Monthly Archives: September 2020

XL Popcorn – The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 822/1007Title: De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen (The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short)
Director: André Delvaux
Year: 1966
Country: Belgium

There isn’t much in the way of Belgian cinema on the list. For whatever reason the compilers don’t didn’t include anything by the Dardenne brothers, so it’s either this film of Man Bites Dog. Both rather different films, but I know that I would rather see the latter again before seeing this one.

I can only see one reason for the inclusion of The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short on the 1001 list – in order to get a film by André Delvaux on the list as he is a key figure in the world of Belgian cinema. Being an early film of his, as well as one enjoyed by French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, it makes sense that this would be the one included.

Being a film from the Flanders region of Belgium, therefore they speak a varient of Dutch, it was nice to have my husband back me up with actual language knowledge that the dialogue in this film felt stilted. This transfers a lot to the acting and how the film is paced.

At times it is semi dreamy and it’s meant to have an element of magic realism – but it just ends up spending too long in places and too long on things where I am not sure how important it is. Like the hair-cutting scene in the beginning – it feels like that was included in its entirety just to help the title of the film (also the title of the original book) make sense. I mean watching it was ASMR o’clock for me, but it really added nothing to the film.

Honestly, it’s been a while since I watched a film around the 90 minute mark where I felt so many of the minutes passing out of my life. As a story of a teacher who falls for a student, moves away to stay away from temptation and then has a psychotic break after witnessing an autopsy and bumping into her as an adult – this should have been compelling. There is an excellent story buried in here – just buried too far down to be of interest to me.

🎻♫♪ – Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
85/501Title: Don Carlos
Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Nationality: Italian

Ah yes nothing says the creep of corona anxiety like putting on a three and a half hour opera where everything remains on a certain level of menace. Also doesn’t help when, due to meetings cropping up out of nowhere for both myself the the husband, we had to pause this a few times. I know these aren’t ideal conditions to be listening to operas, but I really want to keep some sort of normality where possible and doing classical pieces for this list is part of that.

Being an opera in a foreign language it wasn’t always possible for me to completely get what was happening from the music – apart from when someone got shot. That I got. However, I was able to get to grips with the overall tone of the piece which is dark. A darkness that hasn’t got much darker to go for most of it – so there’s no real chance for a downswing and no stomach for an upswing given the story.


Acclaimed Albums – Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 223/250Title: Appetite for Destruction
Artist: Guns N’ Roses
Year: 1987
Position: #63

It’s been over three weeks since I last did an album for this list. Mainly because, with all the coronavirus worry, I haven’t really had the right mindset to listen to a new album that was a bit of a risk. The classical pieces are different, somehow, but today I got sick of podcasts so I figured it was about time I broke out the next album.

Appetite for Destruction is one of three albums I have left on the list that place within the Top 100 and one of those I have avoiding a bit because I still have a general distaste for metal. Although, as I have grown older and have listened to more music due to the album and songs lists, this has gone from thoughts of the music being too loud to it getting a bit dull. You can probably see where I am heading with this.

As with a lot of albums on these lists, I was amazed to hear a fair few songs on this list that I had actually heard before. Like, how ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ are somehow all on the same album – to have so many incredibly famous cuts on one album makes Appetite for Destruction very impressive.

Outside of these songs, which might have benefited from me knowing them, I was left a bit wanting by many of the other tracks. I do appreciate the artistry in making this and how this was a bit more interesting than similar acts (such as Bon Jovi) were putting out at the time. It’s just that, after a while, I kept checking to see how long until the album ended; not usually a good sign.

1001 Songs – 1979: Part One

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

Hammond Song – The Roches

It’s nice to be back in the 1001 songs list. Weird how with the coronavirus lock-down we have somehow not been having time to do these – then again this is only the second weekend of what might be a long time. Anyway, let’s go back to 1979 as a bit of a temporary escape and wrap ourselves in the stunning harmonies of the Roche sisters. Not since doing the Mamas and the Papas have I heard such incredible harmonies in a folk song in this songs list.

Hammond is a place and not, as I thought, a reference to a Hammond organ. The production is minimal with the volume of the harmonies occasionally overwhelming my speakers and, probably, the causing the recording equipment to peak. With them, a guitar and another backing instrument I am not sure of, the voices of the sisters truly shine. It’s a stunning piece of folk that has a beautiful simplicity that you just don’t see nowadays.

Heaven – Talking Heads

I liked Remain in Light and have liked a number of other things that David Byrne has done before or since this song. However, I am at odds as to why this song would be included. It makes sense if you are making a list of David Byrne songs you must hear in order to hear his different facets, but there are any number of produced secular visions out there so I am not sure why this was chosen for the list. It’s fine and might make more sense in the context of the parent album, but not so much as a standalone.

