Monthly Archives: July 2019

XL Popcorn – Passenger

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 733/1007Title: Pasażerka (Passenger)
Director: Andrzej Munk & Witold Lesiewicz
Year: 1963
Country: Poland

The wonders of what could have been. When you watch a lot of films you come across a lot of premature deaths, which make you wonder what more could have been made or how certain projects could have been finished. The number of these deaths that happen to be car accidents is ridiculously high, with talents like Soviet director Larisa Shepitko and French actress Françoise Dorléac being the ones that immediately come to mind.

To this list, I guess I’ll now have to add Polish director Andrzej Munk whose death prevented Passenger from being completed. As it stands, Passenger is just over an hour long – gaps in the shooting being explained via a voiceover and photographs of footage in order to keep the narrative flow going, the ending being left ambiguous as was done in the original play.

Despite being cobbled together Passenger is a remarkably cohesive work where the meta-narrative almost makes the proceedings feel like a documentary. Considering that this is the story of an SS officer and her game of psychological warfare over a chosen prisoner, there is a lot of power in this footage. Especially as most of the atrocities (such as Jews hanging dead) are nonchalantly happening in the background as SS officer Liza goes about her daily business.

The relationship that forms between Liza and her chosen inmate Marta is complex and destructive – something you only start to see in the second half of the film as Liza starts to tell us the real story of what happened (unlike the sanitized version she tells her husband in the first half). This is not the story of an SS officer who wanted to save someone from the camp, as she tries to initially convince her husband, this is someone so hardened by her dehumanisation as part of the SS that she finds a prisoner to take out her frustrations on.

I can only imagine how much of a masterpiece Passenger would have ended up being had Andrzej Munk not died. As is stands it’s pretty much there, but it would have been interesting to see how he would have filmed the ending and how the present day scenes on the ship would have panned out. Still, this is definitely worth seeing even if it is just as a fragment.

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XL Popcorn – Last Chants for a Slow Dance

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 732/1007Title: Last Chants for a Slow Dance
Director: Jon Jost
Year: 1977
Country: USA

I had such plans for this weekend. With the husband away I was going to watch 5-8 films, get take out and fill any extra time up with anime. Instead, I’ve gone and come down with gastroenteritis – which means that, after finishing DeewaarI was going through all things projectile and having delusions about making clothes for the army.

Anyway, I’m conscious now and refilling my fluids with some pink lemonade Lucozade – so let’s look at the film. I chose this for one reason, the need to prioritise films from the 1960s and 1970s as they make up a substantial bulk of films on the 1001 list. Also, at 90 minutes long, I felt like this would be short enough to ease me back in (I was wrong, I fell asleep and so had to restart).

Last Chants for a Slow Dance is an interesting example of the sort of film you can make on a ridiculously small budget – $2000 to be specific. It kinda shows in the quality of the celluloid and in the fuzziness of the sound, but that all ends up making it feel like some sort of docudrama. Albeit a docudrama about a deadbeat dad/husband having one night stands and getting drunk rather than find a job to help support his family.

It’s good for what it is and for how little money was spent on making it. However, much like Wanda, it doesn’t exactly stand up when compared to films with properly trained actors and cameras that allow you to easily discern things in low light.

XL Popcorn – Deewaar

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 731/1007Title: Deewaar
Director: Yash Chopra
Year: 1975
Country: India

With no husband in the house, I thought this might be the opportunity to pick out one of the longest films that I had left to see for the 1001 list – a three hour Bollywood epic whose influence can be seen in films like the Academy Award Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire. Did Deewaar need to last three hours with a number of musical breaks, probably not but this is Bollywood after all.

Deewaar (which translates to ‘The Wall’ in English) follows the story of two brothers whose lives went in drastically different directions after their father was branded a thief and abandoned his family in disgrace. The elder son, Vijay, falls into a life of crime after being arguably more traumatised by his family’s sudden fall into poverty – then there is Ravi who was send to be educated and ends up becoming a police officer.

From this, you can probably map a lot of the plot beats for yourself as Deewaar is not the sort of film to throw a curveball. In fact, in places, it can be remarkably predictable and cheesy with telenovella style over-reactions and lightning bolts in the sky. However, there’s a lot of real emotion in here too with the four leads showing real glimpses of brilliance. Also, it’s worth noting just how this film hammers home the social mobility problems in India – something that I also saw in yesterday’s film.

