Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jennifer Grey - Time of her life or overrated comeback?

Any fan of the iconic 80’s movie, Dirty Dancing, will be relishing in the apparent ‘comeback’ of it’s female star Jennifer Grey, who was almost as famous for her later nose job, as the movie which shot her to stardom.

Comeback is a bit of an overused dirty word I think. But I digress…

So the story goes, for those who haven’t heard, Jennifer well and truly hit the big time when Dirty Dancing, a low budget film not really expected to do big things, went nuts at the box office and became a cult classic. Following this meteoric rise, Jennifer, who had a distinctive nose, made the decision to undergo rhinoplasty. The surgery was botched, to the point where she says her friends couldn’t recognise her. She had surgery again to correct the mistake – changing her face forever.

It must have been a pretty hard thing to go through; she says she even considered changing her name to match her new face, but decided against that in the end. Not many of us could say our career and livelihood banked on how we looked. Jennifer found it increasingly difficult to get work after the surgery – no one recognised her as the awkward yet loveable Baby Houseman, or Ferris Bueller’s sister.

And so it seemed Jennifer was cast into the Hollywood purgatory, which exists for so many stars who hit the big time in one or two movies. They disappear into obscurity, only to show up in the odd B-grade ad or TV reunion.

So when Jennifer accepted a spot on the US version of Dancing With the Stars (DWTS), the irony was lost on no one. Her first performance, cleverly choreographed to a track from Dirty Dancing – ‘These Arms of Mine’ - was praised by the judges, put her on top of the leader board and saw her tipped to take out the competition.

Since Jennifer’s very first performance hit You Tube, I’ve been addicted to the weekly performances, streamed over the internet. Its like I’m experiencing my obsession with Dirty Dancing all over again. Her stylish week one Viennese waltz with that classic 1960 track by Otis Redding from the movie, with its soulful tones, was just mesmerising. I got goose bumps the first time I saw it (and yes, I may have watched it a hundred times since then). If you squint really hard Jennifer’s partner Derek Hough could almost be a young Patrick Swayze.

I was hopelessly in love with Patrick Swayze from the moment I first saw Dirty Dancing – I think I was probably eight years old. It was a big thing for my mum to let me watch it, after all, everyone knows THAT dirty dancing scene where Baby carries the watermelons and stumbles across the underground dance club. And I swear it’s purely a coincidence my boyfriend, when his hair is done just so, and the light is right, looks a little like a Patrick Swayze, circa Dirty Dancing.

I didn’t really understand the whole abortion sub-plot. And so goes the story – neither did around 40% of test viewers before the movie was even released. A studio executive famously said they should ‘burn the negative and collect the insurance’.

Thank the lord they didn’t. I can’t imagine not being able to quip “nobody puts Baby in a corner” anytime a conversation remotely allows.

Jennifer’s week two DWTS performance saw her and partner Derek take on a jive, followed by a stunning Argentine tango, which both resulted in continuing high praise and scores from the judging panel. Jennifer’s most recent week six performance wasn’t as well received as the first few. She performed a paso doble, where she was labelled ‘out of control’.

I have to admit – I’ve grown a little tired of the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars – I loved the first couple of seasons – but now the bare chests of B-grade celebrities just all look the same. I’ve seen the odd clip of the US show – but Jennifer Grey has really got me interested this year’s US season. Viewers who loved Dirty Dancing and were inspired to take up dancing themselves, are exactly the ones who will be inspired by Jennifer Grey all over again, tuning in every week to DWTS. It also helps that the TV packages leading into her performance are littered with Grey’s laughter – reminiscent of that iconic scene from Dirty Dancing, where Baby and Johnny practice lifts in the lake.

Adding to the intrigue of Jennifer’s reappearance is her recent battle with cancer. A lump was found in her thyroid and removed. She didn’t undergo any chemotherapy treatment. Grey says she’s happy just to be alive and doing something she never thought she would have the guts to do.

So why has this reappearance of Jennifer Grey struck such a chord with me and so many others? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, but I think it's somewhere in between my love of the underdog (after all she is making a ‘comeback’ after more than two decades in the Hollywood wilderness) and the fact that Jennifer actually doesn’t come across like she was looking for a comeback at all. She seems to be taking it in her stride and I don’t get the impression this is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. I suspect, from the calm and happiness she exudes, that this success is a triumph for her – like flipping the bird to Hollywood. But I also get the feeling she’s happily lived her life out of the spotlight.

The assumption that an actor or actress isn’t successful if they’re not in the spotlight for their whole career, or life for that matter, is laughable. Why is it even called a comeback? She wasn’t dead. The fact that Jennifer comes across like she could take or leave her return to fame, is what maker her so loveable – all over again.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Valentino and the art of gallery survival

Living in Australia, most of the galleries and museums I have visited have been overseas. I’ve been lucky to see some amazing pieces, paintings and pictures in my travels, but never really at home.

