Tag Archives: frida

The Venus Flytrap: Salma Hayek & So Many Working Women

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There is a peripheral debate that’s raging now in the fields of arts and entertainment, the question of whether one should separate the art and the person (usually, the man) who made it. Whether, for instance, Woody Allen’s movies, Derek Walcott’s poems or Pablo Picasso’s paintings can be loved decontextualized, without having to take into account the moral failings of their creators. I have mixed feelings about this, and enjoy reading the opinions of those who are able to take principled positions either which way. For me, it’s usually on a case by case rather than wholesale basis. This is a problematic position, obviously. The first time I really had it challenged was last week, when I read Salma Hayek’s powerful op-ed in The New York Times in which she detailed the abuse she faced at the hands of the Hollywood tyrant Harvey Weinstein. Hayek’s revelation came after many others, at a time when I did not think anything further about Weinstein could shock me.

What shattered me was that the abuse had taken place during the making of a film that is very special to me, Frida, on the life of the painter of the same name. I’d followed its making and release in 2002 with the kind of devotion only a teenager is capable of (Kahlo is the foremother of so many of us), and to this day I believe it’s a magnificent, heartfelt work of art. I could watch it over and over – except I may not be able to again without having to close my eyes, like a child is asked to if a sex scene suddenly comes on while she’s watching TV with her parents.

In her piece, Hayek wrote that the film’s nude scene between Frida Kahlo and the Parisian dancer Josephine Baker had been coerced by Weinstein. I knew Hayek had struggled to make this film, and that it was a true labour of love, but this was the first time she had talked about this particular kind of sexual abuse during its production.

Hayek’s sexual rejection of Weinstein brought consequences. First, he attempted to replace her entirely as producer and lead actor, which she countered by meeting a list of nearly impossible tasks he set. At one point, as detailed in her essay, he even threatened to murder her. After all this resistance, Weinstein finally found a way to deadlock her: a full frontal lesbian sex scene, or the film would not be finished.

She fought that monster in secret for the project that made her career, something women do in workplaces all the time, giving in to his blackmail but biding her time.

To me, Frida is not – never has been and never will be – Weinstein’s film. It belongs to and is unequivocally the creation of the producer and protagonist, Salma Hayek; the director, Julie Taymor; and the composer Elliot Goldenthal. But in this film is a scene which bears the stain of a monster, extracted from the humiliation of a woman forced into a compromise. Frida has always been a feminist film. If only its making hadn’t also had to be – so painfully, so familiarly.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 21st 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

Poem: Frida to Sharanya

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This is my favourite photo of Frida.

By the time this photograph was taken in 1938, Frida had mastered the art of the unwavering gaze, not to mention the projection of masculinity. The Trotsky and Cristina affairs that wreaked havoc on her marriage had happened; she was in the midst of her first solo exhibition in New York, and would both go to France at the invitation of the Bretons and get divorced the following year. In short, she knew by this time very well who she was and what she wanted. But here she appears vulnerable, unposed, astonishingly feminine. This is why it is my favourite photo of her. Out of the many I have seen (I have dozens more photographs to update that site with, and hope to find the time to do so soon), few have captured her this way. It is as though Julien Levy clicked his camera at the very moment the persona was dropped. It is as though he unmasked a woman famous for the ways she brutally unmasked herself.

I wrote this some time back, and read it at the Viva La Vida reading on Frida’s 101st birthday. Today was my 23rd birthday, and I thought I would share it now. It was inspired by her letters.

FRIDA TO SHARANYA

Sleep wherever is most convenient for you.
Whoever and whatever is left in the morning,
take home. Be kind. All the world is yours for
the taking, long as you know that your little heart is
theirs for the breaking. Leave lipstick on their
china and on your letters. Make sure they know
that you’re a mariposa, blue as copper sulphate,
or blue as the sea, blue as a baby stilled too soon,
darling wench, and you never really intend to leave.
Set love free like a boat with neither oars nor anchors.
Trust it. Don’t trust yourself. Accept every familiar
that comes, even if one happens to be a goat. Forgive
less of people. Remember that things come in triptychs.
Be magnificent, like Coatlicue. You only owe it to me,
but break a mirror now and then, if you can afford it.
Kiss as much as you want to, and as few. Be difficult.
It will make you more desirable. If it will help you to
let him go, cut off your hands. They will grow back.
You don’t need them. You don’t need him. The older
you grow, the more you will amputate. Dance on stumps
if you have to, but don’t stop. Wear one item of red
every Wednesday and when death comes for you,
you will go as his bride. Burn every bridge you ever
built, and build as many as you possibly can. The one
that takes you home will be the last one standing.
Sing over the bones. Go slow.
Don’t forget me.

The Viva La Vida Reading

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Please feel free to distribute! Hope to see you at this, if you’re in Chennai.

P.S. As everyone already knows, I have a kindergartener’s sense of colour. A different version should be up at Chandrachoodan’s soon.

The Viva La Vida reading: an open mic on Frida Kahlo’s 101st birthday, celebrating the spectacularly macabre.

A Little Live-Blogging

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I’ve seen Julie Taymor’s Frida maybe 25 or 30 times, for what I assume would be obvious reasons.

I’m watching it right now on the World Movies channel. There’s a good deal of expected censorship, and some quaint re-subtitling, like “fucking revolution” becoming “stupid revolution” (the expletive inaudible). Cutely enough, some expletives, like pinche, are not translated but kept in the subtitles.

But what took the cake, so far — and we’re only at the part where Alejandro comes to tell Frida he’s leaving for Europe — is when “vagina”, in a purely medical sense, gets subtitled as…

elsewhere.

Update: OMG! “I’ve always wanted a man with melones bigger than mine” (one of my fave lines from the film, because, umm, it happens to be a preference of mine too) becomes… “I’ve always wanted a man who was better than me”.

!!!

Hmm. I think I’ll post up an old article I wrote on my weakness for chubby men soon…