However, there is no getting away from this film being about half an hour too long, for somehow rushing the ending and for those musical breaks. I get that the songs are a Bollywood hallmark, but they really minimize some of the social messages that this film is trying to put across… before the messages are overly thrust into our faces 20 minutes later. In the end it’s a tightrope and, not being of the culture or the time period, I have no idea how this would be taken at the time.

As with most things 1001, Deewaar was an interesting film that helps to fit another piece into the jigsaw puzzle of cinematic influences. Watching this, I couldn’t help but wonder if this film is part of a chain that ended up with the excellent Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs and, by extension, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

XL Popcorn – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 730/1007Title: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Director: Karel Reisz
Year: 1960
Country: UK

The hub is away for the weekend, which of course means a lot of time for me to watch movie, catch up on anime and eat chicken. As such, I haven’t done one of my list albums for fear of extending the lead even further. The first film of this weekends mini-filmfest is the 1960 kitchen sink drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. 

I think that this is the first time in a long while that I have dipped into a very specific era of British cinema and watched an exemplar film – the last time possibly being The Man in Grey as an example of the Gainsborough melodrama. With Saturday Night and Sunday Morning we are looking at the British New Wave cinema, which is grittier and less ennui-filled than the French counterpart.

In this we meet Arthur (the stereotypical ‘angry young man’) who rails against the system and would rather spend his money on drinking and gambling rather than settle down. He carries on an affair with a married woman (getting her pregnant and having conversations about abortion in an era where they were still illegal) whilst generally acting out and being a bit of a laddish pain in the neck.

It’s a great role for a young Albert Finney (so much better than Tom Jones… ugh) and it’s interesting to see a character like this as the British equivalent of the teenage rebels from the likes of Rebel Without A Cause and Splendor in the Grass – except this guy is likely meant to be in his early-to-mid twenties. What he’s rebelling against isn’t parents or necessarily expectations, but the future that lies ahead of him because of a lack of social mobility and ambition.

Films like this were the beginnings of British cinema using their platform to tell stories that depicted life as it was, rather than it being overly produced or funny. It’s the point that grittiness started to become popular and issues like abortion and poor social mobility were getting on the public radar – the latter being something that we’re still a long way from solving. It’s also interesting to think how real life grit from films like this would later go on to be incorporated into other genres and give us films like Get Carter and possibly even Peeping Tom. Goes to show how cinema really is one big, rich tapestry.

Graphic Content – MAD

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
57/501Title: MAD
Editor: Harvey Kurtzman
Years: 1952-1955
Country: USA

I learned something new with this comic – that the long running MAD Magazine actually started life as a comic series that is a lot like Shock SuspenStories and Frontline CombatIn the three stories within each issue they go between genres like horror, war and science-fiction – pretty standard for this era. However, as the series progresses the depiction of the genres start to become more and more infused with parody.

It’s a gradual process that starts with a wink it its eye and then ends up with full blown take downs of contemporary cultural references and other more famous characters like Superman, Alice in Wonderland and Tarzan. I mean, a frequent character is a take on Sherlock Holmes as being both wildly intelligent, so this kinda speaks for what the comic ends up becoming.

As it starts off MAD isn’t exactly a stand-out comic because I’ve read a lot of these before. As the comic goes on the ratio of hit-to-miss gets better (with the best moments being when the stories start to go a bit surreal), but it’s still not the best comic I’ve read so far. In fact, it’s downright average. Still, it’s interesting to see how this world famous magazine got its start.

📽️ Disney Time – Melody Time

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 10/57Title: Melody Time
Year: 1948

After the trash-fire that was Fun and Fancy Freehopes were not high for this penultimate entry in Disney’s decade of package movies. To be honest, when I realised it was this and not Ichabod and Mr Toad I sighed a fair bit. Then again, Melody Time is the last new film I am going to see for this Disney challenge for a good long time (31 films in fact), so that’s something to consider.

I don’t know whether this is because of me coming in with lower expectations or because of reality, but Melody Time might just have ended up being my favourite of the package films (apart from Fantasiabut I don’t really count that) of this era. I think what really helps is that they really leaned into the idea of being a contemporary Fantasia but one where they’ve gotten the story-telling down pat and have learned how to edit.

They also found the sense of humour that was inconsistent in their other attempt at a contemporary Fantasia: Make Mine Music. Over the course of seven segments we see a variety of animation types including some beautiful pieces of nature in ‘Trees’ and scenes in two segments where they’ve finally gotten the hang of integrating animated characters into a live action setting.

