Monthly Archives: May 2015

XL Popcorn – The Big Sleep & Gaslight

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 428/1007

I am writing this the day after staying up all night so I could watch the Oscars so please excuse me for the brevity of this post. I write this now to make sure I can properly recall both films that I watched with my mum after what is becoming our yearly tradition of staying up to watch the Oscars, sleeping a few hours and then a movie double bill.

bsopeningsmokingTitle: The Big Sleep
Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1946
Country: USA

There are a lot of noir films in her collection so we started off with The Big Sleep, a noir mystery starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I felt that I had to see this movie since she featured in the In Memoriam section and I don’t think I have seen a film with her in it other than Dogville. 

The Big Sleep can be summarised in two words: confusing and tangential. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep (although later reading about this film I doubt it) but I had to keep the Wikipedia synopsis of the film open to make sure that I knew what was actually going on. I know it makes me sound a little bit simple but when you have a conspiracy with so many names it can be hard to keep track. I go for tangential as my other word since some of the sequences involved feel like there are some logical leaps that would have been better explained in the book.

I am by no means detracting from the performances in this. Humphrey Bogart, as always, delivers on his role of the manly male interest (who can not get away with playing the role of 10 years his junior). However, the real show-stealer is Martha Vickers as Lauren Bacall’s sister. Whenever she appears on the screen she has your complete and undivided attention. Reading how her role was cut down to allow Bacall to shine a bit more… and then she basically had no career afterwards… makes me angry.

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food booksFood item: Quiche Lorraine

So, between our films we took a lunch break and, in honour of my new list, we got a Quiche Lorraine from over the road and had a leisurely lunch with some salad. Sometimes, all you need is a bit of quiche.

gaslight_ingrid_bergman2Title: Gaslight
Director: George Cukor
Year: 1944
Country: USA

The other movie in our double bill was Gaslight, the film where Ingrid Bergman won the first of her three Academy Awards. Watching this, I can see where the win came from (she beat Barbara Stanwyck for her role in Double Indemnity, some people see this as a snub but I am inclined to agree with the Academy on this one). Her role of a woman being psychologically tortured and broken down by her husband to the point that she feels that she be committed to an asylum is truly affecting (something which has come to be known as ‘gaslighting’).

In a previous post I talked about how the Hayes Code can be annoying because you know that anti-heroes in films like Gun Crazy are going to die or get caught. The opposite is true here, thanks to the code I knew the bastard husband (very well played by Charles Boyer to the point I did not recognise him from Madame De…) was going to get his comeuppance, so I felt free to keep rooting for that to happen. When it does, that is when you see Ingrid Bergman in her Oscar reel with her turning the psychological torture tables. A completely gripping 4 minutes.

Also of note in this film is that it marked the cinematic debut of Angela Lansbury playing a rather uncouth housemaid. Weird to think that 50 years later she would be the voice of Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast.

IMG_1255[1]Food item: Hot and Cold Smoked Salmon

I could have made this a separate post, but this provided me with the second half of this food item (the first being covered in a previous post).

Progress: 443/933

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Let’s Get Literal: Richard II

List Item: Read the complete works of Shakespeare
Progress: 9/37

As with King John this is a Shakespeare play that I have now read but not actually seen an adaptation of. It does make things a little bit more difficult since these are, after all, plays and are meant to be seen performed on the stage. I do think that I need to see how this would pan out after reading the plays, maybe for Richard II it would make sense for me to check out The Hollow Crown.

richardiiHaving now read Richard II and finishing it off at midnight on a windy night I am resolved to find out more behind the actual history of Richard II. Looking in on the historical context of when this play was written I can see how he used this play as a vehicle for the contemporary worry of succession to the throne of a childless queen. It makes sense that people were uneasy, especially seeing how we were only a few generations away from The War of the Roses and there had been a great amount of religious tumult well within living memory. The idea of another change must have been terrifying, and as such the play reflects that.

Here’s the thing though, despite how interesting the context Richard II is probably the lesser of the 9 Shakespeare plays that I have written. The main reason being that this is the first time where there has been a character that I have not felt too invested in, for good or ill. The character of Richard II is not sympathetic enough to care about when he is deposed due to his own stupidity surrounding his royal prerogative and he is not malevolent enough for you to root for his enemies.

