Cardboard Texture – Update (22/1/22)

After two shorter days in the studio, I’ve been able to complete my most recent test piece, another step forward in how to explore the natural texture that is found within the material. By adding 3 extra sides I’ve made more work than I had anticipated, making up morer strips of different thicknesses and exposed texture. I’ve even brought in a new texture from a thinner cardboard, this was partly out of having too much room. As I reflect I begin to see more variations and textures being incorporated into each new piece, building up a pallet. I’m even considering how I can create new textures for future pieces.

Looking at today’s piece I’ve definitely improved, seeing texture pour onto other sides, after being apprehensive about that happening my confidence boosted when I saw what was possible. The act of overlapping became a natural part of the process. The next step I feel is to build out onto each side I construct to build them up before they are covered. This feels the next natural step with this work. As much as I want to construct a corner of a cube, but that’s a possible final piece of this work where I bring everything together. For now I may be making another 4 sided cuboid with raised sections before making a start. I’ll make a start on the next test in a few days time now as I’m making a phased return to my job, which will be another step towards normality.

Cardboard Texture – Update (18/1/22)

Today I’ve made a really good start on the next test piece. After discussing possibilities, I decided that I should to go for a 4 sides of a cuboid. This allows me to first understand how and where I can apply the texture on the additional sides.

Construction of the basic shape with hidden reinforcement has allowed me to apply almost 2/3rds of textural coverage. I didn’t realise how many extra pieces I need to prepare and cut up for application to the surface. I find with the extra sides I’m struggling to be as a random. Part of me feels I have to use all I prepare at times to help fill up all the additional sides. Am I producing too much or not enough? I’m also making up for a texture that I don’t want to continue with, that means more needs to be produced.

Putting this anxiety aside I’m confident I’ll be able to populate the rest and produce another interesting piece. I’ve got ideas to make a curved piece, but that’s way off for now. One step at a time. I’m just starting see texture come over the side to meet another. It’s slowly developing into something new.

Cardboard Texture – Update (16/1/22)

After a few days of freelance work I’ve been able to return to this exciting project. I spent only an hour or so before today making a start on the piece I’ve finished today, giving me a head start on what I wanted to achieve today. The aim being to increase in size my test piece after the last one, which itself was a success.

With an increase in size (doubled) I had to increase the size of the elements I fixed in place onto the piece. Not just in terms of the height, but the cardboard squares that I was creating to start the piece off. With those in place I started to really play around with positioning of smaller and longer pieces building up a cardboard surface that became incredibly busy. I switched later on to 1ply cardboard for the last bits, fixing them on their side to replicate what I had done before. I could increase the width of strips here as the card is stronger so can take the weight. I could pile them up too.

One thing I’ve tried to keep in mind is to keep things as random as possible, trying not to mirror and sections, have not parallel lines forming of the same piece, always having a horizontal meeting a vertical pieces. I feel that has been achieved so far. There’s also an element of knowing when to stop using each element before moving on and eventually stopping.

Today’s piece is another success, with more going on, still very random and getting more complex all the time. If I go bigger I know the basic formula to keep up and embrace the size. So with that in mind I need to push in another direction – a 3rd dimension really. I’ve been working on one side, it needs to go to 2 or 3 sides now and see what happens then. So what shape will I go with? My first instinct in a corner of a cube, with the corner in the middle, or I could have 2 corners, which changes things again. This new dimension will change how the application elements work, will I just embrace them and see what they produce.

The Emerald Forest (1985)

For some reason I wasn’t looking forward to John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest (1985). The depiction of Native tribes was troubling me as we moved from North America to Brazil. I honestly shouldn’t have worried in the safe hands of Boorman. Another take on The Searchers basic narrative moves the action away from the northern hemisphere to Brazil. An american family living close to the rainforest visit the site where the father Bill Markham (Powers Boothe) is about to begin leading work on the construction of a dam. It’s clear to see that beyond the kidnapping that will happen, there’s a hidden message about the deforestation that is going on in the Brazilian Rainforest, a fact that has not gone away. It just lies in the background of the film, never really mentioned until the final act of the film. We just sit back and enjoy the search for Tommy who was kidnapped 10 years earlier.