The moment I realised that this might be the best package film was during the second segment: ‘Bumble Boogie’. This is one of the shorter parts and it depicts a bee fighting a weird and surreal battle against the elements of music – set to a jazzy improvisation of Flight of the Bumblebee. It was so good to see the Disney animators being so creative again on their own terms, in a sequence that reminded me of the pink elephants of Dumbo

If there was one criticism to be levied at Melody Time it would be that it is so much of it’s time in terms of societal norms. For example, it was jarring to have Native Americans dancing around with the white settlers at the conclusion of the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ segment. Then again, this isn’t at the level of casual racism that I’m going to be seeing in Peter Pan – so I’ll save any further discussion until then.

I’m getting so close to Cinderella that I can almost taste the pumpkin coach. Just one more package film to go and then I’ll never have to see one again… until Fantasia 2000 that is.

World Cooking – Lebanon

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Lebanon
Progress: 34/193

I am not one for the idea of ‘love languages’, but if I had to make a guess at mine it would probably be around making food (so if someone can tell me which that aligns with, I’d be thankful). I bring this up as, continuing in the recent theme of posts about my husband’s birthday, the choice of today’s food nation was entirely in his hands – so obviously he chose Lebanese food.

It’s cool to be doing Lebanon immediately after doing Libya as I’m going from a country that has Levantine food as an influence to one of the two countries sat in the epicentre of the Levant cultural region. Picking food from this area to make for a Lebanese feast was really hard because there is just SO much to pick from. Do I go mezze, do I do grilled meat, do I make a bunch of desserts?

In the end, this list of food that I made with two ideas in mind. Firstly, would it be something my husband would enjoy as his birthday meal. Secondly, I won’t regret not saving this for other Levantine countries later on. Needless to say, this batch of food for Lebanon may just be some of the best I have made so far.

Starters: Baba Ghanoush and Labneh

If I had known just how easy it would be to make my own labneh then I would have done it years ago. I was given a cheese making kit two Christmases ago and I am finally using it for the reusable cheesecloth inside. So all I did was mix some salt and garlic into some Greek yoghurt before hanging it up to drain for little over 24 hours. Then you just decant, pour some olive oil and sprinkle some herbs over it and it’s instant food joy.

Then there’s the homemade baba ghanoush decorated with black olives and sumac. Since I don’t have a barbecue there wasn’t too much of a chance that I was going to get the smokiness that I desired, but by following the recipe from Mama’s Lebanese Kitchen hte  I ended up with some very delicious dip. Even if I had to make burn my fingers whilst pealing 700g of baby aubergines because that’s all they had at the store.

Both of these dips were so much easier to make than I had expected – much like the things that I made for mains.

Mains: Fattoush and Lahm bi ajin

Of all the dishes I made for this Lebanese feast, this fattoush salad is the one that surprised me the most. It’s one of those that shows just how a salad can be interesting, varied and delicious. Following the recipe from A Cedar Spoon, not only did I make my own pita chips for the salad but this is a gorgeous mix of cucumber, romaine lettuce, radish, parsley, mint, tomato and salad onions with a wonderful oil-lemon juice-sumac dressing. It even maintained the taste when eaten as leftovers for dinner later in the evening. Definitely one to be making again in the future.

Okay so these little Levantine pizzas were something that my husband specifically asked for. These lahm bi ajin (also known as sfiha) are made from a fairly simple pizza dough-style base with a topping of meat, tomato, a beautifully fragrant mix of spices and a liberal sprinkling of toasted pine nuts. Following the recipe from 196 Flavors, I ended up making ten of these which went down very well at lunch and later when reheated for dinner. As a basic recipe there really is so much you can do to bend it to your tastes, which I plan to do at some point in the future.

Looking at the statistics, it’stime for me to pay another visit to either Europe or Africa. On the one hand, I have yet to tick off a Scandinavian country, but on the other I did just purchase a box of fufu flour for my eventual return to West Africa. Guess it’ll just be what takes my fancy.

XL Popcorn – Sons of the Desert

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 729/1007Title: Sons of the Desert
Director: William A. Seiter
Year: 1933
Country: USA

Continuing from yesterday’s post, today is my husband’s birthday and we planned to sit down and watch any film that he wanted. Him picking an early 1930s Laurel and Hardy comedy was a bit out of leftfield, but it’s things like this that make me love him him all the more.

