Tag Archives: Frida Kahlo

Tales of the Unexpected with Roald Dahl

As the autumn nights drain the colour from the day, I find that dipping into Roald Dahl’s short stories makes for a suspenseful evening read. Dark, disturbing, direct, Dahl’s tales take the reader into everyday normal scenarios, a familiar world of daily occurrences, tea, nicely turned-down beds, cosy fireplaces, friendly policemen and then he twists up the macabre volume to full. The everyday becomes the horrific, fear filled flights of fancy.

His writing reminds me of the great Alfred Hitchcock, particularly Psycho. Take the infamous shower scene; you never actually see a knife penetrate the victim’s skin. It’s all in the clever editing, the final cut (pardon the pun). This is precisely what Dahl does with his short stories; it’s what is not said that is most disturbing. It leaves the reader to fill in the cognitive gaps.

tales of the unexpected

I remember being disturbed by the beginning of Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected when I was a boy. The title sequence consisted of silhouettes of dancing-girls with a backdrop of flames, followed by Dahl’s personal welcome. The tall, skeletal man perched in his armchair, his gaze piercing and speaking like a quintessential English Aristocrat.

dahl skeleton

He reminds me of my friend Hogarth, who I have in my study. Frida Kahlo used to have a full skeleton above her bed, to remind her of the fact that we never know when we are going to die, so must live for the moment. I liked this idea. For there is a danger that with all the pre-disposition with technology, worries about work, politics and balancing lives on an ever-increasing treadmill, we can actually forget to look around at what we have, take stock, appreciate and enjoy. After all, tomorrow is a long way off.

But please note, I do not wish to offend the respected author in any way, I am describing him through the eyes of a child. In fact, given some of his descriptions of adults in his works, I think he would find it rather complimentary.

I recently viewed the television series again as a 36-year old man; with a little bit more experience of this insane place we call earth. My particular favourite is A Lamb to the Slaughter, involving infidelity, murder and a frozen leg of lamb. Oh, and Brian Blessed, roaring the role of an investigative policeman. I am not going to announce ‘spoiler alert’ or even tell you what happens, I would instead encourage you to have a look at this episode and read the tale, you will not be disappointed!

Dahl is still making the headlines as a figure of controversy even now after his death; with the recent re-publication of his iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, re-issued with a cover specifically for adults.

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I’d say that if an adult feels that to be seen reading a tale that happens to have been written for children as a problem, they need to have a word with themselves and grow up. Besides with the amount of trees that are sacrificed to publish some of the mindless tripe these days, Fifty Shades of Clever Marketing for example, you are best grappling with great works, children’s lit and all.

It disturbs me how Waterstones has to label whole tables of books, chick lit, potential cult classics etc. Let people decide themselves! You might even stumble accidentally upon something you like. That is how I found Iris Murdoch, who in my head I’d thought was like Catherine Cookson, how wrong was I? It is fortunate that there are contemporary writers like Donna Tartt, releasing books only when she sees fit that they are ready, not to a marketing schedule.

the gold finch

A literary Kate Bush! When you read a tome like The Goldfinch, how you are reminded that sometimes things are worth waiting for, particularly when they are richly textured and poignant as this piece of literary genius is. Sentences that need to be savoured and a plot that engulfs. One lady of Liverpool letters Madam Le Smith, summed the book up in three words, “What a ride!”

And I can guarantee that Dahl’s short stories will also provide a ride, a tempestuous ride into the dark recesses of your soul.

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Viva Frida!

I like to read and write in bed. A comfortable mattress can at times be equally as productive as a sturdy desk. A pad perched up on my knees, drafting, crafting. My mantra has always been: graft equals craft.

One of my idols, Frida Kahlo, used her bedroom – sometimes out of necessity. There she would sketch and paint images that came out of her dreamscape. A cocktail of her fear and inner thoughts. Breton famously  described the work of Frida as

a ribbon around a bomb.

She was used to suffering from early age when she contracted polio and then at 18 was injured in a horrific bus accident, where she sustained injuries that affected her throughout her lifetime. Her personal life was turbulent and her relationship with soul mate Diego Riveria was a tempestuous one. The creative couple was known as ‘the elephant and the dove’, a Beauty and the Beast-like pairing.

Her entire catalogue of work is a testament to my personal belief that art has a transformative element; turning negativity into something positive. Be it a writing pad, a canvas, a block of wood or clay, an artist’s role is to take experience, push it, question it and put it out there. Her self-portraiture is painted with a pallet of wit, raw honesty, brutality, pain, cruelty, passion and empowerment. Or as she simply put it,

I paint my reality.

This inspiring lady had a resilience that pumped through her blood.

Five months after her accident she posed in a family photograph, wearing a grey suit, a practical element to disguise her injuries. A controversial, provocative dandy, taking centre stage in the composition captured by her photographer father, Guillerno. Almost like the son he never had.

