XL Popcorn – The Wages of Fear

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 600/1007
Title: The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur)
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Year: 1953
Country: France

It really has been a long time since I last watched a French film. I think I was beginning to have a crisis of faith after a bunch of them left me cold. But with so many French films left to watch I thought I figured that it would be best to jump feet first into one of the most acclaimed French films I had yet to watch.

Going into The Wages of Fear I had no idea what to expect. Arguably you could be about half an hour into this film and still not guess how the majority of this film was going to go. That is the strange genius of the opening act – it sets the scene perfectly and, unless you read up on it, you have no idea what’s to come.

At the beginning we find ourselves in an unidentified South American town populated by locals and a substantial community of expats (including Americans, Brits, Germans and the French). Pretty much all the foreigners are trapped in this town (which I assumed was meant to be in Venezuela or Colombia) because it is way too expensive to leave.

It is this feeling of entrapment that explains why any of them would volunteer to take on the job of driving a truck containing material so volatile that a slight knock can make it explode. These are men who are so so desperate that no matter how this job goes this provides them with a way out of this dead end town.

The tension that is maintained through over an hour of driving through poorly maintained roads, pools of slick oil and other obstacles is impressive. Like, incredibly impressive. At any point in watching this sequence you are legitimately unsure of whether the next bump they hit will be their deaths.

This is why the first 30-45 minutes of the film is so important – you need to get to know, care and understand the plight of these drivers. Why are they so willing to trade their lives at a shot at $2000 and why should we care whether they live or die; two questions that need to be answered to make this a great movie, and they are answered brilliantly.

To say that The Wages of Fear has completely restored my faith in French-language cinema is an understatement. This film is an absolute triumph and I am really looking forward to watching this director’s other entry on the list: Les Diaboliques. That probably won’t be for a while though, but I might be tempted to stick around in France for a while.


1001 Songs – 1968: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) – James Brown

Compared to the previous James Brown I listened to – where I was unable to get SNL’s Kenan Thompson out of my head – this song actually had a bit more meat to it. I mean we are talking about a time where racism was more prevalent (it’s still pretty prevalent, but you know what I mean) and the Black Power movement was still gaining traction. So a song like this about black Americans being abused by the police became a powerful song to use.

My main problem is still this: this song is incredibly repetitive. It works a bit more here as a protest song, but he does this in other songs so I am not sure how much of a point there was to that as it feels generally improvised.

Hard to Handle – Otis Redding

Here is a song that something more to it. I know this is more soul and James Brown is funk, but this actually has a changing structure and recognisable parts. It’s actually been a while since I last listened to an Otis Redding album and I was reminded of why I enjoyed it.

I think it goes to show that, at this point in time, I like soul a lot more than funk.

A minha menina – Os Mutantes

Okay now for something unlike anything I have heard on this songs list. I enjoy it when random acts of fusion begin to happen as the next round of musicians start to take on the work of other cultures. Here we have the more traditional Brazilian bossa nova music combined with the psychedelic rock that was coming out of the US and the UK.

What you have when these are mixed is something completely new and would form significant part of Brazilian cultural identity in the late 1960s and beyond: Tropicália. It’s fresh, it’s different and it’s something that could only come out of a country of such contrasting cultures as those found in Brazil. I hope a few more of these songs turn up along the way.

Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

Okay so we have two songs in a row that have fused rock music with Latin American influences – in this instance the samba. I mentioned two years ago about how much Beggar’s Banquet (the album where this song acts as an opener) left me cold. I even signalled out ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ as a song that did nothing for me.

Here we are two years later and I am able to enjoy this song more. I love how the upbeat samba forms a strange contrast with the satanic lyrics. The thing that gets me is just how highly this is rated on best song lists. It’s fine, it’s fun and it’s very repetitive. Listening to it makes me wonder just how many times they are going ‘woo woo’ in the background. I feel like I am in the minority when it comes to rock music, but that’s okay.

Pressure Drop – Toots & The Maytals

You know that scene in Spongebob where Patrick dreams of riding a coin-operated horse and he is moving up and down in the same repeated fashion? That’s reggae music to me.

