At War With Yourself | The Invisible Enemy & Me

Note: This article was originally published on the HeadStuff website.

Imagine you were fighting an invisible war where the enemy could anticipate your every move and tactic. Worse still: imagine the enemy lived inside your head and was unrelenting in its fight against you.

I was around eleven when I first thought I might have OCD. By this time I was washing my hands so excessively that the skin around my knuckles regularly cracked, and I’d leave little traces of blood on the floor, couch or whatever book or magazine I happened to be reading at the time. Skin cream was bought, gloves were worn, but it didn’t matter; I’d either wash it away or simply grow irritated and take them off. Family members told me it was nothing to worry about: “I saw someone on the Late Late Show,” one said, “who claimed that teenagers and children worry about having OCD when they really don’t. I wouldn’t worry, it’s normal.”

I figured they were right and I’d grow out of it eventually.

Years later a counsellor would tell me that it was simply a way I’d learned to deal with stress: “Whenever you felt you weren’t in control of your environment you’d wash your hands. It was a way for you to gain control.”

It made some sense, but it didn’t account for the regular irritating thought patterns that had emerged when I hit puberty. Whenever I couldn’t play guitar like a musician I admired, write like a poet I loved, or learn to socialise like a boy of my age should, I’d analyse and overanalyse what I thought I was doing wrong and think about it repeatedly before trying again. If I didn’t make the self-established mark a second or third or fourth time, it would be back to square one in a cyclical pattern of blame and criticism that, over time, tore down my self-esteem.

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These weren’t thoughts that could be dismissed: I couldn’t control them. They were negative, intrusive thoughts that bled into every aspect over my life, essentially paralysing me into a state of fear that inhibited my ability to function. They’d descend onto my mind like military paratroopers intent on ransacking and usurping all the rational, logical thoughts I’d stored over time, replacing them with anxiety and worry over the smallest details of my existence. Everything was up for scrutiny: the way I’d walk, talk, learn, write, and interact with others. I’d go into a state of dissociation and disconnect from my friends, making me feel isolated and alone.

Eventually these intrusive thoughts would lead to ritual behaviours: I’d think about something negative, and whether it be it truthful or imagined, if I didn’t enact the behaviours I’d fear they would make themselves manifest. If I didn’t tap my head three times with my knuckles, I’d fail my exams, my friends would fall out with me, my family would leave. I’d lose control of my life and all my fears would be free to wreak havoc on my existence. Illogical, I know, but inescapable all the same.

No one else I knew had a mind that worked like this, and so I felt like a fool. I’d lose sleep thinking and worrying about all the things in my life I was doing wrong and without any kind of guidance I felt scared. I’d fall into regular depression and spend periods of time feeling lost, sometimes contemplating self-harm.

Of course, despite my concerns, I wasn’t alone. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affects one in every 33-50 people – essentially 2% of the Irish population. It is a tangible, real illness that studies suggest is caused by chemical or structural abnormalities in the brain, possibly as a result of environmental factors such as stress. It manifests as obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviours, and is often misrepresented by wider popular culture as a heightened ‘ultra-cleanliness’: an obsession with hygiene that has spun out of control. Although many who live with OCD do obsess over hygiene and sanitation, it is much more debilitating than is presented in the media: much less a quirk than a wearying, unavoidable illness.

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In fact, as a direct result of inaccurate depictions, people have taken to using the term ‘OCD’ in such offhand and flippant ways to describe such quirks in their lives: when was the last time you heard a neat freak friend of yours describe themselves as “so OCD?” Or when you heard someone you know use the term to describe the way they organise their notes or work environment? Could you imagine if these people used other illnesses so flippantly in their day-to-day lives? What if they used cancer so flippantly, or heart failure? Naturally, your response would be one of condemnation, so why allow them to use OCD? There is a persistent stigma of not only OCD in our culture, but mental illness more broadly. If an illness doesn’t make itself physically manifest, we dismiss it off-hand without realising the impact that might have.

I was diagnosed with OCD in January of last year. Sitting in a psychiatrist’s office in UCD holding back tears, I listened intently as everything I’d suspected from a young age was confirmed. It was as if the woman speaking to me in that office retroactively validated the concerns I had when I was 11. She didn’t take the same route others had taken. She didn’t tell me it was all made up or in my head, or that I was simply being a worrywart. She looked at me and said, “you were right, this is OCD.” I was suddenly overwhelmed: I was not strange or a fool for feeling this way, and I was perfectly right in feeling concerned in the first place.This is what prevented me from seeking help for so long. If my anxieties had been validated and discussed from the start, I might have been presented with the tools towards dealing with my illness, but because it was presented as a quirk or a joke or something so rare and exclusively hygiene-centred, I figured I was simply damaged.

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My medication was altered to better deal with my symptoms and once I discovered exactly what it was I was dealing with, I was able to take concrete steps towards living with my illness. I see a counsellor regularly and have alerted lecturers where necessary. Now that I have tangible proof of what it is I am dealing with, slowly but surely everything is falling into place.

However, as with all mental illness, there is no quick fix, and the symptoms detailed above will appear and reappear at the most inopportune of times: at family gatherings, when writing, or, worst of all, when I’m tucked up in bed trying to sleep. As ever, the worst thing about having OCD is not knowing what will trigger it in your day to day life. Any offhand comment could plague you for weeks. There’s no consistent pattern. Put simply: it’s like walking through the tall grass in Pokémon. And you’ve just got to live with it.

The difference in dealing with OCD post-diagnosis though, is that I have the tools necessary to wade through the battlefields of anxiety without getting completely lost.

It is worth bearing in mind that a multitude of supports are available for those suffering with OCD. OCD Ireland links to numerous networks on their website, and there is no shame in contacting a local doctor, psychiatrist or counsellor if you have any concerns. Although you may be fighting a war on yourself, you don’t have to fight it alone.

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Bridging A Gap, Finding Our Voice: An Interview With Activist Tonie Walsh

This article originally appeared in the University Observer Vol. XXIII, Issue IV. It later appeared online.

In honour of World AIDS Day on December 1st, David Monaghan sits down with activist, archivist, and journalist Tonie Walsh, whose work in the LGBTQ+ community spans over 30 years.

