Tag Archives: Scarlett Johansson

Unisex & Disabled

Today, we went to a restaurant called Portland for lunch to celebrate Geth’s birthday.

‘I wonder why it’s called Portland,’ I mused, questioning, whimsical.

‘Because it’s on Great Portland Street. They’ve also got one called Clipstone. That’s on Clipstone street. ‘

At half time I went to the toilets downstairs.

There were 3 cubicles.

One read Ladies, one read Gentlemen, and on the third was this:


Apart from disabled people and impatient people*, for whom is this cubicle intended?

People who are both genders. But wouldn’t this need to say Hermaphrodite & Disabled?

People who are neither gender. Is this actually possible? Scarlett Johansson had this sort of thing going on in Under the Skin, but she was an alien. Do aliens go for lunch on Great Portland Street? Maybe. But would they get bogged down in toilet terminology? Bogged down. Maybe.

Some other possibilities that might make this option clearer: No-sex & Disabled. Sexless & Disabled. Gender Free & Disabled. Genderless & Disabled. None of these work.

People who are transitioning between genders. But don’t they identify with one gender, or other, regardless?

People who might expect, or wish for, the inside of the toilet to be partisan to neither sex. No pink loo roll dollies. No copies of What Car?

People who don’t like to be defined by gender. But would the way they use the toilet be any different to the way they’d use one of the ones that had different signs on the door? (Same argument here for what is the point of having signs on individual doors at all.) Maybe not, but the option is a mark of respect for their choices.

But is the fact that some people dislike gender labels that sensitive of a subject on a generalised level that it needs to be reflected in toilet signs? There aren’t meat apologies on the menu to vegetarians. Or political disclaimers at the bottom of the wine list. And so on.

People who are disabled AND fit into one of the categories above. This is really quite niche. I’m not sure this is about emptying bladders at this point. This is now about agenda.

Why do Unisex & Disabled go together? Why can’t Unisex run alongside Ladies or Gentlemen, in a similar way, seeing as only one usage is intended to be accommodated at any one time?

Would disabled people (if you could group them together in such a way, which you can’t, which is surely somewhere in the ballpark of why a unisex option has been created in the first place) feel annoyed if they saw someone unisex coming out of what is traditionally, primarily their toilet, even though they knew they didn’t have the right specifically, seeing as this sign designates that particular cubicle for dual usage. Would they even know if the person coming out was unisex? Would they wonder what they had in common with them such that this group of people had been given a shared billing? Because I don’t think it’s an overclaim to say that disabled people are, generally, ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gentlemen’. Which is to say not that they fit into some sort of 3rd gender category, simply that they require better access/ more room/ different facilities etc.

Why would Unisex require any of the extenuating features (exampled above) demanded by disabled toilets, anyway? Might it not be more accurate to offer the title share to sub-sections of people who could benefit from the extras? Groups Of Drug Users & Disabled. Generously-Built People & Disabled. And so on.

Would disabled people feel that Unisex had been added to their cubicle in a minority dumping ground gesture? As if everything that comes under ‘Other’ can go in their cubicle, because the perfect primary male/ female differentiator can’t be messed with in any sense. I mean, purr-lease.

If the person leaving the Unisex & Disabled cubicle actually was both unisex (by any of the definitions above) AND disabled (a niche combo, we’ve established, but not impossible), would the disabled person suddenly feel like they had less of a right to go into the cubicle, or would they just be charmed by the absolute appropriateness, on this rare occasion, of the exiting person using this very specifically-labelled cubicle?

Might they even be moved to challenge them. ‘I say- cheeky- but I can see that you’re disabled. Are you also unisex?’ ‘Take a hike! Lots of women wear slacks these days.’ (That would be rude, because the person asking was just trying to alight upon something neat and very random- not only an irresistible combination, but one you don’t get much of in life.)

