Event: A Very Manhattan Halloween.

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halloween marilyn monroe

orange is the new black costume

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We found Wally (or Waldo, as they are wont to call him over here).

ursula the little mermaid costume

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Pets on parade.

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Feminists in arms. (Norma Jean did work in the factories during World War II, after all, just like Rosie!)

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regina george halloween costume

On Wednesdays we wear pink.

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tonto halloween costume

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jellyfish halloween costume

the birds halloween costume

Unfortunately you can’t see The Birds, but this is Tippi Hedren.

In New York City’s Greenwich Village Halloween Parade I was surprised to be the only Marilyn Monroe in attendance that I could see. There were some arguably culturally insensitive costumes (a Tonto and a plethora of “sexy” Native Americans), a Banksy, some political statements (anti-fracking, anti-spying) and a kick-ass version of Orange is the New Black, complete with whiteface, marching in one of New York City’s most revered institutions.

Revelers dressed as jellyfish with umbrellas ruled the night and came prepared for the rain that was forecast and appeared on schedule as the parade began around 7pm. 60,000 people were expected to show up to walk and, seeing as last years festivities were interrupted by superstorm Sandy, 2013’s Halloween was a long awaited one. New Yorkers have a knack for rising above adversity and Thursday night was no exception.

While the parade is certainly an event that adults relish the opportunity to participate in, being a non-alcohol and -drug-fuelled event there were plenty of children and pets dressed up and ready to march up 6th Avenue, between Spring and 16th Streets, where the parade ended. A few blocks away (thought that didn’t stop my party from getting lost in transit!) was the official parade after party at Webster Hall, transformed into Webster Hell for the festivities. Thousand-dollar prizes were given to the best dressed, which included a white Little Wayne, Regina George, several Rosie the Riveters (the best one I saw came replete with the posters’ yellow background festooned to her in cardboard, which we didn’t manage to catch on camera) and many a Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus. A virgin was sacrificed on an occult alter at midnight, which we unfortunately missed on one of the many floors of partying. Tickets to the after party don’t come cheap, though, starting at $40 and increasing as the event draws closer (I paid $75 for my ticket, while those who opted to buy on the door were looking at $100 a pop!). Webster Hall undoubtedly pulled in an exorbitant amount of cash in ticket and bar sales, but the actual parade relied on $50,000 of KickStarter donations to get up and running again this year, as they were uninsured for the effects of Sandy.

Halloween is certainly gaining traction in Australia, increasingly among adults as much as trick-or-treating children, but America goes all out. Part of the reason I’m in New York City at this time of year is specifically to attend the 40th anniversary of the parade and the after party, assembling my costume months in advance and carting it halfway across the world, while the friend I’m staying in the city with and I traipsed through the Upper East and West Side’s thrift stores in search of the finishing touches for her costume (a silent film star).

Halloween here is not for the faint-hearted; many residents and businesses adorn their facades in all manner of holiday paraphernalia, soccer mums ferry their kids to and from school in costume, and over $7 billion is spent on costumes, candy and general Halloween merriment. No matter how you feel about it, All Hallows Eve is an exercise in Americana that doesn’t look to be going anywhere any time soon, especially not in the heart of New York City.

Related: Quarter Century Costumes & Cocktails.

My Week in Pictures: Birthday Edition.

The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

Elsewhere: [DNAinfo.com New York] Village Halloween Parade Needs $50K to Recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Images via April Bonnick.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

“Single Ladies”, “Blurred Lines”, “Tunnel Vision”… The evolution of the threefold female body in modern pop videos. [TheVine]

Why are there no Asian rom-com leads? [Daily Life]

In case you missed it, my Paper Giants 2: Magazine Wars review is featured in the 62nd Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Hoyden About Town]

Sex and gender in horror movies. [Bitch]

My sister was always the O.C.-obsessed one, so the show was always on on Tuesday nights in our house, but I could never really get into it. (In fact, the only season I really liked was the final one, after the death of the bland Marissa Cooper.) But here are ten little-known facts about one of my generation’s most-loved shows. [TheVine]

The Canyons director Paul Schrader compares Lindsay Lohan to Marilyn Monroe. [Film Comment]

TV: Smash Finale — “Big Finish”.

After two tumultuous seasons filled with cast and creative overhauls, dwindling ratings and a move to Saturday nights in the U.S. to really put the final nail in the coffin, Smash bid Australian audiences adieu last night on Soho.

I, for one, am sad to see Smash go as, while it certainly wasn’t the best or most cohesive show on TV, I found it immensely enjoyable to watch, partly because I’m a sucker for Marilyn Monroe and a fan of musical theatre, but also because of the melodrama and the sometimes-fantastic casting.

