Thursday, May 25, 2023

Tina and Ronnie

Still digesting the news of Tina Turner's passing and I can't help but think about the parallels with the life of another iconic singer, Ronnie Spector, who passed in 2022: both in the 1960s miniskirt era; both playing with family members in their acts; both involved with abusive men who controlled their careers; both escaping and finally re-emerging in the 1980s. 

Turner had a longer career arc and was able to enjoy a retirement in Switzerland with her second husband. But I see the word "survivor" attached to both and they are both worth remembering for their personal qualities as well as their music. 

I was among those teens who bought Private Dancer in the 1980s and marvelled at Turner's incredibly lived in voice, the strut in her walk in her videos. Later I dug deeper into her oeuvre and appreciated her ability to sing and dance at the same time. See "Proud Mary" for evidence. Wow!

I still have a soft spot for her duet with David Bowie on "Tonight", especially the little boogie they do and the way she throws back her head to laugh at something he says. 

Fly high, Tina. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

Dyke March at 30

Happy Birthday, Dyke March! 

I have written before about the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation on 25 April 1993. 

But, of course, the night before that was the first ever Dyke March, a smaller but by no means less thrilling affair. It remains one of the greatest experiences of my life, caught up in a sea of drumming, dancing, singing, chanting lesbian humanity, marching from Dupont Circle to the White House, watching rapt as Lesbian Avengers stood in a line and ate fire. 

This video by Lesbian Avengers captures some of the scene. I can still remember some of these people. They are total (s)heroes.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Poets In Vogue

This was a small exhibit tucked away upstairs at the Southbank, in the National Poetry Library I never knew existed. Always good to make cultural discoveries and the exhibit is well worth seeing for the thoughts it inspires and the conversations it sparks.

On show are textiles relating to a handful of women poets. My first thought on arriving was the prevalence of writers known to have mental illness--Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton for starters. The items on display are not necessarily original or even created by the writers, which confused me. Plath's skirt hangs next to a record player. But there is a large recreation of a red dress worn by Sexton. And there is a collection of shirt collars for Smith, but it's not clear if they are hers. Gwendolyn Brooks has a large typewriter with exploding forms. Hmm. 

Also of interest are the records displayed, recordings of Smith, Plath and Dame Edith Sitwell, who is given an enormous dress cum boudoir for her display. I have lived in smaller flats than this dress! Dame Edith's recordings show her to be worthy of such a display as she emotes in her best received pronunciation. One can imagine the gestures accompanying such discourse. 

And then there is Audre Lorde, represented by a vivid caftan hanging opposite Sylvia's skirt. The text reveals it was made to accommodate her asymmetrical form post-mastectomy. I wept. 

One participant easy to overlook because it is by the entrance is the display for Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, the one writer with whom I was not familiar. Only when I looked her up did I realise her fascinating story. I wish I had known about her earlier. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

BFI Flare: Warnings from History

 Willem and Frieda is a gripping watch as Stephen Fry wanders present-day Amsterdam, like an absent-minded professor intoning lessons. The city looks lovely, with its lapping canals and twinkling lights. But the story he tells is of an extraordinary band of rebels who defied the occupying Nazis via forgery and sabotage. 

The titular heroes were two creative types, struggling artist Willem Arondeus and cellist Frieda Belinfante. Both were openly gay and when called, they stepped up and became part of a forgery circle producing legal documents to allow Jews and other hunted citizens to escape. 

The climax is an attack on the Population Registry, to sabotage the Nazis matching up the forgeries with the genuine documents. This would make a brilliant film in its own right. One can only admire the guts and determination to take a stand. The attack was on 27 March 1943, so a recent anniversary. One hopes there is at least a plaque commemorating it. 

