'd read the magazine article, I found him fascinating rather than sad. And after looking at his website and comments on various real doll forums, I think he's very brave.

Sure it's easy to sneer, call him sad, feel sorry for him etc. But gays were sneered at in similar ways only a few decades ago. And importantly Everard isn't hurting anyone at all. His sexual behaviour might seem peculiar (we could say "queer" if we wanted to use the right academic parlance), but when you think about it - isn't most people's? And in allowing himself to be filmed, he clearly isn't bothered about what other people think of him. As he notes at the dollforum "Boy, I wish I got commission on every Realdoll sold as a result of people seeing photos of my dolls. At the same time I kind of feel guilty because Realdolls are not compatible with everyone. I fear that some people are going to chase a dream that turns out to be an expensive mistake. It has happened."


I don't think I'll be saving up to buy Charlie, the only male real doll. But I do have respect for Everard. And I won't be sneering again.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

FAG FAECES!

How do you solve a problem like the Westboro Church? With its tacky "memorial" to Matthew Shephard, pictures of children holding signs that say "god hates fags" (there's child abuse for you) and its general mixture of crazy, hatred and bile, you couldn't really make them up. They're not the most attractive collection of religious lunatics I've ever come across. Shirley Phelps Roper (the daughter of leader Fred Phelps) looks and talks like an evil fairytale witch. You can imagine her appearing off-camera in the Blair Witch Project at the end, or playing the Wicked Witch of the West in an amateur production of The Wizard of Oz, performed solely by drag queens on crack. She's in dire need of hair help - has no-one told her that you can't get into heaven with split ends?

The following clip combines some of the craziest Westboro moments together - Phelps' notorious "FAG FAECES" 9/11 speech, as well as Shirley vs. Fox News (who are bizarrely positioned as the upholders of liberal thought) and best of all, a male Australian newscaster flirting with Phelps Jr and admiring his firm buttocks.



My favourite Westboro baiters though are the Landover Baptist Church, who, for the past 7 years have kept up a remarkable satire on Phelps and his cronies. The page also incorporates Betty "god told me to hate you" Bowers - who gives Shirley Phelps Roper a run for her money. And you can buy Nancy Boy Chrissy, a children's story about a little boy who wets himself, from a webpage which has been loving recreated to look like Amazon. And there's the story of how demons live in men's rectums, warranting the close inspection (often over a period of days) of young men's bottoms, by a selfless member of the church: "While Mr. Montrose was miraculously able to detect the flight of demons in patients over 50 without them even having to remove their trousers, it became clear that the demons inhabiting very young adult males were much more crafty and had to be tenaciously coaxed out - sometimes over several painstaking days."

You can also contribute to their forums, although it's sometimes unclear where parody ends and insane religious mania begins.

I guess if you didn't laugh, you'd cry. Glory!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

MAXIMUM POWER!



I've been working through the final series of the early 1980s nihilistic sci-fi series Blakes 7, watching an episode a night. I watched the last episode last night. So I'm glad to read today that it's due to make a comeback, in radio form at least. It was 25 years ago this month that the cast met a particularly sticky end...

Blakes 7 defines "cult tv" for me. As a child it often made no sense at all. The titular Blake left after the first series, and there were only 5 or 6 human characters (although at various times computers were roped in to nominally make up the magic number 7).

The series depicted a future universe where Earth is run by the facistic Federation, who have most of their populace nicely controlled on happy drugs. Blake and his renegade band of leather-wearing outlaws decide to bring it all down. Their main enemy is Servalan, a woman who still manages to look as if she's come out of a time-machine from the future. With a severe cropped lesbian butch hairstyle and the flamboyant attire of a Vegas drag queen, Servalan cuts an imposing figure.

The show ended on an explosive low note, with all the "goodies" massacred by Federation agents in the final scene. It was very popular in Eastern Europe apparently. Blake's little gang were the antithesis of Star Trek the Next Generation's happy commune in space. No Counsellor Troi and Dr Beverly doing their stretch exercises together, or Data playing a concerto in the ship's orchestra for everyone to politely clap at. And certainly no cosy little poker sessions. Instead, the 7 barely tolerated one another. They only laughed the bitter laughter of cynics who'd been let down. When things went wrong they'd shout at each other. Their ship was ultra minimalist in decor, and their clothes had been purchased from a gay S&M shop in London (I kid you not). Even Orac and Slave (the computers) would engage in snippy little bitch-fests while the others patiently (or not) waited for them to get on with it. Orac, who resembled a plastic box full of Christmas tree lights, was like a tetchy gay uncle who'd been to Cambridge and thought that gave him carte blanche to be patronising and smug.

Almost every week, the 7 would get some fabulous lead which would help them to destroy the Federation. But it would usually end in tears and lots of people needlessly being killed. Nine times out of ten, Servalan would appear in the last scene, whip off a hood and explain that it was all one of her dastardly traps.

