“Danny doesn’t want to think about it any more, Mrs Torrance”
Thanks (?) to Verso Books I became aware of this splendid photograph by Annie Leibovitz, of Susan Sontag dressed as a bear. She just is, OK?
The bear costume, the hard stare, the keyboard. It immediately reminded me of something.
Now we know why Wendy was so freaked out. How the hell did Susan Sontag get in here? Forever more I will involuntarily associate her with evil ghost bear BJs at The Overlook Hotel. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of my favourite films, for one thing because of scenes like this where Kubrick– in contrast to the story’s original author, Stephen King, whose prose allows no dead horse to remain unflogged and leaves nothing that goes without saying unsaid– evokes vast realms of back story and untold narrative riches with just a few shots and one ineradicable image.
Even if that image is now irrevocably and randomly mixed up with Susan Sontag. Aren’t you glad I shared it with you?
It’s been out a while, but I only just got around to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, the enigmatic, glacial barely-horror film in which an alien (Scarlett Johansson) drives around in a white Transit van and preys upon lone men in Scotland. I’ve not read the novel by Michel Faber, upon which the film was based, so this discussion is purely about the latter. There’ll be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film and you’re one of those big babies there’s plenty of other things to read on this blog.
You know some bad news is coming, because I’ll start with the good. The film captures the bleak beauty and grey light of Scotland perfectly. It looks like the most grimly lush Radiohead video ever, if Radiohead singles were ever nearly two hours long. The score by Mica Levi puts many a mainstream horror soundtrack to shame with its angular, insectoid weirdness. Over the past year or so I’d say that only Cristabal Tapia De Veer’s peculiar score for Channel 4’s Utopia was better, more inventive or more crucial to the production’s atmosphere. Johansson seems to pick her acting roles at random out of a hat, and in the wrong film she can be stiff as a board and half as interesting. Given the chance, though, she can do great work. Making one of Sofia Coppola’s dreary chorus line of autobiographical Poor Little Rich Girl non-characters sympathetic (Lost in Translation) is quite an achievement, even when Bill Murray brings his full chemistry set. In Her, Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix trowel on the protagonist’s lonely, nerdy life as a sadsack spod so thickly that we don’t doubt he’d take up all manner of hikikomori activities. It’s Johansson, however, whose voice performance really sells the concept of an incorporeal artificial intelligence product that loves and is lovable while at the same time never really anybody’s at all.
Conversely in Under the Skin, Johansson barely speaks through the whole film, but watch the extraordinary and chilling way her amoral, calculating character performs feminine charm and accommodation then a split second later looks like a dead cod lying on a bed of ice at the fishmonger’s. The only character comparison that immediately comes to mind is Daryl Hannah as Pris and Joanna Cassidy as Zhora in Blade Runner, inhuman humans who know exactly which male buttons to press but would snuff any man, woman or child without blinking. Hannah and Cassidy never got as much to do in Blade Runner as Johansson does here. Continue Reading
When your wrist is tired, the blog also has Victoriana, Japanese oddities, occult stuff, and much more. Check out the categories from the menu at the top, or from the tag cloud over in the right sidebar.
If you ever watched horror films in the 1980s or 1990s and thought to yourself “Freddy Krueger’s OK, but what this keloid-deformed, ultraviolent, serial killing child molester really needs is fishnet stockings and a massive rack”, then today you have finally hit the jackpot, my friend. A Japanese company is now offering this bishoujo Freddy statue, or “stuatue” as they have it on their site. I know by now it almost goes without saying that if we discover a highly inappropriate item has been sexualised, then somebody Japanese will probably be responsible. I take a glass-half-full attitude towards this fact, though. These figures are very, very wrong but bless your filthy, weird, perverted Japanese minds.
Bishoujo or bishōjo (美少女)means “beautiful young girl”, and is usually taken to mean a woman younger than university age. Given the obvious intent behind this item, it’s reasonable to translate the figure’s Japanese name into English as Barely Legal Freddy Krueger. Their tagline plays on the Krueger playground rhyme heard in the films (i.e. “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…”): 1つ、2つ、フレディが来るよ・・・美少女になって！ My Japanese isn’t great, but I think this could be translated idiomatically as “One, two, Freddy’s coming… and becoming a girl!”
They also point out that she’s standing in a pool of blood– which is always good fun, isn’t it?– and furthermore she has a “nice chest” and a “thigh gap”, i.e. the tops of her inner thighs wouldn’t touch each other even when she’s standing with her feet together. For those fortunate enough not to know already, it is my sad duty to report that this latter fetish item is the most recent body dysmorphic, mostly impossible beauty ideal being pushed by the fashion world and its related fucking-with-the-minds-of-women and normality-pathologising industries. It’s also worth noting that Freddy has used her trademark murder weapons to cut herself on the shoulder and thigh, because there’s nothing sexier than self-harming anorexic teenage girls, right?
