I wrote a thing about #metoo. You can tell me to sod off if you like.

I’m a man writing about sexual assaults and harassment, that sort of thing.  The usual way this happens is male on female.  So, with that in mind, I will understand if you tell me to fuck off.

The Harvey Weinstein allegations did not surprise me.  Here is a powerful man in Hollywood.  I am sorry to say, given what tiny bit I know about showbusiness, that I’d assumed that the vast majority of women in Hollywood and a sizeable proportion of the men, have had to ‘be nice’ to someone in power to get what their talent deserves. Hell, it’s hiding in plain sight if you read any halfway honest autobiography. Sixty-five years ago Marilyn Monroe was clear that she needed to offer sexual favours just to get a photographer to take nice pictures of her.

That there’s an entitled culture that goes beyond this is also not in doubt. I was duped by the first interview I read with Roman Polanski. It was in Empire and it made him out to be a perpetual victim, linking the murder of Sharon Tate with his trial for, if memory serves me right, ‘sex with a girl he didn’t know was underage’. The wording may be wrong but the implication was not.  Repulsion is an amazing film. I haven’t watched it or any Polanski since reading the truth of what happened and his response to it.

And that’s a bugger because I’ve had to do the same with Woody Allen.  I held out for longer there.  I was still mentally dividing the Woody of the films that I saw and inspired me when I was a teenager and whose collected works is eye-wateringly funny from the Woody against whom the allegations could no longer be denied. Then I read Mariel Hemingway’s words.  I should have believed other people before then.  Another one to avoid.  Another name to note who is still working with him.  The ones who are maybe so used to this pervasive culture that they literally can’t see who has actually crossed a line.

A few days ago I was at work and a colleague exchanged anecdotes about a famous person in the entertainment world we’d both come across. This person wasn’t interested in young women but, rather, slightly younger boys who they obtain through the influence they can wield over these boys’ careers.  Everyone who works with them must know this. And yet they still work. People may wince but all they do is comment and look away.  As, for my sanity, I am doing now.

If all this was confined to casting couches in the entertainment world then maybe a few boycotts would change things.  If enough of us didn’t watch Harvey Weinstein produced films until it was safe to do so – like how you can now, under controlled conditions watch D W Griffiths – then we might shake a few things up.  But let’s not pretend this is remotely a Hollywood thing and a Hollywood thing alone.

As I write this, there are a lot of women sharing their experiences of sexual assault. I wasn’t shocked to be told the casting couch is real.  I can’t say the same about the level of sexual abuse that is happening all the time.  I mean, I knew it was there.  I just didn’t realise it was everywhere.  As of now there does not seem to be a single woman I know (who has offered a view) who hasn’t had some experience of molestation or worse.

And this is not happening behind closed doors or where young girls have to please old men so they can get a job. This is on a train. This is in a shop. This is with men they know and men they don’t. At work. In a park. Men who seem like nice guys and men who seem like creeps. At the gym. At a concert. Men who are by themselves and men who are in groups.  In daylight. After dark.

I have had to cross the road to avoid people who look worrying to me. I’ve had to dart into a shop because the guy who was walking behind me caused me too much anxiety.  I’ve gone a different way home because when I walked in someone creeped me out.  I’ve never had any of the above.  There are some men joining in #metoo, and quite right too, but it’s not even close to being pervasive.  And we haven’t even got close to the catcalls, the shouts from passing cars and all that.  It’s making me tired just writing a list and I don’t even have to live this.

I’m not about shutting things down in some illiberal purge. For all that it’s a horrible, horrible song, I’m not suggesting that anyone should ban Blurred Lines but maybe let’s think about a world where the women aren’t divided into nuns and whores.  Or in the fuck-off-bantz view: women who say yes, and women who say no but really mean yes.  Let’s start to think about why men need to sing about their confusion as to whether they can force themselves on this girl … and why women just roll their eyes and dance along to it.

