What’s On TV – The Great British Bake Off

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 183/501
Title: The Great British Bake Off
Episodes Aired: 64
Episodes Watched: 30
Year(s): 2010-
Country: UK

On paper this show should have been awful. A competitive baking competition between amateur bakers from around the UK. By no reckoning of the imagination should this have become the most watched show on British TV. Yet it did, and as a show it’s pretty damned magical.

I had resisted the world of Bake Off for many a year for one reason: it sounded lame. It wasn’t until a colleague of mine basically berated me for not watching it that I gave it a go. So an addiction was born and I have demolished Series 4, 6 and 7. Much like the cakes they are baking, this is a show that is hard to not finish once you have started it.

Now, by the time this post goes out a lot of the news items about Bake Off’s move away from the BBC will have died down. It’s more than a shame that this show has essentially been gutted, but we’ll just have to find that next piece of TV addiction.

Since I now have the TV podcast these particular write-ups are going to be brief.

Please tune in to the Just Watch It podcast and let us know what you think!

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/3cdiw-64084c

🎻♫♪ – Motets by Antoine Busnoys

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 11/501Title: Motets
Composer: Antoine Busnoys
Nationality: Netherlandish
Year:
 1400s

This is going to be a short one today, mainly because I completely lost all sense of time whilst listening to the recording of Busnoys work.

In a number of cases the losing of time is a positive thing. Like how you suddenly realise you are an hour into watching Gone With The Wind and remark how quickly time flew or how, when watching Beauty & The Beast, you get to 20 minutes in and are amazed at how much they have packed in.

No, with this I got to about an hour in (I was listening to this in the office) and thought I had looped around to the beginning again.

This is the problem with listening to a bunch of music intended for masses. I can’t imagine the masses of the 1400s being the liveliest or most varied of occasions when it comes to music. I get this. The thing is that when I was envisioning this list as an addition I didn’t realise the wealth of religious music (yes, I am that dumb apparently).

Next week I am jumping ahead to Chopin because of Your Lie In April. I need piano music now!

XL Popcorn – Limite

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 583/1007
Title: Limite
Director: Mário Peixoto
Year: 1931
Country: Brazil

‘Dreamlike’ is one of those film descriptions that is banded about rather frequently. Personally it’s a word that comes to mind as a way to describe silent movies  due to the absence of dialogue. If I had to describe why this is the case…it would be because, compared to real life, the rulebook they use is similar enough to be recognisable yet different enough to feel otherworldly.

Limite is one of the films, however, where dreamlike must be the intention of the director; author Mário Peixoto. Not only is it a silent film, but an experimental silent film. He plays with camera angles, shooting styles and negatives in a way that make ordinary shots of palm trees and dilapidated buildings feel alien.

The plot of the film, if you can call it that, is that we start with three people stuck on a boat. They seem hopelessly lost. The majority of the film is made up of seemingly non-sequential flashbacks to give us more of a backstory into the lives of these three people. One of them is a recent prison escapee, one is mourning the lose of their lover and the other… looking back on it I am not so sure.

Thing is, it doesn’t really matter how these three ended up on the boat. This almost feels secondary to this film and instead the focus is more on the shots than the people contained within the shots. As such I am not sure if this would have worked as well with actual dialogue. The (gorgeous) music is more than enough here.

Interesting to note that for a while Limite was a lost film. It is a film that managed to influence Orson Welles and had available prints for a few decades and then suddenly it was gone.

Luckily for all concerned this did not stay lost for long and there is a restored version that can be watched on YouTube. The more of these 1001 films I watch, the more I realise just how many of these works could have been lost forever. I’m still crossing my fingers that the 1926 Korean film Arirang can be found… but I think we might be out of luck there.

Good Eatin’ – Medlar Compote with Angel Layer Cake

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Medlar

There are many reasons why I settle for a non-fresh version of list fruit when doing this list. Cashew apples were perishable, quince is usually eaten as a paste or jelly and I had no idea what the Japanese for acerola was so juice drinks and sweets made sense.