TONIE WALSH has been involved in LGBTQ+ activism since the early 1980s, and has been a prominent figure in developments made within and outside of the community since that time. He was foundational in the evolution of the Hirschfeld Centre, a Dublin-based meeting place for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community, and the National LGBT Federation (NXF), a non-governmental collective designed for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights. Alongside Catherine Glendon, he also became one of the founding editors of GCN, Ireland’s foremost LGBTQ+ publication.

Walsh’s interest in activism was inspired and spurred on by his familial ties: “I grew up in a feminist household,” he says. “I come from three generations of feminism. My great-grandmother was the founding secretary and manager of the Gate Theatre. She campaigned for women’s franchise in 1910… Her husband, Hector Hughes, helped set up the Socialist Party of Ireland [in 1918], and would have been a contemporary of James Connolly and Jim Larkin.”

Dissatisfied with the lack of momentum of the early Labour movement in Ireland, Hughes eventually moved to London and became a Labour Party MP for Aberdeen North, a seat he held until his death in 1970. “Politics ran…through every vein of my family,” explains Walsh.

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Tonie Walsh speaking as the grand marshall of Dublin’s 25th Pride Parade. Photo credit: Paula Geraghty via indymedia

There has been a history of activism in Walsh’s family, and he has had, in turn, a front row seat to the dramatic, chaotic, emotional and sometimes frustrating narrative of LGBTQ+ progression within the state. He is keen to inform that, like most, he arrived from a place of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding his sexuality. “I came out when I was 19 [in 1979]. I was studying the History of Art and French in UCD… I arrived [to the college] expecting a hot bed of radicalism and I was instantly dissuaded of that… It just seemed like it was coming out of a grim decade. There was no gay presence on campus – Gaysoc [precursor to UCD’s modern LGBTQ+ society] had been founded two years previous — winter 1976 — and it had made some noise before I arrived – but during fresher’s week, it wasn’t staffed.” Indeed, at this time the Gaysoc stand was staffed by Student Union’s Welfare Officer, Brighid Ruane, due to the homophobic environment of the campus.

I GREW UP IN A FEMINIST HOUSEHOLD,’ HE SAYS. ‘I COME FROM THREE GENERATIONS OF FEMINISM.”

During this period, Walsh was dating a French woman who would later come out as lesbian: “the blind leading the blind,” he jokes. Discovering the Hirschfeld Centre, which had opened in March 1979, became the trigger for his eventual coming out: “I had been having sex with boys all throughout high school, but I just wasn’t ‘out’… I actually did a personal ad – like the Grindr of its day – and this guy came over to my granny’s house in Rathgar. We had a bit of a snog and a fumble, and then he says, ‘do you want to go into this club?”

The club in question was the aforementioned Hirschfeld Centre, which was named for Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish-German sexologist who became one of the earliest proponents of LGBTQ+ rights in the Weimar Republic.

The club became the epicentre for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland, and sported a dance floor, a women’s group, a youth group, counselling services, and a queer cinema club. “I thought it was going to be full of freaks,” says Walsh. “[But] I arrived in the middle of a slow set. It was all just so ordinary and fabulous.”

Within six months, Walsh experienced a complete political transformation. “The lesbian and gay movement was about five years old at that stage… and the [National LGBT Federation] was a part of this second wave of activism, and it hugely appealed to young kids like me at the time.”

Despite this emerging ‘second wave,’ very few LGBTQ+ people had the strength to stand up and speak out, as Walsh elaborates: “Ireland felt like a much smaller world, for a start, and it was! Very few people were living in [Dublin] city centre, the city was derelict, [and] at this time of nascent queer liberation, very few were [fearless] enough to stand up and be counted.” Only a handful of vocal pro-gay activists emerged in this period, including Senator David Norris, and future Presidents of Ireland Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, who with their combined efforts in the 1970s established the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, which sought to decriminalise homosexuality in the Republic of Ireland.

While some gay people and their allies were vocal at this time, trans rights as we know them today simply did not exist. Walsh elaborates: “back in 1979… trans identity just didn’t enter our lexicon or our conversations at the time. There was a national transvestite group running from the Hirschfeld centre, but trans identity and the concerns of our trans brothers and sisters just weren’t getting a look in.”

Walsh’s decade-long involvement in the Hirschfeld Centre would later inspire his work on the Irish Queer Archive. The IQA was established in 1997 and is a collection of historical material from Ireland’s queer past, including magazines, posters, pictures, badges and other such ephemera, with a view to providing insight into the social, political and cultural development of LGBTQ+ communities in Ireland. Walsh’s direct involvement with the movement during the decades in question provided him with tangible links to such an expansive history. “We have the administrative records of all the major lesbian and gay groups in Ireland since 1974,” he says.

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The Hirschfield Centre in the 1980s. Photo credit: Seán Gilmartin via IQA

Indeed, the archive contains material from the Alternative Miss Ireland contest, the GAZE Film Festival, the Sexual Liberation Movement, the National LGBT Federation, Gay Health Action, GLEN, Dublin LGBT Pride, GCN, and more. Although it contains such a vast collection of material, very little of the IQA’s material has been digitised: “most of it is still in storage in Whitehall somewhere,” Walsh explains.

He continues: “it’s inaccessible [to all but a few, such as] bona fide historians [like] Diarmaid Ferriter… You’ll see us a few of us making noise next year, people like Mary McCauliffe and Katherine O’Donnell from Women’s Studies in UCD, myself, Elizabeth Kirwan who manages the National Photographic Archive – these are people who came together to help find a home for the archive and were responsible for its transferral [to the National Library of Ireland] in 2008. We have to make it accessible [so] people can begin the process of rebuilding, of fitting all the blocks into place that go towards building this historical structure… We only have an incomplete picture of where we are now.”

GAY LIBERATION IS THE STORY OF SURVIVAL AND HOPE… IT’S THE STORY OF PEOPLE, IN SOME CASES, LIVING SHITTY, MISERABLE LIVES, AND BEING ABLE TO RISE ABOUT THE SHITTINESS OF THEIR SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ENVIRONMENT, AND FIND A WAY TO BETTER THEMSELVES, AND BETTER THEIR WORLD FOR THEMSELVES AND OTHER PEOPLE”

The key to promoting LGBTQ+ awareness, Walsh claims, is to be out and vocal: “the way to be a persuader of gay liberation is to be able to stand up on TV, in the media, in the newspapers, [be] out in the streets and say, ‘this is me, this is who we are, we are your brothers and your sisters, your sons and your daughters.” This is the attitude he carried with him into his journalism career in the 1980s. He is one of the founders of GCN,the longest-running LGBTQ+ publication in Ireland, and his beginnings in the field came as a staff writer for Out, Ireland’s first commercial queer magazine, which was established in 1983.

