A Bunch of Fives: films about identity confusion

AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY (Jeff Feuerzeig, US 2016) Author is the story of JT Leroy, teenage truckstop hooker, ingenue and literary genius.

Leroy was in fact the creation of an unemployed mom and her sister-in-law Savannah (who dressed in a wig and shades to appear in public as JT). It was a literary hoax that sucked in writers, filmmakers and musicians, including Courtney Love, Asia Argento and Dennis Cooper.

For ten years, Leroy stunned the US with writing that was queer, biblical, southern and raw. Leroy contributed to films by Gus van Sant and music by Billy Corgan and made public appearances across the world.

Unmasked by a New York Times journalist, the hoax made worldwide headlines, and the documentary explores the story from the skewed and rather bizarre perspective of Leroy’s creator, Laura Albert.

This fascinating and original movie is being shown by the Tyneside Cinema, and it’s not the only cinematic exploration of identity confusion worth seeing.

1. ORLANDO (Sally Potter, UK 1993) The incredible Tilda Swinton stars as the ever changing Orlando, a noble androgyne instructed by Good Queen Bess (played by Quentin Crisp) to live forever. Traversing genders, Orlando ventures through Europe finding happiness in art, poetry and love.

2. I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes, US 2007) A biographical musical drama based on episodes in the life of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There breaks all rules by featuring not one but six actors in the role of Zimmerman. Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Richard Gere are amongst the facets of this unusual and many-layered movie, which also features a stunning soundtrack (Sonic Youth, Karen O, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Cat Power amongst others).

3. THE IMPOSTER (Bart Layton, US/UK 2012) The true story of Frederic Bourdin, a French confidence trickster who impersonated a missing Texas schoolboy, The Imposter is a complex mystery revolving around child abuse, government power, and secretive small town America, with a real sting in the tail. Recommended.

4. CATFISH (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, US 2010) Another documentary, but this time the characters are more sympathetic. Lovestruck Nev builds a relationship with a woman online, to find on further investigation that all is not as it seems. On release Catfish was a timely warning on the dangers of taking internet romance too seriously. That it’s dated so quickly says everything about the pace of technology.

5. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Steven Spielberg, US 2002) Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, a con artist and forger, Spielberg’s movie turns an incredible crime story into a breathless chase across the US, as Tom Hanks’ FBI bank fraud agent Carl Hanratty tracks Abagnale while he impersonates airline pilots, doctors and lawyers.

This article orginally appeared at Narc Online in August 2016.


A Bunch of Fives: Girl Gang Movies


GHOSTBUSTERS (Paul Feig, US 2016) This summer’s biggest blockbuster is a reboot of a comedy-horror buddy movie from 1984. Remade with the four main roles played by women, this was a movie that many hoped would fail. That it didn’t is due to the inspired casting of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon as the supernatural sleuths. The addition of a black actress, the amazing Lesley Jones, had chauvinists frothing at the mouth with barely concealable reactionary anger.

This film is a riot, made memorable by the aforementioned female cast, souped up special effects, and a sleazy and believable villain in Neil Casey’s Rowan North. A new classic ‘girl gang’ movie then?

It surely is, and it takes it’s place on a fascinating list of excellent female buddy cinema.

1. THE DOLL SQUAD (Ted V Mikels, US 1973) Schlock king Mikels inspired Charlie’s Angels with this cheap cheapo story of five fantastic female agents, who tackle a mad and evil genius about to release bubonic plague on an unsuspecting world. It’s worth digging around for a copy of this insane romp, not least for a typically camp and over-the-top performance by Tura Satana.

2. FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (Russ Meyer, US 1965) Satana also turns up as one of a trio of over-excitable, underdressed, sports car driving, killer go-go dancers, in Russ Meyer’s most memorable film. Set in the southern Californian deserts, FP!K!K! is a sorry tale of bad behaviour, kidnap, extreme violence, and low morals. Yes, it’s THAT good.

3. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Lou Adler, US 1982) Rarely screened and therefore rarely seen, The Fabulous Stains’ exploration of girl-powered punk rock pre-dated riot grrrl by a decade, and delivers some punchy home truths on the state of the music business and power of the media machine. The Stains wage musical war on rivals The Looters, who, it’s worth noting, feature former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and Ray Winston on vocals.

4. WE ARE THE BEST! (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden 2013) A sensitive and realistic portrayal of the trials of teenage girlhood, explored through the lens of three punk pubescents and their adventures with boys, bands and struggling parents. Friendships flourish and then flounder against a background of guitars and cheap alcohol.

5. MUSTANG (Deniz Gamze Erguven, Turkey/France/Germany 2015) Five orphaned sisters living in rural Turkey attempt to find freedom through rebellion in a conservative village. Swimming with male school friends, attending football matches, kissing older boys and driving cars, the sisters are progressively picked off for marriage. The film has a gloriously positive ending, and despite some brutal and depressing events, is a joyous and unusual example of teenage rebellion (and an important critique of Turkey under arch-conservative President Erdogan).


This article first appeared in Narc Online

No Bra: an interview with Susanne Oberbeck

Rebecca Thomas.jpg

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been coming back to the music of No Bra again and again.

Formed in 2003, No Bra were created by German performance artist and spoken word performer Susanne Oberbeck and musician Fanny Paul Clinton.

No Bra is a challenging and intriguing concoction of minimalist electronica, in-your-face queer politics and frighteningly astute social observation. Seventies New York No Wave meets Eighties electronic Berlin and present-day East London, while musical references seem to include Suicide, TG, Peaches and the Raincoats.

Visually, Susanne Oberbeck is striking on stage. Performing topless, with long straight hair and hot pants, she’s unforgettable and truly inspirational.

I asked Susanne how she became No Bra.

Sheena: How did you first become involved in music and performance and what were your thoughts when you first decided to appear uncovered?

Susanne: I’ve played music since I was a kid but I always hated practicing and playing classical music, and as I discovered making your own music is actually much easier, so I think kids should be told that!

After being in a few other bands I started No Bra with my friend Fanny Paul Clinton, after we made a short porn film satire together in which we both performed. Later it became a solo project and I became known as “No Bra”.

Playing topless made me feel more confident, aggressive and on edge on stage and it was immediately clear that it worked so I stuck with it.

Some women, including the Raising the Skirt collective, argue that exposing their cunt releases liberating magic and creativity. Do you feel something similar is true of your breasts?

To me creativity involves going against what other people say, having the balls to create something new, and not be afraid to embarrass yourself.

Our culture objectifies and judges females (not just females!). As a female one’s actions and opinions are constantly being questioned. To be an artist you have to block all of this out, or tell people to fuck off but that’s exhausting.

Getting my tits out clarifies things from the start, that I don’t care about that stereotypical kind of judgement. I haven’t experienced this cunt related “magic” some people talk about – to me its more about overstepping the line from an expected female position to one that I can control myself. – without hiding or altering my body. Changing society not myself – at least in the image I’m presenting on stage.

Your live work is a kind of non-performance. You’re very still, intense and focussed on stage. Was this a conscious decision?

Of course. I tried moving and it felt fake so i didn’t do it. It makes it easier to hold people’s attention. Not saying this can’t change!

Your video work is very confrontational and challenging. Do you consider yourself as more of a musical or visual artist?

I don’t really see it as being that confrontational or challenging. I can see the video with the penises [Munchausen – see above] is challenging to some, but I see it more as a comedy. It was also about my fascination with body doubles and editing to create an illusion that a star has a really hot ass etc, so I wanted to try the same technique to make it look like I have a big dick.

I love making films and videos, but working with music and vocals and live performance is much easier and natural for me.

What’s a good place to start for newcomers to your work?

I would start with the song Munchausen most accessible and the first album, Dance and Walk.

Your work is very ‘urban’. It’s seems to be it’s very much about life lived in the modern city – Berlin, Paris, New York, London. What do you love and hate about modern city life?

I just think that so called weirdos, queer people, have always been drawn to the bigger cities because people are a little bit more tolerant, and it’s easier to find like-minded people.

