Dallas (1950)

Dallas (1950)

I remember my lecturers advice during my foundation year when writing up what I see in exhibitions, talk about things you love and hate, because you are most passionate when it comes from the heart. A piece of advice that I have tried to stick to with all my writing. More so the film reviews these days which may inform my work that I produce. My exploration of the western genre which has been at the centre of my practice, something that without I would be lost to an extent. Understanding the genre more with each film, and each revisit to gain a better understanding of its evolution and current form today. When it comes to Dallas (1950) (years before the shoulder pads and divas) I can see a clear shift in tone going on. 1950 marking a departure from the classic genre to something far darker in tone. An A movie which sadly slips into a B movie at times, something that Randolph Scott found himself trapped in during his final decade on-screen.

That’s not to say that Dallas is a bad film, it’s not when you judge it by its merits. For one you have Gary Cooper who to be fair could do little wrong on-screen, an actor who had been around since the silent era, very much at home in the west, not really affected by this outing, in fact winning an Oscar a year later in High Noon (1951). What we have here is a film out from another decade, the 1940’s a time when the genre was indeed growing up, before becoming stuck in the clichés which we now know the classic form. It was becoming formulaic, the stranger enters into a town and leaves at the end. In the middle we have the posse, the shoot-out and the villain. All of that is still here today, just more sophisticated thanks to the likes of FordMann and Boetticher who made it darker, complex and more interesting. That’s not to dash all the classics of the previous decade.

I can see that I change was needed when you look at Dallas which tried to balance the old and the new. A western take of the country and town mouse, as an outlaw Blayde Hollister (Cooper) and U.S. Marshal Martin Weatherby (Leif Erickson) join forces in arresting a band of brothers. The psychology is not yet in place which we found with Winchester 73 (1950). It’s still a game of wits and skill, to avenge past wrong. The relationships begins as more comedic, on opposite sides of the law. One an ex-confederate, very much a man of the South, whilst Weatherby is the epitome of the North, rich, sophisticated with airs and graces. They form an unlikely relationship to allow for the arrest of the Marlow brothers lead by Will (Raymond Massey) the brains of the gang who have built up a small fortune through underhand deals, fooling the young town of Dallas who know more law an order is needed as the join the Union which is touched upon. A state that did participate in the civil war, yet was not part of the United States. I wished they touched more on this, another symptom of its simplicity, such as the inclusion of Wild Bill Hickcock (Reed Hadley), cramming of much of the west history as you possibly can. 

There are some good things besides Cooper who will always raise a film, the climatic gunfight’s use experimental lighting to hide the actors. I just wish there wasn’t a cat in there as well, softening a film. Theres no place for cats in the west, a masculine world with soft cats who just lie there, even getting Cooper to stroke it was completely out of character until he uses it to his tactical advantage. Dallas is a film out of its time that tried to do too much from comedy to revenge just not getting it right most of the time. There are entertaining sequences which remind me what is great about the genre which saves it from being forgotten.

End of Watch (2012)

End of Watch (2012)

I remember End of Watch (2012) being plugged on a chat show at the time of its release. The clip I saw really didn’t sell the film to me which is a shame really. Catching the director David Ayer‘s next film Fury (2014) which had a far better impact. Even with just that connection I am preferring this film over the WWII bullet-fest which slammed Brad Pitt at the centre of the film.

That’s not to say End of Watch is perfect it does have it’s flaws. The documentary style which began with the prologue with Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) who states who he is, a police officer who is proud to do his job, a protector and enforcer of the law. Also stating he is just as fragile as those he comes into contact with. Equally as flawed as those he arrests with his partner Mike Zavala (Michael Peña). Talking over CCTV footage from their squad car as they chase and arrest a few more criminals. This was and is what makes this film so unique, when you hold it up to The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) with more traditional cinematography, which has a police officer you can see how much more real End of Watch which is hand-held. We can easily suspend disbelief to see clear that these actors are real people out in south Los Angeles. Helped in part by the number one cut that Gyllenhaal is wearing. He is no longer the pretty boy, he’s not a cop on his beat with his hispanic partner. Where the style can lose its way is when we cut from the hand-held to more traditional methods. We brought away from their intimate world of the on the bigger team they are a part of, which becomes more and more regular. Yes at times its necessary to see whats going on, not sure I’d want to wear a small camera at a wedding either.

