Archive for france

Ken Russell: The Old Devil

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

It’s been 40 years since Southampton boy Ken Russell filmed his notorious The Devils. Stuart Jeffries asks him about saints, sinners and the most frightening film he ever saw

We’re meeting because Russell’s notorious film The Devils will be shown in a rare uncut screening on Sunday at the East End film festival. Filmgoers will be able to savour its so-called “rape of Christ” sequence in which 17th-century French Ursuline nuns defiled a statue of Jesus during an orgy – not to mention the scene in which Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) masturbates with a charred bone from a burned priest played by Oliver Reed. Plenty of other sequences kept censors the world over in business. The Devils had the singular fate of winning a silver ribbon for best foreign film from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists in 1972, while being banned throughout Italy.

Russell’s film was adapted from Aldous Huxley’s 1952 non-fiction novel The Devils of Loudon, as well as John Whiting’s follow-up 1960 play The Devils. They were all inspired by the notorious case of supposed demonic possession in 17th-century France, in which a charismatic Catholic priest, Urbain Grandier, was accused of bewitching nuns. The accusation was trumped up by Richelieu as an excuse to destroy a Protestant stronghold.

Russell takes even more liberties with this material than Huxley. Why portray the king as a cross-dressing homosexual who shoots Protestants dressed as birds in his royal park for fun? “Because that’s exactly as I saw him,” says Russell.

(Source: Grauniad)

Scordatura: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Scordatura (simply retuning of the strings from their conventional pitches) is not a technique exclusive to modern music; it dates back to the 16th century, when it was employed by French lutenists, then taken up for the violin by many composers, most notable of whom was Biber. After falling out of fashion in the 18th century (though employed for the viola part in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 for violin and viola), many 19th century violin treatises mention it (including that of Baillot from 1834), and it was a speciality of Paganini, and after him de Bériot, Vieuxtemps, and others. Also employed in Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben.

The technique is also common in much non-classical music, especially amongst folk fiddlers in various places. It’s questionable how meaningful the term is when alternative tunings can themselves become standard (as apparently an a-e-a-e tuning is in parts of Scotland and North America).

It is also impossible to play Nick Drake’s songs on the guitar because nobody knows how he tuned the instrument for different songs.

The Biber Rosary Sonatas are surely the classic examples where each sonata is tuned differently. On the only occasion when I heard them performed live the violinist (Elizabeth Wallfisch) had three different violins, each of which was immediately tuned for its own next sonata once it had been played, laid down, and then retuned again when its turn came round. It’s actually a bit of a palaver which detracts a bit from the whole performance because so much time is spent tuning the instruments.

Some Italian words that used to begin “dis” now begin with just “s”. So scordatura probably used to be discordatura.

Nettle and snail soup

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Half Hour Meals

Americans and similar small-minded people may be surprised to learn that snails are edible. In fact, if you have ever had a McFlurry from McDonald’s, then you have consumed snail, or at least the part of a snail that … perhaps I’ve said enough.

We tend to associate snails with France, but there is a historic snail-eating culture in Britain dating back at least 2,000 years. And in Somerset in the Sixties, the chef Paul Leyton popularised snails further when he invented Mendip Wallfish, a dish in which they are cooked with butter and herbs. But you can use snails in many other ways – with, say, wild rabbit cooked in cider, or like this, as a soup garnish.

You can buy cooked snails or use garden snails, but you must purify them by leaving them in a container with a mix of flour and water or lettuce leaves for a week before cooking. To cook them, bring some cider to the boil with a tablespoon of salt, some fennel seeds, a bayleaf and black peppercorns and simmer for about 40 minutes or until tender; leave to cool in the cooking liquid. Once cool, remove from the shells and remove the black sack, rinse them – and they’re ready to go.

16-20 snails
2 leeks, trimmed, cut into rough 1cm rounds and washed
a couple of good knobs of butter
1 tbsp flour
1.5l vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a handful of young nettle tops, washed

Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the leeks for 3 minutes to soften, stirring every so often. Stir in the flour, then gradually stir in the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat for about 20 minutes.

Add about two-thirds of the nettles and simmer for another few minutes. Blend in a liquidiser until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the rest of the nettles and simmer for a few more minutes, seasoning again if necessary. Add the snails to the soup and serve.

Serge Gainsbourg

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

Serge Gainsbourg may have been an accidental sex symbol, but sex symbol he most certainly was. Just ask Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot, all of whom played a major role in his rich and colourful life. To find out more about this remarkable man, go and see Gainsbourg.

“Serge liked to surround himself with women,” says the actress and singer Jane Birkin, who was married to Gainsbourg in the 1970s. “He was insecure about his looks and felt validated by their attentions.”

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