The other women were shamelessly under-used and once Blake left, the ultra-hammy Avon took charge, leading the group into more and more dangerous situations. Only he and cowardly thief Vila managed to stick around for the whole 4 seasons, although I was always partial to ultra-posh Tarrant, who was brought in for a bit of curly-haired sex appeal in season 3.

Here's perhaps the most famous (and camp) clip from all of Blakes 7. It's the season 3 finale. Servalan has stolen the hero's ship "The Liberator", dumping everyone on some boring planet so they can rot. But her triumph is majestically short-lived. Say it with her - MAXIMUM POWER!



And if you want to see how it all ends... "Have you betrayed us? Have YOU betrayed ME?"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Vigil(ante)

A depressing article on the local news today, regarding a gang of angry parents and other concerned citizens who are holding a vigil outside the home of one of their neighbours in the village of Bishops' Lydeard, after The News of the World (who else?) exposed him as a paedophile and child-killer. They held grammatically incorrect placards and came out with logic-defeating arguments: newscaster "They have to live somewhere..." Angry mother: "They should of thought about that before they done what they done!" The BBC coverage is here.

While I wouldn't like to have a child-killer living next door to me either, the vision of an angry crowd, attempting to break its way into someone's house... to do what? is frightening. Normal people, out of control, their faces contorted with rage and hatred, succumbing to the will of the mob - the news footage was starting to resemble the last scenes of Day of the Locust.

The News of the World has a long track record of "outing" paedophiles. In the past, its campaigns have instigated vigilante behaviour which has resulted in paedophiles and suspected paedophiles being attacked. Ironically, when it started its campaign in 2000, on the same day it published a centre spread of Atomic Kitten star Kerry Kantona, posing topless in a series of pictures taken when she was 16. Her family must have been so proud, imagining old men up and down the country disappearing into the bathroom for a close "inspection" of their daughter's breasts, before carving up the Sunday Roast.

In this Sunday's edition there is an article about Paris Hilton and her "little sister Nicky... Paris, wearing stockings and suspenders and an animal-print basque, seems to be loving every minute of being captured bottom to bottom with Nicky, 23... In another shot Paris, 25, hugs and kisses her wide-eyed little sis - who is dressed in only a silky slip."

Cases of paedophiles living in the community are problematic in lots of ways.
But I wonder why the News of the World doesn't do more to counter the sexualisation of youth in the media? Why it doesn't do more to highlight the issue of child marriage in African and Indic countries. Why it doesn't do more to highlight the fact that most child abuse occurs when the child knows its attacker, often occurring within families? Why it doesn't acknowledge that scare campaigns like this are more likely to imprison children in their own homes, making parents terrified to let their kids play outside. Why it doesn't acknowledge that such stories are likely to whip ordinary people up into a frenzy of fear and hatred, triggering out-of-control vigilante campaigns?

Two words spring to mind. Salacious and hypocrisy.

Britain is apparently one of the most civilised countries in the world. Anyway, where's my pitchfork? I'm off to Bishops' Lydeard. There's gonna be a good ol' lynching tonight and I want a ringside seat next to Rebekah Wade. Would anyone like me to bring them back a souvenir? I'm hoping to get a hand. Or maybe even the head.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Gay divorcees

My local radio station had a piece last week on civil partnerships. It's coming up to the year long anniversary of them. I had one back in January, and very nice it was too, we went out and had chips afterwards.

The radio story was all about one of the first couples in the UK, (who also live in Bristol) to have the partnership, whose relationship hasn't lasted and they're getting a "divorce" or whatever the term is - dissolution? The radio announcer was "trying" to be sympathetic and treat the "story" (if you can call it that) seriously, but he kind of put his foot in it when he referred to "same sex marriages" and then a little later, contrasted them with what he called "normal sex marriages". I guess that makes me abnormal. Nice to see that Alan Partridge is still in work.

I want to say something spiteful about the gay couple who are now getting a divorce, cos anyone who gets a divorce after less than a year really deserves a bit of a slap for being so flaky, gay or straight. But it wouldn't be very nice. So instead, just go and look at the picture of them on their "happy day". A picture that is worth 1000 (bitchy) words.

***

I've spent the weekend renewing my love/hate relationship with Lovely London. On the minus side: "cool" London people talking loudly in tiny restaurants so you could hear every word of their dreary self-promoting conversations, a 12 year old girl running rampage in a Tescos late at night screaming "You callin' me a NIGGER?" over and over again, missing every tube connection by about 3 seconds, everyone in Old Compton Street looking particularly glum and tired, the local news trying to whip up drama about their tornado "It occurred nearby a SCHOOL where CHILDREN could have been!", and mainly people, people, people everywhere. I think Leicester Square is my least favourite place in the whole world.