For medlars… there is a tendency to eat them as they start to go putrid. There are good reasons to do this, don’t get me wrong, since it means the flesh starts to break down and become a whole lot sweeter and more gelatinous. Sounds nice until you realise that the window of opportunity between this and plain gone off isn’t too wide. Enter: medlar compote.

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Being a compote I knew I needed to eat this with cake; angel layer cake to be more specific. The compote itself was spiced, so the main things that came though were the sweetness of the fruit and the different mouthfeels of the flesh (springy and jellylike) and skin (thin, paper-like and flaky).

This went really well with the angel layer cake since the cake is only a light sponge with a hint of a vanilla flavour. Could I have just eaten the compote from the jar? Well yes but everything is so much more fun with colourful cake.

Progress: 559/751

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Shokugeki no Soma

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 15/100Title: Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars)
Episodes Aired: 24
Episodes Watched:
24
Year(s): 2015

Japan sure is a country that loves their food. I witnessed this first hand during my honeymoon and have become addicted to their amazing competitive cooking show Iron ChefI had not expected to see this love of food to cross-over into my anime list, but little did I know.

Competition is one of the main threads running through this anime and, as such, you can summarise the plot of Food Wars really easily – a boy who wants to take over the family restaurant and tries to gain his father’s approval by being the best student in the country’s top culinary school. True, being an anime this is no ordinary school, but one with cooking competitions between it’s members fought in the style of pistols at dawn. It is also pretty damned cutthroat – at one point we see a student being expelled for wearing hair gel with a citrus scent.

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Unlike any of the other shows I have watched so far for this list Food Wars engages in a large amount of ecchi (think of it like seeing softcore graphic content that is played up for laughs as well as fan service). It happened every now and then in Gintama as well as some other shonen animes I used to watch like The World God Only Knows. 

For Food Wars the ecchi content weirdly ties into the second of the two central themes of the series – a rapturous adoration of food. Everyone in this anime is passionate about food and these weird scenes are all related to how the characters envision the taste. Some of them are questionable (think tentacle porn…. and now stop thinking about tentacle porn), but they pretty much all played for laughs; somehow they actually succeed to do this once you get over the weirdness of it all and that this isn’t something just reserved for female characters.

milkshake

As much as I really enjoyed the wide range of characters (although some needed a lot more fleshing out) the thing that kept me watching was the food. The writer of this has clearly done a lot of research into so many different areas of the culinary arts. You just need to look at the characters of Alice (specialism: molecular gastronomy) and Hisako (specialism: medicinal cooking) to see some of the variations you get within the same episode.

A bad thing about this anime? You can’t watch Food Wars on an empty stomach. The food all looks so appetising that you can’t help but feel awkward about your own attempts at cookery. It makes me wish for an actual cookbook, but I’ll get by on watching YouTube videos where people try to make these dishes themselves. Who knows, I might try and make my own Gotcha Pork Roast soon.

Let’s Get Literal – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 35/100Title: The Diary of a Young Girl
Author: Anne Frank
Year: 1947
Country: The Netherlands

Right, so I am going to have to start off this write up with a sentence I thought I would never have to write: I am not a Holocaust denier. I am not entirely sure how or why Anne Frank’s diary ended up on this list of fictional books, but since I have been using this list for most of my blog I am keeping it until I finish it (heaven knows how long that will take seeing how I am unlikely to get a seat on my train into work for the next year).

One of the reasons that I chose to pick this up as my next read is because I am planning to visit the Anne Frank house when I am next in the Netherlands. After all, there are a few Dutch entries on the Lonely Planet list that I have yet to hit up. Last time we were in Amsterdam we were put off by the queues, but seeing how I have now read this and found out all about the Annex and the people that lived within it.

Reading this book was an odd experience to be honest. Every time I was parsing a sentence or a paragraph I kept having two concurrent thoughts: ‘this is someone’s life’ and ‘the more you read, the closer you get to her real life death’. I think I got to 85% when it suddenly dawned on me that within a few months this girl whose life I have been given such an insight into will be sent to death. If you think about it too long it’s horrifying.

For the diary of a young person this is remarkably coherent and she seems very aware during  the writing of it that it might be of some importance one day (little did she know, right?) What gets me, however, is a lot of the post-release reaction to it – and I am not talking about the reactions of Holocaust deniers.

