What’s On TV – The Tractate Middoth / The Signalman

On Christmas Eve 2017 the good people at BBC Four decided to show a whole bunch of episodes of A Ghost Story for Christmas. I previously watched A Warning to the Curious as part of the 1001 TV list and now, thanks to this marathon, I have been able to watch the remaining two from the list.

I’m going to miss these easy crossings off.

List Item:  Watch half of the 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die
Progress: 204/501
Title: The Tractate Middoth
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 2013
Country: UK

The first one that I saw was the final episode of the revival series for A Ghost Story for Christmas. As with most of these, The Tractate Middoth is based off of a short story by M.R. James. By this point I think they’ve used all of the best stories as, in terms of pure storytelling, The Tractate Middoth is pretty useless as a ghost story.

I don’t want this to come off as a criticism of Mark Gatiss as a director or of Sacha Dhawan in his leading role. It’s just that the actual story of The Tractate Middoth is pretty lame. It feels as if there a beginning, a middle and that’s about it. You feel as if there is meant to be this big climax to make up for the cheer about of serendipity, but it just ends. We were literally sad in front of the TV looking each other at the end asking, ‘wait, that’s it?’

So yes, if the reason for the inclusion of The Tractate Middoth is because it is an example of a revival of the A Ghost Story for Christmas then they probably should have gone for Whistle and I’ll Come to You.

Progress: 205/501
Title: The Signalman
Episodes Aired: 1
Year(s): 1976
Country: UK

The second that we watched was an oddity in the A Ghost Story for Christmas series in that it is not based on an M.R. James story. I know I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but this is the best of the three Christmas ghost stories on the 1001 TV list. Maybe because this is a story written by Charles Dickens and he knew how to construct a good narrative.

Now, I know that I am overly critical when it comes to depictions of horror on television. It’s not that it is impossible for me to be creeped out by a television show (unlike video games where a surprise encounter in Fallout 3 can make be scream), but it’s far from a guarantee. The Signalman, regrettably, didn’t get me there.

However, I did enjoy this short. The story was interesting and it really worked to have a limited cast and few locations in order to ratchet up the tension. However, the tension wasn’t great enough to make me feel unsettled. It was still a fun ride while it lasted.

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XL Popcorn – Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 662/1007
Title: Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
Directors: Marcel Ophüls
Year: 1988
Country: France

Well that was a depressing film to watch in the run up to Christmas. I know that some of the interviews took part in front of a Christmas tree, but this is definitely not the best film to be seeing with the decorations up. Thing is, the Christmas break is one of the few times where I can fully justify spending four and half hours watching a movie that isn’t Gone With The Wind.

In a way you can see this film as being a follow-up to The Sorrow and the Pity  in that it continues the narrative of the German occupation of France in World War Two. It’s just that, in Hôtel Terminus Marcel Ophüls narrows the scope into looking at one commander within the Gestapo – the titular Klaus Barbie, also known as ‘The Butcher of Lyon’.

There is no denying that Hôtel Terminus and the life of Klaus Barbie is worthy of over four hours of exploration. The question is whether this would have worked better as a series of 8-10 half hour episodes rather than a straight four and a half hours. After all, the life and times of Klaus Barbie is a complex topic – as are the reasons for it taking decades before the powers that be went in to arrest him.

One thing that is interesting about the interviews in Hôtel Terminus is that you have a lot of evasion, a lot of contradiction and even a few altercations. The topic of Klaus Barbie and the other former Nazi officers who are still alive is clearly a sore spot – especially in the South American countries where a number of these men have taken up residence. Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that a number of these men ended up working for the US in the field of espionage.

It’s also interesting to note how this film deals with the contemporary ambivalence around the trial of Klaus Barbie. Some of these points are logical (i.e. this was done 40 years ago and aren’t there statutes of limitations on crime) whilst others veer towards the realm of antisemitism. Considering the way we are going with politics in certain parts of Europe, it is enough to make you shudder when you think that some of these views haven’t been left 30-odd years ago.

