📽️ Disney Time – Lady and the Tramp

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 15/57Title: Lady and the Tramp
Year: 1955

It’s official: I am getting more and more sentimental as I am getting older. I mean it’s been a rough few days seeing how I’ve found out that I am basically being let go from the best job ever and, unless I make a move quickly, I’m back to a job that I hate… so that might explain why I ended up getting tearful twice and actually cried once whilst watching Lady and the Tramp.

Right, vent over, let’s get to the movie. As a kid, I owned a copy of Lady and the Tramp on VHS and I watched it so often that, despite not having seen it for well over a decade, I was able to preempt all the sound cues and most of the dialogue. I never thought of this as being one of my favourite Disney films as a child, but I guess it must have at least been up there. Having watched it as an adult, I have to agree with my apparent childhood self – this is really good and so much better than I remembered.

Lady and the Tramp is a first for Disney in a few ways. It marked the first of their animated features to be released by Buena Vista rather than by RKO – which means that Disney had become large enough to have their own distribution company. Also, this is the first of their features that started life as an original story – it got merged into another short story later on, but it won’t be until The Lion King until we get something completely original (other than the Hamlet influence). Also, this was the first animated film to be released in Cinemascope – again another big first.

With all these firsts in mind, it must have been so terrifying to the Disney company when the reviews for Lady and the Tramp came out and they were mostly negative. Might explain why it took nearly 40 years before they decided to give the original story another crack. However, as with most things Disney, Lady and the Tramp really has been through a massive critical re-evaluation.

One of the key criticisms of Lady and the Tramp was that the film was overly sentimental. Firstly, shut up that scene with the spaghetti is iconic. The whole ‘Bella Notte’ sequence is a bit sentimental, sure, but considering the darkness of what comes next it is very much needed. I don’t know how a film can be overly sentimental where you have a scene depicting dogs being afraid in a pound because they know that being executed is very much on the cards. Not going to lie – this is one of the places where I almost cried during this movie.

Lady and the Tramp is a real step up from Peter Pan and the stepping up goes on from here to one of THE early classics: Sleeping Beauty. Oh man I cannot wait.

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Let’s Get Literal – Othello by William Shakespeare

List Item: Read the complete works of Shakespeare
Progress: 11/37

Thanks to a busy few weeks at work I’ve not really been reading (or doing much else), so to get me back on track I thought it would be a good idea to get through another Shakespeare play and mark that off as an easy win. The next one in my collection is Othello – easily one of the more famous plays with some of the meatiest roles.

For the first time since actively reading these plays I really feel the loss of actually seeing it be performed live. Plays like Titus Andronicus and Trolius and Cressida still work really well for when read because of the good descriptions in the speeches or the use of familiar characters. With Othello – so many of the lines come in lengthy speeches from either Othello or Iago that the punch is missed, especially for Iago.

Iago is one of literature’s great villains. The play is about how Iago takes Othello down via manipulation, abuse of trust and a lucky break with a stolen handkerchief. Through it all though, it’s hard to think of why he does other than he is a racist psychopath. He gives conflicting reasons throughout the play – but it just feels like he wants to see a black man’s life ruined no matter the cost.

You see this in the play as you read it, but I can only imagine how much better it would be to see his scheming done on stage. It’s the same with Othello – on the page he seems a bit wet and easily fooled, but I bet it isn’t as cut and dry on the stage. I mean it can’t be, because he takes the toxic male stance of murdering his wife when he believes her to be unfaithful. No sane man would have that as their first response… right?

Still though, I have heard so much about Othello just through cultural osmosis that it was really great to actually make my way through the play. If it was not for the blackface, I would track down the Laurence Olivier version just to see one of the great Shakespearean actors take on the role. There must be other good adaptation out there though, so it’s definitely something to seek once I’m done with the 1001 film list.

Acclaimed Albums – To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 182/250Title: To Pimp A Butterfly
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Year: 2015
Position: #138

Nearly 4 years ago I listened to To Pimp A Butterfly for the purpose of crossing it off once the list refreshed. However, when the refresh happened, I thought that maybe it would be worth giving this album another go at some point in the future. I mean, I did end up enjoying DAMN. so this album was definitely worth another spin.

