Red Lipstick Made Me a Criminal (and a few other fun facts about your favorite cosmetic)

By Heather Babcock, 2021

Red lipstick made me do it.

The sleek, white plastic tube of flame-orange wax called out to me from the bowels of the Zellers’ cosmetic aisle.

The year was 1988 and I was ten years old. At home, a large poster of Madonna, in character for Who’s That Girl (1987), hung over my bed: clad in fishnets, a leather jacket and fingerless gloves. More intimidating than the revolver in her hands was the stark red lipstick on her face. Fierce. Fabulous. I didn’t understand why the other girls at my school didn’t like her. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to wear lipstick too.

Every Saturday, my mother would go grocery shopping at the Kipling Queensway Mall and my dad would give my sister and I a dollar each to buy either trash or a treat at the mall’s dollar store or Zellers. But this Saturday, I didn’t feel like a chocolate bar or a bag of chips. I didn’t need another whoopee cushion or copy of Tiger Beat magazine.

I wanted that lipstick.

It didn’t matter that it cost a little more than the dollar my dad had given me. To my ten-year-old mind, that was an unfairness that could be easily corrected. And so, taking advantage of my then-mousy invisibility, I quietly slipped the coveted tube into the pocket of my Levi’s. I don’t remember feeling nervous or even giddy about it and I certainly didn’t feel guilty – that red lipstick belonged to me. It was mine. I did however make the colossal mistake of boasting to my sister about the steal, in proud whispers, on the ride home.

Hey Daaaa-dddd,” she called out smugly. “Heather stole a lipstick!

And so, before I knew it, I was back in the Zellers department store, handing over my swag and stammering out an apology to the bored teenage clerk whose only response to my foray into crime was a glassy-eyed shrug.

Continue reading “Red Lipstick Made Me a Criminal (and a few other fun facts about your favorite cosmetic)”

American Pop Culture Saves Democracy: The Phynx (1970)

You know that dream where you discover a room in your house that you never even knew existed? Well, imagine that room filled with various 1930’s movie stars (including Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Butterfly McQueen and Pat O’Brien to name just a few) as well as Joe Louis, Ed Sullivan, Dick Clark, Richard Pryor, Busby Berkeley, Rudy Vallee and Colonel Sanders (yes, THE real Colonel Sanders), serving up his famous buckets of fried chicken while a young Monkees-inspired rock band restores everyone’s faith in America.

No, this isn’t a dream. This is The Phynx (1970).

The Phynx (1970) has been called the “Holy Grail” of bad movies but it’s not bad at all – in fact, I’d argue that it’s actually pretty groovy. The film was released in May of 1970 but Warner Bros.-Seven Arts pulled the picture after only a few screenings. As it was shelved so quickly, no movie posters were created (hence the banner photo of my physical DVD of the film, in lieu of a proper poster image). It would languish in obscurity in the vaults for forty-two years before Warner Bros. finally released the film on DVD in 2012, as part of their manufactured-on-demand Archive Collection.

But why did Warner Bros. pull this movie when so many worse films have seen wide release? Why, some may ask, did Warner Bros. make the picture at all? Fifty-one years later and counting, the riddle of The Phynx remains unsolved.

Continue reading “American Pop Culture Saves Democracy: The Phynx (1970)”

The Classic and the ‘Trash-ic’: 42nd Street (1933) and Showgirls (1995)

One is a (seemingly) wholesome and widely beloved classic Warner Brothers’ movie musical, featuring visually dazzling song and dance numbers choreographed by the now-legendary Busby Berkeley. The other is a crass and tacky soft core MGM porn show whose title became a punch-line even before its release.

On closer inspection however, 42nd Street (1933) and Showgirls (1995) have a lot more in common than one may suspect. To paraphrase Truman Capote, it’s like the two movies grew up together in the same house and one day 42nd Street got up and strutted out the front door, while Showgirls sneaked out the back.

Although only one takes place in Vegas, both films were a gamble.