🎻♫♪ – Boléro by Maurice Ravel

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 27/501Title: Boléro
Composer: Maurice Ravel
Nationality: French
Year:
 1928

I have been in the market for a new educational podcast for a long time and, for whatever reason, decided to take the leap into the Radiolab back catalogue. One of the first episodes I listened to was a short from 2012 entitled ‘Unravelling Bolero‘, where they talk about Ravel and a painter called Anne Adams and the mental deterioration that they both went through before dying. In this podcast the experts posit that there are signs in Boléro that provide a hint of the neurological disorder Ravel would eventually die of.

With this in mind it was extra interesting to listen to this piece of music. You see, in the 15 minutes of Boléro we have the same melody repeated over and over and over again by various sections of the orchestra. As the repeated melody circulates around the orchestra 17 times you can just feel it build and build until the end where it feels like they are going to explode.

There is a limit to how much you can repeat the same melody and I think Ravel pretty much hits this with Boléro. However there is a hypnotic beauty to it, which was used to brilliant effect in this clip from Allegro non troppo (an Italian pastiche of Fantasia) which depicts a fictional sequence of evolution:

 

This will not be the last piece of classical music of Ravel that I listen to for this list – far from it in fact – but this is one of the final pieces of his music to be featured. Considering his mental decline after creating Boléro, this feels all the more poignant.

Good Eatin’ – Slow-Cooked Pig’s Feet

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You DieFood item: Pig’s Feet

Unlike lamb’s brain or veal sweetbreads there is a ghost of a chance that you’ll be able to find pig’s feet in a nearby supermarket. I have never actually gone out of my way to buy these, but I had no choice when I saw them in my local Morrisons next to the pork steaks. You see, since it took me over a year to re-find beauty heart radishes, I am just buying these foods first and asking questions of suitable recipes later.

At least you can put pig’s feet in the freezer so you can take your time to find a workable recipe; the fact that this one helped make use of my much-ignored slow cooker was a bonus.

The recipe I used was from Allrecipes, which could have been a bit more explicit about the point at which you added the litre of water. Still, the gravy was exactly the sort of aromatic as I had hoped for… just would have been better if the flavours were stronger and the liquid was thicker.

Anyway, that’s the window dressing to the main event: pig’s feet. Not going to lie, but it was a bit odd seeing them laying in the packaging. After all, these are obviously the feet of a pig and, seeing how I am still watching Green Acresthis was something I needed to reconcile. Guess that shows just how sheltered I am in terms of food looking like the animal it came from.

Seeing how my nan used to make and enjoy pig’s feet (which curled into fists after nearly 4 hours in the slow cooker) I thought this would be a good way to continue getting in touch with my German roots post-Munich. Now that I have… this may not be a part of my heritage I will revisiting for a while, unless it is stuffed with sausagemeat like the zampone I ate for new years.

You see I had not realised that there is little to no meat on a pig’s foot. It’s mostly bone, skin and fat. Knowing my nan I can see how this would have appealed to her considering the era she grew up in. Thing is, I am not someone who is easily able to eat forkfuls of pig skin and fat. I mean, the texture was incredible with it just falling off of the bone and being so soft and tender… but it’s fat and skin.

Pig’s feet are definitely something worth using for a stock, but I am not convinced of it as a main part of a meal. Still, I was unprepared for this post to end on a note of disappointment.

Food item: Goma dofu

A few days ago I went to the Japan Centre in London to have a general browse and came across this little individual pack of goma dofu. This is something that I searched for in the supermarkets of Hiroshima, but had not noted down the Japanese characters… so that proved fruitless.

Oh well, at least I found it two and a bit years later in London. Finally! The idea of a tofu type food made out of sesame seeds has appealed to me since I started the food list as it combines two things I really love. Now that I’ve had it, I wish I had bought a second packet as goma dofu is incredibly moreish.

