I am pleased to announce that I am returning to New Mills to exhibit my work, as part of the New Mills Festival Art’s Trail 13-29th September. Look out for more updates!
I am pleased to announce that part 6 of my animation Playing with Plastic (2016) will be exhibited online as part of a new archive UN[dis]CRIMINATE with the Unstitute online gallery.
Located in courtyards of the Unstitute – in between spaces, between other structures, temporary or otherwise – is a network of diverse encampments serving any number of uses; political or otherwise. In these digital encampments you can see the building of a new archive: UN[dis]CRIMINATE.
The outlying buildings of The Unstitute are not guarded by anyone in particular, and often entrances sit wide open for anyone to see. But mainly the nomadic eruptions in disused or otherwise vague areas of The Unstitute appear of their own determination, and deterritorialize as long as they please.
There are very few pro Native American films and when they are you really have to check who the filmmakers agenda’s. Are they trying project progressive position that respects these native nations. For the best part of a century their cinematic depiction has been bordering on poor to racist at times. Rarely do we get to see a fully fleshed portrait of any of those Nations. It seems they will always be portrayed as the victims in need of help from the white man. That happens to a degree in Neither Wolf Nor Dog (2016) however you have to go beyond that initial position. Based on the premise for author Kent Nerburn who wrote the book of the same name published in 1994. Who has stayed on to write the screenplay we have maintained and honest look at the making of the film. It doesn’t sugar coat or deal with cliche’s that we associate with Native Americans.
I came to this film having read a few books already from their perspective. A few of those have been based on recommendations from authors and even Natives themselves to broaden my understanding of their position today. After reading I can understand how they resist “Getting with the programme” position, it ignores a whole history, upheaval and near eradication of a whole race. There was never a political policy of genocide, i my reading it was a combination of racism, poor military control and a deep seated hatred nationally towards the aboriginal culture of North America. It’s these actions that have left an understandably bad taste in those nations now cooped up on the worst or remains of the open land that they now call home. The reservations which are now home to 2% of the American population that, living on 1.3% of that land. I could go on saying how screwed over they are but I’d be preaching to the converted.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog (2016) has one position – to retell the origins and the writing of Nerburn’s book, giving Dan (Dave Bald Eagle) and other Lakota Sioux living on Lone Pine Reservation, California. If anything there’s a shifting of positions going on and an awakening to understand the other. Nerburn known for an earlier work that came out of an open collaboration on another reservation, Dan requests that the author come and visit his home in the hopes of writing his peoples history. Much like John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks. Ironically for the Native History to reach a wide audience it takes a white man to pen the memoir. But it’s more than that, it’s a history of a people that is finally being put on the record. If History is thought to be written by the victors, what happens to the losers, who records events from their perspective?
At first Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney) is apprehensive to take on such a task, at this point he’s not made a career as a writer. How can he record the history of a culture without fully understanding them. He enters a state of writers block before coming back with a trite introduction that uses all the possible cliches in the book. He misses the point completely offending those who he’s trying to represent. What follows is a really hard journey lead by Dan’s nephew Grover (Richard Ray Whitman) who pushes him to his limits of mental strength to understand the culture and those around him. For the audience – mostly white and British in my screen, we were on the same journey of discovery. Just what are we supposed to see in order to understand and properly engage with Native Americans.
It takes a long road trip through what remains of Lakota country for Nerburn to him to start reaching his enlightened state to write his book. Spending time immersed with Dan’s family. Not just the standard tribal traditions that films have depicted countless times before. Instead showing him the reality of life on the Res. I knew of the alcoholism and wide-spread poverty that is synonymous with the Reservations of the U.S. The author is not a passing tourist or a missionary trying to help them. If he wants to write about them he really has to be coming from their perspective.
