XL Popcorn – Tongues Untied

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 929/1009Title: Tongues Untied
Director: Marlon T. Riggs
Year: 1989
Country: USA

This film is a landmark for multiple reasons. On a more practical list-based level, Tongues Untied is the final film on the list I had to check off that was under an hour – wish I could say the same of films over three hours. In a broader sense, Tongues Untied is landmark in queer black cinema in how this experimental documentary weaves in narration with slam poetry and what it means to be a gay black man. Whilst the focus is on being gay and black in American, there are broader themes that are sadly seen around the world.

Although progress has been made, watching Tongues Untied really brings it home just how little things have necessarily moved on in the last 30 years for queer people of colour. Most of what was said still applies and so most of the poems and shots could be broadly used today with little need for updating. The only thing that would mercifully be needed would be an update around the AIDS crisis which, although not over, is far more controlled in 2021.

I know that, as a queer individual, the impact of Tongues Untied will have likely been greater – but it is hard to deny that this is both a well made and different way to show off the experience of those at this particular intersection. I could have done without the slow motion vogueing sequence going on as long as it did – but that’s just a minor quibble here.

The fact that this still has power today is such testament to director Marlon T. Riggs and those who collaborated with him on this project. It’s an interesting take on a documentary whose controversy was solely down to racism and homophobia. Probably has had little viewership for just this reason, which is a crying shame as it has so much to teach and experience. Even if just for the many types of snap.

🎻♫♪ – Dances of Galánta by Zoltán Kodály

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
115/501Title: Dances of Galánta
Composer: Zoltán Kodály
Nationality: Hungarian
Year:
1933

As someone who has seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind a number of times as a kid, I should probably have had even the slightest glimmer of recognition at the name Zoltán Kodály. I was always a bit puzzled in the film when, in order to communicate the specific music tones, they adopted some peculiar hand signals as another way to convey it. Turns out they are derived from Kodály’s work and now a mini mystery from my film-watching childhood has been solved.

Back when Kodály was born, Slovakia was still part of Austria-Hungary, which helps further explain in my own head how this Hungarian composer ended up spending part of his childhood in the very Slovakian area of Galánta. His piece Dances of Galánta is a classical take on the folk music of this area. It’s a short piece of about 15 minutes with a heavy helping of clarinets and a fast dancing section at the end. Really cool piece and can imagine it being fun to hear a whole orchestra perform it live.

Acclaimed Albums – Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 336/1000
Title: Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Artist: of Montreal
Year: 2007

For a brief moment in the late 2000s, I was a big of Montreal fan. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was getting rave reviews and I wanted to dig more into their back catalogue. I ended up falling hard for their sixth album Satanic Panic in the Attic, especially ‘Disconnect the Dots’, which is one of the songs of theirs I still play regularly. I also listened to a lot of Coquelicot Asleep in the Poppies and The Gay Parade.

For me, Satanic Panic in the Attic and Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? still sit as the best work that frontman Kevin Barnes has done, later albums never reaching their respective heights… and in the end putting me off of their earlier work. Listening to Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? again after a number of years just served to remind me just how much I liked their music when they were doing what they do best: great psychedelic pop.

At the centre of the album is ‘The Past Is a Grotesque Animal’, a twelve minute turning point that is just one of brilliant tracks that works out of context but is so much better when listening to it with the rest of the album. It’s the point where the album morphs from the more psychedelic first half to a second half that is closer to glam. 

Other tracks like ‘Gronlandic Edit’ and ‘She’s A Rejector’ are stand-outs in the different halves of the album, both sounding very much like the then modern take on genres from the 1960s and 1970s. There is a problematic element to the second half of the album, namely the alter-ego adopted by singer Kevin Barnes… but to be honest I never listened to this album thinking about this persona he wanted to create so it never mattered much out of the live performances. 

It’s great to hear of Montreal again and it just shows how many albums and artists we end up leaving behind as we take musical detours in our lives. Definitely an album that has stood up well (persona aside) to the test of time and maturity.

XL Popcorn – Force of Evil

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 928/1009Title: Force of Evil
Director: Abraham Polonsky
Year: 1948
Country: USA

If you have never heard of writer-director Abraham Polonsky then you are not the only one. By now I am pretty used to making my way through this list and seeing the names of directors on the screen that, unless they had a side mention in You Must Remember This, mean nothing to me. In the case of Polonsky, I am guessing this is a name I missed since he was one of the casualties of the Hollywood blacklist era – his career being destroyed shortly after the release of this film.

