Monthly Archives: January 2017

Good Eatin’: Shungiku at Shuang Shuang

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I love conveyor belt restaurants. I remember the first time I saw one of these on TV and my reaction was pretty much the same as when Cartman found out about homeschooling in that episode of South Park – pure eye-opening joy.

For many years the only conveyor belt restaurants you could find in this country, or anywhere in the world, were sushi-based. We made good use of this in Japan with visits to conveyor sushi restaurants in Kyoto and Hiroshima as well as many visits to Yo Sushi back in the UK.

So when I first walked past Shuang Shuang on the corner of London’s Chinatown I just knew this was a place to visit. Never before had I seen a non-sushi conveyor restaurant – not even when I was in the homeland of conveyor belt restaurants.

A few months later I actually got around to visiting Shuang Shuang with my work bestie in order to try it out for myself. In essence it was a Chinese hot-pot (or Japanese shabu-shabu) conveyer belt restaurant with the dipping ingredients circling around. As well as a selection of meat, vegetables and noodles there was a certain list food:

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieIMG_3442Food item: Shungiku

Shungiku, or chrysanthemum leaves in English, is one of those ingredients that I am pretty sure I encountered when in Japan. The thing is that I was never able to corroborate this whilst in Japan.

I am guessing that this is on the food list as it is one of those warming food staples that you don’t quite get over here (similar to having something like turnips or salsify on the list). A local food that you would get similar results would be the humble spinach. Shungiku has more of a bite to it and has a less metallic taste than spinach, but the comparison can be made.

I can see shungiku being one of those essential soup greens (it is so much nicer than kale) where it is readily available. However, it is not really worth any extra cost when compared to cheaper and locally available greens.

Progress: 557/751

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Level One – BioShock

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 60/100Title: BioShock
Developer: 2K Australia and 2K Boston
Original Platform: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Year: 2005

For the first 6 months of my putting the Play That Game list together it really looked like BioShock might have ended up on top of the list. I know! I was a bit shocked too – and then more lists got added and some weighting was changed (totally required as Assassin’s Creed IV is not a Top 100 game) and BioShock settled in around the lower single digits.

I had trouble playing this game. This wasn’t anything to do with Bioshock just the yellow part of my belly that only shows when I play any video game with a horror element and/or enemies that jump out at me. I’m someone who is able to watch Irreversible without batting too much of an eye and yet the Boos from the Super Mario games can creep me out slightly.

Because of this idiocy of mine I had to detract from the sizeable atmosphere by playing soothing music to keep my heart rate down (Joanna Newsom’s Anecdotes worked wonders). Even with the music on and some of the ambient sounds turned down I was still utterly creeped out. Yes, I screamed whilst playing this game. Multiple times.

Scores of essays have been written about the plot and that big reveal of the city of Rapture (wow what a piece of game cinematic) so I don’t think my inelegant and uneducated ramblings about art deco and the politics of Ayn Rand is required. Even if you have never heard of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead you will be able to grasp a lot of the philosophy behind this game – and if you don’t you just need a few minutes with the crazy plastic surgeon.

It’s hard to talk anymore about the atmosphere or plot of this game without descending into spoilers. The bare bones of it is you crash land in the middle of the Atlantic and come across an underwater city where everything is incredibly fucked up. In order to battle for your survival you are able to take on plasmids – special magiclike abilities that you need use by injecting chemicals into your body (cue gross animations).

The plasmids are really great fun and, like Dishonored, you have a lot of options in how you attack levels. I’m not the biggest fan of the hacking minigame (probably because of the Xbox 360 controls), but it’s hard to fault the way they did the controls for two very different types of weapons.

If you are someone who has the ability to deal with jump-scares and love FPSs with a fantastic setting then you should get a copy of Bioshock post-haste. Else, you can watch the Cliff Notes on YouTube.

What’s On TV – It

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 179/501
Title: It
Episodes Aired: 2
Episodes Watched: 2
Year(s): 1990
Country: USA

Just going to put this out there, but how come US network channels no longer make miniseries? Sure there are exceptions to this rule (I mean, there has to be right?), but after finishing Roots and It in the space of less than a week it got me to thinking: other than the NBC biennial live musical “extravaganzas” have the likes of Showtime and HBO killed the network miniseries? Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time.

