Saturday, 1 May 2010

Bette's BlooLips

Often, avant-garde theatre and performance doesn't receive the attention it deserves - and I'm talking about myself as much as anyone else. The nature of performance art is that it only happens once (or for a finite period of time) and if you snooze, you lose. There's something about the spontaneity of the form, though, that affords it a unique place in the arts. It happens in the zeitgeist of the moment, and it doesn't stick around to become institutionalised.

I was doing some research on the early days of the Gay Liberation Front earlier today, and came across the figure of Bette Bourne (left), who - aside from being a glamourpuss to rival Lady Crisp - was instrumental in the GLF activism of the early 70s.

In 1971, the Church organised a morality campaign called the Festival of Light, supported by the grotesque bedfellows of Mary Whitehouse and Cliff Richard. The Festival of Light preached of the vast moral evil that existed in the society of the time, which included extra-marital sex, abortion, and 'gay lifestyles'. For their protest at the launch of this campaign, Bette Bourne and the GLF introduced a new style of political campaigning, called 'protest as performance':
"Mice were released into the audience; lesbian couples stood up and passionately embraced. A dozen GLF nuns in immaculate blue and white habits charged the platform shouting gay liberation slogans, and a GLF bishop began preaching an impromptu sermon which urged people to 'keep on sinning.'"
Peter Tatchell - 'IDEALISM, PRIDE &ANGER: The Beginnings Of Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Britain'

Bette was an actor (darling) first and foremost, and post-GLF she formed a theatre troupe called BlooLips. BlooLips toured the UK and Europe through the '80s and early '90s performing spectacles of excess with tempting titles such as Look Back in Angora and Lust In Space. I was thrilled to stumble across a short documentary about BlooLips by Michael Kasino, which is embedded below for your viewing pleasure. It's funny, warm-hearted, and genuinely worth a watch. The scene from Get Hur with a ukulele/kazoo band used as torture had me in hysterics - which no doubt is related to my past co-habitation with two uke-enthusiasts (I'm sorry Jess and Victoria, but it really did drive me up the wall).

Bette's activist mentality is out in force, too. Near the end of the documentary she sneers - totally deadpan - 'Thank goodness we're finished now, we can go on holiday. I live for holidays.'

Get Hur, indeed!

Sure, I've no doubt that you really had to be there to experience Bette's 'protest as performance' - and given a time machine, the first thing I'd do would be to don a nun's habit and get my ass down to the Festival of Light in 1971 to preach on the pleasures of 'sinning'. In the absence of such technologies, however, I can be grateful for the existence of this footage of Bette and the BlooLips, and be inspired by her voracity and dedication to fighting the good fight.

'BlooLips' 1993 from Michael Kasino on Vimeo.

For more Bette, check out her interview in The Times from earlier this year!

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