Force of Evil is a pretty standard and well made gangster noir of this age. The central story is one of a big gangster taking his chance to squash and take over all his smaller competitors in a gambling racket – with two brothers having differing roles in this consolidation. One owns a small time numbers racket under threat, the other (knowing the storm coming) tries to get his brother the best deal possible. As with all things noir and Hays Code, no one comes out of this unscathed and many don’t come out alive.

This is very much an interesting film for it’s time given how anti-capitalist and pro-working together it is. It would have been all the evidence that the senate committee needed to destroy anyone involved in it for being a Communist sympathiser. It’s well made, even if it didn’t quite live up to what I was hoping with such a good title for a noir. It feels like one of those films that would stand up to future watches as it would be good to focus more on the biblical allusions being made about the relationship as well as a better initial knowledge about what a ‘numbers racket’ actually means.

XL Popcorn – The Last Wave

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 927/1009Title: The Last Wave
Director: Peter Weir
Year: 1977
Country: Australia

This film was 25 years old when it finally got a release in the USA with the title Black Rain – presumably to capitalise on Weir’s massive success with The Truman Show. This is a story that tries to weave aboriginal traditions with a psychological thriller sparked by an unexplained death. The world is at threat from a possible water-based apocalypse, so isn’t it great that there is a white man who suddenly has powers of aboriginal mythology.

As you can probably tell, the moment that The Last Wave started along the ‘white saviour’ line I did a massive eye roll. This is a film where some have drawn comparisons to Twin Peaks – I guess because of having a central character who is a bit of a fish-out-of-water that has some connection to mystical powers. However, watching this now, there are some things that ring really poorly.

For one thing, most of the explanations around the relevant aboriginal myths comes from white academics rather than anyone from their culture. The big thing, however, is having an American living in Australia being a kind of chosen one with pre-cognitive powers and an innate connection to the dreamtime. Again, it is worth remembering that this film is nearly 45 years old as we hold things to a different standard now. Also, this is still not a subject in a lot of films, so as it is good as a wider awareness raising exercise.

In the end though, after the disconnected beginning of the beginning where we see communities around Australia experiencing the freak rain storms, it took way too long for this film to focus on a central narrative for me to connect with. Sure there is some subtlety on display in this thriller and it is the first time I have seen a film that has ‘the dreamtime’ as a theme – but it just didn’t quite work for me.

Acclaimed Albums – Selling England by the Pound by Genesis

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 335/1000
Title: Selling England by the Pound
Artist: Genesis
Year: 1973

It’s taken nearly two months, and twenty albums, before I was statistically able to listen to an album from the 1970s. Like with Paul Simon this is an album that my husband was also doing as part of his own blog efforts – otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gone for a Genesis album. At least I had some familiarity with one of the tracks from a 1001 song post, even if I did end the post with “Did I like it? Honestly, I don’t really know”.

At least when I listened to Selling England by the Pound as a whole album rather than the single song, it made sense in the wider context. Honestly, it does make me wonder just how many of the 1001 songs I would have liked more when I heard them in their album’s surroundings. Well, ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ is one of those, although it would not have been my favourite track on the album.

In the end, this album is a brand of art pop or whatever you would like to call this vague collection of genres that exploded in the early 1970s. This is one of those albums where I knew at the end of it that I enjoyed it and that I appreciated the work that went into this prog-rock/baroque pop hour. It is also, like a number of albums I have listened to for this blog (and will still encounter in the future) that I liked in the moment and I know that I am unlikely to go back to.

Honestly though, I preferred the solo Peter Gabriel album I listened to whilst I was getting over COVID-19. I appreciate the complexity in what they were doing, although I wasn’t entirely on board with what they were doing lyrically. It’ll be interesting to see what their following 1974 album ends up sounding like – when I eventually get around to it.

🎻♫♪ – Les Noces by Igor Stravinsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
114/501Title: Les Noces
Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
1923

When this piece first started I really felt the need to double check that I had clicked play on the right thing. The beginning vocals have the feel of something more East Asian than what I would have immediately assumed from a Russian ballet. Then again, this is Stravinsky and things were about to get a lot more bonkers as it went on.

Like with The Rite of Spring, Les Noces (meaning ‘The Wedding’) is a primal piece. He is infusing more traditional folk music into his classical composition – which is likely where the beginning sounding more Asian probably came into it. It feels primal because… well you just have to listen to it without knowing what the ballet was meant to represent. If you had told me this was the music to Midsommer or The Wicker Man I would have probably believed you.