It is one of those made-for-TV movies/miniseries that has truly ascended the pantheon of cult TV classics. This is in a very large part due to Tim Curry and his menacing portrayal of the titular It in his Pennywise the Clown garb. As a straight up clown he isn’t that scary compared a lot of real life clowns I have seen… but then those real life clowns don’t have even an ounce of the intensity that Tim Curry brings to the role. Yes the teeth and the claws help, but the most creepy part of Pennywise are those looks he is able to give.

Note that throughout this I am only going to refer to this as creepy. At no point during the three hours of It did I feel remotely scared or properly creeped out. Don’t get me wrong though – It is a fantastically well done horror thriller, just more on the gentler side of things. Then again, this is rated as an 18 (somehow) so I guess it is just my strange baseline for terror talking (high for film and TV, ridiculously low for video games).

Despite the fact that there are no real scares in this there was still a palpable amount of tension. Complete credit has to be given to the acting by both the adult and child ensemble who play the same characters some 30 years apart. There is a substantial amount of chemistry between the two ensembles (to the point that I would expect the child cast would play together and the adult cast would get drunk together).

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Amongst the child cast is a 15-16 year old Seth Green looking adorable (as always) and there is Jame Ritter as one of the adult versions. Apart from that I could not recognise any of the other actors (it had been too long since I have seen Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet to recognise Olivia Hussey).

Anyway, let’s get to the thing I missed the most – back story about the titular monster. The big bad is never really explained in any real detail other than him being an evil entity that emerges every 30 or so years. I know that in the 1100 page Steven King book he goes into substantial detail about the origins of the monster and why he specifically targets children. Honestly, this was something that I felt was lacking in what was otherwise a fantastic monster.

Also (and this is a problem of time) there was some special effects issue with the big bad in the final scene. Forgivable when you consider this is nearly 27 years old and made for TV, still it shattered the illusion somewhat.

On the whole this is one of those things I know will be watched on a future Halloween. Sure it isn’t scary, but it’s got a creepy killer clown in it. What else do you need?

Acclaimed Albums – Dummy by Portishead

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 119/250Title: Dummy
Artist: Portishead
Year: 1994
Position: #65

Portishead is one of those acts that I avoided for a long time because someone once told me that they were weird. I am someone who lists Bjork and Kate Bush among their favourite musicians, wrote all of their NaNoWriMo to a soundtrack of The Knife and Grimes, and actually had Father John Misty’s ‘I Love You Honeybear‘ as the first dance at their wedding.

Still. The idea that Portishead was weird persisted and I never really listened to them until relatively recently. Even now the only album of theirs that I have listened to is Dummy. I will need to listen to Third at some point, but Dummy feels like the essential one.

I must have listened to Dummy three or four times in the last 10 years before doing it for this blog. Now that I have more context as to where this fits into musical history (and I have listened to more Massive Attack) I think that I actually get this album a whole lot more.

This is unmistakably trip-hop, just with more of a chill-out and bluesy feel to it and less hip-hop. Because of Dummy’s more dreamy soundscapes it almost feels like you are listening to a film soundtrack. Something neo-noir like Mulholland Drive or maybe a TV show with some mysterious edge to it.

A lot of this mysterious sound comes down to the vocals of Beth Gibbons. She’s like an Elizabeth Fraser you can understand (again, I listened to Treasure by the Cocteau Twins and yet stayed away from Dummy… what the actual hell) and her voice feeds into the swirling jazz samples and record scratches.

Knowing that Third was Portishead moving away from the trip-hop that they helped popularize actually saddens me as it has taken me a long time actually listen and get into them (I seriously love this album but I am not at the point yet where I can nail down a track by name apart from ‘Mysterons’). Still, artists need to develop (hey, look at Bjork’s progression from the house of her debut to the sweeping broken-hearted strings of Vulnicura).

All I can say is that it’s going to be interesting to hear them be more on the industrial side of music.

What’s On TV – Roots

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 178/501
Title: Roots
Episodes Aired: 8
Episodes Watched: 8
Year(s): 1977
Country: USA

Right… so this is actually going to be quite hard to comment on. I don’t think I have ever heard the n-word uttered so many times in succession (outside of a rap album) as I did when watching Roots. 

The thing is, Roots is one of those legendary pieces of television. One of the most watched series in US history with the final episode amazing around 100 million watchers (which beats out many Super Bowl broadcasts). To put this into perspective the finale of Friends was watched by ~63 million Americans – and we all know how big a show that was.

For those who have no idea what Roots is – think of it as a show depicting the history of a man caught in Africa by slavers and the next three generations of his lineage. Whilst Kunta Kinte is the first and most famous of main characters this is a four-hander of a show. Each of the four descendants has their own journey to make in the country that made sure they stayed enslaved.

