Derik Badman's Journal

September 2021

2021-09-06 11:07

September already, it was cool the other morning when I went out for a walk. Hurricane Ida passed through last week, we were very lucky. We had a few hours of power outage, but nothing major, while a lot of people nearby (even just down the street a block) had flooding, long term power outage, and there was even a tornado that hit a few miles away. For all the things I get anxious about, for some reason, when there is an actual big storm and tornado warnings blaring on my phone, I don't feel anxious. By that point it seems too late to be concerned, the situation too uncontrolled. What always gets me is the before times, things I can get worried about before they happen or worry about even though they may never happen. It's that projecting into the future that seems to get me. I'll be (already am I guess) worried about going to the beach for a week and leaving Buddy here alone, but when I get in the car and start driving and am actually away, then I won't worry anymore. I should probably use some of that energy to plan a bit better for situations, like big storms. We certainly could be better supplied for cases of long term power outage. Flooding isn't likely for us since we are up on a hill.

Not a lot of movie watching this week. I started a few things and gave up on them. I did watch Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express, which was really just a very stylish romcom. It's the kind of movie where people do quirky things for reasons. The director has a bunch of showy techniques like speeding up and slowing down action and a few times doing both at the same time between foreground and background, but at its heart it just felt kind of empty. Faye Wong was pretty mesmerizing in it, I can see why Lance Hahn wrote a J Church song about her.

Finished the book on Ozu's Tokyo Story edited by David Desser and now remember nothing about it. I don't think any of it really added to my Ozu knowledge/appreciation. I also started Ozu's Anti-Cinema by Yoshida Kiju, which is more interesting as it's written by a Japanese directory/critic who knew Ozu when he was young (I mean Kiju was young, Ozu was at the end of his life).

Earlier in the week I read Patricia Lockwood's No one is talking about this which I enjoyed for it's internet stream of consciousness style, but then got a little iffy about for it's life changing baby death narrative. The structure works as a kind of "reality pulling me away from virtual reality", but even though I've just read that the second part is autofiction, I can't get over that it felt... manipulative? cliché? in relation to the first part. Obviously as reality the situation sounded awful, painful, and surely changing how one considers life experience, but as fiction/literature it didn't work for me.

2021-09-12 11:54

We arrived at the beach yesterday for our week of vacation. Like last year it seems a little busier than in previous years, I guess more people are maybe not going to farther places and instead sticking close to home (and in country). Thankfully I planned early enough to get a place on the beach so I can sit here on the deck and see the ocean (and hear it) without having to go sit on the beach itself. So far I've started a few books and I think already abandoned a few. I brought more than I could really finish in a week, so I have that luxury as long as I don't take it too far.

I read a good review of Garielle Lutz's Worsted somewhere, but I just could not get into this collection of short stories. I tried a few of them, they were all first person narrated disconnected vignettes about people that seemed sad and messed up being slightly weird and abstract. I was very excited for Evan Dara's new novel Permanent Earthquake but 50 pages in I am just annoyed with it. It seems to take place on an island that is always having earthquakes and thus has become a kind of dystopia as it is a struggle to do really anything. Everyone seems to walk around with all kinds of guards and pads to help with the inevitable falling over when the earthquakes get worse... and... the narration of the protagonist's struggles were just... a struggle to read, form aptly fitting the content, but I am just not finding it engaging. I am perhaps reading it too much like sci-fi but I can't help but think "Why are all these people still here?" I'm about halfway through an old Cometbus issue from 1994 and enjoying it (I brought a couple of those along as I feel like I never go back and reread those).

I was also cleaning out the saved article list in my Feedly of all the things I had marked to read later or share later or save as a reference for later. Found this article from Alex Schroeder How to be a Better Player about RPGs that I quite like. Towards the end he talks about character backstory:

Conversely, I don’t like backstory too much. Write a backstory for yourself, if you must. When I’m a referee, I’ll read your backstory and I’ll probably forget about it once the game starts. You must make plans based on that backstory and put them forward at the table, and then it works. If you just write a backstory, you’re writing about the past. It’s irrelevant to the here and now. It generates no adventure. On the contrary, it generates memory load: we have to remember it.

I like the idea of getting player's to focus on character plans rather than character backstories. I've felt sometimes as DM that I'm expected to work the backstory into the campaign, which can be hard depending on where things go, but having a player with plans gives a nice hook for the DM to work from.