Similar too is the character of future King Henry IV. It makes sense why he did what he did, the nobles were angry after the way Richard dealt with the death of John of Gaunt and he just wanted to take the throne. There is a touch of the Machiavellian about Henry, and why would there not be. How else were you meant to seize the throne with a lesser claim?

After three plays in a row I think it is time to return to the world of novels, the tiredness of Moby Dick has finally worn away.

Acclaimed Albums: Public Enemy

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 62/250

Title: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Artist: Public Enemy
Year: 1988
Position: #19
Title: Fear of a Black Planet
Artist: Public Enemy
Year: 1990
Position: #131

There are a lot of things where I have started to admit that I just don’t get it. With It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet, two albums that are said to exemplify East Coast rap, I think I have another thing to add to this list. I don’t get, or will probably ever get, what it is to be a black person in America. Not exactly a light bulb moment to be true, but listening to the anger and pain in these albums it is clear that as  gay, white, red-headed male living in the UK I have no real emotional stone.

Then again,  in terms of musical appreciation of these albums I don’t particularly need to. I mean, hip-hop is something that I have not been able to get my head around, but this definitly some of the better I have heard. I would like to add that I have tried a number of different artists (mostly on the recommendation of the 1001 albums book and Pitchfork.com) and other than M.I.A. and Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor nothing has really made an impact on my psyche.

One thing that I am glad of is that I listened to these Public Enemy albums after I watched Do The Right Thing. Not only because of the extreme use of ‘Fight The Power’ but also because it helped to give me at least some context.  Whilst I am able to appreciate the rapping, the lyrics and the overall composition but these are not exactly albums I will probably be keeping around for too long after writing this.

Goal Change – Food List

It has been little over a year since I started my food challenge and, I have to say, that I have enjoyed doing this so much. I mean, I have managed to get to 367 eaten and written about and despite my thoughts that it would have slowed down by now it really hasn’t by too much. 

 

The thing is, that these are ingredients and I am as much interested in actual meals that I should try as I am the individual ingredients. This is why, like I have done with the film list, I am expanding my food list to include those found in the above book.

Now, the way that this will be working is that I have firstly taken out any duplicate items, thus lowering this from an extra 1001 to an extra 865. I will also be linking back to anything I inadvertently did as part of the other food challenge whether it be their more general inclusion of ‘olives’ or the ‘cod cheeks’ I ate in the Netherlands in the form of ‘kibbeling’.

This list does have the disadvantage of including alcohol, but even though I choose not to drink these are things that are seen as essential, so why not have a try of these.

In any case, I  will still be going for the half-way point for now, it’s just that this will now take longer and I will be celebrating this new list with the eating of a new addition.

Food item: Jaffa Cakes

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books
Progress: 441/933

Good Eatin’: The Last of the Bellota

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

We have a rather large Sainsbury’s not too far away and I am not sure why I had not paid a visit to it for the sake of bloggery until now. We managed to find a number of things for a ‘deli lunch’, one of them which has meant the final Iberico de Bellota meat has now been found.

Food items: Chabichou, Felino Salami and Lomo Iberico de Bellota

Since I knew that chabichou has a delicate flavour that was where I made my start. It was firm, creamy and had more than a hint of goat to it. In fact, this cheese actually reminded me a lot of the Selles-sur-cher cheese I had eaten before Christmas, right down to the slight ashy taste from the rind.

This then lead to the Felino salami. It was a very tender salami with a succulent and sweet edge to it, making a nice accompaniment to the goat cheese. There was a taste of peppercorn and a slight hint of fennel seed to it as well.

This was a bit of a contrast to the Lomo Iberico de Bellota, which was a bit dissapointing when compared to the other Iberico de Bellota meats. It had neither the heat of the chorizo nor the melting feeling of the jamon.  It was a bit too salty for me too. Ah well.

Food item: Scots Pancake

Breakfast the next morning, some rather nice Scotch pancakes fresh from the toaster. There isn’t much to this aside from good comfort food that is improved with a light spreading of butter slowly melting into the fluffiness of the pancakes.

Progress: 371/500

XL Popcorn – La Passion De Jeanne d’Arc

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 426/1007Title: La Passion De Jeanne d’Arc
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Year: 1928
Country: France

It has been said that you do not know silent films until you recognise the face of Renée Falconetti in the title role of Le Passion De Jeanne d’Arc. As someone who had already seen the likes of Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Sunrise, Metropolis and The Battleship Potemkin this is something I always took with a pinch of salt, but I think I know more what they mean now.

