Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years

There are few literary characters out there that have had the affect on me that Adrian Mole has. Adrian Mole is, quite literally, a part of me. I see him in people, I find a quote for every occasion, I make bonds for life with fellow readers and I have read the books over and over and over again. In fact my sister and I have a whole type of understanding of the human race, based on Adrian Mole. The books are painfully funny, piercingly clever and as subtle as only the Brits can be.

Over twenty seven years, British author Sue Townsend has penned nine Adrian Mole novels starting from when he was 13 and ¾ in 1982’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾  and currently ending with his 40th birthday in the latest effort, Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years. As a comic creation, they don’t come any more subtly crafted than Adrian. He is has no self awareness, a terrible sense of humour, a selfish streak and the dreadful burden of thinking he is far more intelligent and talented than he really is. He is short sighted, narrow minded and self important. That these traits manage to come across so beautifully in first person diary entries is a testament to the cleverness of Townsend’s writing. As is the fact she has so wonderfully captured the adolescent and adult male psyche as a woman – focalizing through a gender different to the writer’s own is difficult to do well.    

In The Prostrate Years we find Adrian living in the converted pigsty with his wife, Daisy and their precocious daughter, Gracie. Adrian is still an unfulfilled writer, still working on a manuscript (this time it’s for a play, Plague!) and still in love with Pandora. He is also still naïve and introspective but there are more shades of good to Adrian now, far more so than in the earlier diaries, and Townsend has done a terrific job in believably developing his character without losing what makes Adrian, Adrian. Cancer, marriage, redundancy, infidelity and the nature of family are all deftly explored in a novel that is perhaps not the most caustic of the series but certainly a worthy continuation.

The thing is, we all know an Adrian Mole (and indeed versions of the supporting cast of characters) and I do think that’s part of the genius of him as a character. The humour never once falls into farce or parody; it retains this terrific mix of not only perceptive characterization but biting social commentary making it a layered series that gets funnier with every read.

If you haven’t met Adrian Mole then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Antichrist: The What, Why and How

This isn’t a film review. I’m not sure how I’d go about reviewing Antichrist, to be honest, but beyond that I’m more interested in the writing than the overall cinematic product. More specifically, I’m interested in the psychology tied up in the story and the depths von Trier plundered with the characters in order to achieve what it was he wanted.

Watching the film (with a cinema full of nervous, giggling males and, at one point, swearing and retching) I kept thinking to myself, ‘what, why and how.’

On some level, I do think all writers ask themselves, when they’re working on a project, what am I trying to say, why am I trying to say it, and how am I trying to say it? I think the why is of lesser concern, because for the most part, those who create works of fiction are not necessarily driven by justifiable needs – in the beginning – perhaps later, as the piece develops, why they felt the need to create it emerges. But certainly the what and the how weighs heavily as you make your way deeper and deeper into a creative piece, particularly if the story is deliberately driven by themes and concepts. And I think the what, why and how applies both to the little things – pieces of dialogue, imagery, descriptions – and to the broader themes of the story. It’s a matter of giving your readers/viewers an experience in a particular way, using certain tools that tell the story, raise the questions, confirm the familiar and induce the emotional response.

Antichrist is, to my mind, thematically driven. The notion of motherhood/female pleasure/guilt and sin and how it works within womanhood is played out through the stages of grieving … which could be where Antichrist sort of lost me, because the two concepts are so rich and layered in and of themselves, that pairing the two together in order to explore each other is somewhat brain-combusting and needlessly cluttered.

Antichrist essentially follows a couple who, following the death of their toddler (who climbs out a window and falls to his death whilst they are having sex) retreat to a cabin in the woods, Eden, in order to confront the mother’s greatest fears and repair the gaping wound grief has made. The husband, a therapist, attempts to ascertain the mother’s greatest fear, which she is unable to identify beyond Eden, where she spent a summer with her young son working on a thesis on Gynocide. She (and her name is simply She) unravels in the most violent way as He makes discoveries of her thesis notes which gets him closer to what she most fears; herself. Her gender, her believed inherent evil, her ability to watch her son climb to his death as she has sex – which she performs voraciously and violently throughout the film in either a nod to female sexuality and what function it performs, a part of her psychological unraveling or the guilt inherent in female please, or perhaps more specifically, in balancing motherhood with one’s primal pleasure based desires.

