Graphic Content – Tex

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
39/501Title: Tex
Creator: Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio Galleppini
Years: 1948 onwards
Country: Italy

Before I start on this, it’s worth noting that in the 1001 Comics book it has this comic nestled under 1969. I am guessing that my reference book decided to use the date of when this comic was either first translated into English or was first released in the USA. In any case, having read some of the earlier issues of Tex it falls very much into the trappings of a 1940s comic book.

Tex is the first comic I’ve read that falls into the western genre. What sets this apart from the other western comics on the list is that it’s also a spaghetti western with it being originally written in Italian and being based on American western movies. This might go a long way to explain how the depiction of Native Americans and other non-white races feels progressive by the standards of 1940s America. Sure, it’s still cringeworthy at times with most non-whites being subservient to white people and/or being referred to with weird epithets… but it’s still better than other comics at the time.

When you read Tex you’re presented with exactly what you expect – swashbuckling (or whatever the cowboy version of that word is) adventures with bandits, gunfire and peril. Tex also gets his kit off a lot since he is regularly captured and stripped because, you know, cliffhangers. I point this out not because it’s particularly erotic, but because it becomes hard to differentiate the titular Tex from other characters when he isn’t wearing his trademark yellow shirt.

As a comic book it’s fine, but after a while you see how templated a lot of these stories are. It began to get a bit silly the third time the villain was a masked version of a character that Tex had just met, but Tex was unable to connect the dots. It stands to reason that Tex was not a comic meant to be binged the way I did, but that’s the way it goes.

In the end, Tex is fine to read a bit of but there’s plenty of better comics out there.


Acclaimed Albums – Stand! by Sly and the Family Stone

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 144/250Title: Stand!
Artist: Sly and the Family Stone
Year: 1969
Position: #198

Four months ago was the first time that I had ever heard a song by Sly and the Family Stone. It was ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ and, for whatever reason, I figured that this was a piece of joy within a rather political album. Where did this idea come from? No clue, but I rather wrong. Maybe it’s because the title of the album, Stand!, reads like an imperative and this was an era of counterculture and anti-Vietnam feeling… anyway.

If you look at the Acclaimed Albums Top 250 chronologically, Stand! is the first album that can be identified as either funk or psychedelic soul. Despite their being six years between Stand! and the earliest soul album on the list (James Brown Live at the Apollo) there appears to be a world of difference. The soul genre had moved on and begun to diverge… for the better.

You see – where a lot of people seem to like to spontaneity of James Brown, it leaves me cold. I can appreciate the energy, but I end up striving for some sort of structure or for the songs to to be a few minute shorter. On Stand! I was able to find an album that gave me what I wanted in an album that was funk and soul-adjacent, including a song that would be a rather unfortunate karaoke choice.

As good as ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ is, for me the standout song is the first and title track: ‘Stand!’. I love the fact that this is an explosion of soulful glitter with a gospel tinge. It’s one of those songs where it is ridiculously hard not to smile or at least ‘feel the music’. I’m not sure how else to describe the feeling, but it’s a really good one. It’s a feeling that you get throughout the album, which helped make this a joy to listen to.

Let’s Get Literal – The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 42/100Title: The Tin Drum 
Author: Günter Grass
Year: 1959
Country: Germany

So… how do you talk about The Tin Drum? It’s not like any novel that I have read before and, given the challenge I have set myself here, that’s really saying something. I picked up this book for the simple reason that I wanted to read this before I got around to the film adaptation for my 1001 movie watchthrough.

We begin the book in a psychiatric facility where Oskar is writing his memoirs of his life in Danzig (modern-day Gdansk). He has a drum fixation, to the point that he can completely destroy a drum in about a week because of how often and how fervently he drums. With the exception of this and the names of key people in Oskar’s life it is best to take everything you read with a pinch of salt. You see, Oskar is an incredible liar.

As a book The Tin Drum meanders around Oskar’s life as he regales us with various and conflicting episodes in his life. At the age of 3 he supposedly decided to stop growing and instead focus on his drumming. As such he lives his life as a midget… who can shatter glass with his voice and has achieved all matter of weird success because of his superior intellect.