Continue reading “The Classic and the ‘Trash-ic’: 42nd Street (1933) and Showgirls (1995)”

Dames – Wiggles and Bates — TOpoet

I have been a huge fan of TOpoet for a long time now and I am so honored by this lovely and thoughtful review of Filthy Sugar. Please check out the wonderful and insightful blog TOpoet.ca for books & music reviews, poetry, photography and the serialization of TOpoet’s novel Picture Perfect.

Heather Babcock’s Filthy Sugar is a noir window into a Wanda Wiggle’s life in the 30s – the writing is rich in hard-boiled dialogue, descriptions & situations. Set in the Toronto sex-trade of the time it is refreshingly non-judgemental, funny & at times sexy. Wanda does sort of wander through what we se of her […]

Dames – Wiggles and Bates — TOpoet

From Dreams to Dust Part Two: Toronto’s Movie Theatres

August 31st will mark 124 years since the first “moving picture” was shown in Toronto. This fateful event took place at Robertson’s Musee, a venue located at the corner of Yonge and Adelaide Street East. Robertson’s Musee sounds like it was a pretty lively place: a circus, wax museum, zoo and curio shop all-in-one. The moving pictures, a brand new attraction, were projected by a Vitascope.

I learned this fact from reading Doug Taylor’s fascinating book Toronto Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen (The History Press, 2014). Full of interesting tidbits – did you know that the Cineplex Odeon Eaton Centre was the first movie theatre to offer buttered popcorn? – and gorgeous b&w photos of Toronto’s long forgotten movie palaces, Taylor’s book is a must for any Toronto film buff. Also enjoyable are Taylor’s own recollections of his movie-going experiences as a child and a teenager in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Reading Taylor’s book in 2020 is a rather bittersweet experience. When Toronto Theatres was published in 2014, many of Toronto’s movie houses were already nothing more than a memory, due in part to Netflix and other streaming and downloading services . Today, the few theatres that have survived are, thanks to Covid-19, in grave danger of becoming extinct.

Photo Caption: The Metro theatre opened in 1939, just before WW2. In 1978, the movie palace began showing soft-core “adult” films. The Metro closed its doors in 2013 and I managed to snap this photo of its marquee just before it came down in 2014. Today, the Metro is a rock climbing venue. (P.S. Isn’t my boyfriend cute?)

Taylor’s book has brought back movie-going memories of my own. The first film that I ever saw in a theatre was Gremlins (1984) at the Cineplex Eaton Centre. My sister had been so frightened by the scene where Spike (the leader of the Gremlins) leaps out of a Christmas tree that she jumped sky high out of her seat. “That’s it!” my exasperated father exclaimed. “We’re going home!”

I feigned annoyance at my sister for causing me to miss the rest of the movie but the truth was that I was petrified of the “little green monsters” too. For at least the next five years, I would sleep with the covers pulled tightly over my head so that the gremlins couldn’t get me.

Another cherished movie memory was seeing Jurassic Park at the Sherway Cineplex in 1993. If you were born after 1995, you probably won’t understand but at the time movie-goers had seen nothing like this: we were watching actual dinosaurs! Well, it felt like it anyway. I remember gaping at the screen, mouth open, in wonderment. It was magical and it was an experience that I shared with my best friend and a room full of popcorn munching strangers. Magical. Experience. You won’t get that sitting on your couch streaming Neflix.

Caption: Me attending The Toronto Silent Film Festival at the Fox theatre in February 2020 – also known as “the before times”. The Fox – originally known as the “Theatre with No Name” – opened on October 20, 1913.

It breaks my heart to think that future generations may miss out on this rite of passage. If you are concerned about the future of Toronto’s movie theatres, please visit Save Your Cinema.ca

What are some of your favorite movie memories?

Book Review: Filthy Sugar by Heather Babcock

Please check out Zoe Krainik’s wonderful review of Filthy Sugar on her fabulous blog “Hollywood Genes”.

