04 December 2016

making faces :: becca makes me blush

dom is extremely understanding about my makeup addiction interest. he not only knows that a colourful treat can pick me up when i'm feeling ground down, but he even appreciates different colours, textures and looks and is great at making suggestions. i'm a lucky lady. where he draws the line, though, is with blush. by his own admission, he can't ever tell one from the other and i imagine that's true for many people: unless it's applied really heavily, it's always just a few tones from your natural skin colour, and if it is applied really heavily, chances are you look crazy.

but i can always tell when i get blushes and highlighters just right. i'll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and there will be a difference that's visible even if the view is fleeting; i find i'll look healthy or, and i've never quite figured out why this should be the case, happy. having a perfectly complementary colour seems to bring a positive energy to my face. but not just one complementary colour, of course. the fun is in finding different ways to achieve different effects.

and since i'd already had my interest piqued by becca with their highlighter palette last year, i was excited when they launched both a new blush line and a series of duos [as part of their collaboration with makeup artist jaclyn hill] that featured both a blush [in their previously existing, matte mineral formula] plus one of the two highlighters developed for the hill line.

i snoozed and lost with the large blush and highlighter jaclyn hill palette earlier this year, but since i already had one of the highlighters, 'champagne pop' from last year's palette, and not all of the blushes looked like a good match for my colouring, it was actually a bit of a relief when the blush i most wanted and the second highlighter were made available as a duo only. less money, and i get just what i want.

the duo in question is 'pamplemousse' mineral blush and 'prosecco pop' highlighter. 'pamplemousse' is french for grapefruit, and, indeed, the shade does look like a very bright red pink, much like the inside of the fruit when it's been sliced in half. it's a lot less like the colour of pink grapefruit juice, or sliced grapefruit, which is lighter and softer. this is a bold colour, although it fortunately can be applied lightly and diffused to keep the effect from looking too dramatic on light skin.

pamplemousse

i was a little surprised that this shade wasn't closer to others in my collection, because, when i first laid eyes on it, i thought it would be. mac 'salsarose' is pinker and deeper. armani '509' is considerably deeper and looks almost magenta by comparison, which shows that 'pamplemousse' has more warmth in it than is immediately apparent. for colour analysis purposes, it's a shade that will flatter both bright seasons- winter and spring- immensely, having a lot of pigment and a warm-under-cool kind of tone that can be hard to find. it's also available as a single shade, which may be important to you, as i'll explain shortly.

l to r :: mac salsarose, pamplemousse, blush d'armani 509

the texture of the blush felt a little stiff and it wasn't the easiest to blend out, but it also didn't just blend away. given the two options, i'd rather blend more and apply less. on the skin, the finish is beautiful. it's very smooth, doesn't emphasize pores and it gives an especially healthy glow if you buff it with a soft brush. it is a mostly matte finish, but buffing gives it some sheen, if that's your preference. i'd say the wear time was about average on me, which for a mineral blush is not great, but it's one of the better mineral formulas i've tried for longevity.

'prosecco pop' like all of becca's shimmering skin perfector highlighters, is for those whose highlighting tastes are more vegas than paris. their luminous skin perfectors are very consistent, with a shine that's nearly metallic. you will glow like a spotlight, even with a relatively light application, which, combined with the fact that the high-shine finish can emphasize pores, makes them most appropriate to nighttime wear.

the colour looks like a bright, clear, yellowy gold in the pan and you'd better believe that's how it looks on skin. there's a warmer, slightly orange undertone i could see, which i think is the effect of the gold layered over the pink tones in my cheeks. this is absolutely a warm-toned product, best suited, i think, to warm spring complexions, although probably some autumn ones as well. [the strong yellow tones could make it look a little too hard on an autumn face.]

prosecco pop

i don't have a highlighter that looks much like this at all. both hourglass 'luminous light' and becca's own 'champagne pop' look quite peachy by comparison, and those are the most yellow-toned highlighters i own.

l to r :: hourglass luminous light, prosecco pop, becca champagne pop

the highlighter, lovely though it is, is too warm for my skin, so i have to be careful how much i apply and wear. yes, i can make it work, because getting some effect takes very little product, and layering it over something cooler creates a balance, but it's not the easiest match with my skin.

