Still playing Ashen though I am nearing the end as far as I can tell. Unlike the Souls game it does have clear "missions" to accomplish and a map that marks out those missions, so everything is not so obscure and cryptic. Though I'm also wearying of the long dungeons that you have to get through at a few points in the game, where there are no places in the middle to save. Though, at least, the boss fights have proven much easier to deal with (I think so far I've done all of them in the first or second try). I might be at the point, so close to the end really, where I just want to give up on it.
Finished up Hong Sang-Soo's The Day After earlier, the third movie of his I've seen (and apparently all three were out the same year!). This was probably the least interesting. It had its moments, in particular with Min-Hee Kim his seemingly regular lead actress (and, at the time at least, partner). Something about her expressions and quick changes of mood are really interesting to watch. For most of this movie she seems to be seen in profile, in conversation across a table from the male lead, often her head is lowered or she's looking away, but then late in the movie she is shown full on as she is riding home in a taxi. It starts snowing, and she opens that window and leans her head back and a bit to the side looking out into the night time snow. In a way it's the climax of the movie, a moment of grace in what is otherwise a rather uncomfortable day for the character.
The movie plays around with time a bit, but is less confusing narratively than On the Beach At Night Alone. The story is mostly about a publisher, who Min-Hee's character starts working for (her first day at work). He was having an affair with his previous employee (another younger woman) and his wife found out. At times, the story cuts from the publisher and Min-Hee to the publisher and the girlfriend, effectively skipping back in time. It's a little confusing at first, but draws out some differences/similarities to the ongoing events.
Last night I finished up the book I was reading, Absence of Clutter: Minimal Writing as Art and Literature by Paul Stephens. Stephens analyzes a bunch of different examples and types of minimal writing, mostly poetry and word/image art (and where one draws the line between the two (and that that line is unclear) is I think part of the point). In this case minimal means very minimal, there's a whole chapter on one word poems. And most of the work would be considered smaller than a sentence. I really appreciate the way a lot of the work is a blend of word and image or the useage of words in ways that are more visual than the average poem. Susan Howe, whose latest I am reading, falls into that visual poetry category (at least much of her work), but would not be considered minimal.
Two of the poets he focuses chapters on, who are less visual, are Robert Grenier and Aram Saroyan. Grenier's Sentences was (is) a bunch of notecards with very short text typed on them. There's an online version. A few of Saroyan's works are available at ubuweb.
Last night we also watched Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint a documentary from last year about the Swedish painter who is now considered the first western abstract painter. The movie was beautiful and had tons of great images of her work, though it did feel like it downplayed the spiritualist aspect of her life and work. My reading about her previously seemed to indicate that was a large part of where her work came from, but the film kind of sidestepped any discussion of the relationship between the two. It was much more focused on correcting the record, to argue for her place as the first abstract painter, a move that overturns long held (taught) art history. A lot of the work was really amazing and had a wider range than what I had previously seen.
As I watching it, I recalled a movie I had recently seen that had reference af Klint's work, and it's only now in looking it up that I see it was Assayas' Personal Shopper, where the protagonist considers herself a medium and learns about the painter's work during the narrative.
Celebrating fourth of July by watching... Godard movies? Sure. A bunch are leaving the Criterion Channel at the end of the month, so I figured it was time to watch them (or rewatch). This morning it was Pierrot Le Fou and this afternoon La Chinoise. Both of the brightly colored 60's Godard, though the latter is much further along with the political and experimental Godard. Pierrot has a more consistent narration throughline, but still seems mostly like Godard having a lark. I didn't care much for this one when I first watched it many years ago, and this time through I can't say I loved it. Beyond just an excuse to watch Anna Karina (and there are other better movies she is in), there's not much there that I grab onto. One weird thing that stuck out to me is a scene where the two protagonists pretend to crash their car after coming upon another car crash (in a very Godardian staged way that makes no attempt to look realistic). The car has crashed against a tall concrete strut, and you can see others in the background. It's some kind of overpass, but then as the camera cuts to a long shot as the two walk away, we see it's just a tiny section of overpass in the middle of a field, unconnected to any highway, and no highway in the visiable distance. It's such an odd thing, absurd even, so much so that you could think Godard invented it for the movie, though is obviously impossible for the time.