To start off with, goma dofu is nothing like tofu. It’s like a grey jellied custard with the faint taste of sesame seeds. On it’s own this is fair moreish, but ultimately a bit bland. What makes this special is how the goma dofu interacts with a sauce. With the right sauce (like the one attached to this little pack) the taste of sesame is elevated and you are left wanting more of this weird sesame semi-solid pudding.

Progress: 693/751

Good Eatin’ – Beauty Heart Radishes and Purslane

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die Food items: Purslane and Beauty Heart Radish

Thank you Borough Market for continuing to supply me with food items when I thought that I was on the verge of running out. Today’s post concerns two vegetables that, whilst both can be used in salads, are probably not used together all too often. There’s no way for me to properly prove this, but I like the idea of doing something a bit different.

The first thing worth noting is that beauty heart radishes (also known as watermelon radishes) are possibly the prettiest vegetables that I have ever bought. From the outside they just look like a spherical turnip but the insides are incredibly vibrant. In terms of colour, it’s like cutting into a small watermelon albeit a pinker and seedless one.

As for the purslane… well there’s nothing too interesting about them when it comes to looks. However…

There is something interesting about the purslane in terms of taste. You see, the taste of purslane varies depending on the location. Since this variety was grown near the sea (and cost me £4.80!) it tasted salty.

You’d have thought that, after sampling samphire, I would be used be used to a vegetable tasting different to how it looked. Nope. I was taken aback by the sudden shock of salt when I first bit into the leaves. This would basically make cooked purslane the perfect substitute for spinach as you wouldn’t have to salt it.

Then there’s the radish. So… prior to today, I had forgotten that I’ve never really eaten radishes before. Mainly because some of the radishes I saw back in the day was very peppery (and a 10 year old me had no idea how to deal with that).

These beauty heart radishes are a lot milder than regular radishes, with the exterior of the radish being the spiciest… but that’s only the level of some tame rocket. The interior is subtler in terms of pepperiness and is actually a bit earthy with the slightest hint of sweetness. I don’t know if this is something I am going to be able to say about all radishes going forward, but I may need to rethink my position on this vegetable as, surprisningly, I really liked it.

Progress: 691/751

(✿◠‿◠) Anime!!! – Haikyuu!! Second Season

List Item:  Watch the 100 best anime TV series
Progress: 33/100Title: Haikyuu!! Second Season
Episodes Aired: 25
Year(s): 2015-16

It’s been over 18 months since I saw the first season of Haikyuu and within a few minutes of the first episode of the second season I wondered what had taken me so long to get back to it. I really fell for the first season and it’s impressive just how quickly the second season was able to get you back into the fray.

The experience of watching the second season was sizeably different to the first one. Where the first season focused on them having to pull a team together and, eventually, suffering a shattering loss at the end; the second builds on this defeat and we see the team training up to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Whilst I still have no idea of half of the volleyball terms being used, it’s amazing how much I have learnt about this sport through sheer osmosis. They can start talking about pinch servers, liberos and other positions and I actually know what they mean. I still haven’t quite gotten to grips with the different ‘tempos’,  but I’m getting there. Still, it shows how this show has been able to disseminate enough information to help you enjoy the sport.

And here’s the thing, I really enjoy watching these volleyball matches. It’s not like the boxing in Hajime no Ippo where time is artificially elongated to make a match last multiple episodes, in Haikyuu they will skip large sections of the match because it won’t add to the story. As a viewer who is not really into sport, this editing helps a lot. It also helps with the tension that we’ve seen this team lose important matches, so you’re never quite sure of the direction an episode will take.

That is until the final few episodes as, given the title of the third season, you know how this has to end. Then again, if I was watching this live then I would have had no idea of the outcome and, despite being mostly certain of how the match would finish, I still found myself cheering at the TV like a bit of a loser.

Hopefully by the time this goes up we will know more about the elusive fourth season of Haikyuu, but until then I have the third season to watch… right after I finish The Ancient Magus’s Wife, Food Wars: Season 3, my re-watch of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and the other things I’m currently watching.