Neither Wolf Nor Dog finely balances black comedy with the heavy hand of history hanging on the other side. There’s no running from the facts, the battles and mistreatments of their ancestors. They are dealt with sensitively and more importantly from Native perspective, which really matters here. Without lecturing the audience, who were probably aware of at least some of this awful history. Putting a human face on it makes one hell of a difference.
The budget has been spent primarily on the script that holds this cheap film together. Sweeney delivers a decent performance as the frustrated writer. It’s the Natives that really are the heart and soul of the film. Without a feather or dance in sight, both Whitman and especially Dave Bald Eagle who brings with him a charming sense of comedic timing, the wise old elder that finely balances the comic and more tragic moments. He’s one of the last links to a history that if not recorded will be lost forever. If anything I now want to read the book that inspired the film to see how this journey translated from word of mouth, the traditional the preferred method of carrying on their history. Now that history can be shared with a wider more ignorant audience willing to learn of an often overlooked people.
The last week has been busy prepping work for a few workshops and the New Mills install coming up so time for studio focused work has been minimal. Today I’ve grabbed some hours to make a start on painting a few of the larger scale/1:32 scale ruins. The first stage as usual is to prime the pieces.
I have around 20 ruins to paint, so I’m working in batches to focus on them. This allows me to have enough workspace and break up the monotony of this process. So far I’ve nearly primed those I’ve brought down to work on. I’ll continue these at a later date as I’m about to enter a busy week.
I’ve currently decided to not paint the remaining building, instead I’m thinking about drawing on the features. However I may block paint them in various colours and draw detail on on a contrasting colour, which would match up with the painted alien pieces. Maybe I’m being lazy to leave them lacking detail. I want to show they are part of the same world as my previous animation. Yet I feel I have progressed so I should reflect that in the making to complete them. For now It’s a few rounds of prime and paint in dual tones for burned out ruins.
I’m probably committing some crime against Westerns and even the Duke himself. Ever-since I’ve read the Charle Portis source material – I’ve felt that the Coen Brothers remake was actually a better film. At least in terms of being true to the book. However much you have the Dude – Jeff Bridges riding high with his eye-patch. Yet there’s something in John Wayne’s performance that stands the test of time. Ok he may have won the Oscar based on years of being unnoticed by his peers. There’s a magical quality in his turn as Rooster Cogburn that Bridges couldn’t recapture. However I feel it’s time reassess those thoughts as I revisit both films to see if I’ve changed my mind or am I committing a crime of some sort.
John Wayne’s ride to Oscar glory apparently started during the filming of True Grit (1969),something that director Henry Hathaway notice on set. This time the duke wasn’t working for his own production company – Batjak, instead on someone else’s time, maybe this led to a better than usual performance for a a director he’s worked with throughout his career. There’s also a lifetime of experience that the Duke brings to the role of the Marshall Rooster Cogburn from Fort Smith. He’s a curmudgeonly older man who knows what he likes and takes a lot to persuade him otherwise. Charles Portis’s text was a perfect fit, easy to both read and deliver on-screen. A grandfatherly figure who you wouldn’t want to mess with.
I noticed on this viewing that this was more than just a standard Western. OK you have a Glen Campbell as Texas Ranger La Boeuf trying out an acting careering, doing an admirable job opposite a heavy-weight of Wayne however with the help of the text they create a buddy movie of sorts, not quite a road trip with strong elements of comedy through out. For a one time actor Campbell delivers a cheeky yet confident performance opposite a veteran of the screen. He doesn’t look intimidated at all. Instead enjoys the chance to try something new. It doesn’t hurt that he also delivers the theme song for the film.
Another comedic role goes to one of my old favourites – Strother Martin even in his few scenes as horse salesman Col. G. Stonehill, who during this period is enjoying great success in film. Holding his tongue opposite the difficult Kim Darby (Mattie Ross) who tries not only her luck but also the patience of those around her. They have some great scenes that attempt to get the best of him. They help in forming how strong willed the young woman Mattie is, unafraid of what she has to do to get things done. A confidence beyond her years that has the potential to get her in trouble. I admire the character for holding her own, having the agency to go after justice herself instead of just leaving it to a man to do for her. However a little maturity would help her in how she communicates with people in the town. At first timid, she grows in confidence to the point that she can point and shoot the gun of her late father who she’s avenging. It’s known that Wayne didn’t get on with Darby and it’s visible on-screen, which here works to the scripts advantage. Creating a tension between the two leads.
