Friday, 11 February 2011

It Ads Up

A colleague lent me a 1988 edition of Vogue over the weekend and as I reclined at home with a cup of tea and Cindy Crawford’s youthful beauty emanating from the front cover, it occurred to me just how much has changed in the past twenty three years. There was even a 20p off coffee voucher somewhere in the middle, inserted within the restaurants section.

Okay so the wide-shouldered, angular silhouettes may cast little difference between an ‘80s edition and a current one, however rather than wading through the ads to find the content it was the other way around. With just a few advertorials on skin products, Horlicks and Debenhams, equally interspersed with articles on everything from health, fitness and beauty to travel, fashion and horoscopes; the real age of advertising seemed a long way off from Condé Nast’s flat-planning. With ads being thin on the proverbial ground it was a real joy to cut straight through and read the thoughtful and academic editorial: commentary on relevant designers such as Eileen Gray and Joe Tilson, notes from playwright David Mamet and debates of current political relevance (which at the time centred on the new education bill). Unlike the contemporary version which is stuffed to the gills with predominantly fashion and beauty and ads. Even the cover should tip us off as to the economically sleek content within, particularly when compared with its 2011 peer…

The Eighties marked the era of Margaret Thatcher, higher taxes and budget cuts. Vogue featured a spread on Thatcher entitled ‘Political Dressing’ and raised the point that advertising plays a significant role in the success of any political candidate, particularly a first lady: ‘Politicians and their dress have become a matter of considerable interest. All now wedded to the television camera and the advertising campaign, they must be sure that the way they look stands up to the scrutiny of a public that is skilled in the reading of images.’ So fashion is an ad campaign? But what are we endorsing, ourselves or the craftsmanship of designer and high-street seamstresses? How we look can dictate a number of things: whether we succeed or fail; whether we carry ourselves with poise and confidence; and whether we buy Vogue or not.

It’s all in the advertising really. How we look is a projection of how we would like others to see us. So while Thatcher would don modest mid-calf skirts, neck-high blouses and tailored jackets hoping to instil confidence and respect in her voters, Yves Saint Laurent would don peonies and a glam-looking Milla Jovovitch to instil consumers with an aspirational need to use its perfume. Good looking people, well-photographed products and catchy phrases all concocted to sell. But while Vogue circa 1988 did it subtly, Vogue circa now shoves it up our noses, in our faces and down our necks at every page-turning opportunity it gets.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I class myself a ‘Vogue Woman’ along with the rest of the trend-following lemmings alighting at Oxford Circus station every morning, however, having this ’88 point of reference really opened my eyes to how society views us. Yes 21st Century Vogue covers all the same reference points, culture, politics, fashion etc; but the sheer extent of advertising in modern-day magazines points to the fact that more than ever we are driven by money and materialism.

So here’s a thought for your Wednesday afternoon – particularly those of you who (like me) work on Oxford Street (or in one of the other fashion-heavy districts of London) – when you trawl the stores on your lunch-hour are you buying things because you really want them, or are you just buying into the glittery trap of all-consumering advertising?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Dancing with Herself

For anyone that loves the ballet, Black Swan evokes the grace, the sensuality, the poise and the beauty of this remarkable art-form. Set within the trappings of the stereotypical “parental-child prodigy” parameters, Natalie Portman plays out repressed performer Nina Sayers to perfection. Smothered in the cotton-wool confines of both her mother’s control and a pre-pubescent bedroom, complete with numerous stuffed animals; Nina must impress the director of her dance company into allocating her the role of the Swan Queen in his new season’s production of Swan Lake.

Intermingled with the elegance of performance, the grittiness of the New York subway, the eerie distortion of Tchaikovsky’s soundtrack and the friction between the dancers; flashes of Nina’s inner anxieties can be seen creeping to the surface. Her darker self is threatening to get out as Aronofsky reveals Nina’s internal battle; her biggest contender is herself. The allusion that Nina’s evil alternate is responsible for the scratches that appear on her body mounts as the film gathers pace, with self-harm and bulimia clearly shown as the mediums through which Nina employs her demons which are attacking her from within.

Getting every step, turn and en pointe absolutely right, it is Nina’s obsession with perfection which threatens her aptitude for taking on both elements of her coveted role – the white innocent swan and her darker alter-ego, the black swan. The director encourages her to embrace her sexuality and “live a little” prompting some rather steamy scenes where we see Nina touching herself. In the first instance Nina gets so lost in the moment she is unaware that her mother is asleep in her room; an interesting nod to the unhealthy relationship between mother and daughter.

