Farewell, Fleabag

Before we begin, I want to re-iterate that this isn’t a Phoebe Waller-Bridge fansite (although it probably looks like it). I want to talk about Fleabag and that ending.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.)

Admittedly, I came to Fleabag later than most as part of my research into Phoebe Waller Bridge’s work. I was hooked and watched the whole first series in one afternoon. It was sharp, witty and the heroine was like most of my friends- slightly messed up carrying a tote bag in place of the handbag we’d have been expected to have twenty years ago (I’m convinced that those of us in our 30s today are ‘younger’ than our parents were twenty years ago.) She had an emotionally frigid family and seemed determined to pinball her way around London and a host of men who were the very epitome of ‘meh’, screwing up but doing it fabulously, Nancy Mitford for the 21st Century. Honestly, I have a whole Twitter thread on how Waller Bridge is the reincarnation of Mitford.

It was funny and weird and voiced those thoughts we have in our heads that we think no-one else thinks and she’s voicing them directly to us as she breaks the fourth wall. The fact that Fleabag is nameless, along with many of the other characters, means that we can project ourselves onto her and those around her. This is a common transference we make whenever we watch TV/read books, but it’s unusual to be so included in the process, invited into a character’s life in such a blatant way.

And whereas Series 1 one is about a character (and her family) who can not and will not communicate properly with those around her, the finale finally allows them to admit how they feel, albeit obviously in a very British, middle-class reserved way. The seeds are initially sown during a squirmy counselling session foisted on her by her father early on, but the process is there throughout Series 2, culminating in her father’s wedding when everything that has been so contained finally spills forth. Her sister Claire, the very epitome of a Type-A personality, admits her feelings for both her husband and Finnish Klare, as well as admitting that she loves her sister; closure is achieved with her father as he dithers over marrying her divinely vile stepmother; and, after two series, we finally see Fleabag as properly emotionally vulnerable. We’ve seen flashes, but it takes her realising that the priest will never be available to her in the way she wishes for her to allow her to show us emotion. It’s at this point that she walks away and does not allow us to follow- we’ve seen her having sex, her best friend’s death, but this is a step too far for us to go any further- because she has finally achieved a calm that has eluded her until this point.

To me, the acceptance of the priest’s semi-rejection (he loves her, but of course he loves God more) it feels like she has achieved a maturity and moved away from the class clown persona she’s sometimes cultivated. It’s raw and hard won, a fitting end to something that has gripped so many people. It feels like it was always going to have to end this way- we knew, deep down that the priest would never leave God for her and I think she does, too. So she has to change and to change, she has to leave us- her co-conspirators- behind.

And, because we feel like her friend, we let her go.

All Killa No Filla Live- Brighton

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All Killa, No Filla- Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard-McLean (Barry Mellor)

I love a podcast and one of my absolute favourites is All Killa No Filla, which I discovered last summer. Hosted by Manchester-based comedians Rachel Fairburn and Kiri Pritchard McLean, it makes me feel like I’m listening to two of my mates- except they’re talking about serial killers as well as the other stuff you might discuss with your friends. And they’re damn funny too (I’ll never look at Gary Barlow/gear sticks/sausage rolls again in the same way.) Since I’d been into reading about serial killers since I was a kid- nice and normal- I was so pleased to find it. If you have yet to listen to it, I am very jealous because you have an ace back catalogue to enjoy. Although maybe don’t start with the Fred and Rose West triple hander. It’s a bit of a shocker for the uninitiated*. According to a lady I spoke to at the show- and Benn- Harold Shipman might be the entry level episode. Up to you though. Everyone has a favourite. I like HH Holmes and the female serial killers best. #feminism.

Even better is that the All Killa No Filla duo are taking it on tour. Brighton was the first date and what a doozy it was: a whole hour on the unsolved Bible John case (although a strong suspect was discussed. I won’t give it away in case it gets broadcast**.) The crimes are never treated gratuitously or as a joke, but the laughs come from the interweaving of Rachel and Kiri’s stories about their lives- Kiri’s mum is a badass, by the way- and their observations of the world. They also explore and unpick the reasons why whoever their subject is/was became a serial killer.

I had so. much. fun., even if I did end up going on my own because Benn had a pathetic hangover. I also made friends with a friend of a friend who was going, which was lovely. But I can also confirm that Rachel and Kiri are brilliant- engaging, funny and knowledgeable, as well as sarky and down-to-earth. The other fans were great too. For a crowd so interested in such a macabre topic, they were lovely- and gave gifts to our hosts of serial killer Guess Who (would buy) and taxidermied mice (relevant to my interests.) Overall a fun hour and a bit with lovely people who happen to share a slightly odd interest.