At the heart of this we have a team that time and again are honoured for their bravery, but don’t really let it go to their heads. They are just two guys who are best friends, brothers who have seen their share of stuff on the streets who over the course of the film find themselves in some horrible houses, coming ever closer to a drugs cartel. It’s all messed up and they just keep coming across, guns, bodies and money. A patch with warfare between african Americans and Hispanics is being played out. The streets are far from safe, where we find a car full of gun-heavy men and women foaming at the mouth about this cops who are making life hard for them. 

Away from this we see the wider world of the LAPD, a squad of men and women who are great big family really. Having their highs and some gruesome lows which we are shown at times. A cops life is not an easy one. Something that Ayer doesn’t shy away from, violence is out there and we are shown it all. This is where we also pull back from a documentary style which grow used to. The conversations between the two men in the car really make this film. As real as those we find in reality shows, they are normal people just doing their job, which happens to be one where they put their life on the line, day after day.

End of Watch is competing with reality programs, thats the bottom line, we are seeing a bunch of practically unknown actors in a normal LA which we have seen glamourised by Hollywood. Looking back at Pines which is more about the knock on effect of our actions it’s not really fair to compare the two film. We see a police world as one that is vulnerable, a group of people who want to protect, they are no less human as the rest of us. What defines this is the relationship between the two men over the course of the film in a style we have grown used to on television. Cinema is still competing with the ever-increasing sophistication of TV which is producing work to a similar standard as the older medium of film. Here we have a blend of the two.


Frontier Town Update (14/12/14)

Its been a day of painting, which started off by adding a wash of colour to the remaining models, which will stop any light bouncing off the models. I initially wanted to leave it as a wash which didn’t last as the faded look wasn’t really what I was looking for. So another coat was also started on the models, which again wasn’t enough, I need more detail before I can leave them alone. I think I had the same process before with the smaller models (now maquettes). I’m not sure the level of varying tones will be applied here. So next time I get the paints out I will be adding a darker tone to the frames. Then I can get out the egg-box packaging soon after. It will be a return to the make-shift and fun aesthetic which has been absent recently.

Frontier Town Update (13/12/14)

I’m taking advantage of probably the last weekend before christmas really hits and festivities begin. I went into the studio today to collect some paints and packaging which I will explain later.

So with my paint in hand and the first three models I returned home to carry out a few corrections to bring them in line with the majority of the models I have made more recently. A bit of stripping back was carried out to the hotel, realigning the roof of the sheltered walkway. After completing the train station walkway I knew that this had to be changed. It was something I was prepared to do to make things look right. Otherwise it would annoy me constantly.


I also reduced the size of the balcony of the saloon, I had to get it more to scale of these new models, and not the cardboard heavy pieces which are at least a third bigger. This was the more minor of the alterations I had to make, cutting a few more pieces to fit in place to patch it up.

DSCF4962In the days between my last update I have been trying to fix in place two more hanging signs which has proved difficult. I’m hoping this attempt is more successful, leaving them on the side in hopes that gravity will play a role in this. Also the train station is complete after adding the last few planks to the

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With a few paints at my side I got out the good old reliable burnt umber to prime the pieces that weren’t covered in masking tape I got to a least priming the remaining untouched pieces. I decided to go for a thicker consistency this time as having a mix of colours at this scale might not work. I’ll have to see how things are in the morning.

I apologise for the quality of the images, I’m photographing in very bright artificial light. However this is only due to the tome of day more than anything.

Onto tomorrows idea, I remember during my last break before going back to set up my degree show I made an accidental piece Wagon Trail (2012) which was made on my living room floor, relying on a suspension of disbelief. I hope to try that out again with the town surrounded by egg-box packaging. Not literally egg boxes, more the packaging that we find with electronics made of the same material. I can’t wait to see what the outcome of this experiment will be. It could be another piece of work which can be developed into another early next year.

