Three months of movies

I’ve actually managed to watch a few movies over the last 3 months. Including ones that people might actually have heard of and/or seen. And as this list is getting quite long, I figured another blog post was in order.

7th October – Passion. Another Godard movie, this time from 1982. It’s not as entertaining as his earlier (or in fact later) work, and I think I need to watch it again before I can say much more than “It’s a movie about making movies”. I also think I should not try and watch things in a foreign language after a particularly tiring day at work.

11th November – Star Wars : A New Hope. Largely because it was on, and because I have not seen it for years. I’ll also be recording and watching the other two parts of the trilogy over the next few weeks.

17th November – Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back. See above. This is probably my favourite of the three, and is definitely the darkest. I think it takes me back to being a small child, and wanting so much to be Luke Skywalker. I think the only person I wanted to be more was Doctor Who (see below).

23rd November – An Adventure in Space and Time. This is a made for TV film about the early days of Doctor Who, and concentrates on William Hartnell and Verity Lambert. It’s a story I wasn’t too familiar with, but it was entertaining enough, and acted as a nice precursor for The Day of the Doctor, which I loved.

24th November – Star Wars – Return of the Jedi. Not much I can say about this one, other that that is is still probably my least favourite of the trilogy, despite being one of the first films I saw in the cinema as a child.

25th December – The Elephant Man. Another Christmas, another David Lynch box set, including the only thing of his I’ve not already seen. This was made in 1980, although feels much older, and does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of Victorian England. It’s a fairly faithful retelling of a story I already know, and is actually more linear than I expected it to be. All in all, it’s enjoyable enough, and does a good job of exploring themes surrounding how society treats people it perceives as “different”. It is also deeply moving on several levels, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is prepared to give it some time.

27th December – Inland Empire. I have no idea how to describe this in one paragraph. It’s a very complex movie that explores the blurred line between a performer and the role they play, and which also does a very good job of exploring the emotional complications that people who act or otherwise perform can find themselves in with the people they work with. But that is just scratching the surface, and there is also a lot in there about the conflict between narrative and chronology, (and specifically how narratives are formed when seemingly unrelated scenes are juxtaposed) as well as a whole load of other themes that I don’t really have the words for right now. It’s another of David Lynch’s “movies about making a movie”, which takes some of the themes of Mulholland Drive and twists them even further, but it also taps into the surrealism of Lost Highway, and probably shouldn’t be attempted until both of the aforementioned movies have been watched, and to a certain extent understood. I accept that this may mean many people never watch Inland Empire, but if you do, or you ever have, then I’d love to have a conversation about it one day.

28th December (a.m.) – Weekend. This is a strange one. It starts off as a fairly simple tale of infidelity and greed, but soon tangents into a very strange road movie, that could only be made by Jean Luc Godard, and only in the late 60’s. If you like his other movies from this era then you’ll probably like this, although I certainly wouldn’t start with this one. There are also some fairly disturbing scenes that might not be to everyone’s taste, although these are redeemed by the opening dialogues and the closing monologue which combine words and music to outstanding effect, and which make this a worthwhile viewing experience. I feel I should see it again if I am going to understand all of it, but at the time of writing I don’t want to see it again because it made me feel slightly uncomfortable.

28th December (p.m) – Shame. This one is a recommendation from a while ago (September, perhaps), and was another quite uncomfortable movie to watch, but one that I did really enjoy. It explores the idea of physical intimacy and emotional intimacy being two very distinct things, and ties in nicely with conversations I had around the time this was recommended to me, and also more recently. It’s on Netflix as of now, and is well worth a watch.

I think this project is going to continue throughout next year. I’ve enjoyed cataloguing what I’ve watched, and I think it helps me watch things properly if I know I’m going to write about them afterwards.

Albums of the year – 2013

This year, as well as a list of albums that I’ve liked and would recommend, I’m also going to try and narrow it down to 10 that are interesting, that I think people really need to hear, and that define 2013 for me.