Von Trier allegedly wrote Antichrist as he was coming out of a bout of depression. Consequently the film offers glimpses into an element of humanity that is scary simply because it is within all of us. And I think that’s what he was driving at when creating the true horror of the film. He asks his audience to take a glimpse into the darkest parts of his imagination, the nature of his fears. And the nature of his fears seem to be what we are capable of when pushed – what can fester inside of us, skewing our world view until we have no concept of restraint or rationality. Things are truly scary not when they are simply gory or violent or frightening – but when we realize tha the ability to do these things resides, somewhere, in all of us. And beyond this, he taps into the historically and psychologically linked concepts of female sexuality and guilt, which can be felt on some level by most women – sex/pleasure/guilt/sin/femaleness have become tangled up in each other as a result of social conditioning for thousands of years. Von Trier’s guilt ridden female protagonist, who comes to, I think, understand gynocide and fear her gender and herself for their inherent evil capacity, seems to be an extreme symbol of these primal, intertwined threads.  Freud would have a field day.

I think, also, with some writers, another question they must, at some point, ask themselves is, how far am I willing to go, and this is particularly true of writers like von Trier who push. I don’t want to say ‘push boundaries’ because that’s such a boring expression, so I’m just going to say push. And in pushing so far, is this telling the story any more successfully?

I still don’t quite know what to make of Antichrist. I think it had the potential to do so much more. And perhaps, with time and distance and some stewing, I’ll come to see precisely what drove von Trier to tell this story the way he did. But for now I’m trying to decide whether he did the sticky, primal themes justice or not.

Getting Past the Blog Stigma

Blogs have something of a stigma attached to them. It could be because ‘blog’ is a vile word, hovering somewhere between bog and flog. Or that could be my own issue with the word and I could stand completely alone (as I so often do) in my inexplicable hostility to various words and at times, forms of punctuation. Like the exclamation mark, I can’t stand the exclamation mark in fiction, and I’m not particularly fond of it in non-fiction either.

However my word-neuroses aside, it is most likely because every man and his dog can blog and whilst it is a lovely notion, the unlimited ability to express oneself on a universal platform, like all things Utopian, it doesn’t quite work in practice. Because, what happens is we get an inordinate amount of shit – people who really should make use of a good old fashioned, keep-it-under-the-bed journal, unleashing their streams of consciousness on the wider cyber world. It’s a sea of unrefined, impulsive thought, bad grammar and nonsensical or indeed nonexistent analysis. And that goes for online newspapers as well.  

But, amidst the sea of horror, there are the good blogs, and these make the entire genre worthwhile. The writers are smart, funny, not bound by anyone or anything to push an agenda (generally speaking) and they say something new. They encompass what blogs, in essence, are; free education. A different point of view.

Newspapers, magazines, television – they all say the same things, influenced (and owned) as they are by the same people. The same issues are treated the same way day after day, month after month and there’s no encouragement to look at something from a different angle; in fact, there’s no encouragement for freedom of thought, much less expression.

Good blogs offer educated opinions. They offer an alternate analysis to your own. They offer stories you’ve never heard or stories you’ve heard a million times, but told in a different way, with a different voice. They offer something different to the mainstream and that, my friends, is a good thing. If you consider yourself curious and engaged, then you need to get over the blog stigma and use them for all they can provide. They’re far more interesting than your daily paper online and far less stitched up by advertisers and geriatric media moguls.

You just need to wade through the shit.

Lucky I’ve done that for you … here are some of my favourites, and I’d love for you to comment with your favourites below, so I can build my library.

Wordsmith Lane

The Plot Thickens

News with Nipples

In the Thick of It

Fuck Politeness

Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

Superman Architecture

Snattersnipe: Malcontent and Rainbows

Playing Endlessly

Go Fug Yourself

Brides & Bouquets

I went to two weddings on the weekend and, despite discovering an intense need for a photography course and a new lense, I snapped away merrily. Of the 300, here are eight that are relatively passable. And yes I do have a thing for the contrast of the bride’s dress in black and white.

Ingredients for the Perfect Road Trip

Road trips are one of life’s little pleasures. They’re travel without the hassle of check-ins and departure times and airplane breakfasts. They’re wind-in-your-hair, music-turned-up-loud, junk food-snacking snapshots of fun and freedom. I’ve decided that this summer I will go on more road trips – to anywhere at any time. If a weekend is free, then the bag is going in the boot and the girls are being called.

With road trips, there are two rules. A) embrace spontaneity and B) go with the flow. Book your motel room, fill up the tank and see where the wind takes you.

But do keep in mind these key ingredients. They’ll make the trip even better …

Pals

Solo road trips are a little lonely and ever so scary and there’s no one to sing with. There’s also no one to commiserate with, should a flat tyre get in the way and, whilst going solo is the ultimate in soul searching style, for a real road trip, you need the kids in the back and the DJ in the front.