A bit of context here for the listen – I was alone in the office on a Sunday and I thought this would work as part of my ‘Sunday at the office’ survival kit. Just felt like the ultimate juxtaposition to my bottle of Pepsi Max and share-size bag of Maltesers. Also, I really fell for a cover of Black Panther‘s ‘All The Stars’ and it just felt like time to listen to To Pimp A Butterfly.

For the most part, I enjoyed this listen a whole lot more than I did 4 years ago. ‘King Kunta’ remains my favourite song on the album, but I’ve come to appreciate ‘Alright’ and the funk influenced ‘i’. I’m still not entirely sure about the repetition of “bo bo” in ‘Hood Politics’, but it helped to get the song stuck in my head – so I guess that’s a win.

I still think that, out of the three Kendrick Lamar albums I’ve listened to, DAMN. is still my favourite. However, one thing this really hammered home to me is how my music taste is still evolving. Sure, I’m never going to list rap music as one of my favourite genres but my relationship towards it is starting to soften a bit.

XL Popcorn – The Man Who Fell To Earth

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 738/1007Title: The Man Who Fell To Earth
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Year: 1976
Country: UK

Sometimes, when I don’t know what film I want to watch, I pick 5 or 6 and have the husband give me a number. Pretty much every time we’ve done this The Man Who Fell To Earth was one of the options… and it hasn’t been picked in a year. Today I just said ‘sod it’ and chose this film outright. After all, I’ve been really curious about David Bowie’s acting debut for a very lone time.

If I was to use one word to describe The Man Who Fell To Earth it would be: interesting. This is a film that has a cool premise and mixes it with some sporadic unexplained time jumps, slightly trippy dream sequences and a central performance that is extremely detached. I mean, as the goal was for David Bowie was to give a convincing performance of an alien, this central performance is a resounding success – but this detachment also makes it difficult for an audience to get on the same wavelength.

In a nutshell, this is a film about an alien coming to Earth to find a way to help his home planet that is going through severe desertification. Most of the time we spend with him in the first half is as he is getting money together to build a rocket to return (via the creation of a massive technology corporation whose cashflow comes from his patents using technology of his homeworld… I think, it’s not well explained). In the second, he has been captured and is now being tested on – at least until they pretty much abandon him.

The previous paragraph is a pretty substantial nutshell, but then again The Man Who Fell To Earth does a lot of flitting around in time and narratives – so there’s a lot to unpack. There’s also a lot of nudity, including Bowie – but nothing in the swimsuit… unlike his female co-stars who have to bare all.

One thing I wish I knew from this film is how long a period it is meant to take place over. We see all non-Bowie characters age around him as he remains the same, which will be a consequence of the time jumps. However, it’s unclear if this is taking place over a few years or even a few decades. That little touch would have been nice to have.

Overall, despite some of my issues with the narrative structure, you don’t really notice that this is well over two hours long. There’s enough here to keep you interested and occupied, to the point that the sudden jumps actually force you to snap back into full attention. So yes, an interesting and worth it watch.

🎻♫♪ – Nixon in China by John Adams

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 60/501Title: Nixon in China
Composer: John Adams
Nationality: American
Year:
1987

How could I not choose Nixon in China as my next listen for the classical list. The title alone is absurd enough to make this an obvious choice, but the topic itself is fascinating. As you would expect, Nixon in China is inspired by Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 as part of his policy to open up relations between China and the US. Parts of it are heavily fictionalised, but that doesn’t make it any the less interesting.

The story of Nixon in China is told over three acts: Nixon and Mao meet and make pleasantries, Pat Nixon’s tour of Beijing which includes a ballet performance and, at the end, both leaders separately musing about their own histories and the direction their lives may take. It was actually really great that, despite only listening to it as I was running statistics for work, I was still able to follow the storyline with ease – even more so than Porgy and Bess.

Whilst this is very much an opera  – Nixon in China feels like it has more in common with Reich’s Different Trains and Sufjan Stevens’ The BQE than more classical operas. This is because the music is written in a minimalist style that is augmented with elements of jazz and the more complex harmonics of a conventional opera. It makes for a very interesting listen and, thanks to different influences being used in different acts, a varied one.

