The Late Shows

The Late Shows are a series of arts and culture events that happen across Newcastle and Gateshead over two night ever May. Dozens of venues in different locations participate, opening their doors later than usual to invite the public in to see, listen, make create and participate in any number of different activities.
There is literally something for everyone, whether you are a music lover, a fine art buff, or like to get stuck in. I’m the latter kind so my first stop was to Newcastle City Library which was hosting some glass painting upstairs, while a range of performances were going on downstairs.
I arrived a bit early and got caught up in the prep so ended up staying here a lot longer than planned. The glass painting, which was a communal effort, with everyone doing sections of a large Angel of the North, was really fun, and the classical performances on in the background were actually super relaxing, even though it isn’t what I would normally listen to.
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When I finally finished up here I popped next door to the Laing Art Gallery where there was music in the bar and watercolour painting. Obviously I dived straight into painting, getting experimental with the effects of clingfilm and salt on the paint, and making friends with the lovely student who ran the session.
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From here I hopped on a very handy shuttle bus over to the Biscuit Factory where I had a look round their new Summer exhibition. This gallery specialises in textile, sculpture and jewellery so it feels more like browsing a fancy shop than serious art, but it is all exquisite.
Stepping across the road took me to their sister venue, The Holy Biscuit, where there was a printmaking exhibition and demonstrations. Obviously I tried this out, making a gorgeous print whose design was based on two sycamore seeds.
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A wander further down into Ouseburn took me to my last spot of the night, Northern Print. It was the first time I had ever been in and it was wonderful! I browsed the shop, and the prints around the studios, and took part in two activities – one was letter press printing and the other was drypoint etching. These activities were all based around ourselves – portraits and how we define ourselves, which was a lovely touch to the takeaways.
I probably still had time to visit another venue after Northern Print however, it was getting late and with a journey home still to go, I called it a night. However, it was a fantastic night, and I came away with loads of things I had made and new experiences which were so much fun.
I met tons of different people on the way, from kids, to students, to older couples out for the evening. It was heartwarming to see so many people engaging in arts and culture across my city, and it was amazing that I did all of this, in four hours, for free!
Here’s to a great Late Shows 2017, and looking forward to next year already!
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Review: Beauty and the Beast

4.5 stars

The much anticipated Beauty and the Beast remake hit cinemas on Friday and for a 90s child who grew up wishing she was Belle, it was wonderful.

The film does a fantastic job of recreating the best moments from the original, while embellishing the story with elements from the original tale and introducing some new moments to make it original.

The cast was stellar; Emma Watson channelled the book-worm we all know and love perfectly, bringing the feminism she is so well known for into some wonderful moments which make Belle an even more feisty heroine. Gaston and Le Fou make a hilarious pair, with the blantant misogynism tempered by well-placed humour.

This version’s Beast is more cantankerous than terrifying, despite the CGI revamp with horns – but then it is easier to see why Belle can fall in love with him, as he becomes less her captor than a victim also.

The CGI was incredible, with the servant characters looking more ornate than ever and the castle truly magical. Stylistically, references to the period through costume, wigs and make-up helped to root the tale in a setting. The songs did justice to their predecessors, so much so that a stalwart fan might find themselves mouthing along. As a bookworm, I appreciated the small nods to the original tale, which help to unite and embellish symbols from the cartoon. Equally newer elements helped to bring out more backstory, particularly around Belle’s mother, giving the whole story more substance, which it really needs to carry as a more three-dimensional live action piece.

There were a few moments where I was frustrated at moments from the original that were omitted, or missed opportunities to be just a little more feminist. However, it is an adaptation, not a complete transposition of the cartoon, and equally it can’t please everyone. All in all it was a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory road and a fantastic new experience all at the same time.

 

Feminist February – Round Up

If you hadn’t already seen I’ve spent February reading a range of different feminist texts in order to learn more about the movement, diversify my reading and learn some intersectional feminist theory. Since the current political climate is looking dismal for women’s and minorities’ rights, educating myself is one of a number of things I can do to stand up for these rights, and hopefully by sharing what I’m doing I can encourage others to do the same.

So what did I read?

