The world mourns the loss of another hero. Yesterday, actor/comedian Robin Williams was found dead at his home. Initial reports suggested that the star of Mork and Mindy and Dead Poet’s Society had taken his own life.
Williams who, reportedly, had recently experienced severe depression, is the latest famous casualty of a disorder which claims dozens of lives daily. The disorder, aka, mental illness affects 1 in 3 people at some point in their lives.
When digesting the devastating news, I noted with more than a hint of irony, that the latest instalment of my online serial about bipolar superhero, Luna had been posted that very day. In contrast to highlighting the stark reality of the effects of mental health issues on the individual in the empirical realm, my serial depicts bipolar disorder as extraordinary. Luna’s bipolar elevates her above the homogenous, “sane,” masses. She is both gifted and cursed by her superhero abilities, bipolar 1, 2 and her own, 3.
Influencing the apparent contradiction between the nature of the existence of mental illness in the real world and that present in my fictional universe, is my belief that mental distress signifies a heightened and superior consciousness. At times of great distress, we access thoughts and emotions prohibited to those whose demeanours are more emotionally stable. During these times we undergo an internal battle, whose outcome may or may not be dependant on our brain chemistry. Robin Williams lost his battle, but Luna is doomed to win hers. Like Robin’s performances, fiction does not have to reflect reality, but, rather, makes life more fun.
Luna (the bipolar superhero) was initially published on http://www.artificecomics.com
NOW you can follow her adventures on imaginalist, please see my previous post for the link.
I slipped into my seat, the darkened room concealing my embarrassed attempts to merge into the shadowy forms of Birmingham’s spotty youth. An old dear, clad in colourful leggings and Dr Marten boots, wishing she were eighteen years old and not a product of the jowls of middle-age. The film began and the audience and I disappeared.
I confess…I have never read best selling dystopian, YA novel, Divergent. Thus, watching the film on Wednesday I entered this particular post-apocalyptic realm for the first time. Seduced by the propaganda surrounding the novel and the film, were my expectations fulfilled?
Divergent is a masterpiece of formulaic invention. A perfect crafting and unison of the conventions of two of the most popular literary genres. It works…and it appeals to something within many of us. To the young, it reflects a desire for self-expression, to be recognised as the individuals they truly are. To those, slightly older (like me!), it constitutes a hymn to a time when being oneself was more important than escaping from oneself.
The ideological subtext of the film (and presumably the novel) equates divergence with freedom from labels and strata, but warns the audience that divergence/difference is punished and that those who dare to embrace it will be cast out of mainstream society. This idea is about as revolutionary as using a cassette recorder in the digital age. However, it appeals to the unsullied mind. The attraction of outsider status is as conformist as the mechanics of Divergent. At eighteen years of age, only the genuinely different do not long to be.
I left the cinema, clicking my pink boot laces and rustling a carrier bag, flanked by an ocean of fresh-faced hoodies, who all go to university and all look the same.
There is a scene in the film, Stardust Memories, in which Woody Allen sits alone in a train carriage, populated by people whose faces reveal angst and despair. He looks through a window and sees into the carriage of another train, positioned parallel. In the other carriage, the passengers party, their faces alive with joy and pleasure.
For me, this scene is a perfect visual metaphor of the life experience. Its meaning transcends the image of Allen as the outsider, looking at life from the inside out; it embraces the duality of the human experience. Joy and despair are presented as polar opposites, the associated behaviour codes are mere coping strategies for reacting to the madness that is existence.
Allen’s existential angst reflects a universal truth; life is a glorified coping mechanism. When we watch the scene, we realise that we are not alone.
The western world, 2013 may be caught in a web of depression and economic austerity but popular culture is dominated by escapist genres and narratives, embracing elements of fantasy. Formerly designated to sub-cultural interest groups, fantastical fiction and film have become part of the mainstream. This development has not occurred overnight and, I would suggest, has rather evolved as a reactive process to changes in the nature of social reality.
Arguably infrastructural changes are reflected in the superstructure of a society. Popular culture, like ideology, is a facet of the superstructure and is not an autonomous movement; not only is it shaped by the superstructure but it, also, helps shape the superstructure. The relationship is one of reciprocity; in my world one way causation is mythical!
I wish not to resort to a vulgar form of Marxism and would, thus, centralise the role of the individual as the human agent of change and the producer of cultural meaning.
We as writers, readers and viewers have embraced an alternate cultural universe in which vampires and zombies, spirits and wizards represent our hidden desires, supressed by our empirical roles as women and men interacting with and surviving the turmoil of the life process. Thus, the ascension of sub-genre fiction, film, etc should be applauded by the educated masses and accepted by the establishment as a counteraction to outmoded cultural snobbery and a positive consequence of the new cultural world order.