This is also a man where there is a high chance that he has played a large part in the deaths of many people around him who have filled in roles as parental figures. Then again, it’s hard to know this for sure as the story keeps changing all the time.

It is the unreliability of the narrator that really keeps you on your toes and make sure that there is always an interesting yarn in each chapter. I mean, there’s a chapter where the conclusion is a man who is seemingly killed by a haunted ship’s figurehead after trying to have sex with it. We also have a nightclub where people cut onions in order to get through their PTSD and all-seeing and all-knowing dwarves.

The issue I had with this, ultimately, is that it takes Oskar an awfully long time to get to any point. Also, the reason for him ending up in the mental institution feels, ultimately unsatisfying. I was hoping for there to be some sort of murder spree or something at least on that level, but instead it’s a false murder charge with Oskar pretending to be Jesus in order to escape prison.

I can’t imagine that I’ll ever read another book quite like this one and, on that alone, it’s a book that should at least be attempted. Or maybe watch the movie to get a flavour. I don’t know when I’ll get around to it, but hopefully it won’t be too far in the future. Feels like I have some unfinished business with this book.

XL Popcorn – Sedmikrásky

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 641/1007
Title: Sedmikrásky (Daisies)
Director: Věra Chytilová
Year: 1966
Country: Czechoslovakia

I know that I have probably said this a lot over the course of four years… but I’m not entirely sure what I watched. It feels like a 74 minute sketch comedy film starring the 1960s Czech equivalents of Riki Lindholme and Natasha Leggero.

It was interesting to begin with. I was taken in by the anarchic feel of these two 17 year old Czech girls conning sugar daddies and cutting all manner of phallic food with kitchen scissors. After about half an hour of this and I really started to lose interest. There’s only so much of this I can watch a film without the whisper of a narrative before I start to get a bit bored of shenanigans.

And that’s that Sedmikrásky is: shenanigans. Entertaining shenanigans that I would have enjoyed more if they were broken down in a series of short films, but shenanigans none the less.

However, it’s worth noting that despite how weird, yet ultimately harmless, this film was it was enough to get director Věra Chytilová a 9 year ban from making films in her home nation of Czechoslovakia. Allegedly this was due to the sheer waste of food throughout the film (the food fight scene at the end being the last nail in the coffin), which makes a little sense given the political climate. You also have the fact that this is pretty feminist in how the two girls approach the world around then. This would have likely not gone down too well with the Czech elites of the time.

It’s a weird film, yes, and worth watching to play a game of ‘spot the controversy’. However, it’s best digested in a few pieces rather than in one go. Or maybe that’s just me.

🎻♫♪ – Diferencias by Antonio de Cabezón

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
 26/501Title: Differencias
Composer: Antonio de Cabezón
Nationality: Spanish

It’s safe to say that, according to the chronology of this list, we are now firmly in the renaissance. I say this because suddenly this has gone from music you’d expect to hear in a church to something that would form the soundtrack of computer games like Civilization or Crusader Kings II. Probably not the best place to be setting the bar, but these are my still touchstones of mine.

It’s so refreshing to be in the earliest reaches of the classical music list and finally come across something where I don’t have to listen to an hour of vocal harmonies engaged in a loudness war. Okay, that was harsh… but now that this list seems to be moving into the more instrumental territory, there is more incentive for me to pick up a copy on YouTube or Spotify and give it a go.

So, to give a bit of context to this, the composer of these classical pieces was blind from early childhood. Despite this difficulty he still found himself under the patronage of the Isabella of Portugal, the wife of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Thanks to both his talent and connections de Cabezón became one of the most important Spanish composers of this era.

Listening to these Diferencias is just feels so incredibly different to a lot of the music that has come before it. Maybe because this doesn’t feel like music that would have been played for religious ceremonies. Instead of vocals we have lute, clavichord and a woodwind instrument I can’t quite work out (I want to say fife, but I’m probably wrong).

This feels like music that would have set the scene at a formal gathering at court. I’m not sure whether this necessarily music that people would have attended a recital of but it was clearly known enough to influence the next composer on the list: Thomas Tallis

XL Popcorn – Come Drink With Me

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 640/1007
Title: Come Drink With Me
Director: King Hu
Year: 1966
Country: Hong Kong

A few episodes of The Ancient Magus’ Bride later and I think I’ve cleared my juju of family massacre movies. So I went for the wuxia classic Come Drink With Me with the hope that I will have dreams of flying swords instead of being buried alive. Hope springs eternal.