The first half of the film is set in Fort Smith, with a short prologue that sets-up the who Mattie is and a glimpse of her father. Coming to this film having read the book (as I mentioned earlier) added another layer, staying true to the original text in both versions. Using olde English adds more authenticity the film, pushing the actors to work with different dialogue. It’s richer for it.
Tonally the film is probably far lighter compared to contemporary Westerns which would go far darker with villainous characters like Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) and Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall). We’re mostly surrounded by lush green valleys and mountains, something that Hathaway is known for. The more I watch the film the more I feel at home with the film as it gently plays out over the course of two hours. With touches of violence that could be darker as Mattie enters into the adult world of criminals who roam the open country. A path she’s chosen when two men with experience could easily save her from the danger that awaits her.
It’s hard to forget how iconic the role of Cogburn was for Wayne who commented on accepting his only Oscar, “If I’d have known that I’d have put that patch on 35 years earlier” could that be a joke a jibe at the academy. An actor who had grown ever since he broke out with Stagecoach (1939) all the way through to 1970. We have “Fill your hands you son of a b****” that will forever be associated with him. The role is his and no one can take that away from him. He did so well he came back to reprise it in 1975 opposite Katharine Hepburn, which holds up pretty well too, both very different people who had the greatest respect for each other.
It seems I still hold this film in great esteem, it maybe light in tone, with an actress who has the ability to rile everybody. Yet that’s part of the magic of the film, she’s the wise beyond her years but in-experience holds her back at times. Something that the Coen Brothers address in the 2010 remake. How will I feel about that now.
It’s been a little over four weeks since I saw the original, I caught the remake last night. I must first correct myself, even working from memory of Portis’s book it feels like it wasn’t so faithful in terms of original text. However that doesn’t mean tonally it wasn’t the same, if not more authentic of the period. Westerns have grown up in terms of set dressing and costume, more inspired by the period than of contemporary designs. True Grit (2010) is a solid Western on its own terms, even before you look at how it compares to The Dukes version that rode him to Oscar glory. No such luck for Jeff Bridges in the same role, who was nominated but lost out to Colin Firth’s King George VI who didn’t need to wear and eye-patch in the role. It also wouldn’t help that Bridges had already won for Crazy Heart (2009) the previous year.
Awards aside I need to see the film on it’s own terms, than just a remake. Even though The Coen Brothers had already tried to update The Lady Killers (2004),a British classic to become a silly overly sly film that just lacked the charm of the Ealing comedy. There a few flourishes of Coen-esque comedy and darkness that sneak they’re way through into the film, which I really enjoyed, an extra layer of dark humour to the proceedings. Something they carried through to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018).
Structurally the film is told in retrospect from an older Mattie Ross (Elizabeth Marvel) where the strong-willed nature of the character feels more suited. Hailee Steinfeld is a worthy and more welcome actress to the role, bringing both maturity with the right balance if being a child that is overwhelmed at times by the situations she puts herself in. The opening narration does away with the establishing scene in Hathaway’s version that sets up who Mattie is and her relationship to Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who we meet in the second half of the film, allowing us to paint our own image also wanted in Texas. The relationship between Rooster and Ross is the real focus here, at the expense of LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) whose written out for an act whilst the Marshall and young employer get to know each other. It feels like a waste of Matt Damon whose character is relegated to swoop in and save the day.
