Updating my Mac last week basically broke it so I've spent a lot of the past week getting it back into usable shape. I didn't really lose any data, but I had to put all the data back in places where it would belong and work. Lots of reinstalling and copying and resetting parameters and preferences and such. Not all bad, as I'm sure things will run a little smoother without all the years of accumulated secondary files for old apps and old OS versions and the like. Still it ended up being a big drag on my week.
Made a bunch of pickles last Saturday and more today using a mix of things I picked last week and ones we got in our CSA box. They turned out surprisingly well, so much so that I went through a whole pint of mixed jalapeno/cucumber pickles in less than a week, putting them on just about everything I ate. I tried making pickles years back and was really unsatisfied with the results and gave up, but this time around I feel so much more successful. And the recipe (not real canning, more of a quick pickle) is so easy I feel like I'll try some more attempts and variations.
As I was looking in the Criterion Channel earlier I realized I never wrote about Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) a really beautiful over-the-top drama I watched a few weeks ago. Ava Gardner's character falls in love with James Mason's flying Dutchman, a seemingly immortal sailor cursed to sail the seas alone until a women will agree to die for him. It starts out grounded enough and then slowly moves into melodrama and fantasy in a way that is completely ridiculous but still great to watch (kind of like some Sirk movies). Jack Cardiff the same cinematographer who worked on Black Narcissus is likely to credit with the beautiful colors. I wish I had written about it sooner, as I'm sure I had something more to say about it, alas.
I finished up Soseki's Sanshiro which I quite enjoyed. It's like a coming of age novel in early 20th century Tokyo without the actually coming of age part. The eponymous protagonist arrives in Tokyo for university and gets involved with a few other characters. Throughout he is mostly passive, too nervous to speak out, rarely saying what he means when he does talk, easily just going along with what people say. He doesn't get the girl(s), he doesn't really seem to learn much... it's a strange one in that respect, yet, I found it quite enjoyable to read. So much of what is going on around the character seems to happen outside of his ken, so one is always trying to ascertain what the other character actually think, feel, or want, right alongside the character.
This week I've been watching the "Ranown Cycle," a series of 6 westerns that just showed up on Criterion. They were all directed in the late 1950's by Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott (most are also written by Burt Kennedy). They are not a series in the sense that they are sequels of each other, just that the people involved were mostly the same and they seem to have a certain amount of thematic similarities. I've watched 4 of them already, they all seem to be in the no nonsense lean 70 minute range and pretty much forego side plots or extraneous action. Scott is always a tough, proud sort of loner who is either out for revenge (2 of them so far) or gets himself embroiled in a situation where he is trying both to save his own life and that of someone else (the other 2). They have a nice mix of settings and side characters and the antagonists tends to be slightly complicated and ambivalent. I'm really enjoying them, definitely adding to me "westerns I like" list.
Got together with a bunch of the guys for another game day (I think I never mentioned the last one, where we played a combo of Gaslands and Blitz Bowl). We had 6 people playing Gaslands which basically took us all day. Ian made a board with road and some hills and obstacles. The whole post-apocalyptic car wars things is not my most favorite (I did have Car Wars when I was a teen, though I think we only played once), but it was fun to play a big miniature game again. The other guys have been getting a lot more into the modelling/modding aspect of it, and I have somehow managed to not buy anything related to this game at all.
It all really reminds me of when we were kids and had this big green wooden board that Pop made for my brothers. We had all these model buildings and stuff for Matchbox/Hot Wheels cars that we used to play with on it. I must have been pretty young at the time cause I only barely remember that, but later when I got into miniature games, my friends and I started using that board to play on in my parent's garage (mostly Warhammer 40k, though we did try out a wide variety of other games). I never was a crafty sort, so our scenery was always pretty basic or impromptu. I did get Pop to help cut a few pieces for hills. I kind of wish I had gotten him to help me do a little more, I probably could have learned some more from him. But I think like many other things, I have to accept that doing that sort of crafty building of stuff is just not something I am going to spend time at and really enjoy long term.
Though, at times, I feel like I've come to same conclusion about just about everything else I try. Some activities last more than other, but so many I end up giving up on. Though quite a few I end up coming back to... and then sometimes giving up on again. RPGs are on of the few I gave up on and then came back to and have stuck with. I gave up on making music, though I do sometimes have a hankering to play again. I gave up on miniature games, then a few years back tried to get into them again (and bought a bunch of things and spent time building and painting stuff) and then gave up and now here we are again playing, but without me going back to the craft side (last time around there was more of the craft side and less of the playing which is maybe why it didn't last long). Fiction, comics... I guess they are a more consistent coming and going as I have the whim or the dedication or the confidence. Thinking about doing some more writing on the fantasy stories I was working on last year.
