Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Love triangles

Photographer: Tony Attew. Model : me

Following my last post about the Lizard King I found myself in a Doors craze and  listened to their songs after a very longtime, as my musical tastes have greatly evolved since my teens - but yes, The Celebration of the Lizard with its haunting drums and its psychedelic lyrics is still my favourite. Just hearing it brought back so many memories! I was shopping in Sainsbury's last Sunday while listening to it through my earphones and for a moment, as Morrison intoned 'Run with me' I really did not know where I was.
Still in this Doors craze, I went online looking for some more information and stumbled on some vitriolic comments about Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. Patricia who? I remembered the film and the whole story about her and Morrison being married through a Celtic handfasting ceremony at her apartment in NYC, a ceremony that, if I recall correctly, she performed herself. That did it. I just had to read more about it and so I checked out her blog which has been dormant for two years now and of course I had to get hold of  her book, and read the various reviews/rebuttals - numerous!
Finally, the book arrived this morning. I have mixed feelings, even though I have only skimmed through it. I may have spent my money unwisely.
Photographer: Tony Attew
But hold on. She is definitely entitled to tell the story of her encounter with Jim Morrison, which apparently was a short lived affair. She calls herself his widow -  please, Ms Kennealy,  join the thousands of groupies and millions of female fans who also felt widowed when they learnt he had died, not to mention his long term girlfriend Pamela Courson who died three years after he did, also of heroin overdose, also supplied by de Breteuil. Pamela Courson inherited Jim Morrison's considerable fortune and after her death her family did, after going to court - so money figures prominently in this rather sordid story of drug abuse, death and will contestation. Ms Kennealy added Morrison to her name but there was no legally binding marriage, only a symbolic one, and one entered somewhat lightheartedly by both, at their own admission, and at the time very stoned. Thus she did not get a penny.
I am not joining the considerable number of people who have engaged in Kennealy-Morrison bashing, and still do, after so many, many years. She comes across as an intelligent woman who desperately wants to be seen as different from other groupies, stressing that Jim Morrison loved her and perhaps he did, perhaps he did not. We were not there with her and Jim, so we can't say as the supporters of "Jim and Pam forever" do that he never felt anything for her. "Jim and Pam forever" is another fiction, anyway.  We are talking about people in the 1960s, in their twenties, who would happily have sex with each other with no sense of guilt or shame, often as a way to connect 'at a deeper level' and often after massive consumption of substances. He was a rock god, so his allure was a given. At least half of the  female population on the planet was in love with him, can you blame Patricia Kennealy for being bowled over?.
As for Jim Morrison: being in a long term (and volatile) intimate relationship with someone as a couple, does not mean that one cannot feel attracted to someone else, not just sexually, but at all levels. Whether you act on this or not is a matter of choice but I would say that for some people commitment does not rest on the idea of exclusivity and certainly in the world of rock and roll in the late 1960s the concept of exclusivity had very little currency. Nor can one say that a love affair of ten days/two weeks cannot be as true and intense as one that is carried over into a relationship of several years. To these people that believe love can be quantified and put on a scale whereby a union that lasts twenty years is evidence of greater love and thus superior to one that lasts twenty days, I ask the simple question: have you ever, really, fallen in love? I have never had a love affair with a rock star, but I know that some of the men I have deeply loved were not men I could have lived with, so we parted ways, often very early on in the relationship, but this does not mean there were no genuine feelings.
Lizard. Google images

Love triangles do exist and there is no need to regard them as shameful nor should we engage in blame finding. We live in a society that privileges monogamy and forces it as the norm. But relationships and the way people feel about each other cannot be pigeon holed that easily.
With this in mind, I can read Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's account of what being with Jim Morrison meant to her without being judgemental of her and her subsequent choices.
And to all those who maintain she ought to have moved on, I can only say this: you and I were not with the Lizard King ever so we don't know what it was like. It's an encounter that marked her for life, but it's not for any of us to pass judgement.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