In my previous post I reviewed the novella, Death in Venice and feel that no discussion of the book is complete, without reference to the extraordinary film version. Upon first viewing, Visconti’s (1971) masterpiece, ensnared me in a mist of visual eloquence. Transported by the narrative, I entered a realm which suggested, behind a veneer of bourgeois respectability, the presence of decay. Fundamental to the portrayal of this, was the performance of Dirk Bogarde as the central character, a man in search of an ideal.
In a career defining performance, Bogarde chilled the screen with his icy presence and projected meaning in subtle facial expressions. A face, which had once graced the bedroom walls of the hearts of 1950’s British teens, had become distorted by the ravages of age and interpretations of desires, which did not speak their names. Dirk Bogarde had matured from matinee idol into middle-aged master of menace and finally, metamorphosed into an old man of European art house cinema and an interpreter of directorial dreams. He had become a hallucination which was 100 per cent real. A hallucination of his own feelings; the reality of the man hidden behind the propaganda of his acting career.
Until his death in 1999, Bogarde publicly denied his homosexuality. In private, his shared his life with his long-term male partner and manager. The world was naïvely fooled; gay people, however, had always known; the clues were not obscured but, were as apparent as the quiff he wore in, The Blue Lamp (1950), the first film, in which he appeared, which hinted at darkness behind his pretty façade. A façade which constituted more than indulgence; it was a necessary method to uphold a career in a society which, even in 2013, does not accept or want to watch films starring gay movie stars.
Society is an ass! Why has not the world accepted that not everyone is straight. Move away from your position peeping through closed curtains, go outside and embrace the nearest queen!
Last night I watched the perfect date movie for manic depressives, the world over. “Silver Linings Playbook,” an Oscar winning film framed in the conventions of a Hollywood rom-com, is a story of the transcendent power of love. Pat (Bradley Cooper) returns from the horrors of mania to a world, which offers him the gifts of beauty and pain. We watch him re-adjust to life beyond the order and routine of a psychiatric hospital; a life minus his wife, his job and his own house, spent in his parents home, the bosom of familial love and contradictory realm of escape and frustration. “They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad…” (Philip Larkin). He is the bloom of their seed, the psychology of blame.
Watching the first half of the film, I was both surprised and somewhat piqued by the emotions it evoked in my irritable psyche. For the verbal “rantings” of the characters, especially those of the protagonist, annoyed me almost to the point of
contemplating turning off the noise and tuning into a more calming vibe; the space cadet of my thoughts eager to land. However, my commitment to accessing products of popular culture which centralise mental health awareness, kept me going. I am glad that it did. For, my reaction to listening to highly expressed emotion and Bradley Cooper’s pacey and urgent delivery of lines offered me insight into the difficulties encountered by the loved ones and supporters of people undergoing episodes of mania. When unwell, have I been as annoying as “Pat?” Probably. For the first time I saw myself through my Mother’s eyes. No wonder she often cries. No wonder she challenges.
The verbal battering I experienced in the first part of the film was, subsequently, replaced by a warm glow. Rom-com credentials raised their frothy heads and manipulated me into empathising with the characters. The introduction of a love interest for Pat, played with depth by Jennifer Lawrence, provided a counter-point and stressed the view that “madness” is not about chemicals and, rather, affects everyone in relative degrees.
Although the film did not say anything new and its format and structure were overwhelmingly traditional, “Silver Linings Playbook,” peeled away the mask of mental ill health and revealed that regardless of the issues we experience, people are more alike than different and possess similar needs and desires. Bipolar is a barrier to love, only if we make it. Silver linings exist for us all. In order to experience them, however, we must believe.
BOOKWORMS BEWARE-My novel, containing themes of mental health, recovery and LOVE is available on AMAZON and from other retailers. Buy THE GENERAL PARALYSIS OF SANITY by LOUISE M. HART and engage with your silver lining!
On the day of Daniel Day-Lewis’ triple Oscar success, I would like to recommend a film which, over forty years ago, recieved a nod from Oscar, himself. “Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment,” (1966) was a highly successful and much publicised film set in a London that swung to the rythmns of the mini-skirt and Pink Floyd. Directed by Karel Reisz, whom I had the pleasure to see at a Q and A session at university in 1991, the film is shot in grimey black and white and depicts the story of a dreamer amd outsider, for whom psychosis offers an escape from the chaos of his own life.
The film was written by David Mercer who, though largely forgotten nowadays, was a leading British playwrite in the 1960’s. As a young person in the 1980’s-1990’s I discovered and subsequently fell in-love with Mercer’s writing; his preoccupations with social class and mental illness mirroring my own. Nowhere were these preoccupations more evident than in, “Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment.”