Some of the more interesting, and telling, interactions as to the feelings at the time are between Kizzy (Kunta’s daughter) and Missy Anne (the white daughter of a slave owner). There is a scene where they are sitting together in the garden and they see each other as best friends (or at least very good friends), but some of the awful racist and sexist rhetoric that comes out of Missy Anne’s mouth… well it makes you angry.

As fantastically acted and paced as this show is (it comes in at around 9 hours) the emotion you are mostly left with is a mixture of anger and (as a white person) guilt. I mean… white people are just awful in this show. There is only one white beacon in this show he only appears right towards the end. Seriously, if it were not for Ol George and his wife then there is no good white character since, now let’s be honest, you can be the nicest slave owner in the world but you are still a fucking slaver owner.

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Now if I were to shine a spotlight onto one character in this show it would have to be Chicken George. Of the four main characters (Kunta Kinte, Kizzy, Chicken George and Tom) he is the one that has the more unusual character arc. To start with, he is a child born of rape – his mother Kizzy having been raped by her ‘owner’. This immediately makes him different because he is mixed race (despite the fact that the actor is darker than his mother… but let’s not go into that right now), the son of a slave owner and, for a slave, had a fairly decent life looking after fighting cocks.

The journey that Chicken George is astounding. He goes form being fairly content in being a slave to actually being the first of the Kinte line to gain his freedom. By the end of it you could argue that, of Kinte’s descendants, he is the one most proud of his African roots. He is talented at what he does to the point that he is able to secure a sizeable piece of land in Tennessee and secure a life for himself and his family.

Of course I could go on and talk about this – but as I said before I want to stay away from being any form of controversial or insulting. I will never understand what it is to be black since I am a white man (albeit a gay white man) in a Western country. I get that I don’t get a lot of the feelings stirred up by this. Still, this is going to be one of those series that leaves a lasting effect on me – more so than 12 Years a Slave which feels incredibly vanilla compared to this landmark series.

Good Eatin’: A £30 Chicken!?

Before I start this write-up there is a small adjustment that is going to be made for my blog lists.

A while ago I added a second 1001 food list which brought up the grand total of  foods to 1866. Despite this I have still mainly been focused on the original list and, to be honest, the list I added was nowhere near as much fun as I had hoped.

I’ve been toying with doing this ever since that time I had carp in Lithuania – but now I have eaten this expensive piece of poultry I will be reverting back to the original 1001 food list only!

Which means….

List Item: Try half of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 556/501 – COMPLETEIMG_3434Food item: Volaille De Bresse

This lovely piece of chicken was bought in Borough Market on the same day that I purchased the vatrushka and peaches. I have known for a long time that the good people at The Ginger Pig sold Bressé chickens, but I have never had the luck to find one of these beauties at their stall on a Saturday.

Lo and behold that at 9:30am on July 23rd 2016 (told you I was posting in advance) that they had not one, but three of these birds sat in wait for food-lovers with a bit too much money to burn (I mean hell, payday was on Monday so why not right?). I bring up money as this pictured chicken set me back nearly £30 (at around £17.50 a kilo). Still,  I just HAD to have it… after the head and feet had been removed by the butcher.

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The next question was – how do I cook the damned thing. The internet provided me with a sizeable amount of conflicting advice, but I ended up settling on this recipe from Chez Pim. I did not want to fuck up this expensive beauty and, unlike suggestions in other recipes, I had not intention on steaming in the oven.

Before preparing this with my mum I decided to smell the chicken. Usually a chicken from the local supermarket doesn’t smell nice at all… and yet this did. Actually it smelt more like corn than chicken (which makes sense seeing how they are fed on a corn rich diet) and you could see rich and beautiful veins of yellow fat just by casually looking at it.

Anyway, we followed this recipe to the letter and we ended up with this:

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The smell of this chicken as it cooked was astonishing (the bulb of garlic stuffed into the crevice and the soy sauce glaze will have helped with that). This was not your archetypal roasting chicken, something that was apparent the moment you try and carve this.

When I say that there was a reservoir of liquid fat between the main body and the drumsticks I do not think I would be understating it. I have never seen anything quite like it when carving into a bird. Needless to say as long as you don’t overcook it you are going to have one moist piece of chicken.

To quote my mum on this (thanks again for helping me with the chicken): it’s chicken like it used to be. Having tried both this and the Jidori chicken my eyes have been opened to what chicken can actually be like. This beautiful piece of roasted chicken.

