Sunday, January 30, 2011

Looking Back Birthday Michael Jayston Terrence Kern and me

Michael Jayston
Another year, another birthday and at my age a time to look back. On the whole I have been very contented with my life . I have set out what I wanted to do and I think I have done exceedingly well but then I was reminded this week of two of my peers at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London in the early 1960's.

There were three of us sitting on gilt chairs at the Mansion House awaiting our prizes for top students of our year. These were the most prestigious prizes the college had to offer and were the passport to success and indeed they were. The Acting Prize had been won by Michael Jayston, The Conductor's Prize by Terence Kern and the very prestigious Production Prize judged by the BBC no less was mine.

At eighteen and a woman I had beaten every other male competitor  to win this prize. No that's not quite true as I had to share it with another female student Angela Lawlor. She was meant to win it and did but my bid was just so strong the GSM&D had to share it. No matter.

Terrence Kern
We collected our prizes and went our own ways. Jayston and Kern have reached the pinnacles of their careers. Jayston is considered one of the finest actors of his age and he is and Kern at 72 is still considered one of the finest ballet conductors going. Nothing could stop them. They had the talent and the credentials. So had I except for one tiny little thing that has worked against me becoming the major success that they enjoyed!

Neither of them would give me a thought as they worked the way up the ladder of success. I was just a 'silly little thing'.  Today if you asked both men my name and what I had done they would both have to think hard and yet at the time I was their equal and I still am.  Even at college they needed me to produce events for them to shine . I have as large a YouTube audience today as they have. In fact at the moment my anon IT profile is probably better known  than either of them now and yet they men would have thought I had done nothing of worth.

I  have done well  but in retrospect not as well as them. I was as good as both of them and by rights I should be up there with them but I am not. Why? The answer is I am a woman.  With my talent and ability, and I am very very talented, I can dance Swan Lake, sing Erwartung, that's Schoenberg, and produce opera and ballet and make it pay. If I had been a man with a GSM&D prize and the same opportunities, like the BBC Production Course which usually went with the Prize but was denied me because of BBC policies of NO women directors  I could have been artistic director at The Royal Opera House. Royal Shakespeare or  Head of BBC and I am not joking.

That I have achieved what I have  as a woman is the  confidence that I was as good as any man and sheer determination. The times I have been told 'Our boys won't take orders from you' says it all. I was allowed to employ Royal Ballet dancers and use the Opera House to promote my ballet but never asked to direct there.

The other question that crossed my mind was what would have happened if Kern and Jayston had been women?  It seems almost churlish to point it out. Kern would never have got off first base as for years no  professional orchestra would employ a woman conductor. Some European Orchestras would not even have women players. That would have been it.  Jayston was a competent actor but not good looking so if he had been a woman  with not very attractive looks he too would have had it hard as in my day women that got employed were either raving beauties or bimbos or terribly 'left wing'.. Also cast lists are 80% male so the competition for parts for women is intense. I had to do the 'bimbo' category and hated it could have been in the left wing category with my background but looked too middle class. Fortunately for Kern and Jayston they were men in a man's world.

We shall never know how far I should have got if I had been a man but I do know how far my peers got... to the top. I am not bitter but I would have fared better career wise if I had been born a man. I am proud of my work. It is not what I was capable of producing just what I could produce with the opportunities open to me at the time. Very minimal. I ran an opera company on nothing.  I never received one grant from any Arts Council.

I am proud that women are at last accepted as man's equal and  I hope if I won the GSM&D Production Prize today things would have been very different and my peers would remember me.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Why do the younger generations and even my own generation think that I should have my films, TV and literature censured in case I am 'shocked'?

Why do they think that seeing the lesbian love scene in The Black Swan is going to shock me?

Why do I need to be shielded from such scenes?

For all of my friends and colleagues where on earth do they think I have been all my life? On the moon or in a Carmelite Covent?

I  am virtually unshockable, I can be 'surprised' but it takes a lot to 'shock' me.

I grew up at the ripe old age of four when I saw the opening of Belsen on the BBC in 1947. My grandfather had one of the few televisions and I was allowed to watch everything. One night on a World at War documentary there was Belsen in all its gory glory. No warnings were given that this was unsuitable for children so I just sat and watched it with my family. Not one of them either thought that the pictures were disturbing to a child of four.

