List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress: 25/501Title: Lieutenant Kijé Suite
Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Another classical piece so soon? And one that broke the streak of different blog entries? This should be a special piece of music! Well to me it is and, now that I have listened to the whole suite, it has become even more so.
To start of with, I picked Lieutenant Kijé Suite as the next classical piece as it’s ‘little grey dove’ refrain from the Romance movement is the only piece of classical music that I was actually able to memorise during the mandatory school music lessons (I am not counting ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on the recorder as a classical piece’). Now that I hear this refrain within the context of this classical piece I love it all the more.
What I did not realise was that the Lieutenant Kijé Suite also contained the classic ‘Troika’ movement. So when I first listened to this at work and this piece of Christmas classical music started to play I became a mess of goosebumps for a solid four minutes.
The whole suite itself has a rather weird history. Originally the Lieutenant Kijé Suite was music to a 1934 film of the same name. So impressed with Prokofiev’s work on the soundtrack, the Moscow Opera Symphony Orchestra commissioned him to turn his fragmented musical pieces into a fully fledged piece for an orchestra. It was part of the Soviet Union happily welcoming Prokofiev back into the fold after his return to his homeland after spending a lot of his time Paris.
As a suite of music it is split into five distinct movements, with the whole piece lasting 20 minutes. Since this being derived from different parts of a movie soundtrack it feels like an EP of 5 distinct tracks than a suite of music… or maybe I just need to start getting used to this terminology as I investigate more classical music.
In any case, for the merit that it gave me incredible goosebumps and it almost made me cry out of joy the Lieutenant Kijé Suite is easily one of the best pieces that I have heard so far for this list. I’ll probably be back in the world of church music for the next classical piece… so someone please pray for me.
List Item: Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress: 37/501Title: Mopsy
Creator: Gladys Parker
It isn’t too hard to believe that there weren’t many female comic writers back in the 1930s, hell there aren’t enough of them right now. This alone explains the inclusion of Mopsy on the 1001 comic book list and why it is influential in of itself.
Considering that this comic peaked in popularity in the 1940s and 50s, Mopsy is on the road to being feminist. I say on the road because Gladys Parker made the conscious decision to have the character of Mopsy not be too intelligent as it would negatively impact the success of the comic.
Still there are ways that Mopsy helps to break some of the moulds. Following the example of Katherine Hepburn there are many times that Mopsy walks around in trousers. We also see her hunting, fishing and playing sports as well as some more stereotypically feminine pursuits.
I’m not sure how much ground, if any, this broke – but it feels like something I haven’t seen before. Mopsy is self-determined and independent. Sure she spends a lot of the time looking for a man… then again so would I be if I hadn’t met my husband 9 years ago. It’s an interesting comic to read for the historical context alone.
List Item: Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Episodes Aired: 108
Considering that the last TV show I watched for this list was Broen we are talking about going from the sublime to ridiculous. Where Broen is an intelligent, thoughtful crime drama that deals with international relationships – Minder is a fairly mindless comedy drama about the criminal underworld of London.
There was a time where Minder was an extremely successful show in the UK. It pretty much takes place in a similar world to Only Fools and Horses with the exception that one of the characters actually has a fair bit of money. Both tapped into the mindset of Thatcher’s Britain where millions of viewers would tune in and root for the main characters to succeed in their get rich schemes and get one over on the authorities.
The thing is, we no longer live in Thatcher’s Britain – I grew up under Blair and Cameron – which means I have a thoroughly different mindset. Also, I am probably too middle class to properly enjoy it. There were times where we were watching episodes and I found myself actually wanting the police to win out. Now either that’s my overactive sense of authority or the show it just very much of its time (as is the abundance sexism and casual racism).
There are some positives to watching Minder. For one, the running gag from Little Britain about Dennis Waterman writing and singing the theme tune suddenly makes sense. Also, watching these old episodes lead to some interesting pieces of future celebrity spotting (Peter Capaldi and Jonny Lee Miller being two examples) as well as many actors of the time also taking on smaller roles. That’s how big a hit this show was.
Many point to George Cole and his character of mature con man Arthur as being the reason for the shows success. In earlier series he was sidelined in favour of the grittier Terry (played by Dennis Waterman), but they became equal partners once Cole’s appeal was realised. The show really was improved by the growth of Cole’s role with him delivering most of the comedy as he pisses off everyone with his self-centred antics to make money. Didn’t always work for me, but I did catch glimpses of something I could have enjoyed at the time.
