Friday, 24 February 2017

Time Lords, lovely buttocks, ancient pin-ups, a Dame's frock and the Wild Old Woman of kitsch

On Wednesday evening Hils, History Boy and I ventured to one of my favourite of all venues in the LGBT History season of events, the fascinating and quirky Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, for another outing for a familiar format - Objects of Desire, an evening that provides notable individuals from the world of arts and culture to talk a little about prize LGBT-related items from the museum's vast collection, "in conversation" with our fabulously erudite host and "superstar" in the Egyptology world John J Johnston. And what a fascinating panel of guests he had accumulated...

The format was slightly tweaked this year, to allow not only a discussion about the chosen artefacts but also a little more about the lives of the guests themselves.

Sarah Groenewegen from the Sexual Orientation Network and Resource Group of the National Crime Agency was our opener. Combining neatly her interest in gay history and Doctor Who [one of her essays/short stories was published in the compendium Queers Dig Time Lords], her conversation with Mr Johnson focused around a familiar object. She and "JJJ" spoke admiringly of one of the museum's most famous gay-themed items, the 4000-year-old papyrus that charts the seduction and sexual liaison between the eternally warring deities Horus and Set (also known as Sutek) that contains the fabled (and earliest recorded) chat-up line ‘How lovely are your buttocks! And how muscular your thighs…’. Inevitably, the discussion wove the character of Sutek in the papyrus to his portrayal in the (exceptionally camp) much later Doctor Who adventure Pyramids of Mars. In closing their chat, and in due deference to Sarah's own achievements in her field, John encouraged Sarah to show us in the audience the well-deserved British Empire Medal she was awarded in HM the Queen's Birthday Honours last year.

Actor William McGeogh chose as his piece another familiar object - the Roman-era-Egyptian funerary portrait of a "young man from Hawara", also known as "the Red Youth". He was honest about the reason for his choice - largely based upon the fact he rather fancied the deceased youth depicted in the portrait - and when he pointed out his partner in the audience it was easy to see the similarities... Mr Johnson steered us slightly back to the historical perspective, but observed that "the Red Youth" was not alone in his portrayal (naked - well shoulders, anyhow - and flatteringly painted); several such examples of beauteous lads are also in the collection. Were they the "pin-ups" of their day, gladiators or heroes perhaps, or - as in the case of the famous funerary portrait found at Antinoopolis (a city founded for the worship of Emperor Hadrian's gay lover) that features two young men together with images of Antinous the God behind them as protector - "gay icons"? We will probably be debating this for years to come, but the discussion was entertaining nonetheless!

Anthony Harrison from the National Theatre Costume department understandably, given the fact he expressed his love of "blingy" gowns, passed over such historically valuable treasures as the "World's oldest frock" the Tarkhan Dress (which is, after all, just a plain white garment) in favour of the magnificent Amarna necklace, a collection of exquisitely-crafted beads that would have made up a five-tiered "head-turner" in the age of Tutankhamun. He and Mr Johnson explored the subject of Egyptian adornments, and how such finds would have, in truth, only ever been worn by the royals and mega-rich of their day - with the "little white dress", a functional item in the heat, as merely the backdrop. To "gild the lily", however, Anthony then proudly showed off something from his own collection in the NT, the ornate gold frock worn by none other than Dame Helen Mirren when she played Cleopatra. Gorgeous!

Speaking of gorgeous, the star of the night's event was most definitely the wonderful Sue Kreizman [about whom I have, inevitably, blogged before], arch-admirer of all things kitsch and self-styled "Wild Old Woman", looking as extravagant as always in a robe and jewellery that she had only adorned with a little "extra Egyptian magic" that morning. "Sorry if I smell of glue", she said. Her choice from the Petrie collection was a pair of 3000-year-old necklaces - much more modest than the Amarna one - to which she was strangely drawn, mainly because of the prominence of the "Eye of Horus", a favourite icon in her decorations, in their design. Miss Kreizman entertained the audience with her early memories of taking solace (from what sounds like a bit of a sad childhood) in the wonders of New York's museums, where the bold, extravagant and often grotesque displays became "her friends" - and remained ever since, it would seem. She and "JJJ" went on to discuss the custom in various cultures of creating a "memory jug" for display at funerals (a simple pot covered in putty which would then be studded with small ephemeral personal items of the deceased) - modern versions of which Sue continues to make today.

I was enchanted by the evening, and by Miss Kreizman in particular - and, after mingling with and chatting to guests and audience members, we were honoured to continue the "complimentary wine course" behind the scenes in the "Green Room" (aka the Petrie's office) before trolling off to the pub for more...