This is going to be a challenge. And whilst the top three are definitely in an order, I really can’t differentiate between the rest.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

This record would have been my number one any year since I started keeping detailed stats about what I listen to, and it is number one this year because I’ve listened to it the most, like it the most, and really feel that it soundtracks my year perfectly. Yes, it’s mournful and introspective in places, but it explores emotions that I’ve felt intensely this year, and as such there really isn’t another record that compares. Everyone reading this should listen to all of it, but if I have to pick songs then I’d go with Demons, Heavenfaced and This is the Last Time (as the three that mean the most to me right now). Musically, I’d say it was a grower, but if you’re a sucker for mournful alternative rock with a gorgeous baritone then you can’t go wrong with this, and I’ve generally had pretty good take up with people I’ve foisted it on already.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

If The National represent my introspective side, then Vampire Weekend are the other side of the coin. This is the music I play when I want to feel positive and energised, and it is the record where they take their influences (Talking Heads, Paul Simon) and forge them into something new, unique, and surprisingly modern. This is another grower, and another one where I struggle to pick a favourite song, although if you have to pick three then go for Unbelievers, Diane Young and Everlasting Arms.

Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

And just when you thought this was going to be a list of American alternative bands, then along comes something totally different. I don’t even know what genre this is, except to say that it’s a stunning vocal performance on top of beautifully minimal instrumentation, and that I can’t listen to it without having to stop and actually listen to it. This is a recommendation from someone who knows my taste very well, and probably represents one of the biggest shifts in my musical listening habits this year. Listen to all of it, and accept that I’m terrible at recommending individual songs.

Moonface – Julia with Blue Jeans On

I wonder if anyone reading this has heard this album. It’s certainly not mainstream, and is could be considered quite musically difficult as it’s just vocal and piano. This speaks to me in much the same way Trouble Will Find Me does, but it is sparser, and more intimate. I’ve heard pretty much every note this man has recorded, and I think this is by far the best collection of songs, and the one that feels like it is telling a definite story. It sounds like there was heartache and heartbreak involved in this record, but it also sounds like the kind of catharsis that allows someone to move on. Definitely a record for 2013.

Ghostpoet – Some Say So I Say Light

I’ve listened to a lot of rap and hip hop this year. I could quite easily talk about one of the superstars like Drake or Jay-Z here, but instead I’m going to pick Ghostpoet, for making a highly accomplished record that manages to avoid sexism, racism, and the kind of lyrics that this genre really needs to move beyond. I listened to this record for the first hour of my working day for weeks, and it takes me back to a time of being very productive in the quiet hours of the morning before descending into a day of stress and chaos. It’s also really thought provoking, and would act as a good introduction to people who are not too familiar with this kind of music.

Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe

This is what I listen to if I want to become as disconnected from the real world as it’s possible to get. I’m not sure how this music is made, or what it means, but it takes wordless vocals and instrumental textures are forges them into something spellbindingly beautiful. It reminds me of a Cocteau Twins record in some ways, but also has even more spaces between the sounds, and it is the sort of record that makes me interested to meet the person who conceived it, because I think she must have seen or otherwise experienced something of otherworldly beauty. The title is also absolutely fitting.

Manic Street Preachers – Rewind the Film

This is a band I never thought would make my top 10 again. I love their earlier stuff, but have not really found a lot to inspire me in what they have released recently. This record is an exception to that, although (as with The National) I suppose they are of my generation, and they sing about things that are relevant to my life, but this time round they do it well enough to warrant a mention. I’m particularly impressed that they have made a largely acoustic record that doesn’t sound acoustic at all, and that there are new ideas here, from a band who have not had many new ideas in the best part of 20 years.

Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Putting this list together is a fairly solitary process, but I do talk to other people over the course of the year. The week before this record was released, I couldn’t find anyone who would disagree with my top 3, although we were all excited that a new Los Campesinos! record was due, as it was likely to shake things up a little. I don’t think it has, although I do like it more with every listen, and I can’t really pass over a record that I listened to pretty much constantly for days. It also makes me feel alive and energised in the same way Vampire Weekend do, but with a definite UK slant to the things they sing about. That is important, right?

Barbarossa – Bloodlines

I know even less about this one that I do about Autre Ne Veut, but it occupies a similar place in my heart. It’s soulful, tuneful, and in some ways quite commercial, but it also taps a deep emotional vein that epitomises this year. I think this is another one most people will not have heard, but it’s definitely worth a listen.