Mix-CD (although mix-tape sounds so much cooler so feel free to refer to it as a mix tape.)

Music is to a road trip what salt is to fries. They are a beautiful partnership, each encouraging the other to bring out the best in one another. Singing must be loud, harmonies taken and caution thrown to the wind.

When creating the mix tape, a balance must be struck between big numbers (for belting) and whimsical, pensive tunes for the way home. There also must be a good mix of old and new songs with forgotten classics peppered throughout.

Wind down the windows, throw back your head and sing. Sing like there’s no tomorrow. Cars alongside you will rock out with you, reveling in your gay abandonment. Own it.

Coffee

The first stop/meeting place of any self respecting road trip is a coffee shop. If you’re brave, or feeling particularly American you can buy a pit-stop coffee from a roadside restaurant/service station just for the novelty factor.

If you’re slightly more discerning with your coffee, then pull into a little town somewhere along the way – perfect excuse to stretch your legs and take some more photos.

Lollies

Any sort of junk food snack is an integral part of a road trip, but lollies hold a special place on the in-car menu. Particularly if said lollies are fake teeth. The hours of entertainment that can be milked from fake teeth are astonishing. As are the photos.

There is, however, an art to inserting the fake teeth, make sure you push your own all the way until the pink ‘gum’. Completely realistic.

You will feel sick by the time you arrive at your destination, but think of the hilarity.

Camera

Complete no brainer. Particularly if lolly teeth are involved.

A Psychic Experience

Palm readings, tarot cards, psychics … there’s no better way to make a trip memorable, than a brush with the spiritual. There’s something quite magical about it and it provides the bulk of the conversation in the car post-reading. Also, who doesn’t love kicking off conversation with ‘oh yes, this one time I had my palm read in this tiny little town down the south coast …’

A Simple Bag

If it’s summer you need three things; swimmers, a dress and thongs. Pack light, and where possible, go barefoot and barefaced. The intention is escapism so keep it simple.

 

That’s me in New Zealand on a road trip I took earlier this year. Bloody. Good. Times.

Gig Review: Daniel Merriweather

Also published in Trespass Magazine 3/12/09

The boy from Melbourne with the voice did things the other way round. He courted interest and relative hype in his home country before he took off and wowed the USA and UK and, as the story goes, a little producer by the name of Mark Ronson. Following Merriweather providing vocals for Ronson’s cover of The Smith’s ‘Stop Me’, the two of them began to work together on Daniel’s debut album Love and War. The album was a winner, and Merriweather, after several years abroad was garnering the sort of attention an artist of his calibre deserves.

Which brings us to the Metro and a smooth, fluid performance with moments of rawness and purity only truly prodigious musicians can create. There was the initial potential Merriweather would be too smooth for his own good and the night would never break through that layer of silk that seemed to sit atop his vocals and physicality, but as the music kept coming and the sunglasses and jacket came off, the edge came through and the voice began to wander, powering through the big notes and swimming through the slow songs.

He worked his way through Love and War looking and sounding completely and utterly comfortable in his own music and in the capable hands of his (pretty bloody brilliant) band. Change and Impossible were big and bouncy, Cigarettes sweetly sad and both approaches allowed that heart stopping voice free rein. His cover of Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed was another standout but it was his final number, the intimately beautiful Red that sealed the deal. Merriweather’s voice was made to sing about pain in a way that pulls it apart and lets his listeners look in on the emotion pulsing at the heart of the song and that’s exactly what he did with Red.

Love and War has been a long time coming and Australia has taken its sweet time in cottoning onto one of its biggest talents. Let’s not be stupid enough to let him get away.

Image from www.danielmerriweather.com

The Invention of Lying

Ever since I walked out of The Invention of Lying, feeling completely underwhelmed, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what went wrong. In the process, I’ve tried to pinpoint what went right and all I’ve come up with so far, are a few moments of sharp comic timing (which, given the cast, is completely expected) and the odd Gervais-ism that is funny simply because it’s Ricky Gervais. Which leads me to believe, through the powers of deduction, that what went wrong with this film was … pretty much everything.

Look, I love Ricky Gervais. Would marry him tomorrow if he asked, just so I could follow him around laughing. In my eyes there are very few things he can do wrong. But even I’m struggling to accommodate The Invention of Lying which lacked just about everything required to make a good comedy, including chemistry between the cast, a sharp script and any degree of cleverness.