Enter Lily (Mila Kunis). Tattooed, carefree and sexy as hell, Lily radiates ease and seduction. An import of San Francisco she is free of Nina’s New York neuroses and embodies the dual persona that the director is looking for in his leading lady. Imitating the rivalry and paranoia that the white swan feels in the ballet, Nina (Portman) begins to believe that Lily is intent on replacing her on stage and shuns Lily’s attempts at friendliness. However, as Nina’s imagination runs ever more rampant and we see her effect an emotional separation from both her mother and her childhood self, she lets Lily in and the two spend an evening together. The real blends with the imagined as Nina gives herself over to the freeing experiences Lily is keen for her to try, however the consequences prove deadly. Nina’s paranoia and envy grow to manic proportions as her relationship with both Lily and herself come to a head on opening night.

Aronofsky draws a beautiful parallel between the story of Swan Lake and the dynamics of his cast, as the underbelly of the performing world rears its head amid the injury and rivalry and sexuality rife in the world he creates. Portman’s performance is breathtaking from her face to her movement to her presentation of Nina’s inner turmoil, while Kunis is as ever stunning and easy to watch as she spars with Portman to build up the tension and chemistry that takes us to the ultimate climax of both the ballet and the film production. Slightly bloody at times and certainly tinged with a sinister edge, Black Swan will sweep you off your feet from the start and keep you pirouetting on its intensity long after you’ve left the cinema.

Truly deserving of its critical accolades, Black Swan is one of the must-see films of 2011.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Gym Bunny

In light of this morning’s headlines pertaining to the intended £1,000 “fat” tax to be imposed on fast food eateries in a bid to curtail the British obesity epidemic, I thought I would dedicate this morning’s post to the gym. As someone who rarely (if ever) eats anything that comes under the heading: Fast Food (I’m not allowed or my trainer will personally see to it that I pay for consuming said food), I think this is good news though I am unsure what the impact will be. In the meantime however, it would be advisable for those people consuming the fast food to head to the gym for some fast classes… or slower ones, whatever takes your fancy. Plus, the more you work out the fitter you become and the less likely you’ll be to encounter eejits like the following…

So I was at the gym the other day busting my moves on the cross trainer and eavesdropping on the conversation going on beside me between a trainer and a new member. I later got chatting to the member (who incidentally was female, for your reference) deciding to impart my own gym-related wisdom to an exercise virgin.

‘Have you been coming to the gym long then?’ she asked.
‘Yes, I joined Virgin Active about three years ago,’ I replied.
‘Oh I see,’ she said. ‘So did you lose a lot of weight then?’


I may be being paranoid but I think she was implying that I must have been very fat to have been coming to the gym for three years and look the way I do (which is not “fat” if you must know). Jeez this woman should join the club my mother started back in my teens called “Berate daughter about her weight and appearance whenever one gets the opportunity”!! The woman then pointed to a slender thing on a treadmill over yonder and said, ‘She’s nice and slim, isn’t she.’ To which I replied, ‘Yes, let’s all strive for that shall we!’ and promptly hopped off the cross trainer in pursuit of some other form of exercise to help me vent my frustration.

Speaking of venting frustration, I love my weekly Wednesday 7am boxercise class – it really gets the heart-rate up and the muscles working hard. Though it amuses me to witness the range of strength and boxing style showcased every week. Thanks to my trainer who showed me how to move and position myself properly I feel confident with my technique; however the same cannot be said of some of my sparring partners. To explain I have sequestered them into categories:

The Cat
She swipes her paws (gloves) playfully at you in a kind of ‘come hither’ slash fly swatting manoeuvre, with no real energy behind her.

The Gentle Giant
He’s built like a brick shithouse, probably took heaps of steroids and prides himself on spending 5 out of 7 days preening in front of the mirror at the gym flexing his biceps and triceps with a 4 kilo weight. In short, his punch ain’t got no punch. He’s all muscle and no follow-through if you get my meaning.

The Midget
She’s so teeny you probably didn’t even realise she was there until you heard a yelp from somewhere beneath you to alert you to her presence. Predictably she punches like a girl and thus when donning pads against her there is no effort required on your part other than to smile politely and hold still.

The Batsman
Pads or gloves, this guy is always in the proverbial ring. He just cannot help himself, he’s proud of his swing and that’s all he wants to do… All. Class. Long. So beware when you are sparring with him, he may dislocate your wrist.

The Pro
This is your ideal sparring partner, male or female, they know what they’re doing, they’re patient if you don’t entirely know what you’re doing and their technique is faultless. The only caveat – they’ll probably never partner with you again once they realise how shite you actually are!!

So there you have it, your 101 on boxing classes – take note, it will serve you well. Tomorrow I will be revisiting my love for Ashtanga yoga, again at the wholly unearthly hour of 7am (yes this means a 5.30am alarm and 6am departure from homely abode) – catch ya then!

Excuse me now while I go devour a gallon or two of water…
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