Podcasts you should be listening to

Well, that last blogpost was a bit of a mic drop, wasn’t it? I announce I’m leaving a ten year career and then… nothing? Well, I did and I got my P45 yesterday and it’s all official. But I haven’t been sitting doing nothing for the last four-and-a-half weeks! I’ve been VERY BUSY (if you don’t count the time I’ve spent re-watching seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race I’ve done to take my mind off the upcoming nuclear war etc.) For me, being very busy means lots of walking and lots of walking means listening to podcasts. I often discuss my favourites on Twitter and I am often asked about my favourites, so here they are in no particular order…. (This blogpost is not brought to you by anyone at Squarespace/Blue Apron/Audible)

  1. You Must Remember This

YMRT-Clean I’m obsessed with the history of Hollywood, particularly the first half of the 20th century; this podcast is a goldmine of information. Split into seasons, there is definitely something here for you. Each episode is brilliantly researched and wears the learning lightly- it might be detailed, but it’s hugely accessible with a gentle sense of humour: Karina Longworth has a great voice to listen to and her performances of some of Hollywood’s greatest characters are fun. If you’re looking for a way in, I’d recommend the Charles Manson’s Hollywood, MGM or Six Degrees of Joan Crawford seasons, although the Blacklist season feels eerily relevant to today’s politically charged days.

2. All Killa No Filla

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I’ve written about this one before, but it’s the podcast that really started my whole obsession: two female comedians talking about serial killers, whilst going off on tangents about Liam Gallagher and Tebay service station? I’m IN. (I recently spoke about this in a job interview and genuinely said “I don’t think southerners really understand serial killers like northerners do.” I was actually invited back for a second interview despite/because of this.) This one will genuinely make you guffaw- the Fred and Rose West three parter is a bit of a blinder.

3. Lore

Lore_Podcast_logo Lore is great- stories of folklore, hauntings and legends from around the world in episodes that last about half an hour. It’s a real mixed bag of stuff and there is something for everyone (I particularly enjoy the episodes about ghosts and hotels. It’s surprising how many there are…) although at least one has made me wince. This is the one podcast that will lead me to the internet straight afterwards to look up the stories and cases. The good news is that there are books and a TV series planned, which pleases the obsessive twelve-year-old X-Files fan in me. However, I would like to caution you against listening to the episode about Spring Heeled Jack whilst walking to your lift in the dark at 7am on a December morning. It’s creepy.

4. Small Town Murder

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I *promise* I’m not plotting a murder (I realise that two of my choices in this list are somewhat murder-y), but this is my latest binge-listen. Two comedians look at murders committed in small towns across the world (their amazement at how old a British village they look at is genuinely cute) and they discuss the demographics of each place, as well as the circumstances around the crimes they feature. Less meandering than All Killa No Filla, but no less funny, this has been my constant companion in the last three weeks.

As an aside, apparently Maine has a really low crime rate. As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I am a rabid Murder, She Wrote fan and I dispute this fact. EVERYONE dies horribly in Cabot Cove. That’s why Jessica has to move to New York.

5. Welcome To Night Vale

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Probably one of the most famous podcasts outside of Serial and This American Life, Welcome to Night Vale is a bit of an acquired taste. I tried listening to it last year and gave up; recently, though I’ve been binge listening. I love how it’s paranormal mixed with magic realism and surreal humour. Also, Cecil’s voice is like honey on toast. This is the podcast I credit with helping me train my brain to follow a story and retain information (I have a mild hearing impairment called auditory processing disorder, which means that I can struggle to connect words straightaway- audiobooks were a no-go for me for a long time, which means that the free Audible books offered at the start of every bloody podcast were moot. Anyway, following this has really helped, so… yay!) I am determined to own a cat called Khoshekh in the next few years and I am very over-invested in the story of the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home.

All hail the glow cloud.

(I would also recommend Alice Isn’t Dead, by the same people. You need to start at the beginning though, FYI.)

6. Very Odd Pod

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Two disclaimers off the bat:

  1. My mate Scott (also known as @GalacticKeegan or @Flying_Inside on Twitter) makes this podcast with his brother, Cal.
  2. I am in an upcoming episode. (Scott finally recognised my inner Judi Dench. And needed someone with a Leeds accent.)

However, it is a very funny and surreal podcast that has had me GENUINELY laughing out loud in the last couple of weeks. It’s also convinced me that my hair may actually be trying to kill me and my loved ones and that the Spice Girls changed the whole of human history. It’s in its early days, but if you want to say you liked something before everyone else did, this might be for you. At least start listening before Scott gets so famous he ends up on Strictly.

