Still reading Warlock (it's fairly long, a lot more going on than in the movie) and enjoying it. Still watching the last Doctor Who season which I'm getting a little bored with. I feel like they are underusing the companions, particularly Yaz. She's a police officer who basically ran away from her job in her first episode, and then they never really use that fact except one or two episodes early on when they are in their home town. She also has no real... storyline... or consistent traits (which at least is the case for the other two companions). The episodes have also been fairly heavy-handed and obvious about their themes of contemporary relevance. It's good they are trying to work their sci-fi stories with themes relevant to contemporary society (tons of good sci-fi does this), but it always comes off being really shallow and really preachy. One where they discover the post-apocalytic world they are on is gasp actually Earth in the future is particularly egregious.
Watched some more westerns as inspiration for my game (which I released a v0.3 version of). Yesterday it was Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller which I've been meaning to watch for a longtime and showed up on Criterion this month. I can't say I loved it, but it has a ton of atmosphere. Weather is really important in it, from rain and snow to just shots of the sun behind the trees (another Pacific Northwest type of western, rather than a plains/desert one). The interiors are cramped and dark, the exteriors are often disorienting, no orderly streets in the town, nothing flat, everything looks makeshift, set at different levels with stairs and ramps and a variety of rickety bridges. The soundtrack by Leonard Cohen also adds a lot of mood.
Plotwise it follows a gambler who comes to town (apparently with money) and builds a saloon, brothel, and bathhouse with the help of a woman who shows up with an offer to handle the women. There's almost a love story, or there's a love story in the background held at bay that slips through in one or two scenes. Mostly it is about the man's hubris, and about corporate greed. I've come to expect ensemble movies from Altman based on the ones I've seen, and this one feels a little lacking in that respect, the various side characters aren't much differentiated, and the women in general are underused. Even Mrs. Miller doesn't get much interiority. She smokes dope, but we don't really get a sense of what lead her to it. Really downbeat ending for both of them.
This morning I rewatched High Noon which also is fairly downbeat and dark. Not because there is a ton of violence or that the protagonist dies, but just because it is very cynical about people. Gary Cooper spends almost the whole movie looking nervous and worried. Many of the townsfolks are the same with guilt added in. They all have excuses and reasons for not helping him when a released criminal and his gang come back for revenge. You kind of just want to scream at them "if you all just stood up to them there wouldn't be a problem," or "if you all just hid behind your windows with rifles you could just shoot the bad guys." The shadow of McCarthyism hangs over the film (though I can't say I'd have thought of that without having read some about the movie).
Two days ago, while taking a rare walk in the part behind our house, I found a dead fox just off the path. No doubt, one of the ones we saw frequently in the yard last year, less frequently since. I can't tell what happened (I'm not getting too close), but it wasn't long ago. I've been writing an epitaph for that fox, because I felt I needed to express something.
Janus Films is releasing remastered versions of all four of Eric Rohmer's "Tales of the Four Seasons" series. (They will all be (or already are) available online from Film Forum.) I think they are my favorite of his movies. I watched A Tale of Winter the other day. Rohmer was quite religious (Catholic), though it doesn't come up explicitly in his films very often (My Night at Maud's being a major exception). A Tale of Winter does have a strong element of faith in it, despite the protagonist herself claming to not be particularly religious. In the prologue of the film, we see her on vacation meeting a young man, falling in love, and a whole montage of them together, until they must part as she heads home and he goes off to America. She accidentally gives him a wrong address, and he, being in the process of moving, doesn't have one to give. In the age before cell phones this means they lose touch. The majority of the film takes place 5 years later where we quickly learn she had gotten pregnant, never got in touch with the man again, and now has a young daughter and two boyfriends. The movie primarily revolves around her keeping faith that the father of her daughter is the only man she can really truly love, and that despite loving the two boyfriends it's just not enough for her to settle for either.
And then, as these things go in stories, she accidentally runs into the father on a bus. It's a wonderful scene. Rohmer shoots from behind her shoulder as she and her daughter sit down on the bus, and we can see the man in the seat facing her. You identify him before she does. She is getting her daughter and her bags situated. It's kind of the reverse of a suspenseful shot in a thriller where you see the danger before the protagonist. We see the miracle of coincidence, accident, or her faith first. The man recognizes her, and you see the shock and delight on his face. Then the shot cuts to showing her and her daughter from the front as we anticipate her looking up and finally seeing him. The whole scene is great and quite moving.
