Temples @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire 8/3/14

A bottle of concentrated 1960s is poured into a room and up spring eager adolescents waiting to be taken on a trip. Support acts come and go without causing much more disturbance than a slight breeze to sway the audience; although Childhood play very respectably. Then James Bagshaw and co. amble onstage and the indie class of ’14 go wild.

I arrived, not as one of the preachers, but as one waiting to be converted. No doubt, their singles are catchy and fresh: summery odes to wordplay and metaphor. But I jumped at the chance to see them live because it seemed to me that I was missing the something that would provide a spark for rabid praise.

It seems I have found it. With Temples the live element – the act of enjoying exactly the same musical moment en masse – creates an atmosphere which fits perfectly with the hippy undertones their songs convey. Their music is a flowing river of psychedelia poured into your ears and leaving traces of glitter and dazzle intertwined with the neurones of your brain. In other words you cannot forget that sultry voice, nor do you want those jangly melodies to ever end, each one dripping into the next but with a constant sense of pace and change.

The set starts with a euphoric ‘Colours To Life’, and as the chant of ‘love, lust, spaces in time bringing colours to life’ is echoed from the boogying bodies it really does feel like one of those leave all your troubles outside moments; you don’t have to be high to enjoy the idea of our own little shared moment. With ‘Sun Structures’, which follows next, the punters sing instead to the notes of the inescapably epic riff and join in with the ‘ahhs’ which could, in theory, belong to any old anthem but in this case make us feel special and one, which is, of course, the definition of an anthem.

The set list was a mere nine songs before the huge – but single-songed – encore of ‘Mesmerise’ blew up in our faces, with Bagshaw throwing marvellous shapes to accompany. I’m thankful that they kept their reappearance to the bare minimum; encores are a farce by nature and only the stadium greats should be permitted to indulge us in any more than what is required by concert law. Temples will be able to work off the back of this record for at least a year; I can only hope that with the next one they bring something new to the table. Having exposed their raw talent it is now time to hone their craft and present us with a beauty.

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Comparison of ‘Frozen’ and ‘Tangled’

The last two Disney princess films have been popular and commercial successes, although clearly Frozen has come out on top. This article will attempt to explain why this is in terms of the contents of both films.

The aspect which really separates the two is that Tangled is based on a pre-existing fairytale, Rapunzel, just like many other Disney Princess films are. This tends to limit the protagonists’ development and depth, a sparkling anomaly being The Princess and the Frog. Not only is Frozen original (or at least more original than Rapunzel), but it arguably features two protagonists.

Frozen is the story of Anna’s quest to reconcile with her sister Elsa, but this in itself seems to reveal the plot’s revolving around the character of Elsa. She is distinctly other to all fictional princesses (or queens in this case) you will have come across. She possesses fantastical powers, but these could easily be seen as a metaphor for a personality who’s greatest virtues can also result in great pain for its possessor. As an adult or adolescent watching Frozen, one definitely absorbs much more of the sadness of Elsa’s position than a child does, but clearly this is what causes us as ‘grown-ups’ to empathise with the character and hence experience a deeper level of enjoyment and investment in the story, and so expanding the demographic of fans. We see Elsa experience feelings of anxiety and depression (as confirmed by the creators) which we recognise from our own lives, whereas children more simply see someone who makes mistakes and suffers great loss, but who ultimately becomes a stronger person for it. This message is what makes Frozen such a modern and forward-thinking film.

Tangled wouldn’t be Disney if it didn’t feature similarly heart-warming morals, for example being your own person and – as always – following your dreams, and the protagonist is successfully modernised by being portrayed as childish and naïve. Personally I believe that Tangled suffers because of its tenuous links to reality. The difference between the two sets of characters can be most easily seen in the character’s development and reactions according to what happens in their lives.

Rapunzel in Tangled is raised without a father-figure and in seclusion from the outside world. Never once does she mention the absence of a father, but actually this is quite justifiable. What is more surprising is that it takes her 18 years to pluck up the courage to have a proper confrontation with her mother concerning her leaving of the tower. This would be less annoying if there didn’t seem to be an ulterior motive for this age: her not being a minor, meaning her relationship with Flynn Rider is uncontroversial. Later on, when Rapunzel rejoins her real family, she accepts instantaneously that the person who raised her was false and probably a psychopath, and all without any rage. The true feelings someone would experience upon this realisation could make a film of its own. These points create a sense of forced-saccharinity that perpetuates the story.

In Frozen we clearly see the sisters grieve for their parents’ death and the effect it has on their childhood. Elsa keeps herself apart as a result of fear, mourning and the pretence that she is above it all, and Anna is awkward and ungainly, an appropriate product of seclusion from the real world. Although I genuinely like the romance in Tangled, it is far from realistic, and Frozen sees Disney being very self-conscious by destroying the Prince Charming stereotype they themselves created. Whereas Tangled ends with a rushedly told happy ending of marriage, Frozen leaves the relationship between Anna and Kristoff open-ended because, after all, they only just met.