So that’s what I love about it, but also the diversity of people and cultures, the speed etc.

You can find out more about No Bra on her excellent website, featuring videos, radio shows and interviews. No Bra will, with any luck, be performing in Gateshead later this year.

Photo by Rebecca Thomas

Sara Makari’s Persian Pop & Turkish Psychedelia

Sara Makari is a North East-based collector and curator who is currently exhibiting her incredible collection of Turkish and Persian pop-culture memorabilia at Vane Gallery.

The show ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is open until June 4.


Sheena: What will a visitor to your show see at Vane?

Sara: A visitor can expect to see rare 1960s-’70s music covers, memorabilia in the form of: 1960s-’70s vintage magazines and postcards, textiles, shoes and hats.

Specially made for the show is beautiful handmade, hand-painted silk and lurex nostalgia inspired ‘Persian Pop’ gown with matching hat dripping in glass beads. The same artist Hushi has also painted a 1971 Whiting and Davis gold mesh purse with the popular singer Googoosh’s face and the words in Persian Bavar Kon (Believe), one of her songs.

There is also a lot of collage artwork, photography, a drawing, paintings, miniature painting on shoes and a 3-D super kitsch box work! You just have to go see for yourself!

Go-Go Chakmeh I

Taravat Talepasand, ‘Go-Go Chakmeh’, 2016, Lacquer on Gold Fabric, 46 x 23 x 9cm

You’ve worked with both artists and collectors on your show.  How did you go about choosing collaborators?

Most of the artists are friends and we have become closer through working together.

The art world of the contemporary Middle East and North Africa is small and everyone knows each other or is connected in some way. I simply pick artists that I feel are doing something unique, passionate, visually stimulating. They have something to say and are personable people.

I am so proud of the artists in my show.  They have worked really hard for me and luckily things have worked out for the best with the project. I have only one work from a collector, the ‘Googoosh’ box by Khosrow Hassanzadeh, which I felt was the most suitable work of Khosrow’s for the project bearing in mind it is a high impact piece and it was already in the UK, as it is for sale.

We are very grateful to the kindness of the collector (who shall remain anonymous) for sharing his work with the public.

Afsoon, ‘Mahasti’ (from the ‘4 Corners’ series), 2010, mixed media, 16.5 in; Width 23.2 in / Height 42 cm; Width 59 cm

Tell us about your own Persian heritage? Was there a sense that Persian pop culture was important when you were growing up?

I grew up with my Dad’s tape collection from Pre-Revolutionary Iran.  These were tapes of songs he liked recorded from the radio. He couldn’t afford to buy records.

I used to ask him what the lyrics meant and was astounded at how deep the meanings were of the songs and to what lengths Persian people go to express their feelings and to tell their stories.

Where did you even begin to start collecting the items in your exhibition?

Most of the items such as records, magazines, postcards, clothes and non-painted shoes belong to me. The majority of these things I collected when I was lucky enough to go to Istanbul on a research trip funded by The Art Fund through the Jonather Ruffer curatorial grant.

Istanbul is an amazing place full of relatively cheap and unusual vintage items. I’m also an Etsy addict! I think if you have a good eye for antiques and fashion you can go into a junk shop and come out with some unimaginable treasures.

Afsoon, one of the artists also shares my love of digging for treasures around the world.

PastedGraphic-10Malekeh Nayiny, ‘My Mother and Her Sister Homa’, 2000, Digital Chromogenic Print, 90 x 65 cm

The Persian singer Googoosh features heavily in your exhibition. Why is she such a major cultural figure amongst the Persian diaspora?

People just love her: her style.  She had many looks.  The haircuts she had including her rebellious pixie cut, her many happy and sad songs and her distinct voice, the fact she danced when she sang in quite a traditional style, her politics (she’s well known as a gay icon now) and also that she was very real to the Iranian people.

Googoosh was actually from a working class Azeri family from the North of Iran. Her father used to make her perform as a child and everyone saw her grow up quite publicly in the Pre-Revolution times.