The Eton Rifles – The Jam

I didn’t know this song by name, but the moment the chant of ‘Eton Rifles’ came in I had this big moment of recognition. As a genre work, ‘The Eton Rifles’ has definite punk leanings but feels very sixties. Guess that this is the sort of music that was another off-shoot of the punk implosion and a song that, given the lack of testing for coronavirus for those unable to pay for it, feels relevant once again as a poke at the upper classes playing pretend. I can see how Paul Weller would be apoplectic that an Etonian like David Cameron would love the song he wrote – but then again it’s a good shout song no matter your politics.

London Calling – The Clash

Man, it’s been years since I wrote up the parent album as part of my Acclaimed Albums list. This is an actual apocalyptic song and I am listening to it at a time when people are using that word rather cavalierly. Good grief, so many of these songs are making me think of the coronavirus pandemic happening in the world outside the apartment. The apocalypse in here is more about nuclear apocalypse because of this being written during the Cold War – not being devastated by some sort of awful virus.

Like ‘The Eton Rifles’, ‘London Calling’ is another song whose genre is a concoction made in the wake of punk. This time, it’s a punk feeling with a reggae beat in the back – which I guess as a genre would soon start to crystalise into ska. I would hope that the next song would help take me away from coronavirus, but it’s Joy Division.

Transmission – Joy Division

Ah yes transmission, like the transmission of coronavirus. Sorry, I’ll be good. This has absolutely nothing that can make me think of the pandemic other than the need to sometimes just accept and dance like no one’s watching until we all fall down.

‘Transmission’ is amazing. Like a proper amazing post-punk song that is so cavernous in it’s sound that it makes me think of the xx if they ever decided to go punk. There is a truth in this song that sometimes ignorance is bliss, so just dance to the radio and what you are being fed. In modern times, where we are more and more inundated with all the information available on the internet, a song like this can still apply to the echo chambers we create online that have helped create flat-earth and anti-vaxx movements. For me, it might become a good song to make me stop checking news constantly through the lock-down and just dance.

Voulez-Vous – ABBA

Okay, I am always happy to see ABBA on a list like this. I adore them as a band to the point of having gone to the ABBA museum in Stockholm and will play their albums every now and then. Maybe it’s because I love them that I am interested as to why ‘Voulez-Vous’ is one of the three songs to end up on the 1001 list. Like, I really get ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’, but this feels like a more normal song of theirs.

Then again, this is a song that marks the end of disco. It’s the only song of theirs that I can think of that has a prolonged dance break – let alone a disco dance break. And, unlike the disco breaks elsewhere, ABBA knew how to pitch the timing perfectly so you didn’t get too bored or too tired. Sure, there is a mix out there with a longer break for the clubs but thank you ABBA for making a good at home version.

Beat the Clock – Sparks

Right, so I adored ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’ because of the glam and gun shot ridiculousness. I don’t know why, but I never went outside of that song to explore more of their discography. With ‘Beat the Clock’ that is going to change. Listening to this I had two main thoughts – firstly how amazing is it that synthpop is finally here in the 1001 list. Also, holy hell this is exactly what you consider 1980s music and the Sparks managed to pre-date thanks to this collaboration with Giorgio Moroder. It never ceases to amaze me when this list throws up a song like this which pre-dates what you expect, but this one in particular has given me so much joy.

Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

A new wave song with ABBA keyboards and a catchy chorus that is in fact a comment on The Troubles in Northern Ireland – the titular Oliver being a reference to Oliver Cromwell and his army who invaded Ireland in the 1600s. I am always a fan of a song that sounds cheerful but, under the surface, is a darker side – so ‘Oliver’s Army’ is right up my street. The melody is upbeat and so well written as a counter-point to the lyrics which reference The Troubles as well as the Berlin Wall and acts of British imperialism. It’s radio-friendly almost pop, that slam you when you read the lyrics – plus the cover of the parent album is glorious to look at.

Tusk – Fleetwood Mac

Ending the first third of 1979 with the first single released by Fleetwood Mac after the cultural juggernaut of Rumours. This is something that is utterly different and you have to appreciate the risk that a song like this would have been for a band who were having to make a follow-up to one of the biggest albums of all times.

It’s pretty much all drums and the occasional brass interruption. Sure there are some lyrics in here, but they’re secondary to the relentless drumbeat – based on the music that was used when they would come out on stage when on tour. The change in direction is interesting and I would like to see where this more avant-pop leads them on an album, as a standalone song I am yet to be convinced.

Progress: 509/1021

XL Popcorn – Mother India

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 821/1007Title: Mother India
Director: Mehboob Khan
Year: 1957
Country: India

Okay, so originally I went into movie night thinking that I was going to pick some Ingmar Bergman because (like with Oliver Stone a few days ago) I still had three of his films left to see before finishing the list. And then I got side-tracked and went by what are some of the longer films left as this is lock-down and there is now more time for these longer films.