Thinking about it, I did that with my character for the last D&D campaign I played in. He didn't have a backstory to speak of (he grew up in the city... that's about it), but I thought up this silly thing where he wanted to make money so he could impress this lady equestrian he was secretly in love with and that gave me some motivation for the character but also gave Ian, the DM, a later adventure hook. As I recall in the very first campaign I ran all those years ago, we had a few characters with backstories that included a forward looking goal, and I managed to get at least two of them worked into the campaign before it ended.

I've got some writing to do while I'm here, a couple comics reviews, maybe I'll work on the short stories I abandoned... last year when I was here, I think. I've also brought along a handful of movies to (re)watch.

On the way here, just after leaving home we drove past where the tornado hit during Hurricane Ida last week and it was pretty shocking. Lots of trees with bare tops, lots of houses with damaged roofs and siding. It was very close to us, closer I think than I realized (especially at the moment when we were getting warnings and I was cooking dinner). We were really lucky.

We watched An Affair To Remember last night, certainly for the fourth or fifth or more time for me. It's a pretty sappy movie but I always enjoy it (except the two times when all the annoying children show up and sing), in particular this time we were noticing how great the colors are often a cohesion between the costume and sets such as an orange repeated across the shot.

2021-09-15 10:30

[Some excised personal stuff...] I think that is why playing in shared known worlds is so common with RPGs as it is hard to play in a world that you don't have a handle on. With most generic D&D there's a certain amount of shared myth/world that is comprehensible as well as the "sort of historical medieval" stuff. With historical games or historical plus x (magic, horror, etc.) you also have a shared handle on reality and then you can ascertain of figure out the added elements. Sci-fi is much tougher in that in can encompass a wide range of possibilities: just the difference between Star Wars and The Expanse covers a pretty big range of expectations for society and technology and such if not everyone is familiar. I certainly feel like a lot of this played into my failure running a Stars Without Number game a few years ago for the group, which lasted... not many sessions at all (3 maybe?).

But in conclusion, I'm determined to be clearer about many things pre-game in the future. Is this a one-shot? Is it an ongoing campaign? Is it a multi-session adventure? Is it a one-shot that could be a campaign if we like it? And also, no more sci-fi for our group. I'm looking into this Elizabethan occult game now Dee's Sanction, as there has been expressed interest in historical flavored stuff from the group, and I know Eric likes the realistic esoteric/occult stuff, and Kristina likes Elizabethan stuff. The game has a good concept though as I read the rules, I'm thinking I do not want to use them as they seem a bit overly complicated for what they are (and are written with an excess of bolded words that make it really hard to read/follow). So I may use the concept and some of the adventures and the character creation/random tables but just use a simplified D&D rules since everyone knows them. Normal stats as modifiers, skills are mostly freeform, add +2 if it seems like your character would be skilled. d20 vs target roll. 3 hp + CON mod. Damage is always 1 unless it's is extra dangerous. No short rests, no healing spells. Magic is ad hoc per the setting.

Been writing a review of Oliver East's Blocks the past couple days, hopefully for The Comics Journal. Have another review vaguely started though I'm not sure how invested I am in it, we'll see. (Edit: Final review is here.)

I reread Queneau's The Blue Flowers yesterday which was fun and breezy. It's been awhile since I read that one. The plot intertwines a contemporary (1960's) old man who lives on a barge with a medieval Duke. When each falls asleep they dream they are each other, with the Duke skipping through time at 150 or so year intervals until he arrives at the barge and meets the old man. As usual for Queneau there is a lot of philosophy hidden amongst comedy and language play. I'm 90% sure one section is a parody of Robbe-Grillet (famous and new at the time) that minutely describes a strange hat and a scene at a bar.

Watched Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon (one of my favorites of his) with the David Bordwell commentary track running yesterday. I know I've listened to it before, but it was still really interesting and engaging throughout to hear Bordwell talk about Ozu, the plot, and in particular Ozu's stylistic choices and how he stuck to or varied from conventional filmic style. Probably not a ton I haven't heard multiple times before, but it is so much more engaging when you are seeing the film go by so that the commentary can talk about specific compositions and cuts and scenes as they happen.

