A psychogeographical revelation this morning: I prefer to walk on the side of a street that doesn't have cars parked on it. Somehow I just realized that the various routes I take to the coffee shop in the morning are all based on walking along the sidewalk without cars parked between me and the street. Not sure why that is.
October is in full swing already, it's dark when I wake up in the morning, it's still kind of dark as I sit here writing.
Movies I've watched recently... Millennium Mambo, another Hou movie, was not that interesting narratively nor as pretty visually as the others of his films I watched. I ended up stopping it about halfway through. I just didn't care about the story of the young woman with the asshole boyfriend.
Lucretia Martel's The Headless Woman is another movie that will be having a volume in the Decadent Editions series, so I borrowed a copy from the library. I finished it, but can't say I really enjoyed it. It is a very subtle movie, you have to pay attention to get clear up a lot of (but not all) of the ambiguities. The basic plot of the movie is: a wealthy woman hits something on the road with her car. The film shows us a dog; she seems convinced she killed a child. She gets x-rayed, she goes to a hotel and sleeps with her cousin (pretty sure that is who the dude it, based on him referring to "Aunt someone" who later definitely is the protagonist's mother), she goes home. She keeps trying to buy large pots to put plants in. She has a large extended family she seems to spend a lot of time with. Later a boy is found right by where she hit the dog, he is drowned... other minor events accumulate and spin off. Nothing exactly happens momentous. Do we ever find out if she really hit a child? To me it was pretty clear she did not (we see the dog in the road and not from her point of view) and we see the later drowned child in the canal (by the road). The last scene we see of him he tries to climb up the side of the canal and fails. After the woman hits the dog a heavy rain falls causing lots of flooding, they even say multiple times how flooded the canal was.
But interestingly it seems her husband and cousin(?) do seem to start to believe her after the drowned boy is found (before that they seem to not believe her). The x-rays we see her get at the hospital disappear (we hear her brother works there) when she goes back to get them. The hotel she stayed at says they have no record of anyone being in the room she had been in. There are indications the family members are covering up for a crime they start to think happened. The husband (or it is the brother?) clearly says something that implies he made the hospital records disappear.
There's also the strange element of the woman's niece who seems to be in love with both this other girl (who pops up occasionally on a motor scooter) and the protagonist. There is a large amount of unclear incestuous sexuality going on. This article on the movie from n+1 goes into that aspect a little more, coming up with an interesting reading of something I noticed in the film but didn't have an explanation for: the way the woman gets phone calls on her cell that she doesn't want to answer. At first it's the call she gets and is on when she hits the dog, but then there are others where she answers and then almost immediately hangs up. In a more thriller-esque movie that would be someone trying to blackmail her, and I did have a certain feeling of underlying dread, thinking that's what it was, but then... the call are never addressed. Never really followed up on.
So I guess it was an interesting movie, but... I don't know. Would I watch it again? Not sure, maybe after I read the book on it.
There is a Kirk Douglas program on Criterion this month so I rewatched a couple of movies with him in them. Out of the Past is still one of my favorite films noir. Sometimes just a few of the lines have all this style to them, like when the girlfriend at the beginning asks "Is something wrong?" and Mitchum's character replies "Maybe not," with this kind of fatalistic tone. Or the famous line about "There's a way to lose slower." Letter to Three Wives is an interestingly structured melodrama mystery, wherein three wives (and friends) about to go out on a charity event of some kind (involving children and a boat) receive a letter from a fourth woman claiming she has run off with one of their husbands (but not which). The movie is primarily three flashbacks (one from each wife) about their relationship with their husband and the husband's attraction and their jealousy of the fourth woman (who we never see only hear in narration). I had forgotten Linda Darnell was in it, who I so recently saw in both Fallen Woman and My Darling Clementine. She again is playing the lower class woman. Her relationship with her wealthy husband is one of the most interesting parts of the movie because the story and tension play up their disparate ages and class and the idea she is a gold digger and he just wants a young wife, and then ends up really affirming that they actually do love each other and both were being held back in a way by those stereotypes.