Out folded eventually, owing to a lack of funding: “gay businesses refused to advertise in the gay press, that’s how oppressive and repressive the situation was.” A decision made by the Carlow and Leinster Times, who printed the publication, also pushed the magazine into folding: they refused to publish the penultimate issue as it featured a safer sex ad of two silhouetted men embracing. This was largely because sex between men was illegal at the time.

“There was nothing expressly pornographic about the image, but given the taboo around homosexuality and anything to do with intercourse, the fucking printers had a conniption and refused to print it. You can imagine, our brothers were dying horrible, shabby deaths, and we have a culture where condoms were still illegal, and the government [did not] engage with the reality of what was happening at the time – the Dáil first began to have conversations about AIDS five years after the first people began to die of it.”

Indeed, the first AIDS-related deaths in Ireland were reported as early as 1985, but Leinster House only had its first conversation about the crisis in 1990. “All the time people were dying. There was hysteria in Ireland [among] very worried homosexual and heterosexual people.”

Conversations about the AIDS crisis occur frequently today, but very rarely are they in the context of the European or indeed Irish experiences. Such narratives are made invisible, undoubtedly contributing to the rise of HIV in contemporary Ireland – in 2015 it was reported that there had been a jump of 25% in such diagnoses, with young people being most affected.

The work Walsh strives to do in compiling and documenting indigenous LGBTQ+ history is vitally important to understanding the current problems such communities face: “gay liberation is the story of survival and hope,” says Walsh. “It’s the story of people, in some cases, living shitty, miserable lives, and being able to rise above the shittiness of their social and cultural environment, and find a way to better themselves, and better their world for themselves and other people.”

Walsh continues: “the history of [LGBTQ+] liberation is about how we coped with awful situations: people being beaten up, people being murdered and having [no help], people being kicked out of Garda stations when they went to complain about being set upon by a group of marauding, homophobic thugs in Phoenix Park or somewhere. [It’s about] young guys who were brutally murdered, like Declan Flynn or Charles Self, the RTÉ designer who was stabbed almost 30 times in his own home, and how his murder still remains unsolved because at the time the Gardaí just simply didn’t look hard enough or look in the right places. Dreadful stories of oppression and repression, but out of it there are stories of how we survived, and I think that’s important when we come to look at the problem in our midst right now with rising levels of STIs.”

Between Wednesday November 30th and Thursday December 1st, in honour of World AIDS Day, the Media Studies department in Maynooth University will host ‘AIDS in Irish Media: Art and Activism’ for the second year in a row. On the last day of the event Walsh will launch his new project, the Dublin AIDS Memorial, which runs parallel to his work at the IQA in addressing the gaps left by the erasure of LGBTQ+ narratives in Irish society.

Walsh describes how such an erasure stemmed from blatant ignorance: “I had just turned 25 when people my age started falling ill and dying of AIDS… I stopped counting the number of people I lost at 43… When you went to visit your friends you were expected to put on rubber gloves and masks.”

GAY BUSINESSES REFUSED TO ADVERTISE IN THE GAY PRESS, THAT’S HOW OPPRESSIVE AND REPRESSIVE THE SITUATION WAS

He continues: “the culture of engagement was just infused with hysteria and fear, and massive amounts of ignorance underpinning that fear.” A group of gay men came together in May 1985 to form Gay Health Action. It was the first group in the country to develop a tactical response to the unfolding crisis. Walsh was involved in its early development but had to step back due to other commitments.

“The GHA was responsible for producing the first leaflet on AIDS in Ireland,” he explains. “[They] got a small wedge of cash from the Department of Health, and then went for a reprint. Now remember this was the only [available leaflet on AIDS], the Department of Health hadn’t even produced information at this point, and remember that HIV was a death sentence at the time. The Department of Health balked at producing extra cash [for reprints] because the advice from the Attorney General was that, if they funded a leaflet that talked about male-on-male intercourse, it would be seen to be encouraging criminal activity.”

Tonie Walsh revealed his own HIV status in a Facebook post on December 1st2015, to commemorate World AIDS Day. In the image he holds a sign that reads, “I’m not proud to be HIV positive, but neither am I ashamed.” He joins fellow activist and friend Rory O’Neill (drag queen Panti Bliss) and former Mr. Gay Ireland Robbie Lawlor in the increasing list of notable Irish personalities who have publicly described living with HIV, in order to help alleviate the lingering stigma of the 1980s.

“I spent what felt like a lifetime… protecting myself, and those around me, and trying to survive when so many of my best friends and lovers did not. I became positive just at the point when I could benefit from the latest developments in antiretrovirals… but I felt fraudulent that I’d become infected and was able to survive. It’s a twisted way of thinking, but unless you’ve been in a situation where you’ve lost a lot of friends and lovers, it’s difficult, and that’s why I want us to begin the process of reconciliation of that period, and that means allowing the stories of the survivors [to be heard].”

I STOPPED COUNTING THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE I LOST AT 43… WHEN YOU WENT TO VISIT YOUR FRIENDS YOU WERE EXPECTED TO PUT ON RUBBER GLOVES AND MASKS.

Walsh continues: “Rory [O’Neill] was one of the first people I told… I became positive ten years ago. I was actually raped.” Rape can have long-lasting physical and psychological effects, with self-blame and guilt acting as two of the most common. Walsh experienced such patterns himself: “I was hugely ashamed… Lesbian Line were doing a mental health weekend in Outhouse a couple of months ago… and they asked me to talk, and I thought, ‘I’m going to talk about the corrosive effect of guilt.’ This feeds into my rational for an AIDS memorial. Guilt, if it’s left unchecked, can hugely damage people. I have lots of scars: I’ve been attacked, knifed [across the face], I have scars on my head… And I’ve found myself in some very weird situations. My first relationship with a man was very abusive.”

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Cover of the first issue of Gay Community News (GCN). Founded by Tonie Walsh and Catherine Glendon.

Walsh’s consultant in St. James’s Hospital encouraged him to seek counselling. Instead he chose to talk about it in his own way: “I just sort of blabber at everyone, and that sort of normalises it. There’s a difference between secrets and privacy… Secrets corrode. I was angry… because I was not in control. It’s the classic victimhood that rape victims and abuse victims actually display.”

