Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Getting naked

Posted by lea at 4:32 PM 2 comments Links to this post
So everyone's talking about the video clip for the new Erykah Badu single Window Seat. In it, she walks down Elm Street in Dallas where JFK was shot, shedding one article of clothing after another until she's finally naked. The clip begins and ends with references to JFK, from a grainy film image of Badu rolling up in a 1960s Lincoln at the start, to falling down naked at the end, at the sound of a gunshot. It's sparked off huge controversy in America about whether her clip is disrespectful to the memory of JFK, which is still very emotionally charged.

In a society where nudity is so prevalent, especially in the music industry with people like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears exposing themselves in their music videos, and where every so-called music artist tries to outdo each other in controversy, why has Erykah Badu's clip made such a splash?

Where Spears strips down to titillate and Gaga strips down for... well, who knows why she does the things she does, Badu actually uses nudity to make a point about personal vulnerability. Her body is not glorified or digitally altered (except to pixilate the rudie bits) or made up and made over. She's not a spring chicken either. She's a mother of three with a real woman's body who, terrified (although you can't tell in the clip), stripped down in public for a single shot to make a point. About the shooting, she tweeted:
[S]hot guerilla style, no crew, one take, no closed set, no warning, two minutes, in downtown Dallas, then ran like hell... I was afraid. But I was ready.

After the 'assassination' of her character in the clip, words like blue blood drip from her head: GROUPTHINK. This term was coined by William H Whyte in 1952 who wrote in Fortune magazine:
Groupthink being a coinage—and, admittedly, a loaded one—a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity—it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity—an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.

That is to say, that individual thought, creativity and uniqueness are lost in the attempt to reach a public consensus or state of 'peace'. The Window Seat film clip, says Badu, connects to the idea of groupthink in that:

[It] compared the assassination to the character assassination one would go through after showing his or her self completely. That's exactly the action I wanted to display.

Although I'm not a fan of public nudity and I HATE its graphic and gratuitous use in film clips and movies, I have to say that I really dig this film clip. I love the grainy filming and the guts it took for her to do it. Nothing could have demonstrated the courage of being vulnerable in the face of groupthink more than this woman stripping down in the middle of the street. The fact that she tied it to the assassination of JFK makes the message that much more loaded and impactful.

Check it out for yourself

Monday, March 29, 2010

5 things to do on the Easter long weekend

Posted by lea at 11:58 AM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm exhausted. I've been organising and ordering and counting and sending and packing and moving and cutting and writing for what seems like months (but is actually weeks). As a result of all this busy-ness, I'd forgotten that we have a LONG WEEKEND COMING UP!!!! Yay!! Thank God for Jesus and Easter chocolate and a government sanctioned leave from work.

From this Friday through to Monday inclusive, I'm going to put up my feet and enjoy the long weekend. Apart from a wedding on Saturday and an Easter service at church, I plan to seriously chill with these 5 things:
  1. Lie on the sofa on the verandah and read
  2. Lie on the sofa in the lounge and watch DVDs
  3. Lie on my bed in the mornings just because I can
  4. Stay in my pyjamas all day
  5. Order pizza and eat takeaway so there's no cooking and no washing up to be done
Long weekend, here I come!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish movie)

Posted by lea at 4:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
From the first shot of middle aged, saggy jowled, pockmark-faced Mikael Blomqvist, I was disabused of my idea of Swedes as healthy looking, shiny-haired blondes twinkling in the sun. The great thing about this movie is that it's so devoid of Hollywood gloss. The Swedish film industry dares to hire actors for their abilities over their looks, and they certainly don't pull the punches when depicting the violent and often sexual episodes which are key to the story, but not dwelt on in the book. It makes for a gripping movie but not necessarily an aesthetic one. I mean, I really could have lived without watching the scene of Lisbeth forced to give head to her 'guardian', and the image of his naked 60 year old body (minus the rudie bits) is now forever burned into my retina. Yuck.

The movie was bound to be violent because the story is so very gritty, but  bringing these scenes to the screen is far more in-your-face than reading them on the page. It's a well made movie for its genre (the music was only jarring in one scene for me) and generally well-casted, but I couldn't help but be disappointed by Noomi Rapace's depiction of the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander. The essence of Lisbeth, and her very strangeness, is in the fact that she doesn't react to situations like normal people. She's not emotional and seems to border on the edges of autism. Rapace's Salander is more sullen and volatile – more human, so to speak. This is a shame because ironically, the magic of Larsson's creation is in her very inhumanness. They kept the gothic look and tattoos, but lost a vital part of her core. Rapace is a fine actor and I'm certain it was more a directorial decision than her own, but personally I think they missed out on something key here.