I’m always after new recommendations for podcasts (and also noise cancelling headphones), so let me know what you’re listening to here or on Twitter: @wuthering_alice

 

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Divine Divas: Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

"Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962) bette #davies joan #crawford #horror:  So this has gone a little off-piste (I’ll be reviewing Of Human Bondage in the next few days), as I’ve been trying to go in order of film release, but I requested this from the library and it came earlier than expected! Anyway, welcome to the mother of all rumour-filled films, in which Misses Davis and Crawford- long rumoured to be bitter enemies- are sisters ‘Baby’ Jane and Blanche Hudson, trapped in a co-dependent and unravelling relationship that isn’t fun for anyone. A washed-up and now alcoholic former child star, Jane is forced into the role of carer of her sister, a more successful actress who was disabled in an accident caused by Jane’s drinking. Jane’s mind becomes more and more unstable as the film progresses, putting her sister-and those around her- in grave danger.

babyj2 I love this film. It’s campy and outrageous and surprisingly quite funny. I ADORE Bette Davis as Jane; her level of ‘meh’ in some scenes actually make me laugh every time I see them. I think every performance is fantastic and that this is one of those films deserving of its cult status. I understand why people become slightly obsessed with it. (My Twitter cover picture is the one above; my Facebook profile picture is of ‘Baby’ Jane applying lipstick. I am quite biased.)

I first saw it when I was about 15 and it wasn’t much later that I discovered one of my favourite books, ‘Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud’ by Shaun Considine, which is a biography of the two actresses told through their apparently bitter rivalry (which is disappointingly debunked by Karina Longworth in my favourite podcast, You Must Remember This.) I remember being being especially taken by Davis’ transformation into the deranged Jane: layers upon layers of caked makeup and a creepily innocent smile. In contrast, Crawford had to be really persuaded to abandon her high-glamour look, which she didn’t really do. In some of the earlier scenes, she is eerily beautiful for someone who has been locked in one room for twenty years, and Davis later complained that Crawford wore ‘falsies’- and that, in a scene in which she had to lie across her chest, it was like landing on ‘two footballs’.

Is it scary? Not really, by modern standards. I imagine there were scarier films being released even in 1962, to be honest. But what it is is a hugely entertaining film in which two greats allow themselves to be parodied (to greater or lesser degrees!) and to admit the ways in which their careers were permanently changing.

Divine Divas: Grand Hotel (1932)

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I saw Grand Hotel when I was about 18; I remember not being hugely impressed and I promptly forgot about it. When I revisited it a couple of weeks ago, it actually took about three hours to watch it, because I kept being interrupted. I think me and this film have been fated to not get on from the start.

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Garbo as the ballerina, Grusinskaya

The action takes place across a 24 hour period (roughly), in which a series of characters find themselves in a hotel in Berlin. There’s a playboy baron, played by John Barrymore, who is not what he initially seems; a dying man, determined to live out his last days in style after living a careful life (played by Barrymore’s older brother Lionel, best known to modern audiences for his turn in It’s a Wonderful Life); a prima donna ballerina with crippling stage fright, played by Greta Garbo (and the original source for her famous catchphrase); a bully-boy business executive played by the notorious belligerent Wallace Beery; and a seductive stenographer, played to (early) type by Joan Crawford. There’s crime, a death, fights and at least someone gets something resembling a happy ending.

Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel, 1932:

Joan Crawford as Flaemmchen

It’s definitely a bit of a weird film. It feels quite ‘bitty’, more that the studio was interested in having a film stuffed full of famous actors (it was the first film to have such a star powered ensemble cast), rather than much of a plot. I mean, that’s not to say that there isn’t a plot there- there is, sort of- but so many characters make it hard to really get any of the threads to feel more than superficial.

Joan Crawford, as the unfortunately named Flaemmchen, is the best thing about this film (although I’d say Lionel Barrymore plays his nervy, dying man to pathetic perfection). She exudes sexiness in a time just before the Hays’ Code came along and ruined all the fun in Hollywood. She’s unapologetic in her sensuality and she knows what she’s doing. She knows damn well that she’s in control of the men in the room- although there’s a scene in which she shows extraordinary kindness, too. It’s amazing to watch; I can’t actually think of an a modern actress who has the same kind of presence on screen, and only a few actresses ever who were able to come close- Rita Hayworth, maybe? Others were undeniably sexy, but there’s just something about Crawford that I can’t really put my finger on.

And we need to talk about Garbo. In the You Must Remember This podcast (listen, if you haven’t), Karina Longworth recommends that those wanting to watch a Garbo film for the first time try something else. I’ve never seen another Garbo film, but I get what she means- the world’s most famous Swede (before ABBA and Ikea, anyway) is not brilliant. In fact, at times, she’s perfectly hammy. In fact, there are scenes where she’s hammier than a ham and gammon sandwich served in a bacon factory. I do understand why, though- she’s playing a pampered, spoilt ballerina and she shares many scenes with John Barrymore, more used to a New York stage than being in front of a camera. But, oh, by modern standards, it’s hard to watch.

In short, this is a good place to start if you want to get a feel for 1930s films- it looks amazing and there are key stars in it. But if you want to watch a good film, I’d maybe put this about fifth on your list…

NEXT FILM ON THE PLAYLIST: Of Human Bondage (1934), starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.

 

 

Divine Divas- a film odyssey

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If you follow me on any kind of social media, you’ll know that my summer has been spent listening to the wonderful podcast You Must Remember This. There are few reasons for this- my long-term obsession with early Hollywood, the fact it’s a standout podcast, and that I’m attempting to write a novel set in 1930s Hollywood (more on this as we get towards NaNoWriMo in a few days…) The podcast is presented in series and the two that I’ve enjoyed most have been the MGM Stories (with a standalone episode on my beloved Jean Harlow) and Six Degrees of Joan Crawford, another of my favourite actresses. One of the best things though, is that it’s led me to discover-or rediscover- a load of old films that not very many people remember these days.

With this in mind, my friend Jan- also a huge Old Hollywood obsessive- has lent me a TON of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford DVDs, mainly spanning the 30s and 40s. I’ve been fascinated by these two actresses ever since I read The Divine Feud when I was fifteen; the book looks at the supposed feud the two women had that culminated in the shrill classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Very recently parodied on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars by Alaska and Alyssa Edwards. RPDR is actually full of references to old Hollywood starlets- this last season alone also referenced Mae West and Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford in the glorified B-movie, Mommie Dearest. Which I also watched recently as a result of You Must Remember This.)

So here’s the thing. I will be watching these films and reviewing them on here. If you want to watch along and discuss, I’ll be telling you the next film in my odyssey. They will mostly be in chronological order and, to start with, will mostly be Davis and Crawford films. I can’t say how often I’ll get round to each film (life, an almost four-year-old and everything else will probably get in the way occasionally!), but I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

#PaperHaul: Featured- Rory J. Murphy

It was a stormy grey day when this month’s #PaperHaul landed in my mailbox. I tried to resist it, but as any stationery lover knows, these little boxes are as hard to resist as a dame in a silk dress. What would the box yield to closer inspection, I wondered?

Oh, Ava Gardner, I love you.

Oh, Ava Gardner, I love you.

And then I had it. It was a collaboration between #PaperHaul and Rory J. Murphy. I knew then that all hope was lost; that I was drawn in to something beyond my control. You see, this box held something inspired by a weakness of mine- a love of film noir, of broads and dames, detectives and bad guys; of Bogey and Bacall.

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Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?

ITEM 1: The Whole Shebang

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Here you can see all the evidence together, clear as day. Paints a pretty picture, don’t it? It’s Film Noir with a bit of Frank Miller (but without the violence.)

Item 2: The Notebook

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Every detective needs a book to keep a note of hoodlums, dames need a book to keep track of conquests. I just need a book to keep track of boring things like budgets and how many rows I’ve knitted. Whatever, I’m channelling my inner crimefighter with this.

Item 2: The Calling Cards

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Everyone has a vice. What’s yours? Liquor? Lipstick? A pistol? Your calling card is here, my friend, in the form of these mini-cards.

Item 3: The Main Event

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Film noir needs its femme fatale and this one appears to be influenced by Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Is that a stocking brandished sexily or… with murder in mind? Only you and the recipient can decide.

Item 4: The Mugshots

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That bobby pin shows that a woman’s been in the interrogating room… has she been up to NO GOOD?

You’ll never get anywhere in this town if you’re not good with faces, kid. Helpfully, you can stick these wherever you like. And the cards are cool; the top one reminds me of Ava Gardner and the bottom one, of course, has more than an air of Bogey and Bacall.

Item 5: The Tape

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Tape’s important. It seals crime scenes and holds your anatomy in its place when needed. This tape will declare your love of the hard stuff AND stick paper together. What more could you want?

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You can register for #PaperHaul here.

Disclaimer: I get my box at a discounted rate, but my reviews are honest and reflect my own opinions.

Favourite foreign language films

I like watching films and I’m fortunate to be able to watch quite a few for my job. At the moment, I’m teaching a unit of work about cultural identity in Mexican cinema, which I’m finding fascinating. It made me think of some of my favourite foreign language films of the last few years. If you get chance over the Christmas period, check some of these out- it’s always nice to see something a bit different from the usual Hollywood blockbusters! Alas, I have a limited list here- if you know of any I should definitely watch, let me know!

Kamikaze Girls (2004)- Japan

 

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

In recent years, Japan has arguably been more famous for its horror films (and you should check out Battle Royale and The Ring if you haven’t and see what all the fuss was about), but I have had a love affair with Kamikaze Girls since I first saw it a few years ago. It’s the story of an unlikely friendship between a girl who is the very epitome of kawaii and a member of a girl gang, who are thrown together through boredom. The film is funny, heartbreaking and, at times, utterly mad. It’s brilliant and easily one of my favourite films of all time.

A Royal Affair (2012)- Denmark

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

Benn and I saw this last year and we were pleasantly surprised. The film tells the true story of Caroline, the daughter of George III who has the misfortune to be married to the mad king of Denmark. Unhappy and shunned by court, she begins an affair with his brilliant doctor and the two of them begin radical reform to increase the welfare of the poor. It sounds dull- I promise you it’s not. If you like historical dramas, this one should definitely be on your list.

Amores Perros (2000)- Mexico

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

This is one of the films I teach this year and it’s a powerful look at the different strands of Mexican society. It’s also the film that kicked off the recent Mexican New Wave (largely, in part, due to the rise of Gael Garcia Bernal.) The film tells the story of three people interconnected by a devastating car crash and deals with forbidden love, frustration, betrayal and dog fighting. It’s fast, sad, exciting and troubling all at once and sheds light on Mexican life in an incredibly real way.

The Lives of Others (2006)- Germany

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

I’m not sure I can even comprehend what life was like in East Germany, where this film is set, but The Lives of Others shows a state that even George Orwell would have been shocked at. A Secret Service argent is tasked with listening in to the lives of a playwright and his partner- they’re suspected of not adhering to strict party laws. However, rather than informing on them, the agent becomes more and more drawn into listening into their life. It’s a film to watch when you’re feeling a bit deep, when you want to think about human beings and how we affect each other.

Amelie (2001)- France

Image: IMDB

Image: IMDB

This is an obvious choice for me- not only is it the film on this list you’re most likely to have seen, but it also sparked my love of Paris and all things French (apart from really noxious-smelling cheese.) I love this film: I love the character of Amelie, I love the way the film is shot and I love the whimsy of the whole thing. It’s kind of twee in places, but it was twee before tweeness became fashionable. One of the reasons I persuaded Benn that we should go to Paris on honeymoon was because of this film (you can rent the apartment used as Amelie’s in the film, but we couldn’t afford it.) Next time I go, I will definitely take myself on a tour of the locations in the film. You should just watch this. It’ll be good for you.

What are your favourite foreign language films?

 

Another crazy idea

I’m actually scheduling this on Sunday afternoon, so I have no idea which film will win Best Picture tonight at the Oscars (I reckon- without having seen it, mind- that it’ll be American Hustle. I can feel it in my waters. Of course 12 Years a Slave won. My waters were having a bad day yesterday.) Anyway, I’ve been reading the BuzzFeed rankings of all of the winners of the Best Picture award and I realised how many of those winners I HAVEN’T seen, which is a bit shameful for a teacher of film and media.

All About Eve (1950)- can you identify the young starlet in the background? Image: 20th Century Fox

All About Eve (1950)- can you identify the young starlet in the background?
Image: 20th Century Fox

Anyway, reading the list of winners, I have seen the following:

  1. Grand Hotel (1931)
  2. It Happened One Night (1934)
  3. Gone With The Wind (1939)
  4. Rebecca (1940)
  5. Casablanca (1943)
  6. All About Eve (1950)
  7. My Fair Lady (1964)
  8. The Godfather (1972)
  9. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  10. Forrest Gump (1994)
  11. Titanic (1997)
  12. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
  13. American Beauty (1999)
  14. Chicago (2002)
  15. LOTR: The Return of the Ring (2003)
  16. No Country for Old Men (2007)
  17. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  18. The King’s Speech (2010)
  19. The Artist (2011)

So I’ve seen roughly about a quarter of the Best Picture films, but some of these were so long ago that they merit a re-watch. You can see, too, how my obsession with Hollywood of the 30s/40s/50s is better represented than more modern films. There are loads of great films I haven’t seen though- and I am determined to put that right and watch more of the winners.

Where should I start? (All the winners are listed here.)