It’s not just about taste, as the texture is different. It’s firmer which actually makes it feel more like a game bird than something raised on a farm. Whilst I did not like the grouse that decided to bleed all over my kitchen they had a similar toughness (not the right word, but the right word is eluding me right now).

The musculature on this chicken was just interesting to look at. Just the fact that a clear dividing line between white meat and dark meat was visible was completely new to me. This chicken just felt exceptionally raised and looked after and it’s given me pause for future chicken purchases.

Now that I am WAY over the halfway mark… I guess that means I should decide on the next landmark.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 556/751

Yes, this feels right.

1001 Songs – 1963

I am going to miss being able to complete a year in one go. We are nearing the age of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and a whole mess of other artists.

Truly it is about to explode up in here. Something to look forward to.

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

Cry Baby – Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters

Directly before starting this particular post I was enjoying ‘Dreams’ by Beck. I always have to make a weird mental adjustment as I fall backwards in time by 50-55 years.

This song was one of those important crossover hits of the 1960s reaching the Top 5 of the Billboard charts over in the USA. We are still very much in soul country, but there is something different about this song and the only way I can describe it is that this feels more ‘mainstream’. Other soul songs were in the mainstream (ego why they are on this list), but this feels more mainstream and modern in comparison to what has gone before.

It’s something about the layers in the production and how clean it all sounds. No more of this music being rough around the edges. It sounds polished and like something that Aretha Franklin would be able to get her hands on.

La javanaise – Juliette Greco

The star of Serge Gainsbourg was really beginning to rise in the early 1960s. This dreamy dose of chanson just makes it clear how different genres of music were developing at the same time.

We are very much a world apart from the rock, soul and folk of the English speaking world. It’s a nice way to break the flow and the perfect song for a summer afternoon waiting for Tesco to bring up your weekly supply of diet cola.

The husky voice of this song is very much in the cabaret style that I have come to expect from the likes of these kinds of chanteuse. It’s good background music, but probably would sit through a whole album of Juliette Greco (and yet you have something like Ute Lemper’s Punishing Kiss, which is fantastic).

Harlem Shuffle – Bob & Earl

Where are the cars with weird suspension? Wait, this isn’t House of Pain with ‘Jump Around’, but the 1963 song ‘Harlem Shuffle’. That opening horn section has become so incredibly famous for anyone born before 1995 that it’s incredibly jarring to hear the original source material.

It’s yet another of those songs that tries to catch onto dance crazes… but it feels remarkably slow to dance to. How are you expected to shake a tail feather when the song feels like it’s limping across the finish line.

On Broadway – The Drifters

That’s one hell of a piece of triangle work after the 50 second mark. Seriously listen to that triangle. Once you’ve noticed it you will actually find it hard to focus on the rest of the song. It’s just that distracting.

The balance was off with this song, and that’s not just because of the crazy triangle work. Not sure what else there is to say.

Louie Louie – The Kingsmen

I don’t think there is a person alive in the West who does not know ‘Louie Louie’. It’s one of those songs that films, TV shows and adverts like to trot out as a way to highlight the fact that we are in the early 1960s.

Weirdly enough, most of this song feels like it could have been made in the late 1950s. There is something about that rockabilly steel guitar which makes this feel more of a throwback. I guess that this is still rock and roll finding its feet and has yet to find that defined direction that will be start to take shape in the next year or so.

The vocal delivery is what makes this sound more modern, however. We have had similar shouty deliveries for a while, but there is a drawl and a bit of snark in it that makes him sound fresh.

One Fine Day – The Chiffons

Oh my God. I love this song. Like with ‘Louie Louie’ it is one of those songs I have only heard in other media.

Listening to it now with my musical appreciation hat on I can see the Carol King/Gerry Goffin watermark on it. Just listen to that great piano work in the background.

Of course the thing that makes this song is the tight harmony by the Chiffons themselves. Their vocals meld together to make a song that just makes you smile with it’s infectious and bouncy optimism.

In Dreams – Roy Orbison

So um… I can’t make a balanced judgement of this song thanks to David Lynch and the way he just made it so incredibly vile in Blue Velvet. It’s weird to think how Lynch got to that murderous place with a song that is just so unassuming… so now it is just unsettling. Maybe that’s just the falsetto though.

But hey, at least it isn’t ‘Pretty Woman’.

Actually let’s be fair. This song is unusual, not in terms of style but in terms of structure. There is no real clear chorus and it is actually quite experimental. If unsettling. Thanks David.