I've struggled through a handful of books lately, how many have I forgotten? I was reading a book on Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's "spymaster", as research for running an Elizabthan RPG but got pretty bored by the book after awhile. I'm about halfway through one on Doctor John Dee (who I mostly know from his appearance in John Crowley's Aegypt cycle) that is interesting but often feels like it strays far from the ostensible subject of the book. I enjoyed Samuel Delany's Of Solids and Surds an entry in a series called "Why I Write." It made me want to reread more of his books (though it was not so long ago I reread the Neveryon cycle).
Was still thinking about The Headless Woman for a day or two. Guess it is one I will have to rewatch at some point. Something about all its ambiguities and mysteries stick in your thoughts, and make me feel like there is more to be had from seeing it again.
The new Decadent Editions Inland Empire book by Melissa Anderson showed up the other day, and I've already read it. She does not take the tact of trying to explain the movie, so much as she uses it to talk about acting and in particular Laura Dern. I liked that the focus was not so much on the director this time, and the book did make me want to revisit the movie, as, while she didn't explain the movie, she did clarify a few things for me that might help make the film a little less disorienting. I'm really enjoying this whole series (three books so far), and look forward to the next ones (on The Headless Woman and Hong Sang-Soo's Tales of Cinema (which admittedly not one of Hong's I loved)).
After that, I decided I should rewatch Mulholland Drive since there is a certain relation between the two Lynch movies, and my memories of the latter are very favorable, I'm sure I've watched it at least 3 times. My rewatch yesterday morning did not disappoint, I really love so much of that film. It starts off as a kind of surreal Hollywood noirish mystery and then becomes a complete Surreal noirish dream drama. The last section (~20 minutes?) Are just such a surprise (even after a few watchings) and a revelation to what has come before. It does still, in many ways, especially in the beginning, hold onto it's "written as a pilot for a tv show" origin. There are scenes that bear very little relation to the primary plot that seem like they would have had larger roles to play in a serialized form. You can see how a few of the characters probably would have had bigger parts, and a few plotlines probably would have been expanded on (like the two detectives in the beginning who show up at the car accident). But, overall, those don't hurt the film, as they tend to happen at the beginning when it all feels like it is setting up something rather more conventional than it ends up being.
Gave up on the Dee book. Gave up on Robert Gluck's Margary Kempe and Yxta Maya Murray's Art is Everything. Neither were bad, but neither were really driving me to finish them. Started instead of the abridged edition of Emma Goldman's autobiographay Living My Life which I've wanted to read forever and finally got a copy of. I'm quite enjoying it, she has a clear style that well conveys her feelings and changing perspectives on her life, politics, etc.
Watched Hirokazu Kore-eda's After Life the other day. It is a fabulous movie, both in the sense that I really loved it and in the sense that is like a fable. It falls into a rather long line of movies about the time after death, in this case, people spend a week at a campus facility before moving on. During that time the staff there help them pick their most treasured memory and then recreate it as a film. At the end of the week the dead watch the film and then move on, retaining only that one memory from their life. You can't look too hard at the logic of it, because it is never really explained, though it does seem that the dead can go out and walk amongst the living (there is a montage scene of one of the staff members walking about taking pictures and clearly there are living people going about their lives around here).
The main plot focuses on one of the staff members, a young man who died in the war (WWII of course), never moved on because he couldn't pick a memory, and so works at this place helping other people. He still looks in his 20s but after all the time he's been doing this job the old people dying are of his generation, which creates some interesting moments and then a driver of the resolution of his plot. We also get a little less on a young woman who works with him (and clearly has feelings for him) and seems to be new at the work. We never get a sense of what her life was like or why she did not pass on (Kore-eda wrote a novelization of the film that focuses more on her, though it doesn't appear to be available in English).
A lot of the movie jumps between a variety of the people (of all ages) who died as they examine their lives and pick a memory, then there is a bunch of scenes on the production of their memory films. In a way it becomes another movie about making movies, though in this case much of what we see on the production side is about the recreation of these memory scenes. We never actually see the movies, just the people sitting in their seats looking at the screen (and at the camera) with the projector in the background projecting towards the camera too. It's rather self-reflexive.
It's a melancholy film, beautifully composed, emotional and thoughtful.