It also goes without saying that Alice Goodman’s libretto is brilliant. Her words bring in some great throwaway comments (like Kissinger being ‘no James Bond’) to a powerful speech by Mao’s wife at the end of Act Two. Her dialogue between characters is where she is at her best and her characterisations (in tandem with Adams’ music) makes for an unusual insight in how we perceive Nixon, Mao and their wives alone and in conversation with one another.

Is it a perfect opera? No, there are parts of the third act where it begins to trail off a bit as the leaders are isolated from each other rather than reacting to the differences in each other’s cultures. However, even these sections have their areas of interest given how this event took place two years before Nixon’s resignation and four years before Mao’s death – as well as 15 years before the opera was written. So, Adams and Goodman were able to construct a story with the benefit of hindsight whilst also feeling not overly judgemental, instead focusing more on the humanity of the people.

📽️ Disney Time – Peter Pan

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 14/57Title: Peter Pan
Year: 1953

It’s been another big week at work (to the point that I’m having to work this Sunday) and so have just not had the energy to do anything blog-related during this week. Especially not read, staring at a screen all day to then stare at a Kindle on the commute to and from work… that did not appeal. So here I am again crossing off the next Disney film – Peter Pan.

As I mentioned in Alice in Wonderland – Peter Pan was one of three films that were competing to mark Disney’s return to narrative storytelling. Obviously it came dead last, partially down to the numerous script changes and the fact that Alice in Wonderland was always a big favourite of Walt Disney, but it did end up being in the competition at Cannes. So that’s something it has over the other two films.

Looking at this in contrast to the other Disney narrative films, Peter Pan is probably the weakest of those that I have seen so far. It’s not the easiest company to compete with, but the comedy in this skews too broad at times for it to rank as one of the best that had been made to this point.

Also, and this is probably age talking now, but the character of Peter Pan himself is a real jerk. I always felt bad for Wendy as she’s never too far from being murdered by the inhabitants of Neverland. I also felt bad for Nana the dog for being left behind whilst the children went off on their adventures, but that’s just how I feel about anthropomorphised dogs in general I guess (more on that next week).

There is also the issue of the depiction of Native Americans. The whole world of Neverland is done according to stereotypes of how children would have played back when the play was written and, ultimately, when the film was made. This means that the way the Native Americans are talked about (as ‘savages’ who the Lost Boys hunt as if they were dumb animals) and are drawn (like caricatures from an old cigarette package) is problematic. The musical number “What Made the Red Man Red?” just piles on extra layers of racism in a routine that, even for the time, isn’t that well executed.

I’m being hard on Peter Pan but it’s still got a lot of magic and brings back a lot of memories of what made me laugh when I was a kid (the shaved seagull in particular always made me giggle). Next time will be Lady and the Tramp and I am so on board with seeing that again.

World Cooking – Iceland

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Iceland
Progress: 35/193

When I think of Iceland I inadvertently have two thoughts come into my head: the music of Björk and geysers. A few minutes more and I start to think of boiled sheep heads, fermented shark meat, volcanoes, the music video of ‘Holocene’ by Bon Iver and the high proportion of people who believe in elves. With all these things considered – Iceland is  incredibly high on my gigantic list of places to visit.

Being so geographically isolated and so far north, the people of Iceland have really had to get a bit creative with what could live in their very cold environs. I assume this is the reason why they came up with hákarl (fermented sleeper shark that sounds like it would have a taste resembling stinky tofu) and svið (a sheep’s head that’s been singed, cut in half and boiled with the brain removed.

In modern times, the cuisine of Iceland has started to morph and include more things like that couldn’t be found there naturally – like cocoa and a lot of different vegetables. For the purposes of crossing Iceland off the list, I figured that it would be worth visiting an Icelandic tourist website for ideas. After all, it’s not as if you can stroll to a nearby food market to buy chunks of purified shark.