The thing that keeps you reading this is the sheer honesty and humanity that you are reading. Anne is a teenage girl. This means she will talk about arguing with her mother, having her period and her feelings towards boys. She’s a teenager so this is par for the course.

So… how on earth can you think about censoring this to the point that children of Anne’s age would not be reading this? We live in the age of Snapchat and web porn. It is arguable that 14 year olds know far more about certain things that Anne would have back then. Yet we still have people getting angry about having this read in schools. Fine if they are younger than Anne (I can sympathise there).

However, if they are the same age or older? Let them read this and find something else to direct your anger at. If your 14 year old child has to learn about periods from the diary of a Jewish girl from the 1940s then there is something seriously wrong with your education system.

Acclaimed Albums – Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 122/250Title: Unknown Pleasures
Artist: Joy Division
Year: 1979
Position: #60

I cannot count how many times I have seen Unknown Pleasures’ cover art on a t-shirt.  It is easily one of the most iconic album covers ever made and I don’t know if it so eye-catching because of the use of negative space of because of the unusual design in the middle. Still, this cover would have not kept it’s fame if it were not for the contents of the album.

With Unknown Pleasures I find myself back in the post punk world that I last basked in during my listen of Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain. When I was in the world of Psychocandy I remarked on how I could see the progression between that album and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Having listened to to Unknown Pleasures I can extend that line of progression back even further.

Going into Unknown Pleasures the only prior experience I had of Joy Division was ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and the work of successor group New Order. As such, the fact that this was more Sonic Youth than Gary Numan took me a bit by surprise. In a good way though.

Honestly, this week I have been almost exclusively listening to the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend soundtrack and other songs by Rachel Bloom. If you haven’t watched it… well you need to watch it. I mention this because Unknown Pleasures kinda acted as my musical counter-balance this week.

For every song about heavy boobs and stealing pets that I was listening to this week there was the atmospheric guitars on this album on songs like ‘Interzone’ and ‘Disorder’. It made for a weird mix of music to do my job to… but it worked for me this week.

If it sounds like I am trying to make light of what is widely seen as one of the best debut albums of all time that is not my intent. Looking at this compared to some of the other hugely acclaimed debut albums like Is This It and Franz Ferdinand I can see how this would rank up there.

It feels like the work of a band that had been honing their sound for a very long time… but no Ian Curtis would have been about 21 when making this. So they were a young band making an album that was almost a reaction to punk. What was I doing at 21? Well, training to be a teacher and donating my ukulele to a charity shop. It really is an impressive work.

What’s On TV – Brideshead Revisited

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 182/501
Title: Brideshead Revisited
Episodes Aired: 11
Episodes Watched: 11
Year(s): 1981
Country: UK

It has been about 11 years since I read Brideshead Revisited. It was part of prep for my first term in sixth form and we had to read three things from a list – which meant I ended up reading The Bell Jar, The Colour Purple and, of course, Brideshead Revisited.

The way I tend to read means that, for most books, I forget most of the character names and events within a few months. This is not the best thing when you are studying for your English Literature A-Level and goes a long way to explain why my marks for Shakespeare and poetry were higher than that module I did where half was on Jane Austen’s Persuasion. 

I mention this because I was shocked at how much of this story I remembered. It’s a fairly simple plot line – man gets himself absorbed into the dealings of the aristocratic Flyte family where Catholicism and a rather famous teddy bear might be involved.

Evelyn Waugh’s book could not have been more faithfully adapted in this period drama by the people at ITV. To many this is seen as the gold standard of how to do an adaptation for TV (I would hold up Bleak House personally) and aside from a few slow passages I would find it hard to disagree.

The performances on all fronts are exemplory. There are some issues when it comes to age though. For characters like Charles and Cordelia this could not be helped as they need to span a large age range, but many of the university students are clearly in their 30s.

It’s hard not to single out Anthony Andrews’ performance of Sebastian. For a character that is absent from half the episodes he really is the one you end up remembering. He is able to somehow bridge the gap between the gaiety (in the old sense of the word) and the tragic.