Was watching the Foundation series this week. Not having read the books I have no concept of how closely it relates to Asimov's writing, though I can't imagine he wrote the characters with such diversity. The chronology has jumped around quite a lot in a rather bold way, sometimes jumping years at a time back and forth. This is anchored by three cloned emporers, such that Lee Pace can play different clones at the same general age over the course of a long time. By episode four there's also someone coming out of some kind of cryosleep, allowing one of the protagonists to also be the same actor many years apart. So far the effects are impressive and the plot is... ok. At times it feels like the characters don't clearly understand what other characters are saying. There's a whole primary plot about a mathematician who basically makes predictions for the future of society as a whole through his complicated math calculations. No matter how often he says its about large groups of people over time, everyone seems to treat it like everything he says is a true prediction and that his "plan" must be followed and blah blah, and it gets pretty religiously. Religion and religious like institutions wind their way through the plot, so far almost completely with a critical eye on them. The episodes have jumped around so much there isn't a lot of time spent with any individual characters (except the cloned emporers), except the female protagonist who gets an excess of narration about math (which starts to get tired pretty quickly). But it's interesting, and curious to see if it goes somewhere to overcome it's limitations. So far it has thankfully not had an excess of fighting, such that those that happen are more... important than if it were the norm.
Read Jon Peterson's Game Wizards this week, his latest book on RPG history. This takes a different perspective on early D&D by focusing on the business history of D&D/TSR, rather than looking at the games, rules, and players as in his Playing at the World and The Elusive Shift. It was an interesting read, though not, I think, one that would be as interesting for most people as the previous two. It's basically a corporate history of TSR (and its precedents), the company most associated with D&D, for the first 10 years (basically 1975-1985). You get a lot of people behaving badly and intrigue about ownership and stocks and finances as well a more market/business view of the early RPG scene.
I'm a big fan of the Velvet Underground (the band), so was excited about Todd Haynes' The Velvet Underground documentary that premiered this week. Unfortunately it was rather a letdown. I've read books on the band (or books that at least had them as the focus of a chapter or two), so I have a decent amount of background knowledge, but thought that a filmic approach could provide something new and interesting. But weirdly, it ended up feeling like Haynes wasn't that interested in the band as a band or as music. There was a decent focus on early Reed and Cale, but by the time they get around to the band, whole albums get skipped over with barely any attention paid. Maureen Tucker, who along with Cale, is still alive to talk about it, barely had a presence. Most of the talking heads were band adjacent, from the Warhol Factory scene and had little to say about music. Jonathan Richman provides the only (that I can recall) example of someone influenced by the band. The whole thing ends without really addressing their musical influence on a host of subsequent bands. The whole thing was not aided by the fact that there is apparently no live audio film of the band performing, so while there was some film of them performing none of it synced with any existing sound.
Watched Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Rosetta the other day. The film closely follows (as in she is almost always the majority of the frame) a young woman struggling in poverty with her alcoholic mom. Despite being almost constantly close to us visually, she is rather closed off as a character. But you ascertain that she has a ridiculous pride that keeps her from asking for help and has her going out of her way to try to avoid exposing her situation. There isn't so much a plot as a series of events that lead to an ambiguous ending. The lead actress was impressive, and the stylistics of the framing was interesting, but the whole thing kind of left me unengaged.
So many movies over the past week, lots of rewatching.
I rewatched Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth and Ghost Dog. The former is still hit and miss for me. Some of the sections I like (Winona Ryder's, Giancarlo Esposito's (who I did not recognize at all), the Paris segement with Issach De Bankolé and Beatrice Dalle), but then the last two (the Rome one with Roberto Benigni, who I can't stand, and the long Finnish one) I just don't. Ghost Dog is another of Jarmusch's kind of funny odd genre pictures, enjoyable to watch, but kind of empty in the end.
Also rewatched Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper with Kristen Stewart, which is even better the second time around, as it's easier to follow it closer when one already gets the set-up. I really like the way it blends genre elements (horror, thriller, ghost story, but also drama about mourning) and offers a variety of explanations and theories for the ghost/spirit aspect, without, in the end, setting a solid explanation for everything. Stewart is also just great to watch, as she is pretty much in the movie non-stop from start to finish (there is maybe 1 scene without her, that I can recall).