Of course, they might not be this rude at all. They might say, ‘Yes, I am. Thank you for noticing. But go ahead and use that toilet without feeling like it’s any the less for you. You’re totally welcome in that cubicle. I’ll wait here, so we can figure out together how to get back up these non-disabled access stairs.’ (The Unisex & Disabled toilet was downstairs, if you were wondering if that was just a tasteless joke.)

Would children come down and think, ‘I don’t feel well represented here’? 

Babies would surely feel that, especially when they find out there is no changing bed thing for them in Ladies, Gentlemen, OR Unisex & Disabled. How bloody marginalised can you get, they’d think.

Anyway, the bathroom sinks were communal and had lovely Aesop hand wash and hand cream in I-trust-you restraint-free holders.

And the meal was really delicious.


*People who are impatient (ie. any gender) and (separately) disabled people. Gender matters not. Ah, yes. This is the one. Sweet irony…

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November 25, 2016 · 11:02 pm

Scarlett and the Alien metaphor

Film Review Under the Skin







Aliens aren’t interesting.

They embarrass us, by exposing the limitations of our imagination.

Because we can only define by what we know, the best we come up with is that they’ve got pointy heads and maybe, like, one weird central eye.

What they can do is help us to re-appraise ourselves.

Now let’s think: in whose body might they do this, such that we’ll be more inclined to pay attention?

What about- ooh, I don’t know- say, Scarlett Johansson’s?

Under The Skin is pure atmospheric cinema (probably better consumed after a floatation tank session than ‘two-fer’ doughballs at Pizza Express, to be fair).

It’s sensory, evocative, elusive, and might just be the answer to Jonathan Glazer’s brain tickler as to how he can spend 3 weeks legitimately holed up with Hollywood’s sexiest starlet without having to make gooseberry jam with a hot leading male in tow.

So what behaviours come to us fresh when filtered through alien eyes?

A surprising number, thanks to the emotional dissonance of this strange creature, experienced as a result of its inhabiting of flesh.

The moment it curiously examines Scarlett’s human face at the close of the film is a crystallization of its painful effort to become a socialized animal on planet earth.

This question of empathy is central to the film, to the human condition.

We wince when it’s lacking (the little boy left on the beach); we relate with sensitivity to the craving to be loved, when it is simulated for ulterior motives (the deformed man); we feel the purity of kindness (the man on the bus), of beauty (the man giving her a tour of the castle); of love’s physical expression (the two of them in bed), when it’s experienced for real.

The cutest part is, it’s even evoked in us on behalf of the creature itself when the tables are eventually turned. We just can’t help ourselves.

When the chips are down, compassion is what separates us from computers, and we could all benefit from pondering that with a cafe creme and a bottle of Bud.

Also trundling into view, is the gulf between experience and interpretation.

Scarlett spends 3/4 of the film silently apprehending, as you would if you had no idea why a group of girly slags were escorting you to a night club.

It’s boring and frustrating for the audience.


Because we want to interpret- for it to mean something.

We’re not used to Directors asking us to listen to windscreen wipers unless the wipers are about to break, or clearing the view for a shot of Adam Sandler mugging for the camera in a Hawaiian shirt.

And we’re not used to doing this in life either. We need a purpose; we want a story.

The fact is, of course, we learn a whole lot more when we experience stuff just as it is.

Conversely, we also do things with little thought at all- like eating black forest gateau, for example.

It’s sweet and it tastes good. So shovel it down! Go on- heart attacks be damned!

Do it slowly and thoughtfully like your wee alien here, meanwhile, and you might come to realise it’s not good for you; it’s going to make you sick.

At a more vital level, we’re presented with the linear, almost childish sex drive of (some) men: ‘You’re pretty. Let’s fuck.’

For these male Scottish victims, it is their carnal instinct that propels them forward. They walk into their fate, literally: upright, full-frontal.

And it’s not ugly.

It’s honest and uncomplicated. It seeks to be sated- nothing more, nothing less.

(Mostly, it takes more than a compliment on her hands to bed a woman: why?)

Aliens are a metaphor for the ‘other’.