Around The World In 100 Films – Singapore

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 45/100

Title: Tatsumi
Director: Eric Khoo
Year: 2011
Country: Singapore

I’m going to Singapore in a few months! I haven’t been this excited about a holiday destination since booking my honeymoon to Japan. We got a great deal on flights and a hotel, so we figured why not just go for it. As part of my preparations for this (and to keep some of this excitement in check because the trip isn’t for another 3 months) I thought it would be a good idea to become better acquainted with Singaporean culture.

Tatsumi came up as a film to watch because it’s one of Singapore’s submissions to the Foreign Language film section of the Academy Awards. I’ve only just come to realise that these submission lists are a fantastic resource to help me find films for this challenge… so watch out Tajikistan because you’ve made the list.

However, with Tatsumi I managed to find a Singaporean film that is in Japanese, set in Japan and about a Japanese man. It’s also another animated film. Still, the remit of this it to see films from 100 different countries so Tatsumi is a very welcome addition to the list.

So, who is the titular Tatsumi? Well (and I would have been able to answer this myself if I had gotten further with the comics list) he is major name in the manga scene and is credited with starting the more adult gekiga genre of manga (of which Lady Snowblood would be an example). The film itself takes on two roles, a brief autobiography of Tatsumi and a cinematic interpretation of five stories written by Tatsumi.

It is these stories that make up the bulk of the film and, ultimately contain the bulk of the emotional impact (other the sadness that Tatsumi died 4 years after making this film and he was still so full of ideas for the future). All the adapted stories are pretty much disturbing with endings that would make writers for The Twilight Zone proud. I’m not entirely sure what was worse – the ending of ‘Beloved Monkey’ or the ending of ‘Good-bye’. It’s a close run thing and I don’t want to dwell on it too much.

Tatsumi is an excellent exploration of an alternative creative mind. It’s not got the weirdness factor of Crumb. No, this film has heart and it cannot help but help you to appreciate people who are so driven by their creativity that they are able to make something different out of it that has made a lasting legacy.

XL Popcorn – Man of Iron

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 661/1007
Title: Man of Iron (Człowiek z zelaza)
Directors: Andrzej Wajda
Year: 1981
Country: Poland

When flicking through the 1001 list it becomes fairly obvious that there is a distinct lack of sequels outside of the so-called trilogies. It’s a similar rule when it comes to major awards for cinema, which makes it all the more remarkable that not only does Man of Iron (the sequel to the excellent Man of Marble) find a place on the 1001 list but also stands as the only sequel to win the coveted Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Back when I watched Man of Marble I remarked on how incredible it was that such a film could be made behind the Iron Curtain that so openly criticised the government. With Man of Iron not only did Wajda manage to do this feat of daring once again, but managed to do it in an incredibly brief window (about 18 months) where such a film could escape from incredibly censorship because of a change in government.

Of course, by the time this film was released the government was back in full force and banned its broadcast within Poland. Thing is, by then the cat was out of the bag and Man of Iron was gathering critical notice for it’s open criticism of the Polish government and for the depiction of the worker’s strikes.

As with Man of Marble this film tells a lot of the story through the use of flashback and mock film footage of the strikes (although a number of the protesters were real). The focus of this film is Maciej Tomczyk, the son of the revolutionary from Man of Marble, who is a key figure in the Solidarity Movement.

However, the framing narrative is rather different. Where Man of Marble told the story of a young student trying to make her diploma film, Man of Iron follows a government journalist who is send to dig up information so that they can smear Maciej and the Solidarity Movement (as the best they have so far it telling the story of all the bananas left to rot on the ships as the workers are on strike).

The pressure that this journalist is under is incredibly real (compared to the student in the previous film, who returns in the final act of this film) and it tells with the amount he feels the need to smoke and drink in order to keep his nerves under control. I mean, he could be beaten, imprisoned, killed or any combination of the three. All this and yet he is so moved by the plight of the workers that, in one of the final scenes, he renounces his undercover status.

