Prostitutes and progress: the Victorians

The Victorian era is a continuing source of fascination for writers and artists alike whether it be a steampunk science fiction angle, high class manners and repressed pennyroyal-pillaffections or the out and out seediness lurking underneath. Why don’t we have a look at the various elements that draw us to them?

1. Repression. Certain things could not be discussed, even going to the toilet (what did women do around town? I’ve read a few articles which suggest they ducked down an alley but I don’t know how reliable that is). Unlike today where you can call a friend to go down the clinic and collect the morning after pill, such things back then were treated with the utmost discretion.

However there is always a way round things as this genuine advert from the era on victorianlondon.org suggests (Pennyroyal has abortive qualities). Have a look at the others; hair removal was a concern back then too.

Women’s bodies were a thing to be feared as their own wombs could cause hysteria. This led to some … interesting inventions, advertised with the usual subtlety. Or if you prefer a more direct approach have a look at this!

The invention of the camera led to uses other than miserable family photos. If you knew where to go (ie. Holywell street in London) you could find images of those accodomating ladies of the night and maybe one or two of those well-known filthy types, actresses.

2. Bizarre cures. With marijuana, cocaine and opium (or Laudenum) all legal in the laudanum-side-apharmacies it’s a wonder anyone got anything done. Laudanum was also known as ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and certainly kept a few babies quiet.

As well as this there were a number of ‘quack medicine’ products ie. stuff that didn’t work, flooding the market, including the relatively new and exciting idea that ‘electricity was life’.

Another intriguing cure idea was mesmerism.

3. Science vs superstition. It’s interesting that, in a time of great scientific ectoplasmprogress, much of the average public were turning to Spiritualism (and trickery). Gothic fiction became increasingly popular (as well as penny dreadfuls for the lower classes) and seances became the cool new thing to do, leading to some spooky photos if nothing else, as well as these posters.

4. Sideshows. Though these still occur in some parts of the world it’s difficult for us to comprehend that not only were people displayed in such a way, but they were exhalted as celebrities. After visiting perhaps a menagerie or pleasure garden, people would go along to a show. Joseph Merrick was possibly the One Direction of his day. OK, nobody deserves that, but you see what I’m saying. The posters are a colourful testament to a very peculiar point in history.

Well, there we have it, the weird and wonderful world of the Victorians. There’s so much more to say about them but it’s a start, and certainly their legacy will amuse and confuse us for decades to come. Visit blog ‘Diary of a Victorian Surgeon‘ for a glimpse into the daily life of a man who must have seen it all. Byee!

Short story published: The Fair, Laudenum and Passion

Woo hoo, got another erotic short story out with publishers Forbidden Fiction, read it here. This time a jolly old time is had in a Victorian funfair. Here’s the description on their site:

“Ettie visits a funfair with her bullying husband in Victorian London. When a sword-swallowing sideshow performer grabs her attention, she finds herself drawn into a new world of strangeness, freedom and passion. (F/M, F/F. M/M, group).”

Now doesn’t that sound exciting? It was more than I did last Friday. You should have a look!

Some documentaries of the unusual

I’ve been in a documentary mood lately (it comes in fits and starts) and have managed to stumble on some rather interesting ones. Here we go:

I'm doing thinkings
I’m doing thinkings

1. Henry Darger: The Realms of the Unreal. Very sweet and rather sad story of a janitor nobody really noticed who, upon becoming ill, was found to have created an illustrated novel of over 1,500 words by his neighbours.

Titled The Realms of the Unreal, it was an entire universe he’d worked on his whole life. It truly proves you can never have anyone completely figured out, and ‘boring’ people probably don’t exist – we just don’t know what’s going on inside.

2. Derailroaded. In a similar theme to the previous entry, Derailroaded explores the life of Larry ‘Wild Man’ Fischer. Plagued by mental illness, Larry nevertheless had flirtations with fame first by appearing on Frank Zappa‘s label Straight Records and then releasing albums with out there artists Barnes and Barnes.

