Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Danish Girl

This is a case in point of the trailer showing most of the film. But the two questions left remaining – what happens to Gerda and Einar’s marriage when he becomes Lili, and does Lili survive her treatments? – are answered sadly.


I was thinking how well crafted the film was, and how engaging the lead parts – Alicia Vikander is utterly charming and her pain infectious. I wanted the Wegener’s marriage to work, I wanted Einar to find happiness and acceptance as Lili. I was pleased that it seemed to ultimately be more The King’s Speech in tone [director Tom Hooper’s previous film], despite perhaps greater anguish and less laughs… but then, the end came suddenly.




I walked out of the cinema, numb, and looked to the net for solace. I was pleased that someone else had not only articulated some of my thoughts but could tell me that this wasn’t quite the true story. I particularly refer to Amy Nicholson’s piece which claims that the biopic formula undermines the real life story.


I’m less concerned about formula – I thought the article would talk about format and turning points – than in the ultimate portrayal. To become Lili, Einar must die; she negates the marriage shared (which was c20 years in real life, not just 6 as in the film). Curtains are drawn across the bed, a veil in every possible way. I had expected and hoped that Gerda and Lili found a way to continue to be together, but that’s not even discussed; when Einar transitions, Gerda is a widow. She doesn’t gain a wife, she loses a husband.


I admire the bisexual stance that sees people first, genders later, and therefore would see that the change in body is less of a radical change in person – for isn’t the point of transitioning becoming physically who you believe yourself to be inside? I have read a few times that Gerda was bisexual. Her paintings suggest it (especially the erotic ones we don’t see in the film) as does the intensified passion when Einar first starts dressing as a woman. Gerda’s modern and bohemian – enough to accept Einar’s true identity as a woman. They at last find friends and a doctor to support them – but only in Lili’s physical creation, not in a gay relationship. It almost felt a bit seesaw: trans up  – gay/bi down. It’s odd as that’s not apparently what happened with the Wegeners. And it seems to not be very LGB friendly.


Einar’s draw to becoming female does seem quite exterior, as Amy Nicholson observed. Eddie Redmayne’s performance recalled Billy Crudup’s in Stage Beauty, where the male impersonation of a woman involves high, unassertive voices and dainty stereotypical hand movements which neither actress playing opposite employed. Women aren’t like the drag versions of us; this felt like a theatrical farce of feminity.


The last film about a male to female transsexual I saw was Laurence Anyways, a Canadian French film starring Melville Poupard (how I love his name), and a similar issue – a heterosexual couple faces the transition of the man into another woman. It ran into a decade and 3 hours of screen time, but it wasn’t just the trans factor that sometimes made the couple separate. I couldn’t really see what killed the Wegener’s marriage. I didn’t feel happy that Gerda embarks on a new relationship and Lili, who did find a male partner in life, is not allowed to enjoy her new body in the film. Her identity is never known publically (it was in reality for 20 years). She doesn’t paint as Lili, although she does leave us a diary. We never see the family reaction, who are not in the film at all. Lili and Gera seem quite isolated, save lascivious artists, art dealers and the doctors.


Amy Nicholson comments that the doctors are the baddies of the film – and yes, they are. They radiate (something I don’t support as a cancer treatment), and they nearly lock Einar up as mentally ill – the manual for psychiatric disorders (DSM) has still not fully eradicated transgenderism from its pages. But it’s the kindly, maverick, hero faced professor played by Sebastian Koch who is also ultimately the most damaging of the doctors. None of them seems to have malice; all act out of what they considered professional duty and the patient’s interest. I note how often in the film – and in life – we are urged to seek out doctors when we encounter difficulty, though I often feel they are not the right door to knock on. The supposed good doctor is the one who takes away the life of Lili with intrusive medical procedure and (not clear in the film) an ill judged womb transplant.


I was and am concerned about what intimate parts the doctors were going to make for transwomen. They lacked – and some still do – true knowledge of female anatomy and that the major sexual part of a woman is not simply a passageway, but a whole mostly subterranean network, made for pleasure and not just obvious sex and birth. (From her paintings, Gerda clearly knew!) We see Einar look at himself naked as he is, and then as would like to be, but never a shot or discussion of what women actually have (and Lili acquires) – it is not simply an absence and an inversion. Nor do we ever hear that Lili gains breasts.


