I recently took part in a family-made video; filmed to celebrate a milestone birthday. I wonder where that figure of speech came from? This is one of the hazards of blog writing. You start out with some sort of topic in mind and then find yourself veering off-topic all over the place. I suppose, like those ancient milestones informing the weary traveller how much closer to his destination he was, our birthday milestones only serve to tell us how much closer we are to Death……… not much to celebrate there is there?
I’m approaching 60. How stark that particular milestone looks, when typed out in cold black and white; why, it’s fairly jumping out at me from the page.
60 60 60 60
When inside I’m still 5 years old, looking out over a garden wall, straight into a junior school playground, thinking: ‘I have to go there soon,’ with the juvenile version of a morose feeling of impending doom; a feeling that’s never left me.
But I’m not a child. I’m supposedly an adult who can take care of herself. I’m not an adult who can take care of herself. I’ve simply retained the qualities I possessed as a 5 year old and used them over the years, with varying degrees of success. Hence I will regularly whine and whinge. I will have tiny little temper tantrums, if asked to do something I really don’t want to do. Instead of a positive can do attitude, my mantra is always I can’t do that, whilst stamping my oversized toddler feet. I rely on other people to do almost everything for me. It’s why the long-ago office jobs felt like such a trial. I had to work for 8 hours with a measly lunch break; there was no nap time, no play time – didn’t they realise that inside I was still 5 years old?
Milestone birthdays are important and should be celebrated. Getting old is a privilege denied to many and, besides, it’s nice to know that your ancient relatives (even more ancient than you are) are still around. Family anchors your place in the world- they’re the planetary influence that keeps you, one of the little satellites, in a steady orbit.
(I’ve completely lost track and my metaphors and similes are all over the place. And I’m not even sure what a metaphor or a simile is.)
Back to the amateur video. The video informs me, in no uncertain terms, that I am FAT. Mostly, whilst going about my daily business, I can kid myself that I’m a reasonable size for my advanced age. I can run upstairs with relative ease. I can go on walks without running out of steam. I can climb up and down ladders without a) falling off or b) causing the ladder to collapse under the strain. True, I can’t jump about on the spot very easily (if at all, I tried it and too many wobbly bits jiggled painfully about and the knees gave way) or stand up in one go from a cross legged seated position (which is supposedly a sign of true fitness and slimness) or run a 100 yards, without feeling my knees buckle and both hips twinge with pain, but neither am I a two ton tess, confined to an armchair because I’m permanently wedged between the arm rests, unable to get up without the help of a dockside crane.
But still, in the eye of a camera lens, I’m very FAT. ‘But hang on a minute,’ I’d thought, whilst pausing the video at a bit which particularly showcased my fatness; ‘doesn’t the camera add 10lbs?’ Admittedly, it looked like the malicious camera in question had added a couple of stone in my case but, with desperate hope in my heart, I’d googled ‘does the camera add 10lbs,’ to find that, sadly, this is an urban myth.
I landed on a photography experts’ site. Here I was given a thorough explanation of why the camera never lies, which involved something to do with most images being shot in 2D, which means figures in the foreground can ‘lose’ their place in the landscape and thus appear wider than they really are. In subjects who are already porkers, this may give a sort of impression of extra porkiness, but this impression is in fact negligible in real terms. In real, actual life, our eyes see in 3D, so a person is placed more properly within their surroundings, meaning there’s a slight chance that I wouldn’t look so plumptious (and not in a nice way.) Actually, this might work if I stood entirely alone, in front of Everest.
My attention was further drawn to an article on this website entitled ‘How to Pose for the Camera without looking Fat,’ in which every model, used to demonstrate the techniques of non-fatness, was curiously stick thin. Anyway, according to one of New York’s top portrait photographers, you can avoid fatness simply by standing straight, whilst pushing your head forward and then down slightly. This accentuates the jaw line, by stretching and tightening all the surrounding, offending fat bits. There then follows a video of some bloke (thin) jutting his head out and down umpteen times, so he begins to resemble a moronic chicken, until the fancy New York photographer is satisfied.
The other ways to avoid looking bulbous are to sensuously lean against the side of a building, or lean into the camera, or turn slightly sideways with your hand on your hip – any other pose will make you look like a fat circus freak. Which brings me to The Greatest Showman, or X Men The Musical (as I like to call it.)
I was dragged along to this slow burning hit a couple of days ago by the friend, who was seeing it for the third time, such is her admiration of this critically panned mishmash of forgettable show tunes. ‘I cried all the way through it,’ she’d posted on Facebook, adding about 50 exclamation marks, ‘it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ So, my expectations were sky high.
30 minutes in and I was wondering why I didn’t get it, while the friend sat all gooey-eyed. All around me were fans seeing it for the umpteenth time; miming along to the words and tenderly wiping tears from each other’s eyes (really they were.) ‘Is it just me who’s finding the story-line a tad inconsistent, not to mention incoherent? ‘ thought I. Don’t the songs sound very samey? Isn’t Zac Efron’s acting a bit wooden? Wasn’t the bit with Queen Victoria (an actress who looked nothing like her) a bit surreal and sort of plonked in out of nowhere, as one of the weirdest cameos ever? And did the cameraman really have to shove the bearded lady’s gigantic, bouncing boobs quite so much in our faces, quite so often, so that visions of blancmange on a plate kept dancing before my eyes?
Admittedly the sight of Wolverine as P T Barnum, breaking into constant song and dance was a joy to behold, as Huge got it on with his collection of society’s weirdo outcasts………and that’s when it hit me. Huge Jackman has merely exploited his success in X Men, by providing us with the all singing and all dancing version. (I’d have liked further cameo roles by Professor X and Magneto – I can just picture Messrs Stewart and McKellen doing a quick soft-shoe shuffle.)
