Monthly Archives: January 2015

Culinary/cultural adventures


To our grandparents,  eating and drinking would not have been judged as cultural activities in the same sense as was reading books or listening to music, but certainly they are to many of their descendants. A visit to continental Europe or beyond will for most people involve sampling the local cuisine just as much as more familiar historic buildings or museums. Any arts establishment  worth its salt in the UK will have a café or restaurant which is worth at least a look after an exhibition or performance.  Some places even make a particular effort to link the two together. For example, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin has an oriental-themed café to complement its collection of Far East and Middle East arts and artefacts.

When I first discovered the joys of eating in restaurants more than 30 years ago, French and Italian cuisines were definitely the most prominent, and that, then, was fine by me.  Occasionally, depending on your area, Spanish, Eastern European and vegetarian restaurants could be found.



The Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats), a restaurant in Barcelona which boasts artistic history as well as present-day culinary excellence.



Most recently, for me, Middle Eastern food has been the great discovery.  Perhaps because it uses so many of the same ingredients as other countries do, yet the end result looks and tastes so totally different.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was in the aforementioned Dublin that my wife and I first discovered Middle Eastern cuisine, on a visit there in 1993. Happily, The Cedar Tree, owned by a Lebanese family, is still thriving. There we were also introduced to Lebanese wine, which is more widely available now than then, and was even the subject of a Radio 4 documentary by Jeremy Bowen.

My eagerness to visit Palestine had originated in childhood from my Christianity and increased through my later interest  in the region’s 20th century politics, but, by the time I was able to visit in 2012, another extra attraction was certainly the sampling of its food and drink.

Middle Eastern cooking is a significant feature in the restaurants and cafés of many UK arts and performance venues. Falafel, chickpeas, olives, hummus and pitta bread are regularly seen on their menus.  Although unfortunately not usually the fish couscous dish which is central to the narrative of La Graine et le Mulet, alternatively titled Couscous. Abdellatif Kechiche’s film also contains a great family drama and a powerful scene of dancing.


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A cinema century


20 years ago, in 1995, the BBC decided to celebrate the centenary of the Lumière brothers’ invention of moving pictures with a year-long series of significant films from the sound era, covering the period from 1930 until 1994.

The list itself, at the end of this post, is intriguing. How many of these films are still well-known? When was the last occasion they were screened on television?

I remember some of the BBC’s screening strategy. They showed Citizen Kane as the series opener in the afternoon of one of the first days of the year. Then they screened some of the 1930s films on Saturday afternoons on BBC2, a place and time where you might still sometimes find Hollywood movies of a certain vintage.

However, by February, the sequence had become less predictable. It seemed to be felt that some films’ content was more suitable for late-night screening. Also, that some of the project’s potential audience wouldn’t be prepared to wait for months  until the more modern fare appeared. So films appeared out of chronological order and in midweek as well as at weekends.

1995 was a busy year for me for various reasons and I don’t recall watching many of the Cinema Century presentations. Although some films I had seen before and others since, there are many I missed that year which have never, to paraphrase Keats, swum back into my ken.  With changing TV fashions and a whole younger generation of TV executives and schedulers, will they ever come around on the small screen again?

Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds, for example. Like many Eastern European directors, his work is felt to be irrelevant since the Warsaw Pact collapsed. Similar attitudes seem to apply towards politically engaged films of the 1960s and 1970s like Godard’s Weekend,  Resnais’ La Guerre Est Finie,  Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Strategem  and Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

A selection like Cinema Century always leaves itself open to affectionate criticism, so a few more seconds can be spent doing that. About the rationale behind the picking of Mildred Pierce and The Nutty Professor, of Man of the West as an Anthony Mann Western instead of his classics with James Stewart, of Kiss Me Stupid to represent Billy Wilder rather than Some Like it Hot, of choosing two 1980s films of such similar tone as American Gigolo and the remake of Breathless.

However, almost certainly,  the BBC didn’t ever claim these films represented the very best of the century’s film-making, but merely a representative selection from that century. Equally certainly, it would have been seen as a decent enough selection because most of the films were acknowledged as excellent both at the time of original release and afterwards. Films which were omitted from the list – say, De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves or Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cent Coups – were possibly simply ones  which the BBC had no screening rights for at the time.