I am the Lizard King, I can do anything

Photographer: Ben @Ugly/Rage Models. Model: me

I am grateful to Marianne Faithfull's desire for self-promotion as it has given me an opportunity to reassess my fascination with Jim Morrison, who was one of my teen idols, even though by the time I was a teenager he was very much dead and rock was changing into punk. Former rock chick Marianne Faithfull has an album coming out in September and to bring attention to this she could not come up with anything better than announcing that she knew who supplied the heroin overdose that apparently killed Jim Morrison - even though there has been much speculation around the issue of his death. According to Faithfull, it was her former boyfriend drug dealer Jean de Breteuil, who apparently did it.  On the basis of this 'revelation', coming forty three years after Morrison's death, with de Breteuil also conveniently dead, Faithfull has managed to get some renewed attention in the press.
I have never cared much for this woman as a musician/singer/writer, she does not do it for me at all, so perhaps I am a little biased here, starting from the position of utter indifference to her art.  As for her public persona, she has on occasion made inane comments, like the one about Kate Moss - when La Moss was going out with Pete Doherty - trying to copy her and be the new Marianne Faithfull, or that she really knew how L'Wren Scott must have felt, "it could have been me". No one can ever know what drives someone to commit suicide, thank you for your unnecessary insight, Miss Faithfull.

Photographer: Tony Attew. Model: me

But this post is not about Marianne Faithfull, it is about Jim Morrison aka The Lizard King, as he styled himself.

Jim Morrison. Google images

I know he has plenty of detractors, from people that call his poetry sophomoric - perhaps it was - and people who point out that really all he did was to fill himself with drugs and alcohol till he managed to break on through to the other side. By the time he died he was in a terrible shape, only twenty seven years old, the stuff he took had taken a toll on his body, he was bloated and overweight -  he, who had been a sex symbol for so many women, and, I am pretty sure, a lot of men too, the one man who was able to wear leather pants like no heterosexual male ever did or has since. 
What did a great disservice to Jim Morrison was Oliver Stone's film The Doors. Val Kilmer was amazing in it, he really was a very believable Jim, but the whole film is very much Stone's personal vision of who The Doors were and what they stood for.
Ray Manzarek said in an interview that Stone's' film is the anti-Doors, it "makes Jim out to be an alcoholic, drunk weirdo; a strange poet totally out of control and you never see the intellectual side of Jim Morrison. You never see the wit, the charm, the elegance. You never get a sense of the real poet. You see a crazed Jim Morrison." Manzarek knew Morrison very well , so he has a point.
But Stone's portrayal of Morrison  is not meant to be a true biography of him, it is not a documentary, it is a commentary on the second half of the 1960s which The Doors became an icon for and which Stone lived through.  The best part of the film is when Stone shows us a young Jim, living on Venice Beach in 1965, the alternative culture of the times, the nakedness, the desire for freedom and spontaneity, the fascination with Shamanism. Stone is a consummate film maker, who learnt from Scorsese, and has gone on to make excellent movies such as JFK, Natural Born Killers and more. I watched an interview with Stone in which he explains his biopic of Jim Morrison and it really helped me to put it in context. I also watched the film again on DVD late last night and whereas when I first saw it I did not like it, because it countered my very own ideas of who Jim Morrison was and what he meant to me, I was able to appreciate it.

Morrison will always be a bit of an enigma. He was an amazing performer - just listen to the various live performance albums that The Doors made and the quality of his showmanship simply hits your core. He really did give the whole of himself to performing, imagine what it must have been like to be there at one of those live events. Everyone wanted a piece of Jim Morrison, if people could have eaten him alive they would have (and metaphorically they did), there was something really visceral in those encounters between this man and the crowds.
Whenever I think of Jim Morrison I remember The Celebration of the Lizard by which I was totally obsessed when I was sixteen, I used to listen to it again and again. I guess I became fascinated with lizards and their potent alchemical symbolism following Jim's declaration he was the Lizard King!