2021-09-16 08:18

Yesterday's Ozu commentary track theater was David Desser (whose Tokyo Story book I recently read) on Tokyo Story. I found it less interesting than Bordwell's mostly, I think, because Desser does a lot more talking about the plot and less about the formal aspects (which maybe makes sense, I don't know his other work, but Bordwell at least is always focused on film as film). As a kind of partway rewatch of Tokyo Story it reminded how it is just not one of my favorites of Ozu's. Desser talks about how it is the most popular/well regarded outside of Japan (not clear what the Japanese consider his best) perhaps because it is a little more melodramatic than most of his later films, and, in that I see why I find it less satisfying than say An Autumn Afternoon or Late Autumn. Now that I'm in the groove of these commentaries and Lianne doesn't seem to mind them going on while she's doing other things nearby, I'm going to watch Donald Ritchie on Early Summer today. I think he will be pretty interesting, and I don't think I've listened to the commentary before (I do have the dvd but it was a more recent acquisition).

Reread Kawabata's Snow Country over the past few nights. Still not one of my favorites of his, perhaps because it is his earlier work (I think I prefer the later work), and because I feel like there is a lot going on so far beneath the surface that I can't detect it. The protagonist is a bit of an ass, almost completely uninteresting, and the geisha he is involved with often acts in ways that make her seem like a trope of a "crazy woman." I should have brought Sound of the Mountain which I really love.

Also started rereading Gibson's Neuromancer which I haven't read since I took a cyberpunk lit class back in... I guess the really early 2000s. I still have the mass market paperback I bought way back in... the late 80s, or maybe really early 90s when I first learned about cyberpunk. It's one of those books that is so much about style and it's evocation of a near future is hard not to now read in reaction to the actual future. While it's easy to find Gibson's vision of cyberspace a little passe, a lot of his world building has a real sense of the future (like corporate monolyths, rising income equality, vat grown fake meat). So far, the plot is still mostly thriller-esque, but Gibson always writes with a cool, descriptive style that it is hard not to get wrapped up into.

Saw a few small dolphins leaping out of the water in the ocean the other day. I just happened to turn and look out to the ocean from where I was writing and there they were. We usually get at least one sighting of a bunch of dolphin fins surfacing as they head south (I've only ever seen them heading south), but this was the first time I saw any leap out of the water like that. It was really beautiful and cool to see.

2021-09-17 08:24

Richie's commentary on Early Summer was quite good. He focuses more on genre and structure and the contemporaneous culture than Bordwell, so it didn't feel like a ton of repetition. Richie also lived in Japan a long time and had even met Ozu, so he adds a little more personal flavor.

Not much else going on here, it is now Friday and I failed to get to a bunch of things I was hoping to this week. Didn't get through the DVDs I brought (except those Ozu commentaries since I could also get them online). Only did one of the two reviews I was going to write (I am not totally feeling the other one yet, but maybe I'll work on it back at home). Didn't try out a game of Thousand Year Old Vampire. Didn't even revisit reading my short stories. Oh well. I guess sometimes I just need to not get too much done after all the weeks of working too much.

2021-09-19 09:46

Back home again, which, after a week, makes everything feel both familiar and new. Buddy was thrilled to see us and has been a bit demanding for pets since then.

Friday was the fourth day of Ozu commentary theatre with Richard Peña on Late Spring. By this point, not sure what new there was to glean from it about Ozu, a lot more just about the narrative in the movie itself. That exhausts, as far as I can tell the available commentaries on Ozu. Unless there are some on the dvds that are not on the online version.

Finished up Neuromancer which I enjoyed as a sci-fi thriller with great writing, but don't have much else to say on it.

There was no DVD player at the beach house this year (I guess it broke so they removed it?), so I ended up not being able to watch some DVDs I had brought along that aren't available online, so that's part of the weekend plan now that we are home. Yesterday I watched my library copy of Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country, another western with a kind of "end of the era" theme to it, with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott playing two aging gunfighters. It was enjoyable enough, but wasn't amazing. The ending in particular had a fairly complete lack of logic that seemed to be designed as a way to get McCrea's character to die a noble death, but really just made him seem like he was kind of bad at his work.

Rewatched Tsai Ming-Liang's Goodbye Dragon Inn since I recently got Nick Pinkerton's book on it from Fireflies Press's Decadent Editions series (10 books on a movie from each of the first 10 years of the 2000s). I figured I should rewatch before reading, so it would be fresher in my mind. Like all the Tsai movies I've watched, it is a slow film, lots of long, unmoving takes, often with very little going on in the frame. It is an elegy for a movie house on the last showing of the last film on the last night. It's the kind of film you have to relax into, just let go of any expectations of plot or action and just watch it, let your eye linger over the composition, the setting, the subtle movements of the actors. If you are too impatient you'd just say "it's so boring, nothing is happening" and you'd turn it off and miss a really lovely, melancholy, and also funny film. Started the Pinkerton book which is so far all about the changing character of movie watching (ah, the laments of "people stream movies now" and the gnashing of teeth).

Started on David Lynch's Inland Empire this morning. I've had that DVD since it was released and never watched it! Somehow it just... never got put in the player. So finally, I've watched the first hour of it (ah yes, the other movie sin of not watching the whole thing all at once, but it's 3 hours long). The next book in that Decadent Editions series is on this one, hence the spurring on to finally watch it. It is also about movies, in that the protagonists are actors making a movie and they start to blur the lines between themselves and their characters. Realizing that one of the other books in that series is on Hong Sang-Soo's Tale of Cinema which is also a movie about movies in a different way. One gets the feeling the critics like to write about movies that are about movies.

Feeling the oncoming start of autumn, it was a bit chilly as I left the house for a walk this morning. Looking forward to the end the summer heat, looks like the temperatures will be cooling a bit this week. Maybe I'll even get to start wearing my sweatshirt again. I took it to the beach and it was unexpectedly warmer than usually, I didn't end up putting it on even once.

2021-09-20 08:08

Cool out this morning, sweatshirt weather, and the swallows that always seem to be gathered by the church on my walk were missing. Maybe it's migration time for them (I'm exactly sure what species of swallow they are, so I haven't looked it up), or maybe it's just that the bugs aren't out when it's cooler, or they wait until later in the morning when it's cooler.

Finished Nick Pinkerton's Goodbye Dragon Inn book yesterday out on the porch. It was an interesting read, a lot of annotation and analysis of the annotation and perhaps it felt like it was a little less analysis of the film itself (perhaps a little more about the formal aspects of it). He dives into Tsai's history and filmography and some of the history of Taiwanese cinema and the history of the movie being shown in the theater and about the theater's themselves and the changes in theaters over the recent decades and cruising in theaters (a few Delany references there). Something I only vaguely knew about is how Tsai has been moving more to showing films in art galleries and how he was basically doing his own promotion/distribution in Taiwan for his films (like renting a theater and then selling tickets to his movies).

About halfway through Inland Empire now, didn't get all the way through as the sound on it is often really hard to hear (mostly the dialogue and there are no captions). It's another movie about movie making where the actors/characters start to blur together in confusing ways. It feels vaguely like Mulholland Drive. He gets a lot of effect and creepiness/uncanniness out of just the basic editing of films. In one early scene the actors (played by Laura Dern and Justin Theroux) are sitting down for their first script reading with the director near a partially finished set. They hear someone behind them. Theroux gets up and goes into the set following the footsteps. He gets to a set of what looks the outside of a motel. He's heard the door on it shut, but now it's locked. He looks in the window and can't see anything, then he walks around the side of the set. It's just a front, no interior, no one is there.

Later (maybe 20 minutes of film time, maybe more, but clearly days of narrative time) Dern's character is putting a brown bag into a car in an alley. She looks up and sees some weird letters painted on/over a door (if they have any signifance I missed it or it hasn't come up yet). She opens the door and ends up going through these dark twisted hallways, eventually coming out and seeing herself and Theroux sitting down at the script reading. We don't see two of her, just a shot of her looking and then a shot of her and the rest of them at the table. The simple use of a view point shot makes it unsettling.

She then turns and runs away. We are seeing the same scene again this time more from her point of view than Theroux's. We see her open the door on the motel set and go through. There is a cut and we see her entering a motel room, shutting the door behind her. That's how movies and sets often work, yet here Lynch has made it strange. She sees Theroux looking in the window as he did earlier but this time somehow she is actually in a room and he is on the set where there is no room.

2021-09-23 08:35

It never takes long for the relaxation of vacation to wear off with the pressures of work.

Finished Inland Empire over a few days and I wasn't that thrilled by it. Felt like it was similar to the much better Mulholland Drive but more complicated and confusing. I read that it was written as it was being filmed and that sense of one thing following another without a clear overarching connection was pretty prominent. It's like there was some logic as scenes changed from one to the next, but after a few transitions whatever was going on a few scenes back had been almost completely lost (Justin Theroux, for instance, seems to just disappear from the movie about halfway in). I'm not sure there was actually anything enjoyable in it. There is a certain pull to try to "figure it out" as there was in Mulholland Drive, but also the sense that there wasn't much to figure out.