I don't know. I keep thinking about this stuff and getting nowhere.
This article just came up on Criterion about the "Ranown Cycle" western's I've been watching. This morning I've watched the 5th one Ride Lonesome, another tale of Randolph Scott's protagonist in search of revenge. Similarly to some of the others there is a complicated antagonist companion along for the ride. This one has some unfortunate Native American content (first they want to trade a horse for the leading lady, then later when they attack the heroes, they basically just ride around the camp in circles and get shot like idiots). Like Decision at Sundown it surprisingly ends without the final conflict resolving into a gunfight death, and then has this haunting image of smoke over the trees and Scott's character standing in front of the burning tree where his wife had been killed years earlier. It's another (the 3rd) about revenge.
Decision at Sundown was similarly, but actually worked to make the revenge seem a bit maniacal and unnecessary. That one was written by someone else (and in that article above the author seems to consider it a lesser part of the cycle) and that's maybe why I thought it was one of the more interesting so far. Instead of taking place out in the wilderness with a very limited set of characters, this one is another town western (my favorite), where the protagonist has to deal with society and society has to deal with the protagonist. Thus the ending without the final gunfight. Not that the plot doesn't have gunfights and death, but rather that the one that has been set-up from the start never really happens. It also adds a certain element of ambiguity to the protagonist's revenge plan, as it's never exactly clear the target of his revenge did anything that wrong. The protagonist blames his wife's death on the guy, but we never hear him really say why, and his partner from back home eventually admits he doesn't think that was the case.
Yesterday morning I took walk around the neighborhood. When I first went out I could see it had rained at some point, the pavement was still wet the grass still shining a bit. Passing under a bunch of large trees around the corner, it suddenly started raining. I felt the rain, I heard the rain, it fell around me, but as I looked out to the street, I could see there was none falling on the road, none on the yard across the way. Enough water had stayed on the leaves above me so that some breeze or moving animal or something caused a few seconds of steady rain on 10 or so feet of sidewalk just as I was walking under it.
Finished up Kawabata's Dandelions yesterday, his last and unifinished novel. It's a little unclear how unfinished it is. It was serialized in a magazine for awhile, but I'm not sure whether it was unfinished it that he planned on more parts to it or that he just never finished editing/rewriting it for collected publication. The ending it has feels a bit abrupt but also not totally cut off. The novel does not have a traditional plot, so I didn't expect a traditional ending. The novel is mostly a long conversation between "Ineko's mother" and "Mr. Kuno" who have dropped off Ineko (the latter's girlfriend/fiancée) at a mental institution. She has a rare condition where she will stop seeing people. More particularly, some of the time she stops being able to see Kuno when they make love. We also later in the novel, via flashback, learn that at one point when she was young she stopped seeing a ping-pong ball during a game at school. Other than two flashbacks (one from the mother about the ping pong ball, one from Kuno remembering a time Ineko stopped seeing him), the whole book is just the two talking as they leave the institution, walk to an inn, and stay overnight there. There is very little action, very few characters, I couldn't help seeing it as a play, so much is drawn out from the dialogue alone. In a way, both in format and the theme of mental health it reminded me of In Treatment, except here we are hearing from the people around the patient rather than the patient herself. Probably one I'll read again.
Watched the last of the "Ranown Cycle", Comanche Station yesterday afternoon. I think it was my least favorite of them. Much of the plot (and I swear even some dialogue) felt like a repeat of 7 Men From Now the first in the cycle. This time around I was also noticing the recycled settings and scenery. The stage coach switch station seems to appear in a few of the movies (definitely the last two). The "hanging tree" that is in a clearing at the climax of Ride Lonesome appears in Comanche Station this time with the clearing filled with water to be a pond. And I'm almost definite the characters ride through the same path between tall rounded rocks in a few of the films. Not something you'd general notice, I guess, unless you are really looking or watching them in rapid succession like I was. All in all I really enjoyed watching them. There's another movie Westbound that has the same director/actor combo but different writing/production I'm going to look into. It's apparently not part of the cycle and not as well regarded, but it's another town based western, so I'm curious about it. After watching all these, I added a few more ideas to my western RPG, which I still hope to play someday (and still have work to do on the webapp).
