Friday, 13 April 2012


Whilst attempting an accessory repair I just attached myself to my hairclip in a synergy of superglue, ribbon, and fail.

The hairclip now has both my skin and my fingerprints embedded in it, perhaps permanently.

Manners, mobiles and a double espresso

A coffee shop in Norwich has taken up arms and begun a crusade against what I've long considered the scourge of modern manners - the mobile phone. The Little Red Roaster has a new policy refusing service to anyone who talks on a mobile while placing an order, the BBC reported this week. Good for them, say I.

I find over-reliance on mobile phones both frustrating and disheartening - frustrating because of the rudeness and inconsideration it causes, and disheartening because it shows just how slavish to technology some people have become while they habitually update every tiny detail of their lives to social media.

guide to mobile phone etiquette is a sad thing, a voice crying in the wilderness of the social rules that really should not have to be rules at all because they should be the way a mature, sensible person naturally acts.

Good manners and true classiness are about how you treat people, not about how much money you make or how big your house is or how many designer labels you're wearing. The rules of etiquette and manners are there primarily to show consideration of the people around you and by extension to create a more pleasant and harmonious world. We all know it's impolite to talk with your mouth full because it's unpleasant for your dining companions to see your half-chewed food, and because it impedes the flow of social conversation. It's rude to drop litter because it's a blot on the environment. In the same way it’s rude to use a mobile phone inconsiderately because of the way it makes other people feel.

I've never worked in catering, but I have had many jobs where I have felt unimportant or ignored, and if I was standing behind a counter and the person in front didn’t even have the consideration for me to give me their full attention for the few seconds it would take to order, I'd feel pretty insulted. I may be oversensitive, but whenever I'm in a social situation and someone keeps fiddling with their phone I feel somewhat rejected - as if the person at the other end of the line is who they'd rather be talking to, or maybe that I'm considered second-tier and that my company just doesn’t matter enough to them to hold their attention.

It's my very firm view that a mobile phone has no place on the dinner table unless one is either dining alone, at a working lunch, or when an emergency call is anticipated; in these latter cases the person expecting the call should mention in advance that she may have to take a call and excuse herself when it happens.

I'm not even going to talk about the number of drivers I see talking on their phones or even texting from behind the wheel(!) while I'm walking back from the train station in the evenings because that's not just bad manners, it's stupid, it's dangerous and quite rightly criminal.

A more abstract frustration for me is the use of mobile phones in the cinema. There's an advert showing in cinemas at present in the great Swiftian tradition of using satire to make an ethical point, depicting the use of sniffer dogs and airport style security to prevent people texting during a film. Personally I think that's a splendid idea. Not only does the constant blinking of white phone screens in a packed cinema distract me from the screen and give me a thumping headache, my mind is boggled by the thought that technology has let some people become so co-dependent they can’t go even two hours without being in contact with someone.

On a purely mercenary level, it can cost up to £10 in my local cinema even before popcorn is factored in - I can't understand why anyone would pay that much and then not give their full attention to the film they've paid to see. But then I'm one of those awful people who has to squeeze the value out of everything. I've been known to stay grittily awake, channel hopping through the personal entertainment system of a long haul flight because if I've paid £500 to get to my destination, I'm not going to sleep through the journey. I'm going to watch as many films as I can and drink everything that's offered to me.

Mobile phones are there to facilitate communication, but too often they become a replacement for real contact. That's not just inconsiderate and rude; that's also very sad.

But because it's Friday and I want to prove I'm not a total grump, here's the latest of the Britain's Got Talent auditions to go viral; a de profundis meditation on another type of phone-related anguish, and the cry of the lost soul - "Ah where me keys, ah where me phone?"

Monday, 9 April 2012

Just how bad is Showgirls, really?

Catholic doctrine says that on the day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, Jesus descended into Hell and led out from torment the souls of the virtuous pagans - the morally good people who had died before his coming. After staying up until 1 am on Saturday night to watch Showgirls from start to finish for the very first time, I know exactly how He felt.

I've tried to watch it before, but have never got more than halfway, largely abandoning it during the infamous pool-sex scene between a floppy-haired Kyle MacLachlan and a pneumatic Jessie from Saved by the Bell. As a result I've previously been spared the film's ending with its ridiculous doses of Deus Ex Machina and Isn't It Great We're All Better People.

