Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ponyo! Ponyo! Ponyo!

The other day I won tickets to see the latest film by my favouritest ever Japanese director - Ponyo by Hayao Miyazaki. Mr Chairman insists that I didn't win the tickets because they were simply giving them away but I know I won so boo sucks to him. And kinda boo sucks to me because the film was a bit meh. Mr C picked me up from work, leaving a good hour to do the 12k drive across the city. In gale force winds. In insano traffic. As in, 200m in ten minutes insano. After a serious case of road rage we finally made it to Carlton, found a park, found out where to pick up the tickets I WON, found the cinema and found two seats next to each other - all with two minutes to spare! Just in time for the all important ceremony - the dimming of the lights.

For those who don't know of my love for the Japanese master of anime, Miyazaki heads Studio Ghibli, one of the foremost animation studios in the world. He's famous for beginning to draw before storyboards have been finalised, which results in a wonderful free flowing storytelling style and the inclusion of odd, unexplained plot twists and flights of fancy. His movies frequently explore our relationship to nature and are remarkable for their strong female characters, of all ages. His characters are rarely stereotypes and even the most bad tempered character is subject to change. Children in his films are a special delight - they are shown remarkable respect by adults, who never ever mock or question their ideas. But what makes him so special is that his films are done entirely by hand - no computer generated backgrounds here. And it is absolutely beautiful.

Ponyo is a sweet little film about a goldfish who befriends a five year old boy and wants to become a human girl. It's all very lovely and has the best closing theme song ever (sung by a super cute eight year old) but lacks some of the breathtaking magic of earlier Miyazaki films like My neighbour Totoro, Spirited away and Howl's moving castle. While my initial reaction was disappointment it is so only in comparison to his earlier wonderful work. It is still a charming and beautiful work.I'm now lowering the tone somewhat by confessing that I am currently addicted to a show called Daphne in brilliant blue. It's actually a really endearing girls' own adventure series - despite what the costumes suggest. For your edification I include the following image from the show.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hell on wheels

After a tiring day at the Albert Park Library I was looking forward to spending a quiet night with slow cooked lamb shanks and my latest thriller. Instead, I ended up in Reservoir watching tattooed girls in leopard print take each other out at the roller derby. Rock n roll.

Sorry, lazy post tonight because I really do want to finish my book and the dhal I am cooking is looking like pig swill.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The riddle of the sands

My natural literary realm is the Golden Age of mystery novels - Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh et al. A few months ago I decided to venture into new territory, crossing the border into early espionage fiction. So far, the going's been a bit rocky.

I started off with The 39 steps by John Buchan which was an awful lot of fun and terribly, terribly British. I then moved on to The riddle of the sands: a record of secret service by Erskine Childers (1903) and, frankly, I feel as though I've been reading this book for an eternity - and I still don't know what the riddle is. If it wasn't such an historical oddity I don't know that I would have bothered, still, it sounds good:

It tells the story of Carruthers, a minor official of the Foreign Office, bored to be stuck in London during the last days of September. All his friends are off on holiday while he is stuck behind a desk doing work that 'consisted chiefly…in smoking cigarettes, in saying that Mr So-and-So was away and would be back October 1st, in being absent for lunch from twelve till two'.

Everything changes when Carruthers receives a letter from Davies, a distant university acquaintance, inviting him on a yachting holiday in the Baltic. '
There was certainly no alternatives at hand. And to bury myself in the Baltic at this unearthly time of year had at least a smack of tragic thoroughness about it.' The yacht, of course, turns out to be a dismal affair, making a mockery of Carruthers' trim white yachting costume (with peaked hat!), and Davies is indeed an odd one. After pottering restlessly along the northern coast Davies reluctantly reveals that he suspects a fellow yachtsman of espionage and treason but his love for this yachtsman's daughter prevents him from following up his concerns.

The yachting element is a crucial one and draws on the author's extensive experience. Much is made of the tricky navigation of the shallow tidal waters of the German coast during thick fog. Indeed, you start to feel a bit miserably cramped and cold just reading it. The pair sail up and down Germany playing cat and mouse with the suspicious yachtsman, who seems to be hatching a plot to launch a sea-borne infantry attack from Germany's Friesian coast. Which makes it seem much more exciting than it actually is. As Childers himself said: 'I find it horribly difficult, as being in the nature of a detective story, there is no sensation, only what is meant to be convincing fact. I was weak enough to ‘spatchcock’ a girl into it and now find her a horrible nuisance.'