This is a stunning piece of work and will probably end up being one my favourite classical pieces that have been listened to for this list. Does it make me think that they are going to burn the bride alive at the end of the Wedding Feast? Well sure, but doesn’t that make things all the more fun!

Graphic Content – One Piece

List Item: Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
103/501Title: One Piece
Creator(s):
Eiichiro Oda
Year: 1997-now
Country: Japan

Four years ago I tried my hand watching the anime adaptation of One Piece knowing that it was ridiculously long, ended up having a lot of filler arcs and needed a long time to get into. Obviously I didn’t stick with that, but I had hopes that with the manga things may be different. Well, it wasn’t.

The volumes of One Piece that I managed to get through covered less ground than than the anime that I ended up watching, but I ran into the same issues again which were more pronounced given that it was in the written form. Some of the arcs in the anime were way too long for the content that they were meant to be covering, so when these are stretched across multiple volumes it is just tiresome. Especially when, with this being a more comedic tone, the odds are never quite dire enough for there to be real suspense.

One thing I have to say I did like, and liked from the series, is the drawing style. It’s more pleasing in the early anime episodes as it is in full colour, less so in later when it looks like they are moving to a more shoestring budget. Overall though, the exaggeration in the character models are fun to see and make for some variation in the read – but I cannot see how, if I read this from the beginning not knowing where it would go, I would actually become a big follower of this story.

XL Popcorn – Salt of the Earth

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 926/1009Title: Salt of the Earth
Director: Herbert Biberman
Year: 1954
Country: USA

A production shot at for being communist. A lead actress deported. Investigation by the FBI. These things, plus companies trying to prevent the print and distribution, all faced Salt of the Earth – a story about how unions and collective bargaining can improve the lot of oppressed workers. A film with messages promoting gender equality (for the 1950s) and fairness for all workers no matter their race. No wonder so many in power in the US tried to stop this being made and then to bury it afterwards.

For a proper look into the history of this film, there is a great episode of You Must Remember This which contextualizes it as part of the longer running McCarthy witch hunts that burned through Hollywood. The fact that this film not only got made, but was also able to put forward its messages with nuance and great performances by a troupe of non-actors is pretty impressive.

Watching this, I can see that this is what The Exiles was trying for in terms of style – using non-actors from an ethnic minority to tell their story and do so in a neo-realistic style so that it feels almost documentarian. However, Salt of the Earth is able to succeed on all fronts and is only hindered by what would have been awful conditions in pre, post and actual production.

Sure it works not being a major studio film when telling this small, but important, story. It stops it from descending into melodrama and gives us the strong female lead we need. However, it would have also meant better editing, continuity and sound work – all things that take you out of it when a pause is too long or when positions move between shots. Still a great and worthwhile watch though when you want to see something that got a large group of creatives blacklisted.

Acclaimed Albums – Weezer by Weezer

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 334/1000
Title: Weezer
Artist: Weezer
Year: 1994

Okay, so Weezer are a bunch of album naming trolls as we all know – so this Weezer that appears in the Top 1000 specifically refers to their debut ‘Blue’ album. This is one of two Weezer albums to appear in the list, but as the other one is Pinkerton, so at least I know there won’t be any conflict in the title names as I go further into this project.

So, going into this album I knew next to nothing about Weezer other than the following: my mum likes their cover of Toto’s ‘Africa’ and this is definitely not Wheatus – who I regularly confused them with over the years and so feared an album that was just filled with variations of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Writing these posts really have led me to realize how many weird assumptions I have about different bands, but this is probably one of the weirder ones.

In what seems like a mini-trend in some of the albums I have listened to, there are interesting albums that come out of geekier musicians making their attempt at a genre. It would take a long time for ‘geekiness’ to not be completely embarrassing, which is what makes Weezer wearing their geekiness on their sleeve in their debut so brilliant – the lines in ‘In The Garage’ referring to Dungeons & Dragons being incredibly endearing.

To put this in more of a context, Weezer came out in America when the surrounding rock landscape was still grunge and the moodier side of rock with Siamese Dream coming out the year before. Weezer brought a lighter side back to critically acclaimed guitar music, which may not have been cool but it is very well done. 

I guess it makes sense that an album like Weezer came out the same time as Mellow Gold where we began to have the rise of the outsider within rock music. Something that so many could actually relate to and just needed something like ‘Loser’ to sing along to.