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British Summer Time

IMG_0927List item: Attend a music festival
Status: Complete

Of the many advantages that came from switching jobs this year was the ability to do things “on a school night”. Other than going for meals out it meant that I was able to see one of my favourite bands as part of the music festival British Summer Time. Considering how my teaching job meant I had to cancel tickets at the last minute to see St. Vincent live and prevented my from seeing Girls Aloud before they disbanded I am out to right every past wrong, which means I got to see Arcade Fire live. I have already gone into my love of their albums as part of my Music Monday series.

As you can see we managed to get quite close to the stage (by we I mean myself and my mum… I have a cool mum and am not afraid who knows it) and what unfolded was one of the best gigs that I have ever been to. It might even be the best gig that I have ever been to, it really has become a toss-up between them and Sufjan Stevens.

The main difference between the two is that with Arcade Fire I was dancing and screaming along to the lyrics for about two hours and with Sufjan things felt more intimate as he regaled us with the stories behind his albums.

photo 3The picture here is from, for me, the highlight of the show. When Regine performed ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’, then again I was pretty much transfixed with her throughout the entire gig whether she was in superhero gear (‘Joan of Arc’), on the platform behind us flanked my dancing skeletons (‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’) or on her accordion (‘No Cars Go’).

Looking back on the afternoon/evening it strikes me just how in a class of their own Arcade Fire were, especially when compared to Jake Bugg who played just before them. The whole 2 hours felt utterly euphoric; a feeling helped by a warm evening and a beautiful London sunset. It also re-awoke my love of the band and resulted in Reflektor receiving a lot of iPod play time. What I would give to relive that evening.

Music Monday: A Night With Ol’ Blue Eyes

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 4/250

So far in my quest to listen to the 250 most acclaimed albums I have listened to artists that I love. First there was Arcade Fire and their baroque pop sensibilities, then last week I looked at the ever-changing work of PJ Harvey. Therefore this week I will be looking at two of the oldest albums on this list by one of the most famous singers of all time; Frank Sinatra.

intheweesmallhoursTitle: In The Wee Small Hours
Artist: Frank Sinatra
Year: 1955
Position: #275 (Previously: #247)

I’ll be honest that before this all I knew of Frank Sinatra was his connections to the mob, the fact that he has won an Oscar and could only name two of his songs off the top of my head. No prizes for guessing that I am referring to New York, New York and My Way. However, I am trying to keep my mind open here and seeing how I find these albums.

Needless to say that I was caught completely off guard. I was expecting some crooning that was only a slight improvement on crappy X-Factor contestants, if you haven’t heard of him then I am incredibly jealous, and I’ll put my hands up and admit that I was wrong. I will also admit that I was fending off tears for the majority of the time that I first listened to the album all the way through with some creeping out just as the opening track In ‘The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’ began to play.

What we have here is an album composed entirely of ballads. Something that you wouldn’t be able to get away with nowadays unless your voice is powerful just like Mariah Carey or Leona Lewis, and even then the critics would still paw merciless at you demanding for something a bit more upbeat (unless it is deemed moody and artistic like White Chalk by PJ Harvey when all bets are apparently off).

With only one type of song present on this album it is a credit to Sinatra that this doesn’t feel at all dull. The saving grace of the album being the sheer emotionality of his voice, there is some warm velvet-like quality that is o-so disarming. When he sings of loneliness and heartache an instant connection appears to form. One that isn’t that disrupted by the annoying adverts that are weaved in by Spotify… not cool. In a way it’s almost like listening to a fluffy pair of slippers if they ever had recourse to sing, warm and cosy. Also, you have just got to love the fifties production style with the heavy strings and the occasional twinkle in the background. There is no doubt as to when this was recorded in that respects.

SongsforswinginloversTitle: Songs For Swingin’ Lovers
Artist: Frank Sinatra
Year: 1956
Position: #291 (Previously: #246)

The first thing that strikes me about Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! is what a difference a year really makes. I mean it was only a year ago, or in this case about a week ago, where Sinatra brought out In The Wee Small Hours a collection of maudlin ballads that greatly reflected his split with actress Ava Gardner.

