Monday, August 26, 2013

The Myth of Medusa and Female-Assisted Patriarchy

Perseus and the Gorgon
by Laurent-Honore Marqueste (1903)

Our society is quick to denounce the horrifying decrees promulgated against Afghan women by the Taliban. We lament the unjust punishment of raped women in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. We cry in outrage when we hear of yet another victim of gang-rape in India. The beliefs and mechanisms that underpin the appalling treatment of women in many parts of the world are many and varied. They cannot be outlined here and that is not the purpose of this post.

This post is about patriarchy. Yet it is not your standard feminist post. Far from it. It is about denouncing the women who assist patriarchy.

How does a woman in India assist patriarchy? 
By privileging a boy's education. By telling her daughter through actions or words that she is worthless. By raising sons who feel entitled to better treatment than girls. By allowing a son to grow up believing that he is a little king, and that he deserves more than women, or worse, can do whatever he likes to a woman, including beating her to a pulp or savagely raping her with his male friends.

How does a woman in Africa assist patriarchy? 
By perpetuating the cruel practice of female circumcision. In parts of Africa, especially Somalia, the women are indoctrinated to believe that a daughter's worth for marriage and her chastity depends upon her being circumcised. It is the women who take an active, aggressive role in circumcising their daughters. It is women who tell their uncircumcised daughters or daughters-in-law that they are filthy and not fit to be a wife unless they have been brutally mutilated.

How does a woman in any part of the world, including the secular Western world, assist with patriarchy? 
By happily labeling another woman a 'slut' when it appears that this other woman naturally solicits male attention. It is often the case that such a label is born of envy or insecurity. Its true crime, is that it publicly invites the social scorn of their sister, while supporting the patriarchal belief that sexually desirable or sexually active women have no place in this world, and that only a man has rights over his pleasure and sexuality.

How does a woman in any work place or organisation assist patriarchy? 
By undermining her own female co-workers or potential female employees because she, without realising it, has long internalised social beliefs that certain skills are best acquired by the male gender. There is a doubt that exists within her about her own ability as a woman to master certain technical or other traditionally male-dominated skills, and it is this internal doubt that she projects upon her sisters such that she comes to undermine them even where they are perfectly capable.
How else?
By doing what many men do so well: that is, by assuming that her female co-workers could not have achieved what they have on merit; that if they have at all delivered, it must have come primarily through some male aid or worse, through the practice of some female guile to acquire the assistance of others while doing nothing herself.

These are all forms of female-assisted patriarchy and female-assisted sexist attitudes. They serve the outdated male beliefs that women are not as important, valuable, skilled and trustworthy as men. They reduce women to manipulative, unfit and beguiling monsters. They reduce women to the gorgon, Medusa.

Do you know the tale of Medusa?

Yes, you must remember the Greek tale of Medusa. She was this hideous female with snake-like streams for hair and one look upon her face was thought to petrify the onlooker such that he or she turned to stone. It was Perseus who, with the help of Athena, managed to kill Medusa.

But do you know the real tale of Medusa?

Before she became a gorgon, Medusa was a beautiful girl. Her beauty was such that even the goddess Athena envied it.

Athena soon found out something horrible. She discovered that the God Poseidon had raped Medusa. Being enamored of Poseidon herself, she saw it fit to punish Medusa. She turned her into a gorgon. Perhaps Athena thought that it was Medusa's fault if Poseidon had not been able to control his legendary urges and added Medusa to his long list of sexual conquests. But never mind that Poseidon was a serial rapist, Athena cast the entire blame on Medusa. In so doing, she no doubt appeased her fractured ego and took her revenge on a rival. And so it is when insecure women blame other women: they assist patriarchy.

Just like her Indian and Pakistani sisters who receive no justice for rape, Medusa was turned into a monster whose fate was to be reviled and avoided. Besides, it is impossible to engage a gorgon in conversation if one is soon cast to stone upon looking at her. Medusa was fated for social isolation. There is a word for that. Ostracism. Ostracism was her ultimate punishment. Even today, ostracism is a familiar mode of punishment for women who dare raise the ire of their jealous sisters. When the word is out against them, ostracised women are ignored, unfriended and perpetually removed from invitation lists.