The list does point towards the areas of industry creativity at particular times: the Hollywood studios in the 1930s, Europe and Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, the younger US and Australian directors  in the 1970s and 1980s. By picking five out of six films from the 1990s from Africa and Asia, did someone expect that films from those regions would in the future become  widely shown in the UK?  Perhaps some thrillers and animation from the Far East have been, but mostly the screenings from these regions are still hugely outnumbered by those from the USA. In that sense, in the sense of a period of time, this century continued as it began.

The Cinema Century films were :

1930  Morocco                 1932  A Farewell to Arms                1933  King Kong                                   1933  42nd Street

1935  The 39 Steps          1935  Top Hat                     1935  The Bride of Frankenstein                     1936  Fury

1938  The Adventures of Robin Hood         1938  Bringing Up Baby     1939  Dark Victory       1939  Stagecoach

1939  The Wizard of Oz              1939  La Règle du Jeu              1941  Citizen Kane                            1941  The Maltese Falcon

1942  The Palm Beach Story                      1942  Casablanca                            1943  The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

1943  I Walked with a Zombie                   1944  Meet Me in St Louis            1944  Les Enfants du Paradis   

1945  Mildred Pierce           1945  Brief Encounter           1946  Great Expectations                  1946  My Darling Clementine

1947  Build My Gallows High      1947  Black Narcissus      1947  Hue and Cry                         1949  They Live By Night         

1949  On The Town           1950  Gun Crazy                          1950  La Ronde                                       1950  The Life of O-Haru       

1953  Tokyo Story              1954  On the Waterfront    1955  The Night of the Hunter   1955  Smiles of a Summer Night

1956  The Seventh Seal    1956  Beyond a Reasonable Doubt    1956  The Searchers                 1957  Wild Stawberries

1957  Written on the Wind         1958  Vertigo                1958  Man of the West                            1958  Ashes and Diamonds

1959  North by North-West     1960  Rocco and his Brothers         1961  El Cid                           1962  Sanjiro

1962  Viridiana                   1963  The Servant                  1963  The Nutty Professor                       1963  Billy Liar

1964  Kiss Me Stupid       1965  Gertrud                            1965 The Sound of Music                   1966  Closely Observed Trains

1966  Andrei Rublev       1966  La Guerre Est Finie      1967  Weekend                            1968  Once Upon a Time in the West

1968  Witchfinder General        1969  Easy Rider                 1970  Performance                              1970  Claire’s Knee

1970  The Spider’s Stratagem                1971  Death in Venice                            1972  Aguirre Wrath of God

1972  The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie       1973  The Spirit of the Beehive           1973  Scenes from a Marriage

1973  Amercord             1973  The Long Goodbye           1973  Badlands                                1975  Picnic at Hanging Rock

1976  Taxi Driver         1979  Wise Blood                            1980  Raging Bull                           1980  American Gigolo

1983  Rumble Fish       1983  Breathless                             1984  Brazil                                     1985  Desperately Seeking Susan  

1985  Ran                        1986  Blue Velvet                           1986  Platoon                                     1986  Down by Law

1987  A Short Film about Killing                1987  Chocolat                  1988  Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

1988  Dead Ringers    1989  Do the Right Thing            1989  Sweetie                                   1990  Tilai

1991  A Brighter Summer’s Day                 1992  The Player             1993  Farewell My Concubine

1994  The Days           1995  Sonatine









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The kings’ riding


Happy New 2015!

T.S. Eliot may well have written the best known Epiphany poem, as suggested this time last year, but another fine one is George Mackay Brown’s “A Calendar of Kings”.

Following the Brueghel tradition, the poem  shows us that the landscape which the three kings travel through is quite as dramatic and memorable as the characters themselves or their gifts or the child whom they seek to find.  As the seasons change, they encounter ice melting, spring flowers, earlier sunrises, colourful countryside shrubs and plants, fields being harvested, dark winter nights.

The poem has further  inspired visual artists and composers.



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