Thursday, November 19, 2009

The title of this blog, as I explained when I opened it, is a direct reference to Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, one of my favourite novels. Here it is in its entirety:

But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

Follows a very dull list of quotations that are so generic they couldn't be useful to anybody (which is the point). Catherine, despite everything, is the heroine of this book. I am personally in training for a heroine - always trying to be a better person, and this journal is my attempt to be just that, through works of fiction because I'm a great believer in the power of texts (be they books, movies, shows, music) to change lives. As you've probably noticed, they're changing mine everyday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Birthday!

In Training for a Heroine turns 1 today! I'm obviously still in training and looking forward to a new and exciting year. This blog has proven to be everything I imagined: a place for me to talk about things I'm passionate about in the way that suits me best. I have never ever seen it as work so let's hope I'll have as much fun with it as I do now. I wish I could expand it, buy a new layout and perhaps a domain. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, please help yourself to some coconut cake!

Background music: The Andrews Sisters


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My God! How the Money Rolls in!


Hey there! This journal always reminds me of how much I love my life. So here I am, listening to the amazing Boswell Sisters and writing about some of my most recent delights.

I read a great book entitled Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties, written by Lucy Moore. I read another book about the 20s earlier this year (also excellent), Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz. However, while the latter focuses exclusively on women in the 20s, the former is about the 20s as a whole in the United States, or at least the gist of it. It works only if you include precise portraits of precise people and include them in a broader narrative of what happened on a national level. Lucy Moore does that very well, the word "biography" is really accurate - you learn as much about Al Capone's life , Bessie Smith's career (I loved that part of the book) as you do about Black Tuesday, the Scopes trial and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. I like reading about this decade a lot, as you may have noticed, because in a way, it's a completely anachronistic era, sandwiched between two world wars, full of extremes. I like the cultural aspect of it a lot - a lot of the music and a lot of the films, but Moore makes it clear the decade was only roaring for a certain category of people only. In short, if you were white and could afford the excess, you could probably have a good time in the 20s. Not so much for the majority of people, though. I found it interesting that in her portrayal of the Fitzgeralds, Lucy Moore differs a bit from Joshua Zeitz. While Zeitz's section devoted to the couple is more complete, Moore's understanding of them is perhaps greater. They sure had an interesting life and even if a lot of it wasn't happy, it becomes clear really quickly that they did enjoy a great part of it. That's completely out of topic but the covers to both the paperback and the hardback editions are gorgeous. I could find no information about the artist, though - such a shame. Lucy Moore's bibliography is divided into chapters and she adds helpful comments for people to go further - I certainly will.

I also read two of Philip Pullman's books - The Tin Princess, which is the last book in the Sally Lockhart series, and Count Karlstein, a part novel part graphic novel book. I enjoyed them both, although my favourite book by him will probably forever be The Tiger in the Well, the third book in the Sally Lockhart series. In The Tin Princess, Sally doesn't make more than an appearance as the focus is on a much younger heroine - as usual, the plot is challenging as the political intricacies are very hard to understand but I feel are worth it in the end. The characters are really full of life and colourful even though they're not as developed as the characters from former books are, which does make them look like stereotypes. I thought the end was completely and utterly ridiculous, it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe, and not in a good way. Still, I found enough to enjoy.
Count Karlstein was a lot better. I was very pleasantly surprised at all the author could do in such few pages. The book was so funny, to begin with. Two girls escape their uncle's castle where a terrible end awaits them and they meet several characters while on the run. It's a parody of Gothic literature, which is always hilarious anyway, and in this the characters are simply wonderful. A woman named Miss Davenport made a lasting impression on me.

I read another good graphic novel - Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale, her take on the fairytale, in which Rapunzel saves herself and wouldn't be out of place in a saloon. The book was hilarious - fairytale clichés are poked fun at, and the story is highly entertaining. Here's what may be my favourite comic strip:

Now to moving pictures. I haven't seen a movie I liked in its entirety in a long, long while. The Purchase Price (1932) was a complete mess and yet some scenes were enjoyable on their own if you can forget the general structure and think of it as a series of shorts starring one of my favourite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck. However, I literally fell in love with the first part of Blonde Crazy (1931) starring James Cagney and the fantastic Joan Blondell. I must say I was really impressed with James Cagney's acting, I will definitely watch more movies with him. Bert (Cagney) makes sure Anne (Blondell) gets a job and that's how they meet. Very quickly, though, Bert reveals himself as a con with a heart and he convinces Anne to join him in tricking rich people (some very clever tricks there, my favourite being one in which Bert manages to steal a very expensive bracelet by placing it on a rich man's account and then lying about his identity to retrieve it once he goes to the rich man's place to take the bracelet away from the servants). The first half was so enjoyable - I don't think I have EVER seen that much slapping in a movie in my entire life. Anne doesn't take anything from Bert, when he's going to far, her answer is simple: she makes him think he's tricked her too but then she delivers a witty line, slaps him, and leaves. It must happen more than 10 times in the movie. The sexual innuendo is extremely funny as well as Bert's lines are barely toned down. Some scenes are complete classics: at some point, Bert tries to enter the bathroom when Anne is taking a bath, the audience sees both Anne in her bath and Bert at the door, then Bert leaves and tries to find the money Anne has hidden... in her bra. The moralistic end was a huge disappointment, and I do mean huge because I was enjoying myself until they decided to turn this movie into yet another sentimental "I'll wait for you forever while you go to prison for your crimes" story. It deserved better and I wish the director, Roy del Ruth, would have developed his vision until the very end. Shame for a pre-code.