Perhaps what bothers me the most about Tangled is the moral it failed to tell. I only saw it recently so I was familiar with Rapunzel’s powers and their weakness. I was absolutely convinced that a big part of the story would be her transformation from blonde babe to brunette chic and particularly the vulnerability this would cause her to feel. I was certain that there would be a scene where her romantic partner would reassure her that he loved her no matter what her hair was like. Obviously, we have all been taught that outward appearances aren’t what count, but only alongside being taught that a woman’s outward appearance is and should be based entirely on the wants of man and man alone. In Frozen, Elsa’s hair transformation symbolises her feeling of newfound freedom accompanied by the much-loved song ‘Let It Go’. When Rapunzel got an edgy bob I was hoping for a similar song-inspiring moment, but I was disappointed. This was a point in the plot where the creators could have easily linked to everyday, real-world problems. We have all been witnesses to those packs of girls with straightened, artificially blonde hair and spider eyelashes; a sect of ‘fashion’ where the aim is to look like everyone else. Imagine if we had a film where we were explicitly told – not made to infer – that it was pretty damn cool to look different. Unfortunately we are left with a film where Rapunzel’s brown haircut only really symbolises her loss of powers. She would probably have grown it out long like everybody else.

Disney films have a long way to go to satisfy everyone’s ideals of positive body image and egalitarianism, and I could have just as easily criticised Frozen. However I believe that this article is a positive one because it shows that Disney have actually improved. Progress is change and Disney are finally trying to modernise the messages of their too-good-to-be-true tales, and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.

Coriolanus NT Live 30/1/2014

Last week I went to the theatre. In a cinema.
You have probably heard of the National Theatre’s, or more specifically soon-to-resign director Nick Hytner’s, initiative to spread the appreciation and accessibility of theatre nationally and also worldwide. The concept is so dreadfully simple – the broadcasting of the most popular and sought-after National Theatre plays on the big screen – that one wonders why after the live coronation of Queen Elizabeth II it took 56 years for this happen, until finally in 2009 theatre-viewing was begun to be made possible for the masses.

I have had the good fortune of seeing several National Theatre productions in the theatre however there are many for whom the limits of location, income and awareness mean that they do not have this opportunity. There are also the great many people who simply don’t manage to buy their tickets in time, which is where I was stuck with ‘Coriolanus’, unsurprisingly seeing as Tom Hiddleston, who has recently come to the limelight for his portrayal of Marvel villain Loki in the recent hollywood blockbusters ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Thor’, is in the lead role. The fanbase (or perhaps more accurately fangirl-base) he has thus acquired has seen people spending the night in sleeping bags outside the Donmar Warehouse (where the play has transferred to) in an attempt to buy day-release tickets.

Which leads to me buying, for the first time, a cinema ticket for a play. NT Live broadcasts are generally shown at smaller, independent cinemas which tend to have a more luxurious feel. I went to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn and from start to finish I was thoroughly impressed. Before the play began we were treated to a five minute film; part Donmar Warehouse advertisement, part interview with Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss, who plays Menenius. He is a member of comedy troupe The League of Gentlemen and is now the co-creator and -writer and of the award-laden, plot-twist-saturated and universally-loved Sherlock, in which he also plays the high-functioning sociopath’s elder brother.

The design of this production is minimal but memorable. Quite far from the grand, Empirical Rome we like to imagine, ‘Coriolanus’ is in fact set before Rome established its hold on power, and this is reflected in the stark red and grey set which includes a ladder that can be seen to represent the ascent to the Capitoline hill, Coriolanus’ rise and subsequent fall from glory and the more general theme of an ever-present thirst for power. Once the play began I was immediately taken aback by the multiple camera angles and zoom-ups which are most often used in expensively-produced talent shows.

Needless to say, the performance was superb. The cast is a true showcase of British and, in the case of Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Virgilia), foreign talent and together they make for an effortless absorption of one of the bard’s lesser-known plays. As director Josie Rourke said in her interval interview, ‘Coriolanus’ is by far Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most violent tragedy, with specific stage directions referring to the famous battle scene and the subsequent scars on Coriolanus’ body. The production has make-up effects to rival those of the films Hiddleston has been a part of, and as Rourke also says the casting of a handsome and muscular actor was integral to fully realise Shakespeare’s directions.