I hear that 40 year old actresses were considered for these parts, but those cast – excellent, sympathetic and watchable as they are – are around 30. But they are too young for the trajectory of the story. Lili/Einar was 48 at her death; Eddie Redmanye turned 34 at the film’s release.


So the bohemian effective three-way relation with two actual people is not explored in the film, nor what made this long open minded marriage break down. I was also confused by Lili’s sexuality – does she like other men? The film implies that Gerda can only be with real, actual men whilst for all her ground breaking, Einar wants a husband and children, and to give up her career – for being a woman is a job description in itself.


Apart from the charm of Alicia, the film’s real draw was Copenhagen, which this film has made me want to visit.


But I think the real story would have pushed that 15 cert (which is quite a mild one) and perhaps the wide accidence and award – or is that being mean? – because the truly pioneering story here is untold. I was unsure how a person who died due to being a world first guinea pig is inspiring for the “transsexual movement” as the end title cards state. I am learning more of the couple (or should I say, trio) but I’m feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the film. It felt the Daily Mail-ified, mainstream version, saying that difference leads to loss, not the exploration of an uncommon marriage, or the critique of surgery that this story really ought to be.

I haven’t forgotten Carol – I will review that soon

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Labyrinth – a spiritual parable

Several cinemas put on impromptu screenings of David Bowie’s films in tribute to his recent death. Having never actually seen the already cult 1980s Labyrinth, I went to a packed cinema to find out what he, those muppets and the young Jennifer Connelly got up to.

And I took along my spiritual specs. Good job, for as a tale in itself, or even entertainment, Labyrinth was not scintillatingly brilliant. But as a fairy tale, a myth with a meaning… a crazy story with some rock songs and a farting bog becomes, like most myths, something much more profound. After all, what are stories for?

Jennifer’s character Sarah can’t even see the entrance to the maze, but it is right in front her. Once inside, she can only see high neverending walls, but something lowly that she’d write off (a hospitable worm) shows her that what she perceives isn’t the only possibility: there are portals everywhere, which she much approach to see. Sarah befriends the unlikely and those who believe they cannot have friends. She learns to trust and be wary, and sometimes, to take a risk with the former. People she’d overlook (her huge but simple furry beast friend, Ludo) have powers she’d not thought of. Friendship with nature means it can be asked to work for you (those rocks becoming stepping stones out of the Bog of Eternal Stench). The worst the Goblin King can do to Sarah, he believes, is to send her back to the start, assuming she’ll give up. But Sarah learns persistence as much as courage. She is not deterred by the stone faces who give out doom warnings – they are programmed to and know they are false. The Goblin King tries to distract her, beguile her, but she smashes though his vision and returns to her quest. She bemoans that she’s made little progress and even feels as if she’s going backwards, but the not very forthcoming soothsayer with a bird on his head speaks truth when he says it only seems that way. The junk people try to fill her up with what she doesn’t need, and send her to her room at home where it’s safe. But she sees her many childish trappings for what they are and prepares to shed them and to share one she got possessive over at the start. She returns to the bleak junk yard to see that she is almost at her destination. She realises that though friends are on hand, she must fight the Goblin King alone. He scared her at the start and tries to off put her by changing perspective, but she literally takes a leap of faith to complete her mission and to make him face her. And then there are the interesting words that Goblin King Jareth speaks to her, saying he gave her what she asked. She wanted her pesky baby brother taken – he did. He did it all for her, Jareth claims. He did give Sarah gifts – for she has had an adventure as good as anything she reads in her many books. She has had the opportunity to forgive a betrayer (the gnome Hobble, who also has a learning curve) to offer and receive friendship, and for that courage and tenacity to develop. And perhaps to feel some protectiveness for the brother she resented. She finds use for the seemingly useless incantation she was learning at the start, and banishes the Goblin King by taking away his power over her. Sarah has learned compassion and become fearless. Has the King played a part to bring her out to her best?

This is not all a spirituality I believe in, but this would dovetail with the prevalent law of attraction thinking. It also involves some thoughts I’ve been having of my own.



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Tourist info and the Counting Thief

It might sound trite, considering all that’s going on the world, to start a new year in blogging moaning about the demise of leaflet garnering offices. But I realise that the closing and curtailing of tourist information centres is symptomatic of something far bigger, and something which I have written about in another blog, which I shall call the Counting Thief.