It’s no secret I’ve had my issues with Smash, though, namely Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright, whom the writers tried to shove down the audience’s throat, even more so with her star turn in Hit List in season two. Luckily, this freed the part of Marilyn Monroe up for Ivy, who should have been a shoe in for the part from get, what with her curvy frame, platinum blonde locks and knockout Broadway voice.

While there were a few problems with season one, like Julia’s family life (which was reintroduced in the final, leading me to ask, what was the point in retiring Frank and Michael Swift in the first place?), her obsession with scarves, Karen’s possessive boyfriend Dev, and psycho assistant Ellis, Gossip Girl’s Joshua Safran was brought in to replace series creator (and real life Julia Huston) Theresa Rebeck and revamp the show. He did this by dreaming up a rival musical for Bombshell: Hit List.

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“The only reason Hit List made it to Broadway was because Kyle Bishop died.”

Harsh, Ivy, but true. Kyle was one of the better new characters of season two, but he and his musical could be seen as an allegory for Smash: it was dead in the water so a second musical was introduced in an attempt to revive it.

Several of the themes and songs in Hit List centre around reinvention—“Rewrite This Story”, for example—though I’m not sure how intentional the correlation with Smash’s failure was.

And for an eventual Broadway musical driven by the meta desire to run on Broadway, Hit List has a strange obsession with MTV, fame and the VMAs, of all things. While this wasn’t revealed on the show, it did come out in a very interesting story on Vulture, which begs the question: how did a show (both Smash and Hit List) about Broadway dreams become so muddied by pop?

Safran’s former show’s influence can also be seen in Jimmy, the bad boy who just wants to make good, and Karen’s just the manic pixie (strike that; she’s far too bland to fall into that problematic category) dream girl to help him. What eventuated with Jimmy’s past harks back to Gossip Girl’s season one cliff-hanger: Serena thinks she killed someone on a drug-fuelled bender, but it all works out for the best.

Ivy also experiences a happy ending (pardon the pun) when she finally tells Derek she’s pregnant and he expresses joy at the news despite the fact that his character has been bewildered by parenthood in the past and—of course!—there’s no other option for Ivy than to go ahead with the pregnancy in the wake of her burgeoning career and Tony win. This is network TV, after all.

As for the Tony’s, which rounded out the series (sorry Safran; you didn’t make it to the VMAs like you’d hoped), Kyle took Best Book, but Best Actress, Best Musical and Best Original Score– Music And/Or Lyrics went to Bombshell, proving the Marilyn musical still reigns supreme in the short-lived world of Smash.

Related: The Problem with Smash.

Elsewhere: [The New Yorker] Farewell, Smash.

[Vulture] The Unspoken Full Plot for Smash’s Hit List Musical is Revealed.

Book Review: Marilyn — The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner.

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Marilyn Monroe as feminist icon? Who knew?

The best-known sex symbol of the 20th century (’cause we all know Beyonce’s got dibs on this century) is easily dismissed as just that, but as Lois Banner’s heftily researched tome on the woman born Norma Jeane Mortensen will attest, Monroe had some radical views for her time, embracing the ideals of the Communist movement, endeavouring to expand her mind even though Hollywood would rather her stick to her dumb blonde schtick, and engaging in activities unbecoming for a woman of her time. Banner is sure that had Monroe lived long enough, she would have been a keen supporter of the feminist movement.

Personally, I have always been an advocate of Monroe as feminist, refusing to take on my mother’s, amongst many others’, dislike of her for her bombshell image. As Banner maps out Monroe’s family history, her life as a sexually abused orphan, her first marriage at 16 to Jim Dougherty, her early days in Hollywood and the way she crafted herself into a star, the reader sees Monroe not as the ditzy Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes like so many others did, but as a gifted actress merely playing up to one of the many archetypes (sexy “Marilyn”, comedienne “Lorelei” and the glamourous star of later years [from p. 237]) she was perceived as when it was called for: there was much more to Marilyn Monroe than meets the eye, as is detailed in The Passion & the Paradox.

By interviewing a myriad of sources, some of which only fellow feminist biographer of Monroe, Gloria Steinem, had interviewed before, Banner debunks some common myths about Monroe, including those surrounding her death. By doing so, she delves much further into Marilyn Monroe’s psyche than any other book about her I’ve read.

I’m probably a bit biased, as Banner pretty much reinforces ideas about her that I already held, but if you’re only going to pick up one publication on Marilyn Monroe, let it be this refreshingly modern take on her as a person, not a sexual object.

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This review has been submitted to The Australian Women Writers Challenge as part of their 2013 Challenge.

Image via These Little Words.

Books: Marilyn Monroe as Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

Marilyn-Monroe---Glasses

As with yesterday’s post, this comes from Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions in an article entitled “Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Who Died Too Soon”:

“[Marilyn Monroe disliked] to be interpreted by them [her male admirers] in writing because she feared that sexual competition made women dislike her… In films, photographs, and books, even after her death as well as before, she has been mainly seen through men’s eyes.”

