Jennette McCurdy (2022) I’m Glad My Mom Died.

The title struck me. I was glad my mum died too, but for different reasons. She had Alzheimer’s and her life wasn’t a life. The front cover has two quotes from famous people saying nice things about Jennette McCurdy’s autobiography. Jerrod Carmichael ‘Impressively funny’. I didn’t think so and I don’t know who that is. But before reading this book, which I did mostly in one sitting, leaving the last few chapters until the next day, I didn’t know who McCurdy was either. A picture on the cover shows a pretty-enough women. She was a child actress and face on Netflix. The book is geared towards an American audience as the use of ‘mom’ rather than mum implies.

Lena Dunham, who I believe is an actress, screenwriter and writer like Jennette McCurdy, offers another quote tagged on the cover: ‘An important cultural document’.

That’s nearer the truth. There’s an essential honesty here about Jennette’s relationship with her Mom, and what Karl Marx called the exploitation of labour. In this case, child labour. There is no dressing up a working-class child working eighteen-hour days as an extra. I thought those days were gone with the death of stars such as Judy Garland. An insider account of Hollywood and a play on Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest, (I haven’t read the book but did see the film, although I can’t remember much about it). Her Mom instead of taking her to doctors and hospitals took her to auditions and classes and pushed her into acting. The equivalent of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

‘My mum didn’t deserve her pedestal. She was a narcissist. She refused to admit she had any problems, despite how destructive these problems were for the entire family. My mom emotionally, mentally and physically abused me in ways that will forever impact on me.

She gave me breast and vaginal exams until I was seventeen-years old. These ‘exams’ made my body stiff with discomfort.’

Her mom’s legacy was home schooling and calorie restriction. Fancy words and ways for starving a child who began to develop boobs when she was eleven. McCurdy looked back with something akin to fondness when she was anorexic. Bulimia was her constant companion. Food the enemy within. It had me thinking of Amy Whitehouse. Both tiny, girlish stars that tried to make themselves thinner, smaller as they tried to fit into a world that equated such measures with youth and beauty.  Ironically, our NHS hospitals don’t have enough room for such girls and boys with such conditions. They are full to overflowing. I’ve gone off track. Read on.    

Judy, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written by Tom Edge and Peter Quilter, directed by Rupert Goold.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0012y9d/judy

The use of the singular name implies the universal. A rose by any other name is still a rose. Judy Garland arrives in swinging London for a number of sell-out performances in The Talk of the Town in the winter of 1968. Six months later she was dead at the age of 47.

Renee Zellweger is Judy, with a long chin, white butterfly masquerade mask of a face with bright red lips. Get the spiky black hair, but it’s the voice that counts. I’m no great fan of music, but The Wizard of Oz was on every Christmas of childhood. Judy inhabits our past. Her arrival in London was met with the nostalgic acclaim of virtual and digitally enhanced ABBA performing their medley of greatest hits. They didn’t put a foot wrong, but Judy was a drunken mess, which was part of the attraction. I winced as fans flung food at her.  

She joked she slept around five hours in her whole childhood. Uppers and downers, and a chaperone to make sure she didn’t eat. Drilled for eighteen hours a day. She was an asset when working. A liability to be watched over when not.  When a doctor in London examiners her and gives her another ‘vitamin’ injection, he proclaims her underweight, her response that he was flirting with her.

Inevitably, a side story of her tour involves a duo of male admirers who are homosexual. Judy gets married to a younger admirer, but the wedding cake lasts longer than the groom. She tells a talk-show host that she’s only Judy for an hour a night, when she’s performing. The other time, like everybody else, she’s a working mother of two children whom she loves and is poor old put-upon Lorna Luft (Bella Ramsey).

In a flashback, Judy/ Lorna Luft makes Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) come out of his office and give the soon to be sixteen-year-old Judy a telling off. He puts his hand on her adolescent breast. He owns her is the message, which she would take heed to learn again and again.  

The rise and fall of Judy is the rise and fall of Renee Zellweger. I could take or leave the film, but Zellweger’s performance is one worth remembering. I don’t know if she won any awards for it (the film was made for BBC in 2019), but if not, she should have. Wow.    