if it is a great match for yours, and if you like the metal gleam that becca offers, this is a really nice and original highlight. most gold tones are either whitened, which makes them much cooler, or browned, which makes them more muted. this is warm and saturated. the blush has enough warmth that it could work with the typical true spring complexion, i think, especially when it's layered with the highlight. bright spring would be the next best match.

next up, we have 'camelia', which is one of the new shimmering skin perfector blushes that were launched in the early summer. these are meant to combine the colour of a regular blush with the shimmery finish of their highlighters. i chose 'camelia' because i was shocked to discover that i was remarkably short on plain pink blushes, ones that didn't pull too lavender or peach, not too light or dark, and i had nothing in the entire family that was even a little shimmery. clearly, we were meant to be.

the coverage on this is described as "buildable", which is usually code for "starts off kind of light and sheer". i cannot imagine what complexion would need to build up this colour. unless your face is an astrological anomaly that absorbs colour and light, multiple passes are not going to be necessary. which is to say that the formula is very pigmented. it's described as a "ballerina pink", which is a reasonably accurate description of the base colour [i remember my ballet slippers being somewhat lighter, but it's been a very long time]. but what really steals the show here is the infusion of smooth, light gold shimmer. the effect isn't quite as high-wattage as the plain highlighters, but it is pretty dazzling. it's more of a combination blush and highlighter than one or the other.

camelia [one swipe]

as i mentioned, i don't have a lot of blushes in this range, but here's a comparison with the closest one i could find, mac mineralize blush in 'dainty'. as you can see, 'camelia' is deeper, pinker and cooler.

l to r :: camelia, mac dainty

the downside of this is that the colour can emphasise pores, and the more you blend, the more emphasis you're going to get. my advice is to take a very fluffy brush [i like the mac 188] and tap it in place, then diffuse around the edges. of course, if you want to amp up the highlighter effect, blend away!

although it's not quite what was promised, i have no problem with the full-colour application, particularly since the formula is so soft and blendable. the colour really is a gorgeous pink that will suit a lot of complexions. any kind of spring mix, from bright winter to light summer is likely to find this fits right in, and will just need to get the level of colour they want.

here's a look at these beauties in action [and a sneak preview of some other products i'll be reviewing in the near future], starting with the combination of 'prosecco pop' and 'pamplemousse'. this is what the two of them look like layered- blush on bottom, highlighter on top, although if you want to reduce the effect on your pores, you could do it the other way around.

this is a pretty bright application, which i thought suited the summery colours of the rest of my makeup. [i've been sitting on this review for rather a long time.]




the eye makeup is a combination of brands and shades, including shiseido 'fire opal', a gorgeous bright orange that's sadly discontinued, and mac 'natural wilderness'. the lip gloss is anastasia 'date night', a bold red-pink with a bit of translucency. the overall look i was going for here was saturated colour, but with a sheen that meant nothing looked flat. it's all supposed to catch the light.

next up, we have a softer, moodier look with 'camelia'. as i said, there's no need for a highlighter with this one, although i am wearing guerlain pressed meteorites as a finishing powder, which tamps down the shimmer just a teensy bit. i think that this shows how camelia can be a natural-looking shade, but still give a healthy dose of colour.




the eye makeup here is made up of mainly one colour: armani's matte eye tint in 'fur smoke', which is the closest i'll get to wearing fur. the lipstick is nars' 'apoline', a recent addition to their audacious collection.

tl;dr i really like both products, but would recommend a light hand to avoid too much colour. both 'prosecco pop' and 'camelia' can do unkind things to large pores, especially when buffed onto the skin. if you're looking for a colour that suits your complexion, these will work best on someone whose complexion has at least some warmth and can handle pretty saturated, clear shades that are neither very light nor very dark.

i keep telling myself that i'll have to eventually try something other than a cheek product from becca, but they're really not making that easy for me.