Man of Iron is an incredibly poignant film that is only able to exist because of a brief moment where censorship was relaxed. It’s a film that feels somewhat forgotten despite being a winner at Cannes and an Oscar nominee. Due to the rush to make it there is some of the polish missing that could be seen in Man of Marble, but wow the urgency can be truly felt in every scene.

 

XL Popcorn – Shadow of a Doubt

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 660/1007
Title: Shadow of a Doubt
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1943
Country: USA

I’m going to make this a yearly tradition to watch a new Hitchcock for the 1001 list in the winter months. I have four left to do, which makes sense seeing my current watching pace. Last year I watched Marnie, which lacked a certain spark that allowed it to go from good to great. When it comes to Shadow of a Doubt it was a completely different story.

As with most of the great Hitchcock films Shadow of a Doubt is a two-handed affair with Teresa Wright (who won an Oscar in 1942 in Mrs. Miniver) and Joseph Cotten playing the roles of a niece and uncle called Charlie. The younger Charlie wishes for something interesting to come into her life and gets more than she bargained for as favourite her uncle travels in from the East. The thing is… her uncle may not be who he appears to be.

Being a Hitchcock film, it is always the safest option to trust your gut if it thinks a character is going to turn out to be the villain of the piece. Also, Cotten and his increasingly creepy performance are a massive clue that no matter what’s happening he is guilty as sin. Then again, that’s the whole point of this film; the joy comes from watching as his niece goes from adoration to suspicion to fear to resolve.

As much as Cotten gives an excellent performance as uncle Charlie, it is really Teresa Wright as the younger Charlie that helps this film to take flight. Having now seen here in this, Mrs Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives it is hard to deny that this woman was an extreme talent… but her filmography just peters out. Makes me really want to read the biography should it ever come out in paperback.

It’s interesting to note that, repeatedly throughout his career, Hitchcock would refer to Shadow of a Doubt as one of his favourite films.  Having watched this, I might have to agree with him. It tells a far simpler and subtler story than the likes of Psycho or Rebecca, but there is something more thrilling about the idea of evil invading a small town home.

Let’s Get Literal – Middlemarch by George Eliot

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 43/100Title: Middlemarch
Author: George Eliot
Year: 1871-72
Country: UK

There are books that you start reading because it reminds you of books you’ve read in the past that you’ve enjoyed. For Middlemarch, I thought that I would enjoy it because of books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women, i.e. an older book written about women which have since been adapted into a “bonnet drama”.

However, there was one thing that I didn’t quite think abut. Where I enjoyed the other books for being a female-centric dramas, Middlemarch touches the entire community… with a majority of the time being spent on the men in the town of Middlemarch. So yes, this wasn’t quite what I expected.

Whilst there are a lot of story threads involving most members of the village, there are 4 main threads… one of which just bored me. It was this storyline (about the downfall of the local town banker) that made me fall asleep on the train home. Now, I know I am someone who has trouble staying awake when I’m being transported – but I nearly dropped my Kindle. There is also the rather sad storyline of Doctor Lydgate and Rosamond… which failed to interest me.

The best of the stories is the one surrounding Dorothy (known as Dodo) and her two marriages. From the first few chapters this is not what I expected to be reading… although the moment she meets Will on her honeymoon it suddenly all became clear what might end up happening (although when I think of Anna Karenina you can never be sure of what will happen to your heroines).

As much as I like a  big world in my books (I mean just think how big War and Peace and Lord of the Rings are) I do wonder if I would have enjoyed Middlemarch more if it had focused more on the Dorothy/Will and Fred/Mary storylines. It would have been a shorter book, but we could just excise a lot of the business talk that failed to engage me.

This is yet another of the really long books taken care of. An interesting one and slightly frustrating in that there was a lot here that should have made me love it, but too many flaws. Well at least for me, some people think this is the best British book every written.

I might be taking some time to catch up on a bit of the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga so I can finish off the final anime season. I can’t wait.