The Rise and Fall of the Krays, STV, ITV Hub.

https://player.stv.tv/summary/espresso-krays

‘Rise’—‘Fear and Fame’—‘Fall. The first episode charts how the Kray twins with a propensity for violence rose from a humble working-class background in the East End of London. We’re on familiar territory here. The wife-beating father, who kicked their mum in the stomach, and caused her to miscarry. But no mention of their older brother, Charlie. Her hairdresser told viewers, she never had the little girl that she craved. Pictures of the twins Reggie and Ronnie shows two cute and dark-eyed babies. Ron caught tuberculosis, a killer then, but Violet brought him from the hospital, and tucked him in beside Reg and he recovered. They were inseparable. In the boxing ring Reg had a bit more guile, and was under-17’s champion of England. Both their grandparents were boxers. Ron was more of a berserker. But they never stopped battling each other and the world. When Ron was sent down to Wandsworth and then sent sideways to a psychiatric unit, what he didn’t know—because  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest hadn’t been written or made into a film yet—was that time stopped. Prison time only started again when he was deemed medically cured of his psychosis.  He never was, but as long as he kept taking the tablets, the voices inside his head wouldn’t always manifest themselves in violence.

Reg did a swap with Ron in the visiting room. Ron pulling on Reg’s overcoat and swanning out. They couldn’t hold Reg, and Ron had escaped. He couldn’t have been that mad after all.

The Krays ran their nascent empire from a snooker hall. They taxed local crooks, in much the same way crooked cops taxed the same crooks and sellers of porn and brothels. Career criminals paid their cut or they got cut. In much the same way, the entertainment industry was targeted. No trouble if the owners paid tax and fealty to the Krays. Muscling in on businesses and taking them over.

The 1960’s director of a film starring Barbara Windsor laughed as he told viewers how a couple of cars appeared and asked about having permission to film on their turf. He said he’d squared it with the police. But he had to employ two of the Kray’s henchmen. He told how a barman who’d charged him for a drink was taken from behind the bar and severely beaten by the Kray twins because the film crew were ostensibly their guests.

The Queen’s Counsel who represented the Krays and Barbara Windsor’s husband told how she was verbally abused when it got into the press that ‘the little sparrow’ of the East End, Bab’s husband was a gangster. But it added kudos to the film. More generally, it added grit to the hedonistic mix of new money and power. Their criminal empire began to shift beyond the East End with the acquisition of a casino and nightclub in the West End of London were the richest socialites and money-class lived and worked. It was in the former Ron hooked up with the upper-class homosexual and Tory peer Lord Boothby. The Kray’s mum, Violet, stayed in the same house they were born in, but the twins brought her hero Judy Garland to have a cup of tea and she crooned ‘Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz.  Nothing could stop them, and more importantly for the media, they dressed well and had that criminal swagger.   

Britney Spears: Unbreakable, producer and director Maureen Goldthorpe and Brian Aabech

There’s a new documentary out about Britney Spears revolving around her court-sanctioned conservatorship order that has lasted thirteen years and counting. I Care a Lot, described as a psychological thriller, shows how these orders really work.  They are intended to protect those that need spoon fed and allocated pocket money, but only if they show that they need it. Britney’s conservation order is dictated by her divorced father, Jamie Spears. This is the documentary I thought I was watching, but I was wrong. Unbreakable is a rehash of Britney’s rise and fall.

Louise Burke, Deputy Editor ‘More’ and another talking head takes us through it. We get a few clips thrown in for free. Many of them on a loop.

Rags to riches is straightforward. Born 2nd December 1981 in Kentwood Louisiana, population 2200. Small-town mentality. Everyone knew everyone else and nobody had much money. School teacher mom. Building contractor dad.

Stage Mom, Very driven. Aged three, doing solos and performing for audiences. Even at three she had talent and her parents were taking her off to competitions. Flying to Atlanta. Flying to New York. Chasing the American Dream.

 By the age of four, Britney was wearing makeup and dressed to the nines.

Aged eight, her mum flew her to Atlanta to audition for the Mickey Mouse Club. The producers thought she was too young, but they kept in touch. Her family moved to New York to try and launch her as a child actress. And she lived there for several years trying to make it, but she never did.

Family heavily in debt after trying to launch Britney as a child star.  Despite her winning roles in adverts. The family were forced to declare bankruptcy.

Age eleven, second audition for the Mickey Mouse Club saw her accepted. She landed lead roles beside Christine Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. A relationship developed with Timberlake, who had a similar career driven mom.