James Cagney and Joan Blondell.

TV-wise, I gave up on two shows: Mad Men and Glee. I've always had a love/hate relationship with Mad Men but you can be sure I'm giving up for good now. This show has no point of view. You can't root for any of the characters - Joan makes quite a lot of racist comments in the second season, Pete is a rapist - I'd like to think the creator is saying that a rapist isn't special, you can't recognize him. A rapist is your milkman, a rapist is your co-worker, a rapist is your neighbour. I don't think the show is that smart, though, let's face it. Don and Betty, I have so many issues with these two I don't even want to go there. And the show has no point of view. It just films that, and moves on to the next shot. I hate this show. That's not being subtle, that's being in denial.

Glee. Oh dear, Glee. I watched it for quite a few episodes because it was catchy (clearly not my type of music as you may have noticed but still), the actors are obviously very dedicated and also I loved the characters. Rachel is one of the main characters - she gets a lot of criticism for being focused, for knowing what she wants and for going for it because she knows that if she's not the one who's going to audition for a part and been given more solos, nobody's going to do it for her. I personally see nothing wrong with that. Go Rachel. No, she doesn't need your help and she does what she wants. So obviously people hate her. Because she's her own person and she's a girl. Quinn is a cheerleader who knows what she wants and she's mean. People hated her at first, and then loved her because, guess what, Quinn is pregnant and she's lost about it. Quinn needs help, so Quinn is loved.
See where I'm going here?
Another BIG issue for me: Emma. Emma is a woman who works at the school the glee club is at. She's in love with a teacher who's married. He's miserable with his wife. Emma is the kind of person I want to shake and yell at. She longs to be with Will, but Will is married. So what does Emma do? She says yes when a complete ass she doesn't even like proposes to her. Because that's what women do in 2009. Right? WRONG. I can't believe they're actually writing a female character who prefers to be married to a guy she hates than be on her own and make her own happiness.
And then there's Sue. Sue is a witty character. She's funny because she's entirely mean and completely focused on what she wants: to win. Sue gets excellent one-liners and everything that comes out of her mouth is quotable and witty. Right? WRONG. Because Sue is so incredibly over-the-top and delivers deadpan lines like nobody's business, she can get away with racism. I'm going to quote an excellent review I found on a blog:

“Oh, but they’re just using humour to defuse tension when dealing with complex issues.” No, they are not, they are using humour to avoid dealing with complex issues. People who really think like this watch Glee and have their norms reinforced, the takeaway from the show being that, yeah, being racist and ableist and sexist is fine and dandy. People who don’t share these norms get to watch Glee and not have to confront the realities of how damaging these norms are, because the show glosses over them to make them all fuzzy and family friendly.

Here’s the thing: When you are in a position of privilege, you really do need to be reminded of that. You need to see the way in which your privilege can be harmful, can be a tool of oppression. If you don’t, you aren’t going to learn about how to manage your privilege. Glee does not make people uncomfortable (unless they are extremely aware of these issues). It just uses oppression as a humour vehicle. Which, can I say, yuck?"

So I stopped watching Glee. A few catchy songs don't make it okay.

Speaking of catchy songs, I know I've already mentioned Louis Prima here but he's truly one of my favourite singers. Louis, Keely Smith and Sam Butera would probably the three singers I would bring with me on a desert island because if we have to die, at least let's die swinging. Their songs are hysterical. Angelina and There'll Be No Next Time are some of my all-time favourites. I love singers who have so much fun they constantly ad-lib. That's music for me.


Sam: But he took me to see
that little friend of mine

Louis: Oh that little motha'


Louis: I remember him

Sam: ROOM 229!!

Louis: Yeah! He was crazy!

Sam: He said sam
Your payments are wayyy behind
I said don't worry judge
It won't happen next time

Louis: What'd he say?

Sam: He said mmmmmmmmmmm Next time
There'll... be no next time
You're going to jail right now.

That's it! Tell me quick, wasn't that a kick in the head?

Groucho Marx


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Out and About (?)

This is a depressing post. I'm in Oxford and I'm a student. That means I don't have a salary at the end of each month and that means I'm not too far from London but not that close either. I'm going to list all the things I'm missing out on this year either because of money or because I don't feel like going back to Oxford alone in the middle of the night after a show.

1) Chuck Berry in concert in Oxford (New Theatre). That's what hurts the most, because I don't even know when he's going to tour again. Money problem and I only found out recently so the seats that remain are pretty dreadful and I would probably be better off listening to The Chess Box in my room for I doubt I'll see much of him from row R seat 16...

2) John Barrowman in La Cage aux Folles in London (Playhouse Theatre). I could have gone to a matinée and be back in Oxford early in the evening but it doesn't erase the fact that it's very expensive.

3) The Puppini Sisters in London (Pigalle Club). The show is incredibly cheap (£20) but it starts at 8pm and hotel rooms are so expensive in Piccadilly, I couldn't possibly pay for one so I'd have to go back to Oxford on my own in the middle of the night after the show.

4) The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas in Oxford. It's a musical about Frank, Sammy and Dean with a real live band. Expensive. It's actually not that expensive compared to the others and it's in Oxford, reviews are very good, although some are mixed. Ultimately, though, I think I'll pass. I'd rather listen to Frank, Dean and Sammy, not people imitating them, even if most of the audience must go for the ambiance.

I can't believe I'm not a millionaire.