01 December 2016

sounds good

listening to different languages as often as i do these days, i've noticed that i'm developing certain favourites, simply in terms of the way that they sound. it may seem strange, but i find it relaxing to just listen to someone speak a few lines in a language- any language, even one i don't understand. the catholic church has been aware of the power of a remote language for centuries, sticking to latin long after their faithful had adopted other tongues. it is very much like hearing someone cast a magic spell over you, which, in the case of religion, is pretty much what it is.

these things are, of course, totally subjective, but as it happens there is an annual language world cup, where participants get to vote on their favourite, match by match, over ten weeks, among 64 of the most popular languages in the world. 2016 saw the fifth annual competition and, for the second time, polish came out as the grand victor, edging out italian, while german claimed third prize against spanish. and yes, polish coming out on top is just about as shocking as it would be if poland won the actual world cup, because, if you go with the theory that having a large number of native speakers gives you a leg up, polish started the tournament at a massive disadvantage compared to languages like mandarin, english and spanish.

of course, the top tens, a website dedicated to creating dynamic lists of all sorts through popular voting, has french rated as #1. [french was the 2015 winner of the language world cup, too.] in fact, romance languages occupy every one of the top four positions, while polish doesn't even crack the top twenty [although two other slavic languages, russian and ukrainian, are in the top ten]. that's not entirely surprising, because romance languages have long been praised for their flowing, musical sound. lord byron said that italian sounded "as if it should be writ on satin", a phrase which, ironically, sounds like verbal sex when actually said in italian: "come se dovrebbe essere scritto su raso."

the magic of italian is that its words almost always end in vowels, which means that whatever you're saying is rushing towards the ultimate destination of a sensuously opened mouth, the sound fading from the lips rather than coming to a crashing halt against your teeth or getting shot like an arrow from the tongue. while not all romance languages share this trait, to the ears of someone used to communicating in a west germanic tongue that crackles like crusty bread, they all sound softer and more buttery.

although i'm hardly equipped to offer a comprehensive list- there are seven thousand languages in the world and i have only two ears in which to put them- i thought i'd share some of my favourites with you, my own personal "loveliest and most luscious languages".

xhosa

i don't know nearly enough about african languages to pick favourites, but it is impossible not to love a language that incorporates a variety of clicking sounds. [really, though, the question should be why the rest of us don't.] but the end result is that the language basically comes with its own rhythm section.



polish

what can i say? i think the language world cup might have gotten it right. although those consonant clusters look like someone got their face stuck in a typewriter and like it would sound much the same, polish is a language of incredible lightness and delicacy. the key to getting it right is to just let it flutter out of you. a friend of mine described it as being whispery, which it is thanks to the frequent use of affricates [those sounds you make by pushing them through your teeth]. so it combines the elegance of french [including all those vowel sounds we westerners struggle to reproduce] with a mystery all its own.



greek

if you like the softness of the romance languages, you're going to love greek. they don't even bother with bumpy sounds like 'b', 'd' and the hard 'g', and make great use of 'th' [voiced and unvoiced]. there is definitely an element of serpentine temptation that coils its way through everything in this language.



mongolian

i don't even know how to describe this. it's tempting to think that it's a combination of asian and russian/ slavic, but the fact is that it predates any russian presence in the area. i personally think this jewel of a language was a gift from aliens who came to the siberian wilds centuries ago.



icelandic

this language is a sort of living antique, being closer to the old norse of epic poetry than to its near nordic cousins norwegian, swedish and danish. [it's also apparently fiendishly difficult to learn compared to those languages.] and indeed, it does sound rather like poetry. well, maybe not at this one infamous moment... but normally.



vietnamese

i feel like this is what language would sound like if you fused a human being with a glockenspiel. there's a crisp, bell-like sound to every phoneme and phrase, so that it has that shivery effect like when someone runs their fingers very softly over your skin.



lithuanian

being the closest thing to the original indo-european language, it's fitting that it sounds like everything and like nothing else. its only close relative is neighbouring latvian, but while you can spot similarities with several european tongues, it also has a number of parallels with sanskrit. i haven't yet managed to find a good online course for this beauty, but i'm determined that some day, i'm going to be able to sound like that...



so that is my list of favourites. it's admittedly european-heavy simply because those are the languages to which i've been most frequently exposed. do any of these tickle your eardrums? or are there others that hold you rapt? 

