The ugly sisters from Cinderella. Photo: Kitty Hill
In spite of its promising, even titillating title, there are more guilty pleasures to be found in my copy of the Anglican Hymn Book than in Renee Fleming's new CD Guilty Pleasures.
The lovely diva - one of the best-loved soprano of our times - is there on the cover with an expression on her smiling face that hints at the temptations of tempters as powerful as, say, onanism, chocolate, pornography or malicious gossip. But the CD turns out to be just a collection of personal, bite-sized musical favourites, mostly composed by well-known and well-loved composers (Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Wagner, Rachmaninov, Canteloube, Delibes and Massenet all get guernseys) she has long wanted to record. Quite what guilt has to do with this is not clear. There's nothing on the CD by Neil Diamond or Barry Manilow.
This seems a shame because everyone who knows and cares about fine music (as Fleming, a star of opera and oratorio, certainly does) really, surely does have guilty musical pleasures. One had looked forward to this being a CD of items she knew in her heart to be rubbish but that she is always finding herself singing, whistling, humming to herself when, with better morals and better powers to resist temptation, she'd be singing, whistling and humming some Bach or some Handel instead. A diva's collection of awful, but for her irresistible, music would be fun. It would have appeal for all those of us (most of mankind, surely) used to the daily struggle with our shallower, cheaper, nastier sides.
Michael Caine in a scene from the movie Zulu. Photo: Supplied
My own guilty musical pleasures really are worth feeling guilty about. I do know what is fine music and what is tripe, and for the most part Good Ian stays, sincerely, appreciatively, fulfillingly with fine things.
Good Ian loves and admires the best possible serious symphonic performance of Jean Sibelius' famous Finlandia, Bad Ian is also keen on some sinfully bad versions of it.
He, Bad Ian, goes on YouTube to enjoy a bad, Welsh version of Finlandia in which a Welsh tenor and a Welsh choir tackle the hymn-like passage in Welsh, singing about Welsh things. The Welsh should be ashamed of themselves for doing this. But, then, megashame on Bad Ian that he enjoys the pornographically syrupy Welsh version and goes skulking on YouTube to enjoy it. It is a guilty pleasure.
Cast members including Oliver Twist (Ben Burgess), centre left, and The Artfull Dodger (Jack Taylor), centre right, during a scene. Photo: Graham Tidy
The blog The Punch recently ran Crappest 100: The Worst Songs Of All Time (Punch invited 10 opinionated writers to list the 10 songs they most despised). Lots of the chosen Crappest 100 are favourites of Bad, Weak Ian. Listening to them (often in the secret, sinful privacy of motor-car journeys) is a guilty pleasure.
The Punch judges were very discerning and, as well as some shockers that aren't very catchy and so pose less threat (The Whitlams' There's No Aphrodisiac Like Loneliness was one such horror), the chosen crappest included many that have infectious catchiness as part of their toxicity.
They included Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water, John Lennon's Imagine, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's Ebony and Ivory, Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, John Farnham's Sadie The Cleaning Lady, Aqua's Barbie Girl (one of Bad Ian's all-time favourites), Paul McCartney's Mull of Kintyre, Barry Manilow's Copacabana, Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline, Don McLean's dreadful American Pie and, of course, on almost every judge's list of 10 and constantly going round in Bad Ian's head, Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart.
Guilty pleasures. Photo: Denis Aglichev
Also up there, for the Punch judges and for Bad Ian, singing them to himself when there's no one to hear, was almost everything by Bryan Adams and the Spice Girls and, of course, Rod Stewart's Sailing (which one scathing Punch judge said makes the discerning listener seasick) and Nikki Webster's literally pornographic Strawberry Kisses.
These are the sorts of achy-breaky heartbreakingly bad but catchy things, some of which Fleming's fine musical memory must be victim to, that would have made for a more honest Guilty Pleasures album from her.
Sometimes you need a sweet moscato rather than an expensive glass of red. Photo: Supplied
Meanwhile our critics confess ...
I'm what's generally referred to as a "reader", which is an all-embracing term that really just means "bookworm", which is really just a nice way of calling someone a nerd. Guilty as charged, and, even worse, I quite like a hearty, good-for-the-soul classic. I actually adored Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, and how many people can say that truthfully? But, if we're being truthful, my guiltiest pleasure is crime fiction. The really ridiculous, graphic, gritty stuff, by people like Patricia Cornwall or Minette Walters. The kind where dead bodies turn up in odd public places, and are then described in relentless detail. And then cut open. Or exhumed. Or, the books that have such ridiculous plot twists that I just give in and turn the pages. I mean, really - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a great book. But I loved it, and at the end, I felt like I'd just binged on McDonald's.