Jailbait Jason Voorhees (from the interminable Friday the 13th series) is also available, and she too seems to have experienced some difficulty in dressing herself sensibly. Doesn’t she get chilly dressed like this, hiding in the bushes and spending ages inside cupboards or under floorboards preparing for that perfect kill? This relentless, remorseless killing machine has an axe, a machete, the iconic hockey mask, “powerful sixpack abs” and, most crucially of all, large breasts.
Last week I had the chance to visit the British Museum’s exhibition of shunga, which translates as the rather euphemistic “Spring paintings”: Japanese erotic prints and books from the medieval period up to the turn of the twentieth century. So it’s Spring as in sap rising, if you know what I mean.
Given the enduring popularity at this blog of James Joyce’s bum letters and the number of people who come here trying to find out (in English) what the octopus is saying in Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, I thought some of you perverts scholars may be interested to hear a bit about the exhibition. It’s worth a visit if you can get to London and you’re into Japanese culture and/or smutty pictures; therein lies one of the unintentionally funny things about it. Yes, every single day at the British Museum hundreds of respectable middle class people are spending a hour or more scrutinising vintage porn with no holds barred depictions of what goes where. I suspect many of them would say (like the complacent wife in Airplane!) that Jim never looks at porn when he’s at home, and many of them are Telegraph readers or Guardianistas who’d probably assert that pornography is demeaning and sordid. Yet here they are, earnestly checking out pictures of famous actors’ penises… albeit famous actors’ penises from over a century ago. It’s all strangely un-arousing anyway, at least to me.
There are also some inadvertently amusing pseudo-scholarly captions such as “the unusually large size of the colour print serves to accomodate the orgy”. Er, yes… it does. The print in question (circa 1785) shows a travelling salesman being set upon by six housewives who in true pornographic style are all absolutely gagging for it, proving that where (heterosexual/heteronormative male) sexual fantasies are concerned, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Complaints about pornography being unrealistic and damaging to the body images of “real” people are also nothing new. In 1254 a chap called Tachibana no Narisue wrote that “the old [shunga] masters depict the size of the thing far too large … If it were depicted actual size there would be nothing of interest. For that reason, don’t we say art is fantasy?”
If you’re on the front page this post has some rather explicit images and text after the “continue reading” link, so NSFW unless you work at a Japanese vendor of sexy prints during the Edo era, OK?
The standard story is that the carnivorous Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) plant’s name refers to the Roman goddess of love, without going into too much detail. Muscipula actually means mousetrap, not flytrap, but that’s not important right now (to quote Airplane! for no apparent reason).
Dionaea means “daughter of Dione”, i.e. Aphrodite, Venus’ Greek counterpart. This fixation on love goddesses gives some clue as to the real reason for the name; the filthy minds and sniggering schoolboy humour of 18th century naturalists. To them it was equally salient that it trapped and digested unsuspecting visitors (hence, flytrap) and that it had two touch sensitive, reddish lobes surrounded by hair… i.e. it reminded them of female genitalia. That link isn’t at all obscene, by the way, it just gives some more background information on the perpetrators of this Linnean lewdness.
I admit that I’m no gynaecologist, but I think it’s highly unlikely that any of their wives were harbouring anything like this down below…
… although apparently sex is what came to the minds of those mixed-up pervs when they saw an inviting Flytrap squeeze the life out of whatever foolish creature blundered into Venus’ clutches.
Sigmund Freud: “Please step into my office, gentlemen.”
I suspect this information may add a certain je ne sais quois to future Little Shop of Horrors viewings.
The final post inspired by Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. Penguins and their gayness hardly need an introduction given the ubiquity of “on the lighter side” news reports about male Penguin couples in zoos. Wild Humboldt Penguins live in groups of 10-60 individuals, but King Penguin communities can consist of up to 300,000 pairs. Lifelong homosexual pair bonds develop between male Humboldts. They usually live together in a nest they’ve built. They also both take part in the magnificently named “ecstatic display” in which the male stretches out his head and neck, flapping his flippers and emitting a loud braying sound.
Males in heterosexual pairs also sometimes court and copulate with other heterosexually paired males and with females other than their own mate. In zoo populations of Humboldts, at least 5% of all pairs are exclusively homosexual. Other males are bisexual, pairing with males after losing a female partner.
Homosexual relationships between King Penguins are less durable, often ending in divorce after about a year. Like Humboldts, some King Penguins never show any interest in heterosexual relationships.