I have to admit that ‘Pressure Drop’ is better than most of the reggae music I have heard. The upped tempo instantly makes this better than ‘Israelites‘ and any of the Bob Marley that I’ve listened to so far. The song itself is about weather pressure as a metaphor for karma, which I did not get but can appreciate the poetic choice of.

Cyprus Avenue – Van Morrison

Wow it has been years since I listened to Astral Weeks for my album list. It’s one of those albums where it’s difficult to choose a specific cut because it’s all meant to be listened to together as a song cycle. Still, if a song had to be picked it makes sense that it’s ‘Cyprus Avenue’.

There is an awful lot going on in this song. You have Van Morrison singing about his younger years in Belfast (where Cyprus Avenue is a street) with strings, a guitar and a harpsichord playing over and underneath him. It is whistful, sentimental and dreamy all at the same time – but should not be listened to by itself. This song belongs in the heard of Astral Weeks and just gets cut off at the end as it starts to pick up the pace.

Hey Jude – The Beatles

So here we are at the end of an era – the final Beatles song on the 1001 list and it’s arguably one of their biggest ones. The genesis of this song is a actually quite weird (but sweet). Paul McCartney writing this to comfort John Lennon’s son in the wake of John Lennon’s divorce from his first wive as caused by his affair with Yoko Ono.

Pretty much everyone in the UK will know this song and have quite possibly sung to the fade out. I have talked about repetition a lot in this section of 1968 (or at least it feels like I have) and here we have an example that works. For the final 4 minutes the lyrics and the basic instrumentation are the same, but they play with it every now and then. Also, the reason behind it as a song to cheer up Julian Lennon just brings a smile to your face. I have to hand it to Paul McCartney here – he done good.

Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Okay so I was expecting to find out that the Rogue Traders song had taken a sample from this or something. Not the case sadly as that would have been this little except written up for me right away.

‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ acts as the closing song of Electric Ladyland – the final album that Jimi Hendrix released when he was alive. It revisits and expands on some of the musical themes that came up in ‘Voodoo Chile’, which was a track on the same album.

For me this track continues to support the image of how amazing a guitarist Jimi Hendrix was. He is lauded for a reason and this song just shows why. The waste. The sheer unadulterated waste.

The Pusher – Steppenwolf

The single that Steppenwolf released before this was biker themed anthem ‘Born to be Wild’, so it’s interesting that the list instead went for this one about a drug dealer. Taking the subject matter onboard I cannot say I disagree with that decision. I mean, sure, this isn’t the more famous song, but the way that this song chooses to tackle the war on drugs is interesting.

It takes the stance that a lot have people still take nowadays – that there is a difference between hard drugs like heroin (sold by the pusher) and softer drugs like grass (sold by the dealer). Of course we’re only now getting into the position where this separation is being reflected in politics, but it’s interesting to see that 50+ years ago we were already having this conversation.

The Weight – The Band

Okay so this is where the folk-country part of my music taste wants to come out and make itself known. I really enjoyed this song goes honky-tonk as it hits the chorus line with it’s chunky piani line and singalong lyrics.

Speaking of honky-tonk, I can see this as being one of those great drinking songs that can get a rise out of many a drunk as they start to slip into unconciousness. It feels like one of those comfortable songs that we all know even if we’ve never heard it before.

Days – The Kinks

How do I know this song? Seriously, can someone please tell me as this song was immediately recognisable to me and I have no idea from where. I don’t think it’s like ‘The Weight’ where I feel like I have gotten to know this as part of the collective subconscious, I know I have heard this somewhere and it is really bugging me. Yes, this is a bit of a weird note to end on. It’s a really nice song, but I wish we’d ended with The Band.

Progress: 268/1021

Good Eatin’ – Gillardeau Oyster and Morteau Sausage

So it appears that I am going through a bit of a renaissance of food in the last few weeks. The reason? Well, I’ve had a few weeks of breathing space at work after some crazy months. It’s set to start up again, but this has meant that I have been going far more on the offensive for tracking foods down.