Returning to our Greek legend... Our patriarchal hero, Perseus, had sworn to kill Medusa, this monster who inspired so much fear. And so it is when women are seen as nothing but monsters.

Not content with having turned Medusa into a gorgon, Athena also took it upon herself to assist Perseus in killing her.

There are many forms of female-assisted patriarchy but the one that really stood out for me was the story of Medusa. I always felt sorry for her and the unjust punishment meted out to her. When I look at the image in this post, the photo of Marqueste's sculpture, it represents for me all that is ugly and horrifying about the treatment of women at the hands of patriarchy.  I feel only pity for Medusa. Her misery could have been avoided if a certain ocean deity could have learnt better manners as a child and then, as an adult, kept his staff in place where it belonged (and I don't mean his trident). But without a doubt, her misery could have been avoided if Athena had not been so spiteful about Poseidon's slight and if she had not been so intent on casting the fault upon Medusa.

Can you think of other ways in which women assist patriarchy? I can think of many. In fact I can think of instances where women have turned out to be even more patriarchal than men.

How do we stop this? Because ultimately, whether we like it or not, some women are part of a vicious cycle that perpetuates patriarchal behaviors.

So what can we do? It is hard. Education is a big factor. We need to raise educated, strong women who are confident and not embarrassed with archaic modes of thought. At a social level, we educate them to shun traditional male-favouring attitudes. They must, in turn, not grow to favour their sons over their daughters. But most importantly, we give them confidence in themselves as individuals. We teach them the joy of being women, women who can overcome their insecurities. We give them a belief that life is filled with opportunities and we give them these opportunities whenever it is in our power and in their best interests.

We teach them to give, just as we expect them to be spiritually generous toward their own sisters.

We teach them to protect their own sisters, rather than fear them in the same way that generations of men have feared Medusa.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Shadow of the Wind - The Movie

This post is the creative birth child of a desperate The Shadow of the Wind fan calling for a movie production that will bring to life Julian Carax and Daniel Sempere; calling for a visual masterpiece that will stir images of a Gothic Barcelona stifled in Francoism.

Please indulge my frivolities and please do not scorn me if I cast someone that you disagree with. So without further ado, let's get this show on the road!

I had heard that The Others' director Pedro Amenabar was a contender for The Shadow of the Wind but my personal choice is for visionary Jean Pierre Jeunet. To understand why I favor Jeunet, one has to look at the standout features of The Shadow of the Wind and how they compare favorably with Jeunet's past films.

To begin the novel is overshadowed by an ominous atmosphere which is both the result of the Spanish Civil war's aftermath and a tragic mystery centering around an author's life. The main character, Daniel, grows up in an almost surreal community replete with dark realities. If you have seen City of Lost Children, you will understand that Jeunet is no stranger to nightmarish realms.

Coupled with this shadowy setting, is the Sempere bookshop and home, which sees many visitors and in which many heart warming exchanges between characters take place. This sense of a gathered community, one that brings with it some humor, much caricature and always much heart, resounds throughout the novel and is a clear reminder of what Jeunet has and can achieve. It recalls the delightful Brasserie gatherings in the masterpiece, Amelie just as it recalls the band of eccentric social outcasts who form a family in Micmacs.

And then last but not least, we have the core of the novel; the slow, intensely paced and extremely well-written unraveling of its mystery which involves quite a number of characters. Again, I cannot think of a more adept director than Jeunet who, as evidenced by A Very Long Engagement does an excellent job at juggling a complex historical mystery together with judicious use of flashbacks, while still keeping the audience's fascination for the many and varied characters, who due to cinema's nature can only ever possess limited screen time. For this same reason, I am also adamant that Jeunet should prepare The Shadow of the Wind's film adaptation. During the screenwriting exercise, he may find it enriching to collaborate with the book's author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, who is also a former screenwriter.

So that was the heavy part. Now, for the acting cast!