Finished up Warlock before bed last night. I forgot how downbeat the ending is compared to the movie version, though it shouldn't surprise me. The protagonists all end up dead or alone. One of the cowboys that causes trouble throughout the story, but kind of gets forgotten about as other problems take center stage (like a miner's strike, which I think gets short shrift in the movie (of course)), ends up killing the main deputy as a kind of afterthought in a summary narration in the afterward. All the concern the deputy had earlier dealing with other problems, and he ends up killed by the guy who from the beginning hated him.
In one year, I've walked in the park only three times, despite it adjoining the yard, despite the gate we keep open in the fence. The first time I saw a small owl chased by robins. The second time I think I found your den, though I knew it was there. The third time I found you. Having seen you lounging in our backyard, on the old wood deck, just torn down last week, I thought you were relaxing in the shade, off the path. But the flies. Last spring, when we stayed inside and isolated, you and your family (for I don't know if you are reynard, vixen, or kit) delighted us with your visits to our yard, a reminder of life ongoing. With frequent glances out the windows at dawn and dusk, we stopped to watch when you appeared, snapping distant photos. During the winter, your tracks formed a dotted line through the yard, intermixed with the squirrels', rabbits', and deer's, never seen, just a trace left behind. I hope it was quick and quiet. Know that someone marked your passage.
(2021-04-05 - 2021-04-07)
Been obsessively listening to two albums the past week: Sprints' Manifesto EP and Dry Cleaning's new LP New Long Leg. Sprints are an Irish band who play driving guitar based post-punk rock. It's jump around, sing-a-long music, with a powerful female singer. Dry Cleaning are more arty and angular, heavy on flowing bass and sharp guitars. Their singer is awesome, she writes these weird, funny lyrics that are collage appropriation.
Watched Shane the other day. Another western that is well regarded. I was going to read the novel (it's in this Library of America collection I've been eyeing, which also includes Warlock, The Ox-Bow Incident, and The Searchers), but figured I'd watch the film first, since it popped up on Criterion. It was... ok. Like in many older films that have a prominent child character, I kept being super annoyed by the young boy in this. He's annoying and loud and whiny. The plot is about ranchers vs. farmers and lawlessness and violence and the oncoming movement of structured civilization, but the resolution is all very... cut and dried. Shane, the protagonist, who wandered into the area and started helping out on a homestead, just happens to be super fast on the draw with his six shooter. So after sitting around not doing much, he goes into town and gets the bad guys to draw on him so he can shoot them. Then he leaves because being the guy that saves the other folks homes by killing other assholes with guns makes him not fit for sticking around I guess. The logic feels a little off, and the solution to all the conflicts seems to just be "shoot the bad guys, the end."
There is a good scene where the main antagonist guy, an old time rancher, basically explains why he's such an asshole to all the homesteaders. He's all old school: "I tamed this land before you were even born," and "now you folks are fencing in the land and using the water," etc. It's a little late into, but you get his side of the story. But the homesteader protagonist is quick to retort: "yeah but the Indians and the trappers were here before you."
Not going on my list of favorite westerns. Doubt I'll read the book now either. Started reading The Ox-Bow Incident via a library copy, but I don't think I'll finish it. Something about the prose style (overly descriptive, I think) makes it really drag for me. I'll try the movie instead.
Also watched A Tale of Springtime via Film Forum, the first of Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons (I accidentally watched the second one first). I enjoy this one, maybe not as much as the others, partially because I find the younger protagonist a little grating at times. It seems super obvious she is scheming to get her new friend, a philosophy teacher she meets at a party, hooked up with her dad, who has a girlfriend she doesn't like, but late in the film she claims she wasn't and is all upset about the accusation. I can't reconcile it, unless she's meant to be lying at the end, or else Rohmer just didn't succeed at making the scheming ambiguous enough.
Like A Tale of Winter this one has a kind of coincidence/miracle at the end. Earlier in the film, the girl is telling her new friend about this necklace that got lost. The girl thinks the father's new girlfriend stole it; the girlfriend thinks the girl took it and hid it to frame her; the father just thinks it got lost. They all have these varying stories about what happpened that are colored by their feelings about the other people involved. And then right at the end, the new friend (who's been trying to stay out of the matter), accidentally finds the necklace. It's much less dramatic than the end of A Tale of Winter, more light hearted, but it has that same aspect of the unexpected/accidentally/coincidental positive event. (Trying to remember if there is something similar in Summer and Autumn, but I can't right now...)
As I sit here in the gray overcast morning, I can hear Buddy snoring from his chair nearby.