To be honest, silent films have a soporific effect on me. The fact that the spotlight of attention is so clearly focussed on sight rather than it being allowed to flit between sight and sound usually makes me drowsy around the hour mark. Only Metropolis has avoided this, and that was because of the great variability of the score.

Sadly, La Passion De Jeanne d’Arc did begin to have this effect on me around the hour mark so I had to take a short break before returning to it. This was with the best will in the world because La Passion De Jeanne d’Arc is easily the best silent movie that I have ever seen, and this is all due to the amazing central performance of Renée Falconetti (in her only major film role).

I went into this expecting more of a biography of Jeanne d’Arc’s life; instead this is all about her trial by the English in occupied France up until her martyrdom. The great thing about this is that the director is therefore able to present as factual an account as he is able to since we are not at all dealing with her visions, just the aftermath. As such, he does not force any religious point of view on the audience. He just confronts us with a 19 year old girl (here played by someone clearly older) who is being sentenced to death by the clergy since she refuses to say her visions were sent by the devil.

Now, this could be damning of the church, but in a way it isn’t. In the opening trial a clergyman is basically carted off for saying Jeanne is a saint. Too, there is another priest who, whether he believes her or not, desperately tries to help her stay alive and even remains by her giving as much comfort as he can during her immolation.

In many ways it is a film of religious grey areas that neither confirms or denies that she was the messenger of God. Too this is a film where you can not wholly hate the establishment that has condemned her since they constantly offer her a way to get out alive and she refuses to take them since she thinks of herself as living in a state of grace. The only real bad guys are the English, and in film history it usually IS a safe bet to do so unless there are any Russians involved. An astonishing film.

The Great EU Quest – Austria

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28
Country: Austria
Year first visited: 1999

Continuing my belated writing up of different countries I am looking at Austria for today’s post. This was the last holiday (one of only three I can think of) where I was abroad with both of my parents. It’s not like they were together or anything, I can’t even remember that actually being a thing since the split happened before I was 2, so it is pretty note worthy in my memory.

austria1

During our time in Austria we stayed in two different parts. Firstly, there was the Tyrolean town of Kitzbuhel and then there was somewhere on Wolfgangsee lake… a town whose name I can not quite remember.

Whilst I was always aware of my German-Polish ancestry (I know it’s a quarter only, but it’s cool so I will continue to milk this) this was the closest that I had ever been to those particular roots. This was over 15 years ago so, obviously, my memories of it are a little bit sketchy. I know that I went up mountains, visited waterfalls at Krimml, we did a day trip to Salzburg and hopped across the border twice. Once into the Czech Republic to the town of Český Krumlov and then into Germany to visit Herrenchiemsee (a palace of King Ludwig II). Note: For the purpose of this challenge I do not count either of these as a visit to check them off the EU list… I need to have actually stayed there.

The main memory I have of this holiday was a trip up the Grossglockner on August 11th 1999. Why is was this so memorable down to the date? Not because of the cute marmots that I saw on the mountainside, but because:

austria2List Item: Witness a total eclipse
Progress: Completed

That’s right, I was up Austria’s tallest mountain during one of the very very few times there will be a total eclipse viewable from Europe. Due to the height, the visibility of the eclipse was perfect (not that I actually looked directly at it, I am not dumb, but I did successfully view it).  I wish I could remember this event a lot more clearly than I do, but there are certain things that strike me. Firstly, just how much the temperature seemed to plummet in the short time that the sun was covered. Then there was the fact that whilst it didn’t actually go too dark it was basically like having the beginning of a sunset at lunchtime. Finally, I remember the marmots and the birds being really confused at the prospect of this lunchtime sunset.

Thinking how rare these eclipses are, especially viewable from Europe, I truly count myself lucky that I was able to see it under such optimal conditions.

Good Eatin’: Overtime Leads to Spaghetti Squash

List Item: Try 500 of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die

It’s a fact of life now that pretty much every job out there now means there is a regular chance of overtime occurring. It is precisely for this reason that I opt to come in early so that if there is no overtime I get to leave at 4. If overtime I required then it’s not exactly too late. Ah flexitime, you magnificent bastard.

So on this occasion I put in an extra two hours and met my partner for dinner before venturing into the Wholefoods store on Piccadilly Circus. I really had to stop myself from buying more (they did an usual list fish… something I may end up regretting missing), but I managed to get two things that I had not seen in a store before, and for only £2.50.