Sexual and emotional violence affects every community, and LGBTQ+ communities are no exception. In a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States in 2010, it was revealed that lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience such violence at similar rates to their heterosexual counterparts. The problems for LGBTQ+ peoples are intensified by outside bigotry: a 2016 BuzzFeed article titled ‘This Is What Domestic Violence Is Like When You’re LGBT,’ explains that many LGBTQ+ abuse victims live in fear of being ‘outed’ by their partners, and that many hotlines are not equipped to deal with LGBTQ+ specific abuse. “I want to talk about something that’s not talked about enough,” says Walsh, “and that’s abuse in same-sex relationships.”

Walsh hopes the Irish government will fund his AIDS Memorial project and give voice to countless numbers of LGBTQ+ citizens who died during the crisis. To date there is only one AIDS memorial in display in Ireland: a monument on Buckingham Street in Dublin 1. “That [area] was ravaged by heroin addiction and, consequently AIDS,” Walsh explains, “but to the best of my knowledge it’s the only one in the country.”

‘AIDS and Irish Media: Art and Activism’ will take place on November 30th and December 1st in Maynooth University’s symposium. Tonie Walsh will launch the Irish AIDS Memorial project on the latter date at 3:30pm. The Irish Queer Archives Facebook page can be accessed athttps://www.facebook.com/IQAadvisorygroup/

If you were affected by any of the issues highlighted in this article you can reach out to the following:

LGBT Helpline

T: 1890 929 539 | W: www.lgbt.ie

TENI Helpline (Transgender Support)                                                                                                      

T: 085 147 7166 | W: www.teni.ie

Samaritans

T: 1850 60 90 90 | W: www.samaritans.ie

HIV Ireland

T: +353 (0)1 873 3799 | W: www.hivireland.ie

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

T: 01 661 4911 | E: info@rcc.ie | W: www.drcc.ie/

Aware (Depression)

T: 1890 303 302 | W: www.aware.ie | E: wecanhelp@aware.ie

Pieta House (Self-Harm/Suicide Support)

T: 01-6010000 | W: www.pieta.ie | E: mary@pieta.ie

Alcoholics Anonymous

W: www.alcoholicsanonymous.ie

Mental Health Ireland

W: www.mentalhealthireland.ie

How To Be Gay and Happy: An Interview with Matthew Todd

This interview was originally published in the University Observer, Vol. XXIII, Issue II in October 2016. It was later published online.

David Monaghan sits down with author Matthew Todd, whose book Straight Jacket examines why disproportionate numbers of LGBTQ+ people suffer from mental illness.

IN 2005, Matthew Todd debuted his play Blowing Whistles to captive audiences in London, and later Sydney. The play, which deals with contemporary LGBTQ+ culture, became a sort of therapy for Todd. “I was in turmoil when I wrote it,” he informs OTwo. “I’d come out of a relationship and I’d been cheated on and I was really angry, and I was blaming it all on him.”

The play depicts a gay couple who, on the tenth anniversary of the eve of their first meeting, decide to make their relationship more interesting by inviting a young man around for a threesome. “I’m all three characters in the play,” says Todd. “The first half is an adult comedy about these two crazy guys having an open relationship. The second half is much darker and it becomes a critique of gay culture.”

Unbeknownst to him at the time, the themes and ideas considered in the play – social media, sex, and monogamy – would be facets of life that would later reoccur in Todd’s writing. Straight Jacket: How to Be Gay and Happy, Todd’s new book, is the result of such ruminations about modern LGBTQ+ culture: it explores why a disproportionate amount of gay men suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Using his own experience as a backdrop for research – the book is ‘part memoir, part polemic’ – Todd lifts the mask on contemporary gay culture to see what lurks beneath, and does so with poise and insight.

The title of his book refers to the restrictive, heteronormative culture that LGBTQ+ people are born into, a ‘cultural straightjacket’ of sorts. “This society presumes everybody is heterosexual and cisgender when they are born and there’s kind of very little room to grow or to evolve or exist if you are not that way,” he states. “Everyone presumes that you are heterosexual and that a boy will be attracted to a girl or a girl will be attracted to a boy. There just doesn’t seem to be very many parts of society…that are adaptable or ready to accept that people are different.”

Although Ireland has made significant strides in recent years on LGBTQ+ social issues – in 2015 we saw the introduction of both Marriage Equality and Gender Recognition legislation – there are still lingering threads of homophobia left within the country. On July 30th 2016, a gay man was assaulted in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. He was set upon by teenagers who yelled ‘you fucking whore. How much? We’ll kill you, fucking fag.’ Todd asserts: “And I think just growing up like that, being shamed by family, sometimes by friends, by other people’s parents, by wider family, by religion, by schools…and then we have all the religious institutions who spout what they say about gayness, it can be tremendously stressful.”

LGBTQ+ people deal with this ‘cultural straightjacket’ in a plethora of ways. The majority are, thankfully, able to move on and establish healthy lives and careers. Others, however, turn to drugs, dangerous sex and various other forms of destructive behaviour. International research suggests that LGBTQ+ people are two-to-three times more likely to be become addicted to alcohol than their straight contemporaries.

“I certainly wanted to get out of my head, and I did,” Todd says. “First by eating, because it made me feel better temporarily – I think compulsive eating is a massive thing for a lot of people – and then by fantasy, by pop music…and then getting lost in alcohol, and [others get lost in] drugs and some people sex, and it can easily spiral out of control and become a huge mess. And some people don’t come out of it.”

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Straight Jacket author Matthew Todd speaking on ITV.

One way in which the worldwide community has been able to deal with this has been in putting on a ‘brave face,’ which Todd suggests has been necessary: “Even the term ‘gay pride,’ [which suggests] ‘we’re gay and happy,’ and to be almost obsessively waving a banner and saying ‘everything’s fine’ – and that’s been needed in some ways, to tell each other and to tell young people that it’s okay to be gay and that you can have a happy and successful life, which you absolutely can, and many people do, but that’s kind of… We’ve just rejected all of [the negativity] and not wanted to look at some of the problems in case it plays to a narrative of ‘oh look, you’re absolutely right, we are really unhappy.”