29 November 2016

mental health mondays :: social disease

the woman on the left is an introvert.
the woman in the centre is judging you.
like a lot of introverts, i enjoy public speaking. think that sounds contradictory? i can understand your confusion, because there's a tendency to assume that all introverts are shy types, lacking in confidence. but for many introverts, discomfort doesn't come from having to be around people, but from having to interact with people, and the more personal and less structured the interaction, the more uncomfortable we get. but put us in a situation where we have to do something like deliver a speech in a highly controlled environment, where the other people are at a distance and where there's no need for incidental small talk, and we're surprisingly comfortable.

that wasn't always the case, for me, though. for most of my early life, i was so petrified of public speaking that i would go to almost any length to avoid it. if i had to speak in front of a class at school, i would feel physically ill for hours beforehand. i tried the whole "confront your fears" thing by participating in school debate clubs and model parliaments, which succeeded only in making me feel like the worst public speaker in recorded history. [not that any of it was recorded. i'm thankful every day for the fact that recording and sharing technology was unknown at the time.] at that point in my life, i wasn't just an introvert, but someone with a social phobia, and a very common one.

i share those rather mundane details as a way of illustrating a point: social phobia, or social anxiety, is not the same as being introverted. social anxiety stems from a deep-seated fear of the reactions of others. in our ancient, pre-linguistic cave-dwelling past, that reaction was what warned us not to just wander up to groups of hominids we didn't know. it's still the reaction that makes us say "no, strange person in the dirty panel van, i would not like to come and see the video arcade that you've installed in your basement." but, as we've reformed our world faster than our mind can adjust, those very reasonable reactions start poking out like springs in an old mattress, and, like those springs, they can cause some pretty ungodly pain.

people with social anxiety have difficulty meeting other people, interacting with authority figures, and being the subject of attention [especially if the attention seems belittling, like someone teasing them or criticizing them]. introverts, despite the fact that western culture esteems extroverts, can generally find their way through the social ecosystem without too many problems. people with social anxiety can't. their fear of failure and/ or ridicule is crippling. [oh, and if you're one of those blustery types who says that you don't care what anyone thinks of you, because you just do what you want, consider that the need to assert your superiority over something may well be a defense mechanism in and of itself.]

the term "social anxiety disorder" is tossed around a lot and, like obsessive compulsive disorder, it gets pretty heavily abused. often, people refer to themselves as having social anxiety because they don't like to be in a crowd. [in all my years on this planet, i have yet to meet anyone who likes being in a crowd. the reactions generally range from barely tolerant to outright rage.] there is also the potential to equate social anxiety with shyness, which is tricky, because people who have social anxiety are shy, they're just shy on a level that goes beyond the usual "takes a while to come out of their shell" way. [side note :: the western obsession with individuality seems to put us at a far greater risk than cultures that have a more collectivist mindset. the pressure to be our own, individual person creates a bizarre side effect: the inability to be our own, individual person among others.]

while people with social anxiety can have panic attacks in situations where they might feel exposed, there's no rule that says that panic and social anxiety go together [or that panic and any kind of anxiety go together for that matter]. a person can feel troubled and emotional and uneasy without breaking into full-blown panic and that doesn't mean the problem is any less serious. [some argue that people with panic disorder don't even realise that their attacks are stress induced and believe them to be caused by a physical problem outside the brain. i don't personally agree with that hypothesis, but it's an opinion that comes from folks who are more versed than i am in the world of psychology.] so having a complete meltdown is not a prerequisite for being considered socially disordered.

so how do you tell the difference between acceptable shyness and a disorder? well, my smart-ass answer is that you don't, a doctor does. but a useful way of approaching things, if you don't yet want to involve a doctor, is to try to track situations where you feel stressed and unable to function, and to take special note of things that you may avoid doing/ feel unable to do because of that stress. being unable to bring yourself to sing karaoke might not be something that compromises your future [if you have a voice like me, it's something that might save it]. being unable to voice an opinion in a group at work, on the other hand, could keep you from being able to progress in a field that you really love. and avoiding certain activities altogether stops you from experiencing any of the enjoyment and benefits you might get from them.

