Another blog article written for uni. With a TV review and news piece covered, I give you a rant aimed at the musical enigma of our times (guffaw)…
Unmasking madness: What Lady Gaga’s insane get-up may be concealing
Heralded as the greatest ever pop sensation, Lady Gaga has beguiled the world with her bizarre theatrics and out-of-this-world fashion. But I fail to see the charm…
It’s 1972 in Earls Court, London and Ziggy Stardust has walked centre stage. David Bowie has invented shock value. Elsewhere, a young Peter Gabriel has silenced audience members and an unsuspecting Genesis by donning a red dress and a homemade fox’s head.
Being minus seventeen years-old at the time, I can only imagine the strange and exciting atmosphere afoot.
Assuming you haven’t resided on Pluto for the past thirty years, these are iconic figures of eccentricity in Rock and Roll. Given another ten years, will people be able to recall the ubiquitous and kooky ‘icon’ of our times, Lady Gaga? This observer says: not bloody likely.
Both Bowie and Gabriel were creative, albeit, slightly bonkers individuals. But when the costumes shed and respective solo careers flourished they both had something unmistakable to fall back on…talent.
Lady Gaga (or Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta as her close friends know her) was apparently quite the child prodigy; playing piano by ear at age four before going on to write her first piano ballad at age 13. Impressive.
So where, may I ask is the evidence for this in her last two chart-topping albums? There’s no disputing Gaga can belt out a tune but unfortunately, when all is said and done, that’s all it amounts to: a temporarily catchy, but ultimately repetitive and meaningless husk of a jingle.
The Beatles can be forgiven for penning the charming ‘She loves you/yeah, yeah, yeah’. Even the somewhat tedious theme tune to Ghostbusters’s has a harmonious quality about it. But when Gaga feels the need to inform us of her ‘p-p-poker face/her p-poker face’, my p-p-patience with contemporary music begins to wear thin.
This repetition is present in almost every Gaga single to date [‘just dance/gonna be okay/just dance’] and if this wasn’t irksome enough, she manages to squeeze the name ‘Gaga’ into every verse just in case Radio 1 listeners fail to distinguish her latest offering from the usual monotonous din.
One can’t help feeling the visual effort put into Miss Gaga’s videos seems a disastrous waste, considering the main play it gets is to inebriated clubbers at 3am. She is shooting herself in the Perspex foot with this tactic.
I’d suggest Gaga try her hand at classical opera or release an album of acoustic covers. C’mon, Gaga in dungarees and plaid shirts? I can almost feel the world’s collective eyebrow rise. It’s precisely what she’d want.
Gaga is the finest example of style over substance. And can you honestly call a phone hat or a Ku Klux Klan-inspired robe ‘stylish’? I weep for my generation.
When Gaga’s long-suffering neck gives in to fifty pound crystal headgear, her music will seem very bland indeed. Heed my advice and throw in the leopard-print towel now, Miss Gaga, while you still have a fighting chance.
Last month whilst flicking casually through Empire magazine as I do routinely before reading the film bible of excellence, I came across the sad news that my second favourite director had stepped down as one half of what promised to be the most exciting writer/director partnership of the decade: as Director of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. Three guesses as to my other favourite director? The combined vision of Peter Jackson and the man responsible for Pan’s Labyrinth was too awesome to contemplate and now sadly, too good to be true.
A better time than any then to post an article I wrote in appreciation of Del Toro’s work. Again, I wrote this at uni as part of a research project exploring the making and fruition of the film that finally got Del Toro noticed: the ground-breaking fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth. I hope you find it informative and mildly amusing (although, you can probably thank Del Toro’s soundbites for the latter).
Pan’s Labyrinth has been branded ‘The Citizen Kane of fantasy cinema’. As writer, producer and director of his fantasy tour de force, is Guillermo Del Toro Mexico’s answer to Orson Welles?
The name Del Toro roughly translates as ‘Son of a Bull’. Fitting perhaps for a director unafraid to grab the proverbial by the horns if needs be. Since his debut with Cronos in 1993, his passion for detail and control over a production plays as much a part of the process as his love affair with monsters “I’m like a dictator, I say: ‘These are the colours. These are the textures. These are the shapes’. On the other hand, I have never used a light meter and nor do I want to. I leave all that to my DP!” laughs Del Toro. The long-suffering Cinematographer in question is Guillermo Navarro, Del Toro’s long-term friend and collaborator since his ambitious first outing with Cronos, the tale of a girl and her grandfather, an antique dealer who comes upon a golden scarab. The device grants eternal life unto its owner but simultaneously, fills them with a vampire lust for blood. Set in contemporary Spain, Cronos is Del Toro’s only modern vampire movie to date. Uncharacteristic perhaps for a man obsessed with the Spanish civil war, a theme he explored both in Pan and his next, rather personal outing after Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone. “I’m always doing this stupid experiment. [The Devil’s Backbone] is a microcosm of the Spanish civil war through a gothic romance with a ghost. But I guess it’s not as far-fetched as doing an anti-fascist fairytale!” This anti-fascist fairytale had been brewing in Del Toro’s mind long before Cronos was even released, but he abandoned the project in 2001 to direct Blade II, his only commercial success alongside the comic book franchise, Hellboy.