Boredom and torpor set in (and a certain amount of intellectual snobbery; I was behaving like a snooty-tooty film critic) when Jenny Lind, the Victorian Swedish Opera singer (go see it, there will be no explanations of the madness that is this film here) appeared on stage, whilst Wolverine looked adoringly on, and launched into a song called Never Enough. And then I got it. I got it big time. I got why you should always see a film on the big screen, and particularly if it’s a musical, so you can hear every song via an ear crushing sound system. I felt a curious emotion rise up in my chest, as the singer’s emotional tones blasted out of the screen. The actress playing Ms Lind was dubbed, an unusual occurrence these days, but it fit right in with Hollywood’s musical golden age, when Lina Lamont could be found lip syncing away to Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain. In short, I began to feel some of the maudlin, nostalgic sentiment that those around me were drowning in.
I got home and found myself playing Never Enough on a loop. And then I clicked on all the other songs that had gone in one ear and out the other, and began thinking this isn’t half bad. Those songs that the nose in the air critics refer to as ‘earworms’? – lets see them write a catchy ‘earworm’ is all I can say. Those young songwriters, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are onto something (of course they’re onto something; Huge Jackman would hardly have employed talentless idiots.)
For this film was Mr Jackman’s pet project and had been for 7 years. Yes, Messrs Pasek and Paul are just the young things your 21st century musical needs. They write songs on their laptops, whilst wearing headphones mid-air in aeroplanes. They are capable of knocking off a tech-aided hit in 10 minutes. Their impossibly young fingers are firmly on the feel good, pop-loving pulse of your average musical movie goer.
And Huge Jackman knew where to go for his choreographer – someone who made every dance sequence look like the ghost of Michael Jackson was in it, just out of shot.
It doesn’t matter that The Greatest Showman’s story line is a series of unintelligible spoken breaks between the singing (that’s what a musical is); or that the social outcasts are always on the side lines, whilst the handsome Zac and Huge run the show, because that’s not what your non-snooty, non-intellectual movie goer is looking for. We’re not interested in P T Barnum’s actual life story – you can go read a book if you want that. All a musical loving audience wants is a series of spectacular, rollicking song and dance numbers – and that’s where The Greatest Showman doesn’t fail.
So, don’t be put off by the sneering journos; go see it, if only to watch Wolverine mincing about in a top hat and tails.
I can’t believe how far I’ve side-tracked. Back to the perils of seeing yourself on film.
The fact that an article exists on the Web, which concerns itself with how not to look FAT is, of course, a perfect example of the lengths people are prepared to go, to avoid looking like how they actually look. Facebook is rife with uploaded selfies, in which the perpetrators display a remarkable willingness to mess around with photoshop for hours, until the version you’re presented with looks like Barbie doll went psycho, or the uploader recently shuffled off this mortal coil and the mortician’s had a go at them. Anyway, the point is the camera doesn’t lie. Yes, I know the camera can lie, via the aforementioned digital messing around, but that’s not the camera doing the lying. So, I’m stuck with photographic evidence of my fatness.
When I got my shocking cholesterol number over a year ago (this serves as a reminder to force me to do something about it) I scoured the net for info. The NHS told me that, at 5 ft 4 inches, I should have a waist measurement of less than 31.5 inches; that the BMI is useless, out of date crap, and what we should really be concerning ourselves with is our waist to height ratio. My waist measures 33.5 inches (yes, I got a tape measure out after the NHS scared me into it.) If I stand on my tiptoes, pull in my stomach and stretch upwards as far as I can, I can get the tape measure down to 33 inches, and 32.5 at a real push – i.e. I can’t breathe. But I can’t walk about like that all day. Or I could if I was one of P T Barnum’s outcasts. I’d fit right in, walking about on tippy toes, with my middle-aged fatness, my menopausal moustache and my freakishly white hair.
Anyway, I’m in the heart disease and every other disease danger zone, due to the size of my waist. I’m a national average size 16. Depending where I shop I can sometimes squeeze into a 12 or a 14, but point a camera at me and I’m OBESE.
So I know what it takes to be a movie star. Or even what it takes to be a bog standard telly star. Watch any re-run of Friends and see the female cast walking around like clothed matchsticks on legs. That takes adult body measurements on a par with a teenager. It also takes an iron will and a steely-eyed determination. Similarly, Huge is wonderfully slim as he dances around pretending to be P T Barnum, after losing his Wolverine bulk. Michelle Williams has to be stick thin so Huge can swing her around his head and chuck her up at the ceiling. Keala Settle may have the Oscar nominated This is Me under her oversized belt, but it’s unlikely some bloke’ll ever swing her up to the sky, without suffering a serious injury. No, the fat lady sings up a storm but she has to do it whilst wearing a beard and a dress that stops short of even trying to cover up her gigantic assets. Meanwhile, her thinner companions get a series of haute couture dresses and Hugh and Zac fawning all over them.
If you want the camera to fall in love with you, be thin and never grow a beard. Even if that means doing push-ups for the rest of your life, spending hours in front of a mirror tweezing out your menopausal facial hair and living off lettuce leaves. The reward will be that you will never be confronted with a walking, talking image of yourself which will haunt your nightmares forever.
(I repeatedly refer to Hugh Jackman as ‘Huge’ in this post. This is not a typo but a recognised piece of showbiz jollity, with which Mr Jackman readily colludes.)