Hollywood Genes

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Heather Babcock’s debut novel, Filthy Sugar, is a hot fudge sundae that doesn’t skimp on the cherries. Delicious and rich in detail, with a heroine to match, Filthy Sugar seamlessly incorporates the best parts of the naughty and rule breaking Pre-Code Hollywood film era with the author’s own flair for imagery and language.

Redhead Depression-era bombshell Wanda Whittle is straining in her corset to escape her limited rooming house existence in the slums behind the Market, where she lives with her world-weary mother and pro-union sister Evelyn.

While modeling fur coats in a department store, Wanda’s body positive confidence and zigzag curves make an impression on wealthy patron Mr. Manchester, the owner of the Apple Bottom burlesque theatre. A smitten Wanda accepts the job as a performer alongside peach scented cutie Lili Belle and smoldering sophisticate Queenie. Now dubbed Wanda Wiggles, she must navigate this sexy new world, where…

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St. Louis Blues (1929), Baby Face (1933) and the Desire of a Woman

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(Featured photo: the great Bessie Smith)

At the turn of the 20th century a woman, deserted by the man she loves, walks alone on the streets of St. Louis:

“My man’s got a heart like a rock cast in the sea…”

Musician and composer W.C. Handy, soon to be known as the Father of the Blues, hears her and, inspired by the poetry in her lonesome cry, writes a song: “Saint Louis Blues”. Originally published in 1914, “Saint Louis Blues” quickly became a smash hit; by the century’s end, Handy’s song had been covered by well over thirty noted musicians.

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(Above photo: W.C. Handy)

“Saint Louis Blues” is a staple of Pre-Code movies, which is where I first discovered it. It is employed as a plot device in the drama Rain (1932), in which Joan Crawford portrays a free spirited, hard loving prostitute who falls under the spell of a hypocrite bible thumping reformer. The song is also used prominently in Ladies They Talk About (1933), a sexy women’s prison film starring Barbara Stanwyck as a bank robber who falls in love with – you guessed it – the moral reformer who sent her to the slammer. Most famously recorded by the great Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong in 1925, “Saint Louis Blues” would become the theme song for the “bad good-girls” of Pre-Code film: misunderstood and abandoned women, whose sexual desire is at the root of their loneliness.

Continue reading “St. Louis Blues (1929), Baby Face (1933) and the Desire of a Woman”

Virtual Toronto Lit Up: Inanna’s Spring Releases

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On Thursday, June 18th at 5pm, Toronto Lit Up and Inanna Publications will be hosting a virtual book launch to celebrate Inanna’s Spring 2020 releases! I am so excited to be launching with these fabulous authors! Here are the details:

Join us for a virtual celebratory evening of readings and revelry featuring authors Heather Babcock (Filthy Sugar), Nina Munteanu (A Diary in the Age of Water), Ruth Panofsky (Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems) and Mary Rykov (some conditions apply). Books discounted for the event, author Q & A and more!

Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/toronto-lit-up-inanna-launch

 

The Parade’s Gone By (A Poem)

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The Parade’s Gone By

Miss Desmond, your boy was right:

The parade’s gone by,

I heard it’s moved online – 

A nice place to visit but 

I sure as hell don’t want to live

Where I can only touch

What I cannot feel. 

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” you cried,

But Norma, now that’s all we got:

Talking heads, ephemeral shadows

Locked behind a screen

And I can’t get a connection.

Yes Miss Desmond, the parade has indeed passed us by;

It’s been a week but I can still hear the stomping of the boots in my ears,

My hope waving good-bye to a tardy Santa Claus,

Collecting tinsel

I am forbidden to touch.

– Heather Babcock, March 2020

***

Note: This is not a political poem. I wrote this Sunday morning as a way to work through the anxiety and fear that I have been experiencing due to the Covid-19 shutdowns. I thought that Norma Desmond – the fictional silent film star from Sunset Boulevard (1950), a woman who is described by her younger lover as “waving to a parade that had long passed her by”- was a good symbol for the way that I am feeling right now. The difference is that Norma mourned the passing of silence while I miss the noise.

So very much. ❤