Artemisia by Nathalie Ferlut (writing) and Tamia Baudouin (art) is a fine graphic biography of the 17th century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. The art is nice to look at, a bit reminiscent of Joann Sfar for some reason, though more realistically rendered, more muted in color. Baudoin uses a nice soft pencil beneath the colors that provides bits of sketchiness and texture that add a really nice warmth and softness to the drawings. Backgrounds are fairly detailed (and lovely), but overall the art as comics (layouts, compositions, etc.) are nothing extraordinary. I felt like I wanted just a little more, for my tastes from it, but I also don't doubt that a lot of people would be very happy to look at it. The story is a rather straightforward biography, though it utilizes two timelines (it starts in a "present" of Artemisia's adulthood and jumps back and forth to the previous parts of her life) in way that feels... expected of a biography like this. Too many times you see this setup and in this case I'm not sure it's adding much of anything to the narrative.
The book does a truly effective job of bringing out the sexism of Artemisia's time and society. Her lesser status, her ongoing abuse by a colleague of her father that was supposed to be tutoring her, her inability to even buy paints for herself, her inability to handle her own finances. I say "inability" but I mean "she wasn't permitted," not "she didn't have the intelligence or skill to do it." Reading the book I really got angry and upset about all this things, and in that manner the book is effective in showing how Artemisia survived and then thrived despite it all (though then her work was for a long time ignored and often attributed to her father, before being "rediscovered"). What the book does a lot less successfully (and barely addresses at all really) is deal with her art. There is one scene of people discussing one or two of her painters in a gallery and there are a few reproductions of her work at the back of the book, but otherwise it's almost besides the point that Artemisia was a painter and a fabulous one at that. I feel like it kind of falls into the trap of making her life more about the sexism and the abuse than about her work. That feels like a real disservice.
For more on her work I'd return to Mary Garrard’s Artemisia Gentileschi and Feminism in Early Modern Europe which I read last year and enjoyed. I think there's a catalog from a recent retrospective show too that was getting good reviews.
Continuing a western streak I watched The Ox-Bow Incident. It's a taut plot that you almost immediately know is not going to end well. Townsfolk get up in arms about a rancher friend of their's who has been killed, hear news of some men taking cattle through a pass, and form a posse to go get them and hang them. A few characters stand out for their varying opinions on the matter from the virulently angry, to the joyously excited, to the reluctant and the vocal opponents of the mob action. Henry Fonda is the reluctant opponent, at first most concerned that he and his partner (a young Harry Morgan), will somehow get implicated, as they are familiar in the town but sort of outsiders (I guess they live... somewhere nearby). The store owner and the preacher most vocally speak out, while the deputy (the sheriff is away) and a former army major seems most enthused. The whole plot plays out over less than a day (mostly overnight), driving inexorably to the lynching and then the conclusion you know will come... they got the wrong men. There are moments where it comes off as a message picture, and I think the adaptation from a novel shows through at times. I expect some of the characters would have a little more clarity if we were given some background info on them, like the one woman that goes along with the lynching and seems particularly excited about it (for some reason?). There's also an almost pointless scene where Fonda's character runs into his old girlfriend coming back to town with a new husband. Nothing really comes of it and it seems like part of a subplot that got axed. All in all, though it's well shot, well acted, and an interesting take on the genre and it's tendency towards vigilante justice.
Been reading The Decameron in chunks (read a day of stories, read some other books, return for another day of stories). I just finished the third day, all 10 stories which seemed to be heavily focused on sex and subterfuge. They are pretty much all about using trickery to get sex (most often it involves tricking a husband). I know somewhere I've read about the one before where a religious man teaches an innocent young woman about "putting the devil back in hell." But hell likes having the devil there and soon the devil gets too tired to keep going back. One thing the book doesn't shy away from is the idea that woman are often enthusiastic participants in sex and in seeking same, which feels perhaps unexpected at the time, given the strangle hold of the Church on so much of life at the time (and certainly the stories don't shy away from mocking the church figures, often shown as hypocritical).
More westerns... Monte Hellman's The Shooting from 1966 seems all bleak and unanswered questions and little payoff. Definitely more modern dark western than I generally like. I stuck with it until the end because I thought it might go somewhere but... I don't know. There are clues to the events, no explicit explanation, but even if one untangled some meaning to it all, it doesn't feel like it's worth the effort for what is at its heart a revenge plot.
Westbound another Budd Boetticher directed, Randolph Scott starring movie from the 50's is not part of the "Ranown Cycle", different producers, I think a different studio all together. It's not as tightly plotted as the others, Scott's protagonist is lacking in any... character... It's all about him trying to get the postal service running so the Union can get gold from California to the East via this Colorado town that is mostly populated by Confederate sympathizers. There's probably a decent plot in there, and there are elements that could work, but it feels a little too baggy or maybe a little too short to really draw everything out. The townsfolk (as said, Confederate sympathizers) at the climax decide to help the Union guy (who again is explicitly there to make sure gold gets to the Union) because... I don't know... they don't like the Confederate ruffian antagonists who don't seem to otherwise be antagonizing the town that much (ok, they do run a stagecoach off the road, killing the passengers). Also seems this movie would have been better if the protagonist were the Union soldier who arrives home to his wife having lost one arm in the war. He struggles to accept that he is not "half a man", but ends up getting shot (and then dying, opening it up for an implied romance between the wife and Scott's protagonist at the end) without really resolving that particular conflict.