A title jumps the action forward and frames the action. It has an unnerving sensation, instead of making small jumps through the search, much like the clunky Uncommon Valor (1983). Boorman wants to focus in the final climatic year of the search. We learn that Bill has been using his time off to search for Tommy, who could have been killed by the natives that kidnapped him, or more realistic based on other historical accounts – raised as their own. We cut back and forth between now young adult Tomme (Charlie Boorman) and Bill who has entered the reduced rainforest for the umpteenth time, bringing with him Uwe Werner (Eduardo Conde) a short lived Martin Pauley, a journalist with an interest in the Native tribes and the Markham story that he has been covering.

I noticed that the years of searching had allowed Bill the chance to learn the local Portuguese dialects that allow him to communicate freely. Something that Ethan Edwards we learn has done to survive among Comanche and possibly other nations. Could Bill have had similar encounters, building up experiences and skills before we find him 10 years later. Could this be a device that makes the plot move forward better? Nevertheless by this time he doesn’t need an interpreter, it’s Uwe who needs the help understanding on their encounter with the “fierce” people who are fascinated by the superior weapon that Bill has brought along. Ultimately it’s use leads to Uwe’s death and Bill’s life on the line. Given a head start he conveniently discovers Tomme the new name for Tommy.

The meeting of father and son is preceded by a collection considered scenes all in Portuguese so we can be immersed better into the “invisible” tribe. Tomme is a functioning member of the tribe, no longer a child, on the cusp of manhood when we meet him. A skilled hunter, who wants to push things when he meets Kachiri (Dira Paes) this we learn is the point where boy becomes man, his past life as a child must end in a ritual death – it’s not as I thought initially. A rite of passage ceremony whereby he’s covered in biting ants before he’s revealed to be a man. This allows him to ask for permission to marry Kachiri. Tomme under his new name is our Debbie, as we don’t see how he develops over the ten years, we didn’t Debbie in The Searchers. We do however spend some quality screen time with him. He’s assimilated well into the forest community that have accepted him as their own. As much as he’s caucasian skin sticks out like a sore thumb, the fact doesn’t matter to them. Much like the other captives who have adapted to live among their new families. There’s a nice twist on encountering his father, he recognises him as his dad from his dreams, some part of his past live remains on a subconscious level.

During Bill’s recovery from the fight with the “fierce” people, we learn of “invisible” people led by Padre Luc (Ariel Coelho) who explains that he wanted to save Tommy from the termite people (people who are destroying the forest). It’s a beautiful description for the deforestation of the rainforest, their home and habitat to countless animals, and ultimately the lungs of the Earth. The revelation is delivered with understanding, dissolving any anger that Bill has towards him. He begins a a long journey to understanding the life that Tomme is now on. He’s not his only father now, with a bigger family who know him far better than his birth parents. This journey is something that Ethan Edwards would never have taken, instead he would have killed all those in sight and run off with an unwilling Tomme.

Another major difference in the film, that’s also based on fact, I couldn’t say how fact has translated to the film. However Bill’s machine gun falls into the hands of the “fierce” people, reflects early American conflicts, when Indians nations were trained to use guns against other nations, or even Americans to assist the English in the War of Independence, an early proxy war. Here the inclusion of this more advanced gun fascinates them, wanting to reload it after the last magazine that empties. When they see how powerful it can be, the fatal damage it can cause they see not a danger but an advantage that they need to explore. It’s human nature to seek out progress to your advantage, this desire is exploited by a local brothel that works with them in exchange for more ammunition – not more guns, with payment in the form of women, from a tribe that has remained invisible until it’s not. Probably the only plot hole in the film (just how did the find them).

Putting that aside we have a film that uses the search and rescue plot to explore the damage that deforestation is having not just on the environment but the encroachment and ultimate destruction of a people’s home. Taking it to the human level allows us to see things beyond the usual animal habitats to something we understand. The “invisible” people understand the world only in terms of the Rainforest, as it’s cut back, the edge of brought closer. They’re aware of others but keep to themselves not only for privacy but survival of a way of life.

