Monthly Archives: November 2020

XL Popcorn – Ceddo

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 834/1007Title: Ceddo
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Year: 1977
Country: Senegal

If it wasn’t for me having watched Moolaadé a few years ago during my cubital tunnel inflammation ordeal, this would have been the first new country to add to my (somewhat neglected) world cinema challenge. However, that’s where we are with the 1001 list and Ceddo was by no means a waste of time.

These two entries by Ousmane Sembène on the list are a rare concession for a country not traditionally known for their cinema. It’s great to have them here (and honestly more concessions need to be made) because it gives access to different stories and experiences. It does mean that there is an accessibility issue when it comes to cultural givens, as many things in Ceddo go unexplained, but I learned a lot from this film.

The story takes place in Senegal several hundred years ago, in a village whose culture is under attack. The king and his court have recently converted to Islam, one member is started to introduce Christianity and people are selling their own relatives to the nearby white slave traders in exchange for guns and ammo. In order to try and preserve their way of life, some of the subjects who had yet to convert (the titular ‘ceddo’) kidnap a royal princess.

Firstly, I didn’t realize that people actually sold their own children to white people so they could get their hands on guns. Also, I had never really considered the spread of Islam into Africa via the sort of missionary tactics that Christians did. I mean it makes sense as that had to spread around the world somehow, but I’ve never seen a film that explicitly deals with the damage that spread had on the local population after it was introduced.

The story itself is really interesting and brutal, even if the use of modern jazz-style music did throw me off a bit. Did I wish that some of the scenes in the royal court took less time? Yes, because it would have meant more time for actual story (like seeing the death of a major character rather than them being killed offscreen). However, it’s a great introduction into a different world of cinema and one that makes me want to watch other Ousmane Sembène like Xala and Black Girl.


🎻♫♪ – Piano Sonata in F minor, op. 57, “Appassionata” by Ludwig van Beethoven

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
90/501Title: Piano Sonata in F minor, op. 57, “Appassionata”
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Nationality: German

After a run of some of the more recent entries on the classical list, it is time to venture backwards into the earlier throngs of the list. This also marks a return to Beethoven in what feels like an extremely long time.

When I saw that we had pulled out ‘Appasionata’ I, for some reason, cast my mind back to a video game I used to love as a child called The Lost Mind of Dr Brain. It had this musical minigame where a rat in a powdered wig would play a piece of classical music out of order and you had to rearrange it to make sense. As a 6-7-year-old I was never able to do it, but it’s a strong image. Now that I have listened to ‘Appasionata’, I realize that it had nothing to do with this game, but it was too weird to not share.

Anyway, so ‘Appasionata’ (or ‘Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor’) is one of those pieces where my hands ache by just hearing the gymnastics that the pianist had to go through. I listened to the version played by Daniel Barenboim and… wow how he was able to play the ‘Allegro assai’ section is beyond me. The final few minutes of the whole piece are also a mindfuck when it comes to playing.

It is interesting to note that this is a piece that has since been arranged to be a duet, I guess due to the ridiculous level of complexity. It’s a great piece that has made me really eager to listen to ‘Hammerklavier’ as soon as possible. I mean, how much more difficult can Beethoven get!?

What’s On TV – The Quatermass Experiment

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 241/501
Title: The Quatermass Experiment
Episodes Aired: 6
Year(s): 1953
Country: UK

Well, much like Abigail’s Partythis was a very quick series to get through. Why? Because only two of the six episodes have not been lost to the mists of time. This is television so old that the BBC didn’t record and archive the show – instead it was live to air and that’s it. The reason we had the first two episodes was because they recorded it to tape off a television in case it could be sold to another market.

Being lost is a shame for most films and TV shows, but when you have a landmark of a genre that cannot be retrieved it is all the sadder. The Quatermass Experiment is one of the most influential shows ever made as it helped to spark science fiction on the television and whose presence can be felt in 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, I have to take a lot of people’s words on that because the bulk of the plot and the action happen in the episodes that I cannot see.

For the two episodes that I could see – The Quatermass Experiment has an interesting first episode (minus some sound issues) and then a bit of a downturn of a second episode. It’s not really the fault of the second episode, but you know how it goes – the first episode is to get you hooked and then the bulk of the set up is in episode two. Makes it a real shame that I never got to see the more sci-fi elements of plant monsters in the remaining episodes, but there’s a film remake of it that I am just itching to try out.


Acclaimed Albums – Dig Your Own Hole by The Chemical Brothers

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 226/250Title: Dig Your Own Hole
Artist: The Chemical Brothers
Year: 1997
Position: #217

Well, since a not insubstantial number of people around the world have been spreading the virus via raves, I figured it was time for my own. By myself. At my desk as I work. Okay so it isn’t a rave, more waving my arms around in front my work laptop and collection of plush toys. Should still count for something as I spent a few hours listening to this landmark in electronic music.

Going into this I only really knew ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ and so was expecting the whole album to keep up with that sort of energy, which might have been a bit much for a full hour. So I was pleasantly surprised every time a more downtempo song came on – such as ‘Where Do I Begin’ which features the recognisable vocals of Beth Orton (who sang one of my favourite songs of all time: ‘Stolen Car’).

‘Setting Sun’ is another clear highlight of the album, which was the first of two number ones that Dig Your Own Hole spawned, and is the loud and brash type of song that I was hoping to find on here. It’s great to have such contrast on an album that is big beat through and through, which will come down to The Chemical Brothers being DJs first and foremost.

Rather than a traditional album, Dig Your Own Hole plays like an excellent DJ set that has been tried and tested in clubs to get the ebbs and flows spot on. In this era of British music where big beat was, for a while, breaking through in a big way thanks to contemporary acts like The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim,  Dig Your Own Hole stands as the most critically acclaimed album. More will emerge when I complete this list and expand it further – but for now I’ll be content with playing this for a while longer.

What’s On TV – Abigail’s Party

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 240/501
Title: Abigail’s Party
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 1977
Country: UK

Rarely is a list of the best UK television ever made without Abigail’s Party sitting somewhere. Considering that, technically, this was a single episode in the long-running BBC Play for Today series such singular recognition is no mean feat. In fact this is the only episode to be featured in the 1001 series – although a case could have also been made for Nuts In May.

The Play for Today is exactly as it sounds, a televised adaptation of a stage play. For Abigail’s Party it is very much that with all scenes taking place in the same set, the majority of which happen around the sofa at the front. As someone who loved I, Claudius – which was essentially a play done for television – the style of filming didn’t bother me too much. However, I do wonder if this was produced as a straight single drama, rather than a Play for Today, whether I would have had problems.

Probably not, Abigail’s Party would still get the plaudits because of how brilliantly written and acted it is. This is one of those pieces that clearly comes from the British sensibilities around manners and class that I do wonder how those outside the UK would view it. It’s so quintessentially of my culture that, despite this being 40 years old, so much of the class conflict and the characters themselves still ring extremely true to this day.

Speaking of characters, there is no way you can talk about Abigail’s Party without discussing Beverly. She is the centrepiece of the drama and is the one that has invited her neighbours over to have drinks only for them to watch her snipe with her husband and lead everyone to get more and more drunk. She is such a complex character to watch because, in many ways, she is monstrous and in others is deeply deeply sad.

And yet, despite having one of the great monstrous characters in UK TV history, Abigail’s Party is an extremely successful cringe comedy. If you are not cringing at the characters and their actions, you are laughing out loud – not at the end though. I really need to watch more Mike Leigh works.

What’s On TV – The Chinese Detective

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 239/501
Title: The Chinese Detective
Episodes Aired: 14
Year(s): 1981-82
Country: UK

During the summer of hell, pretty much all the television I have been watching has been doing some heavy lifting of keeping me sane. This meant no chances being taken with new list shows and instead a lot of episodes of Cheers, Malcolm in the Middle and Taskmaster. Now that I am trying to get my brain back to normal, it is time to get back to the world of 1001 TV Shows – and The Chinese Detective got chosen at random.

So, The Chinese Detective earns it’s place on the list by being the first British drama series to feature a Chinese lead actor. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure if there has been a second show in UK TV history that has done this which just adds to the uniqueness of the show and demonstrates just how far we have to go when it comes to casting shows in my country.

Since I haven’t seen an episode of The Sweeney or Juliet Bravo, which both share a creator with The Chinese Detective, I had limited context as to what to expect from a crime show of this era. In face, the only comparison I can make is against Minder – and the less said about that show the better.

As a series that tries to give a different perspective on the detective show, by making the lead an ethnic minority, there was a chance to make something that was a really interesting time capsule. I mean, of course, they had to make him a maverick detective because we couldn’t just have him be a regular detective, could we?

One thing that this show has going for it is the attempt at having an ongoing storyline whilst there are some cases of the week. However, for me, the show didn’t exactly execute either as well as it good. The individual cases rarely have any sort of resolution and the ongoing storyline, although interesting, is hindered by a lot of repetition across multiple episodes.

In between this there is a lot of uncomfortable racism towards Detective Ho. This isn’t just the explicit bias of people constantly asking his origins, but a lot of him generally being treated like dirt by anyone who comes across him. Like, as a detective I get how working with him could get a bit annoying, but the reaction is incredibly disproportionate.

Between this treatment at work and some pretty bad interactions with his father, who really bares a grudge against a face his son pulled as a child, The Chinese Detective is not the easiest to watch sometimes. Couple that with poor case resolutions and this isn’t exactly a show I could say I enjoyed for anything other than David Yip as the lead.

World Cooking – Bosnia and Herzegovina

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Progress: 80/193

I sometimes get inspiration for the next country from unlikely places. This time it came from a close friend of mine and a rather weird food review that used invoked the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the early 1990s when talking about ćevapi. It was such a bizarre move, that I knew I had to make this meal and find the best country to suit it – which is how Bosnia and Herzegovina ended up in the frame.

After North Macedonia, this is the second former Yugoslav country that I have crossed off for the cooking list. By rights, thanks to friendship ties, the next former Yugoslav country that I cooked for should have been Slovenia – but at least I managed to cook something inspired by the many things we send on Whatsapp.

Anyway, like it’s immediate neighbours –  Bosnian cuisine is a meeting of the Mediterranean and of their previous Ottoman occupiers. You can see that with ćevapi, which share a lot in common with Turkish koftes and yet have the spicing and accoutrements of the central European and the Mediterranean. I expect to see a similar clash of influences in varying degrees as I get around to Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro (with Slovenia seeing some more Austro-Hungarian ties), but for now let’s get to the food I made.

Main: Ćevapi

After so many complex recipes, it was such a breath of fresh air to come across the deceptively simple recipe for ćevapi from Chasing the Donkey. The only difficulty came when finding lamb mince – which ended up with me mincing my own from some lamb shoulder. Honestly, I think using freshly minced lamb along with some high quality steak mince might have made all the difference in terms of taste.

There is a tendency when seeing recipes like this to only get one type of meat (and more of it) instead of going with the mix as recommended. Always follow the recipe. The mixing of the meat is what makes all the difference and actually means that you don’t always need to use a full palate of spices. No, just salt, pepper and garlic was all you needed. Extra taste can come from the ajvar (thank you to the nearby Eastern European mart for that), applied as liberally as you want.

Traditionally you would have a special type of bread with these, but I gambled (and lost) that the speciality shop would have some of that. I asked my font of Balkan knowledge about a replacement, so went for some pitta bread instead. Good thing too, because that’ll make all the more likely that I make this again. Maybe next time I’ll experiment with a different meat blend – or even make it a beef-lamb-pork mix.

Dessert: Tufahije

I don’t believe that I have ever poached an apple before, let alone having to partially core one to make a little bowl and then poaching it. However, despite having no apples to spare in case I got a bit zealous with the spoon it all worked out for the best in the end – even if I could have stood to poach them for a few more minutes.

The dish itself, recipe from Balkan Lunchbox – where I have already bookmarked a potential cake for when I tackle Serbia, goes beyond just a poached apple. What you have is an apple bowl poached in a syrup (that tastes like apple crumble) and filled with a sweet walnut paste. Topped with whipped cream and freshly chopped walnuts,

The syrup alone is worth making, especially when you mix leftover syrup with some lemonade and make an apple crumble mocktail. I am already having thoughts about making this for Christmas with the addition of some cinnamon to the syrup. I can just imagine the slight heat from that spice turning my kitchen into a wonderland.

Next time, since I couldn’t make it to Canada, I am going to be bringing Canada to my kitchen. I already have cheese curds in the freezer ready to make myself some poutine and I am on the lookout for a possible quintessential Canadian dessert. Don’t think doing shots of maple syrup counts…

XL Popcorn – Woman in the Dunes

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 833/1007Title: Suna no onna (Woman in the Dunes)
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Year: 1964
Country: Japan

When you read the synopsis for this film, the image that is conjured is the love child of The Wicker Man and In The Realm of the Senses. Both Wikipedia and Letterboxd really made me ask the question of would I be ready for such a film and how could I not. In the end, this was not the graphic film that I was expecting – instead it was something a whole lot better.

I enjoy a good psychological thriller, especially one that uses a limited set in order to give a palpable sense of claustrophobia – this is why Rope is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. Rarely have I gone into a film with such a sense of sensory trepidation only to be rewarded with something that is at times subtle and yet still maintains tension throughout.

Picture this, a man collecting bugs as part of his holiday only to miss the last bus home. He is lured into staying with a local villager – only to find her house is in a sandpit where the only escape is a rope ladder… which is then pulled up from after you and your only means to live is to dig sand in return for rations. It’s horrific and taps into the fundamental human fear of entrapment and being watched.

The film is a two hander as the newly imprisoned man and the already institutionalised woman navigate being trapped together and trying to survive as their house is under constant threat of being enveloped by an unclimbable sand pit. Unlike the sand in an hourglass, the film plays with time to the point where you are unsure just how long he has spent trapped there… until the final reveal at the end where all is revealed.

As well as the exquisite tension and performances, there is the brilliant direction of some of the best sand scenes that I have ever seen in cinema. Seriously, this is some serious Lawrence of Arabia style sand direction – maybe even better than that. This was a really good surprise and really does proof you shouldn’t judge a film based solely on the synopsis.

Acclaimed Albums – The Specials by The Specials

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 225/250Title: The Specials
Artist: The Specials
Year: 1979
Position: #185

As part of his own journey through the 1001 TV show list, my husband has been watching old episodes of the UK chart show Top of the Pops. For some reason, we watched one of these last night from late 1979 and had a good time watching timeless classics like ‘Luton Airport’ and ‘Iron Lady’. First out of the gate was ‘A Message to You Rudy’ by The Specials, which inspired today’s choice.

I haven’t exactly been listening to a lot of music these last two weeks because I have been trying to catch up on my four-month podcast backlog, so this album has the odd position of not having any surrounding music to be compared to. That is until I got to ‘(Dawning Of a) New Era’, whose intro gave me the overwhelming urge to listen to ‘Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me’ by The Pipettes. There must have been some kinship in the music, even if the genres are pretty different.

The Specials is a bit of an anomaly within the albums list as it is the only 2-tone entry on there. The name pretty much gives away the meaning – a band of a ska influence that is made up of members form a range of different ethnic backgrounds. This is further highlighted by the chessboard pattern on the album cover.

Ska music in general is not my cup of tea, but it was interesting to see how many of these songs I ended up knowing. I knew ‘Monkey Man’ and ‘Blank Expression’ thanks to covers by Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen respectively.

However, ‘A Message to You Rudy’ is the main one I had heard through the years, primarily from adverts and period dramas. It’s one of those pieces where the style of music is extremely evocative of a moment in time – specifically the early years of Thatcher’s premiership and the hardship felt my many around the country thanks to her social policies. The rest of the album has shades of anger because of this hardship which helps to make it a very interesting time capsule.

🎻♫♪ – String Quartet no. 3 by Alexander Zemlinsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
89/501Title: String Quartet no. 3
Composer: Alexander Zemlinsky
Nationality: Austrian

You would have supposed that, by the time I was 89 entries into the classical music, I would have started to pick up some terminology that would have helped me discuss the pieces. Nope, barely a sausage – especially when it comes to pieces like this string quartet which, unlike a tone poem or an opera, I am unable to onto much unless I hear it multiple times and take notes like a proper review.

But I’m not a proper reviewer – just someone trying to expand some horizons.

In the world of classical music, there are few instrument groupings that seem to have inspired more works than the string quarter. So, Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No. 3 follows a long line of works – a number of which I have heard before. The thing that seems to set this apart from other earlier quartets that I have heard on the list was the use of dissonance.

I am so used to a string quartet flowing freely, whereas in this piece from 1924 the instruments have moments where they are at odds with each other. We don’t go completely off key, unlike what you start to see in pieces around this time, but there is a gentle hand guiding it to the edge of tonality (okay maybe I have picked up some words) before reigning them back in. On the whole this is not going to be a favourite piece as I tend to prefer the more flowing and tonal, but it was interesting to hear a halfway house.