There are other variations on the monogamous pair and the nuclear family. About a quarter of heterosexual pairings end in divorce, often with the female leaving the male. About 6% of chicks are raised by single parents. Like the Hooded Warblers mentioned last time, Penguins occasionally (about 5% of the time) form trios. Non breeding females may join a breeding pair as a kind of nanny. Kidnap of eggs or chicks by chickless penguins occurs sometimes. It’s like a Penguin soap opera.
These birds take part in all manner of homosexual and alternate-heterosexual family arrangements. Heterosexual pairs rarely build nests, but when two males get together they build one together. Sometimes they raise eggs that have been parasitically laid in their nest by a Cowbird. Male pairs also adopt eggs that have been abandoned by a female Warbler, or they shack up with another male after the female leaves; up to 50% of heterosexual pairings lead to this kind of “divorce”. There are also three-way partnerships in addition to pairs, but despite this superficial monogamy (or binogamy) over a third of Hooded Warbler young were fathered by males playing away from their partners. Single parenting is also common.
Plumage transvestism (i.e. females having some degree of male plumage and therefore a transgendered appearance) is also very frequent. This ranges from having a few black feathers on the head like a male to being visually indistinguishable from a male. In this species males are mostly the only ones who sing, but some of the transvestite females are able to sing as well.
These Flycatchers have a complex social organisation and three distinct types of male. About 42% are territorial, defending “courts” in the foliage within which they perform courtship displays. Sometimes groups of these territorials form an area of several nearby display courts, also known as a lek. 10% of males are satellites who associate with territorials but do not display. This could be regarded as a form of apprenticeship, since they often inherit the territory when the owner retires. 48% of males are itinerant and have no territory either of their own or in waiting.
The aim of the male leks is to attract a female mate, but territorial males will also court other males who visit. These visiting males will adopt the behaviour of females in every detail and be courted as if they really were female. Most interestingly of all, it appears that the courting males only realise that their mate is male when they reach the point of mating with them. At this point they will usually chase away the behaviourally “transvestite” male. The itinerant males, conversely, must be well aware that they are being courted by another male. There have been observations of apparently bisexual territorial males who court females in their own territory, but then go as a visitor in search of same-sex action in the territories of other males.
Today, the 16th of June, is Bloomsday: the annual celebration of the life and work of James Joyce in general, and of his landmark Modernist novel Ulysses in particular. It’s a landmark in the literary sense and also in the geographical sense, a dauntingly huge and dense wodge of cellulose. If ever a book was better read weightlessly as an e-book, Ulysses is it. June 16th 1904 is the Dublin day described in hyperreal detail by the book’s protagonist Leopold Bloom, and re-enacted by Joyce fanatics every year since 1954.
The 16th of June was also significant as the date of Joyce’s first outing with the woman who would become his beloved wife, Nora Barnacle. So why don’t you celebrate Bloomsday by starting on Ulysses if you haven’t already? To be honest you might regret it and give up in frustration as many have done before, but you definitely won’t regret trying. But first, how about this:
IT’S ONLY THE BEST COMPLETEST MOST BROWNSEXFUL PAGE OF SHEER FILTH WRITTEN BY JAMES JOYCE TO HIS WIFE ON THE WHOLE BLOODY INTERNET.
It’s been linked from Tumblr, Reddit and even by those depraved little naughty farties at The Telegraph. The readership counts for the page are already predictably massive, as they are every year on this day.
And of course there’s also Kate Bush’s magnificent and typically loopy-sexy tribute to Ulysses: The Sensual World. A few years ago she finally released the song as originally intended, with quotes from Joyce. These had been forbidden by the Joyce estate in the late 80s. But I still prefer this version, if only because I don’t think there are enough pastiches of Joycean prose in the world. I think it’s more fun and more in the spirit of Joyce to make it up– as Bush was forced to– than to just quote it.
Look! Kate’s raided the costume box at the local amateur dramatic society again, now she’s sashaying through a forest fire and hopping around like a scary crow and being all sexy and whatnot. Not pictured: police search team and duty psychiatrist.
Happy Bloomsday my hot little boys and girls, you brownarsed blackguards, you whores of the hedge.
Update: Here’s a reading of the original Molly Bloom soliloquy from Ulysses, to which Kate Bush was referring.
If you like this blog and have been intrigued, titillated, surprised or disgusted by anything you've seen here then please consider sending a few £/€/$/¥ etc. my way by getting one of my books. They're written by the same person who writes this blog, so you will like them too. They're available in print, or as ebooks for every existing type of reader and tablet. You can also tip my films on Vimeo, if you want. Thanks.