There’s been a conscious effort to try not to repeat Hathaway’s Grit, however there are scenes which you just can’t run away from how they are almost shot for shot. But for the most part it’s very much an original Western that uses the text more than just being seen as a remake. They haven’t so much expanded on it as James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma (2007) expanded. Here we have a clever reworking of scenes even adding new ones for comic effect that built up who Cogburn was. Dialogue has been altered to sound more pleasing on the ear and loose the repetition. It’s more of a stretch for Bridges working with the Coen’s for the second time, he has to deal with both Portis’s text and the expansion of the brothers. And more importantly making the role work for him away from the tall shadow of John Wayne. It’s very much on my mind for the first few scenes before I settle in and see him as the Rooster Cogburn.
Now the question is, which film is better, the Duke’s or the Dudes? Honestly they both have their strengths, one has reached iconic status with a rich history behind. It’s regularly heralded by his fans as a classic. It’s highly enjoyable and just needs you to sit back and enjoy, you know what you’re getting with John Wayne, who rarely failed. Whereas with the Dude you are entering the world of the Coens with a unique and cine-literate language, which to work you need to understand Joel and Ethan’s work to really enjoy it. They didn’t just remake they re-molded the text to suit their needs, to work for them, dropping in some nice little changes. I did miss the interaction between Rooster and LaBoeuf that added to the charm. However we still had the main plot points with extra darkness if the world that they lived in. Whereas Hathaway’s was far cleaner and rose tinted – a product of its time. So which is better? Neither really, they both responded to the text in different ways. The originals more truthful to the text, carried by film history to a status that supposedly leaves it untouchable. Where the modern version does something different that I equally enjoy. It’s a stalemate from me and I can’t see anyway that I’m going to break that soon. As much as I have a soft-spot for The Duke I enjoy the Coen’s vision and the world they inhabit.
I’m nearing the end of a busy week, sorting things out moving forward, trying to make things happen for a more creative career. In the midst of all that I’ve been able to squeeze sometime in the studio to complete two of my spaceships for the upcoming New Mills Festival. I’ve already been up to measure the window space this week, where I met the shop-owner who gave me some more ideas of how to present my work. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens during the install.
Even though I have 6 spaceships I want to bring two with me to the Festival to create a scene. I’ve been working from a sketch I made a few weeks ago that I made during a workshop I volunteer at. Since then the design of the ship has changed since then. It changed during the painting process too. I’m happy with the end result. My first completed spaceships.
I might not keep this design for the final animation but it’s a working idea which I can use moving forward and can replicate 4 more times. With these I added some battle damage or wear and tear, some watered down black paint that was wiped/smudged into the pristine paint. I didn’t want them to be polished, becoming more damaged, no stranger to battle. Looking at these two more of that process needs to be added. I’m really happy with these pieces. Now I’m wondering what shall I paint next.
I’m really enjoying just painting right now. It’s pure joy in the studio as I just mixed up more colours and just get on with applying it to the models I’ve been constructing over the past year or so.
Today I’ve completed the 1:72 scale ruined town, ready for installation early next month. Looking at them they have become different objects now from the bare cardboard and balsa that I had less than a week ago.
Turning then to two of the spaceships, as I would like to suspend them above the town. At this stage it’s in case I can, so having them ready is important to have them ready to install. So far I’ve added the initial coats of paint to the main body and engines. I’m using silver paint which is probably slowing things down, a different quality of paint due to the metallic element. The weather again has been on my side to dry everything.
I’ve got a busy week but I should be returning soon to complete them. Working from a sketch I did a few weeks ago I’ve started to add colour. I should move fast once the final coats are added next time.
I’m making up for last night here in todays studio update. As I focus on getting these pieces ready for exhibition. I stayed until 8pm last night, not so late tonight though as I think I made enough progress to leave earlier.
Yesterday began by adding the first coat of paint to all of the ruins, which I primed previously. I think with the heat worked to my advantage as I worked through them all. Staying longer still to make use of paint I’d mixed up, noticing and remembering how much faster the second coat goes on and how it creates a block colour. I left having 4 out of the set complete (in terms of cardboard being covered). Giving me less to return to on my return.