 Aged 15, returned to New York to try and find a career which involved singing in a band. First album (Baby One More Time) sold 25 million copies. Biggest album sales, by teenager, to date. She was marketed as a virginal teenage Lolita.

1999 top of the world. Breaks up with Timberlake 2002, after rumours she was cheating with her choreographer. (3 number 1 albums behind her). Britney’s parent’s divorce, two months later.

Courted controversy. MTV kiss with Madonna. Madonna took a piece of her, but no one talked about Britney’s performance after that, but her salaciousness. Her controversy. New Album, In the Zone.

Toxic 2004. Suddenly married childhood friend Jason Alexander (small-town boy). Marriage lasted 55 hours, before being annulled on the grounds of incompatibility. 3 Jan 2004.

Six months engaged to back-up dancer Kevin Federline. He had just split from his wife that had just given birth to their second child. Britney proposed to him. Married, Sept 2004. Britney announced she was taking a break from performing, possibly because she was pregnant.

Two weeks after the wedding, severed links with her mother and fired her manager.

2005 Greatest Hits and My Prerogative. Announced she was pregnant. Sean Preston Federline born. 6th September 2005, gave birth to her second son, Jaden James. November, filed for divorce.

Paparazzi turned on her because of her relationship with her children. She was selfish (not self-aware) they declared. More famous for her lifestyle than her career. Public far less forgiving when a women has children and they see pictures of her partying.

She courted the press, sleeping with one of the paparazzi. Being on camera is a drug. She lives for that attention (aged 25, 26, and 27). Out of control. Two tattoos, checked in and out of rehab twice. Shaved off her hair. Head-shaving picture went viral around the world. Went wild and partied on the LA nightclub scene. Her lifestyle became toxic. Late Sept 2007, charged with a hit and run incident she lost custody of her children.

Tony Baretto, ex-bodyguard declared. ‘I felt sorry for her as a parent.’

Taken to hospital (a few times) after, for example, locking herself in the toilet with her child. Her father stepped in. (Jamie Spears). 26-year-old singer again surrounded by paparazzi as she drove around LA.

Discharged herself from hospital. Eaten alive by her own celebrity.

Britney’s father her conservator. She could not manage her own affairs. Bipolar rumour?

2008 album. Blackout went to the top of the charts.  Circus, 2008 fastest selling album. Womanizer became number 1 in Billboard Charts. Everybody likes to see a comeback. As she approaches her 30th birthday.

Unbreakable is a calendar with windows. The viewer can have a look at Britney now and fresh-faced Britney. Her trajectory follows that of other Hollywood stars such as Judy Garland. She had no childhood. It was work, work and more work. Her self-image was tied in with being popular. Her success was tied in with being young and virginal. Something had to give and if she snapped any bubble-gum psychologist would be able make a case for whatever theory s/he was proposing. I’m no music fan. No Britney fan. If asked if I felt sorry for a multimillionaire my laugh would be so hollow it would most likely choke me. But, yeh, even on the meagre rations offered here, I feel sorry for the new Britney. Whether she should be free from the conservation order? I don’t care. The irony here is the stage mother that set her up, is out of the loop. Her father reaps what he has not sown; surely that’s a more accurate image of The American Dream?

A Star is Born

I watched this film the other night. The one with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. I hadn’t heard of Bradley Cooper and had to google him. Google is a neologism. A Star is Born has been around longer than something we feel about googled, it has been here forever,  but I was pretty pleased with myself, because I remembered the Judy Garland version and the name of her co-star, James Mason and the Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson versions.

I don’t think James Mason was asked to do anything more than be suave, Kris Kristofferson should have been obliged not to sing, but Bradley Cooper, if he wasn’t dubbed, got away with it here.

We all know the story of boy meets girl. One is on the rise, the other on the fall. A see-saw movement in which one star fades, another glows brighter. In A Star is Born women get the lead role. Men are chicklets there for their supposed good looks rather than any innate talent. Role reversal for Hollywood, or any pecker-wood in general.

Women who take the lead role tend to be the divas of their age and when they take on the role of Esther Blodget or the more modern versions and it seems to be the story of their lives. Not exactly beautiful, considered by many to be ugly. Garland had those soulful eyes that came alive when she sung. Streisand had that big hooter that through her face into shadow and a voice that worked out the secret of lyrics and music and what it was to be gloriously alive.  Lady Gaga can carry a tune and perhaps a bit more. Women singers, divas, are always more than the sum of their parts.