Still, the two in today’s post were unexpected and only found because I know this list so well and because I was on a trip to Borough to get some nice produce. And leberkase. I love leberkase way too much.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

Food item: Speciale Gillardeau

Right, so I have known about the oyster stands at Borough for years. However, this was the first time that I actually saw people walking around eating them. Some of them were these absolutely massive hulking oysters. I am not kidding, I had never realised oysters could be so big.

So I got curious and went to the stand with the massive oysters and there they were: Gillardeau oysters. £3 each. Bargain really. Especially when you think of how ritzy it is to eat an oyster raw with a splash of Tabasco (instead of the deep-fried oysters from Hiroshima).

This was the first time I’ve ever eaten an oyster like this and I expected to be grossed out by it. The fact that I wasn’t and instantly wished that I was in possession of another oyster is a testament to the Gillardeau oyster I was privileged to nosh on. Well not so much nosh, but chew and let slide down my throat. Salty and delicious, I think this might have started something for future oyster eating.

Food item: Jesus De Morteau

Okay so this is one I probably could have found earlier, but it’s just that I’d never visited this particular stand before. It’s a place with the large signs advertising duck confit legs so I figured that was all they did. Oh no, they did a whole bunch of other French things, including this sausage that I hadn’t even found online yet.

So, how was this holy sausage? Well it was insanely smokey. It reminded me a lot of that list sausage I had in Lisbon. However, rather than being mushy on the inside, it was incredibly firm.

The Morteau sausage had a strong taste of wood smoke that stays with you a long time after you have swallowed. There was a spiciness to the sausage, but that was overpowered by the smokiness. Honestly, it tasted better with a good piece of bread underneath it to cut through the fat and smoke compliment the fat/smoke content.

Not the best sausage I’ve ever had. For the same money I would rather have another one of those oysters. Man, that was a good oyster.

Progress: 644/751

XL Popcorn – The Travelling Players

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 599/1007
Title: The Travelling Players
Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Year: 1975
Country: Greece

Since I am getting close to the next landmark number in my watching of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and I decided to try and watch a landmark in Greek cinema. At least, I am getting close to 600 as I am writing this in late April. Since the list will likely have been updated by the time this post goes up I can only hope I remain in a similar position.

With a runtime of nearly 4 hours The Travelling Players is one of the longest single films on the 1001 list and is arguably the most acclaimed film to come out of Greece. And yet the entire film left me fairly cold.

Looking at the synopsis of the film it would appear that The Travelling Players should have really appealed to me. A combination of The Band’s Visit and a film depicting the history of Greece between 1939 and 1952. However, as an outsider who knows little to nothing about mid-20th century Greek history it was not entirely accessible.

For the first part who are these travelling players? Sure, they are a performing troupe who tour Greece and we see a lot of these events happening around them and sometimes it effects them personally. The problem is that it took a very long time for there to be any way to try and discern between the members. By the time that happened I was bored with this film and it just lost me.

What also didn’t help, and I know this is a me thing, was the incredible amount of long shots (with the average shot in this film being 2-3 minutes) and a very small amount of closer shots – it just felt (at least to me) that a substantial part of the human equation in a story like this was missing. Considering part of The Travelling Players is during Nazi occupation that surely is a negative.

Then again, critics loved this. I have obviously missed something here. You can’t like everything that critics like, otherwise there would be no difference in film taste.

🎻♫♪ – Motets by Nicolas Gombert

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
 21/501Title: Motets
Composer: Nicolas Gombert
Nationality: Franco-Flemish

Excuse me, but I think I’m suffering from a bout of motet blindness. I think I am getting to the point with this classical list that I am starting to find it difficult to tell some of these earlier pieces apart. This isn’t a slight at any of the performers whose recordings of these pieces I have heard up to this point.

The thing is – when you have this sort of choral music it can be hard to distinguish between composers if months have passed between pieces. What I can tell from listening to Nicolas Gombert in isolation is that these motets are an example of polyphonic choral music – something that we didn’t have in some of the earlier pieces of music.

