Month: July 2016

the greatest pretence

Being a parent has thrown me through a number of existentialist ponderings.

All it takes is to recognise a small gesture or expression in the little one to make me realise that parts of my personality are merely biological quirks. I see the science-fiction philosophies of clones and time-travel bubble up in this version of me. Blended with another variable (she prefers Nicole) and placed into different circumstances, I realise that as much as I like to think that I am the thoughts behind my eyes, I am the product of my genetic make-up, and by extension so are these thoughts. From this crumbling perspective I watch as this 2ft replicant finds his own voice – both literally and figuratively.

I got to a point a couple of years ago when I started taking life seriously, acting more serious, pulling the appropriate serious faces and everything else it tells you in the pamphlet. I’m handed a child by fate (she prefers Nicole) and am expected to impart what little I think I know into this human child.

Hurled into the deep end and held under for a few seconds just so I know whose boss, I kick into gear and generate enough power to keep afloat. And then remembering I’m a legal guardian I kick a little harder for the extra weight and pretend I know what I’m doing – which from a distance can look like lot like flailing. Aerobic drowning maybe.

But that’s one lesson you pick up pretty early – everyone is pretending. As I heard one mother put it recently ‘life is the greatest pretence’. You pretend until you get a steadyfooting, before you`re hopscotching your way to the next thing, off balance but straightfaced and faking confidence until it becomes real confidence. The two actually aren’t that far apart.

Up until this point I had liked to think myself lucky for the temperament and general charm of the little one. Although quietly and in the privacy of my own mind I’m sure I put it down to a natural flair for parenting. Well that’s being tested now and I’m fast blaming the generic biological functions that all babies go through rather than my own shortcomings. Still, I’m not going to use the responsibility-relieving mantra ‘terrible twos’ – but it does seem awful convenientlike that on the brink of turning two he has started to test his boundaries and punch his keyworkers.

Now is the point where we impose boundaries and the proper way to be. Whilst I’m still naively challenging the status quo and questioning the system, I’m having to teach that self same system and impose it’s rules and regulations. It’s quite baffling really. I celebrate the little clone’s lack of inhibition and yet impinge on it with indoor voices and sensible attire. And who am I to say that his keyworker wasn’t asking for it.

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The Neon Demon (2016)

Are you sex or food? She’s dessert…. Because she’s so sweet.

In the claws-out fashion world of LA, green eyes and plastic smiles twist compliments into daggers. It seems there are no friends among rivals.

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Jesse (Elle Fanning) is the new girl in town. At 16 years old  – 19 if anyone asks – her innocence will prove to be that thing that everyone hungers for, but her quick progression will seed a poisonous vanity and make enemies of other models. Sarah and Gigi are veterans of the catwalk, and resentfully so. They show a relentless competitive streak and willingness to cut and stitch themselves into perfection. They are introduced to Jesse by make-up artist and mortician Ruby who seems just as obsessed with Jesse’s appearance as the camera.

In Refn favourite La Dolce Vita a swarm of paparazzo scurry and scramble over each other to get photographs of female stars. Like mosquitoes they are a persistent nuisance but no real threat – the women have power and an industry has been built around their sexuality. This is also true of The Neon Demon but on the surface it looks just the opposite, with girls clawing and clamoring to get in front of the camera and be noticed.

The male presence in the film is concentrated down to a few peripheral misogynists who seem to possess power no matter where they fall on the scale – from photographer and collection designer to motel manager. They speak very seldom but when they do they give orders. Enamored by Jesse’s natural beauty, you realise that her uncorrupt innocence is interchangeable with naivete and youthfulness, or perhaps even virginity. This infantilisation offers a stark satire of the fashion industry but it is not so far from the truth. Glammed up and glossed over it is the commodification of something lurid that exits in the underbelly of society too – ‘real Lolita shit’ says the motel manager of a 13 year old you can pay to fuck in a room neighbouring Jesse’s.

Whilst the film appears to be about girls, divorced from Refn’s sexualised male fantasy in Drive and Freudian complex in Only God Forgives, his few male characters signify authority and force the girls to compete in creating something like the ‘anti-female friendship’ film. They fight each other to have the opportunity to be exploited and objectified – which seems to be self-reflexive of the film. Refn’s male gaze is often felt behind the camera, at one point actually taking the point-of-view of an attacker, and when the film nose dives into exploitation in the third act it takes on the same predatory voyeurism, which is all part of its charm.