Paris Hilton is shown in a scene from Warner Brothers remake of House of Wax in this undated publicity photo. Photo: Supplied
I am fascinated by the cross-dressed, panto-style characters who populate some well-known ballets.
I mean characters such as the Ugly Sisters in old versions of Cinderella and Gamache, the fop in Don Quixote, who is not exactly cross-dressed but might as well be. I find them thoroughly irritating, especially when they are overplayed to the hilt, as they always are. But there is nevertheless something fascinating in watching grown men, often fabulous dancers, disporting themselves in this way. I always moan about them in reviews but continue to be fascinated. After all, my first professional stage experience was in pantomime!
Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in the film adaptation of Pygmalion; My Fair Lady. Photo: Supplied
You should imagine that loving movies, generally, is an important mind-set for a film critic to have, but my guilty pleasure is bad movies. I love Meryl, Dame Judi and Dame Maggie, sure, but give me the wooden, immobile face of Paris Hilton in House of Wax and I'm in paroxysms. It can take me a few hours to carefully deconstruct my thoughts on the mis-en-scene of a Ken Loach or a Steven Soderbergh, but give me The Three Stooges movie and I'll have my review written in minutes, there's just so much delightful nothing to chew on. A really good bad movie gives you that warm feeling of intellectual superiority you don't get from Spike Jonze or Lars von Trier.
It was many years ago when I was staying in East Village in Manhattan that I picked up one of my guilty little pleasures, one which has remained with me for life. It was winter and I was staying at a very cheap place where the heating came on only in the evenings. I took to getting up early and going to a warm coffee shop around the corner just as it was opening about 6 am. Although quite often it appeared that I was the first customer through its doors, someone had always been in before me and scattered on the tables little folded photocopied leaflets which contained a fairly crude, very personal poem with an even cruder illustration. This was my first encounter with zines, a democratic street art with an outpouring of confessional emotions, bizarre fantasies, angst, paranoia, an obsession with all conspiracy theories, plus a wonderful dose of warm humour, passion and a joy in simply being human. Subsequently I have become a zine addict. At home, when no one is watching, I surround myself with zines from all over the world. You don't collect zines - they find you - they know where you live. Although frowned upon by many in the world of high art, my life would be so much poorer without the latest instalment from the Toadstool Princess or the most recent anthology from Plastic Knife.
Food and Wine Editor
This is something no food and wine editor with a reputation and career path to protect should admit to, but here goes. When it comes to wine, I'd pour champagne every time. I like bubbly wine, because it's easy to drink and possibly also because it goes straight to the head. Worse still, I look for low-alcohol, which inevitably means sweet (if they find a way to make decent low-alcohol sparklings, I'll be their biggest customer). Embarrassingly, with a bottle of Clonakilla shiraz viognier in my possession and open this week, and remembering this is one of Australia's top handful of red wines with a price tag of $90, I have been leaving the red to the bloke and drinking moscato each night. Not only is moscato pretty sweet, it's also got a raspberry soft drink edge to it. Did I just say that out loud?
My guilty pleasure - if no one is around - is to watch a classic British war movie in the middle of the day on a lazy weekend. Think The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu, The Dam Busters or Where Eagles Dare. Big screen, surround sound up loud, and a huge block of chocolate. Nothing like regression to the age of 11, when the world seemed simple, I was convinced that Britain ruled the waves, and decent chaps did whatever they could for their country.
I love a sous-vide 60-degree egg as much as the next food wanker but I also love an Oreo McFlurry at 2am after a night of smashing the moscato (see Kirsten Lawson's entry). Other special terrible pleasures are the satisfyingly plastic orange square of melted cheese on a bad burger, and eating hundreds of tiny Malaysian biscuits made of flaky pastry, mung beans and fried onions.
On the rare occasions when I have the house to myself, this is the opportunity to select a recording of one of my favourite musicals and sing along: Every part of course - every solo, all the choruses and the orchestral riffs where possible. My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Half A Sixpence - the shows we performed in high school, which are etched indelibly in my memory. Performance involves selecting a record - remember those 12-inch black discs with grooves? Which means exercising special care so as not to bump the needle when leaping from sofa to arm chair while re-enacting sequences such as the indoor and outdoor action of Who Will Buy from Oliver!. It's hard work switching from rose-seller to milkmaid, to knife grinder and singing Oliver's solos as well, but it's immensely rewarding. And the support cast never misses a beat!
What's your guilty pleasure? Add your comment below or tweet us @canberratimes.