Frontier Town Update (9/12/14)

I’ve not really done that much, what has been done has made my day really. It’s all changing my mind as to the direction of future models I make. I mentioned this when I first started these models a few months back. It’s seeing this train station come alive. I know there is more of a permanence about this pieces. I would find it harder to strike them down like sets. This is still going to be a model set when I film it in the studio. It was designed that way, the gaps in between are designed to let the light seep through.

Again it’s all about finishing touches, making them look different, not uniform as I previously thought. They are uniform in their design alone, from there they must be different. So onto todays events, I have hopefully fixed the train-station walkway in place now and started to clad the roof, that is the reason for my change of heart. I have raised the bar for what I can do. The cardboard frame should and can be a lattice frame now. I think the scale of these pieces allow for more permanent sets to be built which will see the eventual demise of the larger pieces in favour of these smaller superior pieces. It’s a big decision.

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I also added a sign to one of the simpler fronts, which I am still in two minds about, as it works then makes the front pointless, isn’t that where signs were painted? I think there’s no definitive answer to that one. Finishing the day with two identical hanging signs for the other two buildings, I may make some for the livery stable and black smiths, thats a decision for another day.

The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)

The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)I knew The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958) wasn’t exactly John Wayne‘s personal best film, struggling to find the character, his motivations as the first General Consul aka American ambassador for Japan. Not really getting along with the director John Huston who knew what he wanted, seeming to get what he wanted out of the actor who to be honest looked like a fish out of water most of the time. In a country that just didn’t suit him visually, I think the open landscape of the west would never really let him go. From the first time we see Townsend Harris arrive in full Eastern American dress complete with top-hat, making the Duke reach nearly 7ft. Already towering over most of the Japanese population as he tried to validate his claim to be the General Consul from America to Japan. It’s an uphill battle really against the native people who want to be left alone, having a isolationist position towards the rest of the world. We know that didn’t last long, looking at more recent history.

It’s true that the Duke does look out of place, even feel out of place, his popularity in a bit of a lil before heading back to what he knows best with director Howard Hawks in Rio Bravo (1959) which propelled and secured his future position in film history. I’m not writing off his performance here it just wasn’t his best. He was in a culture that most western audiences hand;t seen if we ignore Akira Kurosawa‘s films that were coming out of the country. Japan was depicted more as a stereotype, not a beautiful country steeped on tradition and honour. Thats something which Huston brings through in technicolor splendour. Helped in a large part to Eiko Ando as the Geisha Okichi opposite the American barbarian and his translator whose mission was to engage and meeting the Shogun in hope his country would join the community of nation, a for-runner of the United Nations.

This is no means another take on an earlier film with the duke Blood Alley (1955) which fell into cliche and melodrama, putting to strong people opposite each other and having no chemistry. The lack of romance between Townsend and Okichi probably works in the films favour. Based on more a mutual respect for one another. Okichi having her own motives before falling for the barbarian who is more gentlemanly that usually. The dynamic is completely different, the aims of the film too. The love is nor really touched upon until the end really.

Told from the geisha’s point of view we also have a rare female perspective on these events (historically true or not) we are supposed to see the Duke from a female viewpoint which is hard to do being male, seeing him more as a role model of masculinity (not that I take all he does seriously). Ando’s narration is dropped in here and there to move the film along, even with her original intent made clear, this soon blurs after the cholera out-break which changes public opinion of the lone foreigners.

On the whole it’s a decent film, we see the Duke really out of his comfort zone, surrounded by people who are at least a foot smaller than him. Not that this was Huston’s intention it was one of a stranger in a foreign land which does work. We are made aware of that in some interesting visuals which allows the far older culture to come through. I just wish they had subtitles, however that would make the translators job pointless in some scenes. So I’m glad I have seen this gem of a film that is am interesting side step away from the usual fare which Wayne is most at home in and has cemented his position in culture and film. He did make a few duds in his time, but what actor doesn’t it?

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Frontier Town Update (7/6/12)

My first of a few weekends off, I’m taking advantage of that time to get some work done before I really have to adapt to my work pattern. I’ve not really done a lot today, theres not a lot to do now really. Its what I’ve done really that matters.

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Focusing on the remaining four pieces that need work before developing before they are all considered for adding more detail. This started with adding the internal window frames of the remaining models.

All this before I made a start on adding a sheltered walkway for the train-station. I was originally going for the whole length. Settling for stopping before the doorway so it’s broken up and different, not uniform is what I am after. I might add a station sign near the door-way to complete the piece after I have the framework fixed and covered in planks to cover the extended roof.

Then it’s onto detail, well signage really which will see me through next week and into next weekend. I am enjoying this pace in someways, starting a new job and still grabbing time to get some work done. For now I am getting the best of both worlds.

Frontier Town Update (6/12/14)

As you know I’ve moved my work back home as I’ve entered a new phase in life – full time work which so far is going well. I’m getting good feedback in my new job. Also it’s getting too cold to work in the studio so i’ve brought some work home to keep me busy. As promised I have delivered (below) photographs of the work. You can see how it has progressed from the bare frames to nearly finished articles which need to be completed.

The more basic of the six pieces needed some structural work to the back to help straighten the models to be more up-right. Using stronger wood – lollipop sticks which to a extent has worked. They are straighter, not straight. I’m happy to leaver the bigger one as I can’t see how else I can improve upon it. Whilst the smaller one I can see ways around that, adding more to reinforce more of the structure. I think that will be as far as they go.

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I decided that the livery stable and black-smith should be left without the border-rim (framing) as it was too ornate for them. I want more of a rustic aesthetic with these models with only the door-frames is enough. I have finished them off with the blank doors completing these two pieces.

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Moving onto the other pieces, the jail and the train-station I have work to do to the jail, adding the internal window frames. Whilst the train-station will be where I devote most of my time now. I’m considering adding a sheltered walkway on the front that will be constructed from balsa, no cardboard frame is needed for this part.

I think I’ll have to collect the other three to see how they all compare together, see how I can uniform them so they are part of the same town. I’m not sure about adding a weatherboard at the top of them all, however it does tie them all in together. Also creating a sign on-top of some of them, even adding hanging signs. They are far from really complete until they are painted. Then I will be looking to photograph/film them in black and white with heavy atmospheric lighting next year.

I also have another idea floating around which I may also be making a start on before the year draws. This will only be a sourcing and research side before any real work begins. All I can say is that the iron horse will be playing a major role in whatever I produce from this idea.

Ace in the Hole (1951)

Ace in thr Hole (1951)I knew Ace in the Hole (1951) wasn’t Billy Wilder’s finest film and for reasons I will go into as I discuss the film. Coming off the back of the very successful Sunset Boulevard (1950) which is considered a classic was a highly charged film-noir which really sizzled in the writing and acting. A satire of the Hollywood system how it creates stars, only to dump them when their popularity wanes. You can’t help but see Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in her deluded state descended preparing for her close-up as her mental state peaks. Taking has-been screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) down with her in a honey trap that promised great things for him. Anyway enough about getting ready for close-up and more about getting back to New York for down and out writer Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) who won’t accept that he’s failed as a journalist, big ideas of big stories, made up to sell papers has again and again back-fired on him. None of the big papers want to know him. He tries his luck in a paper in Albuquerque, ran be an editor who wants to up-hold the truth, reporting the small stories in life. Gives this once big player a job after being promised great things. Surrounded by small town people who are happy with they’re lot.

On the face of it we have another Joe Gillis here in the world of journalism, wanting to make his way back up to the top. Even with Douglas in the role, giving one of his best performances as a man driven by desire to succeed, falls into a nasty trap of being too cynical for the audience to really swallow and enjoy. After spending a year at the paper he was expecting to be back on top. Not staring opposite a cross-stitch of  “Tell the truth” a pillar of good respectable journalism, which drives him to distraction. His news is about sensation, increases circulation and the big scoops which make him successful.

When he’s sent out of a routine story which has become the norm for him. With an eager young colleague in tow they come across a petrol (gas) station where the owner has been trapped inside a n Native American cave, buried under the rubbles from rotten supports. This is too good to pass up, jumping on this now “human” story, making it his own, an exclusive scoop. When all those around him want to get him out fast. Even the poor guy Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) wants to get out. Everyone outside is slowly wrapped around his finger as he orchestrates a media sensation, drawing thousands of people to this once quiet spot in New Mexico. The idea of getting him out quick is soon dashed with the sherif bribed with hopes of re-election in sight.

All this for one man to get back to the city, to deliver the stories he was meant to write. A man trapped by circumstance and his ego that leads to his destruction. A role made for Douglas who personally is a vain man who never really plays a good or a bad-guy, you never know what you’re getting when he’s on-screen. Which works here more than I have seen before. The subject matter so soon after Wilder’s earlier film of a writer not a winning formula every time, as he shows us the outsiders view of America. This is too much even today we have just had the Leveson enquiry wrap up this year in the UK that was in response to phone-hacking, journalists in the city never seem to learn. Any and all efforts go into getting a story.

Tatum is a personification of that need for a story that could have lasted a few days, stretched out into this circus he created. A modern day attraction for the average person to flock and stare at. It’s sickening today to have cars slowing down past car-accidents on the motorway for a picture or for a video. Our need to escape the everyday has not changed, it’s grown stronger for some to see what we have in the media. To see this first hand is too good to pass-up. If only this was made with more heart and humour, not the focusing solely on the writer. The Minosa family is in there somewhere but not delved into enough. There are also hints of being a western however slim they maybe too, with the New Mexico setting and the Native American imagery. There is a complete disregard for the sacredness of the land, treated as an attraction for tourists, a people now little more than a figment in the countries history. It’s not really touched on, yet you can see it in the imagery of the head-dresses worn by children, iconography that has become mass-produced souvenirs.

I’m glad to say that Wilder was back on form when it came around to the P.O.W. caper Stalag 17 (1953). Maybe the gap in production gave Wilder time to reflect and rediscover his strengths which kept him going through the decade. Ace in the Hole is by no means his worst film, I have yet to see that for myself. I won’t even guess which one that maybe, only after viewing it will I know. This was more a stumble from a great height to produce a poor copy of a better film. What makes it watchable is Douglas’s performance, one of sheer passion a man neither black or white and definitely a personification of the big city journalist.

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Promised Land (2012)

Promised Land (2012)It’s been over a week since I’ve sat down and felt like talking about a film. Additionally I have been waiting a while to catch Promised Land (2012) after catching the trailer over a year ago, hoping it would be shown at the local cinema. That chance didn’t arrive. The premise of the film, going from the trailer was interesting, a small farming town is targeted by a big gas corporation in the hopes of buying up the land to begin the controversial tracking which has come to prominence in recent years. Of course the process has been going in for longer that we all knew about it. There are plans to start drilling for natural gas in the UK too. Naturally wherever there is fracking proposed there is opposition, the side effects of the process which can have side-effects. No-one but the scientists really know what the long-term effects are of this new process. A process that could potentially ensure our energy future, the of our reliance on fossil fuels which has caused global-warming. There is a lot to discuss.

That’s before we get to the human cost of such a move into a community. This is where Promised Land comes in when two salesmen are given the job to sell the idea of selling the drilling rights to a gas company before another one gets in there. Should be straight forward for sales professional Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and his colleague Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand). It should be just another job. Selling the idea of a better future to this farming community hit by the financial crisis. On paper it sounds like a good idea. 

That’s until opposition turns up in the form of old grouch Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) except he’s not a grouch, loaded with knowledge about the tracking process which scares people at the town meeting which would otherwise would have gone well. Throw into the mix the good old environmentalist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) who comes armed with evidence of nothing but death for another farm. I mean how can you argue with that? Dead cows in a field to farmers who know only livestock and crops, to see that would be enough for any farmer to turn away a salesmen whose only interested in the money. 

This all goes back and forth for a while with a pointless love interest Alice (Rosemarie DeWitt) that feels tacked on to give Butler more of a human side, away from the desire to make this communities lives better. Coming from a farming background himself, I can’t understand why he’s even in the job after seeing the same thing happen to him. It just doesn’t add up to me. Whilst his partner Sue sees this all as another job that has to be done.

And then comes the twist at the end, concerning the environmentalist, it’s all one big campaign really to persuade the town how to vote. I lost my faith in the film here. Why couldn’t we let the community decide for themselves. What we got was corporate manipulation on a mass scale, just what do we believe. It’s all too contrived for me, causing complete loss of faith in the film, I just stopped caring about the salesmen, and even the people really as it just didn’t matter what happened.

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