I haven’t read this much since I was studying literature! Over four weeks exactly I managed to make my way through:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Stay With Me
  • The Bloody Chamber
  • Ms Marvel
  • Bad Girls Throughout History
  • Bad Feminist
  • On Beauty
  • You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain
  • Feminism is for Everybody
I was so proud that I read so much – namely because I raced through a few which were just utterly brilliant. I was also glad I managed to get such a wide range – the books include fiction, essays, history, graphic novels and comedy.

I also had a wonderfully diverse range of authors, including women of colour and those who identify as LGBTQ+. The books explored feminism from these diverse perspectives, pushing me to see views outside of my own.

What did I learn?

I learnt so much this month. The issues covered were as diverse as motherhood, abortion, women’s representation, race, religion, class and sexuality.

Thanks to Phoebe Robinson I learnt how much politics is embedded in black women’s hair. Roxane Gay showed me the importance of language in both patriarchal oppression and feminism. Zadie Smith made me think about the beauty standards I still internalise, despite my intellectual position on these issues. Ann Shen gave me the women’s history lesson I never knew I needed.

I have a new feminist hero in Kamala Khan. I am inspired by how we can rethink women in fairytales and female sexuality thanks to The Bloody Chamber. Atwood and Adebayo both had me in tears with their explorations of female identity in relation to motherhood and the value society places on this.

All in all I have an awful lot to think about thanks to this challenge. I’m so glad I got to read these books and decided to do this challenge. I am keen to make this something I do regularly, and so I hope continue this challenge next Feb!

I also want to say thanks to those who got on board and also completed the challenge, it was great to see people so interested in what I’ve been doing!

Feminist February – Week 4

In case you missed it, I have decided to spend February reading exclusively on feminism! Check out the books I aim to read and the reasons behind my Feminist February Challenge


In my last week of this challenge I delved into the academics of feminism with Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and bell hooks Feminism is for Everybody. 

These books were a brilliant pair, looking at the different forms and perspectives on feminist thinking. Smith uses a number of black female characters in her book, all of which seem to be based on typical stereotypes but she complicates this, making making these women seem multi-dimensional, real and conflicted. She explores a number of issues around political and ideological extremes, but the novel centres around aesthetics itself, an issue central to the women and female identity in the novel. Kiki is overwieght, and while she seems happy in herself, doubts do seem to arise in relation to her marriage.

Her daughter Zora is fiercely intellectual but is unable to reconcile this with personal beliefs, obsessing over her appearance and aspiring to patriarchal beauty standards. She also illustrates how women themselves are capable of perpetuating misogyny, labelling Victoria, the 18 year old who subscribes to patriarchal ideas of sex, a ‘slut’.

By the end of the book Kiki and Zora both seem to have undergone a change, learning something about themselves in the climax of events, and it is clear that they come out empowered.

Feminism is for Everybody exemplified many of the issues Smith raised, with individual chapters on a range of different topics. Amongst the more interesting things that hooks explores are ideas such as global feminism, the insights that lesbian women offered to feminism, and the damage that women can do through exacerbating patriarchal structures, namely when it comes to violence against children.

I am so glad I read these books because they helped me to see things from different perspectives to my own. They also helped me to uncover some of the patriarchal values and standards which I have internalised, and by identifying these hardwired issues, I hope I can challenge them in the long run.

Feminist February – Week 2

In case you missed it, I have decided to spend February reading exclusively on feminism! Check out the books I aim to read and the reasons behind my Feminist February Challenge

The second week of the challenge was a lot slower than the first. I should have rocketed through the next few books on the list as they were so short but unfortunately life got the better of me this week. On the plus side I finished two books which made another great pair, as well as starting two seemingly different books without realising that they actually had a similar theme.

Genre Bending

My first book of the week was The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, a series of short stories which rework well known fairytales. These stories are often pinpointed as feminist due to advocating female agency, and dealing frankly with, and embracing, female sexuality. The stories presented show a range of women from heroines to victims, including women who openly undergo sexual awakenings and come to terms with their bodies. Many stories, for example those based around Beauty and the Beast or Red Riding Hood, use transitional states to explore the significance of the body in female sexual identities.