This was an extremely influential work, on many levels, influencing authors such as Grahame Greene and John Le Carre with its realist details. The book has become famous as one of the first spy thrillers (though some feel the guernsey should go to Kipling's Kim, published two years earlier). It was certainly one of the first invasion novels and as such caused a sensation at its time of publication. One of Childers' aims was to warn the English public of the threat Germany presented to an exposed area of the United Kingdom. It was written to urge the nation to build up its naval power in the face of an increasingly aggressive Germany. Churchill credited the book with the establishment of naval bases in the Orkneys and other areas of northern Scotland. The novel is also famous as a story of yachting. In 2003 many yachts congregated on the Friesian coast in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the work.

Somewhere along the line this very British of authors somehow became an Irish Nationalist. Credited with the writing of anti-British propaganda, Childers was hunted by the police and arrested on charges of illegally possessing a firearm (given to him by Michael Collins). He was executed by firing squad while appealing his sentence. His last words were addressed to the executioners: 'Take a step or two forward, lads. It will be easier that way.'

So yes, I bailed halfway through. But I feel the need to honour and respect it as a landmark work in the spy genre and as such I did enjoy it, particularly the author's personal story. Next stop in my pre-World War I spy fiction: William Le Queux.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New World Order

Something is wrong with kids these days. Really, really wrong. In the past week I have met two young folk (read: under the age of thirty) who have never heard of New Order. Note: not 'Do you like New Order?' but 'Do you have even the faintest idea who I'm talking about?' The magnitude of the current crisis is apparent when I tell you that one ignorant child only knew about the Smiths when we told him one of their songs had been covered as the theme tune for trash tv series Charmed. So listen up all you skinny jeaned hipster doofuses, don't try telling me 'the eighties style is so cool', I will tell you right now what's cool and it's not watching you struggle on your new singlespeed.

I'm tagging all my ladies to list their top pop culture moments, those things that got you through your tortured adolescence.

Here we go:

  • The Smiths - oh Morrissey and your hearing aid and your gladioli waving! There is indeed a light that never goes out. My favourite band (and most people will tell you I haven't listened to anything new since).
  • 1982: Out of the Blue - my first ever album bought by my mum as a Christmas present. Go Flock of seagulls! Go mum!
  • Going to a pub to watch real musicians play real live music - didn't have to be good music, of course. I don't think I could bear this now.
  • Pretending you couldn't sleep so you could stay up and watch All Creatures Great and Small with your mum - is this normal??
  • Bizarre Love Triangle - that's a New Order song for you young folk.
  • James Spader telling Molly Ringwald 'you're such a bitch' in Pretty in Pink.
  • Weekends when there was a real Saturday afternoon matinee - an Elvis film followed by Doris Day or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
  • Running through the sprinklers on a hot day.
  • Reading anything and everything by Enid Blyton (your mum's copies from her childhood) and wishing you could go on hols and drink lashings of ginger beer.
  • Rupert Bear and egg sandwiches for proper afternoon tea (lacy table cloths a must).
  • Flouncing around in your nana's frocks and pretending you were Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
Hmm... reading these I'm thinking that perhaps 'pop culture' isn't the best phrase. I seem to have spent my time imagining I was growing up in a quaint English village. But over to you ladies, now it's your turn (and that includes you, mum). I promise that the 80s will never again be mentioned in this blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Lindy Charm School for Girls

I'm slowly transforming myself into quite the girly girl. A few weeks ago I booked a session at Kit Cosmetics with a US makeup artist from my favourite cosmetics brand Two Faced. Was a bit nervous about rocking up with my hair in Victory rolls but I couldn't have had a better time. The crew at Kit were super sympathetic and leapt at the opportunity to do some vintage style makeup. I'd been so worried I'd end up looking like... whatever the latest trend is. Turns out they'd just done a full goth treatment for a little Morticia so were keen to try out something different. I felt very glamorous perched on the chair while this amazingly groomed lady fussed over me. There was no hard sell, just a bunch of girls mucking around with makeup. I've never really worn makeup because I have no idea what I'm doing. Not anymore. The girls gave me heaps of hints and lots of time to practice. So, with guidance from Miss Two Faced and a little help from Sailor Lil and my sister, I'm starting to get the hang of things. And my, doesn't it give you that little bit of extra confidence to put on some red lipstick.