Just like our favourite Manic Pixie Dream Girls Holly Golightly, Ruby Sparks, Annie Hall, and Zooey Deschanel.

Related: Procrastination Proclamation.

Posts Tagged “Ruby Sparks”.

Manic Pixie Dream Girly Girls & Not-So-Girly Girls.

Image via Discount Poster Sale.

TV: The Problem with Smash.

This post was originally published earlier in the year when Smash first aired on Foxtel’s W, now SoHo.

Smash, the Steven Spielberg-produced musical-serial about a Marilyn Monroe Broadway show, debuted with promise. I quite enjoyed the first few episodes, with Debra Messing as one of the musical’s writers, Angelica Huston as its producer, and Broadway star Megan Hilty as the number one contender for the role of Marilyn. But then Smash kind of plateaued.

Clem Bastow, writing for TheVine, seems to think it’s because of Katharine McPhee’s inclusion as the other competitor vying for the lead, and I have to agree. Bastow writes:

“The trouble with McPhee’s performance in Smash is that it jolts me out of my suspension of disbelief… [B]ut whenever Karen/Katharine opens her mouth, the fourth wall comes crashing down around me. Her voice is thin, her performance mannered, she acts with her chin like a young Gwyneth Paltrow, and self-consciously holds her mouth in such a way to suggest a very pretty female version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.”

I’m all for Hilty’s Ivy Lynn, who’s spent ten years in the chorus and lives and breathes Marilyn through and through. But I just can’t get behind McPhee’s Karen Cartwright who, as Ivy rightfully observes, got to New York five minutes ago, hasn’t paid her dues and is already getting callbacks for lead roles. She can’t act (McPhee as Karen nor Karen as Marilyn), complains about everything and is an ineffable dolt.

But in the last few weeks, Smash has been looking up. I immensely enjoyed the episode when Ivy lost the plot after being replaced as Marilyn by Uma Thurman’s major movie star, Rebecca Duvall, and had to go back to being an angel in the chorus line of Bombshell’s (the name they’ve settled on for the fictional—but very well could be a real Broadway show if Smash’s commercial success continues—musical) writers’ other Broadway show, Heaven on Earth. Ivy loses it, mixes her throat medication with alcohol, goes on stage high, and ends up singing Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” with Karen in Times Square (video above. Please excuse the horrid quality, but I wanted a clip that actually showed the scene rather than just the audio).

I still can’t stand Karen and Ellis, the sneaky assistant to Huston’s Eileen and, formerly, Bombshell writer Tom Levitt but, if it’s about Marilyn Monroe, I’m willing to let Smash go out with a bang.

Are you watching Smash? What do you think of it?

Related: The Problem with Smash. 

Elsewhere: [The Vine] You Ain’t Gettin’ 88 Cents From Me, Smash.

Image via Crushable.

Event: The Reading Hour.

In celebration of the National Year of Reading, today marks the National Reading Hour. While the exact time frame for the event is sketchy, and anyone who knows me knows I’ll be spending much more than one hour reading today (or on any day, for that matter), the aim of the event is to instill the importance of reading in children. From my point of view, reading is important at all ages and it’s never too late to start. The only downside is there’s less time to read all the fantastic books out there.

So, The Early Bird has decided to get in on the action by going over all the books I’ve read this year and whether I found them good, bad or otherwise and if you should read them, too.

I haven’t read this many books since my uni days, I don’t think, when I was traveling up to six hours a day from country Victoria to Deakin in Burwood. Needless to say, there were a lot of public transport hours that needed filling, and reading was the perfect way to do that. Aside from primary school, of course, when nightly “readers” were a must and I got through several, if not up to a dozen, books a week, uni really got me back in touch with my love for reading; a love without which I wouldn’t be who I am today.

So, without further ado…

My Booky Wook 2 by Russell Brand.

If I if I didn’t have to give this book back to a friend before she moved interstate at the start of the year, I think it would still be sitting in my stack of to-be-read books (like some other borrowed tomes). While it didn’t change my world, and I much preferred Brand’s first memoir, I’m glad to have read it and moved on. Much like Katy Perry. Burn!

The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns 40 edited by Yona Zeldis McDonough.

While Barbie is now 53 and there is now thirteen more years of fodder for a compilation of feminist musings on the doll, I really enjoyed this book and ponder it often. Aforementioned interstate friend, Laura, currently has it in her possession. I believe it is out of print now, so I was quite lucky to have happened upon it at my local secondhand bookstore. Pick it up if you get the chance.

Big Porn Inc. edited by Melinda Tankard Reist & Abigail Bray.