I only saw the pictures once but I remembered them vividly. The skeletons  piled up, the starving prisoners in the black and white stripped coats, the bulldozer bulldozing the piles of bodies into the pit. I never showed any emotion and none of my family realized the effect this film had on me from that moment on.

I grew up! I knew the world was not a kind friendly place. I lost my faith in God at that moment. I knew that any God who allowed this brutality was no loving God of mine. I became an adult. I was far more adult than any of the silly 18 year old Irish nuns to whom my father had entrusted my education. Not believing in God is not a good idea at a Dominican convent.

The had never seen this films. Few had access and for many years these films were seldom shown. Today they are almost mainstream and I have been conditioned to the horror. They are still dreadful.

Since that epiphany nothing has ever shocked me. I can cope with most things so a lesbian scene in a film is not going to have any effect. I may not like it, actually I did I thought is was beautifully directed and pleasantly erotic, but I am not 'shocked'.

Men on trains and in the streets who looked at me and decided to show me their penises in order to'shock' me were not to happy when I looked as if to say "Is that all you've got?'  and the laugh! I think they were more 'shocked' than I.

With the billions of people around in the world today every horror is possible. Innocence  is not a desirable quality. It is better to know the facts of life than to be shielded from them by well meaning people who think they know best. Life is not a bowl of cherries.

In my day women were shielded from life by a patronizing society. To be socially acceptable we were more or less processed to look and act stupid even if we were not. We were to be seen but not heard and our opinions dismissed. Today our manner and my manner especially really does not display just how intelligent I am. Friends and family still think I can be shocked and yet when it comes to doing something unpleasant I am the first port of call. I have arranged more funerals that the proverbial hot dinners.

It would take a lot to shock me today. I may be surprised but not shocked. I don't like sadism or masochism so I don't watch it but that is my choice. I know it goes on but it doesn't shock me.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Black Swan Movie - The Ultimate Swan Lake

There goes 'The King's Speech's Oscar! What a 'Swan Lake'. Wow. Ten stars out of five! Hats of to the writer for bringing 'Swan Lake' into the 21st century with a brilliant reworking of the tired old fairy story.

The film may get ten stars but the trailer rates only a two! How could the film and the publicity be so different. The trailer gives no idea of just how clever the braiding of the Swan story and reality is in this film. The trailer is full of whooshes and swooshes and quick cutting that gives a completely false impression of the subtlety of the plot. So it was with some misgivings that I went to see it today. From the first moment I knew I was in for something special.

What I can't understand is how one film critic gave it a two star rating!

Hats off too to Natalie Portman. There can be no doubt who is going to get the woman's Oscar this year. What a performance! She was not bad at the ballet bits either and that coming from a ballet dancer like me is praise indeed. Yes the shots were mainly mid shot waist level with close up of someone elses feet doing the difficult bits and clever long shots slightly out of focus or in cracks between mirrors but the story is so compelling one soon overlooks any shortcomings and there were only a few the Film poster shot being the worst. Who picked that? Not a dancer that's for sure.

See what I mean! Ballet is meant to be seen front on with feet. This is side on, feet cropped and makes Portman look as if she cannot dance which in the film is not noticeable.

The film is also one of the most pleasantly erotic films I have ever seen. Ballet dancers are strange creatures. We can be innocents one moment and whores the next and this is the basic plot of Swan Lake, the innocent versus the whore and as a drama it works well. The sex was convincing and erotic. Not sadistic or masochistic for a change. I believe men find it very, very sexy indeed. See re mix trailer below!

Plus of course Tchaikovsky's  magnificent score. Tchaikovsky is tops when it comes to ballet music, in fact nobody does it better.

Then of course there are the classic thriller touches that no film of this genre should be without and some amusing Swan like touches. Add to that beautiful photography, realistic ballet company scenes. The dressing rooms very accurate. In real life however new the theatre is these are usually reminiscent of the local prison, breeze blocks et all. It is as if it is the punishment for enjoying oneself on stage.

I am not going to spoil the plot for you. If you are a balletomane, drop everything and go! For anyone else just go. The cinema was full of youth this afternoon unlike The King's Speech where no one was under 60. If you are not a ballet lover then a bit of homework on Swan Lake would help but not essential. Men you are in for a treat!