Lady Gaga and the scriptwriters make a joke of her supposed ugliness. Her character runs a finger from the tip of her forehead to her chin. She tells Bradley how when she auditioned or played open-mic gigs agents talked about her looks and not her voice.

Ironically, Bradley meets Lady Gaga singing in transvestite club in New York. He’s cruising in his limo, and bang, he needs a drink so badly his hands aren’t far from shaking from his wrists. All shook up.

Gaga makes him go gaga. You don’t often get to use lines like that. Gaga plays seductress, chanteuse, in spangled dress and little bird of Edith Piaff motif.    This is when the film could have got interesting. If Bradley had fallen for another guy it wouldn’t be A Star is Born but something else entirely. Certainly not box-office.

He’s in the up, she’s in the down position. He’s gaga for her. She’s gaga for him.

Bradley is the great star that gives Gaga her break. His fans are going wild and for encore he feeds them Gaga. She wows them, as we know she would. She’s Gaga.

She’s on the up, he’s on the down. He starts back on the drink, goes to AA camp, and she buys him a dog. Life’s kinda perfect in its imperfections a bit like that finger from forehead to chin. Only the last flickering of the light of stardom takes a bit of getting used to for a man. When Gaga offers him a hand, her manager shoves it away, tells Bradley, your day is done. A man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do.

Gaga goes gaga. Alright, I know I need to stop doing that. Inconsolable, Gaga’s still got her music and her dog. Happy ending of sorts. At least I didn’t have to listen to Kris Kristofferson trying to sing.  I do love divas, including Gaga. I’m currently in the down position, growing a beard and open to offers. If Kris Kristofferson can do it…

Susie Orbach (2016) In Therapy. How conversations with psychotherapist really work. Becky Walsh (2007) Advanced Psychic Development.

in therapy.jpg

adva.jpg

I read both of these books very quickly in one day. Years ago I tried bending spoons when Uri Geller was on telly. It didn’t work then. Let’s just say it wouldn’t work now. But good on him, I say, the multimillionaire got away with it. There’s that moment in Elmer Gantry when Burt Lancaster gets caught up in his own rhetoric, he convinces himself he’s not a fraud. So far, so human. The most dangerous type of human is the one that is never wrong We’ve got the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse as an ongoing exhibit.

Susie Orbach’s conversations are, as you’d expect, low key. She doesn’t claim any otherworldly powers, or perhaps she does, in our increasingly fraught world, she listens, really listens. She’s there in the moment. And she smiles. That’s important. Like Judy Garland clicking her heels three times in the The Wizard of Oz, Orbach smiles three times. Numerology is very powerful. If the analysand doesn’t smile back then she knows the relationship won’t work.

Becky Walsh tells her readers that ‘The word personality’ comes from the Greek word per-sona, meaning ‘through sound’, personality being the expression of ourselves through sound.

Sound is a form of energy and each of us is…well… you know and I know. Orbach goes for extended periods of silence. The client finds himself questioning, or interrogating his own questions and finds his real self.  I’m OK and You’re OK. I’ve always wanted to argue the point and say, Am I fuck OK.

Both practitioners do a different kind of cleansing before meeting new clients. The mind is fragile as falling stardust, but as strong as a planet and can create meaning from nothing. We get the archetypes for therapy from Walsh and not Orbach.

Walsh breaks it down better for us novice tea-spoon benders.

The non-sceptic, sceptic.

You will recognise this person from one of their first sentences: ‘I believe in what you people do.’

The blind believer.

A good question to ask is, What are you doing when you like yourself the most?

My friend was fooled, but I won’t be.

I come without a purpose, I just want to know what you see for me.

I want to know what the future holds for me. 

Orbach would, I’m sure, recognise these characteristics in her clients. Her four case studies of Richard and Louise, Jo, Helen and John, who declared he was in love with her, didn’t have the gizmos or psychic fireworks of Walsh, but really it’s all about love. Holding that moment up to the light and helping people into the light. It takes all kinds.

Orbach in her Afterword puts it this way:

Therapy, like any special work, can seem odd to the onlooker. It has been my aim as a psychotherapist when outside of the consulting room to show what is fascinating and potentially life changing about the process and apply the insight of therapy to the wider world.

Amen.