Saturday, 5 March 2016

Songs through time

I've never considered myself a particularly musical person. I can't play an instrument, I'm not down with the latest bands, and music is the one art form that I struggle to write about with any semblance of understanding or coherence. At the same time, however, music is - with the possible exception of literature - the art form I have most exposure to on a day to day basis. I'm always listening to music, replaying albums until I'm sick of them, and tracking down that one song I heard on a TV show for twenty seconds so I can play it non-stop for the next few days.

So when I saw this video by Savannah Brown talking about her journey through music, and the artists that have impacted her the most at different stages in her life, I was suddenly reminded of those albums and artists in my own selection which can transport me in a matter of seconds to certain moments and periods of my own life, so vividly that, much like Proust and his madeleine, it feels like my past is unfolding around me and I'm standing in the centre of it. There are of course plenty of songs which do this to all of us, individual songs which remind me of specific moments or nights out with friends. But these are albums that I listened to again and again, almost absent-mindedly, so that they inadvertently became the soundtracks to different points in my life.

A Fine Frenzy - One Cell in the Sea

Oh God, this album. This was when I was sixteen or seventeen, and I know it was around the time I became obsessed with The Gilmore Girls, as I still get unconscious flashbacks of Lorelai and Rory whenever I listen to it. This was also around the time I started getting into blogs and writing my own; as soon as Come On, Come Out starts playing, I'm instantly transported to that girl sitting in her childhood bedroom scrolling through colourful, magical pages filled with shots of places she'd never been but longed to go, and photos from films which held such undiscovered promise.

Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope

I discovered Regina Spektor around the same time; I think someone linked to a music video of Samson, and I remember thinking it was the most unique, gorgeous, longing thing I had ever heard. My Regina Spektor period is actually harder to pin down, as I remained caught in her world for a long time after that - her album Far defines a lot of my revision memories from my first year at Oxford.

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

Speaking of Oxford, Mumford & Sons are deeply tied to my nostalgia for that beautiful place. I first heard of them when a guy I was at my pre-term grammar session with - my very first experience of living at Oxford a couple of weeks before it properly started - had us listen to Little Lion Man. Whenever I listen to this album I'm taken back heart-wrenchingly to those insanely idyllic few days, where we wandered through the September sunshine and the first autumn leaves on the ground, exploring that city which would eventually become so much to me.

The Shins - Oh, Inverted World

"You gotta hear this one song- it'll change your life, I swear". I cannot hear or talk about The Shins without immediately thinking of that line from Garden State. And it's so true. I'd loved The Shins since I was around fifteen or sixteen, entranced from their very first appearance in Scrubs most probably, but the band and this album in particular are irrevocably linked to my memories of a spring day in London when I was eighteen and on a break from Oxford, wandering around Notting Hill and Portobello Market before lying down in the sun in Hyde Park - my headphones in the whole time. This album is possibly my most Proustian experience out of them all; I can still see the white houses in front of me and feel the warmth on my face.

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die

Skipping ahead to my year abroad. I still have a very complicated relationship with this year; there are very few happy memories attached to it, and what there is has been marred by the tragedies that happened right at the end. Yet even several years on, and despite having listened to this album a million times in a million different contexts since, I'm still taken to those bright, freezing days in Germany, where everything felt alien and unfamiliar apart from myself.

Johnny Flynn - A Larum

This album is possibly one of the closest to me right now. I first discovered Johnny Flynn when I moved to St Andrews, and my then relatively unknown coursemate asked me if I wanted to come to Edinburgh with her to see him in concert. This girl and I are now firm friends, both living in Edinburgh, and hopefully moving in together next year. Johnny Flynn was my first ever gig, at the embarrassing age of twenty two, and I remember adoring everything about his music, buying A Larum as soon as I got home, and letting it accompany me on crisp, autumn days walking through fields or by the breathtaking Scottish sea.

Alt J - An Awesome Wave

An Awesome Wave came along a few weeks later, as I sat in my boyfriend's room after we'd only known each other a few days, and he played me Taro and I fell in love with everything about that moment. I don't have much more to add, except Alt J are still one of my all time favourite bands, and I have listened to this album hundreds and hundreds of times, and it's the only one I have never got sick of.