They are the foreigners we might fear, the strangers we avoid.

They do more than hold a mirror up to us.

They challenge us to say if we like what we see.


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Vicky Cristina Barcelona: A review


Filtered through city landscapes or the imaginative trips of time travel, Woody Allen’s pitch has been consistent:

Nerdy Jewish New Yorker talks beautiful women into bed with angst-ridden intellectual humour.

This is a film-maker for whom the word ‘schtick’ was invented. Woody owns naive narration, conspicuous cultural consumption, urbane conversation, serial infidelity- hell, even a whole musical genre.

No surprise then that looming over him has been a question worthy of a brace of sessions on his own therapist’s couch:

‘I keep having these dreams that I get old and I can’t star in my movies. How will they work? What about the women? Will I have to hand them over like sacrificial lambs? I’m feeling very anxious.’

Of course it’s been a nightmare realized and Allen movies have since struggled to retain charm in their creator’s absence.

VCB is no exception and though it might seem as though he’s handing his conquests to Javier Bardem, in fact, he keeps a firm grip on them from behind the camera, giving new meaning to the phrase ‘remote control’.

Occasionally the characters show signs of independent life but generally they are little more than ventriloquist dummies, such is the permeating stench of Allen.

(Although, thank the Lord, he’s stopped mutilating actors into doing impersonations of himself: is it possible to recall Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity without feeling somehow damaged?)

It makes him voyeur of his own movies and his audience voyeurs of him. He thinks he’s making emotional porn with clothes on. Instead we’re getting him as naked as the day he was born.

In VCB Vicky is his intellect and the distillation of societal mores.

The object of his desire, Cristina, is his heart: searching, experimental and ultimately dissatisfied.

Juan Antonio is the handsome artist he never was, Juan’s relationship with Maria-Elena a fantasy realized: the apotheosis of romantic love made possible by the introduction of a.n.other.

Woody knows that if combustible passion were sustained it would contradict itself and yet he is unwilling to settle for anything less.

In Juan Antonio and Maria-Elena’s relationship with Cristina he creates an attractive solution, the ‘missing ingredient’ through which to channel overwhelming emotional and physical desire.

But even this construct has a shelf-life, Woody now too jaded or too wise to yield completely to his ideal.

No love will ever be enough for him probably because he fears he will never be enough for love.

Unsurprisingly for a man who craves the stimulation of cities- a man given to explication and humour and analysis- his greatest fear is to be bored, his greatest desire to be satisfied.

But therein lies his problem, for he suspects that to be satisfied is to be bored or, worse, boring- the lowest of all life-forms.

The result is a restless soul and a film without a satisfactory ending: a compelling relationship that can’t survive, a dull one that does and a lost soul masquerading as a free spirit.

The performances are solid: Javier Bardem grounds his character in earthy magnetism.

Rebecca Hall has the brainy credentials to nail Vicky but remains too gangly schoolgirl to believably inspire flames of desire.

Scarlett Johansson, meanwhile, has a contemplative dreaminess that sells her convincingly as a wannabe bohemian artist and is, for my money, bar none the most sexually attractive starlet of her generation; there are scenes when she and the lense need to get a room.

Penelope Cruz is justly lauded as a rabid nutter although one suspects it’s not that much of a stretch. In this movie she accomplishes the unlikely feat of contextualizing her ex, Tom Cruise: Katie Holmes flosses every night, Scientology has structure; suddenly he makes sense!

Her unfeasible glamour renders her almost cartoonish. You want to see her photographed. You enjoy her flipping out. You even like her smoking. Most of all you fancy her for breakfast- over easy with Scarlett on top.

And this is why Woody Allen is so successful. He makes movies you want to watch about people you want or want to be. They are vivid, engaging, and tap into the emotional dilemmas that drive us all.

But with this one he resembles a man who is retreating to his artistic death bed, a smile playing on his lips at the delights of life, outlasted by a frown on his forehead at its disappointments.


Filed under Movie Mumbo