Turkish culture in the seventies seemed to be very liberal indeed. There are a lot of images that are almost ‘soft porn’. What happened? Turkey is currently going through something of a counter-revolution and is becoming increasingly conservative.

I can’t really comment on the politics of Turkey right now as I am not experiencing it. Most of the material I collected from the 1960s-’70s is what I found in vintage and records shops or from collectors’ stashes.

Some of the graphics from Iran Pre-Revolution was also quite racy and it seems censorship rules were a lot slacker than what is to be expected now.

If you were to recommend just one Turkish or Persian pop record for the beginner, what would that be?

A really epic Turkish song for you is Zehra Sabah’s Ikimiz Bir Fidaniz

And a really epic Persian Pop song for you is Googoosh singing Talagh.

I recommend any records with these women as a starting point.

Review: Grayson Perry All Man

Last night I watched Grayson Perry’s new series, All Man, on Channel Four. The series explores masculinity from the perspective of an artist. Who is also a transvestite; the latter stressed throughout the hour-long first episode as if dressing as a pantomime dame makes him something of an expert on ‘blokes’.

I should say upfront that Perry’s not a chap I particularly like, his work less so, but he’s a very good TV presenter, and it’s admirable that he can often get ordinary people to open up. I like what he does on telly.

The first episode, set in our own North East, focuses on what Perry sees as traditional northern masculine values and roles. Coal mining, shipbuilding, and in their absence, as an outlet for machismo, cage fighting.

Scenes set in the MME (mixed martial art) gymnasia and changing rooms are truly affecting.  A fighter talks about his brother’s suicide, and all concerned seem well aware that they have, to some degree, constructed their masculinity, mainly as a shield against pain – emotional if not physical.

Equally affecting are Perry’s encounters with the mother and friends of a thirty-year-old, seemingly happy and carefree young man, who took his own life in 2003.

Suicide accounts for three times as many male deaths in England as it does female. Suicide is also the leading cause of death of men between 20 and 49.  Men from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also ten times more likely to end their own lives than those from wealthier regions.

Unfortunately, Perry does not explore the equally frightening statistics around domestic abuse in the North East (up 43% in the past two years).

The elephant in the room is male violence, not suicide. While men are most likely to suffer violence at either their own hands or those of other men, so unfortunately are women.

Violence against women costs the NHS an estimated £1.2 billion a year for physical injuries and £176 million for mental health support.

Still, I guess you can’t cover everything right? On the other hand you can’t talk about masculinity without talking about women: both men’s fear of women and of their own femininity. Perhaps that’s why the show focussed so heavily on recycling the myths of the dour and brutal Northern male.


During the making of All Man, Perry and the crew dropped into the Tyneside Bar Cafe for dinner. I was DJing there that night with Lady Annabella. The night was a celebration of the life of Amy Winehouse, linked to the screening of Asif Kapadia’s Amy at the Tyneside Cinema. The Bar was alive with queers, trans sisters and brothers, tough blokes and hedonistic partying women, all giving it up in joy at the legacy of a tiny Jewish songstress from North London.

Perry wasn’t keen to chat that night (I know, I tried). Perhaps the cosmopolitan, open, female-friendly atmosphere didn’t fit the narrative that the first episode of All Man seemed so keen to push.

Lisa Lyon: the other Mapplethorpe muse

Everyone (or at least everyone with taste and a spirit of enquiry) knows who Robert Mapplethorpe is, and most of those people will know that he had three great muses – people who modelled for him time and again and helped shape his art.

Sam Wagstaff is one. Patti Smith is the one most people know. Mapplethorpe took the iconic black and white portrait that adorns the cover of her greatest gift to the world, the album Horses. That’s a photo that has resonance way beyond being merely packaging. Ask any teenage girl from the seventies who went on to write poetry, play in a band, or create a fanzine. Ask any boy for that matter.


I discovered the Mapplethorpe muse who most fascinated me via a large format paperback book I found in a remaindered book stall in the early eighties.  She was an impressively sculpted bodybuilder called Lisa Lyon and the book was called, simply, Lady.

