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.

Advertisements

A Bunch of Fives: Girl Gang Movies

A BUNCH OF FIVES

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).

by SHEENA REVOLTA

This article first appeared in Narc Online

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.

einarlili-xlarge

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.

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.

My books of 2015 … the rest

#2 Not that kind of girl by Lena Dunham
LenaDunhamI shouldn’t like this book, but I do, just as I love Dunham’s TV series Girls, and her movie Tiny Furniture. What’s that all about?

I’ll be open about one thing. I do find Lena Dunham particularly hot. Is that wrong? She’s funny, intelligent, politically liberal (and engaged), interestingly dressed, frequently naked.

Of course I fancy her!

But I also loved the book because it was recommended to me by real-life girlfriends who had found it inspiring and said it reflected their own lives. As much of Dunham’s work, it’s about that period between leaving school and starting your adult life. And the friends, and the shit ushering jobs, and the attempts to write something meaningful. Going to your friends’ piss poor drama performances, or derivative art exhibitions. Their bad bands. Their poorly attended club nights.

I laughed out loud a lot when I read Not That Kind of Girl. Because I recognised my own life and that of my friends at that stage of our development. And that, more than anything, is why I love Lena.

Check out her blog, Lenny, by the way. It’s an excellent daily reader.

 

#3 Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture by Carol Queen
CarolQueenA delightful treatise on queer life, and a book that offers another way of living, one that is about self-definition, personal autonomy and pleasure.

Carol Queen managed to put into words something I’d been struggling with my whole life – why, if my culture is queer, my politics are queer, my friends are queer and my art is queer, I am defined by who I’m sleeping with at any given moment?

 

#4 King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
Essays on rape, gender, sexuality, and punk rock by the writer of Baise-Moi.

Despentes seemed to take these issues back from the realm of theory, and positioned them anew against the backdrop of her own experience.

She’s one of the freshest writers I’ve read for years, and her anger shines brightly and offers hope, not least because she embraces the act of sex and the practice of sexual choice. She doesn’t hold it at arms length.

 

#5 Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band by Andrew MathesonThe_Hollywood_Brats_5
Even though I’d adopted the lifestyle of punk towards the end of 1976, I’d never heard of the Hollywood Brats.

That’s hardly surprising as their ‘career’ had come to an end by 1975. They were possibly Britain’s first punk band, our own New York Dolls.

Matheson’s book is a riotous carry-on, instantly recognisable to anyone who’s been in a crap band. It’s about bedsits and cider and fag butts. It’s about falling out with a succession of bass-players and managers, and about all the times you nearly have ‘made it’; but for your own ignorance, pride, pig-headedness and stupidity.

Mathewson is the punk Withnail, and it could make a fabulous movie. As long as they don’t cast Noel Fielding, Russell Brand or Bill Nighy, it could even be a great movie.

 

#6 Wreckers of CivilisTGation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle by Simon Ford
Leant to me by artist Juli Watson (who has become something of a partner in crime this year), Wreckers of Civilisation was an excellent introduction to the story of Throbbing Gristle.

With a very few exceptions I still prefer reading about TG than listening to their music (this is an exception).

But TG were as revolutionary as the Sex Pistols, Crass or the Ramones. In both art and music, their impact has been enormous. Many people have had their lives opened to incredible possibility by Cosey, Chris, Sleazy and Genesis. I’m one of them.

 

#7 Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson
FC St. Pauli are the adopted German football club of punks, anarchists, hippies and larrikins, supported across the globe by those who feel excluded or morally corrupted by the ManYoos and Real Madrids.

stpauli

I used to make a living writing about sport. There are times when I still do. I’ve written extensively about the politics and culture of football, rugby league, Aussie rules and wrestling. This book as a reminder of why I loved sport in the first place, and what was missing from so much of the sport we have access to via television, print and radio media.

St.Pauli are run by their fans, and make collective decisions. They’re based in the inner suburbs of their city, Hamburg, and fans still stand up at matches.  To understand why that’s important you probably have to be a football fan. But to understand why football is important, you just need to pick up a newspaper.

 

#8 Low Budget Hell Making Underground Movies with John Waters by Robert G. Maier
robert maierI’m a huge fan of the work of John Waters. I saw a double-bill of Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living at the old Scala Cinema off Tottenham Court Road in the late seventies, and it was as much a turning point as hearing United by Throbbing Gristle or the first Swell Maps records. I thought – I could do that!

Maier was an insider on all of the early Waters’ films, mostly as Waters’ production manager.

He sheds a harsh light on Waters’ single-mindedness, selfishness and meanness in making his movies. And while Waters also comes across as self-obsessed myth maker, often at the expense of his friends, he also comes across as kind and thoughtful, generous with his gifts, a man who likes to surround himself with those he trusts the most, supporting them in their endeavours and personal trials.

 

#9 Carsick by John Waters
ct-watersfrontis1-jpg-20140529On the other hand there’s this.

Probably the most disappointing read of the year. While it had it’s moments (most of these being the factual interludes where Waters enjoys the company of ordinary drivers who pick him up as he hitch-hikes across the American continent), at least a third of the book, perhaps more, is given over to Waters’ sexual fantasies.

These, perhaps inevitably, are about being picked up and tortured by truckers. I love a good sexual fantasy, particularly when they’re being shared by famous people I admire (I LOVED Madonna’s SEX!), but John W’s wet dreams are tiresome and repetitive.

He’s always fun, but this time I was laughing less than usual. Got a signed copy though, courtesy of my gorgeous friend Elspeth.

 

#10 Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
AudreLordeIn early summer I asked my friends for a list of great books by women.

The amazing Ami Nisa suggested this book and was then kind enough to lend it to me.