I was so looking forward to reading this conservative collection on why porn is bad, and it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t agree with anything in the book, but it was an eye opening look at just how anti-sex (not to mention anti-choice, anti-feminism, anti-vaccination) some people can be. What scares me is that Tankard Reist and Bray’s ideologies could be rubbing off on the susceptible with the release of this book.

The Book of Rachael by Leslie Cannold.

Feminist crusader Cannold looks at what could have been the life of Jesus’ sister, Rachael. What’s more, the book focuses on her relationship with the ultimate betrayer, Judas. It wasn’t mind blowing, but if you’re looking for something to read and want to support local, female writers, this is one for you.

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy.

To be honest, I had lots of things on my mind when I read this so it’s almost like I never read it at all. I found it really hard to get into and to focus on the words on the page. Maybe I’ll watch the movie in an effort to more fully understand the storyline. Shameful, I know.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

If you haven’t read this book yet, you need to get on it, like, yesterday! So well written, so emotional, so involving and with a massive twist at the end. And please, if you’re thinking about watching the movie (which I haven’t seen yet, so don’t take my word for it: it might even be better than the book), read the book first. Looking back, this is probably the best book I’ve read this year and, dare I say it, ever.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Not the worst teen trilogy out there (I’m looking at you, Twilight Saga), but not the greatest, either. I found the book easy to read and also well written which, again, is more than I can say for Stephenie Meyer.

Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, Bernard Comment & Stanley Buchthal.

This part-coffee table book, part-Marilyn musings tome had been sitting in my pile of to-be-reads for almost a year and a half before I decided to actually read about one of my favourite icons. I enjoyed a rare insight into the mind of the sex symbol herself, but honestly, I think there are probably better books about her out there.

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart.

This is the book I spent the most amount of time reading; or rather, it took me the most amount of time to read. It is a hefty memoir, but it’s not exactly written in a challenging tone, either. I quite enjoyed it, all in all, and while you probably need a background knowledge of professional wrestling to get into the book, it was kind of sad reading about all the tragedies in Hart’s life.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier.

I love me some historical fiction and Remarkable Creatures didn’t disappoint. Easy to get into with a bit of fluff, but it has nothing on Girl with the Pearl Earring.

11.22.63 by Stephen King.

This was my first encounter with King, and I quite liked it. He obviously has the suspense/mystery/horror (though you won’t catch me dead with one of his books—nor the movie adaptations—in this genre. I hate horror!) formula down pat. While the title and cover lines were a bit misleading (JFK doesn’t come into it until right near the end, and even then it’s anticlimactic), I really liked it and found out some historical tidbits I didn’t know previously.

The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis.

Easton Ellis is one of those writers who is good in theory, not so good in practice. I still plan on reading all of his efforts, no matter how gory and gratuitously sexy and druggy they are (this one had a central theme of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in ’80s L.A.… with a side-serving of vampirism!), but sometimes I think he’s a bit over hyped. As was The Informers.

Fables: The Deluxe Editions Volumes 1 & 2 by Bill Willingham.

These are the comics Once Upon a Time is allegedly inspired by, and let me tell you, these are much better than the show. I’m not usually a fan of the comic book format, but I really enjoyed these two. Bring on the next two installments!

Drowned by Therese Bowman.

When I read Drowned, I actually had no idea what the storyline was. I remembered reading an enticing review in The Age a month or two before I convinced a friend to buy it in order for me to borrow it, but other than that, I was clueless. After reading it, it seemed there was no storyline; it was more high-concept literary fiction to my mind. But it was very evocative. Short and sweet.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

I just finished this one on a trip away and I loved it. Similarly to The Black Dahlia, it took me awhile to get into it, concentration-wise, but once I did I found it very enjoyable. The storyline is unique and interesting, and the character development and style were some of the best I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote.

So does reading one short story in the collection count as actually reading the whole of Music for Chameleons?! I bought this book from a secondhand store with the sole intention of reading the Marilyn Monroe chapter and that’s all. Kind of a waste, I suppose, but I like to support small, local businesses!

50 Shades of Grey by EL James.

I have oh-so-ashamedly left this one til last as it is by far the worst, but it’s also the one I’m currently reading. I always said I would never be caught dead reading this mediocre tripe, but after hearing John Flaus and Jess Anastasi (a coincidence her surname is practically the same as the first name of 50 Shades’ protagonist?) discuss the book at the Bendigo Writers Festival, I finally succumbed. The way I look at it, I’m approaching it with a critical eye for the purposes of research. It’s better to have an informed opinion, right? More to come.

What are you going to be reading for the National Reading Hour?

Related: Big Porn Inc. Edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray Review. 

The Book of Rachael by Leslie Cannold Review.

My Week in Pictures 16th August 2012.