I bought it for a pound, took it home, loved it, imitated it, used it as masturbatory inspiration (hey, what can I say, I like powerful women!).

tumblr_n4j2qgySpn1r9e2vfo1_1280Lyon was, and is still regarded as one of the great female bodybuilders, one of the pioneers. She began her career in martial arts, through the Japanese art of kendo, and because it takes upper body strength, started weight training. Which, in turn, led to bodybuilding.

In 1979 she won the first international contest for female bodybuilders and went on to write the first book on the subject, Lisa Lyon’s Body Magic. She appeared in Playboy and according to Wikipedia could “dead-lift 225 pounds, bench-press 120 pounds, and squat 265 pounds; two and a half times her own weight.”

When photographers requested she do a shoot, she got it. Because she’d actually been an art student at UCLA, she understood both what made a photo work and what work it took to make a photo. She posed for Helmut Newton and for Marcus Leatherdale amongst others. Leatherdale was Robert Mapplethorpe’s office manager and an excellent photographer.

But Mapplethorpe’s photos of Lyon are something else. Like Tom of Finland, Mapplethorpe shot women like he shot men. His portraits of Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Sigourney Weaver and others are devoid of sensuality. They’re kind of blank, blunt, non-relfective. They’re like beautifully crafted passport photos.

But with Lisa Lyon, Mapplethorpe went somewhere else. He created a character in almost every photograph – as if we were channeling Cindy Sherman. There’s Lyon as athlete, dominatrix, bride, fashion icon, boxer, porn star.

“When I first saw her undraped it was hard to believe that this fine girl should have this form,” said Mapplethorpe.

“My relationship with Lisa is not just her body […] I’m just as interested in her head as I am in her body.” He dug and explored the light across her muscular frame, her veined arms, her chiselled jawbone and cheeks.

140911005For her part, Lyon seems to have disappeared from view. She’s still alive, as far as we know. In the meantime, seek out Lady, the book of portraits of Lyon taken by Mapplethorpe.

She’s a strong and inspiring woman, and for me, as important a figure in the NY art scene of the early eighties as Laurie Anderson or indeed Patti Smith herself. She’s just been forgotten.

How I knew I wasn’t gay

I recently ran into a woman I’d known at university, some 25 years ago. She was performing a one-woman cabaret, and it wasn’t until half way through the show that I realised who I was watching.

She was someone I’d dated at college, pre-transition, when she (I’ll call her K) had been A.  And male. We both operated under an entirely different set of assumptions in 1991.

Meeting her again, I was sent back to a miserable time in my life when there seemed far fewer possibilities and I was deeply unhappy about my life.

“You’re C” she said, as I walked towards her after the show, recognising me immediately. We talked for a while of our lives together at Middlesex Poly, studying fine art and art history.

“You seemed really repressed in those days” she said.

No, I thought, I wasn’t repressed, I was depressed. And as lovely as A was back in the day, (and he was) he was part of why I was depressed.

In those days A created high-camp screen prints of Joan Collins, and his room in Turnpike Lane was decorated with colourful Bollywood prints and an enormous pink Elvis rug. Although we dated a few times, hanging out at the Scala Cinema (where I attempted to impress him with screenings of Pink Narcissus, Kenneth Anger and possibly Fassbinder), our planets were not aligned.



As a cross-dressing punk-rocker, I had few effective role models. Most of the people I looked up to were gay men – Morrissey, Marc Almond, Denton Welch, Derek Jarman, John Waters, Jean Genet. All exciting and transgressive figures. On the other hand the gay men I actually KNEW were rather conservative and mainstream … they seemed obsessed with soap operas and fifties Hollywood movies.

Mainstream gay London life wasn’t my London life.  I didn’t know at the time that both A and I were dressing in drag, living large parts of our lives as women, enjoying the freedom that living in the capital gave us. But we weren’t enjoying the same parts of London in the same ways. And I wasn’t gay.

Not being gay was problematic. At the time ‘gay’ seemed like the only option for someone whose culture, politics and aesthetic were like mine. But this was before I knew about ‘queer’, a term with which I soon became acquainted and which changed my life.