Radical Face - The Family Tree: The Roots

I first heard of Radical Face when their song The Mute played in the Wish I Was Here trailer (Zach Braff, where would I be without you); it was this album that I ended up falling for instead, this past summer when my boyfriend and I were living in our own beautiful little apartment in Amman, Jordan, with very little air conditioning and a pet tortoise. This was the time I started working properly at The Culture Trip, and as I worked from home, I would play this again and again out loud while sat on the sofa editing articles. It's a desperately melancholy album, but every time I hear it, I'm back in that wonderful time where every piece of my life briefly came together for a few months.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Blood will have blood

Even though I consider myself a huge theatre and Shakespeare fan, I had never seen actually seen a production of Macbeth until this evening (unless you count one entirely performed in German by confused school children. Which I do not). I think Macbeth is one of those tales which is so in the public consciousness and culture that you can feel you know everything about it, while never actually having seen it or knowing what it's truly about. And while that did used to be me, and as a literature student I should probably be embarrassed about the fact, I'm actually thrilled that I got experience all the tragedy and shocks in Justin Kurzel's indescribably beautiful 2015 version.

Known all over as The Scottish Play, Kurzel's screening made excellent use of this characteristic, with astonishing shots of the Scottish highlands abounding, making this film - if nothing else - a visual treat. These sweeping, panoramic scenes of the desolate landscape are contrasted with close, almost cramped interior shots of the King's tent, of Macbeth's castle and of the candle-filled church, juxtaposing the wildness of nature with the calculating and oppressive nature of power and politics. The use of colour is particularly striking, with earthy, natural tones dominating both the scenery and costumes, only to be broken with flashes of scarlet blood. The blood-red tones take over the film towards the end, as the violence caused by Macbeth increases, culminating in a tense fight scene against an orange and red sky.

Despite the visually arresting cinematography, however, this version of Macbeth is a very stripped back one. Many of the play's most fantastic and extravagant scenes are removed, including the famous 'double double, toil and trouble', with the witches themselves appearing as simple women who blend in with the crowd, yet whose eerie presence is constantly felt and noticed. The performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are equally as subtle, and are all the more powerful for it. Fassbender perfectly captures Macbeth's conflict between honour and ambition, and his descent into madness with each bloody act is tragic to watch. Cotillard entirely holds her own next to Fassbender, portraying a woman who slowly loses control of the monster she herself has created. Both Fassbender and Cotillard's performances are made all the more emotive thanks to Kurzel's innovative directorial emphasis on children throughout the film. From the couple's dead child at the very beginning of the play and the prophecy surrounding Banquo's son, to the violent murder of McDuff's children and even the witches' small daughter, children seem at the heart of this adaptation, and serve to question who these battles are really being fought for.

With a tight, fast-paced screenplay, gorgeously atmospheric music and an an excellent cast and direction, there is little to fault with this newest version of Macbeth. Although some may miss the theatricality of the original play, this gritty, brutal version reflects its tragic, violent subject matter perfectly.

Speaking of Scotland, I've actually moved back! Although I have switched the adorable yet tiny town of St Andrews for the frankly stunning and wonderful city of Edinburgh. Am now on my third degree (I'm collecting them), doing a PhD in English Literature. If I ever figure out what exactly I'm doing I will try and write about it here. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

On Beauty

Have any of you seen the incredible "100 Years of Beauty" by Cut Video on YouTube? I am entirely obsessed. The series explores the typical hairstyles and beauty of various countries and cultures in each decade over the past century. They first caught my attention when they did a video on Iranian style - seeing a video about Iran which isn't filled with negativity and controversy was so refreshing I fell in love almost immediately. One of my favourite aspects about the videos, aside from the awesome styling and energy, is the depiction of political and social influences on fashion. Best seen in the videos on Iran, Russia and Korea, they examine how these national movements affect even the smallest aspects of how people - and most interestingly, women - choose to express themselves. Just goes to show that the perception of fashion as superficial and merely aesthetic could not be more wrong.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

We can lose touch but we can't let go

These pictures have been making the rounds on Tumblr in the past few months, and I've been reblogging them methodically. Featuring classic paintings with contemporary song lyrics boldly emblazoned on them, these edits are perfect in decontextualising and adding new perspective to well-beloved works. The process behind them reminds me a lot of my favourite literary theory intertextuality (what - don't you all have a favourite literary theory? Doesn't EVERYONE?), in which old texts are reworked into new ones, quotes and characters are borrowed and transformed, and the responsibility lies with the reader (or in this case viewer) to create their own sense out of it all. In doing so, each work of literature is revealed to be not a singular moment of originality, but rather a subtle, layered creation reliant on an underlying network of other great works. And so it is with these pictures - they force us to reconsider them, beyond the paint and beyond their historical context in a gallery, and as moments of passion, rebellion and wonder. And sometimes, like the umbrella one, they're just plain hilarious.

Sources: (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Friday, 6 March 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd

Confession: I had never read any Thomas Hardy before a couple of weeks ago. Although 19th century literature is probably my strongest area, and includes some of my most favourite writing, I'd mostly approached it through my studies, which were focused on French and German literature. Any other reading was done in my spare time and Thomas Hardy always seemed, in all honesty, incredibly dreary. I imagined him as a mixture of the worst parts of Dickens and Flaubert, interspersing depictions of tragic, oppressed women with slightly preachy social commentary. Although I've yet to read most of his oeuvre, and I remain a little wary of his most famously tragic works like Tess of the D'Ubervilles, I finished Far From the Madding Crowd a few days ago and found my impressions entirely changed.