Whether you like his music or not is beside the point, this is a fascinating film of an unusual personality. On the flip side, though everyone already knows about this I’m sure, I also loved the film about Daniel Johnston. Watch that one too.

3. Live Nude Girls Unite. Strippers formed a union and took their argument to a tribunal? I can hear you chuckle. However this shows each of the characters involved in the fight for fairness at club The Lusty Lady through the eyes of Julia Query, a woman who strips between comedy gigs.

I found this film quite amusing, so maybe you will too. It’s very low-fi and quite short, but it was a fun way to pass an afternoon.

4. The Last American Freak Show. I’ve mentioned this one before but I like it, so I’m mentioning it again. As a disabled man filmmaker Richard Butchins is uncertain of the ethics behind freak shows and rightly so.

The 999 Eyes travelling show is ramshackle, poorly organised, ill equipped to deal with all of its member’s problems and the owners spout constant nonsense about why freak shows are actually really good. But…its this unexpected turn of events that makes it so fascinating. We glimpse the reality of life on the road and meet some genuinely interesting characters. And meeting new people is good.

5. Man on Wire. I’ve seen this film lots of times and I’m sure everyone else has too, but it’s beautiful and very French and it contains a circus performer, so why not hear about the tight-rope walker who balanced his way between the World Trade Centres in New York one more time? Plus the music by composer Erik Satie helps me sleep at night.

Well, Bob’s your Aunt and Fanny’s your…cousin, that’s your lot. Before we pop orf however I’d like to leave you with two lilting melodies garnered from the films mentioned. Number one is the dreamlike piano of Erik Satie, and number two is a rousing tale of fish heads and their various uses by Barnes and Barnes:

Songstresses and burlesque queens: Five unusual ladies

I’ve had to interview various unusual and creative ladies for magazines and it got me thinking about a few that people may not have heard of, but would like to.

I’m on some pretty heavy painkillers (have a read of my post on endometriosis) so forgive me if I don’t make much sense…

The first two are musical. I like ethereal music ladies such as Bat For Lashes and CocoRosie, and two singers/musicians I came across in the last few years have caught my interest.

Anneka Snip lives in Brighton and has collaborated with electronica artists like Milanese, Blue Daisy and Ital Tek.

Kid A (or Annie T) is an American lady who is currently on tour with Scroobius Pip. Have a listen:

Next up is a cabaret artist known as Missy Macabre. A one woman vintage burlesque freak show, I interviewed her about a short comedy/horror film she appeared in called Annabelle’s Tea Party. Have a look at her in action:

Next we have comedy burlesque performer Fancy Chance. I was sent to review The Fire Tusk Pain Proof Circus and she was very entertaining:

In the same show was Lucifire, the lead stunt woman. Amongst other things she ate glass, walked on it and made me chuckle (the gentleman onstage is her husband and fellow performer Professor Tusk):

Just as an added bonus here’s Bat for Lashes doing Horse and I at Shepherd’s Bush, London:

A modern sideshow (kind of)

Last weekend I went to the circus in the 1930s. I’m clever like that. I had heard that the Roundhouse theatre was having a ‘Circusfest‘ during a previous London jaunt, and when I saw an ad for Professor Vanessa’s Wondershow – where the main stage would be transformed into a travelling circus on a village green – I got a ticket before asking if anyone else was free. I’m always assured of good conversation when I’m alone anyway.

So…after skipping around Brick Lane and Camden Lock, where the colourful clothes live, I found myself in the theatre main space breathing in the sickly smell of candyfloss and popcorn. On the way in I passed penny arcades and lurid posters, and was greeted with a row of tents lining the perimeter. I was excited!

In the middle of the floor was a small stage and here I watched a French, juggling tight-rope walker (I nearly proposed marriage there and then), a girl hula hooping with fire, aero-rope girls up above and… giant wasp taming. Everyone was free to wander and visit whichever tent they wanted, though its a lot to get through in only two hours.