The question is, just how bad is this film? It's become a Hollywood byword and shorthand for not just a turkey but the entire platter of stuffing, gravy and roast potatoes. As an unlikely cult film, can a modern feminist really watch it as either a satire on the misogyny of both the characters and their world, or as a piece of high-camp, harmless and glittery fluff  that's so bad it's good? Or is there really no saving the film from lines like "man, everybody got AIDS and shit"?

"There is no such thing as too much hair glitter, Kyle"
Whether the director of Showgirls knew exactly how bad a film he was making is a question film critics have never been able to fully answer. On the one hand, Paul Verhoeven has dealt in straight-faced political satire before in the Starship Troopers franchise, which  played an action-adventure as a fascist, hyper-masculine nightmare, cleverly skewering the gung-ho and emerging neo-conservative hawkishness in the American public.

On the other, he pulled a Smithee and had his name changed to Jan Jensen in Showgirls' TV edit, which saw digitally animated underwear added to several scenes. Did he really believe in his artistic vision so much he would not put his name to a bowdlerised version?

There are major spoilers ahead, but since nobody's watching for the plot, I don't suppose it matters.

The film is cheerfully amoral in its presentation of the tactics used by its protagonist to get to the top, even presenting what she thinks of as her few standards of decency as hypocrisy. Nomi Malone (see what they did there?) might be happy to strip and lapdance her way to fame, or seduce her boss and push her professional rival down the stairs but she reacts with arm-flinging horror when anyone calls her a "whore". Interestingly, Nevada is the one US state where prostitution is legal, so why Nomi is so shocked at the prospect of turning tricks is one of the film's many holes in characterisation. But what's this! It turns out that Nomi used to be a prostitute after all, and it's a life she thinks she'd left behind. Her outrage at the label is not a question of crossing a moral line or of dignity or self-respect, it's just that she wanted to escape and build a different persona - that of a woman who's now in control of her career.  But that doesn't matter because not even the star on whom she inflicts a career-ending injury is angry about it. It's even implied that Cristal got her big break doing the same thing. Seemingly anything goes in Vegas, even GBH.

You have no idea how long it took to find worksafe promo stills.
The presentation of the art of dance is problematic - or is it? Again, there are notes of satire but the presentation is jarring. There are hierarchies within hierarchies in Showgirls' Vegas. The headliner Cristal Connors says whatever happens at the Cheetah Lounge where Nomi works as a nude dancer isn't dancing, yet her own dance numbers are conducted almost fully nude but for body paint or in leather fetish wear.  The film's only voice for dance as a real art comes in the character of James, an Alvin Ailey trained dancer who thinks Nomi is too talented for a life in the sex industry. His character arc bears out the interpretation of the film as straight-faced satire. He himself is talented but works a succession of low paid jobs as a bouncer and hotel porter, presumably because there's little market in Vegas for modern ballet. Setting aside the critical observation that Elizabeth Berkley's dancing is genuinely atrocious, James wants her to star in his latest piece of modern dance, but of course it's about strippers. What else would a man so opposed to the sex industry and is yet a self-confessed sex addict choreograph a piece about? His work gets booed off stage and he decides to forget dance, and settle down with an ordinary job, get married (to a stripper he met in the previous reel. Of course.) and be a father.  The message here seems to be that if you want to make art, don't try and peddle it to the masses. Stay off-Broadway where you belong. That's a pretty bleak message, but fits with the idea of the film and its characters showing up the tastelessness of life in this version of the so-called Sin City.

I'm out of stills, so here is what came up
when I Googled "Most boring stock photo"
The film's sex scenes are eye-gougingly unerotic. Nomi bounces on Kyle MacLachlan's lap in the manner of a Russian wrestler going for a submission hold, and flops about in the pool like a landed haddock with her legs clenched around his... upper torso? I'm not entirely sure that male genitalia is located there.

Despite or perhaps because Nomi spends almost 20 minutes of the film entirely naked, the overhyped erotica is actually a turnoff and the horrible, sexist jokes spouted by the Cheetah Club's female Emcee are unfunny and crude, so does that mean the film is a comment on the sheer ridiculousness of the whole business?