Other than that I’m out. The problem with this in particular is that there didn’t necessarily feel as if there was any underlying story or throughline for each of the motets. It just felt like voices coming in, choosing whether to harmonize or not.

Hey ho, as with 1001 it isn’t a guarantee that you’ll like all the stuff that’s early in the chronology. It just helps with that overall learning experience.

Good Eatin’ – Slow Cooked Ox Cheek

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Food item: Ox Cheek

Look at that price tag on this hunk of meat. £1.77 for one portion! When I think of how much I spent on other meats it gives me hope that there are still things to cover that won’t break the bank or require international travel (like the Yellow Oil Crab which is only available in Hong Kong… in June).

In it’s raw state ox cheek is actually quite horrible. As a rule raw meat doesn’t smell great because, you know, it’s dead animal flesh – but ox cheek is something else. I was feeling a bit ill as I was preparing this anyway, but the smell of frying ox cheek is the reason all kitchens need windows.

Because of the type of tough muscle ox cheek is – the only way to properly cook this is to cook is on a low heat for a long time. So I found this recipe and got out the slow cooker for the first time in well over a year.

Whilst the smell of the ox cheek frying was disgusting as it fried, the slow cooker smelled glorious. Although, that would probably be down to the red wine, redcurrant jelly and parsnips. Yes, it was down to that. No question.

Upon removal of the slow cooker it was surprising to see how the ox cheeks had shrunk. I am guessing that was because of all the fat melting into the gravy which left the meat with an almost gelatinous texture. The cheek itself tasted very beefy, but I honestly found myself enjoying the gravy and vegetables a bit more than the meat itself.

Progress: 642/751

What’s On TV – Nip/Tuck

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 191/501
Title: Nip/Tuck
Episodes Aired: 100
Year(s): 2003-2010
Country: USA

After something as serious as City of Men it was nice to move onto something a bit more frivolous. I had actually seen a few episodes of this before giving this a proper watch; so I was pretty pleased when we picked this out of our TV show bucket. I then remembered the hub’s aversion to blood…

For the uninitiated – Nip/Tuck follows the work and personal lives of Sean McNamara and Christian Troy, two plastic surgeons based out of Miami (LA in later seasons). Each episode is named after the main patient of the week, but usually this is only the B or C storyline. Most of the actual drama is about the personal lives of these surgeons.

As this is a Ryan Murphy drama there is that hint of campness to Nip/Tuck. Not a criticism, especially since I adored Feud, but it does mean that everything in this show is just that bit more heightened. Then again, that’s one of the things that helps to make this such a compelling watch. That and the fact that everyone in this show is essentially messed up. Apart from Liz, who is awesome.

With so many messed up individuals sailing through each episode Nip/Tuck has a number of pitfalls that it can fall victim to. At times there are storylines that can come across as heavy handed. Also there are some characters, like Gina, who can be played so broadly at times that they are just off-putting. However, for the most part, Nip/Tuck manages to tell interesting stories of damaged people.

I know that the hub is slightly relieved to us having stopped watching this show. During the surgery scenes I would look over to see him covering his eyes or desperately trying not to make eye contact with a giant boil that is being lanced. For me, I am keen to keep going with this – after all I need to find out who The Carver is.

Good Eatin’ – Why Not Pastırma?

So, the shop where I bought the black limes has recently had a facelift. As in a complete change in ownership that actually makes me feel okay browsing without buying anything. It’s one of the benefits of living in an area of London with a decent amount of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Turkey.

I chickened out on buying a pack of smoked pigs feet (because what do you do with those?), but I did manage to buy something else list-worthy.

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

Looking at the packet you would be excused for thinking that this is just pastrami with a different name. Well, pastirma came first and, unlike pastrami which is cured in a brine, this is dry-cured. I think that’s the main difference? Well that and the spiciness.

Overall it is pastrami-ish, but I would also like to bring up  bunderfleisch, carpaccio and bresaola as other flavour touchstones. I mean, all of these are types of dried meat (usually beef) done in different areas of Europe and Turkey and all of them keep some of the flavour of raw beef that is lost during the cooking process.