Clara Barceló
Bella Heathcote
Bella's enormous doe-like eyes, her delicate grooming and fragile beauty are perfect for the role of the tragically vain and blind Clara. Heathcote may not agree to nudity scenes which is unfortunate but her youthful porcelain skin is a real production value for this role.

Colin Farrell
I have complete trust in Colin Farrell to deliver what is the most exciting, endearing and entertaining character in the whole novel. He is believable as an ex spy and someone who would survive much of the brutality that Fermin survives. Fermin is a tad too skinny to be embodied by Farrell but method acting might remedy this detail.

Daniel's father - Mr Sempere
Antonio Banderas
Perhaps as a result of his apparent redundancy to the whole mystery and to the novel's plot, Mr Sempere was the most touching and kindest character in the story. His entire meaning was contained in the endless love and patience he gave his son. I think Antonio Banderas, especially through his familiar accented voice, has the ability to project much heart and damn it, it is his duty as a fellow Spaniard to Zafón, that he fill this noble role.

Julián Carax
Robert Pattinson
Maybe because I've seen him play a vampire freak too many times and because his beautiful face would serve the novel's tragedy interests only too well (if you know what I mean), I am unable to shake off the idea that James Patterson should play the role of fated author, Julian Carax. I think Nuria Montfort's complete adulation would also seem believable given Patterson's charming looks. Finally I like the simmering intensity that Patterson is able to project on screen and the fact that he can look both menacing and innocent. I think the production values are evident but he would need to dye his hair black.

Daniel Sempere
James Franco
As with many novels (but not all), I was not particularly attached to the main character who I mainly conceived as a vehicle for experiencing this amazing story. Still the lead cast needs to be likable and draw audiences. I chose James Franco because of his audience appeal and because I did enjoy his performance in the latest Oz movie. But mostly I chose him because 1. he is believable as the son of Antonio Banderas which I've cast as Mr Sempere and 2. I can imagine-as desired by the novel-that someone might find him slightly resembling of Pattinson whom I've previously cast as Carax. Overall his dark physique works well but he is still someone I can imagine being punched around several times in a pathetic way. Finally he would be believable as a coward who eventually redeems himself.

Mark Ruffalo vs Jude Law
Infinitely wise, self-sacrificing, idealistic, placing friendship before love, Sigmund Freud fan and downright too-good-to-be-true character...yet he was one of my favorite characters in the novel. His motives are so beautiful that one wants to cry or just scream, "are-you-for-real?" The pathos that this character generates needs to be handled with great care. We need a naturalistic delivery. Someone who can move us and create tear-jerking moments while remaining seemingly aloof and collected. Both Mark Ruffalo and Jude Law would be amazing. They would each lend themselves well to the role of wasted-tuberculosis-sufferer-burning-the-hours-to-raise-money-for-a-friend, but Ruffalo looks more Spanish and has earned philanthropic credentials from his latest role in Now You See Me.

Sophie Carax
Audrey Tautou
Why? Firstly because she is French, like the character but also because Jeunet made her a gamine celebrity through Amelie and hopefully he can un-typecast her with this more daring role. And I think Tautou needs to be pushed a little, to go beyond her safe roles which she did in Dirty Pretty Things. Somewhat.

Penelope Aldaya
Anne Hathaway
There is a highly dramatic scene in The Shadow of the Wind that represents not only the culmination of a mystery's resolution but also, all that is cruel about a misogynistic, patriarchal society and one that is also still recovering from the horrors and senselessness of the Spanish civil war. This scene needs to be portrayed by someone whose suffering would leave us gutted. Someone whose doll like beauty and short screen time would remove nothing from the attachment we feel towards her when she suffers her tragic fate. I have thought of her youthful features (Penelope is barely 17), her almond hair and the expert acting that this requires and have settled on Anne Hathaway. I know that Hathaway is much older but I think she might be able to pull it off with her hair lightened and worn loose. She also looks Spanish. Hathaway impeccably portrayed Fantine's suffering in Les Miserables and will no doubt shine as Penelope.

Beatrix Aguilar
Emma Stone
A striking red head with green eyes and beautiful skin. Someone who can also inspire fear and who one can imagine flirting with both older professors and danger. Someone feisty and sharp. I think Emma Stone works well here.