But on the plus, after years of searching, I finally found a clothes shop that sells men's shirts that aren't in check or stripes. Porchester Spa. Being able to see Children of Men, when it seems to have stopped showing everywhere else, the revamped Brunswick shopping Centre, and the great vintage Magazines shop in Soho. So not a bad visit really.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yes, YOU can stop climate Chaos

The freak tornado in London makes you wonder if the world's coming to an end. If you care about climate chaos, you should go to http://www.icount.org.uk/ and get involved.

But here's a secret. I care about the environment. But at times I just want to throw my hands up in the air like Dorothy Zbornak in the opening credits of the Golden Girls and say "oh what the hell".

In my own pathetically grudging way I try. I recycle my newspapers. I don't let the tap run when I'm brushing my teeth. I turn my tv off at the wall at night-time. I walk everywhere (but only because I live in a place where everything's close by). I use trains (but only because it's stressful to drive and you get stuck in traffic jams). I won't go on buses because the other passengers sometimes depress or scare me. At least on a train you can go and sit in another carriage. And I won't get a bicycle because I used to have one and was always getting into near-scrapes with motorists who'd drive too close to you.

A lot of my friends are far more into the environment than I am. Over the last 10 years or so it's become a theme, a regularly occurring topic of conversation that I can't really engage with (like Radio 4 or football). Some of my friends have wryly commented that I use air travel a lot, even Ryanair and Easyjet, so I must have a massive "carbon footprint".

My local council gave us all some nice recycling bins and then cut refuse collection down to once a fortnight rather than once a week, so now we all have smelly bins full of rotting food.
I tried to take a defunct tv to my local recycling centre, but was told the council wouldn't accept it because you could only dump things IF YOU WERE IN A CAR! I shop at an organic shop and always say I don't need a plastic bag, which sometimes gets a wintery smile out of the miserable assistants who work there, but it's very expensive, and it'd be cheaper to go elsewhere.

The worthy earnestness of it all and the scare tactics get on my nerves a bit. I often feel like Green is the new religion, and I'm the barely tolerated sinner. I hate being told what to do - I'm so childish that it makes me want to do the exact opposite! And I know that any personal changes I make will have hardly any impact, so it all seems pointless at times. And even if everyone in the UK converts to "green", then what about America (who's gonna make them change!), what about China and all the 2nd and 3rd world countries. Will it be too late by then? Why not just join in the big Consumption Party and at least enjoy the last few decades (years, months, seconds?) that we have left, rather than spend a lifetime being careful and then the planet going down the toilet anyway.

Life's depressing enough sometimes and if I add environmental worry to my already enormous list of things I continually worry about then I think I'd end up topping myself. And sometimes I think "so what" if we screw up the planet and then we all die. Most people get on my nerves anyway. Maybe we should let mutant nuclear cockroaches have their turn. And ultimately I tend towards optimistm in such situations. Hopefully some clever scientist will come up with a solution to it all in time, or we can go and live in a big dome on Mars or something for a few thousand years so the planet will recover.

So I'll go on recyling, and doing my bit where I can and feeling guilty. But my heart's not really in it.

Oh dear, I'm having a bit of a cynical "episode" this afternoon.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

10 Reasons why I love Midnight Cowboy



1. Jon Voigt's portrayal of Jo3 Buck, the dumb hick from Texas who goes to New York hoping to make it rich by servicing rich women. Voigt's face is literally wide-eyed throughout the film, his blonde good looks and enormous even white teeth suggesting an innocence that is about to be severely compromised. Yet he's not as naive as he looks - someone who wants to be a hustler and has corrently evaluated his own attractiveness, clearly knows a thing or too about the way the world works. Buck spends a lot of the film being ripped off or conned in various ways by a range of cynical New Yorkers. But in one of the final scenes, he wrestles back the upper hand, in an incredibly violent way, reminding us that good bodies don't necessarily promise sex.



2. Manhattan. The film depicts the seedy New York of the 60s and 70s, before it got "Disneyfied" by Guiliani. Perhaps it is a place that is best left remembered on celluloid (and Manhattan can still be scary), but what a place it is. In an early sequence, Jo3 Buck is aghast at a crumpled body, lying on a sidewalk and tangentially noticed by the jaded New Yorkers who've seen it all before. The film shows run-down hotels (25c mkes the tv work), the cruisy flea-pits of 42nd street, the run-down, sweltering subway (which hasn't changed much).



3. The Soundtrack. Well worth getting hold of on cd. "Everybody's talking about me" is only deceptively cheerful, but has a much darker message. And the main theme always gives me goose bumps. There are also a few pieces of great 60s psychedelica on the soundtrack, including "Jungle Gym at the Zoo" and "Old Man Willow" by Elephant's Memory and a few good Easy/Jazz pieces by John Barry.