Pan’s Labyrinth finally brought Del Toro back to home territory: a truly personal film without the creative restrictions imposed on him in 1997, by a demanding Hollywood studio during the making of Mimic. Del Toro regarded the experience as more traumatic than the kidnapping of his father in the same year. “What was happening to the movie [Mimic] was far more illogical than kidnapping, which is brutal, but at least there are rules. When I look at Mimic, I see the pain of a deeply flawed creature that could have been so beautiful.” To ensure his personal creatures continued to flourish, Del Toro returned to Mexico in 1998 to form his own production company, ‘The Tequila Gang’, co-owned by two of Del Toro’s friends and fellow directors Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (the men responsible for Babel, Y tu mamá también and 21 Grams) This arrangement allowed Del Toro to work in complete creative freedom with Pan’s Labyrinth and the mathematic attention to detail shines through. To ensure the film reflected his vision, Del Toro even sacrificed his own salary to fund the film’s production and took on the extraordinary responsibility of director, writer and producer of Pan.
“It’s like the difference between Hustler and a gynaecology manual. There is a different approach, even though the graphics are similar” ~ Del Toro (on compromising the violence in Pan)
Making his dream film didn’t come without its drawbacks, however. Most of the main actors (including Doug Jones who plays Pan, the faun of the film’s title), faced severe salary cuts. Jones, however, was simply happy that Guillermo was finally making a film his way “I love that man (Del Toro) and the beautiful art that happens when he creates a sculpture all his own. We did what was needed to make this movie happen and I’m incredibly proud of it”. Making films ‘Del Toro’s way’ has always kept him five miles outside the mainstream fare, generating cult status and a loyal following of horror fans but never reaching the maximum audience it could. Thankfully, to the delight of critics and true fantasy fans the world over, Del Toro keeps his indie card pressed firmly against his chest. At an early screening of Pan’s Labyrinth, someone even suggested he could reach a bigger audience of kids if he toned down the violence. Del Toro replied with a typically polite but very immediate no. “The suggestion was well meant but that is totally self-defeating, isn’t it? It’s like the difference between Hustler and a gynaecology manual. There is a different approach, even though the graphics are similar.”
More visually arresting even than the fantasy creatures in Ofelia (Ivana Baquero)’s escapist world or the effects is the blunt violence throughout the film and Del Toro’s admirable grapple with brutally honest storytelling. At the onset of sexual maturity, the young heroine Ofelia is forced to undergo tasks beyond her emotional comprehension, all occurring within the ruthless backdrop of 1944 fascist Spain. Del Toro’s desire to direct a fairytale in its original, truthful intent stems from a love of religious parables as a child “I was moved by stories that taught you something and I think that parables and ideas were, in the oldest ways, transmitted through tales about demons and angels.” The demons that feature so prominently in The Devil’s Backbone and its sister movie, Pan’s Labyrinth serve an important purpose in Del Toro’s movies. They hold up a mirror to humanity in the context of war and suggest that the only real monsters are human. And that the only thing we have to be afraid of is people, not creatures or ghosts. While this may have provided Guillermo with the social commentary and narrative structure for Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro’s relationship with monsters have their origins in personal experience. The inspiration for the film came from Del Toro’s own childhood fears and visions, notably of a faun-like creature he imagined appeared from behind his bedroom closet whenever the young Del Toro slept at his grandmother’s house. “When the church would strike midnight in the village, a faun would come out from behind the armoire in my grandmother’s house. I would see the hand first and then the goat’s face and his leg. And I screamed. Go figure, man!” The faun consequently became the basis for Pan, the eponymous faun played by Doug Jones.