La Chinoise is a harder work to understand. Its about a bunch of young French Maoists living together and studying Marxism-Leninism. It frequently features multiple layers of talk or writing which is hard to process in translation, because for the most part you lose the ability to listen to one thing and read anything, because you are reading both (at least for me, I can usually read the French text on screen). It's hard to tell throughout the film how much Godard agrees with the political rhetoric and how much he is being ironic, particularly about the characters. They seem quite absurd, particularly in the way one of the women in the group is basically the domestic help, while everyone else sits around reading and writing and pontificating. They have little educational sessions that seem quite silly; they play a lot with toys to play act violence. When the one woman (Anne Wiazemsky, Godard's wife after Karina, as it happens) discusses becoming a terrorist (to bomb universities!?) with one of her former professors in a long scene in a train, he, at least as I read it, bascially destroys her arguments and makes her look naive. It's a strange movie. She does end up murdering two people, and then... we don't see her again.
Been rewatching Star Trek: Discovery and since I have the cheap version of the CBS channel, I have to watch commercials, and it is oddly the only time I've really seen commericals in a long time. I've found it interesting seeing the various ways companies have started addressing the pandemic. There are commercials with people in masks and p.r. about protecting workers and/or customers, and then there are ones that seem to have jumped the gun on "opening up" thing, about going places and making up for lost time. It's interesting to see the attempts to be current.
Yesterday it was one year since I started this journal. I don't know if my slackening pace is because I'm getting tired of it or just because I'm not making an effort to put in the time. It is often too easy to just sit down and start work (especially since often the early hours are a good time to perform various server/database functions while usage is low), or to watch a tv episode or part of a movie over breakfast and coffee and then start work. Once I sit down, or if I actually make time to think about it, I find things to write, even if it is just (as usual) about things I've watched or read.
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Watched a few of the "western noirs" Criterion Channel added this month. Westerns intrigue me, but often (usually?) disappoint. Blood on the Moon with Robert Mitchum is based around a classic ranchers versus farmers dynamic, with Mitchum coming into the area as a friend of a guy who is basically manipulating everyone to make some money. After seeing an old farmer's son get killed and falling in love with the rancher's daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes who is so great in Vertigo), he turns against his friend (and the crooked government official helping him). I ended up getting bored and skipping a bunch of it. He kills the friend, he marries the girl. Bel Geddes character starts out pretty interesting. We are introduced to her as she snipes at Mitchum, thinking he is a hired gun (which basically it turns out he is, though he doesn't really know it yet). She's in pants and cowboy hat and wielding a rifle. He outflanks her and embarrasses her, but at their next meeting she shoots his hat off. But then, as the movie goes on she becomes more and more the domestic type in dresses and needing to be saved. I guess she had to change so the man could marry her in the end, but it was a disappointing turn of character.
Day of the Outlaw with Robert Ryan is another rancher/farmer conflict. This time Ryan is a rancher, the tough guy who helped settle the area with his partner and now the farmers are putting up fences that keep him from moving his herd freely. Also he had an affair with a wife of one of the farmer's. He comes to town riled up and ready to either have a shoot-out with the farmer or go burn the cart carrying the barbed wire that will go on the fence. That's a pretty interesting setup, and then a group of ex-military bandits show up in time, with a dying leader. The leader is trying to keep the men behaved (no whiskey, leave the women alone), but the men are ornery and the leader keeps getting weaker. All in all a set-up with a lot of potential. There's a side plot with the youngest bandit falling in love with the store owner's daughter. There's the veteranarian who has to operate on the bandit leader. The novel the movie is based on was probably able to work well with this set up but the movie leads into a too long sequence where Ryan leads the bandits into the snowy mountains towards an escape that doesn't exist, and they slowly die off, kill each other, get killed. The young bandit gets abandoned first and makes it back to town (a happy ending with the daughter is assumed), and even Ryan somehow is the only other one to survive. The end. It went from an interesting social setup to a pretty rote/boring survival scenario, and it never even really resolved anything with the rancher, the farmer, and his wife. It really felt like a lot of plot got cut in the transition to screenplay or film (though I just found a summary of the novel and maybe they added the love affair subplot, which makes it even odder that it felt so underused).