Now, whilst this is not my first Lauren and Hardy film by a long shot, this is the first time that I have seen one of their feature length offerings. I say feature length, it’s still only just over an hour – much like Dumbo. However, this briefer running time means that Sons of the Desert is able to be a tightly put together comedy film that never outstays it’s welcome, similar it never really dwells on a set-up for too long before moving on the story.

The story itself is a pretty standard one about husbands lying to their wives so they can do something only to be caught out later on. However, you aren’t watching a film like Sons of the Desert for an original story are you? No, you pick up a film like this in order to be entertained by some of the most accomplished and charismatic comics of the day who, even 86 years later, can still make you laugh.

To be honest, after being left cold by the likes of Duck Soup I was wondering how I would do watching a film like Sons of the Desert. Then again where I’ve never really gotten Marx Brothers humour, I have always enjoyed Laurel and Hardy shorts; especially The Music Box, which I think could have been a good fit for the 1001 list. As it stands Sons of the Desert sits on this list as the example of a Laurel and Hardy comedy, it helps that it’s legitimately good as well.

I Escaped A Room!

List Item: Successfully escape an escape roomStatus: Completed

I have been wanting to do an escape room for many a year, long before my husband went and did one as part of his bachelor party. The idea of being given a bunch of puzzles to solve as part of some longer narrative has always appealed to me – but these always tend to be geared to larger groups and those can be hard to get together.

So imagine how happy I was to see a two-person escape room in London! It made a perfect start to the weekend, which was also the weekend of my husband’s birthday! Given my slight competitive streak and that I’ve never actually done one of these before, got to admit I was more than a bit nervous about completing it.

As you can see from the photo I needn’t have worried. Not only did we complete it (in one of the fastest times the guy working there has ever seen), but it really did scratch all those puzzle itches of mine. Also, it was cool to have an escape room that relied so much on collaboration rather than just solving puzzles by yourself, which  probably helped us to complete it all the faster.

Obviously I can’t talk too much about the specific escape room other than it being set in the London Underground, because that would spoil things for an activity that should really never be spoilt. I just know that I am definitely keen to do more of these in the near future.

Let’s Get Literal – Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 53/100Title: Sons and Lovers
Author: D.H. Lawrence
Year: 1913
Country: UK

Okay so originally I was going to start the new year by tackling the literary equivalent of the enigma code by reading Finnegans Wake, but life is too short to be reading that in the middle of winter. So here I am starting the year off with the first of two books by D.H. Lawrence, who is probably most famous for the banned book Lady Chatterley’s Lover. 

Sadly, the infamous book is not on the list (although I might end up reading it at some point in the future), but that doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy his other less controversial works. So let’s have a look at the book that many consider to be his masterpiece: Sons and Lovers. This is a semi-autobiographical novel… which does make be greatly question the author’s relationship with his mother.

The tale of Sons and Lovers follows the lives of the Morel family – notably the two eldest sons Paul and William, the former being the main character. Having grown up in poor surroundings as the sons of a illiterate coal miner and an intelligent woman who ‘married down’, we follow Paul and William as they grow up, strive to make a life for themselves and have their own shares of women troubles. Here’s the key thing though – these women troubles arise primarily due to some serious Oedipal problems.

It’s interesting to see a book like this, where inspiration has been directly taken from the author’s life, that features a main character with an Oedipus complex. It also makes their relationships with woman a frustrating read at times, because you want to scream at him for being so fickle with them. The relationship between Paul and Miriam is especially sad because of the way he strings her along for near 8 years and just cannot bring himself to marry her (because he can’t be tied down and because his mother is the most important person in his life).

I want to make it clear though that these parts are frustrating in a good way. This was one of those books where I found myself looking forward to the commute so that I would be able to dive back in. There’s a voyeuristic thrill in reading about the lives of the Morels that makes this book so easy to devour. Speaks to how well D.H. Lawrence’s writing stands up some 106 years after being published. It might have also helped that this book lost about 10% of its content at the hands of a good editor. Having read a number of overlong books (Clarissa I am especially looking at you) I really feel the need to compliment the work of a good editor.

Having enjoyed Sons and Lovers there is a really temptation to make my next read Women in Love, but instead I’m going to return to the comics list for a spell because the hub has been agonising over his pick for a while. Maybe I’ll return to prose via D.H. Lawrence in the near future.