Augrabie lizard. Google images

But when I think of The Doors, as opposed to only Jim Morrison, I always remember that  incredible film by Francis Ford Coppola which opens with The End (the link here is to footage on VIMEO), Apocalypse now (1979), whose very mention gives me goose pimples. I don't think there could have been a more appropriate choice for the anti-war film par excellence, about the horror that was Vietnam.
Finally, on a very personal note The End was the song I was playing way back on an old tape recorder, in the days when people played tapes and my then four year old, who was in the same room as me, clutching his favourite toy, suddenly said "Well he is naughty, he wants to kill his daddy but what does he want to do to his mummy?" It stopped me in my tracks, he had been listening to the lyrics. And that put me on the spot: how do you explain oedipal urges to your four year old?
I will leave you to ponder.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guillem, Maliphant and Push

Guillem and Maliphant in Push, 2014. Photo:Johan Persson

This is not a review in the traditional sense. I am just noting down my thoughts and observations, after watching a great dance performance that deeply moved me. I saw Push on Friday, at the London Coliseum, with Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem, choreographed by Maliphant. I had seen it  when it was premiered in 2005 at Sadler's Wells and at the time I was totally entranced by it. I was a little anxious about this performance, nine years later, with Maliphant now 53 years old and Guillem pushing 50. Will they be up to it, I kept thinking, remembering how physically demanding the piece had seemed to be.
 I need not have worried. They were both fantastic. It goes to show that perhaps dancers should not retire from performing as early as they usually do, still in their thirties. Of course Sylvie Guillem is not an average performer. She has a physicality that cannot be easily matched. As a ballerina she was made ├ętoile of the Paris Opera by Nureyev when she was only 19, an honour that was quite unprecedented. But it was not just her leg extension, her perfectly arched feet, her dazzling pirouettes that made her special - many young dancers have all that. It was her intelligent approach to dance and her expressivity that together with her physical abilities made her who she is. When she stopped dancing the classical repertoire at the end of the eighties she turned to contemporary dance, bringing to it her beautiful classical lines and a deep desire to learn and embody other ways of moving. She did however go back to classical ballet in 2011, when she performed Manon at the Scala - and it was as if she had never stopped.
Maliphant has a classical background, having trained at the Royal Ballet School but turned to contemporary dance early on in his career and soon became known as a gifted choreographer,working together with his partner lighting designer Michael Hulls to create beautifully lit pieces in which light and movement are fully integrated.

Maliphant and Guillem in Push: Photo: Johan Persson

I will not recount the story of how Guillem and Maliphant got together and how she persuaded him to perform with her. When they began working on Push he was in his early forties and had already decided that  he was done with performing. She was obviously very insistent and I am glad she was, because Push is a most beautiful piece and as a dancing couple they are perfectly matched.
It is a duet that is emotional, lyrical, sensuous and technically very demanding, incorporating movements that show their classical inspiration but also movements derived from all the forms which Maliphant has experimented with, including Tai Chi. The fact that both Guillem and Maliphant have so many years of experience as performers and, in Maliphant's case, as dance maker, brings  a beauty and a subtlety that really makes this performance last in your memory for days on. I did not want it to end and hated it when it did, I never found any part of it repetitive, as some reviewers have commented.  I found Push  multilayered and full of complexity. I  loved the technical device of blackouts, with the beginning dance phrase repeated, every time starting  with Guillem seated on Maliphant's shoulders, appearing at different corners of the stage.
With sophisticated lighting by Hull and a soulful score by Andy Cowton, Push is an amazing experience - the other three pieces are too but Push surpasses them all. Catch it while you can, Guillem has announced she will stop dancing next year, once she hits fifty and Maliphant may not be seen dancing again either. I would not want to regard Push as a swansong but it looks all set to be.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Some thoughts about the body

Me and designer Jules Hawkins in an outtake from the shoot for Lux Tenebrae. Photo: Adam Robertson

In our society, and particularly in our western culture, we do have conflicting attitudes to ageing, and  women are most affected. On one hand we are told we should aim to be ageless and look as young as possible by whatever means, often involving plastic surgery, on the other we are recognised as still being able to be productive workwise, so much so that the pensionable age for women has now been raised by several years.
We talk so much about body image and the way we look or should look, but despite the growth of the fitness industry we do not encourage, by and large, a way to engage with our bodies aiming to have  control over our corporeality, especially as we grow older. It is all to do with the way we look  rather than our being embodied.
 There are still misconceptions and much misinformation is touted about the inevitability of losing flexibility and various other body changes as we grow older. I stress the fact that 'inevitable decline' is imagined as a given. I do remember not too long ago an otherwise very good and competent dance teacher making the extraordinary claim that once women give birth they lose flexibility in their lower back, that's why professional female dancers should not have children. I was aghast. I think she was generalising about something that had affected her personally, but she had turned it into a rule maybe to feel better about it. I never found any evidence for such a claim.

