Mary Rose Cook's notebook

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The Last of Us

The Last of Us

I’ve been playing through this again while I’ve been in England for my brother’s wedding.


Three things have been prominent this time through.


The life that Joel has been leading is one of risk and reward. But the risk is always death, and the reward is always life. He dives into a flooded basement to see if he can find anything that will increase his chances of survival. He risks dying in the attempt.


I love the way that things get darker and darker and worse and worse.


Joel’s rage at the loss of his family is taken out on the people he shoots and bashes and stabs and bludgeons. This transforms into a feeling of protective rage towards anyone who would come near Ellie.


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Ethan Hawke talking about Boyhood

Ethan Hawke talking about Boyhood

http://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi586001433


Ethan Hawke is startlingly interesting in both of his segments in this piece about Boyhood.


[2m 10s] The idea is to do a portrait of a family through the eyes of their son. There is generally an artifice to any film about growing up. Even a great film like The 400 Blows has to pick one tiny moment and jerry-rig all the life events into that moment. What Rick decided to do was to study the period when we’re all formed around first grade when you start to have memories and start to have an identity, an ego. And how that ego is created by you, your family, your culture and the period you live in. It’s kind of like getting to make Ordinary People over twelve years.


[5m 50s] The really dynamic thing for me about my character is that he is perceived entirely through the eyes of a child. So you don’t really know what he’s like except for the way his son perceives him. Kids are funny like that. They don’t really know what their parents do. ‘What does your Dad do?’ 'Oh, he works in medicine.’ They don’t really know much about it. They don’t really think that much about you. They take you for granted. So I had to create a character that the audience is thinking one thing… It starts and he’s kind of a ne'er do well because he’s on the outside, like a lot of men are in divorce. You kind of get spun away because there’s an idea that kids should be with the mother. So you kind of operate as a satellite moon. And slowly he starts to show up more and more and figure out how to take part in their lives.


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Boyhood

Boyhood

[Boyhood (film) - Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boyhood_(film))


Absolutely jam-packed with touching, real moments.


The film isn’t nearly as satisfying as Linklater’s “Before” series. Satisfaction requires structure which requires meaning which requires causality which, over the span of twelve years, is not authentic. Which is to say: an arc would have felt too neat and phoney.


The film also suffered from a POV problem. Some of it felt like it was seen through Mason’s eyes. But most of it felt like it was through my eyes. It was a film about my memory of my childhood, rather than what my childhood was like when I lived it. The shot above is too wide to be from the perspective of the person sitting in the soil.


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How to play Street Fighter 2

How to play Street Fighter 2

How to play Street Fighter: a fighting game primer for everyone - Polygon


A deep dive into the tactics and strategy underlying all fighting games.


The game-specific minutiae is less interesting. There is no general truth in Capcom’s decision that you must adjust which buttons you press for a special move if your opponent happens to be travelling over your head.


But the more generally applicable observations are fascinating.


Ryu embodies all the important elements of fighting game characters because he can put into practice every generic battle strategy. He can control space. He can reap the rewards of anticipating what his opponent will do. He can press an advantage and riposte a pressed advantage.


This pair of zingers. “Throwing a fireball means putting yourself at risk in the immediate moment (by performing an attack with a long startup period) in order to gain an advantage once it’s out.” “The Dragon Punch is basically the anti-fireball; where the fireball sacrifices the present for the future, the DP borrows against the future in favor of right now.”


And a wonderful passage about anticipation. One player carries out a series of attacks to leave his opponent only a few options, correctly predicts how the opponent will respond and then punishes him for it.


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Dawn in Far Cry 2

Dawn in Far Cry 2


I listened to a fascinating podcast with Clint Hocking, the director of Far Cry 2. He spent a lot of time talking about the systems: the gun jams, the fire, the wildlife, the malaria.


There is magic in the way, after a gunfight is over, birds begin tweeting, you hear a stream flowing, and tranquility descends. And there is magic in the way you have to adapt your tactics from moment to moment as each hare-brained plan goes wrong.