Had another Ozu commentary track theatre day with Roger Ebert talking about Floating Weeds one of Ozu's late color films (just got a copy of the out of print Criterion DVD, the commentary is not on the channel). Ebert from the start says he's going to focus on what is on the screen rather than lots of background info, since he is not an Ozu expert, and for the most part he does stick to that, offering a lot of commentary on composition and color and such, interesting enough to follow along with the movie. Felt a little smug when at one point I identified something he was wrong about (how many/which color films Ozu made). He did not much address (other than mentioning it in relation to the actors) how/why the movie was made for a different studio than Ozu otherwise worked for, something I'm a little curious about (will have to check Bordwell's book to see if he addresses this). Ebert gets a little repetitive at times, pointing out the same elements and often re-explaining them rather than just saying "there's x again". The movie itself is a bit of an oddity for Ozu's later work since the family it is focused on is not a traditional one, nor are they in Tokyo. It also at times amps up the drama a bit more than usual (thinking of the various scenes where the actor protagonist slaps people around in his anger). It does have a number of wonderful/beautiful scenes (the argument in the rain, the opening lighthouse shots, the mysterious falling petals inside the theater).
This morning I watched Dreiser's Vampyr from 1932, which I found odd but not totally absorbing. His sense of what is important narrative information and what is not seems quite at odds with convention, and there is almost nothing of characterization. Though it is not a silent film there is very little dialogue, and a large amount of text, mostly in the form of a book explaining vampires. Apparently, this was so early, that vampires were not wholly a known entity in popular culture, so he felt the need to explain them. It's also interesting to note how the vampire's he explains vary from what has become the conventional vampire myth. In this movie vampires control the ghosts of executed criminals (which explains the weird way a man is murdered by the silhouette of a man firing a musket). There is that German Expressionistic thing going on and not a whole lot of plot and... I just couldn't get into it.
Earlier in the week, I ran a first session of a D&D game for a bunch (5) of work colleagues. We are going to try to play every 2 weeks, we'll see how far we get. We tried this before a number of years ago and kept having scheduling problems where not enough people could show up to make it worth playing. I'm using Old School Essentials as the base ruleset but simplifying it down even more. Most of the players are more familiar with regular 5e, so I didn't want to go too rules-light, but I also don't want to run 5e or even deal with all the differences in OSE. I removed a bunch of things, and am going to use d20 + ability score rolls (target of 20) as a roll high general mechanic/save. Oddly no one picked a spellcaster so I don't even need to worry about handling spellcasters. We have an odd group of characters, and I ended up starting them in The Hole in the Oak dungeon which I've run before. I'm going to slot it into the Dolmenwood settings (all from the same author as OSE), and adapt another module I have that I'm placing next to the wood. Did very little prep, as I'm not completely confident we'll make it past the first dungeon... but I'd be pleased to be proved wrong.
Been stalling on a lot of my books. Still working my way (past halfway I think) through Emma Goldman's Living My Life. I've also been reading a bunch of Clark Ashton Smith "Averoigne" stories. There's a new collection of them, but I am weirdly finding that I've already read a lot of them somehow, despite not having actually read that much of Ashton Smith's work. Looking back I see I was reading some of his stories in April and have apparently completely forgotten... that must be why some of these are familiar, as I know only 1 was in the selected stories book I partially read 2 years ago at the beach.
Been organizing and weeding books with Lianne today, our overburdened dining room shelves are now less heavy and better organized, though now there are boxes of books that have been weeded to be dealt with. At least I recently donated a few boxes of books from weeding my office shelves.
After Vampyr yesterday, ended up watching two more vampire films. Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is one of his best (perhaps the best) of his movies from this century, a low key, melancholy, but also drolly funny vampire story about two very old vampires. It brings in all the tropes of vampire fiction but manages to takes a rather low drama, realist approach.
Later, we watched Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula which is ridiculously over the top in its execution. Coppola seems to use every trick in the book at some point. I never manged to finish the novel, but this is certainly not as faithful an adaption as the title would indicate.