There is a tendency, one which I sometimes fall into, of politely pointing out (I think it’s called ‘mansplaining’) that women are not always victims. It’s a response to the ‘white male tears’ drunk by upper-middle class writers who get angry when asked to check their own privilege.  There are debates to be had there certainly. Men die younger, commit suicide more, deny themselves mental and physical good health, are falling behind in education, and clog up our prisons at an alarming rate.  Men who are genuinely the victims of physical and mental abuse from women get the square root of fuck all support.  A little more understanding from all people to other people’s problems would go a long way in these divisive times.  But, I firmly believe, that having a world where women are safer because the threat of sexual assault has gone is actually one which would benefit, rather than neuter (as some seem to believe), men.

A lot of words but no answers. Except maybe this.  Think of it as a voluntary code. No one is forcing you to behave like a decent human being, you can carry on thinking your masculinity depends on how hard you can imagine pounding a woman you don’t know if you like. Just those of us who’ve thought it about have decided that you’re a fucking arsehole.  And we’re a bit bored now.  Absolutely fucking fed up of hearing about how women we know and love, as well as women we don’t know from Eve, have had to put up with your shit every single day since they first dared to walk down a street.  So, if we’ve signed up to this code, we’re going to call you out on it.  Not because we’re white knights or virtue signallers but because you’re making this one life we all get to live that bit grubbier and it doesn’t need to be this way.  And how we’ll do it will be different depending on who you are, where you are or what you’re doing. It starts with calling you a prick if that’s what you’re being and ends with a signed statement to the police. Maybe a swift punt in the nuts when no one’s looking, we’ll see.

Or at least that’s my personal manifesto. I’m just one voice on the internet writing on a blog that no one reads. But it’s my pledge: I don’t have the answers, I can’t make a difference alone, but I promise to myself and to the world at large that I will do my level best to no longer be passive and to do the right thing.

And I think if we all signed up to do this then our world would be a whole lot better. Rather like how if you educate girls suddenly you find society improves in other ways. Take the threat of sexual violence out of the air and maybe you slowly remove the other kinds of violence too.  Remove the violence and people can be freer, more able to go where they like and do what they like. It’s an actual liberal utopia.

And if you believe our world needs a bit of testosterone fuelled snarling then maybe go and have a quick wank and calm down before going outside or logging onto the internet.  It’ll make things better for everyone.


At the Piccadilly Theatre: Annie

This was my son’s birthday present. Before the show we bought some kind of pink sludge in a special branded cup. At one point, he couldn’t get the drink through the straw so I was called on to clear the blockage. I did it the best way possible and ended up swallowing an eye-wincing lump of bright, solid sugar.  Sometimes the best metaphors come at you whilst you’re killing time in the Grand Circle bar before the matinee performance.

Annie for the Saturday matinee doesn’t feature Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan and Miranda Hart has long gone. This was my first visit to the West End (somehow I’ve got to 40 without ticking off ‘go to a show’ from the bucket list) so if any of the other names involved are ‘names’ then it passed me by.  No matter, it’s the kids that make Annie what it is and Lola Moxom as this afternoon’s eponymous heroine did the job with gusto, and she was joined by a vibrant and fun group as her fellow orphans.

Annie, the musical, was born in the same year as me, but the story it tells is even older. Depression-era America is yearning for optimism.  Dating from 2011, this production obviously pre-dates Brexit but there was something frighteningly modern about seeing a government committee unable to face reality and wanting instead everyone to be more optimistic.  Even if it could though, this isn’t a production that’s going to want to land any punches on anyone or anything. In this comic book 1930s, villains are villainous and the good guys get their rewards.  As it should be.  Whether anyone would dare write a story now in which a remote billionaire picks an 11 year old girl to spend Christmas with is another matter altogether.

Some of the jokes must have been dated in 1977 but in England in 2017 it’s like trying to get a crowd of kids to laugh at ITMA.  Nobody knows who Harpo Marx is and you really shouldn’t bother keeping a Babe Ruth reference in.  It’s allowable to update some stuff, surely?  But I’m being dull.  The production works well, the ensemble have enough energy to power the lighting effects, and the central performances are warm and effecting.  It took me a few moments to get used to the sound – sort of flat in the gods, it wasn’t always easy to see who was speaking – but once I was over that everything was clear and came over easily.