Finally, I came away with a lovely ‘colour a killer’ colouring book, which I am very much looking forward to tackling. Might have to put my D at GCSE Art to good use and badly draw glasses on Jeffrey Dahmer though.

All Killa, No Filla is touring. Find information here.

*Fun fact- as a result of listening to this podcast, I have asked Benn to clear my Google history in the case of my mysterious death/disappearance. I would like to say to any police investigating me for the future that I just wanted to see what these people looked like. Thanks.

**Second fun fact- I once got into a mild disagreement with Professor David Wilson on Twitter about the subject of French Fancies during an episode of The Great British Bake Off.

 

Not Today Satan: Bianca Del Rio at Brighton Dome

“Please, don’t take anything I say seriously,” Bianca Del Rio asked of her audience after arriving onstage. A couple of minutes before, a recording  invited any of us of an easily offended disposition to leave- but as if any of us would. We know what we’re in for- that’s why we’re here. After all, Wikipedia does describe Bianca as an ‘insult comic’.

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Source: RuPaul’s Drag Race wiki

I was lucky to be there at all, actually. I managed to snag a press ticket for me and my friend Jaqui in order to review the show for The Argus (at time of writing, it’s not online. I’ll link to it here when it is.) Later, as I tried and write the review with a little gin inside me, I found it hard to write everything down in 200 words. I gave the show 5/5.

Almost everyone in the theatre will have known Bianca from RuPaul’s Drag Race. The room was filled with a captive audience: gay, straight, married, single; all there for a good time and the excitement was infectious. Jaqui and I made friends with two girls outside the venue and we made more friends with some lads in the merch queue (we didn’t have enough money for t-shirts, so we ended up buying each other exactly the same signed photo.) The audience loved Bianca. I’d argue that she’s the most successful contestant from the show, her catchphrase ‘Not today, Satan!’ even making it on protest signs at the recent anti-Trump marches. Despite the acid tongue, Bianca (the stage name of Roy Haylock) is adored, this being her second tour after ‘Rolodex of Hate’ a couple of years ago. I think ultimately it’s because we’re included in the joke- even when, sometimes, it’s aimed squarely at us. But it’s OK. We can take it because ultimately, the joke is on Bianca too. This is what makes Bianca’s comedy work: yes, it’s a bit mean, but we like her. We’re all in this together, warts and all.

Her set deals gleefully with her participation on Drag Race, the biggest cheers (and biggest boos) being offered during gossipy snippets about fellow contestants. “But, after all, the are my sisters!” Bianca offered up every time she took a sip of wine, a knowing wink in the direction of the audience. I always compare Bianca’s comedy to that of Joan Rivers; it’s sharp and funny, but sometimes you will wince when it gets a bit close to the bone. Literally no one is safe- age, race, gender, sexuality, class is all up for grabs. The sketches deal with stuff you might expect- Donald Trump, for example, “I promised I wouldn’t get political!” and weird people on reality TV to the more surreal, such as being a drunk drag queen at an airport. I literally had face ache after the show, I’d been laughing so much. After the set, Bianca offered answers to pre-submitted questions about everything from advice for new drag queens to a key scene in Hurricane Bianca. And all this was done at the mercy of a malfunctioning wig and very high heels. Fantastic.

I loved every minute of the show; even though I know this type of humour is not everyone’s cup of tea, I can’t think of anyone-other than the late Joan Rivers- who does it better.

 

Divine Divas: Grand Hotel (1932)

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I saw Grand Hotel when I was about 18; I remember not being hugely impressed and I promptly forgot about it. When I revisited it a couple of weeks ago, it actually took about three hours to watch it, because I kept being interrupted. I think me and this film have been fated to not get on from the start.

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Garbo as the ballerina, Grusinskaya

The action takes place across a 24 hour period (roughly), in which a series of characters find themselves in a hotel in Berlin. There’s a playboy baron, played by John Barrymore, who is not what he initially seems; a dying man, determined to live out his last days in style after living a careful life (played by Barrymore’s older brother Lionel, best known to modern audiences for his turn in It’s a Wonderful Life); a prima donna ballerina with crippling stage fright, played by Greta Garbo (and the original source for her famous catchphrase); a bully-boy business executive played by the notorious belligerent Wallace Beery; and a seductive stenographer, played to (early) type by Joan Crawford. There’s crime, a death, fights and at least someone gets something resembling a happy ending.

Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel, 1932:

Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen

It’s definitely a bit of a weird film. It feels quite ‘bitty’, more that the studio was interested in having a film stuffed full of famous actors (it was the first film to have such a star powered ensemble cast), rather than much of a plot. I mean, that’s not to say that there isn’t a plot there- there is, sort of- but so many characters make it hard to really get any of the threads to feel more than superficial.

Joan Crawford, as the unfortunately named Flaemmchen, is the best thing about this film (although I’d say Lionel Barrymore plays his nervy, dying man to pathetic perfection). She exudes sexiness in a time just before the Hays’ Code came along and ruined all the fun in Hollywood. She’s unapologetic in her sensuality and she knows what she’s doing. She knows damn well that she’s in control of the men in the room- although there’s a scene in which she shows extraordinary kindness, too. It’s amazing to watch; I can’t actually think of an a modern actress who has the same kind of presence on screen, and only a few actresses ever who were able to come close- Rita Hayworth, maybe? Others were undeniably sexy, but there’s just something about Crawford that I can’t really put my finger on.

And we need to talk about Garbo. In the You Must Remember This podcast (listen, if you haven’t), Karina Longworth recommends that those wanting to watch a Garbo film for the first time try something else. I’ve never seen another Garbo film, but I get what she means- the world’s most famous Swede (before ABBA and Ikea, anyway) is not brilliant. In fact, at times, she’s perfectly hammy. In fact, there are scenes where she’s hammier than a ham and gammon sandwich served in a bacon factory. I do understand why, though- she’s playing a pampered, spoilt ballerina and she shares many scenes with John Barrymore, more used to a New York stage than being in front of a camera. But, oh, by modern standards, it’s hard to watch.

In short, this is a good place to start if you want to get a feel for 1930s films- it looks amazing and there are key stars in it. But if you want to watch a good film, I’d maybe put this about fifth on your list…

NEXT FILM ON THE PLAYLIST: Of Human Bondage (1934), starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.

 

 

Divine Divas- a film odyssey

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If you follow me on any kind of social media, you’ll know that my summer has been spent listening to the wonderful podcast You Must Remember This. There are few reasons for this- my long-term obsession with early Hollywood, the fact it’s a standout podcast, and that I’m attempting to write a novel set in 1930s Hollywood (more on this as we get towards NaNoWriMo in a few days…) The podcast is presented in series and the two that I’ve enjoyed most have been the MGM Stories (with a standalone episode on my beloved Jean Harlow) and Six Degrees of Joan Crawford, another of my favourite actresses. One of the best things though, is that it’s led me to discover-or rediscover- a load of old films that not very many people remember these days.

With this in mind, my friend Jan- also a huge Old Hollywood obsessive- has lent me a TON of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford DVDs, mainly spanning the 30s and 40s. I’ve been fascinated by these two actresses ever since I read The Divine Feud when I was fifteen; the book looks at the supposed feud the two women had that culminated in the shrill classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Very recently parodied on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars by Alaska and Alyssa Edwards. RPDR is actually full of references to old Hollywood starlets- this last season alone also referenced Mae West and Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in the glorified B-movie, Mommie Dearest. Which I also watched recently as a result of You Must Remember This.)

So here’s the thing. I will be watching these films and reviewing them on here. If you want to watch along and discuss, I’ll be telling you the next film in my odyssey. They will mostly be in chronological order and, to start with, will mostly be Davis and Crawford films. I can’t say how often I’ll get round to each film (life, an almost four-year-old and everything else will probably get in the way occasionally!), but I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Shakespeare, the Kardashians and modern role models

Today, I WAS planning on writing a blogpost about why I love RuPaul’s Drag Race so much, but something else has caught my eye- a headteacher at a girls school asking girls to be more like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra than Kim Kardashian. She does also mention other characters- Beatrice, Rosalind and Viola- but it’s Cleo who really has captured the headlines.

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I love Shakespeare, but have a few problems with this comparison. Firstly- yes, OK. Cleopatra is a ruler in her own right and is very powerful. But the story in the play revolves around her love affairs (and her power is somewhat tangled up in all of this) and she eventually kills herself as a result of her love for a man. So far, so feminist right?