I decided to read a graphic novel alongside The Bloody Chamber for the way it deals with genre; Ms Marvel reworks conventions of superhero genre. Kamala Khan is the first female Muslim lead of her own comic. Her origin story follows the typical trajectory of feeling at odds with the world and so assuming a superhero identity and larger purpose. She discovers the ability to shapeshift and initially starts to save people in the guise of her hero Captain Marvel. However, rather than hiding behind a blonde Captain Marvel – which she could do if she desired, she chooses to embrace her Muslim identity, with a costume based upon the traditional ‘salwar kameez’ . As in Carter’s stories, transitional states become a symbol of Kamala’s struggles as unlike her hero, her super-power is to shape-shift. This also breaks typical conventions of idealised and sexualised female bodies in the genre, as she is often depicted disproportionately and she can manipulate and use her body the way she wants to.


Reclaiming ‘Bad’
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The next two books I have started Bad Girls Throughout History and Bad Feminist are both non-fiction. The first is an illustrated compendium of the stories of 100 remarkable women who changed the world, while the latter is a series of essays by Roxane Gay. Both reclaim the word ‘bad’: Ann Shen looks at how all of these women broke rules and pushed boundaries to make change, while Roxane Gay uses it in acceptance of the fact that there is no one perfect form of feminism. Either way these books make being ‘bad’ not so bad after all.

I’ll be ploughing on with these books over the next week and hopefully also starting On Beauty to complete my original list. Stay tuned!

Feminist February – a reading challenge

The past week has undone decades worth of progress for women and minorities’ rights. It is devastating to watch this happen in the name of democracy, but on a more positive note there has been unity across the world as people have come together to protest these injustices. First, we saw the record-breaking Women’s March protest, beginning in DC with sister marches across the globe. And just this weekend we have seen people unite in protest against orders to ban those from seven Muslim majority countries, preventing not only refugees, but those with the legal right to live in the US, including some high-profile figures, such as the Oscar nominated director Asghar Farhadi and Olympian Mo Farah, from entering the country. Many are viewing this as the first step towards a Muslim Ban which seems likely with the actions taken by the new President.

I fully support these protests and am disgusted by the actions that the President has taken.  As a UK citizen, there is sadly not much I can do politically (if I was a US citizen I would be penning letters to my representatives rather than writing this blog post). However, I can do what I do best: reading.

This is why I have decided to do a Feminist February reading challenge. The idea came around when I realised that most of the books on my immediate TBR and planned reading for February were must-read feminist books. This realisation came around the Women’s March and so I decided to cultivate this into a list which could be made into a more substantial challenge.

The point is to read a range of books which are not only feminist, but intersectional, to catch up on some of the classics I’ve never read, and learn more about the issues that are affecting women and minorities.

Without further ado here is the list of books I have picked:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale

I’m actually ashamed that I’ve never read this and now is a more important time than ever: one of the best signs from the women’s march read ‘Make Margaret Atwood fiction again’ and was based on the dystopian vision offered in this book

  1. The Bloody Chamber

Again one that I never read but should have. I love fairy-tales but they are inherently patriarchal, and here Carter turns tradition on its head to bring us a better representation.

  1. On Beauty

Another author I haven’t read but should have* and I think the US/UK setting of this one as well as the explorations of race and politics will be very interesting in today’s political climate.

  1. Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Women Who Changed the World

Just released last year I feel like this is just the book I need right now. Much like my literary education, my history was all about Western, white men. This wonderfully illustrated non-fiction work features a range of women who deserve to be in the history books.

  1. Bad Feminist

I started reading this for my dissertation research last year and, as the deadline crept closer, never finished. I loved Roxane Gay’s exploration of feminist issues and am keen to return to this.

* this challenge is sadly illustrating that throughout two literature degrees I read books largely by straight, white men.

I have tried to cover a range of voices, ensuring that the list is not simply white, heterosexual women. This list is also just the starting point – I have a backup list to tackle if I finish these early and will post updates as I go on.

I hope that the very least this challenge achieves is for me to learn something new. I would love it far more if other people wanted to get on board too. If you fancy joining in let me know your lists, you can comment here or tweet them to me @ellenorange and I look forward to seeing your lists!