So here I am having watched a Hindustani epic that is many things in the world of Indian cinema. It’s the first Indian film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (also, possibly, first Oscar nomination for an Indian film in general – but I don’t have the confidence to back up that claim) and is one of the key influential films in Bollywood cinema. This goes a long way to explain how Mother India more than earned its place on the list – far more than some I have seen.

It is a bit reductive to say this, I know, but when watching this film I had the same thought in my head as to the scope and the place in Bollywood history for Mother India – this is the Bollywood Gone With The Wind. I mean that in terms of it being a survival epic where a strong woman (the strength being culturally different) does what she needs in order to survive and make sure her kin never go hungry again. Where Scarlett pledges to “lie, steal, cheat or kill”, Radha does all that she can within the confines of maintaining her honour – to the point of shooting her own son when he threatens the safety of a girl in the village.

Where I didn’t get on with Mother India was mostly around tonal whiplash – which is something I’ve seen in a fair few Bollywood films and I think it’s something within the genre that I need to get used to. You have scenes of such unrelenting desperate poverty and then you get, within a few minutes, comic musical cues and some things that are actually quite funny. But, within the context of what the movie made you feel, it was a bit of a lurch.

However, there is no denying the power of this film. Watching this, you are so unbelievably angry at the injustices of the moneylender and relish any moment it looks like his comeuppance is on the horizon. Similarly, the absolute disdain that I felt for the mother-in-law for getting them into this situation was palpable – although she more than paid for her vanity.

So yes, today when I was expecting some sort of Swedish darkness, I ended up with some Hindustani epic bleakness. A worthy watch, but maybe better when everyone isn’t under lock-down and feeling a bit vulnerable.

🎻♫♪ – Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
84/501Title: Metamorphosen
Composer: Richard Strauss
Nationality: German

It’s early April 1945, Germany is about to surrender to the Allies after being nearly destroyed and Strauss pens a mournful classical piece for an orchestra for 23 strings by the name of Metamorphosen or ‘Changes’. It wouldn’t be another year before it’s performed and then a few years after that Strauss dies. Towards the end of his career Strauss sees some of the biggest changes in his homeland right as he’s about to undergo life’s biggest change – which explains the mournful tone.

At nearly half an hour long, this piece is a strings only time capsule for how Strauss saw himself at the end of his life as his country was on it’s knees. It’s an interesting look back at his career, one that I am not too acquainted with yet – but will be one I have gotten to grips with more of his works. Honestly, this is one of those pieces that was nice enough to listen to, but without a whole bunch of relistens I probably won’t be able to properly unpack things. So let’s just leave it there.

Graphic Content – XIII: The Day Of The Black Sun

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
84/501Title: XIII: The Day Of The Black Sun
Jean Van Hamme and William Vance
Year: 1984
Country: Belgium

It’s strange when the list to include just the opening volume of a series. Especially when, in the case of XIII: The Day Of The Black Sun, it’s the beginning of a many volume arc where the first threads aren’t sewn up until book five. Makes me wonder if the list was meant to be about the whole XIII series rather than just the first book – so to be fair to the comic I stopped when there was a natural pause.

As a big fan of Archer, I cannot help but see so much of that show as having derived from some of the characters in this comic series – especially how Archer and Lana look like XIII and Lieutenant Jones respectively. To be honest though, that’s pretty much where the similarities end – although I would love to have seen Archer style animation bringing the world of XIII to life.

If you are a fan of action comics with a complex conspiracy story than this really is for you. Granted, every issue involves our main character from escaping yet another set of captors as he gets closer and closer to finding his real identity and that of the head of the conspiracy, who goes by I. Both of these mysteries are solved a number issues after I stopped reading.

For me, I stopped reading when I did because not only had he arc concluded, but also I was getting a bit tired of all the names and a lot of older white male characters who I kept confusing. Usually I am better with these things, but I think the art-style brought out the idiot in me. Still though, it made for an interesting change in pace after reading a lot of manga.

So, the coronavirus lockdown continues which means the ‘commuting’ time is me on the couch trying to create a dividing line between home me and work me. Not sure where this will leave me and my reading – especially with my new copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons fuelling an addiction.  Guess we’ll just have to see what strikes my fancy.

XL Popcorn – Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 820/1007Title: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Year: 1973
Country: USA

This is my final Sam Peckinpah film for the list. I know I should have left this for the final push like I plan to do with the final films of other large directors, but I really wanted to see this. I loved Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia and Straw Dogs and have a hole in my heart from completing Red Dead Redemption 2 – so this is where I ended up for my final film of these last two days.

In watching this I became aware that there are three cuts of this film. The first being the theatrical release that was butchered and almost led to this film being forgotten, the second being more a director’s cut and then the special edition cut made for DVD that is a mix of both but with a leaning to the director’s cut. I watched the special edition cut and boy am I glad that they created a cut that did justice to this film.