Valentino: Retrospective, in Brisbane
thanks to Les Arts Décoratifs
That's why I was so thrilled to learn that Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future was coming to Brisbane's relatively new Gallery of Modern Art. Brisbane is kind of my home "city"; by that I mean I didn't exactly grow up here, but I grew up near here. GoMA had a coup on its hands with this exhibition, that's for sure.

Developed by Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Valentino, Retrospective explores the work of the Italian fashion house known around the world for its sophisticated, timeless design and glamorous clientele. It has been in Brisbane at GoMA since early August, and so time was running out to see the gowns all in one place, so close to home. I met up with my sister on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and we bought our tickets for a divine hour or so of fabulous fashion and general gorgeousness.

And the gowns were stunning. We had a great time guessing the year, or even decade, of some of those on display. Sometimes we’d pick the 1960s, and be correct, or we’d guess the 2000s, and the dress would actually be from 1959. Amazing, the style changes, repetition, and evolution, and how beautiful, intricate and timeless the vintage gowns were. We both adored the stunning row of black “rock” dresses from the most recent Valentino collection, fascinating that what most appealed was that which was most recent. Finger on the pulse, that Valentino.

As we wandered, we sometimes had to stop ourselves from laughing. Not at the dresses (although, some of those animal print sack-styles from the 70s were… different), no. Here’s the thing: have you ever listened to people talking in an art gallery or museum? Because, as I have learned over the years, it is hilarious. A few gems overheard at Valentino, Retrospective:

• “Yeah, it’s pretty. But if it were me, I’d take away all those side bits and just leave the middle.”
• “That looks like chicken wings. Totally. Chicken wings.”
• “Ew! So many feathers. That would be so itchy.”
• “How does she walk in those stupid shoes. She’s going to break her neck!”
• “Ha! Hope you don’t want to sit down with all that layering.”
• “Oh my god Ez, look how skinny Cate Blanchett is to fit into that dress.”*
(*last one may have been me)

So, my day at GoMA had me reflecting on the many hilarious moments I’ve had at art galleries, shows, and museums in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Venice, and Florence. It’s not just the comments, it’s also the type of gallery-goer. While most of us are content to appreciate the gallery or museum at our own quiet pace, there are also, I have observed over the years, several different gallery-going “types”:

1. The completist

This person buys the guide-book, signs up for the gallery tour, hires the audio-tour and must spend at least 90 seconds looking at and considering each and every piece in the gallery or museum. Don’t try to interrupt them or get in their way! They are too focused, even if they’re not really taking in what’s in front of them and are just counting down the seconds until they can move to the next piece.

2. The erratic

Also known as “my friend Kelly”. I would now like to invite you on a journey into what it’s like to attend a gallery/museum with Kelly. I have visited many with her during our travels, but have never actually spent the entire time in her presence, until Venice’s Gallerie dell'Accademia when we were forced, in some bizarre social experiment, to share headphones as they only had one audio tour remaining. Usually, I would wander the galleries alone, leisurely appreciating the work at my own pace. I had no idea where Kelly disappeared to, and I never asked. All I know is that she never, ever, takes in a gallery in any discernable order. Nope. Right from the entrance, Kelly darts about, revisiting her favourites, occasionally checking in with me with funny stories about what she’s overheard, or forewarning me about what’s ahead. She’s not unlike a puppy. This had never bothered me, until we were joined at the head in Venice. I started on my  relaxed way, which I’m reliably informed (as she told me so) made Kelly feel like she was being tethered and trapped, much like she was going insane. It was no better for me. As I wandered,  at faster than my usual speed, Kelly at various times tried to rip my head off my shoulders in a last-ditch attempt to view the gallery in her usual erratic way. Never again.

3. The over-appreciater

Of all the gallery visitors, this person drives me the craziest. They’re usually the ones who stand (in front of you, no doubt) and take a close up photograph of the picture before them. They don’t look at the piece, oh no. They take a photo of it and move on. You know, a picture, like you could find from a simple Google Image search. But being in the gallery, surely you want to appreciate what’s in front of you, in real life? No? Just want to show the folks at home that you were there? Okay. At least switch off the flash then.

4. The critic

I’m not talking about art critics here. I’m talking about the pretentious, loud, obnoxious gallery-goer who must share their (usually negative) opinion with the rest of us. We don’t care what changes you’d make to “improve” a piece. We don’t care that it reminds you of your days vacationing in the Greek Islands. We especially don’t care that you’re trying to impress us by having an “opinion”. Sure, think about what you’re looking at, but if you must, please talk about it quietly. And maybe lose the attitude? It’s not necessary to be critical of everything. Just taking it in can be half the fun!

And, there you have it. I know most of us probably fall somewhere in between those categories, but you know someone who fits at least one of them perfectly, admit it!  Regardless, I’m especially proud of Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art for bringing such an exquisite exhibition to the River City. And as the crowds attested to on Sunday afternoon, if you bring it, they will come. And who am I to say, maybe the dress would work better without those side bits?