On my return, even earlier in the day I made a start on the remaining pieces, doing about 4 an hours, so I did fairly well. After lunch I only had a few more to do allowing me to then move onto concentrate on the balsa wood elements with a different tone of black so it stands apart from the cardboard. So far I’ve done 5, with around 10 more to do. I’ll then concentrating on another possible element to bring into the piece I’ll be exhibiting.
It feels good to have the paint out, the last time was well over a year ago and that was purely white. Here I gone the opposite – black. Some pieces don’t need any attention with paint, whilst others definitely do. It’s going to take sometime to work through everything I’ve got waiting, including a larger scale version of all of these. I must be made.
I’ve only able to get into the studio today, as tomorrow I’m spending the day with family. However I’ve made progress and even got the paint out too.
I began by completing the platform for the fuelling station/platform for another spaceship to use. It was a pretty quick job really.
Allowing me to then move onto the painting. Currently I’ve deiced to work on potential pieces to be exhibited in New Mills, so I’ve got to consider what can fit in this years window space. I’ve begun by working on the complicated miniature ruins. I know these will be hard at times to paint but they should be worth it. One of the pieces (with the low angle roof) which I had trouble with before is back in a two part state, this will allow for better paint coverage and finish for the piece.
Before leaving I also completed the Ranch gate, which now has a larger base so it stands up under its own weight. I wish it could stand free on any supports but at least it’s pure cardboard and balsa doing the job.
Next time it will be full steam ahead with the painting and some more priming of another possible piece to install. Once these are complete I might be able to carry on with the remaining pieces on my making list. I’m thinking I should have finished the remaining pieces by early to mid September. Then the painting gets underway soon after. My hopes of animation tests might now happen in the winter now, after all my thoughts of testing around this time of year. I also need to purchase new equipment to progress, which will then take time to get used to in the studio. Until then I’m enjoying the break from making to paint for a few weeks.
If Quentin Tarantino decided to never make another film I think both his audience and even the director himself would be quite satisfied with the final film – his supposed 9th (if you ignore Kill-Bill being released in two parts). His latest Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) is a true love letter to the old Hollywood he was too young to really appreciate, only 7 years old by the time the 60’s drew to a close. Although knowing his memory he was probably enjoying every minute as a you Quentin. His past two films have been showing his love for the Western (Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight (2012 & 2015)) but he wouldn’t consider himself a director of Westerns with two in his back catalogue. He’s dipped his toes wherever he’s pleased to varying degree’s from gangster to pure pop culture to Blaxploitation. For the hell of it he might be turning his hand to his long gestating Stat Trek project, now that I would definitely like to see.
I must admit I was skeptical at first about a film set around the events of the tragic Manson murders that drew a sad close the an era of free love in the late 60’s. Itself a tumultuous decade of cultural and political change for the Western world. would Tarantino just be adding his own contribution to the dark recesses of those murders that shook a generation. Even with the inclusion of Sharon Tate the most famous victim of this barbaric killing spree. It could have been just incredibly tasteless all in the name of entertainment. Of course you need to give it the benefit of the doubt, which I thankfully did the other night. I came away after seeing a mature film by a director who is sharing his passion at a molecular level of detail.
Again there’s a lot to unpack over the course of nearly 3 hours that literally flew by for myself. I was just lost to the leisurely pace of the films proceedings. From the first moments we saw Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) hanging out after working on another TV set heading out for a few drinks. You felt that they really knew each other, a solid friendship, built on years of trust. One a fading actor (Dalton) and his prop and stuntman (Booth) who will do anything for him as we discover. Whilst new up and coming talent Tate (Margot Robbie) is just starting out in the world of film, newly married to director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) living next door to Dalton who has been lowered to weekly guest-spots as the heavy on TV shows, hoping that the pilots he’s shot will be picked up in the new season. We are soaking up the summer of 69 from the opening titles, riding along the roads of a sun drenched Hollywood. I was in heaven like everyone else in the screening.