Had two contrasting dreams last night. In one I said to myself "I must give up the illusion[?] of me being an artist." In another I had made two new comics and was going to ask on social media if I should make a few print copies of them (i.e. if anyone wanted one). Psychologically it certainly makes sense, as my artistic output has been almost nothing for years now, but I haven't given up the idea that I could (should) by making something. Instead I'm just consuming a lot of media, filling time with movies and tv shows and books and games. I felt like I was getting somewhere writing some fiction, but now it's been 2 months since I last worked on the story I have in progress.
What I seem to lack anymore is a work ethic. I used to spend hours on my comics. Or I'd at least spend an hour every day for periods of time. But lately I find it a lot harder to just sit down and work on stuff. Maybe at this point my work (job work) is just too much actual work. For so long I had jobs that didn't require that much... thought on my part, nor caused so much stress. It's an excuse, really, but there's truth to it. I could put a lot more energy into other things when my job required so little of it. Though that also is a bad excuse because I've been at this job 10 years and I made all my best comics in that time.
We had yard happy hour and dinner at
███ ███ █████'s last night where we are in the front yard at a table and they are inside at the nearby window. It works out pretty well, though it is occasionally hard for me to hear them because of my poor hearing.
Now it's an all day rainy Friday off from work, and I've already reached past 11 and all I've really done is watch some tv. I started rewatching The Witcher the other day as something to do over breakfast/lunch. I feel like it holds up on second viewing. I think I'm catching more of the references about the differing time periods the characters are in, also more of the way the different storylines echo each other. In particular the way episode 3, with its story about Yennifer being changed physically and mentally, contrasts her story with the one of the princess cursed to be a monster in Geralt's half of the narrative. At one point, a shot of the striga (the monster the princess is) from behind showcases its hunched, bulbous back which immediately brought Yennifer's pre-transformation hunchback to mind.
One thing that annoyed me in my first watch and continues to now is the way the Nilfgaardian invaders are made to seem more evil and fanatical than any of the other kingdoms in the world. It makes them seem worse, and while they are aggressive invaders in this particular instance, it's also clear all the other kingdoms have not been better (in the series we mostly know about this via the various elves or mentions of elves).
Anyway, one of the other westerns I watched on Criterion the other day was Anthony Mann's A Man of the West with Gary Cooper. He's a reformed bandit who ends up stranded when his train is held up. It just happens to be near where he used to live with his bandit uncle and, surprise, he's stil there and it was his men that held up the train. Much tension and fighting ensues as Cooper tries to keep himself and the woman he's with alive, and most of the bandits seem to only avoid killing him because his uncle keeps them from doing it (in some ways this authoritative leader of bandits plot point is what I also saw in Day of the Outlaw, perhaps in some way a further example of how much westerns are about building society and law, even the bad guys have their own rules and leaders to keep them from falling apart). Of course Cooper basically ends up killing all the bandits and saves the woman, who falls in love with him, but in a twist he already has a wife and kids back at home, which makes for a rather unusual romance subplot in this one. I enjoyed this one, though I didn't find it as great as many seem to (based on some reviews I looked at).
Finished up my rewatch of The Witcher yesterday. Even on second viewing the final episode felt like a long waste of effort. There just wasn't a need for a large extended, convoluted battle scene. It puts a lot of focus on characters that were otherwise undeveloped and seems to diminish this awful battle (never directly narrated in the books, only referred to afterwards) by making it a seen event. Ended up playing some of The Witcher 3 yesterday too, as I'm out of new games to play, and was feeling like doing something interactive.
Watched part of one and all of another of the Criterion western noirs yesterday. Lust for Gold had a truly awful beginning so I gave up on it. Rancho Notorious a Fritz Lang directed one was... ok. None of the actors were particularly engaging (not a Marlene Dietrich fan and the lead man whose name I missed was pretty bad) and the revenge plot was just not much. It had a truly awful ballad that showed up quite a few times in the movie; the lyrics made me wince every time a new verse was added.
I have been reading Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan but I think I'm giving up on it. I see it mentioned as a fantasy book/series well regarded and worth reading, but it's just not keeping me interested. Partially the plot is so far pretty non-existent and a lot more because the writing is just overly descriptive. There are just too many words describing rooms and characters and I just can't find that engaging over a long period of time. I've got a whole pile of books to pick up from the library this week, so I think this one will go back on a shelf or pile.
Also reading Michel Leiris' The Ribbon at Olympia's Throat which is a fragmented work of short prose and poetry, autobiography, dreams, criticism. It's a strange book that I am not totally sure about yet. Leiris was a very old man by the time he wrote it (80ish?) and he has a very friendly style, but also writes very long convoluted sentences. At times the writing feels too personal, where much context and many referents are unsaid, making it abstract.