Friday, October 1, 2010

TV shows that rocked my world: True Blood

Why is it we love the TV shows we love? Is it the actors/actresses we secretly fantasise about? Is it the storyline? Is it because it’s so well written that it makes us examine our own lives? Maybe. But the reason True Blood continues to rock my world, is the escape.

I wasn’t watching True Blood from the time debuted HBO in the US in 2008 - and I hadn’t even discovered the books yet. But my sister was already obsessed with the books and was begging me to buy Season One on DVD, as soon as it was released. I never got around to it (I kick myself now – I could have been drooling over Eric the vampire so much sooner!). So she bought it for me for my birthday; she knew I would love it. At the time, I had a lot of stress in my life and I was commuting to work for more than an hour morning and night every day. So I watched True Blood on the train, at home, anywhere I could. True Blood was my escape; the gothic southern imagery, the haunting original score, the juxtaposition of religion and lawlessness, the witty, sharp and sometimes hilarious one liners.

Created by Alan Ball, the genius who brought us Six Feet Under and wrote American Beauty, True Blood is an addictive, engrossing vampire saga, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by American author Charlaine Harris. The series centres on Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress living in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, struggling with her unusual ‘gift’ for hearing people’s thoughts. Life is relatively quiet until she meets and falls in love with local vampire Bill Compton. True Blood’s setting is modern day with a difference. A world where vampires have ‘come out of the coffin’, that is, revealed themselves to the world in a simultaneous and systematic revelation. As a result, vampires are largely treated as the ‘new’ second class citizens of the Deep South, and are fighting for the right to legally own assets and marry.

THAT Rolling Stone cover
On one hand, you can’t get much further from reality than a world where vampires live side by side with humans, not to mention the supernaturals which still live in secret; the werewolves, shape shifters and fairies.

But on the other, True Blood has smatterings of normalcy amongst the fantasy, times when we can identify with the characters. Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress, who apart from her special talent, led a simple yet isolated life before she met her lover, Bill. It’s easy to identify with the isolation Sookie feels as a ‘local freak’ with her telepathic skills. She represents anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider, like they didn’t fit in. And I’d challenge the most reluctant vampire fan not to feel just a bit of empathy for the internal struggle Bill experiences in Season One, to maintain his human qualities of love, empathy and compassion, whilst fighting his urge to hunt and drink human blood (including Sookie’s). Or Bill’s progeny child-vamp Jessica, who will remain 16 forever, experiencing the typical angst of a teenager, losing her virginity, dating – and some not so typical, like accidently killing her dinner in Season Three and struggling to control her young, new-vampire urges.

So what makes True Blood so additive? Millions of people round the world are die-hard fans (or Truebies). The appeal this TV show makes to the vampire sub-culture and pop culture phenomenon that is the vampire genre was cleverly recognised by Allan Ball back in 2007, when the show’s pilot was shot. For me it’s the fantasy combined with super cool scripting and killer one liners from Sookie like “Bill, you were just licking blood out of my head, it don't think it gets much more personal than that” or from Lafayette Reynolds “That boy is sex on a stick. I don't give a good damn how stuck up he is” or “Conscience off. D*ck on”.

Not to mention the super-sexy cast (hello, Rolling Stone Magazine cover??). They have some responsibility for the addictive nature of this show. Generally, the show has been cast really well, keeping some homage to the book series characters. Two of the most central, Sookie and Bill, (Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer) are actually now married in real life, after meeting on set. A dream for the HBO marketing department I’m sure. But the chemistry in their very first scenes together practically oozes out from the TV screen. Sookie’s later chemistry with thousand year old vampire (and sex on legs) Eric, keeps things just as steamy.

The cast of True Blood - Season 3

Yes, I will admit the acting in True Blood is not always the best acting you’ve ever seen (although Paquin is pretty damn good), but to the thousands of Truebies around the world, that doesn’t matter. This show was never intended to be taken too seriously or pretended to be anything other than pop culture goodness. Creator Allan Ball has never purported it to be anything else. The same can pretty much be said for Charlaine Harris’ books. This doesn’t take away from their appeal and brilliance.

There’s an ever increasing debate between fans on the book series’ storylines and the tendency for the TV show to totally abandon them or twist them out of order. And as the recent Season Three finale has shown us, the show continues to jump around, basing entire seasons only loosely on storylines from the imagination of Charlaine Harris. For me, I love the books and I love the show. The show is like a new tangent of Sookie’s story and I find both the book storylines and the TV storylines as equally addictive. I think Allan Ball has made a clever decision to put his own ingenious stamp on True Blood, making it into an animal all of its own.

For me, my ultimate favourite episode is the very first one. It’s the beginning of an incredible journey. The electric chemistry between dangerous and brooding vampire (Bill), when he first lays his eyes on an outcast, oddball, lonely girl (Sookie) still gives me chills. I’ve watched it several times – and could watch it a thousand more. I can’t thank my sister enough. May True Blood never die ‘The True Death’.