There’s 3 main strands to the film that we follow back and forth, in what leads up to the fateful night of the murders. Dalton a fictional actor struggling to stay relevant in an era when his best years are over. An alcoholic that tries his best to stay relevant and in work. Followed by his loyal friend Booth who would probably walk on hot coals for him (even it wasn’t a stunt). Whilst Tate a newly discovered talent is riding high on the continuing success she’s having in Hollywood, even popping into see one of her own films (The Wrecking Crew (1968)), did she really do this though, I think Quentin is already indulging in the possibilities, mixing in fact with a heavy dose of idealised fiction. We see half as much of Tate compared to Dalton and Booth who are very much at the centre of the film, which is a shame really when you have Robbie in what is an iconic role, it may have a top billing but comes with a supporting position on-screen.
Throughout we see a group of hippies wandering the streets, hitch-hiking their way about town, one of them – Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) catches the attention of Booth who finally picks her up. Interestingly here we see an increased respect for women. When she offers a sexual act, instead of just accepting it, he questions her age and respects her possible innocence. Is this a retroactive response to Tarantino’s behaviour towards women learned in recent reports. 10 years ago this scene would have played out far differently. This meeting leads into what is the more indulgent sequence of the film. Tarantino has really needed someone in the edit suite to keep him in check. In some of his films – Django Unchained I’m looking at you, did go on for longer than necessary. However the leisurely pace here really didn’t bother me, the added tension to the scene (no spoilers here) needed the extra time to play out, before the pace did rightly pick up at the sequence close.
With Dalton being the main focus of the film we see him take a downward trajectory that leads him to fighting with his demons in a bottle before heading over to Rome for his Spaghetti Western period, wrapped up with a few mocked-up posters that tie him even deeper into film history. Linking him to director Sergio Corbucci. The time length of the film could have doubled if we stayed there for long, instead we have Kurt Russell explaining his 6 month stint on Europe that became quite prolific for him. Making a nice change from the Tarantino doing more than he should behind the camera. Instead he focuses on what matters as we draw to the films climax, something he made a point of silencing after its Cannes premiere back in May, critics felt it was pointless but respectfully obliged.
After 30 years of his on-screen violence we are treated to one of the funnies and tamest climax that left me laughing in places where I thought the action would take a more historical route. Instead we are treated to a finale that instead of repeating the past, we see an alternative version that delivers just deserves to the hippies as they enter the neighbourhood of Tate and Dalton. Hollywood is a bubble of a moment on time, depicting a world where stars are made and broken, a culture of make believe and legends are created and spun out countless times since the dawn of cinema. This isn’t a reconstruction in terms of historical fact, it uses that loose framework to open up a world based heavily on nostalgia, insider knowledge and a passion that runs deep inside the writer/director. He doesn’t want to deface it’s history but celebrate the period of innocence around it. Playing with all the toys in the playroom to great effect. Sure he you can see he’s getting carried away at times but the level of skill of passion involved makes up for it.
For now I can see the end is in sight for the majority of the making in the studio. With the ranch gate and the newest additions to my ever-growing model miniature set pieces.
I began by adding a more sturdy base for the ranch gate which I’m not completely sure about. Two pieces of cardboard under the posts. they are more subtle at the moment but might have to be replaced with something more drastic to hold it up.
I then moved onto the fuelling platform which takes it’s visual cue from my earlier ideas for the refitted which I’ve carried through here. I’ve added features which fit along the shape so it knows when to stop. I’ve added a feature at the back where the exhaust section sits. The whole platform has also been raised using an interesting pattern.
Now I’m starting to rethink the design of the slaughterhouse, although parts of it I’m still very proud off. Before I get to that though I have to complete a second platform and maybe add another feature that meets the nose of the spaceships hull so it doesn’t slide off. Or am I thinking about this too much.