men_in_full: (opera goers)
Opergeist (on Deviantart) makes and models theatrical costumes and masks. Below are his renditions of the Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd.



Both the Phantom and Sweeney Todd are thought of as "wraith-like" - the Phantom because he's described as skeletally thin in the original 1910 Gaston Leroux novel, and Sweeney Todd because of actors' portrayals (especially Johnny Depp.) But "casting" a heavier man adds its own interesting dimension to the characters, and definitely makes me happy.

ETA: Earlier remarks on "Could You Love a Fat Phantom?" here.

men_in_full: (Default)
I found this story today by weird coincidence, while doing a search on "super tube"+"art poster" (those black-and-white drawings you color in with markers.) I guess google flagged it on "tube" and "poster." Turns out that the poster art for Gavin Davis's play Fat Christ was banned from London tube stations for being "blasphemous" and in generally bad taste.

The play, interestingly, is "based, in part, on a person who auditioned for the play Jesus Christ Super Star and was told he was too fat to be given the part."

I'm not sure exactly what is supposed to be offensive in this poster. After all, most Western art shows Christ as a light-haired, light-skinned man (not as an olive-skinned, well-tanned Middle-Easterner with curly black hair - although that would be more realistic.)

Perhaps it's the boxers. But religious paintings in the Renaissance showed religious figures dressed in contemporary clothes (for the day.) Nothing new there. Would it have been less offensive if he'd been wearing swim trunks?

Or ... drum roll ... is it because the Christ figure is fat? Is the fatness of the male model really the offensive element here? Spiked's Nathalie Rothschild thinks so:
Perhaps suggesting that Jesus suffered from slow metabolism or indulged in fatty food is the ultimate form of blasphemy these days, when obesity is seen as a mortal sin.
Where the London censors really miss the point is that in Christian theology, Christ came to save all - but definitely "sided" with the downtrodden, those who were at the bottom of society, who were oppressed for all sorts of reasons. Certainly in the UK, especially, fat people are experiencing oppression - like being denied surgery, fertility treatments, etc. on account of their weight. Children deemed "too fat" are being removed from their parents' custody. So it's not surprising, that a fat Christ would be thrown off the tube, so to speak.

Further, Isaiah 53:2-3 tells us that Christ was not beautiful or remarkable in appearance.
He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, [there is] no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
While I disagree with the idea that a fat Jesus is "ugly," the *expectation* that any visual representation of Christ should adhere to conventional standards of "beauty" (which includes thinness or "buffness") contradicts what is directly said about Christ himself.
men_in_full: (pensive)

Over in "another part of the forest," to quote the Bard, I wrote about my recent viewing of the 1977 movie Equus. One of the major themes in that film (based on Peter Shaffer's play about a troubled youth who mutilates six horses, and the psychiatrist who treats him) is the personal sterility and lovelessness of Dr. Martin Dysart's life, shown in the film by his nondescript, literally all-beige office. Presumably designed that way to soothe troubled patients, it also reflects his colorless and passionless existence.

The recent revival of Equus on the London stage created a bit of hoopla over Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") being cast as the imprisoned Alan Strang. But something occurred to me about Richard Griffiths being cast as Dr. Dysart.

In the film, Dysart is played by the still-handsome if slightly faded and world-weary Richard Burton. His blankness and timidity are a mystery to us. Why should this slim middle-aged man live such a life of "quiet desperation?" Unveiling the mystery that is Dysart is just as much the challenge of Equus as trying to understand why Alan has committed his dreadful crime.

What I fear is that Richard Griffith's been cast as Dysart as an oversimplistic form of "body characterization." In other words, is Dysart more believable to a modern audience as "sexless," "world-weary," or "passionless" because the actor who plays him is a fat man?

Personally, I'd love to go to London and see Griffiths in the role. He would do it justice, certainly. But I'd hate to see "the doctor's dilemma" reduced to a simplistic, "Well, he's fat, what else do you expect?"
men_in_full: (de vos bacchus)
[ profile] jennie_jay has managed to combine my two loves in one, as she introduced me to Bryn Terfel as "that huge hill of flesh" Falstaff in Verdi's eponymous opera. She also passed on a blog entry from The Anchoress (who also shares the Bryn love.) In this production, Terfel wears a fat suit to show Sir John's impressive girth.

I understand that most bass-baritones aren't as massively fat as Verdi's Falstaff is meant to be. This might be one of the few instances where a fat suit really is dramatically "necessary." Also, people come to hear a "superstar" like Terfel, not see an "accurate" portrayal of the character. It's opera, after all - very little is "real" or "accurate." However, opera singers aren't immune from the pressure to be slender either - soprano Deborah Voight was fired from a 2004 Covent Garden performance of Ariadne auf Naxos for being "too fat," and has since had gastric bypass surgery. But Sir John's rubber bulk got me thinking once again about the fat suit in general.

One consequence of an ubiquity of fat suits is that if a fat suit is all people ever see, then they won't be able to tell the difference. It white people who'd never seen African-Americans thought they all looked like the old stereotyped 'blackface' portrayals. At least one person actually got confused. The Anchoress mentions:
The NY Times posted a glowing review of Terfel’s performance in Falstaff and then found itself being accused by one letter-writer of lacking respect and decency toward Bryn by “displaying his deplorable physical condition” or somesuch (I’m paraphrasing). The Times then pointed out that the picture is of Terfel in a wonderfully realistic prosthetic “fat suit.”

To me, Terfel's fat suit isn't all that "wonderfully realistic," especially if it's the same as the one shown this video.

I'd be curious to know what the opera audience's reaction was, when they first saw Terfel in his suit. Did they gasp, laugh, feel shock? Would a genuinely fat body have shocked them more, and perhaps this was a way to "distance" themselves from such a thing? It's possible to imagine that in some parts of the country that outside of doctors, there are people who genuinely have never really looked at someone that fat and that undressed up close - or perhaps have never really "seen" them - in the sense of genuinely looking, or perhaps looked at them only with horror.

We used to have the same idea with regard to black people in the USA. Before the Civil War (1861-1865), black performers almost never appeared before white audiences. Instead, white male troupes dressed up as blacks, usually acting out skits and songs that presented a grossly caricatured, distorted view of slave life. The graphic images that accompanied the advertisements, song books, and joke books (with regrettable names like the "Al-Ma-Nig" book of jokes) formed the basis for what the Wikipedia Blackface article calls "darky iconography," the stereotyped image of African-Americans that persisted into the 1970s.

Like the antics of "Jim Crow" (shown at left) or his eye-rolling, lip-smacking successors, the sudden appearance of a nearly-naked fat-suited body on screen or stage has the same aim: to get a laugh at the sight of someone perceived as ridiculous, grotesque, and thus amusing.

As if they understand the physical unreality of most fat suits, movie directors have taken them high-tech, as in Click. Adam Sandler (with the aid of a magical remote) fast-forwards himself into the future, and "wakes up" to find himself extremely large - goes to the mirror, screams in horror, etc. In this film, his face is "morphed" onto the genuinely fat body of a body double. In a sense that's even more insulting, because the fat actor is robbed of his own face, his own identity, to serve as a "living fat suit" for the star.

I haven't seen Norbit, where Eddie Murphy dons a female "fat-face" made of a latex suit enhanced with computer special effects. Even with the most realistic computerized rendition, though, the principle is still the same. Fat suits keep us from "seeing" fat bodies, by implying that the real thing is too horrific to really see. And if the "real thing" is too awful to even look at, then don't even think about an embrace. Or living in one.


men_in_full: (Default)

September 2013



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