Though I was at first concerned I would be having a ‘genuine’ sideshow experience (blockheads etc I love, but I’m really not sure about ogling a disabled person), I was quickly reassured that most acts were a mirror show. For example, ‘the Mummy’ featured a woman in Egyptian regalia transform into a centuries old mummy ” before our very eyes,” before she chased us out of the tent. Another showed early film clips and, being such a fan, it meant a lot to see them how they would have been at the very start of the twentieth century.

It was good fun; the tent shows were surreal entertainment and some of the stage acts in the middle were beautiful to watch. I always like a trip to the circus and if there are any French, tightrope walking jugglers out there come and find me.

Classic weird films and TV, plus the meaning of weird

The independent and underground world often bring us the unusual and new, but occasionally mainstream goes weird too. There are too many examples to mention but here are some of my favourites, beginning with two well known ‘uns.

1. Twin Peaks. There may be a segment near the end of series two that goes slightly astray but the good episodes of this programme are way better than most other things that have been on TV. Fire Walk with Me is also very worth seeing.

2. The Twilight Zone. An obvious classic, and the good episodes (there are many) are half hour plays of entertaining freakiness.

3. Three Cases of Murder. I recently watched this at 2am when I couldn’t sleep and was very happily surprised. I love portmanteu horror films (more than one story linked by a main tale – Tales from the Crypt and the Vault of Horror are my personal favourites -) but this ‘un from 1955 is one I’d not heard much about before.

My favourite was the first segment directed by Wendy Toye (yes, a lady in the fifties!). When it begins you prepare yourself for harmless whimsy as Alan Badel observes his own painting with a curator at a gallery, but it quickly descends into something more disturbing. With its skewed camera angles and obsessed characters it was one of the more bonkers things I’d watched that evening. The final segment contains Orson Welles and Alan Badel again (he appears in all three stories) and I actually laughed loudly, though the comedy is, of course, mixed with something a little bit darker.

4. The Unknown. The twenties and thirties made some very peculiar filmic gems, ‘Freaks’ being one example. Another is The Unknown from 1927 by the same writer/director Tod Browning. Joan Crawford (pre ‘wire hangers’) and horror regular Lon Chaney both work in a circus.

He’s the armless (?) knife thrower and she the beautiful assistant. He loves her, and she has a terrible phobia of men’s hands. Oh, and he’s also a robber and murderer with two thumbs, who really does have hands, and decides to have them removed permanently when one of his victims recognises him. Can he live dementedly ever after with Joan, or will things go horribly wrong?

5. Weird Night. There was a 90s-tastic series of BBC programmes in 94 during a special evening entitled ‘Weird Night.’ At 13 I’d not been exposed to too much of this sort of thing yet and I consumed it eagerly. The schedule ran as such:

1.Fortean Review of the Year
2.Strange Days-Coincidences
3. The last American Freak Show (different to the one mentioned in a previous post)
4.Strange Days-Visions
5.W.S.H
6.Strange Days-Beasts
7. Weird Thoughts

You can watch each of the programmes on this youtube channel (thanks skynet!). Below I’ve included all segments of the final show – Weird Thoughts – in which ‘experts’ debate their opinions on all things weird. Weird weird weird weird (my painkillers just kicked in). As expected, everyone laughs at silly old scientist with his knowledge and that.

6. Eerie Indiana. Another 90s offering which shaped my interests growing up. Watching it as a grown up is better though; not only do you have nostalgia but you notice the horror/sci fi references that appear throughout, thus satiating the geek beast within.

7. Sacred Weeds. The 90s seemed to develop an obsession with the ‘out there’ and odd. If it wasn’t Fortean it was mind bending plants.

This was a truly odd documentary series. One person who had never consumed a certain natural drug (proper drug, not homeopathy) and another who had taken them before joined a team of scientists in a big house to trip balls while being asked questions. I’m serious, it happened. Cue many peculiar scenes of suited men assisting in salvia bong hits and mushroom tea dosage. The plants tested (one per episode) were: Fly Agaric mushroom, Salvia, Henbane and Blue Lilly.

