Friday, 25 July 2014

Bend it like Back Then

1. Grace Jones by Jean-Paul Goude
2. Ewan McGregor and Joanathan Rhys Meyers as lovers in Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine (1998)
3. Madonna in the 80s, with lots of boys 
4. From the Harry H. Weintraub collection of pre-Stonewall gay ephemera

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Gaultier's Genius

I didn't want to go at first. Prejudices of endless Breton-stripes and recycled quirkiness prevented me. But then a friend convinced me, and I went. O là là! To think that I almost missed the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican!

The first surprise: the mannequins were alive. That's right. They had faces. It was very freaky and amazing and it felt like you were staring at alien-like beings, who would open their eyes and start speaking in French. I became slightly hysterical with exhilaration. 

Then there were the clothes. Of course there were lots of Breton stripes, but they was far from boring in their various materials and unlikely shapes (think back-less tops and silk for men and giant hat-cardigans for women). And the haute-couture dresses! This lace and ex-voto number made me want to step out of my Birkenstocks and kowtow to Jean-Paul. 

Lastly I fell in love with Gaultier's long history of highlighting unusual beauties. "The conventionally pretty need not apply", he wrote in a newspaper advert in the 90s when he was looking for models. He was the first to have a North-African muse, Farida Khelfa, whom he called 'la nouvelle Parisienne', and no-one took gender-bending as far as JPG, with his male muse Tanel 20 years ago and Andrej Pejic today habitually blowing up the boundaries between male and female. 

Although, of course, nothing can be more queer, more fabulous or more enviable than to have been friends with Madonna in the 90s. What's not to love? 

"The Fashionworld of Jean-Paul Gaultier" at the Barbican in London until 24 August 2014. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

New-Wave Misogyny

Have you heard of 'Lola', Jacques Demy's film from 1961? I hadn't either until the other week. Lying half-ill in a rented flat in Paris, I stumbled across the cover with the stunning Anouk Aimée dressed as an exotic dancer. Of course I thought - 'must be all French and sophisticated?'

In fact, the whole experience was like falling for someone pretty who turns out to be incredibly dull. The story evolves around the life of Lola, a single mother and cabaret dancer, who waits for the father of her son to return (he'd disappeared seven years previously) while seducing American soldiers and flirting with her childhood friend Roland.

This is neither a tragedy nor a comedy - it is two hours of affectation. In the very lame end, Lola's long-lost beau returns as a rich man in a white Cadillac and a cowboy hat and takes her home. But why does it matter that this film is so bad? 

Maybe because of its peculiar misogyny. Like all female characters shown, Lola is confined to either vulnerability or hysteria, and is essentially lost without a husband. And yet she is not the object of intentional criticism: Demy thinks he is portraying loose Lola with sympathy (and he is, for those times), but that's exactly what makes his treatment of her so outdated. It is not irrelevant that Demy was closeted (although married to feminist filmmaker Agnes Varda) and went on to make some of the campest films in French history, including The Young Girls of Rochefort and the musical comedy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).

Jacques Demy and Catherine Deneuve on the set of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

Love Theme from 'Les Parapluies de Cherbourg'

So really, the director was projecting his own fragile fate onto Lola at a time when being a woman (let alone a homosexual man) made you a second-class citizen. This now feels outdated and funny but it helps us not to judge Demy so harshly. It's also a reminder of how far both the gay and women's liberation has come in the last 50 years.