The fear of conforming to the negative and reductive perception of ‘gay-equals-unhappy’ could explain why a book like Todd’s has taken so long to be written. “It didn’t feel like I could have a conversation about any of these problems when I came out” Todd explains. “There was never any room to have any discussion, certainly not in gay press…it was just constantly, rabidly, going on about how wonderful it was [to be gay], and never looking at any of the problems…I remember going a few times to sexual health clinics and seeing therapists and they didn’t have anything to say about it either. I remember one time, and I talk about it in the book, where I went to see somebody and I went, ‘listen, I’m not in control of the amount of sexual behaviour I’m having,’ and they looked at me like I’d said something sacrilegious.”

Dating apps like Grindr and Tinder, which are used by people within straight and LGBTQ+ communities, have made access to sex and hook-ups easier than before; at a press of a button people can meet others and, after a brief exchange of words, can find themselves in the rough and tumble of a fleeting sexual encounter. Considering that sex is used as a coping mechanism by some, does Todd feel online hook-up culture exacerbates problems within LGBTQ+ communities?

“Absolutely, totally, 100%. I know lots of people use them, and I use them, and will probably use them in the future, and lots of people will say that they’re really great because you certainly see you’re not completely isolated…but it feels like a way of behaving where we objectify each other to an extreme extent…when you get onto to Grindr where people are describing themselves as a ‘penis’ or a ‘hole,’ I do think that’s problematic. And I know that’s a controversial thing to say, but I do think that’s problematic because we’re literally talking to each other like we don’t mean anything.”

In recent years, on social media and beyond, there has been a drive to promote positive attitudes to sex. This movement has been spearheaded by left-leaning feminists to eradicate the social stigma attached to women who transgress socially-constructed sexual boundaries. In many cases the word ‘slut,’ which has been used in the past to shame and demean women, has been adapted and transformed into a positive term; sex is now a thing to celebrate.

Gay men too have faced a similar stigma in the past, mostly through right-wing media during the AIDS epidemic. In the book Todd refers to a 1980s’ Mail on Sunday article that claims the ‘awful genesis’ of AIDS lay in homosexual sex itself. By highlighting the problems with promiscuous sexual encounters, does Todd fear he may fall into slut-shaming, or that he will undo the work of sex-positive campaigning?

“There’s nothing wrong with having casual sex, if that’s what you really want, and you’re in control of it,” Todd explains. “When I was writing the book and I was talking to friends that was something I was really worried about…[In the book] I’m doing the absolute opposite of shaming. I don’t shame people for the amount of sex they have or don’t have whatsoever because I’m not in a position to – I have had sex with quite a lot of people. I just want to open a discussion about it so we are able to talk about it if someone feels that they have lost control of their sex life…we can talk about why that may be, what may cause that, if you want to do something about it, what you can do about it.”

Of course, the media plays an important role in shaping the outlook of LGBTQ+ people. In the book Todd explains how right-wing media perpetuated social stigma in the eighties using flashy, homophobic tabloid headlines like one from the Sun which read: ‘I’d Shoot My Son If He Had AIDS Claims Vicar.’

the-sun

        The Sun, Oct. 1985. Source

Even today mainstream news outlets will neglect LGBTQ+ stories and issues. The assault in Phoenix Park, as has been described, was not covered by the press outside of theoutmost.com and GCN, Ireland’s premiere LGBTQ+ news outlets. “[Media] plays a really damaging role. I mean, maybe things are a little bit better, but essentially they are only interested in showing LGBTQ+ lives through a straight lens…For instance: the issue of why there aren’t many openly-gay professional footballers comes up and the media takes a lot of interest in that because it’s something that they care about because football is something they are interested in. It’s very hard to get the mainstream media to do coverage of my book about mental health and I consider this a really, really important issue. From my experience of gay people I’ve had from working at Attitude [a magazine edited by Todd] that it is the most important issue we face at the moment, specific to us, yet most of the media are just not interested. They think it’s niche…Like I say, it’s just through a very specific heterosexual lens that they see us and I think that’s really damaging.”

Later in the book Todd makes a clarion call to LGBTQ+ writers and creatives to create more positive LGBTQ+ narratives. Often in fiction that features queer characters we are left with unhappy endings, broken hearts, and more often than not, death: A Single Man, Lilting, Cloud Atlas, and Blue Is the Warmest Colour are recent examples that spring to mind. Praise for 2015’s Carol, a film with lesbian characters that also features a somewhat positive conclusion, is a welcome exception. Repeated negativity can be a drain on LGBTQ+ youth who are looking for positivity when coming out.

He continues: “We all need to see ourselves reflected in the world. We all need to understand ourselves through culture, and I think even more so for LGBT people because we do feel different and maybe we don’t have role models when we’re younger and maybe we don’t feel we can speak to our parents, and then not to see a very broad range of experience in film and TV… it’s really, really damaging…where are the nice gentle rom-coms, where are the big films with two big, famous Hollywood actors that is about a nice, gay love story?”

In 2015, while Todd was in the process of completing his book, the documentary Chemsex was released. The film, which is co-directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty, explores the subculture of ‘chemsex’ – that is, the dangerous practice of engaging in recreational drug use and sexual behaviour simultaneously – among gay men in London. It was an illuminating piece that shocked and bewildered viewers.

“I was very aware of them making it [while I wrote the book], but they were specifically looking at the whole chemsex thing. When I started writing the book I didn’t really know about crystal meth or methadone or G [shorthand for GHB, a psychoactive substance], what I really knew about was guys who were having problems with cocaine, and I was really shocked at how bad the situation was with crystal meth. Certainly I was surprised watching that film and it’s certainly a hard film to watch.”

Matthew Todd interviewed people for Attitude upon the film’s release: “[They] were talking about injecting blood into each other, fetishizing body fluids, which I think is tied up to our experience of HIV. There’s a real mess out there with a lot of people. It’s not just one or two, it’s a very small minority of people, but it’s too many, and enough for it to be a really serious problem, and I think it’s really important we talk about it, as painful as it is for people to look at it.”

In 2016, it was revealed that 498 people were diagnosed with HIV in Ireland within the last year, a 25% increase from 2014’s figure of 377. Half of the people affected were gay or bisexual men. Although we live in an age where information on HIV is readily available online and in print, rates of HIV transmission appear to be going up, particularly among young LGBTQ+ people.