So here he is with the album that truly established him as the king of swing and boy does he come out swinging *cringe* with the seminal version of You Make Me Feel So Young. This is followed by a steady stream of brilliantly arranged tunes that just warrant multiple listens. Which makes it a little wonder why so many of the tracks off this album have been ingrained into the public consciousness. None more worthy of this accolade is I’ve Got You Under My Skin which is one of those songs that everyone has heard in random films but probably most have probably never actually listened to it.

The fact is that most would be forgiven thinking most of these songs as being written specifically for Sinatra with the way that these are widely regarded as the seminal versions whereas in fact many of these songs were actually over 10 years old. Does this matter? Not one iota. Just thought it’s an interesting thing.

Upon hearing this for the third time I really wonder why acts like Westlife and Robbie Williams even try. Frank Sinatra is the truly undisputed king of swing and the quicker we can accept it the quicker we can move on to doing something original. Why have second-rate imitations when we have the master.

Next Week: I feel like I want to remain in the early parts of the album format for next week. Which albums I will be doing are yet to be determined.

Music Monday: The Divine Ms. Harvey

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 4/250

Continuing on with the quest to listen to the 250 most acclaimed albums  has led me to one of only three female artists to have multiple entries into this list; PJ Harvey. If I had opened up this up to the entire list of 3000 albums (which would be too much of a mountain to climb straight away) I would have had the pleasure of listening to all eight of her solo albums (with two of them falling not too far outside the first 250).

ToBringYouMyLoveTitle: To Bring You My Love
Artist: PJ Harvey
Year: 1995
Position: #174 (Previously: #195)

Regarded by  many as PJ Harvey’s best album (and by me as her fourth) To Bring You My Love is, in a number of ways, her darkest album. It marked her first truly solo album after splitting with the two band mates that accompanied her on previous albums Dry and Rid of Me.

The song that most people will know from this album is the opening single ‘Down By The Water’. In this song she describes a woman giving birth to a baby girl underneath a bridge and the subsequent drowning of this child. In many ways this a darker and angrier tale of birth than ‘When Under Ether’ which would appear on her 2007 release White Chalk.

What To Bring You My Love was able to demonstrate that was not seen as much in her previous releases was PJ Harvey’s ability to completely change image and direction; an ability that, just like contemporay Björk, has allowed her to have a long and continually acclaimed career. Instead of the punk-infused songs of relationships she cut her teeth on Harvey delved deeper into loss, religious imagery and electronic music. Most of the songs still dealt with relationships in some way or another but communicated using the mediums of Spanish guitar (‘Send His Love To Me’), distortion (‘Long Snake Moan’) and a stomping, pumping bassline (‘Meet Ze Monsta’).

LetEnglandShakeTitle: Let England Shake
Artist: PJ Harvey
Year: 2011
Position: #166 (Previously: #232)

Okay, I am a bit sad that listening to my two favouite PJ Harvey albums again won’t count towards this goal (although listening to Stories From The City, Stories From The City and White Chalk is never time wasted) but albums number three and four isn’t too bad.

Let England Shake is an important album in the PJ Harvey canon for a number of reasons. It marked her becoming the only person to win the prestigious Mercury Prize twice, it continued her voice experimentation from White Chalk, it is the closest she has ever come to producing a protest album (since whilst it is clearly anti-war it is remarkably understated) and is a rather edged love letter to England.

If you decide to investigate the PJ Harvey back catalogue based on this album, as many did, you are likely to be shocked since it sounds like nothing she has done before. Rather than the outspoken singer she adopts more of a roll of a narrator (which is apparently why she chose to sing in this higher register). It went to prove that 20 years into her career there is still a lot of innovation still to occur in what is considered the PJ Harvey sound.