One thing that Minder (and other shows like Knight Rider) has shown me is how these TV shows aren’t on list necessarily because they are most enjoyable, but because they capture a feeling of the time. From here it’s likely that we’ll go up in terms of intellectual viewing… I’m not sure what I’ll be watching next though. Depends what I draw from the pot. Exciting times.
List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 72/100Title: Metroid Prime
Developer: Retro Studios
Original Platform: Gamecube
Today it feels like I am going to break a cardinal gaming sin… or at least that I have a sin to confess. Forgive me oh digital father for I have sinned: I did not enjoy my time with Metroid Prime. It may feel a bit over the top to start a blog post in this way, but I have some friends who will probably disown me for this opinion.
Starting off some disclosure, I have played the original Gamecube version of the game for this. Also, this is the second time that I tried to play this particular game… the first being some 15 years ago when the game originally came out and I would rent titles from the local Blockbuster. I figured that I would enjoy this game better now that I have become a better gamer… alas I still didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about.
Let’s talk positives. The music and the ambient sound is excellent, as is the world building. When you are roaming the various mazes and areas within the game it feels truly alien and tense. Sure, there has been 15 years in graphical innovation since (I mean, just look at Breath of the Wild) but the whole package still somewhat holds up to modern scrutiny.
What doesn’t help are two things: the controls and my sense of panic. The latter is something that I have to deal with for most games and is why I am hesitant about starting The Last of Us. It sounds ridiculous as I’ve been able to play Skyrim with minimal screaming… but there’s something about a marriage of undead creatures and a set of controls that I find difficult to work my way around. I don’t want to be running from alien mosquitos whilst thinking ‘oh my god, oh my god’.
I know there are some saying that if I wanted a better experience (especially with the controls) then I should have played the Wii port of Metroid Prime instead. It’s a valid point and probably something to consider should I end up expanding my gaming list and suddenly need to play Metroid Prime 2. Until then, I just wanted to give this game a go as it was originally meant to be played. Just sucks that it didn’t work for me.
List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 140/250Title: Five Leaves Left
Artist: Nick Drake
To go back and experience classic albums, films and TV shows is to come into contact with the many stories (both heroic and tragic) of their creators. Recently, the untimely death of Carole Lombard and depression of Rita Heyworth have formed the kick-off points of blog posts. Today, we’re keeping on with the tragedy with the music of Nick Drake – who died of an overdose at the tender age of 26 in what was a possible suicide (although this is still up for debate).
You would be forgiven for not knowing who Nick Drake is. He died in relative obscurity and has been subject to a re-evaluation. His debut album Five Leaves Left and follow-up Bryter Layter are now seen as classics of the folk rock genre. If you have even a toe in the water of contemporary folk musicians you can see how the music of Nick Drake has influenced the likes of Beck, Laura Marling, Jeff Buckley and Mount Eerie.
I don’t know if it is because I’m listening to the 2004 re-mastered edition or just the quality of the album itself, but this could have been released now. It’s difficult to find an album from the 1960s that feels truly timeless, usually there’s a contemporary trend or technological limitation that gives it away. I am guessing that this was what prevented this from being noticed?
It sounds hyperbolic, but listening to this album on good headphones just transports you. The guitar is so ridiculously perfect that it doesn’t feel of this world. Similarly, the production on some songs (such as ‘Three Hours’) somehow creates this cavernous world where all the layers feel just out of reach. It’s similar to what The xx do.
Then you have the many tracks with incredibly vibrant strings. The tracks still feel as if they are being played in an observatory tower, but there’s more warmth to these thanks to the added complexity. Also, there’s sometimes a conga drum being played which is a bit unusual… then again it does fit in with the album.
Honestly, this is an album that surprised me. I was expecting something a bit melancholic (which this is) and folksy – that’s it. Instead I have an album with an emotional affect that makes you both want to reach out to Nick Drake and respect the level of detatchment that he is fostering. It isn’t a brooding album, it’s a profoundly beautiful one that really should have gotten some notice back in 1969. Maybe if it had… well we’ll never know.
List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: My Man Godfrey
Director: Gregory La Cava
Again I have found myself watching a film thanks to the You Must Remember This podcast. The episode in question was about the life and tragic death of Carole Lombard and how, despite dying at the tender age of 33, she managed to become a name worth remembering.