However, I want to focus on Diana Quick as Julia. This is the hardest role of all to play because she somehow has to be, almost be Sebastian in female form (in looks and partially in personality). She looks nothing like Anthony Andrews so she has to let her acting speak for itself. No easy task and she does it really well.

Claire Bloom too as Lady Marchmain was brilliant as were Jeremy Irons, Laurence Olivier and Phoebe Nicholls. I could go on and on (as you can guess), but I’ll leave the rest to the podcast:

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/25sik-63d149

Please leave comments or get into contact with your thoughts.

Around The World In 100 Films – Ukraine

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 43/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 582/1007
Title: Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors)
Director: Sergei Parajanov
Year: 1965
Country: Ukraine (Former USSR)

I know that this is the third film from the USSR that I have linked to a different country for the sake of my Movies from 100 Nations thing. Bit of a cheat really. Then again UNESCO refer to this film as being Ukrainian so who am I to argue?

Honestly, this film is very much a Ukrainian film other than the Tblisi-born director. The language is Ukrainian, it’s set in Ukraine, a seemingly large majority of the cast and crew are from Ukraine and it is filmed in Ukraine. So yes, this is very much a Ukrainian affair.

As with the other Sergei Parajanov film that I have seen (Sayat-Nova) the cinematic language on offer in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors feels incredibly alien. This is where the problem is for me – in between horn blares and mobile camerawork there were time where I found it hard to hard to make head or tails of the film. In that way it was also rather similar to Red Psalm

The basic storyline (thanks Wikipedia) is interesting enough; especially that ending where Ivan is killed by the phantom of his lost love as conjured by a sorcerer (not the weirdest sentence I’ve written today).  However, even with Wikipedia and subtitles this was hard to follow. Now pair this up with camerawork that made me feel a bit seasick and those blasted horns… well let’s just say I didn’t like this film much at all.

That’s the way it goes with these lists, you can’t get a home run every time.

XL Popcorn – Splendor In The Grass

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 581/1007
Title: Splendor In The Grass
Director: Elia Kazan
Year: 1961
Country: USA

It has been an awfully long time since I last saw an Elia Kazan movie: a few months before starting this blog to be exact when I saw his Best Picture winning film Gentleman’s Agreement. 

To many Elia Kazan is known as an ‘actor’s director’ as he was able to produce films with a whacking 21 Oscar nominations for acting with 7 of them resulting in wins. Three of these came from his adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire – including a well deserved win for Vivian Leigh in the role of Blanche DuBois.

Now, Splendor in the Grass is not a movie that could have been made in the throes of the Hays Code. There are still remnants of it here with nothing too explicit being shown. The obvious example of this being the lack of a scene showing one of the characters throwing themselves out of a window – instead we just see his body laying on the floor as discovered by police.

Still, how could you do a mainstream film about sexual repression under the restrictions of the Hays Code? Well you could, just not as good as this one. Similarly this is a film that could only have come to pass with the accepted ‘rise of the teenager’ as, in the end, this is a film about a boy and a girl having to deal with the sexual repression enforced by their parents.

The real centre of this film is Deanie (Natalie Wood) who has to deal with the pull of her urges against the near constant lectures by her mother into being a ‘good girl’. As you would expect, this causes a great deal of friction with her steady boyfriend Bud (Warren Beatty in his cinematic debut) who is desperate to get his release.

Bud has his own deal of issues with his father thrusting unrealistic expectations in his direction after the fall (and recent abortion) of his sister. It’s in this part of the film where the, still existing, double standard of expectations happens. Bud is expected to find that type of girl who will have sex with him (as that is all normal), but his sister is shunned because she is that type of girl.

In spite of all this Deanie stays virginal… and of course ends up being broken up with. The resulting scene of her yelling at her mother whilst in the bath (yes it’s as weird as that sounds) is amazing to watch. The only other film that I had seen Natalie Wood in was West Side Story and I wasn’t too taken with that… but she is absolutely magnificent in Splendor in the Grass.

Considering how high school movies have evolved in the last 30 years it’s gratifying to see that this is a film that has aged very well. Granted a lot of that is due to being set in the late 1920s, but with stellar performances by the central cast I think this is something that could still be watched by young adults nowadays despite us being a long time after the sexual revolution of the 1960s.