Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The World of Glamour



There have always been two main lies told by pornography: one of a seamless world of carnal efficiency without bodily failings, and another fib about the real, the nitty-gritty, the facts of life presented in an unflinching glare. Both turn up as subject matter on John Cooper Clarke's Disguise in Love: first, the second type, on 'Reader's Wives'. In one of I.T's fine disquisitions on pre-war hardcore one of her interviewees claims that the Reader's Wives genre is some sort of eccentric, English riposte to the implausible visions of perfection that contemporary porn goes in for. A DIY, response-based media in which all the blemishes are left in, where - as the name fairly blatantly suggests - mundanity and homeliness are what's important. Of course, the end result is usually faintly ghoulish, with the uncomfortably contorted bodies and crepuscular lighting tending to look a little creepy. Cooper Clarke lists all this in lurid detail, over Hannett and Hopkins' lachrymose, drizzly backing: clamminess, boredom, 'cold flesh the colour of potatoes'.



That the world of pin-ups and soft porn comes from a particularly 20th century lineage (as opposed to the straightforward presentations of people at it that I.T discusses) can be seen in the early career of Russ Meyer. First, working as a war photographer, whose lingering shots of explosions and technological apparatus would find its way into compilation films; then as an industrial film-maker, whose job was to present the product in full, comprehensive detail and to show its engineered efficiency; then as a pin-up photographer, where his use of industrial metaphors ('cantilevered', mainly) would be adapted to the seemingly more fallible human body. Meyer's obsessions are of course only a more demented version of an orthodoxy in the world of the jazz mag (or the glamour publication, to be more quaint about it). The body is meant to be viewed as one might view a new piece of machinery, and likewise has obsolescence built-in.



Although it's more about the world around the photographed than the photographs themselves, 'Post-War Glamour Girl' is the inverse of the grim everyday of 'Reader's Wives', offering snapshots of the actual glamour behind the incongruous euphemism. There's only a couple of hints about what our heroine actually does to pay the rent (''adults only' over her pubes') with the rest subsumed into a Profumo/Harrison Marks/Italian coffee shop Soho of beatniks, action painters and bugged phones which had was already an object of nostalgia in 1978. The track is a collage of sharp, Pop Art images, over a fizzy backdrop, undercutting the loneliness when the 'amorous cameras' depart. Eventually, we know there'll be a moment when her image will no longer be surrounded by unfunny cartoons, articles on Hitler's bunker, or advertisements for aids to muscle-building and 'married life'.

10 Comments:

Blogger it said...

I do like that ‘she could write a book’ picture. Indeed, anything involving women, naked or otherwise, and words.

Do you think the 20th industrialisation of porn metaphors (the pneumatic, the cantilevered, the piston, the rod) explains the switch from arse-infatuation to breast-worship (circa 1950)? It’s easier to place breasts in devices (Cf. Howard Hughes’ bra) than it is to do anything with the relative unliftability of the pointless arse. The militarization of mammaries might explain the countervailing tendency of ‘breast not bombs’ (better than ‘dicks not draft’ for sure). But I’m not sure we’re supposed to understand the obsolescence of the breast-machine. Surely we’re supposed to forget about downward drift and what breastfeeding actually does to them.

10:18 am  
Blogger Dominic said...

what breastfeeding actually does to them

Breasts with actual breastmilk in them are awesome, though.

12:14 pm  
Blogger it said...

Blurgh! The horrors of biology. Breasts are fucking annoying most of the time. I often want to cut mine off.

1:27 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Hmm, I was thinking about Howard Hughes apropos of the 'cantilevered' and the influence of military technology on the sexual fantasies of the 1950s (see also: 'bombshell', bikini, etc).

I don't know either why this all focused on the breasts specifically. I suppose it's contemporary with the New Look and the return to the kitchen and femininity after working in munitions factories, with maternal roles and whatnot. But Meyer's women don't look maternal as such, they look industrial, superhuman. (also in hip hop objectification, the arse never went away)

12:23 am  
Blogger it said...

Yeah, I don't know what to make of the hip hop arse, it messes up the chronology!

I wonder if the maternalisation thing might not be historically overplayed...I mean, sure, everybody needs a bosom for a pillow, but are 50s straight men THAT insecure? And it's not like bigger breasts give more milk (although I can see why the US in particular might have felt they did, goddamn quantitavists!).

I'm not totally convinced by the Meyer industrial argument - you don't think he's influenced by Riefenstahl do you? I'm just wondering, that kind of mountainous woman shot from below...

10:16 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Nah, it's more Eisenstein if he'd swung that way. Fast-cut editing, powerful as opposed to monumental figures.

The quantity thing sounds about right, the obsession with super-sizing...

12:30 pm  
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