In 1991 I was truly trapped by terminology. My life and A’s life, although similar in some ways, were miles apart in others. While I presume he was looking at gay life, I was looking in another direction altogether.

At the time I was living in a flat with the NME journalist Paul Moody, a member of pre-Britpop mod combo The Studio 68 (you can hear their excellent album of demos, singles and rarities here).

I was writing for another music paper, Sounds, and wrote a queerzine, Brown*Star (much influenced by the great queer writing coming out of the USA and which I heard about via Factsheet Five magazine).

I spent four nights out of five at small gigs around London, watching bands I’ve come to love in cute little pubs. PJ Harvey’s trio at The Dome, Manic Street Preachers at The Falcon, Thee Headcoats/Headcoatees at the St. John’s Tavern in Archway.

It was peak Riot Grrrl, and I saw and loved Huggy Bear, Bloody Sausage, Bikini Kill, Mambo Taxi, Voodoo Queens, L7, Hole, Babes in Toyland, Stereolab, Daisy Chainsaw, Curve, Silverfish, Sun Carriage …

While A was dancing to S-Express in lycra catsuits, I was bunking into women-only gigs in Camden wearing a ratty nylon wig, and badly dyed Littlewoods petticoats bought for 10p in charity shops. In this way I saw Courtney Love play her first solo gig, and fell into an argument with one of Huggy Bear, who accused me of ‘trying on oppression as a lifestyle’.

Acceptance of trans lifestyles had a long way to go, even (or especially) amongst the riot grrrl community, but it was feminist art history and riot grrrl politics which formed my queer world view.

My art life was all about Guerrilla Girls and Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer. The influence of Diane Arbus and Lisette Model began to inform my photography. I wrote about Madonna for the Modern Review, and my art history thesis was a feminist critique of televised football.

I was living, without really being aware of it, a very queer life. It just wasn’t a gay life (and it certainly wasn’t a straight life).

Another friend who had a huge influence was Mona, guitarist and songwriter for punk-trans queens Six Inch Killaz. This is a band you really need to know about. A drum machine, a couple of junkies, two street ‘girls’, deranged and beautiful, Six Inch Killaz were years ahead of their time and bound to lose.

Mona was the only person I knew who cross-dressed AND loved punk, comics and trash culture. Mona was the first queen I ever met who thought guitars were sexier than soap stars.

I don’t know if it’s easier for young trannies nowadays than it was then. It’s always been difficult, and it’s pointless to make direct comparisons.

But the advice this old drag queen would give to young queers is this. There are other lives, other cultures, other role models. Use RuPaul’s Drag Race as a gateway drug, but make sure you end up mainlining your own culture.

Drag is a drug, but use it responsibly and to open up your mind.

The Danish Girl

It’s taken me a while to get around to discussing The Danish Girl, in part because I was so flummoxed by it’s sheer ordinariness.

The Danish Girl, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the story of Danish artists Einar Wegener and Gerda Gottleib. Wegener was one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery, and died during experimental surgery to implant a womb and create a vagina. It’s an extraordinary story of love and bravery.

Some readers might expect me to be immediately critical because because The Danish Girl features a cis-male actor playing a trans-role, and perhaps because (being something of a socialist) I generally have a problem with toffs.

The latter is certainly true. I’m unhappy at the way in which Eton-educated posh boys are running both our country and our culture. Being old enough to remember when great actors went to comprehensive schools and studied drama at good polytechnics and regional universities, this is devastating news for our dramatic and cinematic arts.

As to whether trans-actors are better qualified to play trans-people, I generally agree, but in this case Redmayne is playing a man coming to terms with his gender, and deciding it’s been wrongly assigned . He’s a man playing a man and one can hardly use a second actor when the pre-op Einer Wegener becomes the post-op Lili Elbe.

But first let me tell you what I did like about The Danish Girl. The costume designer Paco Delgado and his wardrobe department have done a marvellous job (with the notable exception of Ben Whishaw’s beret, which looks like it fell onto his noggin from a very high building as he walked past).