The short doc Golden Voice brings us another astonishing story, of a trans man who met his wife  when both were working as forced labour under the Khmer Rouge in 1979. The story-telling is poor, a mix of badly recorded interviews and random shots of people wandering fields, but underneath is a tale of fortitude and self confidence. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

BFI Flare: Sting in the Tail

Next up are two features that are ostensibly comedies but end up being a bit more than expected. Jess Plus None starts with a woman masturbating and ends with her at the side of the road making a decision about her future. In between Jess attends the wedding of her best friend and all hell breaks loose. Most of the action takes place on a campsite, the second film I've seen at the festival (Big Boys) to do so. Although the film is set up to see Jess confronting her ex, Sam, at the wedding, it veers off in an unexpected direction which is refreshing. The titular character does a lot of cringey things, some of them unpleasant, and it's not as funny as one might expect, but I like the way it brings uncertainty and spirituality into the mix.
Egghead and Twinkie

I spent several days watching Egghead and Twinkie, as I found it overly busy and needlessly gimmicky, but that is apparently in tune with its Generation Z aesthetic--lots of flashing animation and bright colours. At its heart it is about a friendship that is tested over a roadtrip spanning several days with the two title characters revealing secrets that test their relationship. The best character is the boba girl they meet in a diner as the film jumps back and forth in time and the duo get in and out of scrapes as they make their trip. It felt a bit glib but I enjoyed the performances and the message. It's a welcome change to see friendship foregrounded over romance and with a bit of comedy thrown in, to boot.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

BFI Flare: Drifting

The festival finishes today but I may yet review some more films after that. For today I shall cover last night's closing night film, Drifter, from Germany. While the first shot is an explicit one of a hand job, the rest of the film is a bit coy although there is an abundance of sexuality on show. Moritz, newly arrived in Berlin, has no particular plans other than with his boyfriend, who quickly drops him. Thereafter the main character wanders from scene to scene, being picked up and invited in by all and sundry. He is curiously passive, a blank canvas to be painted on over and over, as everyone seems to be attracted by his slim build, smooth skin and bland features. 

I wondered at the message of the film, as he never  seems fully immersed in anything and adopts whatever masks his peers are wearing. There is an extraordinary scene set in the wet room of a club and the performers all throw themselves into the action, but it feels a bit meh by the end. 

Of the many shorts I have watched, I was especially taken by Oisín, an Irish film centring on a single mum and her young son who is autistic. Shot in a style that makes you question reality, it is a very affecting family portrait as well as an unexpected girl meets girl story with a charismatic performance by Sarah Jane Seymour as the next door neighbour full of intentions. 

Also worth a look is I Was Never Really Here, as two young men form an attachment under the shadow of immigration decisions. It's beautifully shot on actual film!

Kitchen Sink Fantasy
Kitchen Sink Fantasy is a quirky sci fi comedy bursting with colour, as a shapeshifter goes on a quest, abetted by a Fairy Godmum. 

Life in Love: Cinthia & Robyn is either a doc or a very realist fiction film featuring a couple celebrating a birthday with the added complication that the birthday girl is an introvert. I enjoyed seeing their interactions with another couple wandering the streets. I did wonder why they broke into a property to smash cutlery but OK. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

BFI Flare: Crowdpleaser

I am still working my way slowly through the online offerings for this year's Flare, but I want to say how amazing it felt to attend in person for the first time since 2019. I had one short screening but to settle into the plush seats and see something on the big screen for the first time since January 2020 was lit. Will review that one later on. 

But Polarized is probably something that would look good on the big screen, with its wide open vistas showing acres of lush Canadian farm country. Shamim Sarif's drama follows her other films in foregrounding forbidden love, in this instance between white farmer Lisa and her employer, Palestinean emigre Dalia, who is engaged to a man. Oh, No!

No spoilers but hmmm. I wonder if they get together? The first 20 minutes are rather painful in cramming in the exposition but once it gets going, the film maintains interest as the two women grapple with their difficult families and try to be true to themselves. Kudos to the two leads Holly Deveaux and Maxine Denis for their chemistry and Deveaux also sings quite well. The ending is a bit rushed and unsatisfying but there is drama aplenty in this small town....


Among the shorts viewed was Home, which I found intriguing but hard to hear in places. I was less enamoured of The Dads, which seemed oddly pleased with itself as the fathers of various LGBT kids gathered for a fishing trip to share their feelings. It seemed perfunctory and superficial to me. Grace and Sophie was amusing in its depiction of the awkward morning after, but the camerawork was all over the place with its oddly shifting focus and it distracted from the story. 

And then there's A Different Place which puts two women in one hotel room for a totally unbelievable chat about honesty before they go back to their respective lives after a night of passion. A whole other kind of crowd pleasing.