I wrote some just now. A few paragraphs, a few hundred words of my fantasy fiction, further sketching in a one sentence note I made 3 months ago. I didn't watch any tv over breakfast, I didn't play any video games before work. At least it's something.
Ended up writing quite a bit more this week over the course of a few mornings. I've now got two stories in progress. One needs a bunch of gaps filled in and the other mostly needs an ending.
I partially read a whole bunch of books this week that I didn't finish. Marguerite Duras' Emily L was just not doing anything for me, I can't even remember now why that particular Duras novel appeared on my to read list. Deborah Levy's The Man Who Saw Everything had this disaffected narrator that I just couldn't keep reading about, and up to the point it got I just didn't care about the plot at all. Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian was also, just not doing much for me, with a narrator I didn't care for (Hadrian the Roman emporer) writing in the form of a letter. I also failed to complete the Michel Leiris book I was reading.
I have a whole slew of other books on request from the library to wait for, so in the meantime I picked up the next volume of The Book of the New Sun to continue my reread. I've also got a few recent manga to read: more Berserk, the new Tsuge collection, and the new Kuniko Tsurita collection.
I played more of the new game plus of The Witcher 3, and enjoyed it anew. But then yesterday Ghost of Tsushima showed up, so I've been playing that. It is very reminiscent of an Assassin's Creed game if one were set in Japan during the Mongol invasion. While the gameplay has a bunch of features that are specific to the setting, it for the most part has all the things you'd expect from an AC game except the annoying "present day" stuff. The setting itself is quite lovely just to look at.
It has a wayfinding method that I at first found kind of annoying but am getting used to. Instead of a minimap and compass, the wind blows towards your targeted nav point. It makes it quite hard to situate yourself without bringing up the big map, but it also has nice feel to it to just follow blowing flower petals and waves of grass and leaves towards where you want to go.
There are foxes you find in the world who lead you to little shrines (for bonus stuff). We've not seen our backyard foxes in weeks; we think they might have moved on to another den. I've read foxes tend to have multiple dens that they move between, and it tracks with the way we will see them a lot for a few months and then not at all for months. I do miss seeing them in backyard, and I still keep looking just in case they show up.
And just a few hours after I wrote my last entry, Lianne spotted one of the foxes in the yard. He was lying in the grass playing with/eating something, probably some kind of rodent. Then as we were watching the fox, a deer emerged from some of the tall plants behind him. Apparently deer do not consider foxes a threat, because the deer just keep wandering around the edge of yard eating various plants (some free weeding for us!). The fox too, seemed mostly uninterested in the deer, looking over at it occasionally, but otherwise ignoring it.
Over the course of this week (and much of last week) I wrote almost 7000 words of a new story, which is almost a finished first draft. That's why this journal has so few (and short) entries. Somehow I just managed to sit down and keep going from where I left off each day. Right now this is the fourth in the series I am working on, though the third (which I also added a bit more to this week) is not quite done, as I am still a bit bogged down in a few parts of it (I wrote it non-linearly and then had to fill in the gaps).
I'm also still playing Ghost of Tsushima regularly. I'm somewhere in the second of three "acts", though I have nowhere near covered all the various side missions and locations scattered about the game. It's not as big as Assassin's Creed: Odyssey but it sure has a lot packed into it, much of which gets a little repetitive or kind of pointless (collectibles and visual customizations that serve little use). I enjoy the gameplay, but I am finding much of the story (especially a few of the characters) problematic. Perhaps it will change over the rest of the narrative, but so far it is far too "yeah, samurai's are awesome protector's of the people", which doesn't jive at all with my sense of how things really were (perhaps a lot colored by Sanpei Shirato's Kamui-Den which shows the samurai in very poor light and other readings I've done). The lord of the island who you spend the first act trying to rescue is an insufferable asshole noble, and I am just hoping that somewhere along the line the protagonist figures that out, since this is not the type of game where I can make any decisions on the storyline. I suspect it's headed towards some kind of rulership conflict. Some of the side characters are also pretty insufferable in their... stuck-up opinions and revenge obsessions (I think The Last of Us 2 really burned me out on the revenge narrative arc). But damn the game really impresses with the visuals of the world, the surprising variety of it, and the crazy use of weather and light. Sometimes as the sun is setting or rising a huge swath of your visual field is this soft yellow light that almost burns out everything around it, it actually makes it hard to see where you are going at times, but it looks cool.