“Young people are young and think they are invincible – who wants to sit there and wade through pages of information about safe sex? But I think they’re just not getting sex education, and they’re certainly not getting information about HIV. I think there was a whole thing in the early days of the AIDS epidemic where, because the right wing media were constantly saying ‘this is a gay disease,’ HIV organisations rightfully said, ‘well anyone can catch HIV, and across the world there are more straight people who have it,’ but they did this thing called the ‘de-gaying’ of AIDS, which I think has done us a disservice because I have met many young men, gay and bisexual men, who don’t understand or don’t accept or believe that we are more at risk in Europe and the West from HIV, and how we have higher rates of it…ultimately, this is the fault of the education system.” Those who do speak out about their diagnosis are often neglected, and there is an erasure outside and within LGBTQ+ communities.

Matthew Todd, who is currently setting his sights on filmmaking for his next project, hopes that this book will help start a dialogue about mental health within LGBTQ+ circles, and he reminds readers that mental health, gay or straight, is something that we should always be sure to keep in check: “If any of these problems do come up later, and they can come up later – I thought when I was younger that I’d dealt with all of the issues I had, and I hadn’t – there are places you can go to, be it therapy or gay groups, drug and alcohol supports…I’m saying these things as much to myself as I am to anyone else.”

Straight Jacket: How to Be Gay and Happy is available to purchase in all good book stores. If you are affected by any of the issues outlined in this article you can find help by reaching out to the following:

LGBT Helpline
T: 
1890 929 539 | W: www.lgbt.ie

TENI Helpline (Transgender Support)                                                                                                       
T: 
085 147 7166 | W: www.teni.ie

Samaritans
T: 
1850 60 90 90 W: www.samaritans.ie 

Aware (Depression) 

T: 1890 303 302 | W: www.aware.ie | E: wecanhelp@aware.ie

Pieta House (Self-Harm/Suicide Support)
T: 
01-6010000 | W: www.pieta.ie | E: mary@pieta.ie

Alcoholics Anonymous
W: 
www.alcoholicsanonymous.ie

Mental Health Ireland
W: 
www.mentalhealthireland.ie

BeLonG To Youth Services
T: 
01 670 6223 | E: info@belongto.org

Gay Men’s Health Service
T: 
01 873 4952 | E: gmhpoutreach@eircom.net

 

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Friends, Family and Folk Music | An Interview with Real Boy Director Shaleece Haas

This article was originally published online on Sept. 22nd on the HeadStuff website.

The GAZE Film Festival has come and gone, showcasing once more the best in LGBTQ+ cinema on both international and indigenous fronts. Audiences were entertained, educated, stunned and most importantly, enlightened by the frank and unflinching portrayals of a worldwide LGBTQ+ culture. Although there were many films of great merit – including Edmund Lynch’s A Different Country, a much-needed and greatly-appreciated portrait of gay Ireland prior to decriminalisation, Viva, Paddy Breathnach’s new film about a Cuban drag queen and his estranged father, and Holding The Man, an adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s seminal 1995 memoir – one film stood out to me among the rest.

Real Boy, Shaleece Haas’ documentary about a young trans musician, is sweet and occasionally hard-hitting, offering viewers a multifaceted coming-of-age narrative that never succumbs to sensationalism. Speaking to me after what must have been an exhausting post-screening question-and-answer session, Haas explains her aims in making such a film and how she hopes to reach audiences with its narrative.

A co-producer of 2013’s The Genius of Marian, producer of the short films like 2012’sAwardwinninggir and 2011’s City Fish, and director of the documentary short Old People Driving – which won best documentary at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2010 – Haas is no stranger to the small and silver screens. Filmed over a period of four years, her latest piece focuses on Bennett Wallace, whom Haas met at a small concert: “I was at a living room concert Joe [Stevens] was playing at […] and Bennett opened that show.”

Bennett Wallace and Joe Stevens. From the Film 'Real Boy.' Photo Credit: Shaleece Haas.

Bennett and Joe’s friendship is central to the film and takes the shape of something akin to a mentor-pupil dynamic; Joe is shown in one scene teaching Bennett how to trim a beard. The film endeavours to highlight how the pair are linked by similar life experiences, as Haas now reiterates to me: “[Bennett] had met Joe at a conference for sober young people. They just struck up a very immediate friendship because of very similar experiences of addiction, of being trans, of their love of music […] Joe very quickly saw Bennett as a younger version of himself that he could support […] and Bennett idolised Joe at that point and saw in him the hope that his voice was going to turn out okay.” She adds: “not everybody has a mentor like that, it’s so valuable.”

Indeed, the text is a multifaceted one, simultaneously dealing with issues of family, friendship and, most upsettingly, addiction. Although the film maintains a kindly tone for its duration, there are intermittent reminders of the struggles many LGBTQ+ people face worldwide, and they come fast and strong. Indeed, queer communities have higher rates of substance abuse and mental health problems than their straight, cisgender contemporaries – writer Matthew Todd claims this is the result of living in a ‘cultural straitjacket’ that forces us to adhere to heteronormative society. Although other films at the festival deal with such issues in more overt ways, their inclusion in Real Boy acts as a small sobering reminder of the societal pressures placed on LGBTQ+ people.

It must be stressed, however, that the ‘cultural straitjacket’ forced upon LGBTQ+ is not unrelenting, and can be loosened. Case in point: Bennett’s mother, a key figure in the narrative, is at first sceptical of her son’s transition. Eventually, over the course of the film’s events, we see her gradually move from a place of ignorance to one of acceptance. In one of the film’s more touching sequences, Bennett sings to his mother a song that encapsulates their journey titled ‘For My Family,’ which goes “Mama, I’m sorry / I didn’t mean to make your cry / I’ve been trying to say hello / You thought I was saying goodbye.”

Of this inspiring transformation, Haas notes: “This is not about Bennett’s gender journey. If anything, Bennett’s journey is one from adolescence to young adulthood. The person who makes the greatest transformation is his mother, who has a longer journey to take from shame and loss and confusion and ignorance, really, to a place where she can embrace and celebrate her son.”

Sharleece Haas - HeadStuff.org

The process of learning undertaken by Bennett’s mother is one that some viewers of the film seem to relate to, as Haas explains: “there was an older lesbian woman [at the GAZE Q&A]who said, ‘I have a lot of trouble with with trans issues, and it’s something that challenges me and I don’t feel that I really understand, and this film made me see something and think about something and feel something that shifted that.’ There’s nothing more gratifying to a filmmaker […] because we don’t move the needle on more equity, more justice or acceptance until we can identify with people who are different for us.”