I was even humming the songs by the end.

Film review: The Handmaiden

One of the search results for The Handmaiden gives you the question: is this film liberatingly erotic or a male wet dream? To which a possible answer is that The Handmaiden is often liberatingly erotic, at times a male wet dream, at times an outright condemnation of male wet dreams, and, finally, a satisfying, twistingly brilliant film.

Either ‘loosely adapted from’ or ‘inspired by’ Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, the action takes place in Japan-occupied Korea. Men in sharp suits with nice cars and servants spend much of their time sharing perverse stories and images of female degradation. Their women dress traditionally with a wide range of shoes and gloves to choose from. Everything is about control.  At the heart of this restrictedly filthy world is Lady Hideko.  She is being rooked by “Count Fujiwara”, who is actually a Korean pretending to be Japanese in order to pull of the con.  Fujiwara enlists wide-eyed beguiling thief Sook-hee to be Hideko’s handmaiden to bring his nefarious plan to a satisfying conclusion.

So far so twisted but that’s not even really the half, or quarter, of it.  Divided into three parts of overlapping story, The Handmaiden changes direction often. Scenes are revisited based on new knowledge and from a different perspective. If Rashomon was, in part, about faking sexual intimacy and violence then it would look like this.  Possibly.  There’s not much else in modern cinema that The Handmaiden looks like.

The plot, and with it the character relationships, twist and turn. Intrigue, betrayal, sex and torture all come into view.  The direction is often detached which makes the sudden passions all the more provocative.  Overall it is well-handled by Park chan-wook although my teenage self would be horrified to hear me say that the final sex scene is gratuitous and adds nothing.  The performances from our three leads – Kim Min-hee (Hideko), Kim Tae-ri (Sook-hee), Ha Jung-woo (Fujiwara) – raise a story that could have been hammy melodrama into something very special indeed.

I don’t know what the answer to the search engine question was. The article is hidden behind a pay wall. My personal take is that The Handmaiden fully deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it, and it is a rare example of a work where most of the erotic content is (a) erotic and (b) necessary. It would be nice to see a film about female desire and strength directed by a woman though.


At Hastings Arts Forum: End of the Beginning (Photo Hastings)

It’s Photo Hastings time again. I should have noticed but life has a habit of getting in the way. But, no matter, a stroll along the seafront and some eye-catching work in the window of Hastings Arts Forum and we’re away.  End of the Beginning is a showcase of work from ‘Light to Matter’ a group of University of Westminster graduates. I feel vaguely shamefaced. They put their time at Westminster to good use whereas I managed to get bored less than a year into a part-time MA in Film Studies. Anyway, about those images …

The ones I saw in the window were by Kristian Data (see them here).  They were worth the detour.  Nudes twisted like Francis Bacon paintings photographed with a lighting set-up and on backgrounds that you’d expect from a shampoo advert.  The works evoke both the strength and fragility of the human body.

There are others. Hastings-based Australian Rob Wylie for one.  His selection from Beauty in a dark place is all crisply monochromatic alleyways. Overlooked suburban snickets and hiding places. Graffiti, shop bins and flashes of the wonderful through shafts of light, the shapes formed – that sort of thing.  I liked it.  I was also struck very positively by the photography of movement – swirls of light carried across the image against a black background – by E. Jean Johnson Jones.  Joanna Burejza’s creation of new, intriguing worlds through the use of found objects is something I want to see more of – it felt like a strong idea at the start of its journey (I mean this in a good way).

There are others here.  Rather than have me list them you should go and see the show.  It’s a more than decent collection of accessible art photography that is engaging and intellectually coherent whilst also being, y’know, good photography.