a lot of the time, social anxiety triggers visible physical symptoms, like profuse sweating, stammering, flushing and trembling. and while we all get those sometimes, they shouldn't be overwhelming and they shouldn't be so obvious that other people are worried. but even if the signs are physical, if the unpleasant symptoms you associate with interacting with others are powerful enough to stop you from doing something you actually want to, or feel you need to, do, they're worth talking to someone about.

unfortunately, a number of people, professionally trained people, think that the best way to work through this is to just confront the fear head on. [do they tell that to people who have a fear of death, i wonder?] that's a pretty ugly way in which a professional can be wrong and, given that interactions with professionals or authority figures are often difficult for people with social anxiety disorder, it's something that likely prolongs a lot of people's suffering.

why? because the problem in social anxiety disorder isn't with the social interactions per se, but with the thought patterns surrounding them. encouraging people to put themselves in situations that scare them is only helpful if those fears have a solid rational base, e.g., "i am afraid of the ocean because i don't know how to swim." someone with that sort of fear might be terrified to take swimming lessons, but, through careful and controlled exposure, could learn to overcome the fear. however, if i am left flushed and shaking at the thought of being around strangers and having to talk to them, chances are i don't fear what they are actually going to do to me. i don't go to meetings in the office thinking that if they don't like my plan for the upcoming quarter, they're going to skin me alive. instead, i fear on some level that they find me ridiculous or ignorant, and that on its own, even if they have no power to do anything else to me [and even if i am not eager to impress those specific individuals], is enough to make me ill. people who have social anxiety are often well aware that their fears are not rational [as in, they know that nothing bad is really going to happen to them], but that's sort of like me saying i understand the process of nuclear fusion in theory: neither one of these things is going to have an effect on real world events. a therapist who insists that all a person needs to do is face their fears, without any other help, is not someone who should be entrusted with healing your brain. [keep in mind that, at the other end of the spectrum, there's no evidence whatsoever that medication alone helps with social anxiety in anything but the immediate short term. if all your doctor wants you to do is medicate before a potentially stressful situation, tell them to prescribe something in a single malt, since that's going to have a lot fewer additional ingredients for your system to process.]

so, no matter how uncomfortable you feel about standing your ground against someone in a position of authority, never let yourself be bullied into a course of treatment that doesn't feel right. ask questions. ask all the questions. ask for better answers from better people if you don't like the ones that you're getting. you have the right to live with manageable levels of stress in regular situations. social anxiety is a burden, but it's actually one that's very responsive to therapy [which, unlike drugs or just thrusting yourself into a situation you fear, actually will address the thought patterns that are associated with your stress]. so grab life by the horns, or the reins, or whatever part you feel would make the best sort of statement. make eye contact with people you don't know for just long enough to seem confident but not creepy. smile at someone you've just met and be comfortable in the knowledge that they aren't judging you because they couldn't care less about your existence and won't even remember your name in twenty minutes. march into work tomorrow and tell the coworker whose desk is located closest to the meeting room that you've vomited in her filing cabinet for the last time. you are wounded, but you can heal. 

22 November 2016

making faces :: flower of scotland

ah, the resilient, hardy thistle. the english can go on about their roses, but the oldest national flower that we know of is the thistle, and it represents the resilient, hardy scots who sit forever perched on england's shoulder. it's a peculiar-looking purple flower, encircled by stems with sharp thorns and invasive like a weed, and it does seem to rather sum up the condition of scottish-ness rather well.

it's also, as it turns out, the name of one of the six lipsticks launched by bite beauty this summer as the first extension of their "amuse bouche" lipstick line. given my well-established interest in genealogy and family history, as well as my obsession with lipsticks, it was always pretty much a given that i was going to buy a lipstick called "thistle" no matter what. the fact that it exists in what has become one of my very favourite formulas in the world is just a bonus.