It’s the story of a young black woman growing up in Harlem NYC and her growing awareness of race, sexuality and intelligence. It’s about her writing and her education, and it’s powerful stuff.

She was a contemporary of the Beats, but her story is the flipside of that macho, homo-erotic, misogynistic culture. While the Beats deified ‘negro’ culture (and jazz in particular), Lorde was living with the reality of actually being black in pre-civil rights America. Being working-class, female and lesbian added suffocating layers to her daily struggle, but Lorde is an inspiring figure, tackles life with gusto and triumphs as a writer and as a person.

One of the great autobiographies.

My movies of the year 2015

#1: The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

thumbnail_17644

What little I’ve seen of Jodorowsky’s work has confused and impressed me. I don’t know what the story is about, but I love the way it’s told. I generally respond well to things that make me think “What the fuck was THAT all about?”

There’s not enough of it around.

#2: Tangerine (Sean S Baker, USA)
There was no way I was gonna be disappointed with a movie made on i-phones starring unschooled transgender actors.

tangerine.0.0

But this film delivered above and beyond. It was pacy, hilarious and made no apologies, though in the end, it was surely more about sex work than life as a trans person?

However … young filmmakers have no excuses NOT to make their work, and experienced Hollywood types have no reason to spend big bucks on theirs.

#3: Carol (Todd Haynes, USA/UK)
See that bit with Cate Blanchett raising the merest hint of eyebrow as her beloved walks across a crowded restaurant towards her? That’s the Oscar right there!

screen-shot-2015-12-07-at-16-31-56

Seriously understated and intimate, this is proof that Todd Haynes is worthy of a major award. And soon.

#4: Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, USA)
A film that treated teenage sexual appetite seriously.

The_Diary_of_a_Teen_953679a

While my only real experience of being a teenage girl was dressing as one when I was a teenage boy, DOATG just rang true. It was funny, sad, frightening and uplifting in turn, and Bel Powley turned in one of the performances of 2016.

Of course the kids want to fuck. That’s pretty much all they want to do! Kristen Wiig was just the icing in the cake.

#5: The Ecstacy of Wilko Johnson (Julien Temple, UK)
I saw this on the Beeb, having missed it at the Tyneside Cinema. And I saw it just when I needed to.

Wilko estuary

Wilko has been an inspiration since I first saw him on the telly on Geordie Scene in 1975. And this year, for obvious reasons, he was even more of an inspiration.

May the Goddesses bless you Wilko!

#6: Dreamcatcher (Kim Longinotto, USA)
Basically, ex-hooker Brenda Myers-Powell drives around Chicago dishing out advice, hugs and condoms to street workers. Think it sounds boring? Wrong. Think it sounds grim? Not likely.

dreamcatcher-2014-002-brenda-at-the-jail

This documentary is a stunning, uplifting exploration of how love can change lives. Heartbreaking and inspiring at every turn.

#7: Amy (Asif Kapadia, UK)
The proof of a great documentary is that it opens up a new world to the viewer. I knew very little of Amy Winehouse, and cared even less until I saw Kapadia’s film (and I saw it three times!).

She was great singer, but what I didn’t appreciate was how great a writer she was. I filled the gaps in my record collection after seeing Amy.

#8: The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, UK)

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2)-0-2000-0-1125-crop

Apart from a seriously sexy performance by Sidse Babett Knudsen, an extra ordinary soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes, and stunningly claustrophobic art direction, this had some of the most beautiful lingerie seen at the cinema. Win win win.

#9: The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/Greece/France/ Netherlands)
Another “what the fuck was THAT about?” movie, and so much fun.

screen-shot-2015-09-05-at-16-29-46

Colin Farrell (the poor man’s Nigel Pivaro) starred opposite the delicious Rachel Weisz and I’m still none the wiser. Dating, terrorism, over reliance on modern medicine? All of those and more (but don’t ask me what!).

NOTE: enough Ben Whishaw please. We’ve seen him now. He can go away and leave us alone.

#10: Brooklyn (John Crowley, Ireland/UK/Canada)
Cried. All the way through. Having been exiled so many times in my life, and rarely having settled, I felt this very keenly.

It hit hard and it felt like a kiss.

Cut!

Next year is the 65th anniversary of the introduction of the X certificate in British cinema.

_55629308_redxcertificate

In 1951 the X certificate replaced an earlier H certificate (H for Horrific) and was a reaction to the increasing number of film releases (many from Europe) which featured nudity, sexual activity, or bad language.

In 1971, the age at which you could attend an X certificate movie was raised from 16 to 18 years, and the X was replaced in turn by the 18 certificate in 1982. It’s pretty much where things stand until now.

To celebrate the introduction of the X Cert back in 1951, I’ll be working with a group of sex-positive pornographers, feminist thinkers, queer activists and film makers to explore what censorship has meant to us over that period.

We’ll be exploring issues that relate to freedom of both what we say and what we watch. How we use our bodies, and how our bodies are used by others. How our bodies are depicted on screen for public consumption, and how governments, big business and organised religion and politics decide what we can and can’t do, show and say.

erika-lust-rodaje

We’re starting in January with a screening and discussion of the work of Swedish feminist porn director, screenwriter and producer Erika Lust (see photo above), and will continue throughout the year; talking to film makers, actors and directors, lawyers, politicians and activists.

And we’ll be watching a lot of interesting work, exchanging ideas, and … probably … arguing and debating.

If you’d like to be involved in any way, please get in touch. You can email me at minkjaguar@gmx.com

It’s Sheena Eve!

Why I should start writing on Christmas Eve, I have no idea. I guess because it’s my first afternoon off for some weeks.

Check back soon. I think this will be a place I can write about and talk about the things I find interesting and the things that take up my time. Punk rock, film, pornography, feminism, roller derby and the world of queerdom.