Watching the story play out on screen, I was aware of some holes in the novel that I hadn't noticed while reading it. SPOILER ALERT: For example, when Harriet Vanger is restored, I couldn't help but wonder why the hell she didn't tell someone – anyone – about the abuse her brother put her through, instead allowing him to continue playing out his homicidal fantasies on dozens of other victims. Reading the book, you're so caught up in the action you don't really question the story. Well I didn't anyway. You might.

Book vs Movie: the verdict

The book. It's always the book, isn't it? Except for Mansfield Park, with Frances O'Connor's charming depiction of a much more feisty Fanny that Austen's wimpy creation. Books always give you more than a movie can squeeze into the usual two hours, and allow your imagination to dwell or flit from scene to scene at will, and not remain captive to another person's vision of the story. In my imagination, Mikael Blomqvist was a bit better looking (perhaps this is borne from years of Hollywood leading men, also the fact that he's sex on legs in the book version) and Lisbeth is more in control. The only one who really fit the bill is her hacker friend Plague, who is meant to be as fat and ugly as portrayed (my apologies to the actor). I loved the scene where he's trying to get her attention while sitting on the toilet.

Word has it that George Clooney is being considered for the role of the American Blomqvist. He fits the right age group and certainly fits the sex on legs bit, but I'm not sold on that idea. Do you have an opinion?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson - the girl who gripped me

Posted by lea at 10:20 AM 1 comments Links to this post

It's been a long time since I've come across a story so gripping that every time I open the page, I end up so absorbed that I miss my bus stop, come in late for work bleary-eyed from reading late into the night, or miss dinner completely because I just can't put the book down. With The Millennium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson has written a literary version of crack cocaine. It's absolutely un-put-downable.

Starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we're introduced to Mikael Blomqvist, a crusading journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a possibly mildly autistic, brilliant researcher whose deep-seated mistrust of authorities has very good basis. Blomqvist has been disgraced in the media and is now privately hired to look into the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, an heiress to the wealthy Vanger dynasty. During the course of his investigations, he recruits Lisbeth Salander, who proves to be far more resourceful than her strange gothic-punk image would betray.

Parts two (The Girl who Played with Fire) and three (The Girl who Stirred the Hornet's Nest) are not self-contained stories, but an ongoing mystery that places Lisbeth firmly in the centre of an unfolding criminal cover-up of the highest order among Sweden's secret police. While intrigue and vested interests aim to put her away as a menace to society, Blomqvist is convinced of her innocence and begins digging to uncover the truth of her tragic background.

The Millennium Trilogy contains all the elements of a great crime mystery (violence, power, thrills and vengeance, to name a few) but it's in no way formulaic. These books are bestsellers with good reason: they're unique, incredibly interesting, absorbing and utterly utterly compelling. Unlike other best-seller The Da Vinci Code, Larsson's writing doesn't get in the way of telling a good story, and predictability is kept to a minimum. You're kept so busy in the action of the now that you have no time to guess what will happen next. Besides, Lisbeth Salander is anything if predictable.

Larsson gets the most from the whip-cracking storylines by the evenness of his writing, never trying to show off his literary abilities but letting the story tell itself. His journalistic background is evident, as is the depth of his research, in the ability to make such a sensational story seem so realistic. His characters are also fleshed-out so there's nothing one-dimensional about them - we get to know everything from their sexual preferences down to the groceries they buy. Apparently Lisbeth's character was partially inspired by the children's classic Pippi Longstocking. A colleague of Larsson's said in an interview that they were discussing how characters from children's books might behave had they grown up, and Larsson was influenced by the idea of dysfunctional adult Pippi Longstocking in the real world. It's a truly fascinating notion.

Over 22 million copies have been sold worldwide in just over two years, a Swedish version of the film has grossed over $100 million before even being released in the States, and an American adaptation has just been picked up by Sony. It's an absolute tragedy that the author died before the books were published and never saw the phenomenon they would become.

When was the last time you stayed up late to read a great book? If it's been too long, try this series. You won't regret it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The write surface

Posted by lea at 4:17 PM 4 comments Links to this post
I am utterly in love with chalkboard paint right now. Actually have been for several months, but I hadn't found the right surface to test this new love of mine, until I found this link.

We're currently using a big desk as a dining table that I bought for $10 at a second-hand office furniture sellout with my friend Jenny. Transporting this big table in the back of her small car was no mean feat, and now I can't seem to let it go, so it follows me wherever I move. Now it's about to get a makeover - BIG TIME. It's going to become my very own chalkboard table!! I can't wait! But I have to :( because I won't have enough chalkboard paint for the whole desk until I make another Bunnings trip.