the thistle flower itself is a surprisingly bold purple. i say "surprisingly" because scotland isn't exactly going to rival fiji for its bold natural colour palette. indeed, as comedian craig ferguson has noted, in scotland, damp is a colour. everything about the landscape is muted and misty and the chief reason that the thistle was selected as the national flower, adorning everything from military honours to football jerseys, was probably because it was the only thing that stood out on the bloody landscape.

however, bite haven't chosen to reproduce the colour of the... er... petals [?] of the thistle in their lipstick. instead, i'd say that the colour captures the beauteous spirit of scotland, infused with a bit of the purple thistle, but encircled with a rainbow of glorious damp. it's a neutral, but in no way the sort of fleshy tone that might be inferred by the term "neutral". indeed, if your flesh is the colour of this lipstick, i'd suggest seeking medical assistance. it's about halfway between the notoriously difficult to define shades of taupe and mauve, meaning that it has elements of earthy brown and cool purple, but tempered with a lot of grey.

thistle
thistle

one of the stories about how the thistle came to be scotland's national flower says that the norse king haakon [no detail as to which one] tried to invade scotland, but that his plans were foiled when one of his soldiers trod on a thistle and the sleeping scottish guards were alerted to the intruders. interestingly, as i've noted before in a post about my genealogical research, the scottish part of my ancestry was more than likely the invader in that scenario than the fortunate guard [and it would surprise no one to know that a relative of mine clumsily stepped on something]. thus it is appropriate that this lipstick, much though its connections with scottishness might seem a perfect match, is one that falls absolutely outside the range of colour i can comfortably wear.

thistle
"thistle" is a shade that's meant for people with sci/art true summer and soft summer complexions. my own bright season colouring isn't at all suited to its subdued, mysterious beauty. and, like a typical scot, i will say that i do na giv' a toss what anyone thinks, because this shade is such a wonderfully original, subtly thrilling colour that i'll wear it even with the stubbornness and pride that are my genetic heritage.

indeed, even among my unwieldy large lipstick collection, i could find very little that resembled this highland gem. mac's daring "viva glam rihanna 2" is darker, browner, more shimmery... basically, i just pulled this one because i thought it had a similar taupe quality, but they're not that close at all.

l to r :: thistle, mac viva glam rihanna 2 [l.e.]

so how poorly matched is it to my complexion? here's a look at it in use alongside and orange sweater that's also too muted and a deep teal eyeliner [urban decay 'invasion'] that should really be the property of autumn-season women only.




i don't care. this is a magnificent lipstick, that fulfills all of the high expectations that the formula has set for itself. it's a unique shade that, while it might not be what you'd call universal, can fit in a lot of situations without seeming garish or risky. i shall persist in wearing it and, if you're at all intrigued by the powers of oatcakes and damp, you should give it a try as well. if you are one of those lucky lasses, scot or not, who looks her best in cool, muted shades, those ones that everyone always seems to have trouble describing, you need to rush out to the moors of sephora and snag this flower for yourself. [it's a permanent addition to the line, though, so no need to shove, lass.]

21 November 2016

originals

i'm going to blame this one on the #nameapencemusical trend that was going around on twitter earlier [i am sticking with my first choice "white side story"], but somehow, i ended up watching a bunch of clips from cabaret on youtube. cabaret is my favourite musical ever, not just because i have the same fascination with weimar germany that everyone with my slightly dark tastes seems to have, but because i'm kind of amazed that the film of it got made when it did. people whose lives had been directly shaped by the second world war were very much alive. homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. abortion was illegal. but somehow, producers were persuaded to take a racy broadway play that included references to bisexuality and abortion, set in the "good old days" in germany before the war, that was based on an unsuccessful film of a moderately well-received novel by christopher isherwood and put it in the hands of bob fosse, whose previous cinematic effort, sweet charity, had been a critical and box office disaster. it's one of those situations where you know that what's about to happen is going in the history books for either bad or good reasons.

cabaret went into the history books for all good reasons: it carted off an arseload of oscars [mere weeks after the supreme court passed judgment on the roe vs wade case], including ones for fosse as best director, liza minelli as best actress and joel grey, whose wordless performance netted him an award for best supporting actor.