I've also been watching Cursed on Netflix, a Arthurian fantasy (apparently based on a Frank Miller YA book???) with a whole lot of twists on the expected setup: the protagonist is Nimue, future lady of the lake (I assume), Merlin is a drunk who lost his magic, Arthur is both black and a young ruffian, Morgana is also black and a lesbian, the enemies are the pope and these fanatical paladins (not all the Lawful Good warriors of AD&D), and there is a lot more of the "fey" people. The production design is decent enough (I do like the Roman ruins that occasionally appear) as are a number of the actors, but the writing/plotting seems off to me. I think I've decided the main issues are in regards to the "bad guys". They are all (with perhaps one exception) poorly acted, silly looking, and completely lame. Uther Pendragon is a petulant whiner (and the actor is truly bad). The leader of the paladins is a tubby looking old white dude who does not seem at all scary or charismatic enough to be leading all these fanatics. And there's the obligatory young mysterious dude who wears a cloak and is super good at everything, but has so far (I'm 6 episodes in) has no personality, backstory, motivation, or... really anything. It'd be a better show by far if we never even saw any of them, if the sense of the religious fanatics was solely based on their obsessively killing of the fey people (very crusades-y mixed with inquisition) without any cuts to leaders or what not.
I finished up my reread of volume 3 of The Book of the New Sun yesterday, a volume that feels a bit more picareseque than the previous volumes, perhaps because Severian the protagonist pretty much spends the whole book travelling from place to place, but also that he has no long term, regular companions to provide any extra sense of consistency. Sometimes the various events and characters he meet seem so random, but I can't help feel like there is some thematic purpose to all of them that if I tried hard enough I might find. I do feel like in this reread I am perhaps being more careful in my reading and getting more of the details and specifics (often rather subtle) out of the prose. On a first read through it is often too easy to get caught up in the "what happens next" and novelty of the events, that elements can go missing.
I have two stories in first draft now, which means it's editing time, a skill I am better at when it is someone else's writing rather than my own. It's so easy to just read what I wrote and just fix spelling or grammar or syntax, rather than actually thinking about what I'm saying and how I'm saying it and if words need to be added, cut, or completely rearranged. It's also where I have gotten into elements of research to try to figure out more specifics about the setting and what I can do to make it more specific without being excessively descriptive and without tons of world building info dumps (a major flaw of much fantasy). I'm loosely using the 18th century and Switzerland as reference points for various reasons, in particular the intro to a Turner sketchbook reproduction I have of work from Luzerne. Some of the details in the introduction screamed D&D campaign to me, so I decided to use that as inspiration for my stories.
This week's library books are so far much more on point for me than my previous selections. Jeanette Winterson's latest novel Frankissstein was intriguing, enjoyable, and even laugh out loud funny at a few points. As the title suggests there is a Frankenstein plot/theme. It starts with Mary Shelley narrating at the point where she first started working on the novel. Over the course of the novel it returns to her narration and life over a long period of time. This is interspersed with a contemporary (near future?) narration from Ry Shelley, a trans man who is in a relationship with a scientist named Victor Stein who is trying to create artificial intelligence. There's also a rather humorous thread going through it about sexbots and a thread about cryogenics. The whole thing revolves around ideas of creating life, ending death, and artificial life of various sorts. It's been a really long time since I've read any of Winterson's work, but this one was breezy and smart. My only real complaint is that the ending felt quite unresolved. Though, thinking about it, there are certain numerous endings/places she could have gone that would have gotten to science fictiony and too... expected from a story on those topics.
Last night I finished up Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric, a strong collection of essays, poetry, and imagery about race in contemporary America. I found the more concrete essays and a series of transcripts for some kind of video project much more interesting than the more abstract poems. Many of the shorter pieces focus on small acts of what I think would be called microaggressions that Rankine (a black woman) has experienced (at least they are written from the perspective of a narrative "I"), her essay on Serena Williams mines a similar territory but covering the element of media and sport rather than personal interaction. I don't have a lot to say about this, other than it is a book that is both enjoyable (as prose, as poetry, as words) and... distressing? eye opening? as subject.