Update: You can check out my progress week by week:

Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 , Week 4

You can also see my final thoughts in Feminist February – Round Up

Goodreads Review: Fantastic Beasts

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original ScreenplayFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fantastic Beasts was written as a screenplay of the movie – and is literally just that, word for word. A lot of people are disappointed that it isn’t a novel, but it isn’t fair to judge it for what it is not, and as far as plays go, it is brilliant.

It is a nostalgic delve back into the magical world and the start of an exciting new adventure. The setting is brilliantly framed, and the use of stage directions don’t impede at all, simply offering a cinematic style – which makes sense as this is what is intended. It is incredibly descriptive, painting vivid pictures of the beasts and magical world.

At first I was worried the plot would be weak – chasing down magical beasts in New York seems more like the plot of a TV episode than a highly-anticipated blockbuster film, however this was only one strand of a much bigger plot that carried all the elements we love from the original Harry Potter’s – just short of the much-loved characters.

The constant panning back and forth might be hard for some people to stick with, however I found it incredibly effective, once you get used to it. Equally it takes a bit more work from the imagination than a novel would – some elements came across far better in the film. However, the reverse was also true, there was a lot you get from reading the play that just wasn’t evident or expressed in the film.

Do I wish that Rowling had written a novel instead? Of course, it would have been amazing. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that the screen-play is still brilliant, and Rowling seems to be working yet more magic in changing how we are reading – who else could possibly make reading plays popular?

Last but not least is the exquisite design of the book, by MinaLima, which doesn’t stop at the cover. Every page boast beautiful art deco embellishments, with many in the style of fantastical creatures, cementing the 20s New York theme, and making it just that bit more magical.

View all my reviews

Goodreads Review – Autumn by Ali Smith

AutumnAutumn by Ali Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t think any book has had me crying, then laughing again in such a short page span. It is beautifully written; a perfectly pitched political satire without risking cynicism. Smith has made this so current and relevant, capturing the atmosphere of political tensions after Brexit, reflecting the horrors of the refugee crisis so poignantly, and questioning how we look at and interpret the world using utterly beautiful explorations of art and literature.

The exploration of 1960’s pop art culture, as well as interwoven allusions to texts such as Brave New World, A Tale of Two Cities and The Tempest were seamless, incredibly clever and, on occasion thought-provoking, challenging the reader to reconsider their readings and interpretations – something which Daniel makes Elizabeth do throughout.

I particularly love that this book avoids being ‘doom and gloom’ or entirely apocalyptic despite the difficult political events it draws on for material. Despite it being ‘autumn’ and the awful state of increased racism and intolerance which pervade the novel, it maintains a sense of beauty and hope, rooted in the on-going theme of art.

It is a very ‘literary’ novel and so those hoping for strong plot or character may be disappointed, however it is a sad, beautiful, relevant and thought-provoking analysis of our society today. I am looking forward to Smith’s next instalment and only hope she can capture more recent political events, since Autumn was published, with the same touch.

View all my reviews

The Man Booker Prize 2016: Round-Up

With the announcement of the winner this evening, here is a round up and some final thoughts on the Man Booker shortlist:

Hot Milk

A weird and wonderful, very contemporary, abstract analysis of female sexuality and different female relationships. Levy’s style is much like DeLillo but far more readable, making her a top contender. As this is her second nomination for the prize, Levy has been an early favourite to win.

His Bloody Project 

The second novel of Graeme Macrae Burnet has certainly been an underdog, going from a small Scottish publisher Contraband, to being the biggest seller of the shortlist according to Amazon. The novel has been incredibly well received by readers, but the question is whether commercial success will translate to prize-winning?

Eileen

Very engaging and easy to read, as well as entertaining, which comes as no surprise after author Ottessa Moshfegh admits the novel was an exercise in writing a best-seller. While there is no doubt the seeds of success are there, the big question will be whether Moshfegh has pushed her luck with this confession.

The Sellout 

An exploration of ‘post-racial’ and ‘post-Obama’ America, you cannot argue that this book is ahead of the game for contemporary fiction, with Obama not yet out of office. While this book couldn’t be more necessary or relevant in the light of the current political landscape in both America and much of the West, Beatty’s novel seems to be lagging behind the others.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Madeleine Thien’s epic tale of 20th Century China is the only book so far touted as being worthy of the Booker Prize for its ‘literary’ quality. Last minute betting has put the odds in Thien’s favour, emerging ahead of Hot Milk, which was the early favourite.