Insofar as translating these visions into a fully realised film, Pan’s Labyrinth took shape in Del Toro’s imagination as long ago as 1993 in the form of sketches. In typically meticulous fashion, Del Toro researched into monsters and the logic behind them long before he had a hard script to work with, recording his ideas and childhood visions in his various notebooks, a ‘security blanket’ he keeps with him at all times throughout the production process. Del Toro began using these notebooks in 1992 during the making of Cronos and studied ‘The Science of fairy tales’ by Edwin Sidney Hartland, an 18th century index of fairytale folklore and their meaning. Del Toro looked to it again while shaping Pan, “This guy (Hartland) just did a really studious and thorough systematisation of mythology from throughout the world, not just fairy tales but also oral traditions and the heroic narrative. Without an agenda or a desire to prove that these fairy tales had ‘heroes’. There was a point to them and a moral and that is what fascinates me”. It wasn’t until early 2001 that Del Toro began working on a premise for Pan and if his initial draft is anything to go by, Pan’s Labyrinth could have resulted in a very different film, “Originally the idea was that it was a married couple and the wife was pregnant. She fell in love with the faun in the labyrinth. The faun said to her, ‘If you give me your child and you trust me with killing your child, you will find him and I, both, on the other side, and the labyrinth will flourish again,’ and she made that leap of faith. It was a shocking tale and it started changing”.
During post-production on Hellboy in 2004, Del Toro’s ever-evolving story arrived at the real thing over a chicken dinner at fellow director Alfonso Cuarón’s house, “At that dinner table, I had made the decision. I believe it happened over the course of a couple of days.” Cuarón himself can verify that fact, stating in 2007 that the emotions and mood of the film matched Guillermo’s pitch more accurately than the script. This is in part because Del Toro is a visual story-teller, a gift admired and envied by fellow director and friend Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Every single shot of his film [Pan’s Labyrinth] is like the mechanism of a clock. Everything works. It is like watching a beautiful, complex dance”. Del Toro has described his visual style as ‘eye protein’ rather than eye candy, believing the themes and motifs within his films (the tree in Pan, the scarab beetle in Cronos etc) each have nutritional value. This trademark attention to detail has, at long-last established Del Toro as one of the most sought-after international writer-directors, making him a household name in world cinema. One of many producers working on Pan, Frida Torresblanco, reveals that the extraordinary faith Del Toro has in his vision is what attracted and continues to attract her into working with him, “The minute Guillermo transfers that imagination to paper, everything makes sense; there is nothing arbitrary in the movie or script. And it’s a script that makes you cry, you feel all the emotions there, and the rhythm is incredible”.
Four years on, Del Toro is proud of the film that has opened so many doors for him but remembers his adult fairytale as a creative uphill-struggle, “Sketching a film can sometimes be more fun than actually making one, particularly with all the economic problems you have to deal with”. Del Toro sacrificed everything at a director’s disposal to ensure Pan would get made. “Maybe one day I’ll have my own gallery, paint full-time and express my ideas that way”. Indeed, if you could take one screen capture from Del Toro’s labour of love and hang it on a wall, it wouldn’t look out of place. Pan’s Labyrinth is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Here be a TV review I did for uni, which in truth is more of a rant. But an appreciative rant admiring a rare gem in reality programming. Sorry, that’s the only gem in reality programming.
They say ‘write what you love’ but it’s amazing how well that applies to something you hate an’ all. Comic writer and columnist Charlie Brooker is the king of this and I plan to use this blog-o-sphere as a platform for my own collection (however shit) of Brooker-esque ramblings. For now, I present a positive review of why telly has it right for once…
Why ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid?’ is BBC Three’s finest import
The ‘make-under’ show hosted by Jenny Frost has recently wrapped up its third series and I’m already suffering withdrawal symptoms. Until a fourth series graces our screens, allow me to wax lyrical about the niftiest show in telly land.
Cast your minds back to 2008 and it wasn’t a particularly thrilling year. An oblivious Rick Astley made a YouTube comeback and Stephen Fry’s Twitter obsession got on the nation’s nerves.
Fortunately, help was at hand and June brought light at the end of media’s abysmal tunnel in the form of BBC Three’s lifestyle program ‘Snog, marry, avoid?’ – The most socially relevant piece of broadcasting since Spitting Image in my humble opinion.
The premise was enough to make the hard cynic I am cry tears of absolute joy: Take a fake-tan obsessed slap-addict and educate them in the ways of natural beauty. Saints be praised.
I for one had grown weary of incessant makeover shows with a confidence complex. (Yes, Gok Wan, I am talking to you). It was only a matter of time before someone pitched the world’s first ‘make-under’ show. And what a winning format it is.
Ex-Atomic Kitten member-turned-bubbly presenter, Jenny Frost hosts the proceedings, preparing a selection of make-up fanatics for her computerised sidekick, P.O.D (a personal overhaul device).
POD isn’t so forgiving when it comes to fakery and her glorious put-downs make for endlessly addictive viewing. (“There is nothing sexy about a bit of Baco Foil teamed with a pair of pink knickers”) ranks in my top five.
My personal highlight of the show has to be the subsequent section entitled ‘Public Analysis’ in which our fake participants get an almighty wake-up call thanks to a brief vox-pop, asking male members of the public whether they would Snog, marry or avoid these disastrous creatures.