Sally Go’ Round the Roses – The Jaynetts

There really a lot of these girl groups during this time period. We even have one more coming up after this.

Now if there was a song that David Lynch could have picked for Blue Velvet I would have expected something more like this. Same with Quentin Tarantino. This song screams Tarantino soundtrack.

Why? This song actually feels quite spooky, mainly because of the subdued nature of the vocals. It called to mind Joe Meek’s work ‘Johnny Remember Me’. It’s an unusual song to have as the debut song of your new girl group, which might go a long way to explain why they were a one-hit wonder, but it’s such an interesting song.

The lyrics are up for interpretation, but the overridingly popular one is that it is a veiled reference to lesbianism. It’s about someone keeping a secret and being warned off of that behaviour. It could be cheating, drug use or lesbianism. I know I’m not alone in hoping it’s the third one… just because it would make this song stand out even more.

Be My Baby – The Ronettes

How different is this to the previous song? Very different. We are back in the warm(ish?) embrace of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

Every now and then we have one of those songs that is incredibly important – and this is important because of how it shaped Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. It’s hard to think that these layers of sound in a song were once brand new, so it makes sense that people (like Wilson) would be taken aback by it and try to make sense of it.

It’s possibly that ‘God Only Knows’ may not exist as we know it if not for this song. Something to be thankful for.

Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen

Oh god Family Guy. This is an interesting entry on the list as it’s an example of an extremely successful mash-up song (think Jive Bunny, but more obnoxious).

‘Surfin’ Bird’ is actually a mash-up of two very similar sounding songs by the Rivingtons, and this mash-up by the Trashmen was done based on the similarity of these songs. Obviously a legal battle was involved and the Rivingtons won rights to ‘Surfin’ Bird’… but if you release two songs as singles that are THIS similar… well you’re just asking for a mash-up.

Sapore di sale – Gino Paoli

After the… whatever that is of ‘Surfin’ Bird’ it’s a song that is fairly non-descript. It is just another slow male-led pop song, in this case it’s in Italian. Bit of a meh song to end the year on to be honest…

Progress: 149/1021

Good Eatin’: Vatrushka and Pêche de Vigne

It’s at times like this where I think I would like to start a food podcast. I don’t quite know what it would be like or even how I would end up doing it, but it’s something worth considering . Might give me that kick up the backside to keep on with these food items, especially since it’s been almost a month since I was last able to cross some off.

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

She signed the letter: All Yours! Vatrushka Vatrushka Vatrushka-ya-ya

Sorry that was too hard to resist. I looked for these Eastern European pastries during my recent trip to Lithuania – only to find there was a stall selling them in Borough Market. The good people at Karaway Bakery do some fantastic work with rye and caraway bread (sold as Grandmother’s Bread) and they sell two types of these pastries: one with peach and one with blueberries.

I split this vatrushki with my husband as I knew it would be too much for me. By gum it was. The pastry is sweet, bouncy and glossy – if I were to compare the pastry ring itself to some other baked good that I’ve previously had it would be challah.

In essence this is a Eastern European Danish pastry with a thicker central filling and a firmer pastry. I would rather have one of these, to be honest.

Food item: Pêche de Vigne

Now these were a real find. I missed these the last two years on account of not having the free Saturdays to go to Borough when these are in season. So here we are in late July with crates of Pêche de Vigne (also known as Indian peaches) available for me to sample.

The Pêche de Vigne is an interesting type of peach, having been traditionally been planted as a way to attract disease away from vineyards. When you cut into them one cannot help but wonder if generations of winemaking has rubbed off on them. The vivid purple-red of the initial juice is a sight to behold, as is the clean up afterwards as that is staining juice.

There are a number of suggested ways to eat these, but since these are peaches I figured it would be best to go for the au natural approach by peeiling them and eating them. Had to give them a quick sniff before I prepared them though – truly a summer smell.

Whilst these may look like peaches they don’t really taste too much like peaches. Sure there is that sweet peachy hint to them, but there is an overriding tartness that reminds me more of raspberries or brambles.

Food item: Danish Pastry

Crossing off the Vatrushka made me think that it was high time that I got some Danish pastries in order to just get that little bit further on the food list. Instead of settling for just one type I got a selection of mini Danishes.

Now I have had actual Danishes in actual Denmark, so I know that these can taste better when in the authentic surroundings. Still, a check is a check.