Raced through Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation in three bursts. It was less in my wheelhouse than her more recent Death in Her Hands (see my comments on it), but I really enjoyed it. A young woman living alone in New York basically tries to sleep her way through a year, hoping to somehow empty her life and renew it. It can be pretty bleak, but it's also smart and funny and engaging.
The faint sound of hits from the '80s over the hiss of compressors.
A single swallow twitters overhead;
Sparrows scatter in a cloud.
The twittering increases at the church
Where the swallows stay alight circling as
other birds of all sorts perch along roofline and steeple.
Crashes, a trash truck beeps as it reverses
Then roars into gear.
The sparrows chat, the sparrows scatter,
John Ford's My Darling Clementine seems to get a lot of praise as a western (it's certainly been referenced a ton of times in The Western Reader that I'm reading this week) and it was entertaining, but... it feel a little flat for me. Henry Fonda is Wyatt Earp (yes, it's another retelling of the gunfight at the OK Corall), his youngest brother gets murdered while he and his other brothers are in Tombstone getting... haircuts and drinks. So he decides to become sheriff of the town and then... completely ignore trying to figure out who killed his brother until a clue is almost literally dropped in his lap. He shoots a culprit and then sends one of his brother's after him as the guy rides away. The other brother follows the guy to the house where that guy lives with his father and lots of brother, and for some reason the Earp brother goes into the house after the guy and of course gets shot in the back by the dad. That part is so stupid. Linda Darnell plays a Mexican entertainer in love with Doc Holliday, she's probably the best part of the movie, better than the woman Earp falls in love with (who herself is also in love with Holliday). For some reason Earp still leaves town in the end even though he's in love with the woman (the eponymous Clementine) and she is, by then, in love with him. The plotting just seemed off to me.
Ford's Stagecoach on the other hand, which I rewatched (really I barely remembered any of it, though I know I've seen it before) is a much more interesting and well plotted western. A cross-section of characters are travelling by stagecoach trying to avoid getting killed by Apache's and all after their own interests. John Wayne is probably as least annoying as he can be in a movie (he's very young). The plot nicely puts off any western gunfight until way way at the end, and then barely shows it. We see the bad guys. We see Wayne. And then he leaps to the ground firing his rifle and... cut away to showing the woman he's fallen in love with (prostitute with a heart of gold) hearing the shots. It's kind of anti-climactic in a good way. Though this is after a way too drawn out "Apache chase the stagecoach while lots of guns fire" scene that is the low point of the movie. It all feels a bit like it's been adapted from a novel (was it? I haven't checked) because there is clearly a lot more going on with some of the characters (a banker who seemingly... stole money... a Southern gambler who is using an assumed name for some reason) than we actually learn about, though on the other hand that feels really apropos for the setting, a bunch of people you meet while travelling, who you don't know and won't see after the trip is over.
I got Sam Fuller's Forty Guns from the library, mostly because Barbara Stanwyck is in it (though it came up in some list of westerns), and it is a weird one. Stanwyck is a powerful woman who for some reason has 40 guys who... follow her around? The movie starts with her on a white horse galloping down a trail with all these guys following her. Later, the protagonist marshall guy comes to her mansion to give a warrant to one of her guys and they are all sitting at this ridiculously long table with her at the head. It is hilarious and there's no way Fuller couldn't see that. The movie is punctuated with odd humor (the protagonist's brother falls in love with a young female gunsmith and has a really racy talk with her about guns). There's a bit of an "end of the west" "end of the gunslingers" talk/theme that is a bit undercut by the way shooting resolves most of the situations in the plot. There is also an amazing scene with the protagonist (and I watched the whole movie and am still not sure who the actor was, he is not particularly notable, even the Criterion feature I watched with a critic talking about the movie only talked about Stanwyck and never mentioned the guy) and Stanwyck out on the prairie when a tornado comes through and the old effects are really effective at making it seem dark, windy, and dangerous. Lots of interesting technical/formal elements that show off Fuller's skill. I'm not super familiar with his work (other then Pickup on South Street) and am wondering if I should look into some more. I know the French new wave guys really loved him as one of their auteurs.