The amazing Sylvie Guillem, now 49 and Russell Maliphant, 52, in Push. Photo: Johan Persson

Or worse, a claim by an acquaintance that after the age of fifty, coinciding with the menopause, it is natural for women to put on weight and there is "nothing you can do about it". She was a comfort eater, again finding a justification for her own personal relationship to food by decreeing it was something that simply occurred 'naturally' and to every woman.
I am not saying that the body does not change as we age. It obviously does. But many of the negativity associated with such changes - loss of this or loss of that - are also to do with the fact we do not take sufficient care of our bodies, we do not listen to them and we actually treat them as external objects.
Our bodies have to be exercised very regularly. We take it for granted that it is good practice to shower and brush our teeth, but we do not take it for granted that a sustained exercise programme is what our bodies need. Going to the gym once a week or going to a zumba class also once a week will not do much. We need to set aside at least twenty minutes a day for an exercise routine that involves cardio and stretching.
When my son went to Indonesia to do an advanced training in pencak silat, he joined the Panglipur school in Bandung, West Java. Pencak silat has now become better known outside Asia thanks to the films by Gareth Evans, The Raid and The Raid 2, featuring some spectacular pencak silat moves.

While my son was in Bandung I went to visit him and I was taken on a day trip in the hills to visit the famous Ibu Enni in Garut. She was about ninety at the time. I expected to meet a frail old lady and was absolutely stunned when she glided in gracefully, standing very straight and looking very tall, even though in actual fact she was quite petite. I thought for a moment I had misheard the introduction but no, she was Ibu, or mamih Enni as she was usually addressed as. After having some tea and refreshments she told the boys she wanted to see where they were at with their silat. The boys were my son, a nineteen year old at the time, standing at nearly 6'2 and quite well built, and three other Indonesian young men, also quite sturdy, who had been training since childhood. I was allowed to watch.We all went into the dojo and she started fighting one of the boys then another, then all of them together. I thought I was dreaming when I saw them being defeated by this woman who was able to lunge and jump as if it were the easiest, most natural thing in the world and who could definitely hit. I was absolutely speechless. She proceeded to teach them some moves they obviously had not mastered.

Ibu Enni is a legend in the pencak silat world, not everyone is like her, in fact she was most definitely unique - she passed away in 2011. What I am trying to say is that she was living proof that following an exercise routine  on a daily basis keeps you strong, alert and flexible. Most of all,  that what she practised was body awareness.

We need more body awareness and less body image anxiety in our contemporary world.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Let's talk about Dove

'Ready to strike' Model: me. Photographer: Adam Robertson. Design and styling: Jules Hawkins for Lux Tenebrae

Let's talk about Dove. In my last post I was led up the garden path when I trusted a couple of sources I usually find quite accurate and mistook a picture of Ms Rampling, highly photoshopped, for the official NARS beauty campaign picture. I ought to have checked first. Not to worry, it gave me and other women (and men) an opportunity to express our disappointment with the photoshopping practice.  Here I hasten to add that while I am aware that some degree of photoshopping is needed in order to adjust the brightness and levels of a photograph, the practice we are all disgruntled about is the photoshopping that transforms the body and smoothens the skin as to make a woman look like a Barbie doll.
Anyway as a result of that post someone got on a high horse, misreading a paragraph in which I mentioned that Dove was owned by Unilever  and that Unilever is behind the whitening cream sold worldwide, especially Asia and Africa, to bleach dark skin and turn it a few shades fairer. The cream is called Fair and Lovely and is made from pig tallow.  This person said Dove was not racist and that  I clearly did not understand the meaning of the word 'racism'. Then the same person ticked me off for using bad pictures of Ms Rampling. Oh my! Lots of assumptions here.
OK, let's start with Ms Rampling's  pictures. The one I used to contrast it to the heavily photoshopped one is not one of her worst. It's just a picture of hers and she does not look so bad at all.  But this is a trivial matter.
Racism. I never said that the Dove's campaign was racist (but others think it is, please look at some of these spoofs) , I was actually talking about Unilever and the whitening creams - the very concept of a whitening cream is, I believe, a tad racist but maybe I am wrong?
 I have been  aware, for quite some time of various damning reports about Dove, who are not as enlightened as some of us would like to believe - who knows, maybe this person that left that comment on my blog post does work for Dove!
 I have done my research and here is what I have found.
In 2011 Dove had an ad which showed three women, one black, one Latino, one Caucasian positioned against a magnified sample of skin seen  'before' and 'after', and which in the 'after' showed signs of being smooth and slightly whiter. The ad was withdrawn as it was deemed to be unintentionally racist  - people said that the ad seemed to suggest that Dove turned Black women into Latino and Latino into White. This was the VisibleCare ad.