To my delight, the answers given are almost always the latter. Some are rightly deterred by this revelation while others take it as a compliment. Dear, oh dear. More drastic measures are needed and sure enough, POD supplies this in spades.
Hopelessly confused by the ‘less is more’ rule (in this case, wearing less in order to get more attention), POD offers each tan-tastic girl (and the odd boy) a chance to emulate their style icon, picking a more sophisticated hairstyle and dress-sense according to their eye colour and skin tone. (Yes, it’s even educational!)
The transformations are nothing short of astounding. It’s hard to fathom that a naturally beautiful, fresh-faced girl was hiding under Lily Savage’s wardrobe.
On top of the ghastly hair extensions, fake nails and spider eyelashes, these girls waltz into POD sporting four to five layers of slap: Bronzer, blusher, foundation…It’s enough to make David Dickinson’s perma-tanned skin crawl.
Yet, before you can say Jodie Marsh, a sophisticated woman emerges. The person is then re-introduced to their boyfriend or mother outside the studio and the reactions towards the new, natural look is the very epitome of feel-good TV. Heart-warming, moving even but always positive.
Before POD casts her computerised lens on these insecure girls, their original look is leading the public to believe that 19-year-old make-up obsessed girls are nearer to 35 years of age. Surely, this is the best lifestyle program, like, ever?
In this grisly age of celebrity, Snog, Marry Avoid has relevance like no other. Could it be too far-fetched to suggest that this become a compulsory ritual in schools and universities around the country? A ‘POD booth’ on every street corner? You heard it here first, Duncan Bannatyne.
Spread the word, mothers, mad aunties and Katie Price-wannabes, natural beauty is the way forward and may the battle against fakery continue long into the decade. Snog, Marry, Avoid?, you had me at ‘POD off’.
As promised dearies, some stuff what I wrote. An article from my Journalism module a few months back. Incidentally it was intended for a blog-type audience so…if it doesn’t pull off well here, I’ve just graduated into completely useless. I wish my nerdy rants were as beautifully articulate as the wordsmith above (comic actor and writer, David Mitchell):
Death of the Hangover: When Science goes too far
In the last month, scientists in Korea have created an alcoholic drink that promises to eliminate the dreaded morning-after effects of booze. The secret? Just add oxygen.
While the usual tipple is infused with carbon dioxide which actually prevents the breakdown of alcohol, the addition of oxygenated bubbles to any alcoholic beverage can actually speed up the sobering period without reducing the strength or joyous effects of the drink.
Professor Kwang-il Kwon, of Chungnam National University in Korea has revealed,
‘This could provide both clinical and real-life significance.’
I bet. This is brilliant news for students and every second human being the world over. But it’s the worst news I’ve had all year. A bizarre revelation perhaps, considering I am that despicable creature of the night…a student.
I have tried and failed (miserably) to appreciate the apparent wonders of booze only to conclude that Toilet Duck has a more sumptuous aroma.
During my first year at university, I was presented with more than enough opportunities to convert to the stuff. All useless. If taste-buds have a part-time job, mine are relentless bouncers of a strictly V.I.P digestive system.
To be social, nevertheless, I accepted everything from Bacardi Breezers to Apple vodka shots. The latter was the clincher. Costing near to a fiver for 3 measly millilitres of green liquid, I thought it ungracious to refuse.
In the brief moment of consumption, I could feel miniature daggers making their way down my throat. What is supposedly labelled ‘a good time’ left me with a bizarre craving for Mr Muscle and iron filings in a bid to get rid of the taste.
Clearly, I am in the minority. And for the willing volunteers at Chungnam University, the experiment must have been an unforgettable one. (Literally, thanks to the short sobering periods).
The researchers fed the volunteers alcoholic drinks containing different levels of oxygen and timed how long it took for each individual to sober up.
As you would imagine, the more oxygenated-drinks of the lot radically reduced the time it took for alcohol to leave their bodies, reaching sobriety 20 percent faster than if they were to consume a regular alcoholic drink. I don’t envy the caretaker of that particular lab.
Self-indulgent rant aside, surely the regular drinkers among us can see where this horrific scientific breakthrough is headed? Without scientific help, alcohol abuse is already at an all-time high and if the addition of oxygen causes us to sober up more quickly, people will be looking to have another drink and another just to attain the desired buzz.
Soon people will have mini parties at work in the lunch break, in the car sitting in traffic or even while doing the weekend shop.
If unleashed on the UK market, this will slowly but surely produce a nation of short-term drunks, hell-bent on making mundane tasks seem that little bit hilarious. Don’t fancy mowing the grass? Do it completely sloshed.
Today, Scientific progression, we must go our separate ways.