Watched more Christian Petzold movies this week with Phoenix a few days ago and then Undine tonight. Phoenix takes place post-WWII with a Jewish woman who somehow survived the concentration camps but is so damaged she had to get her face reconstructed. She ends up rediscovering her husband who may or may not have turned her in to the nazis. He doesn't recognize her but suggests she pretend to be his wife so they can claim her inheritance. I had read about the movie before, but it was only when he talked about dying her hair that I recalled/realized there was a Vertigo reference going on. Petzold keeps you wondering about her plans or feelings until the last scene, which has a really powerful ending.
Undine is a little less... direct...? A woman, her old lover, her new lover who's a diver... a kind of vague then not so vague reference to mermaids... maybe... I didn't feel this one as much as the other Petzold movies I've watched. It felt like it was a little further removed from the heart of the matter. I'm not totally sure what I was supposed to get from this one... I enjoyed it and was engaged with it, but in the end, I'm not sure about it. I think partially it is that the movie makes a shift of focus from the woman to the diver, so in the end, the woman disappears both literally and thematically, and it's not clear... why?
I also watched Hong Sang-Soo's Grass, one of his more recent ones with Kim Min-Hee. This one also felt... odd... unfocused. Kim hangs out in a cafe, working on a laptop. She says (at one point) that she's writing some kind of diary like thing, but also eavesdropping on the other customers. There are a few actors. Her brother and his new girlfriend show up.... It didn't hold together for me. Even less so that Undine and any other of the Sang-Soo movies I've watched. There didn't seem to be any throughline to the whole thing, any focus... any point? I should look up some reviews of it and see if there was something I missed.
This morning the women at the coffee place I've been going for a few months now were finally not wearing masks, and it was this weird thing for me. I think they were the first people I've interacted with quite a lot who I had only ever seen with masks on (the place opened after the pandemic/quarantine), so it was like suddenly they were just slightly different people. But it also reinforced the feeling I've had more recently about how much I rely on smiling instead of talking when casually interacting with people. I can smile nicely at people to express... a sense of kindness... without having to actually have any rote conversations.
It was one of those mornings cause I had two other interactions with people while out getting coffee that just felt... friendly... an older latino woman crossing the street the same time as me gave me such a nice smile, and then a woman I've seen a few times walking that time of today commented on my coffee (I already had mine, she was headed to get some), where before, having seen her, I kind of thought she looked... not intimidating, but... stand-offish... but clearly was not. Or maybe she'd by this point just seen me enough that she felt okay talking in passing to me. Anyway, after my week in the house alone, the tiny social interactions do make a difference. I was out for dinner alone last night and appreciated the little interactions with the folks there a lot too.
Watched a bunch of movies the past week, including a bunch from the neo-noir program on Criterion right now.
Lilith (1964) was one I ended up mostly watching cause Jean Seberg was in it (co-starring alongside a very young Warren Beatty). Beatty plays a young man out of the army, perhaps showing signs of PTSD, who decides to get a job at the local mental health asylum, the fancy kind where rich people send the relatives they don't want to deal with. He becomes infatuated with Seberg's character who they only really hint at what her issues are. She has a made-up language, and maybe she caused her brother's death (indirectly, I think, via suggestion), we see her almost cause another patient's death. The movie's adapted from a book, and it feels like a lot is left out by way of really understanding the full situation. It was... ok... but not that memorable.
Rewatched The Blue Dahlia with a Raymond Chandler screenplay starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. It's one of the better of the Ladd/Lake noirs (better than This Gun For Hire), no doubt due to Chandler's work, though Lake feels underused in it. Classic noir with murders and secrets and identity confusion and twists, with the common trope of the returning G.I.s as its set-up. The final reveal of the actual murderer feels a little too pat, like Chandler just suddenly decided he didn't want to blame one of the soldiers.
Brian De Palma's Body Double, one of those neo-noirs, was a lot weirder, though that's not unexpected from De Palma (what little I've seen of his work). It has a lot of scenes that seem illogical and it has a overly complicated murder plot. A bit of Vertigo and Rear Window at play, and a ridiculous scene featuring Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax." It does start off with a movie within a movie, so you know there will be a facade of irreality and acting throughout. I enjoyed it, though I don't know I'd want to see it again.