Francisco Javier Fumero
Ricardo Darín
A villain makes a film and needs to be well thought out. He requires stellar acting. Ever since I saw Argentinian actor, Ricardo Darín in The Secret in their Eyes, I have been under his spell. He would work splendidly as the charismatic yet sadistic and vengeful cop, Fumero. Darín's mature presence and astute gaze lend themselves well to the calculating Fumero. Darín is also believable as a dangerous law officer who has risen in the ranks to become both a feared and respected member of society.

Fumero's mother
Penelope Cruz
If you've seen Jamon, Jamon, Don't Move and To Rome with Love, you would know that no one does trashy foul mouth better than La Cruz. That she has the advantage of understanding Spanish cultural nuances to properly caricature this fascinating character is no understatement. No matter that she is strikingly beautiful, Cruz will no doubt successfully portray this social wannabe creature who spawns the devil himself. The villain's mother is so pivotal to a story that only a strong actress will do. Besides, it is only right that one of Spain's most beautiful women should become this devil's mother.

Don Frederico Flavia
Javier Bardem
It is only fair, given his titillating exposition as Silva in the latest Bond, that Javier Bardem should be given a chance to dress as he pleases from time to time. But seriously, I like the contrast between Bardem's threatening build à la No Country For Old Men, and the fragile, sensitive disposition of Frederico, the watchmaker. I also think this casting subverts the ostensibly macho, garlic-chewing and misogynistic role that Bardem took on years ago in Spain's glorious cinematic export, Jamon, Jamon. Finally, I think it would work well with Bardem's often high pitched voice and his ability to affect a sophisticated mannerism.

There are several characters who I've not yet cast, including the bitter Jorge Aldaya, his wealthy parents, Nuria Montfort and Julian's own father. Please feel free to leave comments about your casting thoughts for these, along with any suggestions you may have for the already cast characters.

While this has been a fictitious exercise, I am still entertaining the grand hopes that The Shadow of the Wind will be shot some day. Zafón  you, who it has been said, have no intention of adapting your masterpiece for screen, I hope you understand my love for this book and my equal love of cinema. A cinematic adaptation of The Shadow of the Wind would not purport to be better-than or complementary to the book. It is an art in itself, a joy of creation and a challenge to master. The rendering of historical Barcelona would be an artistic director's dream. Who would not enjoy working on such a masterpiece? I am certain that many actors would be overjoyed to interpret one of your fascinating characters. Why deprive them of that pleasure? And why rob millions of people who actively prefer cinema to reading, or who cannot read for that matter, of the pleasure of seeing this story on screen?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Candeau Drawings

Bourgeois Ladies

When I was a little girl and living in France, I stumbled upon gorgeous sketches. These had been drawn by some distant aunt or cousin of my grandfather, at the turn of the 20th century.

I can barely remember the artists' names but these drawings were so lovely that I wondered why they were packed away in a dusty folder, together with my grandfather's genealogy files and century old research documents.

Mes Petits Bretons - an homage to Brittany
Bretons youth in traditional costume, dancing over the sea 
with the outline of a Carnac dolmen on the horizon

My grandfather, Yves Candeau, probably noted my intense interest in his genealogy work because upon his last visit to Australia, he left all his original jaundiced files at my parents' home. The edited and digitised version of his work was copied multiple times, and shared with each of my relatives. But I had the privilege of seeing his old files in our lounge closet.

When I left home, I took with me Yves Candeau's files and the drawings that in my youth, I had longed to unveil.

This is what you see in this post and I'm so happy to be able to finally share them.

The words "Je pense a vous souvent" (I think of you often) 
appear on this lovely Art Nouveau sketch

Detail from Mes Petits Bretons (my ultimate favourite)

It goes without saying that if you wish to digitally use or reference any of these drawings (and any personal photos I have previously posted in this blog) please do not do so without my permission. On the other hand, any reproduction and printing of these drawings is out of the question. These drawings remain copyright and belong to Yves Candeau's descendants. Thank you. :)