The album itself is easily taken as a whole but if songs were to be singled out you have to admire the cutting lyrics of ‘The Glorious Land’ where she states that the fruit of our land are deformed and orphaned children. ‘Written On Their Forehead’ works with the refrain of “let it burn/let it burn, burn, burn” as she describes the scarring of a city as the Western tanks roll in. The there is the titular track sung to the backing of ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ which to this day I remember her playing as then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown was on The Andrew Marr Show.

Next Week: Having spend the first four albums in the recent decades it’s time to go back, to when the first albums were being released. To the fifties!

Around The World in 100 Films – Mali

100WorldFilms - MaliList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 24/100

Thanks to having a lot of friends who, like myself, are really into movies which means I have access to a large number of film recommendations from more obscure nations. Whilst countries like Russia, China and India have an extremely large number of films I want to get to them later with something I really want to see (I also have to work out how I am going to reconcile the whole Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan thing).

finyeCountry: Mali
Title: Finye (The Wind)
Director: Souleymane Cissé
Year: 1982

So, Mali ended up being the next pick and not just because it geographically links Burkina Faso and Algeria, although that is a nice by-product. I have been meaning for years to try and watch more African cinema and this is only the sixth film I have seen from the continent as a whole. As part of this whole ‘view films from 100 different countries’ I hope to rectify this and maybe get to 10 countries.

Anyway for now I am at Mali with a winner of the Étalon de Yennenga at the biannual FESPACO awards in 1983. The interesting thing about this particular award is how its retinue is not necessarily the best film at the festival but the one that best shows “Africa’s realities”. Something which, let’s be frank here, can be depressing when we talk about any nation or continent.

The story of Finye is one of those that occurs in any culture. Two protagonists who are the children of different sections of society (he, the son of a traditional chieftain and she, the daughter of a ruling member of the military) and both sides come to blows. The way this happens in the film is more unusual since rather than this being a clash between two opposing families/sections of society this depicts a more generational dispute.

Bah and Batrou are students at the local university and, after a flagrant display of corruption occurs regarding the exam results, they become part of a student resistance movement (through leaflets and protest) which results in some rather big push back from the military. The fact that this film won on the merit of depicting Africa’s realities does depress me somewhat, but then again so has watching the news recently so I’m kinda used to the feeling.

In terms of film making the main issue I had with it is that despite the good story and the hyper-realistic setting interwoven with fantastical sequences (which reminded me a bit of Beasts of the Southern Wild) was the acting. This is something that usually puts me off from watching movies from countries without established film industries since it does mean that there will be issues regarding the availability of acting talent (then again films like The Class are populated with non-professional actors and still get by really well).

Thing is, to make a film that depicts these sorts of realities you really need a director or writer who knows how bad things really are and Souleymane Cissé is competant enough to do this with the required emotional blow.

Music Monday: The Arcade’s On Fire

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 2/250

The idea of listening to the 250 albums most acclaimed albums of all time (a task which is made so much easier thanks to the tireless work of Henrik Franzon over at Acclaimed Music) raises an interesting question; how much focus would constitute a ‘listen’?

In theory I could just have an album on in the background whilst making dinner, not really pay much attention to it and consider that ticked off. However, the reason that I stuck this item on the list is that the manufacturing of such a wide variety of music is something irresistibly human. So in order to be considered properly listened too I have to actually pay attention as otherwise I won’t have gotten anything out of the experience.

For the most part the entries on this Top 250 are out of my musical area (many exceptions to this) so I hope to gain some new albums that I enjoy listening to. Today I’ll start off with two entries on this list that I have been listening to on some rather long walks; the two entries by Arcade Fire.

TheSuburbsTitle: The Suburbs
Artist: Arcade Fire
Year: 2010
Position: #214 (Previously: #175)

Probably a good idea to start off this music list with a Grammy Award-winning album which, to be honest, is not my favourite album by the good people at Arcade Fire. In fact it contains the only song by them that I actively skip whenever it comes on (‘Rococo’) which, up until the release of The Suburbs, I did not think was possible. Don’t get me wrong I am glad that they somehow crossed-over more to the mainstream but I wish it had been for Neon Bible instead since that is my favourite album of theirs.