Main: Plokkfiskur

Guide to Iceland directed me to this recipe for plokkiskur – which is literally translated as ‘plucked fish’ because of how you flake the fish before vigorously stirring it into the mix. The main ingredients in this are white fish, potatoes and a basic bechamel sauce to bind everything together. It’s traditionally served with the darkest rye bread Iceland has to offer… which I had to improvise as rye bread isn’t the easiest thing to find in the UK.

On a cold and blustery winter day like today, plokkiskur feels like the ultimate comfort food. It’s warm, slightly creamy, slightly stodgy and the pairing with rye bread is so incredibly right. This is also a pretty simple recipe to make and feels like something you would have come up with by bringing together some leftovers and eat whatever the result.

Dessert: Kakósúpa

Translated to ‘cocoa soup’, think of this as a thickened Icelandic hot chocolate that would be delicious with some crispbread dipped in. I opted to serve it in some mugs that I got from my trips to the Vienna and Munich Christmas markets because that felt incredibly apt. Also, these are good Cup-A-Soup mugs, so why not use them for thick cocoa soup.

I used a recipe from the same Guide to Iceland page, but there are a number of subtle variations online, so might need to do a bit of further investigation whenever the days are cold and, for whatever reason, we have milk in the house. This isn’t super sweet like a Nesquik, more like if you had the chocolate part of a Swiss roll as a drink. Like with the plokkiskur, this was very comforting.

So, next week is definitely going to be a return to Africa as it’s now getting to be long overdue. Like I mentioned before, I have a pack of fufu flour from a local food store – so this is going to be my jumping off point into picking a country. One of the many that lists fufu as among their national dishes… which doesn’t really narrow things down too much.

1001 Songs – 1975: Part One

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

Only Women Bleed – Alice Cooper

Right off the bat, this is really not the type of song that I knew Alice Cooper released. I mean, this is a soft rock ballad and not the harder rock that I’ve come to expect from him – man’s got range.

‘Only Women Bleed’ is interesting in that it’s a song that takes a sympathetic look at the victims of domestic abuse… and so many people couldn’t see past the title that it ended up having reduced radio play. Some thought it was a reference to menstruation and others thought it was supportive of domestic abuse – clearly they didn’t bother listening to the song as the message is crystal clear.

Considering Alice Cooper’s brand was to shock, the shocking thing is how earnest this song is. Like I said, he’s got range.

Jive Talkin’ – Bee Gees

We really are getting into the era of disco aren’t we. It’s still got that heavy dose of funk in it, but there’s an undeniable element of disco here. Also, this is a Bee Gees song – as if we needed any more clue that this song might be disco.

In the background there is a synthesised bass line, which was a new production trick at the time and really helps to make this feel like a song you’d be able to strut to. In fact, I’m sure I heard a similar thing on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living For The City’.

It’s not my favourite song by the Bee Gees, but this was the song that lead to their massive hits and their heavy usage in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack – so it’s definitely significant.

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – Gavin Bryars

The whole reason that this post is only five songs long is because of this particular entry. I mean, if people had problems with the length of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, then the length of this song could have made their heads explode.

The whole song is based around a looped sample of an elderly homeless man singing a few lines of a song. As it starts it’s easy to roll your eyes at this weird exercise in minimalist music experimentation. Then Bryars gets to work and you end the song having been completely haunted by the disembodied vocals of an anonymous man who will have long since passed away.

The first few minutes are just the repeated vocals getting progressively louder, then the orchestra comes in and loops along with him. The parts gradually get louder and more layered, but they never overshadow the sampled vocals. For some people this song could be akin to sonic flagellation, but it’s hard to not be touched by this display of humanity and absolute faith (despite the fact that Jesus’ blood failed him a long long time ago).

Boulder to Birmingham – Emmylou Harris

Going through these songs chronologically (and the albums semi-chronologically) you begin to see a few narratives develop. One of the big ones that really sticks out is the rise, success and death of Gram Parsons – the latter of which this song is about.

I enjoyed his solo music, and his music as part of both the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds. He made such a mark and still died of an overdose at 26. This song is pure grief and the beautiful power of Emmylou Harris’s vocals make it cut right to the heart.

It’s a really beautiful country song about the death of someone you hold dear. Made all the more tragic when you have followed the musical journey that Parsons and Harris took together.