It has been so long since I saw a comedy for this list (and even then Prizzi’s Honor feels like it probably shouldn’t count), especially a good old-fashioned screwball comedy. It’s so gratifying to know that there are still some very funny films left for me to see on the 1001 list. Although I wonder how many there are that will have me laughing out loud like My Man Godfrey did.
The whole set-up of this film is rather preposterous. During a scavenger hunt, socialite Irene (Carole Lombard) pays a homeless man to help her win and outdo her sister. As a way of showing her gratitude she gives him, the titular Godfrey (William Powell), a job as the family’s new butler. The family is insane, Godfrey isn’t all he appears to be and Irene is a lovable attention seeker.
There was a real fashion in the late 1930s to have comedies that send up the richer classes as being utterly ridiculous people. If you remember that this was the time that America was still having to deal with the Great Depression then it makes sense that the public would want to take the richer classes down a peg or two. The Best Picture win for You Can’t Take It With You in 1938 is a testament to how much of a trend this was… despite the fact that it is nowhere near as good as My Man Godfrey. However, you can only go against what is presented to you.
Powell and Lombard, who had been through an amicable divorce a few years before this was filmed, work fantastically well as a double act. It’s almost on the level that Powell reached with Myrna Loy in The Thin Man, but not quite. However, using The Thin Man as a benchmark, My Man Godfrey is a much tighter production with a madcap ending and a fawning Spaniard being thrown off a balcony. Honestly, who could ask for more.
List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress: 24/501Title: Motets
Composer: Cristóbal de Morales
Okay, so I didn’t start out with the best frame of mind. I heard the harmonies and the phrase ‘oh more of this shit’ just flew out. This is exactly why I shouldn’t watch UNHhhh right before listening to choral music; I’m meant to be listening to something pious and I have Katya laughing at the back of my mind.
Yes people, this is how far I have come from my drag queen phobia, I now spend my time trolling the internet looking for the latest from my favourite Drag Race contestants. I am proud, horrified and marvelling at the lack of relevancy of this non-sequitur.
Seeing as how we are still in the world of 16th century motets, this is a purely choral offering. Layers of voices upon voices upon voices. At several points I was wondering whether they would switch gears and go into Mozart’s Requiem.
I cannot fathom how someone would go about writing this and then getting a group of people to actually sing it. In many of these you have the voices harmonizing, then cross-harmonizing and somehow it all still sounds effortless. It’s a lot down to who you get performing it (i.e. a professional choir, not your local church group) as this is something that would sound like a massacre in a henhouse if poorly done.
Since this blog is a place of honesty I will fully attest to the fact that I do not get these choral classical pieces. If it wasn’t for the hub wanting to alternate between listening chronologically and freeform… well I probably would never have gotten to come of these earlier pieces.
I can sit and appreciate the merits, but if I was to go after classical music to listen to it would be more along the lines of Water Music or The Planets. Maybe it’s because I cannot help but separate this style of music from it being church music whereas the others feel more like pieces that I can just have on whilst I am cooking the dinner or containing the rage as I answer work e-mails.
Still, this is all part of the journey.
List Item: Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 28/100Title: Gintama°
Episodes Aired: 51
Here we go again with another trip into the madcap world of Gintama. Been a good long time since I saw Gintama: Enchousen and I think this is the most I have enjoyed any instalment in this franchise. It really feels like this is the season where all the previous episodes start to pay off with dividends.
The ever-increasing size of the cast have lent themselves to some of the best comedy arcs of the franchise (including the fantastic fan popularity arc) and Gintama° features two of their best yet: the gender-bending Dekobokko arc and the Soul Switch arc where Gintoki and Toshi finding themselves in each others’ bodies.
In previous editions the humour of the episodes can go a bit too far into the crude for my tastes (such as the alien bathhouse episode that was cringe-worthy). With Gintama°
these comedy episodes were utterly spot-on. I was actually laughing out loud at times as I was sat watching this alone in my Cardiff hotel room. Managed to watch nearly 30 episodes of this in two evenings… that’s how much I was enjoying it.
Then we get to the second half of the season. It feels like we’ve spent nearly 300 episodes building up this world up for the final 20 episodes of this edition putting it in jeopardy. There have been some serious arcs in the series, but with the Shogun Assassination and Farewell Shinsengumi there are some real and far-reaching consequences that have completely changed their world.
With more episodes still to watch I am keen to see the aftermath and how the writers are going to wind everything up as Gintama reaches the eventual endgame.
List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Lady From Shanghai
Director: Orson Welles
I get it now. I wasn’t sure about Orson Welles after The Magnificent Ambersons and started to be convinced with Touch of Evil – now, having seen The Lady of Shanghai, I am properly convinced about Orson Welles as a great director. I wouldn’t necessarily rank it as one of my favourite films of all time, but it was so interesting to watch.
Honestly, I only chose to watch The Lady From Shanghai this morning because I have become addicted to the You Must Remember This podcast. I recently listened to a rather heartbreaking episode about Rita Heyworth and her marriage to Orson Welles… so I just had to see this.
At the time of its original release The Lady From Shanghai was a critically mixed and a financial failure. The cutting and bleaching of Rita Heyworth’s hair is given as a reason for this flopping, similar to how the cancellation of Felicity is sometimes blamed for Keri Russell cutting off her curls. Utterly ludicrous, if true as Heyworth truly rocks the platinum blonde look.
The thing is that I can see how a film like this may not have appealed at the time. The narrative is slightly confusing at times as the murder plot develops layer after layer after layer… which basically makes this a film noir with extra steps. It’s another one of those Wikipedia films, something that you see when you look at contemporary reviews; minus the references to the non-existent internet.
What makes this film special is Rita Heyworth’s performance and the technical brilliance of Welles’ direction. Despite the well known fact that Heyworth hated Hollywood there is no denying that she is a talented and magnetic actress. She is able to demonstrate steely resolve and melancholic fragility with ease. There’s a bit where she is singing on the boat and the hopelessness of her situation breaks your heart.
Then there’s the final sequence in the fairground, something that has been oft-repeated but never topped. We start with Welles’ character running through a funhouse only to end up in a shoot-out in a hall of mirrors. The way that Welles framed every shot and found new ways to play with reflection and overlay makes this a treat for the eyes. The way that mirrors shatter with every gunshot and we constantly switch perspectives gives this almost stationary scene the illusion of frantic movement.
Having seen The Lady From Shanghai I know that I need to rewatch Citizen Kane and Gilda. Both are regarded as the best works by Welles and Heyworth respectively, but neither appealed to me when I watched them over a decade ago. Considering their influential natures on cinema in general it’s time for me to do a re-evaluation.
List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Public Enemy
Director: William A. Wellman
It’s been an awful long time since I’ve seen an old gangster flick with James Cagney. I still find it hard to look at him without thinking of his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy which might just speak for the impact of that role rather than his role in this film. Or maybe I mean we have some classic gangster Cagney in this film, but maybe that’s just me.
The Public Enemy is one of those big influential films in the crime/gangster genre. It tells the story of career criminal Tom Powers (Cagney) from his delinquent childhood to his eventual death as an adult (not too much of a spoiler considering all these films end in the death of the gangster). As with 1932 version of Scarface, The Public Enemy tries to disguise this story of murder and bootlegging as a cautionary tale – the end card alone is ridiculous – but I guess you just did what you had to do back then to make your movies.
As films go it’s a pretty standard early 1930s gangster flick. Compared to a lot of films nowadays the overall acting is pretty average. James Cagney is the ultimate standout and Jean Harlow is the ultimate disappointment (for someone so iconic in 1930s cinema she really isn’t the best actress). The rest of the cast range from passable to good with a few just dipping into amateur. On the whole, this was actually quite a distraction and stifled some of the enjoyment that I got from this film.
Now, there are two scenes that I want to highlight because they show quite an interesting comparison into what was deemed acceptable and not acceptable at the time. The first is the famous scene where Cagney’s Tom shoves a grapefruit half into the face of his girlfriend. I was geared up to see something more violent, but the connotation that this could be one of many acts of abuse is enough to make you feel uncomfortable. Especially when you consider how much it would hurt to have grapefruit juice squeezed into your eyes.
The other scene is one towards the end of the film. Due to gangland incidents, Tom and the rest of the gang are hauled up in a safehouse until the heat dies down. The woman who runs the place (a fairly poorly acted character called Jane) essentially takes advantage of Tom who, even in his drunken state, says no to her advances. It’s clear by the next morning that she was able to get her way and, thanks to his inebriation, he has no memory of what transpired. Nothing in that scene was seen as controversial when it aired and probably isn’t seen that way now… but I think I stood on that soapbox when I saw The Wedding Banquet so I’ll step off now.
On the whole it’s an interesting film to see just where gangster films started to evolve. If you are able to come in realising that this is a film from 1931, with all the baggage that entails, then it’s a good way to spend 83 minutes.