while i don't want to give out spoilers, i'll put it out there that a film about libertine sexuality set in the last days of the weimar republic as the nazis rose to power is not exactly going to be the sort of musical that you watch with the family. [note :: unless you're my family. this film served as my introduction to bisexuality, abortion and cabaret-style performances, because my upbringing was super-efficient that way.] rather, it's a bleak look at a fractured period of history, the intermission between the two world wars, when people wanted to believe [but didn't really] that the horror of the first was over and never to be repeated.

the play was revived in 1993 in london by director sam mendes [american beauty, jarhead], and his version was brought back to broadway to become one of the most successful revivals of all time. i hadn't seen any clips from the revival show until last night, when i stumbled over them, the way that one does, on youtube. and, although it had been a while since i saw the film, i couldn't help but think that the later performances of sally bowles, nightclub performer and unlikely heroine, seemed a little different than what i'd remembered. things change, of course, every actor would play a role slightly differently, but in this case, there was a clear demarcation between minnelli and all the others.

[ok, seriously, if spoilers are a problem for you, stop here.]

the title song of cabaret comes as sally has decided to leave behind the dream of domestic bliss offered by her american lover, and return to the seedy glory of the kitkat club. the choice, of course, is also to stay in germany and face the coming storm rather than escape to the comparative safety of paris. it's an emotional moment for her, with the loss of a relationship, and the knowledge that something bad is closing in on her and her friends at the club. nonetheless, the show must go on and, in the minnelli performance we see a young woman who is rallying the outcasts at the club to live as if there's no tomorrow [while we shudder at the irony].



in the 1993 revival in london saw the role played by jane horrocks, fresh off the success of the first series of absolutely fabulous, where she played bubble, the dimwitted assistant of wannabe p.r. magnate edina monsoon. you can definitely see some of horrocks' natural inclination to make things comedic and zany, which is fine, but doesn't it seem like there's an extra effort being made to slow down and annunciate the lyrics, just to make sure that we don't miss the significance of the words?



when the mendes version of the play was brought back to new york five years later, the late natasha richardson starred as sally. her tense, jittery, wild-eyed performance is closer to gloria swanson in sunset boulevard than to minnelli in cabaret.



the revival was itself revived in london and then again on broadway in 2014 and this time, both michelle williams and emma stone took a turn as sally and both of them push the performance even further into drama: there is no missing the anguish in the central character's voice and face and there is no way that rendition of the song was making anyone in that club feel like they were escaping the ugliness of the world.

michelle williams ::



emma stone ::



so what gives? how and why did sally become such a downer?

well, you could say that a film performance is always going to be far more naturalistic than a stage performance, so you can't compare them directly. but that's only a matter of the gestures and expressions, not the voice. closing one's eyes during the different renditions of the track doesn't change the progression of the performance. it starts off sounding like a typical 30s-era song and ends up full-on les misérables.

although technology and people sneaking cellphones into things they shouldn't allows us to see these clips in isolation, most people seeing and hearing these performances would presumably have seen the two hours of film or play that proceed them. audiences are aware that sally bowles, in a combination of strength and self-destructiveness, has walked away from the man she loves. we know that the characters in and around the club are aware of the creeping spectre of nazi violence and hatred. why do we now need to see and hear her pain pushing through her tough exterior with greater and greater force every time the show is resurrected?

dom and i [and most of our friends] bitch a lot about how the subtlety has gone out of performance arts in general, and how that's become a self-fulfilling prophecy. indeed, the staging of the 1993 london revival, which has become the template for everything since, ends with the remaining cast at the club stripping and retreating as the primary nazi character in the story casually destroys the club set, and, as the club patrons and performers press into a huddled pile of naked bodies, the sound of gas being released fills the room. so it's not just the one song where the import of what we're seeing is being hammered home with a lot more force.

people assume that fosse's vagueness at certain points of cabaret were instances of self-censorship forced on him by the standards of the time. but when the film was released, it was initially given an 'x' rating in both the united states and the united kingdom, and producers had to fight to get it reduced to 'adults only' just so that it could be shown in regular theatres. if fosse was really concerned about how people were going to react, he would have edited a lot more than he did. he was vague in a few parts because he knew that sometimes it's more powerful not to say or show something explicitly. he knew the audience would get it anyway.