Ah, culture!

Camden & Islington LGBT History Month continues until the end of February.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The odour of silk, the feel of velvet, the crackle of a satin

“The allure, the odour of silk, the feel of velvet, the crackle of a satin – what intoxication!”

"The dress must follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress."

“To have style is to have a feeling for what is currently fashionable, and still to simultaneously remain true to oneself.”

“Dressing a woman is to make her more beautiful - isn't that the point of it all?”

He was adored by the superstar "celebrities" of his day; the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly relied upon him to provide their classy public image, and Audrey Hepburn (for whom he designed that little black dress for Breakfast at Tiffany's) would not wear clothes by another designer. One of his mega-rich clients, a certain Bunny Mellon, even had him design her gardening clothes.

Revered as one of the greatest couturiers of modern times, he celebrates his 90th birthday today.

Many happy returns, Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy (born 21st February 1927)

Saturday, 4 February 2017

On the Jukebox this Weekend...

 our apartment in Benalmadena.

¡Hasta la Vista, baby!

We're back in a week's time...

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The King of Couture

“Cristóbal Balenciaga was one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. Revered by his contemporaries, including Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy, his exquisite craftsmanship, pioneering use of fabric and innovative cutting set the tone for the modernity of the late 20th century fashion."

Thus, curator Cassie Davies-Strodder announced the V&A's new summer exhibition dedicated to the art and technique of one of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century and (coincidentally, in the week we are counting down to our holiday in Benalmadena) Spain's most influential fashion designer. He was described as as "the master of us all" by Christian Dior [with whom he shares a birthday] and as "the only couturier in the truest sense of the word" by Coco Chanel.

Señor Balenciaga was born in the Basque country. Even as a teenager, however, his skills in tailoring were recognised by influential patrons, and with their assistance he moved away to study in Madrid. By the time he was in his twenties his clothes were being worn by members of the aristocracy and even royalty. In his day he dressed some of the most beautiful and most photographed women in the world such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly, Barbara Hutton, Ava Gardner and Queen Fabiola of Belgium, yet he inevitably favoured unattractive older women as his models so as not to distract from his clothes.

Notoriously private about his affairs, in his entire career Balenciaga only ever granted one interview with the press. In 1948 he almost quit the business when his lover the milliner Vladzio Zawrorowski d'Attainville died, but in the end carried on until 1968, when he closed his salons. He went on to teach and inspire such luminaries as Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges and Emanuel Ungaro - and Hubert de Givenchy remains today the honorary patron of the Balenciaga Foundation and Museum.

We are looking forward immensely to this exhibition...

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion will open at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 27th May 2017.

Monday, 30 January 2017

The greatest?

"The greatest living actress" [© Dan Callahan] is 80 years old today...

"I think the theatre is as essential to civilization as safe, pure water."

"I don't consider myself beautiful at all, I'm usually running around like a scruff."

"Of course, I am misrepresented very often, but so is everybody who has got something to say."

"Integrity is so perishable in the summer months of success."

"I discovered a long time ago that the camera does lie, and thank God it does."

Vanessa Redgrave, CBE (born 30th January 1937)

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Pretending to be other people is my game

"It would be difficult to have any unfulfilled ambitions because I don't have any ambitions. I've never been that kind of performer."

"Pretending to be other people is my game and that to me is the essence of the whole business of acting."

"We are all racing towards death. No matter how many great, intellectual conclusions we draw during our lives, we know they're all only man-made, like God. I begin to wonder where it all leads. What can you do, except do what you can do as best you know how?"

"I never had any ambition to be a star, or whatever it is called, and I'm still embarrassed at the word."

"Someone once asked me, "Is there anything you regret?" and I said, "Everything!" Whatever you do, there was always a better choice."

Caligula in I, Claudius, "Max" in Midnight Express, John Merrick in The Elephant Man, "Winston Smith" in 1984, Stephen Ward in Scandal, the "War Doctor" in Dr Who; from one of the most memorable movie scenes of all time - the monster bursting from his stomach in Alien - to Harry Potter, from King Lear to the voice of "Hazel" in Watership Down - he played them all.

One of his most memorable roles, of course - and one which made a significant impact on one sad, closeted little Welsh boy [moi] back in the 1970s - was his magnificent portrayal of Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, from which this is a mere snippet:

We have lost a giant of stage and screen.

RIP Sir John Vincent Hurt, CBE (22 January 1940 – 25 January 2017)