The world in which we find Mark Bellison (Gervais), a chubby loser with a snub nose, is one in which people are incapable of telling a lie – and it would appear they are also incapable of holding anything back, which is problematic and logically unnecessary in general, but necessary for the script to work at all. They say it how it is with no regard for hurt feelings because, one would assume, if lying hasn’t evolved then nor has the ability to be hurt by the truth. I say assume, because for some reason, in 2009, seemingly tens of thousands of years since humankind began communicating with each other, one man has decided he has had enough of having his feelings hurt and of being one of life’s losers, and so says ‘something that isn’t’ purely for personal gain, and so the story begins.

Sort of. To say ‘begins’ implies some sort of life and flow and journey that has at least a beginning and an end and takes us all with it. And unfortunately, none of this pertains to The Invention of Lying.

The biggest problem was the flawed premise. It’s too big and too tired to simply meander through it, unsure of what part of truth, honesty, morals, right and wrong you want to comment on. It’s like the film’s creators were unsure of how they were going to approach the various concepts tied up in the idea, and said ‘let’s just see how we go.’ The result was a scattered treatment with no clear structure or commentary (and commentary is inescapable when discussing the merits of lying versus truth) and a lacklustre attempt at religious parallels. A few clever touches snuck in once Jesus entered the fray, but unfortunately the funniest part of that whole section of the story was Gervais’s wig – and when you’re laughing at wigs harder than you are dialogue, there’s a problem.

The cast, whilst rife with superstardom and talent, failed to deliver. Rob Lowe had a few funny moments, but was largely a caricature, one that was difficult to like or dislike beyond what the film dictated you had to do (dislike). Tina Fey was good, but potentially underused.  Jennifer Garner was largely unlikeable – or, better put, failed to inspire any sort of feeling, not for any other reason than she was boring, and even the comedy stalwart of the lead’s best friend, played by Louis C.K., was completely fizz-less, as was the relationship between him and Gervais.

The sad thing is, this could have been done well. A more ruthless approach to the premise – what stays, what goes, what do we want to actually say with this film – would have been a good start. A tighter script with less toilet humour, more British subtlety would have been the next step. An entirely new female lead might also have been a good idea.

Overall, the film brings nothing new to the table. This is forgivable if the familiar points you’re making are made with wit and insight. However saying nothing new and walking well trodden ground without wit or insight is unforgivable. And for the man who brought us the groundbreaking comedy The Office it is especially so.

Get out of the USA Ricky. Go home, sharpen your teeth and come back to us the way we love you – raw, unafraid and diabolically funny.

Our Girls; Aussie Pin Ups of the 40s and 50s

First published in Trespass Magazine on 24/11/2009

Our Girls; Aussie Pin Ups of the 40s and 50s

Madeleine Hamilton

I’ve recently become quite preoccupied with Australian history, since learning more about the convict ancestry on my mother’s side and seeing bits and pieces of a memoir being published on my father’s side. So I was rather thrilled to receive this lovely little book in the mail, packed as it is, with tales and photos from 1940s and 50s Australia.

Self professed aficionado of mid-20th century design and pop culture, Madeleine Hamilton has gone looking for Australia’s answer to the bombshells and Cheesecake girls and the result is a beautiful trip down Australian culture’s memory lane.

In the fascinating post-war period, Australian women were, according to Hamilton, ‘leading far more complex lives than the ads for refrigerators and floor cleaners suggested.’ The notion of femininity and sexuality, a continually morphing concept, was once again on the move. As was Australia as a country, growing quicker than the hem of her skirt could be let down. It was an exciting period and these girls were the provocative faces of its popular culture.

We can rattle off the American beauties of the 40s and 50s with ease. We know their stories, their mythology and their, more often than not, tragedies. But we know nothing about our own girls, which is what makes this book such a little treasure. Along with photos of the girls in all their suggestive glory, original magazine covers and posters, Our Girls; Aussie Pin Ups of the 40s and 50s looks at the stories behind the women with the artfully posed legs and sparkly eyes – and let me tell you, they make for far more interesting reading than the ones behind today’s pin ups, who pale in comparison in every which way.

Arcade Publications

RRP $18

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

If you are a crime fiction fan, then there will come a time when you no longer can ignore the giant shadow that looms over the genre in the form of Raymond Chandler. A shell-shocked alcoholic who decided he could write crime just as well as anyone else, Chandler turned to novels relatively late in life (he was fifty one when he wrote The Big Sleep). From there he made the jump to screenplays, including The Blue Dahlia (1946) and collaborating on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) while continuing to write his novels. He also continued to drink and eventually drank himself to death, dying in 1959 at the age of 71.