Plus, I always find there’s an innate snobbery implied by suggesting that people turn to Shakespeare over modern media, as if it’s somehow better. As an English teacher, I know that Shakespeare is seen by the kids-and teachers of other subjects- as elitist, boring and unnecessarily difficult, that it’s not there to be enjoyed by everyone. Hell, I went to one of the worst schools in Leeds as a kid and could feel the antipathy radiating off my co-students whenever the name of Shakespeare was mentioned. (Also, it’s not just the kids who subscribe to this view. The one time I asked that we tried teaching Manga Shakespeare versions of Macbeth, I was looked at by some in my department like I’d grown three heads. Graphic novels also come under the ‘vulgar’ heading, apparently.) It drives me mad. Shakespeare writes about real life: feuds, scandal, romance, businesses gone awry, power-all of human life, in its devious and imperfect glory is there. Plus he could often be kind of a bit… sleazy. He would have loved the Kardashians.

Shakespeare would have been intrigued by today’s celebrities; imagine all the storylines he could have nicked off social media! I think he would also hate to have been seen as an either/or proposition; we kind of forget that he was a slightly shady character himself for much of his life and that acting and theatre owning wasn’t seen as a particularly illustrious career unless you got in with the royals, as he obviously did later on in his life. There was a reason that theatres were on the same side of the river as the bear bating pits and brothels.

Girls are not going to go out and change their behaviour because the head of a private school has created some lessons looking at how ‘inspirational’ some of Shakespeare’s women were (and let’s be honest- there’s scant pickings there. I think most of his women were weakly written, serving a purpose as a foil or a love interest. My favourites are Beatrice and Portia, and even they have issues.) However, I can’t dismiss any attempt to make Shakespeare’s work more accessible and enjoyable- I just wish we were more playful, more imaginative when it came to getting students to access the plays. I say this as someone who once got a bottom year 11 set to work out the issues in Macbeth for a speaking and listening exercise by performing a scene in which the characters were taking part in a Shakespearean version of Jeremy Kyle. It was… interesting, but they ended up doing pretty well in their coursework essays.

Would I choose Kim Kardashian as an ideal role model for young girls? Probably not. But then anyone I suggested as a role model would probably be viewed with suspicion because I’m seen as old, even though I’m a relatively young teacher. But here’s the thing- elders always recommend role models that they think are suitable because they see more ‘modern’ role models as ‘unsuitable’; it’s the old chestnut about the generation above despairing of the one below, forgetting that they too were once interested in people their parents disapproved of. And I bet they would have baulked at the suggestion that they go read Shakespeare instead of idolising whoever it was they had on their bedroom wall, too.

 

Spinning plates

Hello! I feel like it’s been ages since I sat down and actually blogged properly. Truth is, I’ve been super busy with work and stuff and it’s all kind of run away from me a bit. It happens.

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It’s always busy in the spring- it’s crunch time for getting Year 11 ready for their exams and I have to make sure that their coursework is all present and correct (this can sometimes feel like I’m herding gigantic kittens and managing a large load of printing at the same time). I also have to keep up with the rest of my work in a job that has recently made the top 5 most stressful jobs. Yay!

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Then, of course, I have a three year old at home- which is like herding many tiny kittens at the same time, with the added bonus of a really thick actual cat thrown into the mix to add to the fun. I’m not complaining though. I’ve learnt a lot about Lego Star Wars in the last few weeks and Bronte brought in a slow worm, which led to an interesting discussion with D about creatures that live in the garden.

I also recently started taking on a bit of freelance work: mainly proofreading and copywriting. It’s good to do some jobs that bring in a bit of extra work and money, and I’m choosing jobs that I can fit in around everything else. I’m not daft- I take work when it’s quiet elsewhere- but I enjoy it and I prefer it to signing up to do exam marking, which is way less flexible.

So, the upshot, I’ve been busy. But definitely in a good way. I’ve still managed to do bits and pieces that I liked (I’ve been working in the garden and I have three books on the go at any one time, as per), but I’ve appreciated them more than normal. I’ve also been sleeping BRILLIANTLY, which really is no surprise.

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The fact is, if I actually admit it, is that I like being busy. It shows me that I’m well and that my mental health is OK. It may be that it’s not always the right thing to do, but at the moment it serves me well. I like feeling useful and I like getting stuff done.

BUT! I am looking forward to the long weekend! I finished marking all of my Year 11 coursework (a Very Big Deal Indeed) and I have no work to do this weekend, bar prepping some display stuff. D is staying at his grandparents’ tomorrow and I am looking forward to just taking it easy. And I will very much enjoy and appreciate some downtime. After all, I think I deserve it.

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