Food items: Spaghetti Squash and Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

For a Wholefoods being able to get a squash and some specialist potatoes for that cheap is almost unheard of so I am not going to knock it by any means. Two days later I got around to cooking both of these. Nothing major. For the pink fir apple potatoes I just roasted them like you would with any new potato. For the squash I roasted it, pulled it apart and then flash fried it in some garlic and olive oil.

I mean… look how cool the spaghetti squash is when you start pulling it apart. The thing is that the only reason you would get spaghetti squash is for the texture and the sheer fun factor of the food. There is not much taste to it and it took on the taste of the garlic, but I would get it again because… LOOK HOW COOL IT IS!!!

The pink fir potatoes, however, were really flavourful. I mean if you distilled the essence of flavour of a good new potato you would basically get the pink fir potatoes. All I did was boil them for 7 minutes and then roast them in a light covering of oil for 35 minutes. Definitely a potato purchase for the future.

Progress: 367/500

Acclaimed Albums: Ágætis Byrjun by Sigur Rós

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 60/250Title: Ágætis Byrjun
Artist: Sigur Rós
Year: 1999
Position: #188

It’s been a while since I last listened to Ágætis Byrjun. Back when I was in the first year of university it was the album I used to take naps underneath my desk like a 6’3” ginger tabby. During this I would have a few go-to albums that I considered suitably soothing, two of these were Sigur Rós albums: Takk… and Ágætis Byrjun.

This is not by any means my saying that Ágætis Byrjun is a boring album. Far from it. The thing is that being ambient music it is so easy to get yourself lost in the sonic world of their creation. I tried it at work today (since I appear to be coming down with another cold and trying out Public Enemy for the first time was NOT going to happen) and it managed to calm me down after a slightly scary meeting and carry me through over an hour of work.

It’s hard to describe this album because there are no touchstones that I can attach it to. Maybe to Radiohead and to AIR, but that is about it. I am sure Ágætis Byrjun is not a completely original work, but they have to be in a very small company. When you think about it, it is amazing that a country with not much more than 300,000 people could produce two highly unusual and acclaimed artists.

What is the most remarkable thing about this album? Ágætis Byrjun is the only album in this list of lists that was recorded and released with no English on it whatsoever. Just think on that, no other album listed as one of the Top 250 most acclaimed is composed with all non-English lyrics. Looking at the whole list the next album you get that has all its lyrics in another language is ( ), another album by Sigur Rós which is currently sat at 515.

XL Popcorn – Gun Crazy

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 425/1007Gun-Crazy-AKA-Deadly-Is-T-001Title: Gun Crazy
Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Year: 1950
Country: USA

Sometimes it is an absolute bitch knowing that a film has been produced under the Hay’s code. The fact that anyone who engages in an illegal must have some sort of comeuppance means that as you see things go south in Gun Crazy you know there is only one of two things that can happen; they get thrown in jail or they get killed. There’s no point crying “spoiler” at this, it’s one of those stupid things about watching American films from this era… as well as watching a  film treatment of the Bonnie and Clyde story.

I’m getting ahead of myself here somewhat. Gun Crazy tells the story of Bart Tare, a man who has been obsessed with guns ever since he was a tween. Obsessed with guns, but truly adverse to killing anyone with them, at least not after that innocent baby chick he shot with a BB gun as a young boy. Honestly, the scene when he killed the chick actually upset me, not as much as the tortoise in Farewell My Concubine since I am sure they just had a dead chick on hand and didn’t kill one for the film. However, it is one of the most important scenes in the film since it provides the touchstone for why he would never kill anyone and deplores people being murdered with guns.

The whole film is completely anchored by the chemistry between the two leads. The premise relies on the fact that these two people are not only obsessed with guns but also each other and, to give credit to Peggy Cummins and John Dall, you believe that they might rip each others clothes off at the drop of a hat.

The story of Bonnie and Clyde is well know so I won’t dwell on that. What I will point out is a scene that blew my mind when I found out how it was done. To set the scene, the couple ran out of funds and are robbing shops and banks, here we see them driving up to a bank to rob it whereby he goes in, she distracts and knocks out a policeman and then they get away. Doesn’t sound special? Well you need to see it to be honest, but it was all done in one shot with improvised dialogue, a car rigged with a camera and a saddle for the cameraman and a bystander who thought it was so real that they screamed for help. Talk about realism.