I cannot but be wary of multibillion dollar global companies such as Dove embracing commodity activism and suggesting empowerment through the use of their products. It has been noted that Dove has a long history of  manipulating and capitalizing on feminine insecurities, insidiously using key phrases such as 'self-esteem' and 'real beauty'  and then proceeding to provide normative solutions. The Dove campaigns are examples of superbly competent and highly manipulative advertising, in a context which is ultimately - let us not forget this -  profit led.
Dove's products are not safe, they contain chemicals that are actually damaging. I would like to refer you to the paper posted by Sarah Scott from Cal Poly, in which she sums up the results of her investigation. Dove uses, in its products, a chemical known as triethanolamine, which is universally acknowledged as rather harmful and actually capable of producing skin irritation. It has also a carcinogenic effect.
So much for Real Beauty and Self Esteem!

Monday, 21 July 2014

A correction

So it seems that the image that has been floating around the internet accompanying the announcement that Rampling will be the face of NARS  Anniversary campaign is not by NARS after all. This is excellent news. The image has been published widely and also by a number of fashion and beauty blogs, such as That's not my age and The Beauty Plus and it has been used in various other publications. I would like to thank LR Fredericks for checking things.
So we shall have to wait and see. It is good though that the image has received a lot of 'thumbs down' by many women, revealing their  discontent for extreme photoshopping  and their desire to see wrinkles being celebrated.
So let's hope NARS listens!

Photo of me for Lux Tenebrae by Adam Robertson. Design and Styling by Jules Hawkins

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Tokenism and being wrinkle free - a rant

Charlotte Rampling Face of NARS, 2014

Charlotte Rampling is the face of NARS Cosmetics and everyone is falling over themselves in claiming that it is so wonderful that a woman of 68 should be chosen as the face of this campaign and of NARS 20th anniversary.

I have looked at the images, recently unveiled, and gasped. Ms Rampling,  with a beautiful face that bears every sign of her true age, as can be seen if you google all her recent pictures, appears with such a smooth complexion as to look in her twenties. Her face has either been heavily and badly photoshopped or she has had a massive injection of botox. Either way, the NARS picture is insulting and offensive.

Rampling 2012, Google images

My anger is not directed at Ms Rampling - she modelled for it and was handsomely paid for her effort, end of story as far as she is concerned. My anger is directed at NARS and their exploitation of the diversity agenda, their extreme tokenism and their  message to older women which can be summed up as: it's OK to be old, so long as you remove all the wrinkles on your face. We are here to help you with our products.
Double standard?
It is the same logic as that of those cosmetic brands that make skin whitening products - such as Unilever who also own Dove - whose (extremely racist) message is: oh poor you born with a dark skin. But we are here to help, here is a magic cream that will give a fair complexion.
So in fact NARS is not celebrating age at all, it is driven by an ageist agenda.
I see everywhere media people endorsing NARS, claiming that it is so wonderful that the parameters of beauty are being expanded, look we have someone like Rampling modelling for a cosmetic company that earlier would only have young models like Lily Cole and Amber Valletta.
If cosmetic companies have to be so disrespectful through their photoshopping when hiring older models, then please let them  continue to use Cole or Valletta or any other young model. It is less insulting.

End of rant.