Hocking had a fascinating anecdote about curtailing the way they designed the animal behaviour. Some people at the company were troubled that players would wantonly shoot up the fauna in the forest. He said they tried lots of things, including letting the player pet the animals. Eventually, they just made shooting an animal as boring as possible. You fired and the animal died like a cardboard cutout falling over. Its body wouldn’t respond to any further shots, and would soon dematerialise. He said this meant players might shoot one animal, but would never shoot a second.


(A note about the image. I rather disingenuously lowered my gun when I took the screenshot. It looked far less beautiful and evocative with a disembodied pistol sticking out into the frame. Which says something about the way games approach the expression of meaningful experiences.)


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Neil Druckmann talking about writing the story for The Last of Us

Neil Druckmann talking about writing the story for The Last of Us

IGDA Toronto 2013 Keynote: Neil Druckmann, Creative Director & Writer, Naughty Dog - YouTube


I love the way he describes each story iteration and why it failed. Many talks have this format, but his reasoning was is very precise.


I loved what he said about the tension between achieving top-down desires (a beautiful symbol that resonates throughout, trying to get the characters to a certain place for gameplay reasons) and maintaining the internal logic of the story and characters.


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The Godfather

The Godfather

I saw The Godfather parts one and two at the BAM cinema last summer. I took a packed lunch of pasta with spinach, tomatoes, pesto and parmesan, and blackberries and cherries for pudding.

I loved the first part. It’s a high quality soap opera with guns that is anchored by the meaningful, strong ties of family and heritage.



The second part is mostly a shallow plot about gangsters and money, strays from the family and, as a result, is really not very good.


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Very complicated feelings to do with the airport, the beach, perfume, luxury, blonde hair and impeccability

Very complicated feelings to do with the airport, the beach, perfume, luxury, blonde hair and impeccability





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Nidhogg

Nidhogg

Really digging Nidhogg, a new fighting game on the Mac and Windows. It pares swordfighting down to stances, rolling, throwing and leaping. It feels super delicate.



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The Met have uploaded 400.000 high-resolution images to their website. This means you can go to pages like this and see details like this

The Met have uploaded 400.000 high-resolution images to their website. This means you can go to pages like this and see details like this


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Wolfram Language

Wolfram Language

Stephen Wolfram's Introduction to the Wolfram Language - YouTube


A symbolic programming language from Wolfram. I can’t wait to try it. I feel like I’m quite a good programmer, yet, I rarely write throwaway programs to help me with everyday tasks. There is too much setup, too much fiddling with APIs, too much low-level stuff.


It looks like this might help.


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Joel Spolksy, Stack Overflow podcast #53

Joel Spolksy, Stack Overflow podcast #53

Episode 53 | StackOverflow


MIT recently changed their introduction course that everybody takes to learn programming. It’s taught by Abelson and Sussman and they have a book called the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs and it’s written in Scheme and it’s what they call a very bottom-up approach to computation and you build from there. And it was all very interesting and it’s still a great way to learn progarmming. But they recently replaced it with a course about programming robots and they do the programming in Python. And the great thing about robots is that the wheels slip and the APIs are badly documented and you can’t really program anymore from the bottom up. You have to program experimentally. You have to devise an experiment, and before you run it, you have no idea if it’s gonna work in the real world - you just have to try it. And that’s really what GUI programming, any kind of API programming has been like almost since the beginning of time. Just all kinds of complicated interactions you forgot about and never really thought about. And they just thought that was a more realistic introduction to the art of computer programming.


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Chinese Puzzle

Chinese Puzzle

The third film in Cédric Klapisch’s trilogy. It suffers in comparison with the first two because its messy meaningfulness comes from more plotty plotlines: a visa marriage, a sperm donation. But it is just as funny and warm.






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Lauren’s portrait of me. Pretty accurate, really.

Lauren’s portrait of me. Pretty accurate, really.


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Debug podcast with Wil Shipley: from NeXT to Delicious Monster

Debug podcast with Wil Shipley: from NeXT to Delicious Monster

Debug 19: Wil Shipley from NeXT to Delicious Monster | iMore


A fascinating interview with Wil Shipley, the programmer who founded Omni and Delicious Monster. Touches on both companies, OmniWeb, Delicious Library, contracting for NeXT and contracting for the NSA. I greatly admire Wil’s work ethic and sense of software design.