Darren Hayman and the Short Parliament – Bugbears

Another one I’m not sure if anyone will have heard, but one that nicely epitomises my love of folk music, and of songs that tell stories. And yes, it’s the same Darren Hayman who was in Hefner all those years ago, although you wouldn’t know it from this. I’d very much recommend his whole back catalogue, but this is a good enough starting point, and a record I found myself coming back to over and over again in the latter portion of this year. Which is largely why it is last on the list.

But there are plenty of other things I’ve listened to this year that have caught my ear, and the list below is just some of them.

  • Jay-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail
  • Villagers – {Awayland}
  • Breathe Owl Breathe – Passage of Pegasus
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
  • John Zorn – The Mysteries
  • Shearwater – Fellow Travelers
  • Tomahawk – Oddfellows
  • Drake – Nothing Was the Same
  • Mark Lanegan – Imitations
  • The Fall – Re-Mit
  • Jesu – Everyday I get Closer to the Light from Which I Came
  • Midlake – Antiphon
  • Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the sea
  • British Sea Power – Machineries Of Joy
  • Bill Ryder-Jones – A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart
  • Ed Harcourt – Back Into The Woods
  • Julia Holter – Loud City Song
  • !!! – THR!!!ER
  • Phoenix – Bankrupt!
  • Mark Lanegan – Black Pudding
  • These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
  • Primal Scream – More Light
  • My Bloody Valentine – mbv
  • John Zorn – Dreamachines
  • Blouse – Imperium
  • Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
  • Kanye West – Yeezus
  • Mark Mulcahy – Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You
  • Joseph Arthur – Redemption City
  • Daughter – If You Leave
  • Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore
  • Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads

More than just a little bit sad

I wrote this post for G+ to raise awareness of Depression Awareness Week in April, and as I’m planning a second post on the same subject then I thought it was worth putting the first one in the public domain so I can reference it. 

I have been aware of depression from a fairly young age, although I didn’t call it depression then. Both of my parents suffered from it for years, although it wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I really understood what the word meant and how it affected their behaviour and their relationship with each other. I have always known I have a generic propensity towards depression, and so I’ve always been very self aware and very clued up as to what signs to look for in my own psyche and my own behaviour. But of course, it is never that easy, and very often the times I am the least self aware are the times that there is something there that I should have noticed.

But this isn’t really about me. I’ve suffered from mild depression a few times, with each one linked to a particular situation that my mind had difficulties processing. Generally it goes away with time, medication, and a whole load of talking to people and writing things down, and I feel I have been fairly lucky with my mental health over the last few years.

But I am still aware of depression on a day to day basis in most areas of my life. I lose count of the number of friends and loved ones who have fallen prey to this illness, and who fight a daily battle to do those things that the rest of us take for granted. Every day I see positive examples of people clawing themselves back from the abyss, but sometimes I also see the times when people do not feel they are winning and need a helping hand to see how worthwhile they are as people and how much good they contribute to other people’s lives.

I know so many people who I am extraordinarily proud of in this respect. It is not my place to name them, but they probably know who they are, and that I have their back.

But that’s not all I want to say. I wrote earlier that this isn’t about me, but I suppose it is in a way. On some levels I’ve not been doing too well these last few months, and whilst I would not say I’ve been suffering from full-blown depression, I think my stress and anxiety levels have been extremely unhealthy, and at times off the scale.

Most of the time I hide it well, but I have spent a lot of time this year trying to untangle some of my longstanding fears and anxieties so I can move forward and actually be more use to the people around me. This has taken a lot of time, a lot of mental energy, and a lot of long conversations with people who have let me talk but also provided a safely net during those times where I may have uncovered memories and thoughts that were unexpected or somewhat disturbing. Again, these people probably know who they are, and  how highly I regard them. But I can’t really write about this subject without acknowledging them again.

I think I am winning now though, but I needed help. I don’t find asking for help easy, but I do strongly recommend it. Showing vulnerability and weakness is not something any of us find easy, but sometimes it is the first stage in the healing process and one that I cannot recommend strongly enough.

I also recommend talking. And writing things like this. And using this week to raise everyone’s awareness of exactly how many people are touched by this illness in some way.