My ultimate praise is I am going to buy the DVD!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wembley Stadium and The King's SpeechHenry Thorpe

Henry Thorpe chief accountant
Wembley Stadium 1923/1950
I never thought when I was playing on the floor in my grandfather's office in Wembley Stadium in 1947 that a replica of it would feature in 'The King's Speech' a five star  UK film that I saw yesterday at the Arts Cinema, The Bridgeway, on Northcote Point, New Zealand.

For a start none in my family would have ever contemplated Wembley Stadium with its famous twin towers ever being pulled down but as they say 'There you go'.

My grandfather Henry Thorpe was the chief accountant since the British Empire Exhibition in 1923/24 and had virtually run the place in partnership with Sir Arthur Elvin from those offices and I must compliment the designer on the research as the windows in the film gave a very good impression of how the room looked.

Dramatic and design license was however taken with the twin towers in the speech sequences as you could see them in the distance as the Duke of York was trying to speak. In reality they would have been behind him. It was very life like.

My grandfather was a remarkable man. Born in the slums of Manchester, the son of a railway wagoner who helped to make railway wagons for coal he became a railway clerk at the age of 15. Henry Thorpe or Pop as he was known at Wembley and to his family went to night school and at the age of 28 became the very first graduate of the London School of Economics in about 1904.

Pop then came in the top percentage for The Civil Service Exams. Britain at that time was surprisingly completely egalitarian, you could have any job as long as you passed these CS exams but usually if you were of the lower class you couldn't. Pop did and was rewarded with a spell running the railways in Ceylon as it was called then. His wife, my granny, was transformed, like Cinderella, from mill worker to Duchess with servants overnight. It was not an easy transition.  Queen Mary was her model and Mary Ann Thorpe left Coronation Street behind for the Upper classes out queening the formidable Mary of Teck. Granny scared me stiff.

Back in UK after the Great War Pop ran The Wembley Empire Exhibition and must have heard that horrifying King's  Speech. Now Wembley Stadium is a ghost too! Pop loved TV and had one of the first in UK. Lucky for me! He would be surprised that his little grand daughter was penning his posterity notice on an unheard of computer. Pop could add up huge columns of £sd in his head all in one go including farthings. He didn't need a computer but he was a early adopter and would have loved it.

Now the film. To my dismay the theatre was not nearly 'full' enough for this enjoyable film. I can see why Colin Firth was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe but I also enjoyed Geoffrey Rush and Elena Bonham Carter who actually made me like the Queen Mum. I think they too could have received nominations.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Freud versus Dora - a battle of wills.

'Dora' Ida Bauer/Adler 

Hats off to Dora! BBC World's 'Health Check' has spotlighted this famous 'case' of psychoanalysis.

'Dora' is the pseudonym Sigmund Freud gave to the teenage girl who claimed her father had offered her to his friend Mr K in exchange for the continued sexual favours of Mr K's wife. This was in the late 1890's when paternalism was the order of the day and fathers could and did 'do' anything they liked with their women without question. If they rebelled it as because they were mad.

Because Dora refused to become her father's friends bit on the side her father considered she was neurotic and she was shipped off to that nice Dr Freud down the street who was gaining a reputation for dealing with troublesome daughters who would not do what they were told.

Today both Dora's father, Mr. K and probably Dr Freud would all be up for sexual harassment or worse.

Dora was remarkably confident for her age. Dora listened very carefully to what Dr Freud had to say, mainly that it was all her fault and she should be delighted  and grateful that a man old enough to be her father and married as well should make sexual advances to her  and  after 11 visits with great courage  and presence of mind told Freud that it was all nonsense and she never wanted to see him again and left.

Dora then went home and had the whole affair out with her parents, which must have come as a shock to the mother to find her husband had been selling his daughter so he could carry on an affair with the friend's wife! Dora went on to live a normal life.

Freud was not to be out done. How could a chit of a girl put down the greatest medical innovator of the day? Freud had his revenge in a nasty way as he presented Dora as a raving neurotic when he published his notes  on the case in 1905 so her reputation was ruined. It also appears to have been quite untrue.

Fortunately time and feminism have caught up with Dr Freud, a man made famous by his  American nephew Edward Bernays who introduced the world to public relations and advertising and knew how 'to sell' his uncle and today Freud is no longer held in awe by the world.

It was unfair to pit a young naive girl against this bastion of male chauvinism who had a serious cocaine habit which may have give him delusions but Dora was a formidable woman and a  worthy opponent who had only scorn for Freud's diagnosis and had the presence to dismiss Freud like a servant.

I so admire her. Hats off to Dora!