I left the store walking on air, bouyed up by compliments from complete strangers. Now to complete the package I've enrolled in The Lindy Charm School for Girls. It's to be a wonderful afternoon workshop on 40s styling - hair, makeup and fashion (and champagne!) I've borrowed some curling tongs (yes, I know... but the 40s was all about directional curls so it would be good to get a little bit more in control of what goes on up top). My NEW makeup bag is packed with my NEW makeup, plus my NEW makeup brushes (thanks to my super generous sister). Last Sunday I double checked the time, double checked the location and triple checked the tram time table and set off across the river. What I didn't do was check the date. Was a bit weepy when I discovered I'd made all that effort on a Sunday tram timetable TWO WEEKS EARLY but then was thrilled to discover how super tear-proof my new liquid eyeliner is. Amazing.

Now that I've all this extra time I've been using it to have a bit of a play with my hair. Now that Betty Grable is my new fashion icon (movie review to come) I had a go at a Grable do. Mr Chairman was of the opinion that it looked like a beehive gone wrong. Very sad. But I'm still trying! This time setting my hair in pin curls - a ludicrously time consuming old style technique. The other night I sat in bed curling hair round my finger and pinning it in place. Once I topped it all off with a head scarf (so much more comfy to sleep in) I'm sure I made a very alluring site for my young man. Result - curls great but realise that placement of curls super important. Old hair manuals come with precise diagrams of where to put the curl and in what order. Still working on this one obviously because today I've gone for the front roll and been told by Mr C that I look like Morrissey from The Smiths.

Be careful or <-- will lead to this -->

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Beauty of the week - Miss Hedy Lamarr

Ziegfeld girl (1941)

Oh my! This could be my new favourite movie. It's a Berkeley extravaganza with three gorgeous gals and some of the most insane costumes ever (could you walk regally down a stairway with a school of giant fish hanging from your headdress? How about a flock of parrots?)

The film is a backstage melodrama about the perils of success but my goodness it makes it look attractive. I was completely swept away by the dream of being an overnight star - from a tenament flat on Skid Row to a penthouse on Park Avenue, where gentleman send you flowers, glittering trinkets and fur coats. The film is quite clear though - each year there will be new girls and last year's girls are for last year. If you go wrong it's your own fault. The men in the film all resist the girls' rise to fame, particularly if it means them earning more than the guys.

The story's not much: the great Flo Ziegfeld plucks three girls from obscurity - elevator operator Lana Turner, penniless German beauty Hedy Lamar and struggling child of vaudeville Judy Garland. Overnight, they become stars. And the results? One of our girls resists temptation and goes back to her husband, one makes it as a star and one girl goes bad, Hollywood style.

Garland fairly oozes talent. They try and glam her up a little but it doesn't matter how much leg she shows, she's still just an eager, vulnerable kid. She's a real treat, particularly when she sings the beautiful 'I'm always chasing rainbows'. Gorgeous Hedy doesn't have to do much except be impossibly beautiful and my goodness she's a stunner. Unbelievably lovely. But this is Lana Turner's film. She's a poor girl with a taste for luxury that leaves her truck driving fiancee (the fabulous Jimmy Stewart) out in the cold. You know that this is her one shot of getting out of the gutter and when she pays the price you'll really care about her. Sure, her role is corny, but she goes bad in such a great way. As a reviewer on IMBD says: 'she dies of Old Movie Disease at the end, the kind that reunites you with your true love and leaves your hair and makeup perfect.'

The costumes are by Adrian and though it's a shame the film's in black and white (apparently due to wartime austerity measures) he uses the medium perfectly with lots of tinsel and shiny bits. The costumes'll leave you open mouthed! There's about a hundred girls all dolled up in silver walking down stairs with coral and fish on their heads. Incredible!

Amusing incident: the film includes an old school vaudeville routine featuring the legendary Mr Shean. Yep, the one that inspired the cleaning product.