There are plenty of great tracks on here. Opener ‘The Suburbs’ meant it originally took me a few days until I allowed myself to play the rest of the album because I loved it so much. ‘Empty Room’, ‘Half Light II (No Celebration)’ and ‘Month of May’ are great stomping tracks that make for a good power walk (I told you, I love walking and The Suburbs is pretty decent for that) but for me the album’s best moment is when Regine gets a chance to shine in ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. She doesn’t have the strongest voice in the world but I always enjoy her solo tracks and her background cooing.

However something this album is really missing for me, that all other Arcade Fire albums deliver, is that goosebump moment that they do so well. I mean is you can get through ‘No Cars Go’ without even the smallest eruption of goosebumps… well I don’t know what to say.

FuneralTitle: Funeral
Artist: Arcade Fire
Year: 2004
Position: #32 (Previously: #47)

I said earlier how Neon Bible is my favourite album, but that’s more because it was the album that finally allowed me to access Funeral. I was first suggested this album by a school friend of mine with excellent musical taste but I was so deep in a J-Pop phase (for a while Hikaru Utada was my goddess) that the only song on this album that really made an impact on me was ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’ and I played that a lot for a good while.

It then took a mix of moving away to university and the release of Neon Bible for me to decide to reappraise this album and see it for the work of pure baroque pop genius that it is. This was something that later helped me to find out about the wonders of Panda Bear (sadly Person Pitch is not in the Top 250), The Beach Boys and Of Montreal.

It’s hard for me to speak about this album without waxing lyrical about tracks 6 through 9. There are few albums that have such an amazing run of quite different tracks that are still all exceptional. The crescendo of ‘Crown of Love’, the anthem ‘Wake Up’, Regine’s moment to shine in ‘Haiti’ and of course ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ which is their highest ranked song on Acclaimed Music’s song section. Strange to think that an album so surrounded by death could inspire so much joy.

Around The World in 100 Films – Finland

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 23/100

Thanks to the good people at the iCheckMovies Unofficial Forum seizing upon my call for help in my post opening up the Around The World in 100 Films I have a lot of interesting ideas for films for countries that I would have found difficult. So, thanks to you guys for that.

LeningradCowboysCountry: Finland
Title: Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Year: 1989

I went for Finland as the next country for two reasons. Firstly I am a fan of Aki Kaurismäki’s Finland trilogy and I have been meaning to watch more of his films. Secondly, I noticed that I go a few views from Finland for this blog and thought it would be nice if I could make sure to see a film from each country that reads my stuff (something that could get awkward).

So, Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Certainly one of the weirder film titles I’ve seen in a while and it certainly lives up to this. The Leningrad Cowboys themselves are a fictional Russian band, mostly made up of a Finnish rock band, that decide to travel to America to make it big since ‘they’d buy anything’.

What follows is an incredibly deadpan road movie as the band travles from New York to Mexico in order to play at a wedding with the eight band member lying frozen in a makeshift coffin tied to the roof of their car. On the way the band (sporting sunglasses, pointy shoes and foot-long quiffs) play at a number of bars to earn food money (which is then pocketed by their tour manager and all they get in return is raw onions) and so that they can adopt a more rock n’ roll sound. Well, that’s the sound that they are trying for but it becomes a mishmash of Russian folk, rock and country (although I  have to say whatever it is they are playing they do it very well, including a very good rendition of ‘Tequila’.

As films go it would be a very acquired taste, and Kaurismäki comedies are not exactly for everyone but, in my opinion, any film that ends with the lines “And nobody saw him again… shit happens” has got something going for it.

Around The World in 100 Films – Start Point

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 22/100

Time for me to open up the second of my three film bucket list items with a rather arbitrary goal of seeing films from 100 different nations. Unlike the Oscar list item this is something that can be permanently crossed off unless I suddenly get the urge to add another batch of countries to keep this going.