Also watched David Mamet's Homicide which... maybe I have seen before... I watched a bunch of Mamet movies years ago this one kept seeming familiar, then unfamiliar again. Maybe I just didn't remember it well. Joe Mantegna is a homicide cop who gets put on a case about a old Jewish store owner getting murdered, and he basically gets wrapped up in a mostly unrelated investigation that he seems drawn to because he's neglected his Jewish heritage. At one point he even blows up a model train store run by a neo-nazi. The whole thing starts to obsess him enough that he neglects the other big case his partner is working on. It's a good example of the metaphysical detective story subgenre in film, as the investigation is not really about the crime, and in the end the solution to the actual crime is almost incidental (and done by someone else), instead the detective is investigating aspects of himself. As soon as the dialogue starts you know Mamet wrote this one with the repetition and clipped phrasing.
Reread Kawabata's Thousand Cranes the other night. He's one of those few authors that I feel like I can always pick up and read (Queneau, Markson, Le Guin, etc.). I find it hard to say what it is I like about his work. It's quiet, undramatic, very Japanese... comparing to Ozu seems too easy, and also probably a bit of a disservice to both. Kawabata is much more about interiority of individual characters, while Ozu is all about society and interpersonal relations. I enjoyed rereading it so much I ended up ordering a few other Kawabata books I've not read. Maybe they'll make it on to my beach reading pile (if I don't get to them before that). I've already started gathering books for beach week, including a new edition of The Book of the New Sun (well the first half) and a translation of the Decameron I'm expecting in the mail.
We have guests this week. It's first time we've had guests in forever and probably the first time we've had more than overnight guests in this house ever. I'm not used to having other people around, so I'm trying hard to not get uptight about all my little things. I am such a person of habit and... structure, I guess, that I've already found myself, moving things around (back to where they should be, as my mind has it). At least for me I always have my office to go to, and I wake up a lot earlier than everyone else, so I have the early mornings to myself.
Tomorrow we are playing the mostly improvised 90's Mall Game, that somehow I have found myself running for our guests and the regular gaming group. My planning so far has been minimal, I keep putting off putting any actual work into it, even right now I should be doing that instead of this. It's going to be a murder mystery, but I think... I hope... I can get a lot of mileage out of just going along with what the players come up with. It's not like I am trying to stump them or anything, so I'm going to try to leave it open even in my mind who the murderer is and see where the players' actions and the dice take us. There's only so much we can do in one session anyway, so wasting time on red herrings and wrong deductions seems pointless. We'll see how it goes, I just want everyone to have fun and if we can manage that then it will be a success. Getting together is still so novel and
█████ hasn't been here in person for one of our games for a long time, so there is also just a certain amount of social interest regardless of the game.
Anyway, better work on my game notes. I did a copied and slightly changed version of my Hadleyville web app so I could put some tables and notes and npcs all in one place on my laptop, but at this point none of the notes or npcs are there.
The 90's Mall Game went surprising well. I think we all had fun. We laughed a lot. The players even solved the mystery (the wrap up was a little rushed, but we don't tend to play long sessions). Playing a character that they were familiar with already from an outside source was a big draw for a few of them. It gave them a well of knowledge to draw on for "how would my character act" in different situations (and added a lot to the humor when others at the table were familiar with the source material). I managed to strip out all extraneous elements to the game: no red herrings, no random encounters, no blocks because of dice failure. I tried to make the clues clear enough, I went along with the players' ideas, and I tried to keep to saying "yes" to things. Most of my NPCs ended up being the friends/enemies the players wrote on their character sheet, which was a mix of helpful and not, as I was not familiar with all the sources (or skilled at emulating the ones I was). There was a certain amount of the players just having to go along with stuff, like "why do we care about solving this mystery" that I didn't plan out very well. But all-in-all it was a fun time.
Some of my new books arrived earlier this week, and I finished reading Kawabata's House of Sleeping Beauties which is another case of me falling into the "reading all the books by an author I like" and being at times underwhelmed. The novella (I guess you would call it) is about an old man who goes to this house (so very Japanese) where he pays to sleep with young women, not in the sense of sex but just sleep as the woman are drugged to be in a deep sleep and the men are forbidden from having sex with them. As such the setup is a little creepy (made more so by some of the protagonist's comments) for numerous reasons (it is never made clear if these women are willing participants, especially since he never sees the same girl twice). Really nothing about it resonated with me and there was little going on in it as a whole. The man reminisces a bit about his past... not much else.