4. The Warhol Set. In a key scene towards the end of the film, Jon and Rizzo attend a very 60s party, where many of the denizens from Warhol's Factory happen to be present. Look out for Ultra Violet, Viva, International Velvet and Paul Morrissey. Additionally Sylvia Miles, who plays an ageing, silly, hard-nosed potential client, was to appear in Warhol's Heat three years later, alonside Joe Dallesandro, playing pretty much the same role again.

5. The gays. Put aside any qualms about negative representation - this was a less PC time after all. And instead enjoy the range of tortured gay stereotypes on display, a Box of Queer Delights for us to try on and cast off at will. There's Jackie - the swishy queen who twirls her handbag around and is never without a tart barb for Rizzo. Poor Joe thinks she's a real girl at first. Or how about Bob Balaban's nervy, geeky student who gives Joe a blow-job during a showing of Mystery Science Fiction Theatre 3000. Gagging on Joe's ejaculation in the theatre bathroom afterwards (it does get grim at times), the student admits he doesn't have any money and offers Joe his books as payment. What on earth would Joe do with books? He could at least pawn the guy's watch. "My mother would kill me!" whispers the poor guy over and over, until Joe leaves him alone. Or there's Barnard Hughes chattery, mother-loving out-of-towner, who hates himself and is almost relieved when Joe attacks him. And there are the hard-faced male hustlers who seem to line every street in NY. It's even been suggested that there's an implied love relationship between Joe and Rizzo. The film may toss the word "faggot" around with gay abandon, but it ends up questioning what a faggot actually is.



6. The party. Joe encounters the chic freaks of Manhattan's underground culture. After he forsakes "joint etiquette" by totally bogarting it, he's asked "What would you like? Uppers or downers?" And he's soon off an the obligatory 60s trip. This scene seems to have been mercilessly ripped off a year later in The Boys in the Band, which also has a dumb as a box of hair Midnight Cowboy who gets high.

7. The media. While Joe canters through life, not really paying much attention to anything except his own narrow concerns, there's a lot of world going on in the background. Joe's radio offers salvation via God and via cosumerism. There are people marching in the streets with placards. And during a vigorous bout of sex, the remote control gets randomly flicked over and over, treating us to what American tv audiences of 1969 had to endure. The point was hammered home in Forrest Gump, but it's a lot more subtle here..

8. The editing. Dream sequences, flashbacks and "what ifs" are shown via sharp use of editing, allowing us to get a feel for Joe's rather complicated past, and raising more questions than answers. Was he sexually abused by granny? Why did a gang of youths rape him and his girlfriend? What happened to make him hate Church so much?

9. Fashion. In order to be a Midnight Cowboy you need a big cowboy hat, a brown jacket with a fringe, a collection of gaudily embroidered shirts, a little black neck tie and a massive pair of cowboy boots. There is a lot of focus on Joe's clothes - their state signify his gradual degradation into the New York under-class. He spills tomato sauce over his trousers at one point, and then has to hide the stain with his hat. Gradually the clothes get smellier and more tarnished as the film progresses, and Jon has to pour perfume down the boots at one point. By the end of the film, the whole get-up is thrown in the trashed and Joe's wearing a fresh set of clothes, signifying that it's over.

10. The end. One of the themes of the film is about escaping to somewhere better. Jon leaves Texas because he thinks he will have a better life in Manhattan. But when he gets there, his life is much worse. So he picks up on Rizzo's dream to go to Florida - where it's warm all the time and you can (apparently) live off coconuts. The coach ride at the end of the film mirrors the film's beginning. There's hope that Joe will be able to find some sort of happiness in Florida, but it's also tinged with a horrible sadness. It could all happen again so easily.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oh, now I get it

Half a lifetime ago, when I was 17 and not yet "out of the closet", I started watching a lot of old films from the 1950s. I often find it difficult to connect with "the here and now" and as a teenager, I felt completely culturally isolated by 1980s culture (though I can appreciate it more now, from a distance). The 1950s seemed like a more interesting, romantic place, like another planet (I also read a lot of futuristic science fiction, which was equally an attempt to "escape" the present.)

Anyway, I was rather taken with James Dean, who, with his big dirty blonde quiff, babyish eyes and high cheekbones looked boyishly cute. I had a big quiff too, and when I smiled I would unconsciously make my top lip go thin, just like JD. I knew that there was "something up" in Rebel Without A Cause, but didn't know exactly what it was (it was Sal Mineo and a big gay subtext you dummy!)



Around the same time I also saw Streetcar Named Desire and the Wild Ones with Marlon Brando. But I didn't get him at all. His scowling enormous moon face did nothing for me.



But I've watched a few Brando films again recently, and have to admit that I now see what the point of it all was. James Dean on the other hand, meh! You can have him.