Now, I have decided to count countries as long as I watched the film after I put this onto my bucket list which was (yes I made a note) on August 5th 2013. This means that some countries (e.g. Finland, South Africa, China and Israel) are not on the list yet despite me having seen them in the past. I figured using this cut off point would serve as a way to make this more challenging whilst also keeping Burkina Faso (still stoked about that one).

Whilst I was preparing this list I saw there were 21 countries on the list and instantly envisioned doing a really cool triangle number diagram as you can see below:WorldCinemaTriangleNotice the problem? Well in making that list I had forgotten that I saw a Polish film at the end of January which means poor Hungary (my most recent nation) has to lay on the outskirts since I decided to do this in order of seeing them. My inner math-geek is not impressed with this. It was later pointed out to me that a film I thought was Australian was from New Zealand, now my inner flag-geek is unhappy too.

Still 22 countries down, 78 to go. Not a bad place to start with, although there are not many of the big film nations left which will make this interesting.

Any film suggestions for yet unwatched countries will be VERY much appreciated. Bear in mind re-watches are not allowed here so films like Tsotsi, Drifting Clouds and Waltz With Bashir will not count.

  1. Germany – Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
  2. U.S.A. – Robocop
  3. Netherlands – De Vierde Man(The Fourth Man)
  4. Czech Republic – Kolja (Kolya)
  5. Italy – La Strada
  6. Burkina Faso – Sarraounia
  7. Argentina – El Secreto De Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)
  8. Japan – Zatoichi Monogatari (The Story of Zatoichi)
  9. Brazil  – Cidade De Deus (City of God)
  10. Denmark – Melancholia
  11. United Kingdom – Blowup
  12. Norway – Flåklypa Grand Prix (Pinchcliffe Grand Prix)
  13. France – La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game)
  14. New Zealand – The Piano
  15. Poland – Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds)
  16. Spain – El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive)
  17. Sweden – Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
  18. Belgium – Ernest & Célestine
  19. Greece – Kynodontas (Dogtooth)
  20. Canada – The Sweet Hereafter
  21. Algeria – Z
  22. Hungary – A torinói ló(The Turin Horse)

It’s Okay To Watch Oscar Bait Sometimes… Right?

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 70/87

There are many ways that I will describe myself; geek, Pepsi Max addict, ginger but one label I wear with a true sense of pride is that of cinephile. I absolutely adore films above all other forms of artistic expression which might explain why there are three bucket list items on my list. It is fitting therefore that one of these be the first item I start writing about and the first to be included into my “in progress” section.

Oscars-Seen

Like most film lovers I do have a love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards since I have my own opinions about what films should win each year rather than the one picked by the Academy. In fact there have only been seven years out of the (as of writing) 87 films that I would concede were the best of that year:

  • 1934 – It Happened One Night
  • 1939 – Gone With The Wind
  • 1940 – Rebecca
  • 1965  – The Sound of Music
  • 1969 – Midnight Cowboy
  • 1972 – The Godfather
  • 1984 – Amadeus

So, why have the Oscar Best Picture Winners on this list at all if I rarely agree? Love it or loathe the system, and the incredibly flawed Best Foreign Language Film system, it is seen by many as THE film award. So until a truly global film award comes into existence this is the best we in the English-speaking world have.

oscar+winners

As you can see from the above graphic (which is linked to my film-watching activity) I am already a large part of the way through this list item since it is something I have been actively making my way through for a few years and I am left with only 17 to watch… but of course this is a list item that will need yearly attention once I am up to date.

The films I have left are a fairly mixed batch, but with the exception of The Life of Emile Zola, I appear to have dealt with the film widely considered the worst and borderline unwatchable, yes that is a reference to The Greatest Show On Earth.

I’ll end with the 17 films yet to be watched as I write this:

Wings, All Quiet On The Western Front, Grand Hotel, Cavalcade, Mutiny On The Bounty, The Life of Emile Zola, You Can’t Take It With You, Mrs. Miniver, The Lost Weekend, Hamlet, All The King’s Men, Marty, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Out of Africa, The English Patient and Million Dollar Baby.

Oscars-UnSeen