An important part of the story revolves around clothing (and we’ll come to that later), so they simply had to get it right. The costumes are so well thought out that they command you reach out and touch. There’s an entire article on the subject here.


Sets are generally threadbare, theatrical backdrops, and are slightly unrealistic for that, but do draw you back in to the action. Costume drama often threatens to overwhelm you with awesome and majestic scenery, but that’s not the case here.

Finally, Alicia Vikander. A rather excellent, if slightly overtanned Swede, she creates what little dramatic tension exists and does it with the subtlety Redmayne lacks.  She’s utterly convincing when demonstrating her love for, and commitment to, the confused Einer/Lili, as the latter comes to the razor sharp conclusion that she is female.

Redmayne’s acting skills (or lack of) are what really sinks this movie. “Film acting is, in large part, reacting and listening” said Michael Caine, who knows a thing or two about the trade, but over-reaction is Redmayne’s dramatic default.

Watch as he cradles his beautiful head in his manicured hands throughout the movie, as if he’s the most precious little rosebud in the world. I wonder if Redmayne had spent any time observing women in the real world … if he had he would have noticed that women do not spend their lives trying to give off ‘pretty’ … they eat, swear, smoke, laugh, fix cars, solve crimes, write novels, paint, fuck etc etc.

In short, women do stuff, and that’s hardly any different now than it was 100 years ago in Denmark.

Redmayne plays Lili Elbe as a woman who exists only to be looked at, when the truth is surely that Elbe was a woman of action. She put herself under the surgeon’s knife at very high risk. She was a warrior, not a mannequin.

Which brings us back to the costume. In The Danish Girl, silk and satin are gateway drugs which lead to full-scale transgenderism. It takes little more than a half-remembered male/male childhood snog, and an increasing taste for lingerie, for Redmayne’s character to realise that he’s neither a man and nor does he find women attractive.

About a third of the way through this mess of a melodrama, Vikander is preparing soup in the kitchen, and brings her knife firmly down on a rather juicy carrot. Yes, we get it, thanks for pointing it out.

As far as Redmayne and director Tom Hopper are concerned, The Danish Girl is about a man getting his cock chopped off.  Pretty much says it all really.

A chat with Richie Ramone

This interview originally appeared in NARC Magazine Issue 114 (February 2016)


On the day I interview a Ramone, something I’ve wanted to do all my writing life, David Bowie dies.

So inevitably, when I get through to Richie Ramone on Skype, the first thing we discuss is the death of The Dame. In a broad New Jersey accent, Richie tells me he “just expect[s] it now, kinda. You try not to get too upset. When you get to 70 you know time ain’t on your side. But who next? I guess it’s the Stones”.

Richie Ramone got the rock’n’roll bug early on. “When I was in high school I got hold of fake ID. I was sixteen and living in New Jersey and I used to come up to the city, and that’s where I saw the Ramones. I saw them a few times, and I was fan, totally”.

“I hated all that arena rock shit, but around 1979/1980 I started hanging out at CBGBs, those kind of places, and I saw so many great bands, and I thought, this is what I want, this is how I want to live my life”

“I mean I was a fan, but I didn’t have any Ramones posters on my walls. When I joined the band I joined as a musician. I’ve been playing the drums since I was five years old so I was brought in because I could play.”

Born Richie Rheinhart, Richie Ramone was third in a line of excellent drummers (after Tommy and Marky) and played on the albums Too Tough to Die, Animal Boy and Halfway to Sanity. “I wrote a lot of material for the band” says Richie. “I wrote ‘I’m Not Jesus’ and ‘Somebody Put Something in my Drink’ and I’m the only drummer who wrote songs for the band”

He was also the only Ramones drummer to sing on a track when he recorded ‘You can’t say anything nice’ for the band.

Punk rock to the soles of his Keds, Richie also played on solo work by Dee Dee and the posthumous (and rather excellent) Joey Ramone album Ya Know?. As far as Joey was concerned “Richie saved the band. He’s the greatest thing to happen to the Ramones. He put the spirit back”.