Fight the Power (Parts 1 & 2) – The Isley Brothers

 

It’s good to be ending this post on a less maudlin note. It’s referred to as ‘Parts 1 & 2’, but I cannot identify if this was ever meant to be two parts or if this is just an affectation to make this song sound grander and more important.

‘Fight the Power’ is very much an angry funk song that has the same message as the Public Enemy song of the same name, but nothing else. It’s fine, but just a little bit repetitive (rich considering the minimalist 26 minute song from a small time ago, but that managed to touch something).

This is the year of long songs and next time will be a lot of 6+ minuters. 1975 is going to be an interesting year.

Progress: 409/1021

Around The World In 100 Films – Serbia

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 47/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 737/1007Title: W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism (W.R. – Misterije organizma)
Director: Dušan Makavejev
Year: 1971
Country: Yugoslavia

Note: Wikipedia and other sources have classed this as a Serbian film, so I’m going with that to help me add another country to this list.

It’s been nearly a year since I added a country to this list and the one today wasn’t exactly planned. My husband said that he fancied seeing a film from Eastern Europe, so I picked something that I thought was a comedy from the Soviet Union. Turns out I was wrong on a whole heap of levels as this was made in Yugoslavia (not the USSR) and rather than being a comedy… this may be one of those films that defies genre.

When you read descriptions online, you’ll see W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism described as a satire. It’s these elements, and some of the director’s comments when interviewed about this film, that lead to his being forced into exile and this film being banned by the state. This satire, however, is a small part of this movie and is probably the least interesting to a modern audience.

The film itself is a mishmash of documentary, satirical narrative and some more arty pieces. The general theme of the piece is one surrounding communism and sexuality with the W.R. of the title coming from the pseudo-scientist Wilhelm Reich (the man that Kate Bush based her song ‘Cloudbusting’ on). It’s like one of those mixed media art pieces you may find in modern art galleries, but with unsimulated sex and a lot of people engaging in some disturbing scream therapy.

It’s actually quite hard to write about W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism as, like Disney’s Make Mine Musicthere are parts I responded well to and others that bored me. If this had ended up staying as a documentary about Wilhelm Reich, I would have enjoyed it so much more as was a weird and interesting figure. Similarly, if this had been an documentary abut sex in art (as some of the interviews would have learnt themselves to) it would have been good enough.

The mixture, however, keeps you on your toes but can be a bit too disorientating at times. This being the film that got a man exiled from his country until the fall of the communist government does lend this a special piece of street cred in cinema history – but it’s so inconsistent that I’m still not entirely sure what I watched.

Acclaimed Albums – The Modern Lovers by The Modern Lovers

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 181/250Title: The Modern Lovers
Artist: The Modern Lovers
Year: 1976
Position: #197

Well, so much for my listening to an album a week this year in order to barrel my way through the list. This is the issue with having so many podcasts to keep up with, the time to listen to music gets truncated. Especially music that I am going to need to write up later. That’s why making dinner at the weekend can be helpful.

Despite being released in 1976, The Modern Lovers was mostly recorded in 1972. For most albums a delay of 4 years would be a death knell and leave it sounding a bit behind the times. Somehow, with this album in particular, it really didn’t matter. It’s one of those albums that’s hard to peg a particular time period – this could easily have been released at the same time as Is This It and you wouldn’t really question it.

However, it was released in 1976 and it’s influence can be felt in some of the punk releases of the following year. In the opening track ‘Roadrunner’, I also recognised yet another song sampled by M.I.A . for her album Kala (a cool coincidence seeing how I heard another one of these in the Pixies album from a few months back). I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that this felt like something that many other artists have found important.

The coolest thing about this album, at least for me, is that it is a punk-leaning album that isn’t all angst and anger. In fact, it feels remarkably optimistic in places – which is so unusual when you compare it to the Sex Pistols. They even engage in a bit of whimsy with a proto-punk song about the womanizing antics of Picasso.

So yes, whilst making toad in the hole, I found what could be described as a happy punk album. Not something that I was expecting from today’s listen, but I’m glad I was able to experience it as I was making batter.