I could buy all that, but for one scene near the end of the film which destroys all alternative interpretation for me. The one character with any moral compass or professional integrity is beaten and viciously gang raped after being lured to a celebrity's bedroom, and it has nothing satirical about it. It's done for pure shock value, and in plot terms is a hamfisted way of driving the final act of the departure of the protagonist from Las Vegas. We see the attack in ugly, bloody detail in a scene that if you find erotic, I  think it's time you unsubscribed from this blog. There's no plot reason for it either. It comes entirely out of leftfield with no artistic or character-driven reason, and even without foreshadowing unless you count the ugly production number in which Cristal's character is not only gang raped, she's then hypnotised/seduced/ randomly turned into a sub biker in leather underwear performing what's supposed to be steamy lesbian pas de deux. Just to make the rape scene even more exploitative and violent, it involves three attackers, all of whom are large, strongly built men and a small, slim victim. She's given no chance to defend herself or escape. Viewing the scene when juxtaposed with the earlier ridiculousness of the "sexy" dance routines is deeply uncomfortable.

Without the rape scene, Showgirls is a tasteless, glittery mess but if watched with a bottle of tequila just about passes for entertainment. With the rape, it enters darker and uglier territory, becoming exploitative of both the viewer and the performer. And if that's entertainment, I want no part of it.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Bank Holiday Bonus manicure - Dark French

Dark French
Another variation on the French manicure is to use the traditional natural-coloured base and to  paint the tips in colour rather than white. This can be cheerful and bright or as in this case, darker and more film-noirish.

For the manicure below I tidied my mails with my reliable old crystal file as before, and moistursed with two coats of a hydrating mask. I then used two coats of Hard as Nails to give a glossy and protective finish. The colour on the tips is hard to see in these pictures and looks far darker than it is in real life, but it's Ruby and Millie's nail polish in Wine; a very deep and glossy berry-toned red.

I haven't supplied a link as Ruby and Millie products were withdrawn from sale in 2011 pending a retro-themed relaunch which still hasn't happened, but which I'm anticipating with credit card at the ready.
Very slightly gothy but still elegant enough for the workplace

Monday, 2 April 2012

Monday Manicure - Coloured French

Nail art is shaping up to be one of the beauty trends of this Spring-Summer, so I thought I'd get a little practice in with some very simple designs before moving onto anything more complex. It's been ages since I did a French manicure and my hand is a bit wobbly, but I'm pleased with the choice of colour and the contrast between the high-gloss of the azure blue and the more subtle sheen of the gold tips. It took me a while to decide which way round to order the colours, because I think having gold as a base coat with vibrant blue tips would work equally well.

As with any variation of the French manicure it's imperative that the nails are shaped evenly and are in good condition before you start. I'm always careful to keep the length conservative and the shape of my nails a gentle oval rather than the popular if aggressive-looking square, because to me that just says porn star.

A French manicure can be a little more forgiving on uneven nails if you choose a deep or bright colour as I've done here because the line of the nail tips will be drawn on following whatever seems the most pleasing line, not simply highlighting the natural shape as with the traditional white-tipped French.

For the look featured here I prepared my nails with a crystal nail file - the best beauty purchase anyone can make - then used a cuticle remover and two coats of a moisturing mask before applying Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails as a base coat. The rich tone of the blue base colour is down to two coats of No 7's Stay Perfect pigment rich nail colour in Poolside Blue, while the gold tips are Revlon's Gold Coin nail enamel. I finished with two layers of the Sally Hansen to seal and protect it.

The pictures aren't great as they were taken with my mobile phone camera ( Oh, the deprivation I live with!) but I hope they give a feel of the colours and the glossy finish.
Gratuitous picture of Dita.

Next up will be a design shamefully poached from a description given to me by colleague at work today, who told me that a friend of hers has recently painted her nails black and filled in the half-moons at the base of the nail with gold. I particularly like this idea as it reminds me of the delectable Dita von Teese, who is often seen with a vintage look that sees the half moons either painted white or left empty of colour altogether.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The best, the worst and the strangest Oscar fashions

As threatened by innumerable commentators, The Artist proved to be the big winner of last night's Academy Awards, with a Best Actor award for Jean Dujardin that in your hostess' opinion should have blatantly gone to Gary Oldman. See my previous blog post for the furrowing of brow that accompanied my exit from the cinema.

Since the official Oscar livestream is unavailable outside of the US, I spent the evening flicking back and forth between the PopSugar and OTRC streams; although the latter lost points for its surreally panicked voiceovers of "Ok, are we doing this bit now? No that's wrong. Umm..." and the host who clung onto his powder compact and blusher brush for grim death, fervently grinding face powder into his shiny forehead with ever more regularity.