The love is obviously mutual as Richie continues to play at the annual Joey Ramone Birthday Bash

“I’m off to the studio this week in LA” Richie tells me. “I’m working on my second solo album, Cellophane, and I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t play great guitar, but I play enough to write songs”. Unfortunately the album won’t be ready for the tour. “Nah, that’s unfortunate, I know” he says, frustrated at the timing. But Richie is one busy boy, recording with the Gobshites, the Rock’n’Roll Rats, and previously with Fred Schneider of the B52s and Dan Sartain.

Richie plays The Cluny on February 9 and it’s not going to be a night for nostalgia. “I’ll be playing Ramones classics, songs I wrote and songs I didn’t, and I’ll be playing a lot of my own material from my solo albums” he says.

“I heard about audiences up there” he says of Newcastle. “You guys really like punk rock, right?”

Oh yes, I tell him, oh yes.


Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight Hilly Kristal will be played by Mr Alan Rickman

The problem with making movies set in the recent past, especially when they concern infamous landmarks such as CBGBs, is that there are people who went there and bands that played there still walking the asphalt.

If you didn’t actually go there to see a band (and I didn’t, despite working in New York when it was still open), you’ve probably read a hundred reviews of gigs being played there, or heard live albums recorded there, or seen Roberta Bayley or Bob Gruen’s photos of bands gigging there.

So Randall Miller’s 2013 movie (currently available on Netflix) had it’s work cut out ahead of time, and it seems nobody involved, least of all Miller, felt like making much of a job of it.

Metacritic gave it 30 out of a hundred based on 17 reviews, while Rotten Tomatoes gave it 3.4/10. The LA Times called it “a mess of caricatures” while The Village Voice (who should know) said the film’s “biggest problem is that it’s taken such electrifying source material and done absolutely zilch with it.”

But don’t let that put you off! It’s hilarious!

There are one or two excellent turns, the surprise package being Hogwarts’ own Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome, while Stana Katic stands out as Genya Ravan, and someone called Caleb McCotter has a crack at being Jayne County.

Much of the casting however, verges on the farcical, particularly Malin Ackerman’s Debbie Harry. One thing you can say about the lead Blondie is that she had charisma in spades. Not so Ackerman, I’m afraid. Too tall, too busty, too plain, too miserable.

Ramones in CBGB

The four wack jobs playing The Ramones (see above) are just five blokes in leather and wigs, but completely hilarious. I’m imagining an excellent sitcom starring these four chancers permanently at war with the film’s Dead Boys – also completely laughable and loveable. A weekly thirty minute laugh-a-thon featuring the fake Ramones and Dead Boys might even be an idea I’ll steal myself.

And don’t even get me started on the Iggy, Lou and Patti characters. They could have been played by Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howard and Fenella Fielding for all the difference it made. The film would have been better for it.

By the way, my CBGB comedy theory is leant some weight by the presence of real gag-show royalty, in the form of Mrs Costanza herself, Estelle Harris (as Hilly Kristal’s mom, Bertha), and a decent part by ex-Rosanne alumnus and Big Bang Theorist Johnny Galecki (as Terry Ork).

CBGB-Alan-Rickman-www.whysoblu.com_So how about the recently departed Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal (above)? I’ve never been much of a fan of Rickman. I never forgave him for Truly Madly Deeply, but it seems he was a truly decent bloke. Labour supporter, state school educated, raised by a single parent.

When all else is collapsing around him he brings this rootedness to the role of Kristal. Joey Ramone only knows how Miller got him to take the part, as a cursory glance at the script would surely have had the Shakespearean rolling around on the casting room with stomach cramps. But there you go.

Hilly Kristal was said to be good to his musicians, appreciating that they needed good sound, promotion and payment. Punk Magazine’s obituary was kind to Kristal and honoured his legacy, and I think the same could be said of Rickman’s portrayal of the club owner.

The greatest tribute to Rickman is that in a litter tray of a movie, his performance lifts it out of the ordinary. It’s still a comedy, but it has a heartfelt and memorable dramatic execution at the heart of it.