‘Coriolanus’ is not a text you will have studied at school, however it features a mother-son relationship as debatable as that of ‘Hamlet’ and a protagonist whose complexity will leave viewers with different levels of empathy depending on their own character. This is a direct result of Shakespeare’s genius; to be able pinpoint the unnerving truths of the human psyche so accurately that they stand the test of centuries. Having seen ‘Coriolanus’ I am truly surprised that it is not endlessly popular, as the points it has to make about politics and war are constantly relevant and a true testament to the phrase ‘history repeats itself’. I am ecstatic to be able to say that the experience of NT Live was so enjoyable, because in a best-case scenario this could be the beginning of a return to a heightened popularity of theatre and an increased interest from the younger generation who will ultimately be in charge of its continuation.

It girl: Alexa Chung and how the phrase came to be

Did Alexa Chung know the full gravity of what she was referencing when she named her book ‘It’? Alas, probably not. In contrast to her popularly modest and humble approach to celebrity life, her writing debut’s title is a not-so-subtle reference to the phrase ‘It girl’. While nowadays the term is used often and lightly its full history begs to differ.

The phrase was popularised by the 1927 film ‘It’, which launched the budding silent-film actress, Clara Bow, to global fame and gave her the nickname ‘The It girl’. Bow came to personify the Roaring Twenties (though she is little remembered now) due to her acting skills and fashionable appearance. The film was based on the novel ‘It’ written by Elinor Glyn in the same year, she then going on to write the screenplay. Glyn is often credited with coining the term It girl, and in the book she describes It as:

‘To have ‘It’, the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes… In the animal world ‘It’ demonstrates in tigers and cats – both animals being fascinating and mysterious, and quite unbiddable.’

In the film this is loosely translated to:

‘Self-confidence and indifference whether you are pleasing or not and something in you that gives the impression that you are not at all cold.’

Although she was perhaps the first to go into such detail trying to define It, Rudyard Kipling had in fact introduced this idea to modern literature two decades before in the short story ‘Mrs. Bathurst’ from 1904:

‘It isn’t beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It’s just ‘It’. Some women will stay in a man’s memory if they once walk down the street.’

Clara Bow stated that she wasn’t sure what It meant, but later she would identify Marilyn Monroe as an It girl, but more interestingly, Robert Mitchum as an It man, which brings us to an intriguing point. The phrase ‘It man’ has most certainly not passed into the cultural lexicon of modern language; It is a quality available only to women, and nowadays that is not disputed. It would be too easy to attribute this to the femininity and sex appeal part of It, and although this is a valid point I believe (and hope) that the truth is slightly less demeaning. I think that for someone to have It they must be attractive to both men and women equally, if perhaps in slightly different ways. Men may be sexually attracted, whereas women are attracted via the envy we feel: that bittersweet emotion where one is simultaneously in admiration of someone and yet also deeply jealous. This trait predominantly occurs in girls, if only for the reason that western culture dictates that men be fiercely opposed to being seen as possibly gay whilst also being pro-homosexuality. Girls idolise and fall in love with famous men, but when regarding other girls it’s another story. A girl might acknowledge that another is pretty, but beware, for this always leads to a pang of resentment, however small. For a girl to have It in the eyes of another girl is in fact a feat not lightly accomplished, and this in itself captures the nature of It perfectly.

To be a modern It girl is a status not easily achieved. It is important to remember that the original It girl, Clara Bow, was given that nickname by her fans on a very limited basis: her (mostly silent) films, and her appearances in magazines and newspapers. She was an It girl before the age of television and chat shows, before the hyper technology-dependent society of today where celebrities are expected to keep the world up to date on their day to day lives. We live in an era where the term ‘celebrity’ has become degraded to the point where anybody can seize their own 15 minutes through such a variety of ways as never seen before, and where those who truly deserve that status as someone to be celebrated prefer not to use that word, its meaning now having become vulgar and vague.

My point is that with every new social network and gadget from which to access it having It is becoming something which it should mean even more to have now than it once did, because for someone to possess that near indescribable It, almost everyone must agree. Which means that as soon as you learn something undesirable about someone or something they have said, their chances of being deemed an It girl are greatly diminished. There is only one kind of career that allows people to be forever seen and not heard. You knew it was coming because of who you instantly think of when you hear/read the phrase It girl: models.

Which brings us straight back to Alexa Chung. With her multi-racial good-looks, a slim figure that has ‘inspired’ so many adolescent girls and her very own Twiggy-esque, peter-pan collar donning style to charm all she is undoubtedly the world’s no.1 It girl, Kate Moss having been relegated due to her unfortunate drug habits and diminishing youth. She has borrowed retro fashions and climbed up the arms of several musician boyfriends to finally reach this status, which now seems to give her the right to write a book of her inspirations and advice that includes several pictures of, um, Kate Moss and Twiggy. She will make even more money and her fans will continue to grovel, but no one could ever say that the book is inspirational or that her advice is helpful, let alone necessary. But neither are It girls, and yet they are now an irrevocable part of our society; an impossible mirage of perfection which, of course, can never actually be reached.