Thats enough for now you greedy little pickles, we shall meet again.

Alt models, weird designers and factory girls: Freaky fashion

Lithium Picnic (photographer)
Audrey Kitching on Jared Gold’s runway
apnea-photograph
Apnea (model)

I watched a rather peculiar documentary today called Party Monster, The Shockumentary. It’s quite a deliberately bad taste film about the Club Kids in late 80s New York – young people who dressed outlandishly and included fashion designer James St. James– and their party organiser Michael Alig who ended up murdering someone and putting the chopped up body in a trunk. Obviously it got me thinking about fashion. And murder I suppose but that’s no change.

I love art from Francis Bacon to Lempicka to photographers of the unusual like Diane Arbus, but I also love fashion. The outfits at the Bizarre Magazine Ball for example are truly bizarre and great, so here I shall include some of the things that make me weep with joy and perhaps you will find something of interest.

Most people complain that catwalks are full of designs people would never wear in the street, but to be honest that’s the thing I enjoy seeing, mainstream or underground. Regular fashion bores me but anything a bit fantastical, gothic, odd or grunge I love.

First off I have to include my favourite online shop, Joe Brown’s, as its something people will actually be able to afford. There’s some regular stuff but look around, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

Gothic Lolitas in Tokyo

The fashion pics of artist Man Ray are beautiful – as shown here on author Matthew Revert’s blog. They’re very imaginative of course.

Newish designer Jared Gold’s gothic and historical clothes are great, they have a similar Alice in Wonderland feel to Bill Gibb.

Tokyo is known for its ‘avant garde’ fashion and I’d love to go there. I particularly like the punk and Gothic Lolita styles.

Keeping in the fantastical realm I definitely recommend looking out for alternative models/designers out there such as Ophelia Overdose and Audrey Kitching. Also have a look at Bizarre magazine’s alternative model website Ultra Vixens for more ladies of the odd and artistic variety, or become one of them if you like. Plus Spitalfields market in London is host to the annual Alternative Fashion Week (presented by Alternative Arts), 16-21st April. Exciting! Colourful! Imaginative!

The model known as Scar

I have a book I love containing alt glamour/pin up pictures (piercings, tattoos etc) taken by Octavio Winkytiki and Lithium Picnic  (my favourite). They’re pretty and unusual, but be warned, some of the content on their sites is not for children’s eyes.

My good friend Emma Bailey is a photographer in Brighton and has done a number of burlesque shoots. Burlesque is fun, the women often have normal sized bodies and I love vintage glamour. Fancy Chance is very funny to watch live and Banbury Cross is lovely too.

I like how bananas high fashion can be, including the designs of Alexander Mcqueen and the photos of Tim Walker. Feast your face!

I’m not hugely a fan of Andy Warhol but I love some of the Factory types like the Velvet Underground, and there was something very interesting about his model Edie Sedgwick.

Lithium Picnic (photographer)

She had a fascinating life, one well worth reading more about.

Allison Harvard

I’m also drawn to the pictures of a model known as Scar, they’re creative and apparently she makes headresses too, which is nice. Another artistic model is Allison Harvard, who reminds me of a Tim Burton character, and gothic model Apnea is jolly too.

Warhol’s model Edie Sedgwick

Finally, I know it’s such a cliche that a person who likes Neil Gaiman and alternative models such as the Suicide Girls would also like the outfits in Tim Burton films but I do, so there. I’m not a goth but Alice in Wonderland and the White Queen had me searching for my dark lipstick, as did Lilly Cole in Terry Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Here’s a video of a creepy mechanical doll themed photo shoot by Tim Walker for Vogue Italia 2011

Here’s a video of a Jared Gold fashion show in 2008:

Below is a short ‘documentary’ of Edie Sedgwick: