Clearly failed to write anything for a few days. Nothing much to the weekend to write about.
I watched Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window the other day. It's one of those films noir that I somehow never saw (and was confusing with the similarly Lang directed Edward G Robinson/Joan Bennett starring Scarlet Street). I ended up skipping some of the latter part of the movie as it was feeling rather predictable. It's noirish aspects are pretty limited, other than that it is a crime film. Robinson's character, a professor whose wife and children have gone away on some trip, sees this portrait of a woman in the window next to his club. He and his buddies (one of whom is a D.A.) talk about how they'd love to meet the woman and how they are too old for adventures anymore. On his way home, he stops to look at the portrait again and the woman shows up. He, fairly innocently (at least it is not implied at all that they have any kind of physical relations), ends up at her apartment for drinks and to look at sketches by the same artist as the portrait (though one can certainly read "artist sketches" as "nudes", and thus imply something more erotic than we actually see). Some guy shows up and attacks Robinson in a rage, almost choking him, until the woman gets some scissors into Robinson's hands and he stabs the other man to death.
It's self-defense, but Robinson is concerned about his ruined reputation, so they decide to take the body to the country (they are in NYC) and cover up the murder. Somehow, he's more worried about his reputation and that people won't believe an innocent meeting with a woman, than he is worried about covering up a murder and that people will believe he is innocent. It's almost comical. Of course we immediately start seeing how, yes, he is not up for adventure, as his cover up starts going badly and his friend starts investigating the case, which gives the professor plenty of opportunities to let slip that he knows about more about the murder than he should.
I skipped a lot of the rising action part and went to the end. Surprisingly the woman, Joan Bennett, who is quite good in this, does not turn into a femme fatale or try to get him killed or anything (I think that's the plot in Scarlet Street). Instead, he ends up killing himself as he thinks he's about to get caught, but then... twist!... the guy who was trying to blackmail them gets shot and dies with incriminating evidence. But.. twist!... the professor wakes up and it was all a dream... Uggh. And thus he learned his lesson about... talking to women that aren't his wife... and that he's too old for adventures.
Lang is generally quite moralistic, as seen in this movie, and it feels like it takes away from the noir atmosphere, ditto the stupid "it was all a dream" ending.
The past slowly fades into the forgotten. What have I been reading? Watching? Doing?
Breath of the Wild continues in small bursts. It truly is a very D&D-esque old school sandbox. After you get through the opening tutorial section, you are unleashed upon a very large world that you can mostly explore, barring elemental dangers (it gets cold high up on the mountains without adequate protection) or running into tough/large monsters (I've stumbled upon quite a few that I just turned tail and ran from). You almost immediately get your final goal, but the steps along the way are so far pretty vague. Talking to people gets you clues to locations or small side missions. But otherwise it seems you just have to keep exploring. You don't get experience points or level up, but if you complete the puzzles in these shrines scattered across the world you can increase your health/stamina. Otherwise it seems like getting better equipment is the only way you change, and I mostly just occasionally stumble onto something new or interesting, but have no clear idea if there is a way to find anything better. I don't even have a sense if there are "harder" areas that might require me to be tougher but also net me better treasure.
One of my main actual goals is finding the location of these various photographs so I can restore my character's memories. Between this and the shrines, it's mostly just exploring. You can get to high locations to look for landmarks to note on your map, and then you head off to reach them, stumbling upon things on the way. It might be the most directionless game I've played yet. I assume at some point I will get more clues on how I actually complete the end goal, at this point I have no idea, but that seems ok... for now.
Over the past two weekends I dropped off a few boxes of books in a donation bin for Better World Books. While occasionally selling books to Powells has helped lessen the piles (though also getting me credit at Powells to... buy more books), it hasn't helped enough, especially for things that don't appear in their system or that they just never want. It got to the point where "donate with the least inconvenience" became the best option, one of my work colleagues mentioned Better World Books, and looking on their site I found there was a dropbox not far away (near the store where I go to get bird food, even). So that's a few boxes out of the house. There aren't even piles in the corner of my office anymore, just another box or two, of what are mostly art comics (some in French) that I feel I might find a better home for.
But then I look at what is on the shelves, and realize there are plenty more I could weed out. And then I end up buying more.... a couple comics showed up from France today.
Another week of winter passed, still mostly warmer than... usual? the past? I can't say normal, because I think this is normal now. We did have one day of rain and heavy winds and thunderstorm warnings that then became snow but it was so warm it just melted as it hit the ground.
Star Trek: Picard, three episodes in, still entertains. It's slow moving, I think the idea of Star Trek stories that take more than the length of 2 episodes (or one movie) is still fairly novel. Discovery did it, but they also had a limited number of subplots and B stories. So far Picard is basically all one main plot, though split between mostly two focalizing characters. One place it really disappointed this time around (episode 3) is in the introduction of some new characters, one of whom is such a cliched "cool guy who had some traumatic event in the past and acts tough but really cares and oh yeah he smokes and drinks and of course his previous trauma has psychological connections to the current situation". It's lazy and boring and he's already the most annoying thing about the show. There was also one scene that Picard being a little too action hero-y considering how old he is. I was kind of worried that would happen and the writers would not... deal with it in a way that seems realistic (Picard would easily get beat up by trained Romulan assassin). Letting him get all action-y takes away from a clear theme of the show about his aging.
Before sleep last night, I finished up Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire, a science fiction novel from last year that I saw on a lot of recommended lists, and they did not steer me wrong. I don't read a ton of space opera-esque science fiction, so my best touchstone is Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy (also excellent by the way). Both take place in non-Earth based societies (empires) and deal with identity and language and political maneuvering. Martine's book is focused on an ambassador who is put in a political thriller type situation while also focusing on her complicated relationship with the culture and language of the empire, which her people are trying to avoid being annexed into. To them she is a barbarian, but to her they are a culture that she mostly looks up to, having studied their language and poetry and dramas for most of her life. It was well written, tightly plotted, intellectually engaging, and, of course, left enough larger plot points unresolved so there can be a sequel. Though, I will say that the main protagonist's story is resolved sufficiently that I didn't feel like I was left just waiting for a sequel to find out what happened.
Yesterday we also played our next one-shot in Eric's RPG "tasting menu," Colonial Gothic. The genre is basically Call of Cthulhu in colonial America. The rules are 2d12 skill based, where you roll, add attribute modifiers and skill modifiers and try to beat a target. The default in the game is 18 which we ended up changing halfway through cause it was too high. The combat systems uses a numbered initiative slot system where you get multiple actions but spaced across different numbers. That means that with 5 PCs and a couple opponents rounds of combat take a really long time. You have to count down and track the inititiative number and whether you get an action on that number and then... you reroll every round, so you can't even get into a steady order. Damage is also based on how much you beat your target number, which while less dice rolling also feels more fiddly than just rolling a separate die (but... they only use d12s so I guess all weapons would have had to do d12 or more damage...). All in all, I found nothing much to be attracted to in the rules, it's nothing I haven't seen before and nothing that seemed to make it more worthwhile a system than any other option (like just running a Call of Cthulhu game in the same setting... or just using basic D&D rules).
The adventure, which I assume was a starter module in the rule book or introductory module from the authors was just... boring. We had a lot of fun because we had a pretty crazy collection of characters to interact, but the adventure itself was extremely linear and had no real choice or depth to it.
Afterwards we talked about the idea of playing new games to try new rules versus just playing one-shots to try different genres and settings, and pretty much all seemed to agree we are more interested in the latter. Finding a consistent, simple ruleset and than just using it to play various adventures of different sorts. I, of course, argued for just using basic D&D rules, as there already are tons of variations on those rules for all sorts of genres (I myself have quite a few on my shelf).
But all that said, we are going to try a Powered by the Apocalypse game next time as Eric really wants to try the more player narrative driven style of those games. It was going to be Dungeon World but we decided to try The Sprawl instead, since we haven't played a cyberpunk game before. I've only played Dungeon World once, but I've also read the rules as well as Apocalypse World. I'm not convinced allowing players to take more control of the narrative requires using different rules, I think you can easily just ask the players to contribute to the world building/narrative no matter what rules you use. We'll see how it goes. I'm excited to play a cyberpunk game as I haven't since we used to play Cyberpunk 2020 back in high school.
I was so negligent in my writing this week, I'm sure ther was something else I wanted to write about, but now I can't remember what it was. Only into the second month of the year and already my time scheduling has broken down.
Watched Chantal Akerman's first film Je Tu Il Elle and took some disjointed notes (from which this post is made). It's a slow movie, without a lot of camera movement, action, or, for long periods, dialogue. It's divided into three sections, and the first two have narration by the protagonist (played by Akerman). The narration sometimes precedes the visuals and sometimes recounts something we just saw, which can be oddly disorienting in the first section. At first I just thought she was narrating something we weren't going to see, but then what she narrated would happen after the narration stopped.
One review I read compared it to Stranger than Paradise, but I feel like Jarmisch's movie is much more explicitly humorous and also in the first third of Akerman's movie, the protagonist is by herself so there's not that interaction between the actors you get in the former.
I don't know that I've seen the camera move if I have it was only a very little.
Because it's in black and white it feels older than it is.
There are a number of scenes of really nothing happening: eating, writing, looking. Actions that would not normally be considered worth filming at length.
She goes out hitchhiking and is picked up by a trucker and I can't help but expect something awful to happen, though I'm not sure this is quite that type of movie.
Weirdly when she's with the trucker who picks her up, they watch TV and listen to the radio and it's in English, at one point it seems to be a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. A little confused, maybe it takes place in America even though it's a French movie?
There was a brief snippet on the trucker's radio where the voice said something about air pollution and you realize this is almost 50 years ago, and we had so much time and squandered it.
There's a scene where the protagonist and the trucker are having a beer and smoking silently sometimes glancing at each other and you can tell they're thinking about whether they're going to have sex or not, weighing the decision, the chance of the feelings of the other person, and it's completely without any dialogue. There's natural sound in the background diagetic sound but they're not talking but you can tell they both seem a little trepidatious a little nervous a little unsure, it's amazingly expressive though in it's minimalism.
The last section has the protagonist reaching her destination (I assume), an apartment with a young woman (about the same as the protagonist) living in it. At first their relationship is unclear, she seems unhappy to see the protagonist and wants her to leave. But then she ends up giving her food, and then they have sex. Was this the character the narrator was writing to in the first part of the film? It's not clear. The sex scene itself is kind of comical in the way the two woman are rolling around almost as if they are fighting with each other, frantic wrestling. It seems neither realistic in the sense of how actual sex works nor realistic in the sense of how a movie would normally show such a scene. It was almost comical.
A strange movie, I'm not sure in the end that I enjoyed it much.
I'm doing a tech talk for work on Thursday this week and having started the week with a long list of notes and no visuals or organization it's taking up a good about amount of my time, probably more than I would like. And so I will probably be negligent about my journaling this week.
I was originally trying to write about all the things I read or saw but I've certainly missed a few things over the past weeks: I read the new Crepax complete volume (it's probably been a few weeks ago), I read Tsuge's The Man Without Talent last week in the new English translation, I've been slowly reading the Aria: The Masterpiece volumes, probably other things. I find as I'm reading or watching I often have comments to make but then by the time I have time to write anything I've forgotten them all. I could probably take more notes in process progress but that can be disrupting to the flow of the work but it has certainly helped when I've done it for reviews.
I feel like there are two levels of thought going on in my brain. I will think things but I will also internally talk to myself, not exactly to myself, more like putting the thoughs into monologue.
A chittering flock of about a hundred small birds just passed over my head as I am walking to the bakery this morning. I couldn't get a good look at exactly what they were. It was pretty impressive, though they flew literally over my head so I was a little worried about getting hit (thankfully I didn't). It's a cold morning today, cloudy skies but not totally unpleasant.
My tech talk about HTML and Accessibility last night went pretty well. I find it hard to talk like that when I can't see my audience since we are all online, and there's no video or anything. You lose the ability to read the audience or interact with them in any way that isn't calling out questions into what seems like avoid. I find that really awkward when other people do it, so I don't though
██████ said I should have done that. I do think I mostly said what I wanted to say and hopefully people listened and learned something and my time preparing was not in vain.
Earlier in the week I read Anna Weiner's Uncanny Valley, a memoir of her time working for tech start-ups in Silicon Valley. It was a breezy, thoughtful, occasionally funny read. As a personal look at the culture of the start-ups and some disturbing implications of the intersection for the larger culture they are influencing so much, it's well worth a read for anyone interestied in technology or the internet from a cultural perspective. She takes the interesting tact of not using proper names for the companies she references or for most of the characters (the ones that aren't her current friends, I'm guessing): so Facebook is referred to as "the social network everyone hates but still logs onto" (I paraphrase), or Google is "giant search engine." I assume there might be some kind of legal reason for her doing that in regards to the companies she actually worked at (one of which is GitHub), but it also adds an odd flavor of mystery and enstrangement to the book. I read it, deciphering the names, trying to figure out what companies (or people) she was referring to. I didn't recognize the first companies she worked at (though you can find out online if you look around), but I immediately recognized the description when she went to GitHub (which we use heavily at work, as do innumerable coders). It was unexpected to read about her work there, basically monitoring content in re copyright violations but also hate speech and the like. Apparently people make use of the service for way more than just tracking code changes and bugs and releases. In the end, her book really puts into doubt the idea that these companies created and run by, usually, privileged young white men with often limited social skills are really up to the job (or even think they have the job) of dealing with the effects of their creations: surveillance, hate speech, shitty employment, etc.
Stressful day yesterday as one of the first things I did in the morning caused potential trouble for our database the rest of the day. Trying to clean up a lot of data that we don't need to try to make some things a little more efficient I clearly did not do it in the most efficient way and basically slowed down our mysql database for our main server all day. So I spent the day stressing and worried that it was going to go down, and I didn't know what we would do if that happened.
Another stressful time at work, as there were problems with our release that caused our database CPU load to increase a lot. Only finding that out in the evening meant I just couldn't get it all fixed before today, so I had a bit of a restless night expecting at any moment to get a "server down" alert or something. Thankfully, the database kept trucking along, and I managed to just get out a fix that seems to have worked.
Wish there were more time to take a breather from all this, but there are still more regions to release to, more bugs to fix, more new features to write, more performance improvements to do. It's endless.
On the plus side, the new Cometbus #59 showed up this week, as did the new edition of Taniguchi's The Walking Man one of my most favorite manga, which I first wrote about it way back in 2005.
We have a big project going live at work on Friday, which means extra stress for me and even more reason to not find time to write. I get in some Zelda as my relaxation after work, but I've been starting early to get things done. I finished a book, I think... what was it?
I read Eleanor Davis' The Hard Tomorrow the other day via the library. It was... unsatisfying to me. In the end, I felt like it was the setup for a story that didn't get completed, and instead just goes "and then they had a baby" with a whole bunch of full page baby drawings at the end. It offered the baby as the ending or as the reason or as the self-evident goal or solution without actually getting into how that interacted with the near future near dystopia the story is set in. The paratext of the book has Davis offering a dedication to her unborn child, which makes that ending seem perhaps a little too close. In a story where people are protesting and arrested and losing their jobs and giving each other up to the police so they don't get deported, just having a baby doesn't seem like the answer to the question.
I remember watching Claire Denis 35 Shots of Rum which also felt incomplete. It was a beautifully filmed movie, but in the end I wasn't actually sure what the movie was about or what it was trying to say or what I was supposed to get out of it. It was apparently inspired by Ozu's Late Spring with a close knit father/daughter and then the daughter's marriage, though in this film the marriage aspect seemed rather subtle.
Maybe I'm just in a way of not getting stuff I'm consuming this week.
Finished rereading the new edition of Taniguchi's Walking Man this week. This time around it's a hardcover edition with 3 extra stories and color pages, all now presented in right to left format. It's a bit of a disappointment. The color pages are lovely, but the three extra stories are odd fits. One doesn't feature the protagonist at all and seems more like something thrown in randomly. The other two are drawn in a different style and do seem to have the same protagonist or at least as best as one can say considering he is anonymous throughout and the stylistic change makes it harder to be sure he is the same character. The second of those is the weirdest one and the most offputting, as it features the character remembering an affair he had, while married, with another woman. The drawing for this one is darker and thicker, giving it more of a noir look (like some of Taniguchi's earlier work, I believe). Imagining this as the same character we see in the rest of the stories, a man who seems happy and gets along with his wife, is jarring at the end. It's like having a little pebble in your shoe when you take a walk. I think I'll choose to think of it as a different character.
More confusingly the new edition has no extratextual material. It doesn't even have the briefest of author biographies (Taniguchi's name appears on cover, spine, title page, and copyright notice, that's it). There is no introduction or afterward, nothing. The previous edition I had at least had a few paragraphs about the author and his work. It all seems like a missed opportunity. Regardless, it is still a comic I quite love.
Watched Lina Wertmuller's Love and Anarchy over the past few days. I vaguely recall watching it for the Italian neorealist film class I took in college one summer, but I didn't actually remember anything about the movie. A young farmer's friend is murdered by the police while on his way to murder Mussolini (this takes place... sometime during his reign). The farmer decides to take on the mission, despite not previously having any real political engagement. His contact is a prostitute in a high class house in the city. As they scout out the setting for the deed, he falls in love with one of the other prostitutes. But, though he is determined to follow through, she doesn't wake him up that morning and convinces his contact to do the same. When he wakes he is angry, then convinced to not follow through, then, when police show up at the house, he goes wild, shoots them all (the police, I mean), runs into the street, ends up captured, tortured, and murdered by the fascists.
It's a melodramatic movie, filmed in bright colors, with a lot of the over-the-top performances and scenes. There's a lot of singing and shouting and emoting. It's hard to easily evaluate it's message. It is clearly anti-fascist, not the least of which is the macho, obnoxious security chief who the one prostitute seduces to get information about the event Mussolini is scheduled to appear at. He is portrayed by a large, wide jawed man who is all bluster and that kind of menacing friendliness that only comes from people who know they can at any moment decide they don't like you anymore and have you seriously hurt, a veneer of civility over violence.
But on the actual action of the deed (the farmer and his friend identify as anarchists, thus it is "propaganda by deed" that is their goal), the film is rather less clear. None of the primaries seem to question the morality of it, though the reasons for it are a bit varied. But the farmer's motivation is unclear at first and only muddied as the movie goes on. At times he seems to just be following through for his murdered friend, or following through because his friend was murdered (revenge), but in a long scene where he and the fascist security chief are drinking and alone in a plaza, he tells a story about a dog that is beaten everyday until he finally bites back. Here we sense a history to the character, that shows more of a political conscious than before. By the end, though, he seems more determined to continue his actions as a kind of macho pride. One of the woman tells him "not everyone has to be a hero", and that seems to set him off.
In the end, the story is perhaps more about the woman (not unexpected from Wertmuller) and how the men treat them or leave them. The contact prostitute had another lover who she saw beaten to death, which motivates her desire to help with the assassination. The lover prostitute wants to escape her life and run off with this young man, yet in the end, he also ends up beaten in front of her and later killed. The security chief treats them both awfully, hidden behind his macho friendliness. Even the farmer, when he finds out they didn't wake him on the morning of the assassination, shouts and pushes them around. The women sell themselves, watch the men they love die, and are generally left worse off because of the men's actions.
I read two music adjacent books lately too: Cometbus #59 Post-Mortem and Sam McPheeter's Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk. Cometbus, as he has often in recent issues, presents the issue as a single unified work, titled, numbered chapters. He travels around talking to people involved with different "underground" institutions, from record labels (Epitaph) and publishers (Thrasher, Fantagraphics) to stores, collectives, and other different sorts of spaces. His ostensive goal is to find out what went wrong, to learn from the past (hence the title), yet, even in the book, he admits that his goals are not very clear and the results unconclusive or non-existent. It's a strange issue, occasionally interesting, occasionlly not, but ending up feeling like a failed project, less successful than other recent issues like the one about bookstores or his tour with Green Day.
I somehow missed that McPheeter's book is billed as a collection in the description on Amazon (and maybe the back cover, I read it as an ebook so I didn't get one of those). I was expecting a whole work, and the cover nor any other material make it clear that these are collected works (only after finishing it did I notice in the indicia notes about how "parts were published in..."). It makes an odd read, as they do not appear to have been edited to account for this juxtaposition. So one essay is about Youth of Today, and then two essays later he takes the time when mentioning their singer to explain who he is.
In the end, much of the book was quite underwhelming to me. McPheeters in many of them is coy about his personal involvement in the scene and then later there are more personal essays. I guess that is the result of a collection over what assumes (but it's hard to say without specific publication notes) was written over many years. Early chapters about specific people or bands I found pretty boring. Later chapters that are more personal essay are more successful, though that might be colored than I am certainly more a fan and interesting in his band (Born Against) than in the bands/people he was writing about. One of the essays I liked the best was about going to the record pressing plant he used for his label. It was closing down, so he and other indie label owners went to get their masters and stored records. McPheeters is also more interesting when reflecting on his own past actions, particularly the often extreme provocation of his band.
After working on it for more than a year, we launched a big project at work yesterday. Oddly, by the time the launch actually came around I wasn't worried about it anymore, despite being very stressed about it for a long time previously. It was a partial launch, in that more and more customers will be brought on over the course of the spring, but so far there weren't any immediate major failures and only a few bugs. Maybe this means I can be a little less stressed about work next week and moving forward.
Criterion Channel has Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina programs (which is to say, two programs, but naturally a lot of overlap) up. For some reason I decided to watch Le Petit Soldat, which is their first collaboration. I'd watched it long ago and didn't think much of it and... I still don't. Should have just watched one of the good ones instead.
Also tried to watch I Walk Alone an old noir starring very young Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as well as Lizabeth Scott, which was the real reason it caught my eye. She's one of those actresses that appears in a bunch of noir movies who always stands out, but I found this one to be pretty unengaging. I didn't finish it.
We've been watching Six Feet Under as our current TV series. Somehow I never got around to watching it before. It's enjoyable, veering between comedy and drama, with a bunch of good actors, but it's also not a really great show, at least as far as we've gotten. Feels like it hit at a kind of inception point for prestige drama series, where it was new and different but not quite yet really there, taking risks but often making missteps. Probably most interesting so far in it, is the depiction of the oldest son who when the series starts is gay and closeted. His struggles with his sexuality and religion and dating and coming out to his family is well done and also feels like a story that doens't often get told in the way it happens in the show.