I was expecting an Oscar red carpet that would be of a more muted hue than usual. With the US economy sinking ever deeper into recession and with a corresponding anger and resentment towards the super-rich, I was anticipating a palette of muted plums, pinks and gunmetal greys, with a more understated level of bling than in previous years. I wasn't entirely correct, but my instinct that this would be a less colourful affair than previous years was borne out by the lack of bright hues, though there were a couple of notable reds and a couple of greens; although these were muted dark forest shades rather than emeralds. Classic blacks and whites were popular choices along with metallics and sequins, particularly in gold. There wasn't much jewellery that caught my eye, and I'm normally drawn in like a tractor beam and hypnotised by anything above a couple of carats. Overall, the fashion choices were safe and even a little conservative.

Makeup was classic with few surprises. I love dark nail polishes so I was happy to see Kirsten Wiig with a midnight-blue manicure in a universally flattering oval nail shape. For the most part hair seemed to be soft and natural-looking with soft waves a far more popular choice than updos. Out of all the beauty trends that could influence this season, I can see the simple twist worn by Stacy Kiebler as having the most mileage among the public.

After the jump, an image-heavy rundown of the bests, the worsts, and the could-do-betters.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Why "The Artist" has no clothes

(Warning - this post contains spoilers for "The Artist")

Tonight sees the 84th Academy Awards, and like last year I will be spending the evening watching a livestream of the red carpet and trading commentary on instant messenger on the fashion choices of the be-spangled celebrities running the press gauntlet.

The prospect of the ceremony itself fills me with dejection, because if the pundits are right, "The Artist" is going to sweep the board. I know I'm in a tiny minority, and I know I'm going to get flak for this, but I'm going to come right out and say it. I really disliked the film. I admit I am biased because the presence on-screen of cute bouncing performing dogs makes my teeth hurt, but I also have more objective criticisms. The lead character was unpleasant, the plot was paper-thin, and the ending blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever seen "Singin' in the Rain."

In fact, the great Gene Kelly musical casts a long and dark shadow over The Artist, which borrows from the earlier film so heavily that it borders on outright plagiarism. The entire opening sequence, where the "hero" arrives at the premiere of his latest film to fainting fans and a gushing audience, then delivers a pseudo-humble tribute to his crew and co-star - a blond harridan who looks ready to tear the romantic lead into bits and is prevented from reaching the stage to get her own tribute - is lifted directly from the 1952 movie.

My biggest problem with "The Artist" is its lead character, the silent film idol George Valentin. Again, he's a pale shadow of Kelly's Don Lockwood, but with a markedly more bland personality. Despite the film's title, he's no artist - his entire screen career has been built on the wearing of white tie and tails, looking heroic and playing with his cute Jack Russell dog. He's a spoiled, selfish man-child who has been given an entire movie studio as a sandpit to play in and who has never had to face the real, adult world. He's meant to come across as fun-loving and carefree, but to me his clowning is simply tiresome. The scene at the breakfast table where he brandishes the dog  as an attempt to defuse his (much older) wife's anger over a publicity stunt which involved flirting with an attractive young fan smacks to me of a little boy trying and failing to charm his way out of trouble. 

Not me, watching this film. But close.
Where Don Lockwood had his highly-implied Sassy Gay Friend in the shape of Don O'Connor's Cosmo, Valentin seems to have real trouble building a relationship with anyone of his own age. His wife is a stern and humourless Old Money mother figure - the splendid mansion they live in belongs to her, and she has no hesitation in throwing him out when his career nosedives. His loyal valet is again much older; an overlooked, self-sacrificing cypher of a character who lives only to care for his master, even refusing wages and preferring to work for free rather than find other employment when Valentin is inevitably made bankrupt.

At no point in the entire movie was I rooting for the lead character. I found it hard to see him as having any emotional character arc; he's as stubborn and self-important at the end of the film as at the beginning. By the end of the movie he's gained a new career and a new love, but what has he truly learned? No humility, no real gratitude - no real maturity.

The film's not all bad. The costumes and the 1920s setting are beautiful, and female lead Berenice Bejo as the young, feisty new kid on the studio block (another character we've seen before in Singin' in the Rain) is simply luminous. Her character has the potential to be far more engaging than Valentin and unlike him she keeps hold of her altruism and integrity, remembering that he helped her on the road to stardom and wanting to help him in return. Her character of Peppy Miller is presented as a genuine talent who embraces the new format of the talkies as a means of creating a new type of art and performance. Compare her to Valentin who knows only how to gurn into the camera and repeat the same film over and over again. Sadly, to me that's exactly what this film is doing - repeating something that was classic and magical and only showing up its own flaws.