I also watched my first Hou Hsiao-hsien movie Flowers of Shanghai. I was aesthetically interested in the movie (the color, a predominance of oranges punctuated by blues is striking) but was a little... meh on it as a whole. I'm not familiar with the milieu in general or specifically, having little experience with Chinese culture/lit/film/history or more specifically late 19th century Chinese "Flower houses", which are fancy brothels, kind of reminiscent of geisha, though we don't get any sense in the film that the women have any real artistic skills (like a geisha would). The movie is slow and requires a good bit of attention particularly because of how similar all the characters look (the men especially tend to have the same haircut which makes things tough). Hsiao-hsien uses long takes, letting a sense play out without any cuts, though he doesn fluidly move the camera around... at one point there is a cut and it took me awhile to realize it was just a cut to the opposite angle on the same room. In the context it was so unexpected that I thought a scene in another location had started. I... don't know how to evaluate my feelings on the movie. I didn't dislike it, but I didn't love it. I'll try some other movies by the director and see what I think.
Was woken up last night after an hour or so of sleep by the screeching alert on my phone about a tornado warning. We ended up getting up and sitting downstairs until the all clear, just so we wouldn't be on the second floor. I don't remember ever having even the inkling of a tornado warning when I was younger, but over the past few years we've had a few. It did give me time to finish the short novel I was reading The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada, which was... weird and disappointing. It had a kind of "is it fantasy, is it just really odd, or is this narrator crazy" aspect to it that was never resolved but also... never really felt like it mattered. I just didn't get the point of it. The blurbs and reviews seem so raving and I feel like it was just... weird and empty.
I borrowed Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel from the library after looking up Linda Darnell, who I quite liked in My Darling Clementine. One of the Fox film noirs, I had the vague feeling I'd seen it before, but now realize I've confused with some other noir. It's one of those noirs that is more on the romantic drama side than the crime side. Eventually a crime, a murder, does happen (over an hour into the 90 minute movie), but it does not take place in a milieu of crime. The perpetrator is withheld, leaving it sort of open that the protagonist did it, or maybe (as I suspected) his new wife (which would have been a great spin on the plot, better than the actual solution), but then it all gets resolved mostly offscreen right at the end. It's not all together successful, because the dramatic tension comes later and is mostly... slack.
Two excellent articles on writer/directors I really like: Penelope Houston on Preston Sturges (from 1965) and Becca Rothfeld on Eric Rohmer (from April).
Last weekend I watched Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice a Pynchon novel adaptation that is a kind of off-kilter comedic neo-noir that takes place in 1970s California. It's filled with a certain counter-culture paranoia feeling, that seems apt to the milieu. Anderson uses a narrator that is clearly using lines from the book, but overall... maybe I'd have rather read the book. The movie was amusing but never really felt that interesting. The detective, a drug toking hippie, seems to stumble through his vague investigations as mysteries multiply, and then... I don't even really remember how it resolves anymore.
Netflix must see The Witcher as a franchisable hit, cause this past week they released a animated prequel The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf which is about what you might expect from an original story animated prequel to a live action tv series based on a novel series... which is to say, it wasn't very good at all. While the setting and characters felt mostly true to the series, the story felt cobbled together from concepts already at play in the various versions of the series, and it had a lot of over-the-top anime style action that was just too much. And of course it had to end on a young Geralt (protagonist of the series) as a bright blazing gawdy sign that screams "prequel". We'll see if the other prequel, this one a live action mini-series, they are working on proves any better.
Feel like I gave up on a bunch of other movies over the past few days, and remember none of them. Almost the same with books. Reading a book on Ozu's Tokyo Story now... I did read a few more volumes of Berserk, which I started reading again even though I considered stopping. The recent death of the author/artist and the tributes that followed spurred on my interest of seeing how the series progresses. And I did find more to like in the latest few "deluxe" volumes. Miura adds a bunch of much needed side characters after having the protagonist spending too much time mostly alone.
Was playing some video games and have kind of given up (for now at least) on them... The remastered Dark Souls quickly brought me back to the frustration of getting stuck. Pillars of Eternity 2 is an interesting isometric style RPG but is atrociously slow to load anytime you change locations (which you have to do quite a lot), and I quickly got bored of staring at the load screen. I obsessed over Hades for a few days, then in looking online realized I was almost at the end and kind of realized the game wasn't going to go much of anywhere, though it is well designed and pretty to look at. The whole "rogue-like" style is not really to my tastes I think. I guess Dark Souls has the element of trying again and again and starting over, but at least it has really immersive environments and weird narrative. That is less engaging when it's a faster paced action game, such as Hades.