All That Man Is

Winner of the Gordon Burn Prize at Durham Book Festival, this novel already has a prize under its belt, However. it has been controversial due to its form, with many arguing that it reads more like short stories than a comprehensive work, though the author has firmly maintained that it is a novel, making it an interesting nominee.

Final Thoughts?

I have only read three of the nominees – Eileen, Hot Milk ,and His Bloody Project, but have been keeping up with wider discussions. Do Not Say We Have Nothing currently seems like a favourite to win, but I am hoping Burnet does as His Bloody Project was a fantastic, clever, and incredibly well-written book. As well as the commercial success which shows it to be a best-seller, trumping Moshfegh’s attempt, I also think it has the literary quality to be a real contender. I have heard very little about The Sellout, although its relevance in the current social and political landscape shouldn’t be underestimated. I think that All That Man Is sounds incredibly interesting and I love the idea of the format, though it isn’t completely revolutionary – Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine is a novel which is similarly structured through different short stories of the characters. Equally, I would find it disappointing if a book which largely centres on European male experience was to win, particularly after a similarly white, male and western-centric choice with Dylan winning the Nobel. At least if Burnet were to win, his novel deals with the nuance of mental illness within the justice system – something still very relevant today, and it would also champion small publishers, not to mention regional writing considering the Scottish heritage of the novel.

For Burnet to win would also make the Booker a bit more accessible – it is clearly the people’s favourite, whereas another ‘typical’ Booker winner would confirm the Prize’s ‘high flown’ and ‘literary’ status. Overall, my money is on Levy or Thien to win, although I would love for it to be Burnet, as the novel is my favourite so far (I will try to read them all!). However, even if he doesn’t it is clear he has already found success!

Review: The Hateful Eight

From the moment I saw the trailer and the cast line-up for The Hateful Eight I knew I had to see it. Described as a cross between Agatha Christie and a Western, this film definitely fits the bill and is another example of the brilliance of Tarantino.

The film opens with an old western style credits scene, with garish yellow typography evoking the heritage which Tarantino is drawing from. The first scenes take place across a blindingly white snowy landscape, made all the more beautiful by the cinematography with choice to use 70mm film a brilliant one. While I didn’t see any of the special screenings for this, even the standard viewing was gorgeous with light leaks and sun glare making the practically arctic setting even more atmospheric; I could practically feel the cold.

Tarantino’s storytelling was taken to a whole new level with the use of numbered and titled chapters to break up the story line. This technique is later accompanied by a voice-over and flashback to change the narrative perspective, which is a sharp shock to the audience who have become utterly immersed in the story so far. It does however show Tarantino’s skill in developing a narrative that can engross, shock, distance and then captivate his audience.
The cast for the film is just important as the director himself, with Samuel L. Jackson playing a freed-slave and ex-Union solider now turned bounty hunter in the years after the civil war. This sets up some incredibly interesting racial politics, as many of Tarantino’s works do, which come to drive the action of the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh is brilliant as the seemingly mad and terrifying Daisy Domergue, who is the murderess being taken to Red Rock for hanging. She is hilariously funny, immensely engaging and slightly grotesque all at the same time.

An oncoming blizzard forces a collection of colourful characters, and strangers, to stay at Minnie’s Haberdashery with racial and political tensions soon rising. Walter Goggins as the supposed new sheriff of Red Rock, is excellent, with a commanding presence and huge personality, reminiscent of Boyd Crowder in Justified, but not a straight imitation, illustrating that while Goggins has a particular style, he is more than a one trick pony.

The pace is slow at first but builds up to an incredibly scene where Samuel L Jackson’s character confronts the former confederate general staying there also. This scene is testimony to the power of both Tarantino and Jackson, being violent, chilling and hugely uncomfortable, without spilling a drop of blood, but also being immensely comical at the same time. From here the story really takes force, with the twist and the ending unraveling before you can even guess what will happen

Overall this was a fantastic film, and I would rate it very highly all round, being visually arresting, with some brilliant performances, and with incredible direction, a combination which make for truly engaging and entertaining storytelling.

Image by www.joblo.com