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Chainsaw Records

Chainsaw Records

Chainsaw put out some of my all-time favourite records:


The Fakes, Real Fiction 
 [Sleater-Kinney, Sleater-Kinney](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleater-Kinney_(album))Tracy + The Plastics, Muscler’s Guide to Videonics


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She’s Real (Worse Than Queer)

She’s Real (Worse Than Queer)

She's Real (Worse than Queer) Part One 1997 on Vimeo


A documentary about the queer women musical movement of the late eighties to mid-nineties. Part 2.


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Kicking Giant, She’s Real

Kicking Giant, She’s Real

13%20She's%20Real%20(Version).mp3


“You put this chayenge in me. I used to be so cruel, but now it’s you who’s breaking all the rules.”


“I was sleepless, 2nd Avenue. Everybody’s out tonight. 85 at half past two.”


“From a block away, I can see your shades, drawn down and black.”


“Tonight it’s much too hot to sleep… now I am walking down Rivington to East River Park.”


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Dronie

Dronie

Bernal Hill selfie on Vimeo


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At the Yankees/Red Sox game with my dad

At the Yankees/Red Sox game with my dad


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Hotline Miami start menu

Hotline Miami start menu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXUbZM1isW8


The Hotline Miami start menu is the most evocative moment in any game I’ve ever played. It’s just some blissed out reggae, surf guitar, neon and Russian text. It doesn’t make me think of the brutal violence of the game. It makes me think of the mood of the life in which that violence incidentally occurs: the sun in my eyes, and living an unexamined life.


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I can’t count how many copies of Potential I have bought over the years: for me, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, family.

I can’t count how many copies of Potential I have bought over the years: for me, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, family.


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Sun Kil Moon, I Watched the Film "The Song Remains the Same"

Sun Kil Moon, I Watched the Film "The Song Remains the Same"

08%20I%20Watched%20the%20Film%20the%20Song%20Remains%20the%20Same.m4a


This song comes from Benji, which is a pretty good record. I like Mark Kozelek’s conversational way of telling stories. I like his easy-sounding but probably hard-won rhymes. The record has some songs I like and some songs I don’t. I can’t really say what the differences are.


In this song, I like the way the melody unexpectedly goes up when he sings, “But even more, I liked ‘No Quarter’”. But then it comes back down and the last three notes slip down on the single-syllable “hum”.


“And when we got the call that my grandmother passed. The nervous tension I’d been feeling for months broke and strangely, I laughed.” I like his honesty. I like his ability to mention something he doesn’t understand.


“I threw a punch that caught him off-guard and knocked him down.” I like how the “u” in “punch” seems to come out hollow from the back of his throat, from the place a hard “k” comes from.


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Bohren & Der Club of Gore, Segein Ohne Wind

Bohren & Der Club of Gore, Segein Ohne Wind

06%20Segeln%20ohne%20Wind.m4a


Bohren sound like schmaltzy lounge jazz: sultry saxophone, stately double bass. But they play at half speed. And there are lots of downward plunges in the tune that are more menacing than sexy. And there are great, wide spaces in the songs that only contain hisses and drones. The final effect is of standing in the French windows of a ballroom, an opulent party at your back, a valley filled with dawn fog to your front.


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Breadcrumb Trail

Breadcrumb Trail

BREADCRUMB TRAIL - THEATRICAL TEASER - YouTube


A documentary about Slint. I always knew they were young, but seeing that footage of them as kids playing Good Morning, Captain: holy shit.


Whatever you’re planning to do, get on with it.


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Climbing on Sunday

Climbing on Sunday

On Sunday, my climbing took a step up. I’d been stuck on two V1+ problems for a couple of weeks. On Sunday, I completed both. One was a matter of improved technique, leaning hard into a series of sidepulls. The other, a matter of a dynamic lunge up to the final hold. I also completed a bonus V2.


I watched my friend, Zach, work on a V5. He tried a few times. Another group were working on the same problem. Zach would try, they would try, Zach would try, they would try. Each person’s attempt was informed by the attempts of the people before. One technique or approach would be answered or built on by the next. They collectively explored and discussed without ever saying anything. It was magic.