It’s been an awfully long time since I last watched a martial arts movie period, let alone for the 1001 list. Looking back on my posts it’s likely that A Chinese Ghost Storywhich I watched 18 months ago, would be the last one. It isn’t because of a distinct lack of martial arts films, more that it’s never a genre that comes to mind when picking a film to watch. Also – if I’m being honest – I thought Come Drink With Me sounded more like a W.C. Fields comedy from the 1930s (like The Fatal Glass of Beer) rather than an important part of the martial arts cinema canon.

Why is Come Drink With Me important? Well, this brought a big innovation to the genre: a kick-ass female lead. Crazy to think that this would be a new idea considering the strong central female characters in films like Peking Opera Blues and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I guess there had to be a watershed moment like this one.

Being over 50 years old it is clear that there have been a lot of developments in the wuxia genre since Come Drink With Me was released. Improved editing techniques, greater scope of stunt-work and sturdier sets. Still, a lot of these issues is where the charm lies and this film has charm to spare. Just a pity that the story felt like it started to trail off at the end, which meant that I started to lose interest… as so often happens with these films.

XL Popcorn – The Ballad of Narayama

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 639/1007
Title: The Ballad of Narayama
Director: Shohei Imamura
Year: 1983
Country: Japan

I don’t know how I managed to do this, but I somehow managed to watch two films in a row where an entire family is cruelly murdered. In Funny Games it was parcelled out over the course of two hours… here in The Ballad of Narayama we see 9-10 family members being buried alive as a punishment for stealing food. Welcome to the cruel world of rural Japan in the 19th century.

This film, like the life of the villagers it depicts, is bleak. Over the course of two hours we spend a year in a village where the local custom is for everyone over 70 to be carried up a mountain in order to kill them via exposure. It’s a known practice called ubasute and is something that is known to have happened.

We know from the off that the central character, 69 year old Orin, will be carried off to her death by the end of the film. It’s ridiculous really as she still has all her own teeth and is still highly active. However, this is the world she lives in – where there is barely enough food for the village to last the winter, ergo the burying alive of food thieves.

Much like The Tree of Wooden Clogs we watch a community try to function within the means of extreme hardship. The difference here being that The Ballad of Narayama is at times both more brutal (because of the higher stakes) and more introverted (because it’s a Japanese film). There’s also dog rape… which feels like it goes beyond brutal at this point.

Despite the fact that this is a bleak and cruel film there are some fantastic set pieces  – especially in the final act where Orin is carried up the mountain to die amongst the skeletons of those that came before her. The image of her stoically sitting in the snow as she prepares for death (see above) is beautifully tragic. Similarly, the way Orin holds in her sorrow to spare her, clearly distraught, son and lets out a single tear as he departs is just… utterly heartbreaking.

So yes, after watching two rather draining films in a row I think it’s time to switch to anime and eat some chicken.

XL Popcorn – Funny Games

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 638/1007
Title: Funny Games
Director: Michael Haneke
Year: 1997
Country: Austria

I’m on my own for two nights and, for some stupid reason, I decided to watch Funny Games – a film where a well to do family suffer a home invasion which results in their subsequent torture and murder. Needless to say, I kept my front door locked for the remainder of the day.

Funny Games really is not a film for everyone. From the moment Peter and Paul show up to the family’s holiday home an extreme sense of unease begins to develop… and you still have 80 minutes of the film to go. With a regular slasher film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream or Halloween the depiction of almost comic book violence helps to alleviate some of the accumulated stress. It’s weird, but there is a release when characters like Tatum (from Scream) or Annie (from Halloween) meet their maker.

However, in Funny Games, Haneke toys with your expectations and your stress levels. Despite being an extremely violent film, pretty much all of the violence itself happens off camera… with the exception of one instance where one of the antagonists is temporarily killed with a shotgun.