The Thief does not steal counting, he is obsessed with counting, a la the cuddly vampire on Sesame Street. But much of the world seems to have the condition of arithomomania. We care only about what can be enumerated, preferably with a £ or other monetary unit sign next to it. Or a star rating. As tourist information centres as well as libraries and media shops also demonstrate.

And his counting obsession means he takes from what is really valuable and stops us, ironically, living abundant lives.

I’ve rued this several times on my sister blog about travel, but finding out about what there’s to do locally and beyond, in getting advice, maps, leaflets, British travel brochures and timetables has got a lot harder. Some centres have closed, some are now add ons to libraries or a box office. Many have vastly curtailed their range of books and brochures, and put most behind the counter like embargoed items or even illicit things that you have to ask for in the right way to see. I was told this weekend that one council ran the library I was standing in, but another the opposite desk with the TIC and that only opens on weekdays. It’s an afterthought, an extra to general services. Another told me that because funding is cut, local businesses support TICs instead, and that they want to see sellable items on display, and leaflets about the immediate city, not further afield. So they want money and value; they’ll only give free leaflets if they can see a sale coming on, or something else that can count and see the worth of and put in a report.

It’s the similar mindset that says – cull all the books (films, music) which don’t seem to be making sales (or issues, in libraries). We need what is convertible into figures, and figures that show the kind of success that an auditor understands. And will please shareholders.

So the value of leaflets is harder to show, for what if some people just take them for their scrapbooks? That pleasure is not a value to put into an accounting book. We are not interested in enjoyment, unless it can be given a star rating and turned into a statistic. We might actually get a sale from someone thinking how much they’d like to visit a place again whilst they stick it in their scrapbook, but we can’t verify that, sadly. Sponsors won’t be interested in a vague supposition.

The other excuse for the demise of the visitor information desk, as well as the more naked shelves of bookshops, is that we don’t use printed material so much – we rely on the internet.

I used to have a leafleting job and my employer recognised that even in this day of instagram and twitter, that people still look at posters and pick up brochures. The net is so huge that you are less likely to just stumble on things unless you already know about them. Picking up a flyer doesn’t involve your signing up to a newsletter or a feed. It can catch your eye, perhaps more than the interminable changing news that we receive on the net.

Here’s some news – that not all of us live on the internet all day. Some of us don’t have smart phones. And some of us do still like real printed maps, books, and flyers.

This point links nicely to my previous post on Steve Jobs – that new technology often tries to force itself on us, by flooding the world with it (I refuse to say market) and making older things obsolete. So it might be Windows 10 or the train over the stagecoach; it might be digital downloaded songs in our pocket over physical recorded media; it might be that you can’t get the parts for a car or other machine. The internet was forced on us by making more and more online – job applications, CVs are no longer taken in over the desk; benefit claims, insurance, tax returns, terms and conditions, full versions of magazines (many cinema brochures are really skimpy – you seen Cineworld’s 4 pager these days?!)

But making it harder to get doesn’t make the desire for the old thing we like to go away. Nor do we have to give it up. We don’t have to accept that cameras are now largely digital; it just means that someone bright can offer the less common thing and make a business out of it. But I know that in that last sentence, I have again gone back to markets and money, and the Counting Thief has made another hit.

New things are claimed as progress, but really it is money making for those standing to gain from the new thing, whether that be Apple or the railway owners.

There’s also the ecological argument, which is manipulative and trying to sound trendy. Do you really care that flyers involve printing, or do you want people to use your digital online service instead? Have you thought that online things mean less jobs – for printers, for front of house people in TICs? Really, you want to make and save money. You’re not interested in Mother Earth, because you don’t as much as send her a Christmas card. Or else you’d be concerned about balance and fairness, and not taking so that someone else loses. You’d realise that energy is the bedrock of all, and that both means the harmful sort that your electrical devices emit, and is vital to wellbeing. But then, you’re not that interested in wellbeing, are you, unless you can give it a score and see its value in terms of relating to sales?

So don’t compromise range for money’s sake, don’t take away things which you can’t see the obvious value from, don’t take away customer service and direct contact. Kind and personable service actually leads to the kind of figures you like. A good range means satisfactions and returning custom, including visitors who might even buy something. It also gives good feelings, and no you don’t need a rating to verify those.












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