Progress: 908/933

🎻♫♪ – Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 7/501Title: Requiem
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
 1791

Well, I knew it would be too long before I broke rank (meant to be listening to this chronologically with the hub) and listened to one of these out of order. Today’s blog entry is thanks to my current anime of choice: Hunter x Hunter. At the end of episode 51 a very familiar passage of classical music was played over the end sequence where the shady Phantom Troupe massacre the local police and Mafia members. It’s a fantastically choreographed piece of animation that really does put a lot of real life entertainment to shame.

I don’t think there is a single consumer of culture that has not heard one of the movements from Requiem. It might have been in Amadeus, Watchmen, Hunter x Hunter, The Big Lebowski, X2 or even the Lent episode of Father TedMore than likely it’s the final movement (known as the Communio) that you will have heard, although other parts crop up here and there.

I have little in the way of classical knowledge, but even I know that a requiem (much like a canticle or an antiphon) is classical music set to the Latin texts used in a Catholic requiem mass (mass for the dead e.g. funeral or memorial). If you listen to a number of requiems by different composers you are likely to hear the same sentences as they have used the same base texts.

If you have seen the, mostly fictionalised, biography Amadeus you should know that Requiem was one of the last pieces that Mozart worked on. He only completed parts of it, with later composers stepping in to fill in the blanks.

What makes this interesting for me is that I have skipped to the end of Mozart’s music. I know what he ultimately ended up at and now (when I fall back in line) I will be rewinding 18 years previous to hear some of his piano sonatas and string quartets.

What is fantastic about Requiem is that it effortlessly adds gravitas to anything you are doing. I had free time on a day off in leiu (curse you Saturday meetings) and every sentence I typed just felt grander.

Obviously in a 50 minute piece there are the more memorable movements. For that you are looking at (in movement order) ‘Dies irae’, ‘Rex Tremendae’ and the final ‘Communio’. Since these are the most memorable these will also be the ones you recognise. It is still worth listening to the whole 50 minutes though.

XL Popcorn – Il Deserto Rosso

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 579/1007
Title: Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso)
Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Year: 1964
Country: Italy

“One mystery is okay, but two is too many”. Sometimes you hear or read something in a movie that completely crystallises a character and their journey. This quote comes from a story that Giuliana (Monica Vitti) tells her son as he pretends to have become recently paralysed. In the story she tells of a girl on an isolated cove, which is an interesting parallel to Guiliana’s own isolation from the rest of the world. She uses this story as a way to explain (to the best of her abilities) how she has been feeling to her young son – only to find this was a cruel trick he has played on her which only deepens her feelings of isolation. It is this feeling of crippling isolation/detachment which permeates the brutal industrial landscapes of Il Deserto Rosso. 

By setting his first colour film in an industrial complex Michelangelo Antonioni must have had an uphill climb in getting that ‘painted on canvas’ look he was trying to achieve. I can only imagine how much easier this would have been if he had chosen to shoot Sicily in colour for L’Avventura

Still when you watch this you cannot fault Antonioni for what he tried to achieve. The greyness of the surroundings truly helps to emphasise the accents of red, blue and yellow. In the final shot it is the vivid yellow of the smoke that truly hits you thanks to the grim surroundings. He tried to make industry beautiful… and I would not agree with that. However, he somehow used it as a contrast to make the commonplace (and sometimes even the toxic) seem beautiful, which is a big win there.

Another departure from Antonioni is the sound design of the film – made up of industrial sounds by a foley artist and electronic noises. The way that they mix (usually when Guiliana is approaching her breaking point) is unsettling. It is hard to describe why it works so well (mainly because my vocabulary caps out with the word discordant), but this is something you will have to watch and see for yourself.

It all adds up to an interesting film about a woman finding it hard to cope with life. She tries to find meaning in friends, her son and a sexual affair with her husbands co-worker… but everything just ends up making her feel useless, unneeded and alone. It’s a miracle of acting from Monica Vitti that this character is not insufferable.

As someone who has been through an awful period of depression there is a lot of her actions that I could relate to (not the affair… love you hub) and unlike other actors she never overdoes it. Sure there are outbursts, as there are bound to be, but the entire performance is grounded in reality.

Like with a lot of cinema from the continent this is more a slice of life film as no real conclusion is reached. She is still emotionally isolated and her husband is likely off to Patagonia for a year leaving her behind with her young (arsehole) son. Will she survive? Other than a clue from an interaction with her son about how birds learn to avoid the toxic smoke of the factories we don’t know. I hope that the final scene is some sort of hopeful metaphor.