Haas is quick to note there is more than one target audience for the film, explaining that in the very same screening a young trans man claimed the documentary very closely represented his experience of transitioning: “so to me that is extraordinarily gratifying to say that I’m able to speak to both of those audiences.” The questions of family and relationships addressed in the film will also strike a chord with a multitude of people. Often queer-identifying persons must find chosen families in cases where they are rejected by their family of origin. Did Haas find speaking to multiple audiences a daunting task? “I wanted the film to be accessible to a lot of audiences, to be something that is embraced by my community of queer and trans people. It wasn’t elementary, it wasn’t rudimentary, but it also reached broad audiences, not from a place of curiosity or interest in what ‘those’ lives are like, but from a place of identification. To tell a story about family and a desire to be loved by family, that was important to us.”

There is a lack of trans representation in media, and when trans people are featured in interview scenarios they are sometimes mocked and degraded: in a 2014 interview with Katie Couric, Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox endured offensive questions relating to her transition, to which she gracefully responded, “the preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences.” This is a pitfall Haas was conscious to avoid. She says: “I did not want to make a film about gender transition per se, or certainly the physical aspects of transition Bennett is at a time in his life where he is transitioning […] but it wasn’t about that. It was about relationships and friendships, and what that moment meant for his relationship with his best friend. It’s what Joe says in the film, that there’s the ‘body’ part and then there’s the social and emotional part. And that’s what people on the outside don’t see as much.”

Haas, a filmmaker well-educated in the nuances of LGBTQ+ culture, is also conscious of her social circumstances and the circumstances of the subjects in the film. “[Bennett and Joe] are the best case scenario,” she says. “They’re white, they’re class-privileged, they live in California, and they have family who, even though they deal with strife and struggle, didn’t completely abandon them. They are binary, male-identified. There are many ways to them the path is much clearer and easier than for many of their fellow trans people – trans women, trans people of colour, people who live in rural places. The film is not meant to represent the trans community at all.”

Real Boy is set to be screened again in Ireland, on September 23rd at the Axis Art Centre in Ballymun. Organised in partnership with TENI, there will be workshops, conversations, and also specialised screenings for the trans community and parents of trans kids. “[There is the] opportunity to not only show the film and have people enjoy it as a piece of entertainment,” Haas states, “but [also]to really engage in conversation with each other about the issues in the film: addiction and recovery, self-harm and depression, [and]family acceptance.”

Real Boy will be screened in collaboration with TENI at the Axis Arts Centre in Ballymun tomorrow, September 23rd. Further information can be found here, and a trailer for the feature can be viewed below.

Featured Image Credit: Sarah Deragon.

This article was originally published in the arts and culture supplement of the University Observer, Vol. XXIII, Issue I. It was later published online.

David Monaghan looks at how the GAZE Film Festival sets to help LGBTQ+ screen representation in the march towards equality.

CINEMA and TV are a funfair mirror: they reflect and magnify our biggest fears, force us to confront our insecurities, and make us aware of our obsessions. They take us into a world that is uncanny; a place that is at once similar and dissimilar to our own. For most people these modes of representation become a distorted reflection of their lives. This is true for all but a vocal few: up until recently accurate depictions of LGBTQ+ lives and stories have lacked in comparison to their straight, cis contemporaries.

A report compiled by GLAAD in October 2015 titled ‘Where We Are on TV’ concluded that, of the 881 regular characters on broadcast primetime programming set to appear in 2016, 35 (4%) were identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They also summarised that there were an additional 35 recurring LGB characters set to appear, and that there were no transgender characters counted on primetime broadcast programming in the coming year. If cinema and TV mimic our reality, like a collective funfair mirror, then the prejudices LGBTQ+ people experience on a day-to-day basis are reflected, distorted and thrown back to us in a way that is not surprising.

Events like the GAZE Film Festival set to fill the gap presented by mainstream Film and Television broadcasting by highlighting the best in LGBTQ+ cinema both at home and abroad. This year’s festival ran from the 28th of July to the 1stof August 2016 in the Light House Cinema, and presented films that vary in tone, ideas, characters, themes, troubles, and issues. Thus offering a platform to the multiplicity of experience found within worldwide LGBTQ+ communities that might not have discovered an audience otherwise.

Joey Kuhn’s Those People, for example, distinguishes itself from other films at the festival by being entirely and unquestionably apolitical. The director says as much in a video address to the attentive GAZE crowd; he wants to draw from his personal experience as a gay man. Indeed, the protagonists of the piece, art student Charlie (Jonathan Gordon) and his best friend Sebastian (Jason Ralph), son of a corrupt New York financier, live economically privileged lives that are inaccessible to most LGBTQ+ people. Their friendship becomes strained when Charlie admits his love for Sebastian, and a love triangle ensues when concert pianist Tim (Haaz Sleiman) makes a bid for Charlie’s affections. Although the focus is on gay characters, their sexuality becomes secondary to the drama the film depicts.

“EVENTS LIKE THE GAZE FILM FESTIVAL SET TO FILL THE GAP PRESENTED BY MAINSTREAM FILM AND TELEVISION BROADCASTING BY HIGHLIGHTING THE BEST IN LGBTQ+ CINEMA BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD.”

In contrast to this is Sara Jordenö’s Kiki, a quasi-sequel to 1990’s Paris Is Burning, which looks at where the LGBTQ+ community finds itself in the years following the latter’s release. Although framed through the transformative art of competitive voguing, a form of modern dance, the film’s focus lies in the dancers themselves who are not only LGB, but also trans.  The dancers use the artform while transitioning to help express their gender identity. Set in New York, we see house mothers and house fathers describe the impact that voguing has on LGBTQ+ youth, many of whom are disadvantaged, homeless, or addicted to drugs, and who use the art to transgress beyond the troubles of their lives. The film also emphasises the links between these LGBTQ+ communities and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and beyond. Many audience members were taken aback by this presentation for its frank and unflinching portrayal of disadvantaged LGBTQ+ lives.