So essentially this is Turkish carpaccio, and I am totally onboard with that as a concept. Especially with the notes of paprika and cumin you get from the meat.

Now, let’s cross some flavour borders here. I recently bought some more of the gorgeous Échiré butter to test the theory that spring butter tastes better than winter butter. Well I could tell no difference, but it was still the best butter ever. Anyway – pastirma paired with salted Échiré butter is how to take two good things and make something even better. Remy from Ratatouille would be proud.

Progress: 641/751

XL Popcorn – Johnny Guitar

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 598/1007
Title: Johnny Guitar
Director: Nicholas Ray
Year: 1954
Country: USA

If, like myself, you are a gamer you’ll have heard Johnny Guitar‘s main theme on one of the Fallout: New Vegas radio stations. My first exposure to this film was as a side-mention on The Celluloid Closet – a documentary about the representation of LGBT in Hollywood movies. Now that I have seen it… I am not too sure I get the LGBT vibe from this film, which probably means it’s more obvious in the book.

Anyway. I object to this film being called Johnny Guitar. He is not the main character in this film or, to be honest, one that matters too much. The central figure is Vienna, a bar and gambling den owner in the Old West who counts a known outlaw amongst her clientele. She is the film. I know that the central role of Vienna will, in part, be Joan Crawford ensuring her own screentime, but she was the person who secured the rights to the novel… so fair enough really.

Now, whilst Johnny Guitar is technically a western it did not always feel like one. It manages to tick the boxes by having a shoot-out, a number of explosions and a scene where criminals are hanged, but there’s more than this.

As engrossing as this film is it can feel like it has been shot in a version of a heightened reality. Maybe a lot of this is due to the particular nature of Joan Crawford herself. Her character is fascinating to watch, but she sure does feel out of place in the Johnny Guitar world. Everything is so purposeful and you can tell someone with a precise eye put some of the shots together; the shot with the piano immediately springs to mind.

Oh and how could I forget the character of Emma. Seriously, this woman has some huge hatred for Vienna and, for me, it’s never explained in a way that truly satisfied me. In essence, her blind hatred and indomitable need to destroy Vienna is meant to show up the McCarthy witch hunts of the time. She has it out for Vienna and knows just which political buttons to push and which people to intimidate in order to get her way.

It is an odd little film, but my how the time flew as I watched it.

Acclaimed Albums – Definitely Maybe by Oasis

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 134/250Title: Definitely Maybe
Artist: Oasis
Year: 1994
Position: #111

We go into any piece of media with preconceptions. I remember how huge Oasis were when I was very little; to the point where I remember my mum playing What’s The Story (Morning Glory) on our first CD player. We sang  ‘Wonderwall’ in school music lessons (where they insisted that we sang it as ‘wonderwahl’ instead of ‘wonderwaall’). They were massive in terms of their popularity and in terms of being pricks.

So I went into this thinking that I would like this and then feel a bit ‘ugh’ because of how I remember the Gallagher brothers acting. I was pretty much correct. It saddens me to say that I really prefer Definitely Maybe over ParklifeThen again, Gorillaz are amazing and I would listen to them over Oasis any day; so it’s swings and roundabouts.

However, I don’t I actually knew any songs from Definitely Maybe. I guess I am just too young to remember when this album came out, but I swear later songs in their catalogue still get more radio airplay than songs from this debut album.

I’m not sure why that would be either. For one thing, this is one of those albums that has actually made me feel happy as I listen to it. I’ve seen this album’s lyrics described as being ‘optimistic’ in some reviews – and I have a hard time disagreeing with that. I know that these contemporary reviewers will have welcomed a more positive type of rock music coming out after a few years of grunge music being in vogue. I mean, as much as I thought Nevermind was a good album, it wasn’t exactly cheerful.

As far as my limited knowledge of Oasis goes, I will pretty much stake a claim that this is likely to be the album of theirs that I like the most. It’s not as poppy as they would become (where at times they would feel like they are trying to become the next Beatles) and instead is far more on the glam and hard rock side of the musical fence.