The Big Sleep (1939) is the first of his Phillip Marlowe series and stands as one of the greatest contemporary crime novels ever written and Marlowe himself as one of the ultimate characters of the genre. The famous opening paragraph is enough reason for both claims. It’s perfect.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

As a crime lover, I have become accustomed, perhaps even desensitized to, the world of DNA and detailed gore that belongs to the genre in its modern incarnation. When I pick up a crime novel, I need a lot to keep me satisfied. I need intrigue and forensics, mystery and murder, psychopathy and psychology, twisted protagonists and tortured perpetrators. Most, recently, bar Stieg Larssen’s trilogy, have failed to satisfy. My faith in the genre has been waning.

I read The Big Sleep just in time. It was a timely reminder of the cleverness required of crime writing, the light touch needed to twist the plot just when the time is right, and the character work necessary to justify out of the ordinary behaviour. Chandler has it all in spades. The bells and whistles of forensics are a long way away and mysteries are solved with whiskey, instinct and a whole lot of nous.

Phillip Marlowe, the original cynical, fearless private dick hero, is called upon by an ailing millionaire, General Sternwood, to track down a blackmailer who is allegedly owed gambling debts by one of Sternwood’s wild daughters. And so it begins. Pornography rackets, gambling, deception and seduction, The Big Sleep has all the ingredients and Chandler spoons out the twists and turns with bang on descriptions and spectacular inner monologue. The city of angels takes on a whole different colour of dirt and its occupants both a hedonism and darkness that creates the perfect backdrop for a perfectly murky, seedy tale where nothing is ever what it seems, particularly not when the wealthy and beautiful are involved.

Chandler plays with language and the reader is richly rewarded. He may well have kept a notebook in which to jot down metaphors as they came to him, they are so deftly scattered throughout the story. The humour is dark, the judgment silent but ever-present and the man at the centre of it all so utterly mysterious, thank God Chandler wrote a series.

Penguin Books, $9.95

The Return of the Upper Arm

First published on Trespass 19/11/2009

So I’ve just been eyeing Rihanna’s cellulite over a morning cup of tea. I didn’t seek it out, really, it was just part of my daily ingestion of sensationalism over at The Daily Mail. Anyway, that’s all by the by, because as interesting as my cellulite-watch justifications are, there’s something a little more interesting that’s happening and I want to know if you’re all noticing it too.

There has been a lot of noise, for quite some time, about the whole body image thing. So much noise, in fact, I daresay those two words make everyone want to cover their ears and scream. And fair enough. But whilst all that noise has been happening, something else has too. I can’t help but notice that, rather quietly, arms have crept back into the realm of acceptability. With a little bit of thigh and stomach on the side. But let’s start with the arms.

For so long, arms have been banished to the Naughty Fat Corner. Arms were less okay than, say, the casual flash of one’s most intimate area. But now, now I can’t help but notice upper arms are making a comeback, sliding silently back onto screen and into magazines with little more than a relieved sigh at losing the taboo tag. Britney Spears has upper arms that move when she does. So does Tyra Banks and Kelly Clarkson and Mariah Carey. Kelly Osbourne is dancing about the stage with her arms on one of America’s highest rated programs. Hilary Duff has arms and legs and so does Jordin Sparks.

Joining the upper arms, a little shyly and with a modest blush, are legs. Thighs. The Kardashian sisters have thighs. And they’re three of America’s most famous women right now (a fact which deserves more attention at a later date). Rihanna has thighs. So does Blake Lively (lovely, long thighs, but they’re there nevertheless) and Beyonce and Leona Lewis and Bones’ Emily Deschanel and Greek’s Spencer Grammer.

It seems to me, that whilst all this hoo ha has been going on about body image, an ever so quiet revolution is taking place. It’s a small one, and with every two steps forward, there’s a stupid magazine article waiting to kick it two steps back, but it is undeniably happening.

Baby steps my friends, it’s all about baby steps. We’re nowhere near where we need to be in our attitudes towards what constitutes femininity and beauty, but I think the pendulum is starting to swing. Body parts that were once starved/blasted/sliced/shamed/photoshopped off, are reappearing in the public domain as normal and accepted. And that’s precisely what we need to have happen. The change won’t come about because one indie magazine runs Beth Ditto in her birthday suit on the cover (however bold that move was). It won’t come about from lauding an extreme body type whilst bashing another. It will come about through the steady reintroduction of body shapes and sizes into our daily media diet. And that, on some scale, appears to be happening. Thank God.

 

Hilary Duff image credit

Rihanna image credit