One criticism levelled at LGBTQ+ film is for its strict adherence to one genre of cinema, drama. Very rarely are we treated to LGBTQ+ focused science fiction, fantasy, or horror films. Alexandra-Therese Keining seems keenly aware of this and offers a film that is almost a hotchpotch of styles, thankfully without seeming jarring or disparate; less Frankenstein’s Monster than Frankenstein’s Normal-Functioning-Person. Girls Lost tells the story of three friends, Kim (Tuva Jagell), Bella (Wilma Holmén), and Momo (Alexander Gustavsson), who happen upon a strange plant that allows them to change their gender from female to male. For Bella and Momo, this is a fun experiment to fit in with the guys, but for Kim this is something else: her male persona increasingly feels a lot more real than her female. A queer coming-of-age fantasy film, with elements of horror,Girls Lost is unlike anything else shown at the festival.

Irish LGBTQ+ cinema has been central to GAZE in the past, and this year was no exception. The festival’s strongest sell this year was a screening of Viva, Paddy Breathnach’s film about Cuban drag performer Jesus (Héctor Medina) and his relationship with his estranged father, in which the two clash over their opposing expectations for each other. However, the best case of Irish LGBTQ+ cinema showcased at the festival this year is Edmund Lynch’s A Different Country, a documentary that includes interviews with Tom Brace, Declan Buckley, Tonie Walsh, Sarah Philips, former President Mary Robinson and more about Ireland prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the lives of LGBTQ+ people during this time – their pubs, support networks, newsletters and magazines, political movements. “It gives you some idea of what it was like,” says director Lynch. “It’s important that our history is always remembered.”

Film Review | The Beatles: Eight Days a Week Offers Valuable Insight into an Influential Band

This review was originally posted online on the HeadStuff Website on September 06th, 2016.

In the years following their break-up, John Lennon would say that the Beatles were in the crow’s nest of the ship that would discover the ‘New World.’ He was referring of course to the 1960s, a decade of discovery and experimentation. At this time support for the Civil Rights movement was proliferating, a nuclear threat would forever change the world’s geopolitical landscape, the Vietnam War was shaking America’s very confidence in itself, and ‘hippie’ counterculture encouraged youths to challenge the established order of their parents’ generation. It was a period of simultaneous excitement and unease, and this is the climate director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) hopes to capture in The Beatles: Eight Days a Week. It is a film that looks at the band’s touring years of 1963 to 1966 and the ‘Beatlemania’ they inspired.

John Lennon’s quote is not without some merit: although Howard claims the Beatles’ touring years are his focus, it is apparent as the film unfolds that this is not entirely true. Yes, the film features live performances from the band and recounts their various backstage antics, but it also documents the social, political and cultural fallout from the Beatles’ introduction to the music scene. In order to emphasise their wide-ranging influence, Howard asks entertainers from every walk of celebrity life to describe how the band has influenced them: Richard Curtis, known for his work in comedy, describes their wit and charm; actor Sigourney Weaver describes the electric-energy of seeing them live (and even appears at a concert in archive footage); composer Howard Goodall emphasises the genius of their compositions.

The Beatles playing live at the height of 'Beatlemania.' Source

Most spectacularly, Whoopi Goldberg describes how the group transcended racial boundaries, stating “I never saw them as white guys!” This point returns later in the film: upon hearing that the audience at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida was to be racially segregated, the Beatles refused to play unless promoters desegregated the audience. Their wish was ultimately granted and on September 11th 1964, the Beatles performed to a mixed-race crowd of 23,000. The Beatles were also famously critical of the Vietnam War and were huge proponents of the hippie ‘free love’ movement. While watching the film it becomes increasingly apparent that the Beatles were important voices for the time – the 1960s needed the Beatles as much as the Beatles needed the 1960s.

The archival concert footage featured in the film is masterfully remastered, with the group sounding crisp and clear. This makes the Beatles live experience far more tangible than before. The film also does well to emphasise the importance of Brian Epstein and George Martin. The Beatles’ success did not occur in a vacuum: Epstein helped propel them to the top by honing their image, and Martin helped create their musical style in the recording studios of Abbey Road. The film ends just as, arguably, the most interesting period of the Beatles’ story is about to begin: tired of constant touring, social events, photoshoots and fan harassment, in 1966 the group retire to the studio to focus all their energy into making music, resulting in experimental albums like Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, andLet It Be. However, in not covering the band’s entire history, Howard utilises the shorter time span to create a focused, insightful piece into the most influential band in history.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week will be simulcast worldwide on September 15th with an exclusive showing at the Light House on that day. It will then be available to stream from Hulu. View the trailer below.

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Café Society: Review

This review was originally published in the University Observer’s Freshers’ Magazine in September 2016. It was later published online.

Directed by: Woody Allen

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Parker Posey, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll

Release Date: September 2nd

Café Society is Woody Allen’s forty-sixth film and by now his time spent in the spotlight is showing. The film is full to the brim with the tropes and archetypes of Allen’s cinema, and they are wheeled out and displayed at such momentum that it often plays like a self-defeating parody of itself.  A neurotic protagonist, jazz music, a period setting, Jewish stereotypes, and an awkward romance are all on parade in this nostalgia-fest.

The film is set in the 1930s, during Hollywood’s Golden Era, and begins as Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg, doing his best Woody Allen impression), a Jewish man from the Bronx, moves to Hollywood to start afresh. It is there that he encounters his uncle, Phil (Steve Carell), an overworked but completely adept talent agent, and his secretary Veronica (Kristen Stewart).  The relationship between the two men becomes strained when Veronica falls in love with both of them, dredging another trope of Allen’s cinema – that of an older man forming a relationship with a woman significantly his junior. There is also a subplot involving Bobby’s gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll), and the film jumps back and forth between the two at the cost of consistent tone and pace.

This is yet another period piece by the veteran director and by now he can slip in and out, change and adapt, to the recent past with a relevant ease. The lavish sets and gorgeous cinematography by Vitorrio Storaro combine to idealise a period when glamour and superficiality trumped substance; muted primary colours typify the Hollywood Allen wishes to depict.

Such attractive imagery leaves you with a feeling of wanting, however; Allen spends more time dealing with a plot that is predictable and paper-thin, and less exploring the world he has created. Although names like ‘Irene Dunne,’ and ‘Errol Flynn’ are dispersed throughout the dialogue, the film does not dedicate enough time to immersing itself fully in the period it sets to mimic. The beauty of Midnight in Paris, Allen’s 2012 offering, is that, while advancing the film’s central romance we are treated, often humorously, to caricatures of 1920s Modernist writers.  In Café Society, we are less tourists of history than bored patrons desperately trying to see everything before the museum closes.

In a Nutshell: Café Society is a gorgeous-looking wasted opportunity. Rent Midnight in Paris instead.