The artist used her own body as a canvas, painting the massive plaster cast that bound her torso during her recovery from the accident. She later took on the Mexican dress of long skirts, heavy jewellery, fringed shawls and a crown.

fulang chang and I

FULANG, CHANG and I (1937), illustrates Kahlo at the height of her beauty, an image from the sensual world.

Kalho Frida - A few small nips passionately in love - 1935

A FEW LITTLE PRICKS (1935), inspired by a morbid newspaper report, she used this story to distance herself from the real life trauma of the recent betrayal of Diego sleeping with her sister Cristina. The victim in the composition has her sister’s features and the man with the knife resembles Diego, while Frida herself imagined that she herself had commits the murder.

little girl with a death mask

LITTLE GIRL WITH A DEATH MASK (1938), inspired by the native style of popular Mexican art.  A person clad in a traditional white death mask, holds a sunflower (tagete) traditionally used during the day of the dead, celebrated on the second of November. The flower is meant to light the path for the souls of the dead as they make their way back to their ancestors. On the floor there is a jaguar mask in papier mache, another ritual accompaniment at this annual festival.

the-wounded-deer-1946

THE WOUNDED DEER (THE LITTLE DEER) 1946, in this image Kahlo places her own visage on the animal and it conveys an expression of nobility, an air of dignity, in the crown of antlers. The deer has been pierced with nine arrows, a slow kill to symbolise the emotional pain of Diego’s repeated infidelity.

I paint self-portraits because I am the person I know best.

She did not solely use the medium of canvas painting; her diaries also contain sketches, reflections, watercolours, lyrics and poems. A candid, reflection on her personal creative process, her childhood, political sensibilities and obsession with Diego. The diary spans from 1944-54 and is a series of random memories and thoughts with no attention to chronology. The manuscript is a turbulent bag of emotions.

Aztec Rebirth

Diego beginning

Diego constructor

Diego my baby

Diego my boyfriend

Diego my painter

Diego my lover

Diego my husband

Diego my friend

Diego my mother

Diego my father

Diego my son

Diego= me=

Diego Universe

Diversity in unity

Why do I call him My

Diego? He never was

Nor ever will be mine

He belongs to himself

The legacy left behind by Frida Kahlo is a collection of paradox, she is both victim and heroine, suffering and successful, but above all human. Essentially painting her own life.

VIVA Frida!

viva frida

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A bloody valentine – Hitchcock review

A guest post from Liverpool playwright and poet John Maguire, offering an alternative to the clichés this Valentine’s Day…

Red roses, overpriced menus in restaurants that should know better, couples who only come to show the world that they are in love, or feel the need to bombard social media sites with images and status updates that cause nausea, Valentine’s Day may not be everybody’s idea of a good time.

Any real romantics truly know that love and gestures of adoration should occur all year round.

If you’re looking for an alternative kind of love affair, Sacha Gervasi’s HITCHCOCK could be just that.

hitchcock-final-movie-poster

The film explores the creative pairing of Hitch and his wife of 54 years, Alma Reville, whilst making – what some call – his most distinguished feature PSYCHO.

A working relationship that was an absolute necessity for his success. His wife being his chief critic and champion, noticing Janet Leigh blinking after the infamous shower death sequence and protesting for the inclusion of Hermann’s orchestral score during the scene that did indeed leave audiences screaming.

The complexities of two artistic temperaments in collaboration are explored and the dangers of taking things for granted are starkly portrayed. Sometimes, simple gratitude can be overlooked and inner frustrations may bubble underneath but eventually erupt. Artistic partnerships are rendered more interesting when examined under cinematic autopsy, like the Frida Kahlo bio about her relationship with Diego Riveria, this outing does not judge and emphasises things are never always black and white. Behind every successful individual there is generally always an underpinning support mechanism, an individual who pushes, compliments and encourages but at the same time needs to have that function to be fulfilled and Alma Reville is just that.

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The movie is a tango ballad of the self-doubt, inner frustrations and understated emotions between the husband and wife that eventually explodes into a realisation.

Helen Mirren’s Alma dominates the screen with her compassionate and modest portrayal of the puppet mistress helping to drive the Hitchcock vehicle. The Rumi term ‘unfold your own myth’, is something that is never more apparent than in Hitchcock, the master of hype, long before we had the social media, disgracebook, YouTube and Twitter, to raise awareness. Hopkins in his distinctive flair adopts a less is more approach with simple gestures and a fixed glare that unsteadies the viewer and shows so much of the inner demons that drove the master craftsman.

Quentin Crisp talked of the cinema being the forgetting chamber, a place to be totally immersed in the illusion, to shy away from all problems and woes. Hitchcock had an astute understanding of how to play an audience’s emotions and etch his films deep into their subconsciousness. Art that would leave an aftertaste.

So for a different date this week, do not be typical and say it with flowers, say it with this bloody valentine.

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