Finished rewatching Rian Johnson's Brick this morning. I had a very positive remembrance of it, and am happy to say that held for a rewatch after many years. Johnson made a very effective neo-noir drawing heavily on classic film noir tropes but bringing in elements of the high school drama. It feels a lot closer to the noir I like from the 40's than a lot of the other neo-noirs I've been watching. One of my favorite aspects of it is how Johnson uses a mix of old noir slang mixed with modern slang and probably a bunch of neologisms to give the dialogue a sense of theatricality and unreality. It's not "realistic" in the sense of "this is how teens in the early 2000s talk", but that fits the genre trappings of the plot. There's also a dry element of humor peppered throughout. I could see a lot of people being annoyed and unconvinced by how contrived it all seems, but I really like that he didn't just made a high school crime drama in conventionally realist mode.
A flurry of movie watching the past bunch of days, though not all of them good or much worth talking about. We watched two Judy Halliday movies on Criterion, It Should Happen to You and Bells are Ringing. The former was a fairly funny comedy about fame for fame's sake, where Halliday's character wants to be known so she rents a billboard in New York and just puts her name really big on it. Fame, comedy, and trouble with her love interest ensue. In some ways, surprisingly modern, since we now have tons of people famous just for being famous. The latter was a truly awful musical. It wasn't like the people writing the songbook didn't know what they were doing, it was like they just failed at every attempt. There would be moments where it almost sounded like it was going to be interesting and then, nope, the songs were pointless, banal, and laughably ridiculous in the their lack of artistry. Was also disappointed/bored with Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century starring Carole Lombard. I ended up mostly giving up on it probably halfway through.
Hong Sang-Soo's Hotel on the River though was a nice bounceback from Grass. This one felt much more coherent and interesting than the other. It did not have any of the narrative structure playfulness found in some of Hong's movies, it was much more straightforward and chronological, but otherwise it had everything you expect from his work, but with some aspects I don't recall seeing. This one was not so much about romance as about family, as the primary relationship in the film was a father and his two estranged sons.
Watched Paul Verhoeven's Flesh + Blood after seeing it referenced in some rpg book as an inspiration for 16th century Europe. In that respect it had some good material: battles storming a city, the plague, a small band sneaking into and taking over a castle, siege machines, a weird religious cult. Definitely on the grotty scale of historical fantasy (though nothing explicitly fantastic in it). It was more problematic in it's usage of the "woman falls in love with her rapist" trope. For much of the movie, Verhoeven almost seems to be playing with the concept, as it remains unclear how much the kidnapped woman is just faking everything to keep herself alive and in the good graces of the bandit leader. But by the end, it becomes much less ambiguous.
What have I been doing in the past week? Who knows? Working a lot.
Watching the Olympics this week. I've been following the women's softball team, on my fourth or fifth game now (the final gold medal one). It moves faster than baseball, and I think the different ball and the shorter baselines means there's a lot less rote fly balls and ground outs to first. They also have a lot of rules to keep the game moving faster (like the batter can't step out of the batter's box unless the ball goes out of play). We watched the skateboarding street finals which were a lot of fun too. A few other sports have been less exciting to me, and our current access seems pretty limited.
Played a first session of Offworlders on Sunday. It's sci-fi, kind of Powered by the Apocalypse (there are "moves" though we didn't really end up getting into them). It was a lot of set-up so far, and perhaps too much attention to money and accounts, which seems to be a big part of the game, as the party is the crew of their own hauling spaceship and you have to do jobs to... keep paying for everything I guess.
Read Kawabata's The Lake which I was not a big fan of. The protagonist was a creepy guy who had an affair with a student while he was a teacher and follows this other girl around. One interesting section switched focalization to a woman the man scared in the street, giving us a chapter about her, but then the book never returned to her. It felt a little incomplete in that way.
Read another of Lois McMaster Bujold's Penric & Desemona novellas, a quick enjoyable read. The dramatic climax felt a little too deus ex machina to me, but it worked ok.
Starting to think about beach vacation and what I will take to do for the week. I collected a few books to read but have already started some of them early. I read the first two days of The Decameron and probably will get through more in the meantime. Just started on Soseki's Sanshiro which I was going to take along. There's a new edition of Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun that I may reread.
Moreso than reading I need some kind of project to work on. It won't be coding as I've never managed to get my Chromebook working with a coding app or an ssh connection to a server. Maybe something around that has changed over the past year though. I have a few rpg ideas in various stages of work (I could return to the Ancient Greece inspired stuff I was doing 2 years ago; I was thinking about a "vikings settling in Ango-Saxon England" setting). I could revisit the short story series I was writing last year. I wrote a few comics reviews last year on vacation, which I could do again if I find something that's worth spending time writing about. In the meantime... I don't know.