Coming fresh off of Red Dead Redemption 2, and remembering the story in the first game, I saw a lot of parallels. The outlaw who is tired of running but doesn’t want to be caught, the former outlaw (now lawman) who has to catch his former running mate and the general melancholy of a western frontier that has become stagnant and is slowly dying.

Speaking of slowly dying – the scene from this film that is going to end up staying with me is not the death of the titular character, but that of a man we only knew for a brief while. A man who, when gut shot and facing certain death, sits with his wife as ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ plays in the background. I didn’t know that song was written for this film, so the moment it came on I just got the chills.

What I loved most about this film was, as I mentioned earlier, the reluctance. The second time we hear ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ is after a duel that neither one wanted to do, but neither could think of a way out of the situation. This idea of going through the motions of being outlaws in the Old West because that’s the only way to ensure survival runs throughout the film. Few characters enjoy the life, but by this point it is very much kill or be killed and you can see how it weighs on everyone.

It’s an interestingly different take on a Western compared to the earlier ones, which is why I find myself drawn to these revisionist films. With this film I have also cemented in my mind that Sam Peckinpah might be the best director that I have found because of my doing this challenge rather than having heard of him before. I hope his other films live up to the four I’ve seen for the 1001 list.

XL Popcorn – A Tale of Winter

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 819/1007Title: Conte d’hiver (A Tale of Winter)
Director: Éric Rohmer
Year: 1993
Country: France

The last time I watched a film by Éric Rohmer it was My Night At Maud’s and my wrist was busted. Four years later and I am finally watching another film of his and have found one I really liked. I quite liked the previous film, especially for French New Wave, but this one hit me in the feels.

A Tale of Winter is the second of four films that Rohmer made in this period around the seasons. It is also an excuse for him to include an excerpt of Shakespeare’s play A Winter’s Tale as part of the narrative, which made for a really interesting scene. The film takes place over a few weeks in December where Félicie has still not gotten over the man she fell for five years earlier. She accidentally gave him the wrong address and now seems to exist in a sort of limbo waiting for him to return – whilst having two beaus because this is France.

Like with the other film of Rohmer’s that I saw, any sort of sensuality is dealt with through words and conversation. In another film, the conversations about Shakespeare and reincarnation would have been foreplay, but Félicie exists outside of this world somewhat. So whilst she can engage in these conversations, they don’t actually help her get to the same place of intimacy as you would see in films from the heyday of New Wave.

Still though, there is  a lot of talking being done here and a lot of it is around Félicie’s confusion with her direction and her taking the step to not settle for men she isn’t head over heels with. Mainly because she is still hung up on her old flame but also because why should she settle.

Rohmer does a great job in Conte d’hiver in bringing rationality into irrational life decisions and in drawing excellent performances from lesser known actors. It would appear that, at least compared to My Night At Maud’she became a bit more romantic with age – based on their respective endings anyway. This is one of the better films I have seen as part of my weird coronavirus time off – only to be beaten by the film I saw next…

XL Popcorn – Salvador

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 818/1007Title: Salvador
Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 1986
Country: USA

Now that I have fewer than 200 films left on this list, I really need to start whittling down any director that have two or more that I’ve yet to see. Turns out that Oliver Stone has three films remaining, which is how I ended up seeing Salvador today – as well as my second James Woods film in less than a month.

Seeing this made me think how weird it is that certain directors go in and out of acclaim. In the late 1980s to early 1990s, Oliver Stone had a string of hit films (ergo his many entries in the 1001 list) only to become pretty irrelevant in recent years. Other than the biopic and a very soon after the fact film around the attack on the World Trade Center, I’m not entirely sure what he’s done recently.

Anyway, that’s nothing to do with Salvador – which he released in the same year as Platoon, which would win him the Oscar for Best Director and is also the better film. Given how recently I saw El Norte it is hard to not see Salvador as being somewhat of a companion piece when telling a story of what was happening in El Salvador in the early 1980s.

Where El Norte leaned into being stylised in order to highlight the brutality whilst not going too graphic – Stone takes the opposite approach and seemingly tries to film some scenes in a documentarian style. In some cases this works, but for others it ends up making certain scenes being played more for the shock value. It also gives the whole film a somewhat frenetic and un-focused feel, which somewhat damages some of the political points he was trying to make.

In the end, it’s a great performance by James Woods that keeps this film chugging along. He is able to make you like this flawed and, at many a time, unlikable character and make you really root for them. Especially as you watch his world view blow to pieces when he realizes not only are the Americans funding terror in the region, but the opposite side is resorting to the same death squad tactics.

This was a film that was ballsy to make for the time and has a strong political message behind it. Oliver Stone, however, isn’t one known for subtlety and a bit of a light touch here with fewer pies could have made for something truly great.