Briefly, I am entirely and completely obsessed. So obsessed, in fact, that I couldn't bring myself to do anything else for hours afterwards, because all I wanted was still to be in the middle of reading it. Everything about it is perfection, from the stunning portrayal of 19th century rural life, to the wild passions and romances which the plot revolves around. Central to it all is Bathsheba Everdene, one of the most vivid literary heroines to grace a novel's pages. Why Bathsheba isn't as popular as Lizzie Bennet or Jane Eyre is entirely beyond me: bold, vivacious, charming and flawed, Bathsheba captures the reader's attention from her very first appearance to the very last page. I can't remember the last time I was as enthralled by a character's journey, or as desperate to read about their fate, as I was for Bathsheba and the three men she becomes entangled with: the reserved Farmer Boldwood, the dashing Sergeant Troy or the quietly passionate (and oh-so-beautiful) Gabriel Oak. My finally getting around to reading some Hardy is rather perfectly timed, as a film adaptation is set to come out in a couple of months. Starring Carey Mulligan, who has the perfect amount of spirit and charm for the part, as well as Matthias Schoenarts, Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge, it looks absolutely perfect. I can hardly (Hard(l)y? Geddit? No?) wait to be immersed in this world again.

"It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs."

Thursday, 26 February 2015

If your Nerve, deny you - Go above your nerve

I made a valiant effort to get through as many of the awards films this year as I could. Although I only managed to watch a handful, I definitely feel like I know the selection a lot better than in previous years. In particular, I found that this year I was attracted to some of the “smaller” names on the nominations lists, the ones which perhaps didn't win all of the awards or run the biggest campaigns, but were quiet and intriguing and, once seen, deeply profound. Selma was one such film. Wild was another.

Wild tells the true story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), a young woman who finds herself trapped in a vicious circle of unhappiness and self-destructive behaviour. Broken-hearted after the death of her beloved mother, Cheryl attempts to numb the pain with heroin and meaningless extramarital affairs, only to find the sense of loss deepened through the loss of her true self and the person she believed her mother raised. Partially to atone, and partially to find and reconnect to herself again, Cheryl sets off on a three month hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, aiming to find hope and peace in the wilderness.

Although Cheryl comes across a host of figures on her hike, from the compelling to the quirky, each contributing in some way to her journey, it is nevertheless her character and the performance by Reese Witherspoon which carries the film. Although on the surface the story provides ample grounds for melodrama, Witherspoon's performance never exaggerates or cheapens, but rather remains grounded and understated, softly drawing in rather than demanding empathy. The result is a brave and understanding character study of Cheryl, and an exploration into the complexity of human life and its flaws.

The film has drawn a lot of comparison with the 2007 film Into the Wild, with some negatively labelling it the “female version”, and claiming it doesn't live up to the “original”. Not only is this type of criticism shallow and stupid (why are so many female-centric films defined against male-led films only to somehow prove they are of poorer quality? Do we really see narratives and themes that simply?) but frankly entirely misses the point of both films. Maybe it's because I really didn't enjoy Into the Wild, but for me, Wild has all of the understanding, patience and celebration of life which Into the Wild, with all its pretension and thoughtlessness, ultimately lacked. Despite its difficult and at times tragic subject matter, Wild remains optimistic, focusing on rediscovering the beauty amidst the ugliness. As Cheryl Strayed's mother lovingly tells her daughter in one scene: “you can put yourself in the way of beauty”. Wild does just that. Through the astonishing character of Cheryl, the stunning cinematography capturing the American wilderness, and a hauntingly atmospheric soundtrack featuring Simon and Garfunkel and First Aid Kit (one of my most favourite bands), Wild puts itself, and the audience, in the way of the beauty of life.

"To believe that I didn't need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. My life, like all lives, mysterious, irrevocable, and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be."

Friday, 20 February 2015

Look at the stars, look how they shine for you

I've never been the greatest follower of big name designers and runway fashions, preferring the smaller, quirkier world of style blogs. But every now and then a collection comes along that truly takes your breath away. For the past couple of years it was Dolce and Gabbana, and their incredible reforming of medieval religious iconography and the decadence of European cathedrals into stunning gowns and dresses. Right now, it's Valentino, whose intricate embroidery, use of magical space motifs, and contrasting of fabrics and textures has created an entirely original and unforgettable pre-Fall collection. Now if somebody could send me a dress or a hundred I'd be very grateful.

Image source: