Frontier Town Update (31/10/14)

The models are almost complete, the first is for sure. Just a bit more to go on the last two which have shaped up rather well. I am very proud of my latest, allowing me to improve my making skills further.

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Concentrating on these two I have added the internal window frames and posts under the balcony of the saloon. With a finishing touch of a hanging sign which is a real first for me, not really having anything like that before. This is a new direction I might take the work in future. However these pieces are more substantial, not as throw-away as the others, They are a series on their own which makes them special so must be celebrated somehow.

27 Inches Closer Update (30/10/14)

It’s been a good few days since that I’ve touched this work, waiting for more footage, which is taking longer to find than I thought. I have a rabbit that I’m going to pull out in hopes of getting some practice in before I return to eventually work on Mrs Miniver (1942). I know I have access to Adam’s Rib (1949) which I believe has some twin bed scenes which I can use, maybe take further. This way I get to see what the possibilities really are.

Frontier Town Update (29/10/14)

The more time I spend on these models the more I am enjoying them other mode I have made within the frontier town series. This down to the predominantly balsa aesthetic that I have never had before, it’s really satisfying seeing this happen before my eyes.

Onto todays events, I spent the majority of time (as predicted) on the saloon, due to the scale of the piece. Using more material and equipment than ever. I started a roll of masking tape, which is almost finished today. It’s a big project when you think about the material involved. I changed the layout of the balsa strips to have more natural look, not being so uniform in the layout which I hope can be taken forward to future models using this aesthetic.

So with three models on the go, I turned my attention to the first one, which is probably finished in terms of detail now including windows within the frames, which really makes the piece work. Taking on more of a crafty nature now, even in the bare balsa form.

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The hotel I am working on adding detail, that will continue next time to the same level as the first model. I am also working on a hanging sign hung from a frame that will be attached next time. I may add blank signs to the models, however that maybe too much detail at this point.

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I can’t say how pleased I am with these models, the making process is far better than before. For example the decking is neater as there is not a raised platform before I add the balsa strips. I can take this idea forward when/if I return to a cardboard heavy model.

Bugsy (1991)

Bugsy (1991)Don’t mistaken Bugsy (1991) with the all singing all dancing Bugsy Malone (1976) which may have taken the title from the infamous gangster. The is however a rare chance to see the usually not seen Warren Beatty on-screen, known for being very particular in the roles he takes. Working intermittently since making it as part of the American New Wave in the 1960’s. Here we see him take on a role that I first thought would suit a younger actor, yet the more I saw of Ben (Bugsy) Siegel he gets away with it, already in his early fifties this is very much a mature gangster, usually a genre that is the exclusive of the younger man, seeing only the older men who have been playing the right cards in the business.

Taking place during the WWII period of Hollywood, yet never really touches the film industry after the idealistic gangster who is already feared by his enemies visits his friend in the business George Raft (Joe Mantegna) who has made a small success. Not the usual line of work for a member of the mob, wanting to keep a low profile. Still enjoying the lavish lifestyle that goes with being in that part of the world. All this attract Bugsy (don’t call him that or you may end up with more than a bloody nose) who throws money around to get what he wants. Money is no object, practically lined with dollar bills. Even getting the girl, he wants, a film extra Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) whose morals are questionable.

You can see why Beatty chooses his roles carefully, he puts so much effort into his performances, developing little quirks that flesh him out, from the wild temper to the tongue twister he repeats, with n particular reason. He really does his homework to create a flawed individual who as powerful and successful that he was, was also his own down fall. As we follow him from getting his own schemes off the ground. Ideas of killing the Italian leader Mussolini that were just crazy, all his friends knew he was mad, trying to control him the best they could. More so for old friend Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) who still loves the liability that Bugsy has become.

It’s his final idea that is something I knew very little about, having a last impact on American culture, the transformation of the Nevada desert into a 24/7 land where gambling and entertainment become part of the culture. All built on the dirty money that came from the mob. When you think about it’s not so mad. Part of the American dream to have it all at your finger-tips, to win big whenever. Part of the hedonistic culture we have today, began with the Flamingo Hotel that has come along way since its construction which takes up a good half of the film, an idea that seemed mad back then, but today is unthinkable, fuelled by the then newly completed Hoover dam. The men around him who fund this incredible venture see things spiral out of control, even when Bugsy is arrested briefly. The curtains are slowly closing on Bugsy’s life, a decline he was too blind to see.

Bugsy is a slick film that takes you into the darker side of Hollywood’s history, much like Chinatown (1974) and LA Confidential 1997) spending more time with the crime than the glitz and glamour. We still had the madness that goes with that world, the people who lived among it all. A semi-film noir in colour, heavily stylised, making use of the lighting wherever possible in this dirty underworld populated with powerful and very flawed people.


Frontier Town Update (28/10/14)

Another satisfying day that has seen my now maquettes grow in size to become something that I never thought would happen. Making models that were mostly balsa which in reality is how it should be. I’m wanting now to research the set designer that worked on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) to find out more about them, to understand the thinking behind the design.

Onto todays events, I now have three models in development, I don’t think I can construct and clad more than one a day due to the time involved cutting strips of balsa to length. The process is far more in-depth that just adding decoration around a cardboard frame which essentially my previous models are. Not taking away from what they do for my work in any way.

The first model is taking real shape now, it’s all wooden (bar a card frame) such as the window frames, the posts above the roof as well. I am very happy with this piece expect for the gaps that it creates.

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Whereas the second one which has just been covered in balsa is more effective in that aspect. I also switched around what process from decking first and building second to the reverse which was more effective for me, as it allows the model to flow more. I’ll see if it has worked next time I am in the studio for sure.


I finished the day by constructing the framework for the saloon which I was looking to do, to see if the process could be properly translated from one to two-ply cardboard. There was a little issue with the balcony which I think will be ok as I go forward with the model.

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Next time I will be working on the two latest models before starting any others which will probably be slightly smaller, I plan to at least expand the models I used for my video and see where I go from there.

King of Texas (2002)

King of Texas (2002)If only King of Texas (2002) was on a few months ago when I began An Unfinished Western (2014) when I translated William Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tye. I was told about this not long after I announced the work in progress, something I kept an eye open for, not sure when/if it would be available to view. What really sold me on this western take of King Lear the Shakespeare tragedy was Patrick Stewart  who is no stranger to the bard’s work, having come from a rich background playing in practically all the plays, I’ve seen him take on a modernised version of Macbeth, playing the title role. For me though he will always be Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier, two roles that came in later life. King Lear, or John Lear of Texas is a role that at first was hard to get my head around, a role that feels wholly American, even the first half hour or so. I couldn’t get passed Stewart putting on a Texan accent.

The rest of the cast however had an equally bland Texan accent which showed up the quality, of this TV-movie which relies entirely on the weight of Stewart who knew the material in its original for back to front and inside out. It was only a matter of setting really. Personally unfamiliar with the original play I was consciously working out when acts began and ended in the wild west tragedy.

Moving onto the crux of the film, not knowing the original play I had to sit back and ignore the poor accents to see an old mans world fall before his eyes. A cattle man who has built up an empire, made a family that has grown up and was going to be rewarded at the Texan independence celebration, cutting up the land to his three daughters in return for a show of their love. Something that comes easy for the elder two Susannah (Marcia Gay Harden) and Rebecca (Lauren Holly) who profess their love that bowls him over. A task that doesn’t come so easy to his youngest Claudia (Julie Cox) whose inability hurts the old man, practically running her off into the arms of his enemy Menchaca (Steven Bauer).

This show of love was nothing but a show for a man who we can see age is starting to show on the once great strong man. The two remaining daughters are traditional strong Shakespearean women who walk all over the men in their lives. In a traditionally male genre they wear the boots in this film. The older men in the film are losing their strength to the young and capable, a new generation not willing to look after their elders ride all over the strong foundations. Making a new path, that leads all the way to disaster and ultimately death.

To fully understand and enjoy this film I need to read, or see the play, having a basic understand of how it plays out. Then I can see what has been brought over and translated. There are aspects that I do grasp which allow for a partial reading. Overall for a TV-movie, something that I usually avoid King of Texas is a decent film, and telling of a classic tale, set in another dangerous world that fits perfectly into Shakespeare’s.

Frontier Town Update (27/10/14)

Making an unannounced return to my miniature film set which I am experimenting with on a dramatic level, taking my miniatures from An Unfinished Western (2014) and blowing them up. They have taking on a new purpose as moquettes for the expansion of the models to a scale I am more familiar with.

I know the basic construction method, but as with previous experience when up-scaling you have to take into account the weight etc of the object you are working on. So from single-ply to double-ply cardboard for the framework, allowing for a stronger support system for the balsa which is back to its standard size now. From a measurement perspective I thought they would be back to standard size, in reality they are two-thirds and I’m ok with that somehow. It’s a new breed of model, with its own scale which I can adapt if I want yet it works.

So far I have taken one model through to completely covering in balsa wood ready to for the next level of detail next time. Leaving another just started. I have already learnt that to get the desired effect of light seeping through the boards of balsa I need to change the designs slightly to allow for windows and doors to sit in the framework I have and still have gaps for the effect. Something which occurred in the second model.

I still hope to make some progress with 27 Inches Closer at the same time I was itching to see how these tiny models would look at a new scale. I’ll be juggling the two works for a while longer seeing how they both progress.

House of Voodoo

House of VoodooI am pleased to announce that Dancing in the West (2013) is being shown tonight at Folkestone Quarterhouse presented by Voodoo Hopscotch in Mill Bay, Folkstone, as part of House of Voodoo. If you’re in the area check it out.



Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) Revisited

A few years ago I reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) not really understanding what was really going on in this early neo-western. With my ever-growing knowledge of the genre I was hungry to re-watch this short but ever so sweet and tense western that gets to the point and scratches it like a rash until it bleeds allowing the truth to come out of the town that John J Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), the first stranger to step off a train into this tumble weed of a town that has stood still.

From the first moment that Macreedy steps off the train he is met with cold opposition from nearly everyone he meets. All he wants to do is find a Japanese man named Komoko. Is he investigating him for a crime, the strangers purpose is not fully explained until the last act, We and the town are left guess who this guy is, what does he want? We are all on tenterhooks as to what is going on.

A town led by Rene Smith (Robert Ryan) who is hot on the tail of a man who won’t b budged in his search for a man we soon learnt no longer lives out on adobe flats. Smith is a cold calculated man who has everyone under his thumb, able to incite fear in them, reminding them of four years ago, the last time that they saw Komoko who we are told was taken to a relocation centre in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. 4 years on there is still a strong hatred for the enemy who they have been fighting for four years. Mostly in the form of Smith’s resentment for not being accepted into the forces. Feeding out into the town taking the form of fear that pits the strong against the weak.

The weak don’t stay down for long, with the local doctor Velie (Walter Brennan) who has had enough of the strangle hold on this old western town that has been lost to the ravages of time. Kept alive by a few, some of the old ways never die. It seems that the silent and weak won’t take anymore. Glad to see someone shake things up for them and boy does Tracy shake things up, even a veteran with only one arm can still stand his ground in this masculine world that seems to be lost in the wake of the recent horrors abroad.

We have all the regulars of the west transported to not so distant period in modern history, with as shirt, jeans and that classic hat we are back in the west, out in the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for the truth to be hidden. Made at a time when the fear of communism was at a high, livelihoods in Hollywood on the line in the “witch hunt”. The atmosphere of fear to speak up or stay quiet was at its height. Changing the themes to fears of Japanese Americans, fearing they were once the country’s enemy.

 You can feel the tension in the classic western, with tight acting from all of the cast, a broad spectrum of character to represent the nation in a state of fear, The truth is a powerful weapon in the hands of both the weak and strong. Its how we handle it is what matters, making for a film that is on fire as we wait to see who will crack under the pressure of a stranger just wanting to do the right thing.

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Dances with Wolves (1990)

Dances with Wolves (1990)I remember very little of my first encounter with Dances with Wolves (1990) whilst in my last year at art school, catching it. It played out very differently in my head, still that’s what memory can do to you when you cram in full of films, all those images, quotes and music running through you’re mind. It was time for a rematch, one that reminded me of what I have long missed. After watching Little Big Man (1970) this falls well into place in the genre. The main theme of a white man living with a Native American tribe, for Jack Crabbe (Dustin Hoffman) it was the synonymously violent Comanches, for Lt John Dunbar/Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner) with the Sioux who are the very opposite until pushed to go to war with the Pawnee the exotic violent tribe of the film. Wolves goes into far more detail in terms of time that a white man spends being absorbed into the culture of the usual western other. The other which is seen as a savage obstacle to be overcome in the myth of conquest. We usually spend little time with Natives, earlier films such as Broken Arrow (1950) which moved back and forth between whites and the other (Apaches).

Wolves really delves into an overlooked part in it’s countries history, guided in front and behind the camera by Costner with sensitivity and grace. On screen it’s in the form of Lt John Dunbar a possible coward during the civil war, who becomes a war hero who falls for the life of the sioux on the open plains of the untouched frontier. Theres already a sense of loss in the air, the inevitable in coming, the Sioux and other nations submitting to life on reservations. If not wiped/rubbed out in the years before. Our lead character is more open than any other in the history of the west, it’s not just a sympathy for his misunderstood neighbour, it’s a real understanding that takes the first half of the film to allow him to leave his own culture and past to start a fresh life. As if he has met someone, married and moved in, cutting off his family in the process.

The idea that the Sioux are a dangerous nation is soon brushed aside with the Pawnee who are the classic enemy of the film, killing in the opening act, suggesting that they will be back for more. Their depiction is far from reality, probably a studio compromise to still have an Indian enemy only to the Sioux however. We never truly leave the stereotype, instead just touch on it when needed for conflict.

The journey is long, long enough to be swept away into a world and culture that is usually overlooked in film (as I’ve already mentioned) allowing us to make up for all of that. Costner’s Dunbar is our gateway into that culture, an open minded figure, disillusioned by his past life in the uniform of a solider who started the film on an operating table, where he could have easily have died. Comes alive on the fort where he has been posted, empty of other soldiers he keeps account of his time in a journal that acts as narration for the audience to understand his state of mind as he leaves one life in favour of another. Theres no question of becoming a “Human Being” as in Little Big Man he simply is accepted as a Sioux after a period of acceptance, breaking down the barrier of language and culture to discover understanding, something that is usually seen as another bunch of savages who won’t conform to the western way of life that is spreading across the land.

The landscape is another character in this revisionist western that looks at the open prairie as land that has all but been claimed for the white man. The buffalo we can see are slowly being wiped out, you don’t need to see a buffalo hunter riding off, the aftermath of the skinned beasts is enough to get you. Everything about this film is to make you understand their plight, not just of the Sioux but every other nation that has surrendered to white Americans who tamed the country.

There is indeed a flip side to all the great images of gunfighters, gold rushes, cattle drives and the rail-road, there had to be a price for all that. Not just on their side, we see what would have happened to Debbie Edwards (Natalie Wood) of The Searchers (1956) if she remained with her captors, not a fate worse than death, as we discover for Stands with a Fist (Mary McDonnell) a victim of a Pawnee raid that was found by the Sioux, and raised as their own. Very much the same as Jack Crabbe who too came to not just sympathise but stand with his natural enemy as one the other who he was taught to hate and kill on sight. All that fades away when you look beyond the myths and stories that are constructed to create fear in a culture on and off film that has become part of the fabric.

Dances with Wolves stands alone able to not just entertain but make us think about our pasts, not just America but other nations who have altered the future of other nations, who as primitive as they may seem were moved without consent. I know thats a generalising of far more complex issues of history. Wolves is an attempt to re-write the myth of conquest to say this too might have happened, even a white solider may have left his own culture to join another nation that lived there hundreds of years before the 1600’s. We know what will happen, its inevitable as I have said numerous times, history tells us that. If only for a few hours we see into a now lost world brought to life with respect, grace and heart for all who want peace.

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