Just imagine - writing ideas and sketching directly onto the table. Drawing place markers for guests at dinnertime. Writing up shopping lists. So much fun! I'd love to turn everything into a chalkboard now - the cupboard doors, random parts of the wall, food containers... the possibilities are endless.

To take things one step further, check this out:

They look like ordinary white walls... but wait! It's actually whiteboard paint!! How awesome is that. But it's quite expensive at the moment, so one thing at a time.

Chalkboard and whiteboard paint are great ways to get creative around the home, and you can mix up and change the artwork with the wipe of a rag and start all over again.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Easy delicious pasta with prawns

Posted by lea at 12:18 PM 3 comments Links to this post
I made this the other night when some friends came over and it was a hit. It's doubly great cos it's easy too. To serve 4-6, you'll need:

500g prawns (beheaded and deveined)
3-5 cloves of crushed garlic (my level keeps vampires away for good)
2-4 chopped hot red chillis (adjust for heat)
2 tomatoes, de-seeded and cubed
a handful of basil
1/2 cup of good quality olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 pack of spaghetti

  1. Boil water and cook spaghetti according to directions. While that's happening:
  2. Heat the olive oil in a pan (heavy-base is best)
  3. Add the garlic and chillis and allow to brown but not burn
  4. Add the prawns and let them cook till they go from translucent to opaque and red
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes and tear in the basil
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste, then turn off the heat and mix the sauce into the freshly cooked spaghetti.
  7. Serve, sit back and receive your accolades.
I guarantee you it's tasty and it'll take less than 30 minutes to make. If you have any leftover (not likely) you can eat it cold the next day and it's just as great.

Optional: if you don't want to use that much olive oil, you could always use a few tablespoons to cook the garlic, chilli and prawns, then add 1/2 cup of white wine instead, and cook until it's heated through and the alcohol has evaporated. If you like a bit of texture, add 2 handfuls of breadcrumbs to the oil when the prawns have cooked, and they'll go crispy and delish!

Other food favourites:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Books that changed my life

Posted by lea at 4:35 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Inspired by Jack Marx's post on Books that popped my cork, I decided to list the top five books that have influenced me in some way since I started my love affair with books. I'll try to go chronologically.

The Ramona Series, by Beverley Cleary
Ramony Quimby is a well-intentioned but often misunderstood little girl - a little clumsy, loud and tomboyish, adventurous, imaginative, shy but strongly opinionated. Ramona, in my young mind, was me! Starting from Beezus and Ramona, when Ramona is just 4 years old, this series grew with me and I loved Ramona! I read the books almost as though they were stories about myself in a parallel universe. Her parents weren't wealthy but they made do with what they had, and even her relationship with older and more responsible sister Beezus was similar to mine with my older sister Glenda. Most of all, I think Ramona taught me it was okay to be me, because if I loved Ramona, and she was just like me, then I must be okay too.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
I LOVE everything about this book. Using the point of view of young Scout was a stroke of genius, and the way Harper Lee pulls it off is nothing short of extraordinary. She manages to capture the nuances and prejudices of a small Southern town during segregation with an unjudgmental innocence that makes the story all the more poignant. Atticus, particularly, is one of the dearest literary characters for me ever.

Persuasion, Jane Austen
While Pride and Prejudice has always been my favourite Jane Austen, Persuasion is the one that taught me the meaning of real love and second chances. It's a more mature take on love, the risks it engenders and the pride that we sometimes have to swallow to let it be.

Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
This is C.S. Lewis's retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid as told through narrator Oruel, Psyche's ugly sister. On closing the last page, my heart was pounding because the story was so wonderfully told and smacked of a deeper truth than I had come across before. I'm still not certain that I've digested it all, but I think it has to do with the idea that when we come before God, our maker, we cannot stand with veils on our faces covering our real selves, whether they be defence mechanisms, insecurities, lies or half-truths. We can only expect an honest answer when we face him with our honest selves.

The Bible
I almost overlooked this one, but it is a book and it's definitely had the profoundest impact on my life. From my two years of theological studies, I discovered that this book is much, much more that it appears on the surface. Say what you will, it is truly a masterpiece. The original texts in ancient Hebrew and Greek were largely told in stories or letters and they have a poetry and symmetry to them that get lost in translation.

It's a sad thing, I think, that many miss the profound truths in the Bible because of long-held prejudices and idealogies. The Bible has some of the greatest lessons you could learn in life, but we have to learn to take the message without being bogged down with the arguments that arise from context. Yes, the Bible is largely patriarchal and often seems irrelevant because of the stories that make sense only in the context of society at the time, but dig deeper and there are truths that go beyond gender and the boundaries that limit human thinking. It is an amazing text - the most printed book in the world several times over, and the one text that people have risked their lives for and been killed over. Well worth another look.

What books have changed your life or worldview?

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