Was up unexpectedly early today so I watched Hou Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin, which was a lovely film to watch, but not so clear to follow narratively. Hou is a master of composition and use of color. He lingers on beautiful scenery, he films the fight scenes with a brevity and dynamism that keeps them from being boring or overly long and complicated. But as a narrative, I had a lot of trouble following it. There are a lot of characters that don't really get named and their placement in the 7th century Chinese court of the setting is often unclear. They seem to be constantly changing costumes and hairstyles and many of the woman are never seen in each other's company, which made it hard to keep them apart. In the end, I don't know what I was supposed to get from it as a narrative, but it was lovely to look at.

2021-09-25 10:29

The swallows were out yesterday morning, so I guess they didn't migrate for the season.

Read Dash Shaw's new comic Discipline the other day, and was pretty underwhelmed. The narrative follows two siblings who are Quakers. The brother goes off to fight in the civil war, defying the Quakers' pacifism, while the sister stays home. The text is all letters between the two. There is an aspect of how the text of the letters isn't telling the whole story we see in the images, but that's kind of always the case in comics when letters are involved, so I don't feel like it was super effective. Like it wasn't clear we were seeing all the letters or even all of each letter. It all felt a little underdeveloped to me. The art is very light, loose hatching, no panel borders, no real use of black, it all sits lightly on the page. I'll probably read it again to see if I glean more from it a second time through.

2021-09-27 08:04

Cool this morning and lots of activity on my walk to get coffee. There were three wet footprints on the sidewalk at the corner on the start of my walk. They came out of the grass and then stopped. On the way home there was only one barely visible anymore. The sparrows were not out on my way, but on the way back there were more than a dozen flying about with speed and their twittering was the background noise to a few blocks of my walk. Further along, a half dozen or so crows were all perched on the power lines and street light at an intersection. I assumed there was some roadkill somewhere but I couldn't see any, nor figure why they were all gathered. And, best of all, the cooper's hawk flew overhead calling out constantly as he crossed the sky. I can't say I've ever seen one do that before, it was quite a racket.

I watched Ramon Zurcher's The Strange Little Cat yesterday, an enjoyable and unusual film. While there was a cat in it, I didn't find it that strange, little, or a focus of the movie. The title could just as well have been The Annoying Little Girl or The Mysterious Mom or The Strange Little Bottle. It has hardly any plot at all to speak of: a day in a family's apartment (the apartment is only briefly left in a few short scenes). Two older children are home visiting mom, dad, and little sister (and dog and cat). An uncle and young cousin come over. The son picks up the grandmother. Later the aunt and older cousin arrive. They dine, they all leave to see the older's cousins concert (she arrives with a cello on her back). There is no narrative plot as such, yet the whole film is suffused with this oddness and tension. The characters other than the mom all act almost normal, but then there are moments when they do odd things or say something strange. They tell each other these little vignettes in an almost flat tone: the daughter noticed one day while walking and peeling an orange that the peel pieces all landed white side up. The son talks about a drunk woman at a party. The mom explains how she goes to this crowded restaurant for lunch. At times the camera focuses on small objects, a couple bridging sequences that are just static shots of objects that were somehow involved in the previous scenes.

The mother seems the protagonist to me, the one that seems most focused on and yet is most opaque. She has this tension about her. You get the sense she is depressed or stressed out about something or just not quite right, but it never becomes a full blown plot point. She does slap the youngest daughter once (after she rips a button off her cousin's shirt). The whole movie you expect something to emerge, to blow up, then almost at the end this little bottle does blow its cork out. The bottle is a bit of a mystery, it first takes notice when it is sitting in a pan wobbling in a circle, like it might have if you put it down carelessly and it had to settle, except it just keeps wobbling... it's like a weird bit of magic in the day.

I found the whole thing enjoyable to watch despite the lack of drama/plot. The camera is often set in place somewhere in the cramped apartment and then we watch a group of the characters moving about in the frame, a few scenes have the look of a choreographed dance, as figures move in and out of frame, in front and behind each other. Quite lovely.

Over the course of the day I read Ten Skies by Erika Balsom, the second in the Fireflies Press Decadent Editions series. Ten Skies is a film from 2004 by James Benning that is 10 10 minutes shots of different skies. I have not actually watched the film (though it is available on YouTube), yet I really enjoyed the book about it. Seems a rare thing to read a book about a movie one hasn't seen and still get something out of it and enjoy it. In the process I realized, that while I thought I was unfamiliar with Benning, I actually have this book Two Cabins about this art project he did where he build replicas of Thoreau's and Kaczynksi's cabins on his property.