The final moments of the film could be seen as a comical misreading of the expression that escapes all involved in this industry – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Beardlessness

Now I’m quite a hairy little person. Particularly when concerned with my head. More specifically the top half of my head. I have a dark prominent brow, which I sever in the centre like a worm in order to make it appear like two separate entities. Above this expression-magnifying mantelpiece, I have a thick fluffy nest of black hair that grows as soon as threatened by a pair of scissors. I combatted this for a large period in my youth by shaving it off. Often.18080_102858833070002_8015363_n

In my teenage years I began to shave, like most boys my age, earlier than I needed to. The only parts that really needed attention were the aforementioned monobrow and the newly developed moustache. It’s as though my hair was dividing my face into thirds, making me easier to draw or photograph maybe. Next in were the sideburns, and gradually it crept around my face so that in my early twenties I could maybe get away with wearing stubble in order to try and look more mature. A chin-strap, evidently, would show my lack of maturity and limited space in which I could grow facial hair and if I attempted to let it grow more than a couple of centimeteres it would turn red in patches – thanks to my Irish heritage I am, it turns out, a chinger.

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Skip forward to the last few years and I’m somewhat able to grow a very low grade but face-covering amount of hair – that’s not to speak of the desperate attempt my eyebrows are making to connect to the larger body of hair above (a legitimate concern). I’ve played around with different styles but now I fear I’ve missed my chance.

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About 6 months ago I noticed a penny sized bald patch under my chin. Written off as the wearaway of pretentious chin-stroking that graduates are prone to do once back in the real world, I have noticed in the last few weeks that it has spread –  that is to say I’m going bald from the bottom of my face up.

Now with a 2″ x 1″ stripe beside the initial penny I look for answers online. In this the age of the hipster there are plenty of beard maintenance sites and forums apparently, so I skip through a few and find the diagnosis of Alopecia Barbae. All the information amounts to – it’s hereditary, maybe, and can come and go over a day, month, year or never. Oh yeah and it can spread. So right now I’m just hoping it stays under my chin, because if it goes near my eyebrows I might lose my sense of self entirely.

Here’s something I learned recently that kind of relates: Roal Dahl, the children’s author and playboy content writer, hated beards. Didn’t trust people with them and saw them as unhygienic. Mr Twit is essentially the personification of a dirty beard. That’s not to say ol’ Dahl was always right on with his hate, I mean for an anti-semite who reasoned that “even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason”… A stinker presumably because he had facial hair.

Maggie’s Plan (2016)

Written for RAF News July 2016

In wont of a child but unable to find a partner, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) settles for a surrogate in a gormless but poetic pickle farmer. This is just as she meets John (Ethan Hawke) and although he has a family already, it is obvious that there is a connection and that they are bound to be together, but who can say for how long.

maggies-plan

Maggie and John meet at the college where they both work, she is in the arts he is in social science but with aspirations of writing fiction. She is desperate to be a mother but he already has children with the formidable and tightly wound author Georgette (Julianne Moore). In basing this triangle of characters in academia they have sharp wit and quick retorts, they are able to draw poetic allegories of their own situations, as well as being utterly pretentious and narcissistic at the best of times

Passing mentions of Pussy Riot and Slavoj Zizek place this story in time and tells us about the type of people we’re dealing with: self-aware progressives – acknowledging the futility a family dinner when they all have business to attend to on their phones.

The film is wrapped up in the intellect and self-awareness of it’s characters, it dances around the typical beats of an indie romantic-comedy and offers an intellectual spin. It never drops its frenetic pace, jumping forward in time to Maggie and John with a 3 year old child of their own. Not as happy as she had imagined herself to be, this is where the second part of Maggie’s plan is put into action: to get John and Georgette back together, to put him back where she found him.

The film maintains a light tone with an upbeat ska and reggae soundtrack, but it is the ramped up, borderline android performance of Julianne Moore’s Danish author that tips the film into farce. This is a gamble which pays off. A perfect counterpoint to the drama underlying the story.

Maggie’s Plan twists the rom-com into an intellectual screwball comedy, unlike it’s characters never taking itself too seriously. It is offbeat, clever and funny throughout.