I say temporarily since he is brought back to life through the miracle of meta-cinema. You see, in Funny Games we have a character who appears to be very much aware that he is in a film. Not only does he break the fourth wall by talking and interacting with the audience, but he is acutely aware of the conventions of cinema. They can’t just kill the family outright because then there wouldn’t be enough footage for a feature length. Similarly, he makes a bet with the audience that he and his friend will kill the family – so the moment his friend is killed (in the film’s only moment of graphic violence) he grabs a remote control and rewinds the film in order to change the outcome. It makes for a weird moment of disconnect whilst also making it crystal clear that the family is doomed.

The weirdest thing about Funny Games for me was how quickly you get used to a certain feeling of dread. Even though there is still unease when the antagonists leave the family (only to return later) you have had your unease ratcheted up to such a high level that this feels almost like a respite… despite the fact that you are still greatly fearing for their safetly.

Similarly, and this is likely intentional, this is one of the few home invasion horror films where there is pretty much nothing that any of the family could have done to prevent their fates. We usually have this stereotype of people in horror films making bad decisions that lead to their deaths, but in this instance there really is no way out. In their calculated and unrelenting sadism the main antagonist, ‘Paul’, is just that far ahead of them and the other, ‘Peter’, is so well practised in this that he knows the part he needs to play.

So where does this leave me? Well, if a stranger comes to my door asking to borrow some eggs there is no way in hell that I am letting them in. Time to bolt the doors and switch on Crunchyroll in order to drown out my own paranoia.

Acclaimed Albums – White Light/White Heat by The Velvet Underground

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 143/250Title: White Light/White Heat
Artist: The Velvet Underground
Year: 1968
Position: #184

Just to start off, I have put off listening to White Light/White Heat for a few years because of how low it is on the list. It’s fairly precariously placed near the bottom and, as I write this, there is a decent chance that it will have fallen off by the time this is posted (in the end it didn’t, it actually went up by a lot)

Now, The Velvet Underground were a band that was all about experimenting. With their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico they made an album that was experimental then, but due to it’s influence feels almost accessible to modern ears. Their follow-up, on the other hand, is a bit of a different story.

Where their debut album had a lot of beauty in their arrangements (see: ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’) there is none of that in White Light/White Heat. Beauty and calculation have been traded in for distortion and improvisation. I guess this was a reaction to their firing of Andy Warhol as a producer and they decided to move in an opposite direction. It would make sense and explain where the nuance has gone.

It feels like it’s been too long since I last listened to an album where I physically and mentally had to exhale at the end. I’m not entirely sure if I liked it what I heard, but I know that this is something I want to give another listen to. Maybe it’s because of the sheer boldness to release this album that is pretty much based off of two days of jam sessions or because I want to see why an album that’s nearly off the cuff is higher than most other albums ever produced.

XP Popcorn – Orphans of the Storm

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 637/1007
Title: Orphans of the Storm
Director: D.W. Griffith
Year: 1921
Country: USA

It’s been an awfully long time since I last decided to watch the oldest film I had left on the list. The last time was when I saw Within Our Gates nearly two years ago, so yes it’s really been too long since I started burning the candle from this end.

With Orphans of the Storm I have now seen all four of the D.W. Griffith films on the 1001 list. I can honestly say that this was the best of the films, which isn’t just because this is the only one of these films without a weird racial component. It’s actually because this has an interesting and well played out story-line, supported heavily by the great acting of Dorothy and Lillian Gish.

Like a lot of American films I have seen from this time period Orphans of the Storm has some moral attached about the greatness of America and the importance to descend into civil war in the fashion of the French Revolution (or American’s own civil war). You can pretty much ignore this as it has no real bearing on this film.

One thing that I have to say about D.W. Griffith films is that they look brilliant. The set design and costuming throughout Orphans of the Storm feels both authentic and heightened. This is especially so with any of the scenes in the first half featuring members of the aristocracy. As the war starts and the guillotine looms large the look of the film similarly descends, in a good way.

Whilst not as beautifully shot as Intolerance, there are parts of Orphans of the Storm where I have started to understand more why Griffith is so well regarded as a director and innovator in the early silent era. I cannot help but wonder what films he would have made if born a few decades later and had to start out his career with talkies. Would he have made the same impact, or was he born at the perfect time?