On BBC Four: Men Who Sleep in Cars

Three men – Marley, Antonio and McCulloch – bed down for the night. A normal Manchester night. And their normal nocturnal habitat: their vehicles. And they are watched over, Wings of Desire style, by Maxine Peake, who introduces, narrates and connects the stories of the three men and their lost, lonely lives.

Written in verse by poet Michael Symmons Roberts, Men Who Sleep in Cars, was originally a radio play. The actors get to explore and use language that is at times stark, at times beautiful, at times enigmatic, but that throughout is delivered in tones as vital as the city in which the men sleep. On screen, Manchester plays as important a role as any of the human cast. The men, three distinct individuals rather than some lumpen mass of ground-down humanity, speak their stories and reveal their emotions to camera, as the world of the changing  but changeless city moves around them.  A good few years ago, The South Bank Show updated Night Mail and whilst if was effective it felt as if the poetry was more important than the people – that wasn’t the case here where both were neatly and equally balanced.

The BBC is getting all excited about poetry at the minute with their Contains Strong Language season ongoing. Hopefully there’s more like this to come.

At the match: Bexhill United Ladies v Crawley Wasps Reserves

Bexhill on the attack – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017, All rights reserved

It’s not unusual to arrive in Bexhill and find yourself bewildered by the state of the weather. The sunshine coast seems to be at its most blusterous here and so it was again today as the Polegrove played host to a competitive and compelling South East Counties Women’s Football League fixture.

Another week, another two avoidable goals conceded, another defeat … but actually this week was about as different from the game last week as it’s possible to imagine. All you ever want to see, really, is two teams who aren’t going to die wondering – and that’s what we had today. The wind played its part but so did a massive amount of heart and a fair bit of skill.

Crawley, with the wind, led 2-0 at the break. A goal direct from a corner that their manager thought hadn’t gone in – he was shouting unlucky even as the ball was going back to the middle – and a bit of a messy one that deceived enough people were the goals.  They had a lot of the attack but Bexhill looked smart breaking themselves. A bit cooler and they’d have been testing the Crawley ‘keeper a lot more.  In the second half, virtually all the attacking came from the home side as they pressed but time and again either bad luck or good defence kept the ball out.  Their consolation goal came late on and despite further rushes forward the match ended with the ball at the other end of the pitch and the spoils heading back to Crawley.

This was a game played in great spirit and which defied the conditions to become something very enjoyable to watch. One of these days Bexhill women will win when I’m there. I’m sure they will be grateful to know that I don’t think I’ll be able to see them again for a while. The camera was there too and when I could get the focusing right I took some photos.  They are here.

At the National Gallery: Drawn in Colour – Degas from the Burrell Collection

In 1944, Sir William Burrell and his wife gifted their art collection to the city of Glasgow.  Among the some 9,000 pieces were two dozen works by Edgar Degas.  The usual gallery for these works is now being refurbished which gives the painting an opportunity to head south for the winter and set up home in the free downstairs gallery space at the National Gallery.  And a very welcome sight they are too.

The collection covers work in oils and pastels, as well as some preparatory drawings, and includes the motifs that one might usually associate with Degas: nudes, ballet dancers and horse racing.  So this isn’t a show that’s going to challenge your perceptions about the artist or his role in the Impressionist movement.  But with the works so well presented and described it offers a chance to look anew at work that can feel so over familiar at times.

It’s probably not earth shattering to folk who know their art history but I’d never really twigged how unnatural and uncomfortable many of the poses Degas paints appear.  His women emerge twisted from the bath or lounge at inhuman angles on a sofa. Look at those and then look again at how he enjoyed the contortions and stretches of the ballet dancers, invariably caught in stress positions in the wings rather than gracefully on stage.  It’s not quite the artist-as-sociopath but it sometimes feels we’re heading in that direction.  The comment that he observed women as if he were recording a completely different species rings entirely true.  It’s just as well that his failing eyesight and impressionist style give grace and beauty to his subject.

There’s a decent catalogue to accompany the exhibition which is worth picking up if you have a spare £15 with you when you visit. Drawn in Colour shows what can be done with a free exhibition when it is well thought through and intelligently put together.

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