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.