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Particle Fever

Particle Fever

A film about the experiments run at the Large Hadron Collider to find the Higgs-Boson. Too much human interest. Too little science. Pervasive meaningless animations. The lack of science in the film was best captured towards the end. One of the experiment directors gave a speech about the implications of their experimental findings. The audience of scientists were, judging by their expressions, fascinated. The audience of the film were not, because the speech was drowned out by music that the filmmakers added to the soundtrack.


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The Puffy Chair

The Puffy Chair

This film comes from the same scene as Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister by Lynn Shelton. Mark Duplass, the co-writer and co-director of The Puffy Chair, stars in all three films. All three have the same aim: naturalistic portrayal of the subtleties of relationships.


I have been thinking a lot about the differences between the films. I can’t identify any. They are all shot the same way. There is an improvised, messy tone that is common to all the dialogue. They all have crucial, contrived elements that should derail the films completely (the brother in The Puffy Chair is a caricature, Humpday corners the two guys and makes them agree to have sex, Your Sister’s Sister herds three people into a remote cabin).


The thing is: Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister are marvellously truthy and moving and meaningful, and The Puffy Chair is not. I don’t know why.


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Des Ark, My Saddle Is Waitin’ (C'mon Jump On It)

Des Ark, My Saddle Is Waitin’ (C'mon Jump On It)

Des Ark - house show (solo) - YouTube


I’ve posted this several times to my blog. I still find it meaningful: the setting, the song, the rendition of the song, the explanation.


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Last Year at Marienbad

Last Year at Marienbad

This film had interesting themes. Collaborating on constructing the story of a time you shared with someone else. What it means to be a writer allowed to make up a story out of nowhere. The possibility for multiple, equally credible interpretations of a piece of art. The different ways your current self can inhabit your memories as you examine them: by acting differently, or saying different words, or changing what other people say or do.


Unfortunately, the way the film was constructed was so over-bearing, it was impossible to surrender to it. The insistent man: first nagging, then hectoring. The evasive apathy of the woman. The paused tableaus. The non-linear cuts. The repeated reformulations and reinterpretations of statements and events. It all served the themes, but the overall effect was of a dream. And dreams are boring because they make no sense. I wished the film had explored the same ideas, but in a simple, down-to-earth story.


My favourite part was the formalism of the garden mirrored the formalism of the film’s representations of people:



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Thirty Flights of Loving

Thirty Flights of Loving

I find it difficult to bring myself to say anything about this game. It is, in essence, an interactive dream. It has the narrative discontinuities of a dream. The inexplicable feelings of a dream. And I mistrust anything I can’t explain, so I am tempted to suppress any praise of Thirty Flights of Loving.


But, through the things Colin Stetson says with his saxophone, and the things Jonathan Blow said about Buddhism and the moon and a pointing finger, and the things my friend, Joe, has said about learning to experience art through someone else’s perspective, I am learning to set aside my mistrust.


With that in mind, I can present the two pieces of Thirty Flights of Loving that I found moving, and I can side-step the desire to explain them or justify why they are good, or talk about their relationship to all the other bits of the game that I did not find moving.


Um, these are spoilers, I suppose.




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Tim's Vermeer

Tim's Vermeer

A documentary that follows Tim, an inventor, as he tries to paint his own version of The Music Lesson by Vermeer. His theory is that Vermeer used an optical device that places a mirror showing the subject over the canvas. This lets the painter compare the paint with the reflection of the subject side by side, so they can get the tone and texture just right.


Tim spends some time closing in on a replica of the optical device that Vermeer used. He makes a replica of the room that is depicted in The Music Lesson. This latter is the most interesting part of the film. He has a viola da gamba made. He builds the facade of a virginal. He turns the legs for a replica of the chair that sits in the foreground. He builds windows and fixes to them screens that show a view of Delft.


The film spends some time criticising the art historians who refuse to accept that Vermeer employed optical aids in his work. David Hockney is shown saying that this refusal betrays a simple-mindedness about what art really is.


The film shows a somewhat greater degree of insight. A man points out that Pieter de Hooch achieved somewhat similar looks without using optics. He credits Vermeer for his geometrical and symbolic compositions. But, ultimately, the film suffers from the same simple-mindedness as the historians. It positions Tim’s Vermeer as a successful replica of Vermeer’s Vermeer. It reduces Vermeer’s technique to the optics. But look for half a second and you see that the people in Tim’s Vermeer are a complete disaster.


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Catherine Destivelle solos in Mali

Catherine Destivelle solos in Mali

Catherine Destivelle - amazing solo climb in Mali - YouTube


That moment where she can’t mount the overhang.


My dad said he saw this on TV in the seventies and he had to watch it lying on the floor.


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React.js - JSConf EU 2013

React.js - JSConf EU 2013

Pete Hunt: React: Rethinking best practices -- JSConf EU 2013 - YouTube


A great presentation about a very exciting JavaScript framework. I love how there seems to be almost nothing to React.


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An article about the latest Broadway production of Betrayal

An article about the latest Broadway production of Betrayal

'I Don't Think We Don't Love Each Other': Betrayal on Broadway, 2013 | HuffPost


Some correct and incorrect observations on what the play is about, and why this production fails.


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Pink grapefruit lip balm.

Pink grapefruit lip balm.


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Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein

“When the passion is too much to talk, sing. When the passion is too much to sing, dance.”


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ABBA, The Winner Takes it All

ABBA, The Winner Takes it All

08%20The%20Winner%20Takes%20It%20All.mp3


This song was written by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and sung by Agnetha Fältskog. They all deny that the words are about Ulvaeus’s and Fältskog’s divorce, saying the words describe any divorce.


It is sort of tempting to delight in the magical brutality of an ex-husband writing a song from the perspective of his ex-wife about their divorce, and then getting her to sing it. But, this temptation comes from a desire to see life as harsher and more beautiful and more coherent than it really is.


It seems more likely that Ulvaeus took the fact of his own divorce and emphasised it to produce an exquisitely beautiful pain.


The words are sometimes laughable (“Their minds as cold as ice”) and occasionally meaningful (“Building me a fence. Building me a home.”) They serve chiefly to give you a few emotional reference points. The music takes these and develops them into something far bigger and more moving. Especially the last chorus where Fältskog sings “The winner takes it all” in the ordinary way, and then sings it again, one tone higher.


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Destiny’s Child, Say My Name (Cyril Hahn remix)

Destiny’s Child, Say My Name (Cyril Hahn remix)

Destiny's%20Child%20-%20Say%20My%20Name%20(Cyril%20Hahn%20Remix).mp3


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Alex Honnold free-climbs the El Sendero Luminoso

Alex Honnold free-climbs the El Sendero Luminoso

The North Face: Alex Honnold - El Sendero Luminoso - YouTube


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Robert Henke interview

Robert Henke interview

30dez13 - Robert Henke (english subtitles) on Vimeo


“I try to be more structured in my approach. Because I want to avoid the great danger of being arbitrary. Let’s say this is pretty and this is pretty, and this and this. I’ll combine them. You can do that for one album, but if you do it for your entire career, I think the chance is relatively big that you’re producing an arbitrary output of exchangeable stuff. So I try to find a context of some sort into which I can put my own creation while I’m creating it. This context then becomes an auxiliary construction which excludes certain things.”


“With music I’m primarily interested in timbre. What does it sound like? Which overtones happen when and why? And then there is rhythm. And then nothing for a long time.”


“I remember creating a piece at some point. It was a Saturday or Friday night. I finished it at two a.m. I put it on a DAT tape, put my portable DAT recorder under my arm, went to Panasonic, said hello to Mo and Kotai, and bang! the track was playing. I never wondered if this would work at Berghain at three a.m.”


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Watching Des Ark

Watching Des Ark


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Charlie Victor Romeo

Charlie Victor Romeo


Everyone has their 3D glasses ready for Charlie Victor Romeo. I thought the mention of 3D in the trailer was a joke.


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Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies

It is trite to say that Hollywood romances are trite. One of the interesting things they tell us is how little story matters, but how important narrative is. Stories are just events and causality. Narratives are meaning. The director can make meaning from the exciting new person, the reliable ex, a character’s sacrifice of their ideals for their beloved, a character staying true to themselves. And, really, when we say “meaning”, we are talking about order. Things being as they should be.


What Hollywood can’t do is complexity. Perfection, in whatever event it is found, must be simple. Two lovers must be of one mind as they turn together into their shared, final moment. All idealised romances peak in a perfect moment and then end. That moment might be eternal, but there are definitely no new moments afterwards. If you don’t stop the story, you have to return to imperfection.


I find the complexity in indie movies. Your Sister’s Sister. Humpday . And, now, Drinking Buddies.



It’s just about a man and a woman who are friends and who kind of fancy each other. It’s about what might have been. It’s about flirting, but always maintaining deniability. It’s about physical affection that is both sexual and not meant to go anywhere.


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Le Cousin Jules

Le Cousin Jules

I saw this at Film Forum. It was gorgeous.




It’s a documentary about an old couple who live on a farm. He is a blacksmith, she tends to the animals and cooks and cleans.


There are many fascinating details. The axel above the well that has been worn away in the middle by decades of winching up buckets of water. The huge bellows for the blacksmith’s fire, the leather more patch that not. The way the fire is lit. The way the metal is heated and worked. The wine kept in a barrel in an outhouse.


The husband and wife say almost nothing, besides remarks about the good coffee or requests for errands in the town.


The film looks very beautiful. The fields. The orange of the fire. The rich grey of the stone. In a way, it is too beautiful. What is probably a life with many privations is shown as a gilded communion with nature.


Half way through the film, you realise you haven’t seen the wife for a while. Now, based upon what you know of the couple, it is unlikely she has gone for a week away with the girls, or run off with another man. There is only one possible explanation for her absence: she is dead. Nothing is said. There is no voiceover to explain. There is just the man cooking. The man sewing on a button. The man fluffing the pillows on the bed.


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Songs: Ohia, Farewell Transmission

Songs: Ohia, Farewell Transmission

songsohia-farewelltransmission.mp3


The album from which this is taken,  The Magnolia Electric Co ., has been part of the soundtrack to winter, washing-up and walks to the cinema.


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The Knife, Stay Out Here

The Knife, Stay Out Here

theknife-stayouthere.mp3


I like the way Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice changes from female-sounding to male-sounding. I like the way the second voice joins in, like one runner falling into step with another. I like the way this is, really, a commercial dance track, but queer.


The album is a little too diffuse. The latest Chromatics album wanders down a similar path, but retains its shape because, really, it goes in one direction for a while, then resolutely heads off into the wilderness. Shaking the Habitual doesn’t quite keep it together because it has a twenty-minute atmospheric in the middle and then fails to regain a direction.


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Pierrot le Fou

Pierrot le Fou

What does it mean to entangle the characters in a criminal underworld that seems phoney? What does it mean for Marianne to betray Ferdinand when her act of betrayal is both non-sequitous and inconsequential? If you can’t believe in the plot, there is no framework of causality in the film. You stagger from image to image and event to event without being moved by anything.


But what is left are fragments of meaning that, though not logical or causal, are emotionally true.


A stagey party that is emblematic of a stagey life, the characters throwing shadows like actors.




Ferdinand lying in the bath and reading a passage of art criticism to his daughter:


“Velázquez, past the age of 50, no longer painted specific objects. He drifted around things like the air, like twilight, catching unawares in the shimmering shadows the nuances of color that he transformed into the invisible core of his silent symphony. Henceforth, he captured only those mysterious interpenetrations that united shape and tone.”


You have no idea what the critic is talking about, but you know exactly what she means.


A red tie against a blue door.



A romantic drive that is at once a rich, graded old Hollywood picture, and washed through every few seconds with primary colours.



The final shot. Just the sea, with Marianne and Ferdinand reunited in the voiceover above our heads. Le Mépris, too, is about the dissolution of a relationship, and it, too, ends with a shot of the sea.



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Functional programming for the rest of us

Functional programming for the rest of us

Functional Programming For The Rest of Us


A wide-ranging article about functional programming. The code examples are a little strained, but the commentary is fascinating.


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George Orwell

George Orwell

Good prose is like a window pane.


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Index pages: home, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12