audience at a berlin nightclub, 1924
in the intervening forty-five years, it seems like directors and actors have become a lot less confident in their audience's ability to pick up on things. so now, if you're not going to say it outright, you better be certain you communicate it pretty clearly in other means. if people don't pick up the hint, it's the director's fault, not theirs. so, yes, they want to make sure that they take pains to show us that sally isn't as happy about going back to her old life as she might have seemed in 1972.

but i think that there's more at work here than that. i feel like we, as an audience, don't just need to be reassured that sally bowles isn't just hurting because she feels she's been forced to choose between her independence and the man she loves, or because she knows that the rising popularity and power of the nazis is an ill omen for all of them. we need to be reassured that she knows that the nazis are the nazis. we need to know that the fear that she is feeling is the fear of someone who knows that they are witnessing the rise of the darkest political force ever. but that's a ridiculous idea, because, much though the nazi party was criticized and ridiculed, and though certain factions of the party were associated with violent and thuggish behaviour, people in 1931 germany didn't think that they would literally start shipping off jews, gypsies, queers, the disabled and others to prison camps and then packing them into ovens. if you'd said that to anyone at the time, they would have thought you were a loon. which is not to say that hitler's populist rhetoric and contempt for all those groups wasn't known, but there's a big difference between knowing he had said that the jews had sold germany out in the great war and that they represented a continued threat to german safety as long as they remained in the country, and knowing that means that his government are going to act on those beliefs by murdering millions of people.

we want to believe that people knew that what was happening in 1930s germany was different than anything else. because if no one knew that things were that bad, if they were living in the kingdom of the devil himself and they thought this was normal, that means that anyone could be hitler, or at least anyone could be like hitler, and we wouldn't know until things had gotten so out of control that they couldn't possibly be walked back. we need to know that the nazis were special, and that, if anyone like that came around, we'd be able to spot them a mile off, because they'd look exactly the same.

jean ross
we like to think that, because it's comforting to believe that people were fooled by hitler and his nazis [actually, a rather derisive term used to describe them because of it's similarity both to the party's name and to 'ignaz', a nickname kind of like 'bubba' and generally applied to the same sort of people in the south of germany as 'bubba' is to people in the south of the united states]. either they were one of his ravenous supporters, or they just didn't spot the violence simmering under the surface of his campaign. but the fact is that there were lots of critics pointing these things out. it's just that the people to whom his message was most resonant- poor southerners, labourers in the north who had lost their jobs and educated people from smaller cities who'd been knocked from the middle class by the waves of economic crises that hit the country after the end of the great war- they were prepared to give him a pass on some of his views, because those weren't of primary importance to them. and hitler's attacks were directed primarily against groups that a lot of people in a lot of countries disliked, sometimes to the point of violence.

there was a real life sally bowles, a young englishwoman from a privileged background who'd chosen to embrace the seamy world of the berlin nightlife as a performer and  a participant. her name was jean ross and when writer christopher isherwood first sought to have his short story "sally bowles" [later included in his episodic novel goodbye to berlin] published, the resemblance was so obvious that his editor told him to get ross's permission to print the story, so that she couldn't sue them. ross happened to be on vacation in england when hitler came to power, and she was aware enough of what he represented to know that she was better off not going back. [her story is pretty fascinating all the way through.]

ross never went to see a performance of the play that was made from goodbye to berlin, or of cabaret. she died in 1973, so she never could have seen the revival shows. i think it would be fascinating to know which one seemed most authentic to her: the stubbornly cheerful person determined to enjoy every moment life gives her, or the one trying to distract herself from the profound evil that is imposing itself ever more upon her. but maybe i'm missing the point. whether she felt defiant or terrified, neither jean ross nor any of her friends could be certain how bad things would get as they sang and drank and danced in the berlin nightclubs. that's something they would only be able to know when the music was over.

p.s. :: the image at the top is a poster by polish artist wiktor gorka. a cold war-era polish artists interpreting an american filmmaker's interpretation of a british writer's experience of the end of weimar-era germany. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...