There’s no racism or fear built into Bill much like Colonel Rhodes (Gene Hackman) in Valour as he searches for his son. These two films focus on the drive for being reunited and closure. We have a rare mother/child reunion that’s driven for the child with his own reasons. It’s brief but important part of the film, allowing for better closure. They both accept him for who he has become, chances of adapting to his old life are very slim as he’s a member of the “invisible” people.

Ultimately this is a very satisfying film, not just in comparison with The Searchers but as a film that takes the time to understand another culture that would otherwise be hidden away or treated simply as the other. That title falls to the “fierce” people who are for the most part faceless and nameless tools of the white man wanting to abuse them. The climax is unexpected as Bill blows up the dam, giving his son and his new family a few more years of being hidden in the rainforest. Also making the big sacrifice for himself, his position now at stake in the face of his son losing his home. A payoff that’s well earned.

Cardboard Texture piece

If you follow me on social media you’ll know that I suffered an accident to my hand in October last year. It’s something I’m still recovering from and will take some adjustment time. In the last week I’ve been able to get back into the studio and see where I’m at. Thankfully it was my left hand that suffered, not my right (I’m right-handed) which allows me to create. During the my return to the studio I wanted to see where I was at in terms of skills, it looks as if nothing has really been affected as yet. Whilst I was recovering at home, when I had the energy I had an idea, a new sketchbook and some sketching pencils. They allowed me just play and consider ideas to take forward.

Focusing on the idea of a dream home inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), a film I first responded to during my 2nd year of art school but never really did it any real justice. It was another hard year for me where I lost both my grandparents and struggled with the grieving process for a time. I produced a quick piece that I thought responded well enough. Since leaving art school however I felt the opposite of that but needed to explore other things – The Western – for majority of my time before the pandemic, where I completed Cowboys Invaded (2020). Since that time I feel I’ve grown as an artist, I’m able to move further away from the source of inspiration more.

A few pieces later and pausing my research project I had time to think about future pieces that I could make and how to prove myself as a maker, not just an artist but still having the ability to manipulate and work with material and my hands. Also at Christmas time I caught the last 30 minutes of North by Northwest (1959), I was drawn to the Vandamm house that is featured, looking purely at the stonework, the texture and how it’s been laid and composed. I wanted it in my dream home. To have the stonework cover the home. Naturally I needed to know how that can be translated to my practice, not wanting to work with air-dry clay or similar for now. Cardboard is and has always been my medium, how could I translate that into stonework.

So far I’ve completed two tests, the firsts experimented with layers and thicknesses, yet the way it was composed was very traditional, not as broken up as real stone walls. Plus I didn’t have the variation of textures that you find in the source material. I wanted to make another attempt, playing with the texture more than before. Mixing up the textures and thicknesses. Working at the same scale as before, I ripped away the top layer of cardboard to begin for the first pieces that I fixed to the piece. Ultimately there’s more texture than piles, which honestly works a lot more for the piece. The direction of the lines is both horizontal and vertical, opening up the potential piece. It’s a massive step forward for the work and I need to push it further on a bigger scale. This will allow for more to happen, more lines and thicknesses to be brought into the piece.

I think the dream home for now will have to wait. I need to see this piece through to its conclusion. Going bigger is the next stage now, doubling the time it will take to complete the journey I’ve begun. The house will probably become small model studies for a later date. For now it’s all about cardboard texture.

The Afterlife in Cinema

Since its inception, Cinema has been able to explore all aspects of the human condition, even those that are still very much out of our grasp. If you’re religious the notion of the afterlife is more comforting. All major religions have an idea of what happens to your body and soul once you leave this mortal coil. Do you go onto join your dead family, play badminton with the greats of the past, or are you reincarnated into another form of life on Earth. In the past few months I’ve caught a few films that have dealt with the afterlife, most released in the late 80’s/early 90’s and mid 40s, which has reminded me of others.

My journey began with Defending Your Life (1991) which see’s Albert Brook’s Daniel Miller a recently departed after a car-crash (completely his own fault) as he enjoys a birthday present to himself on the highway. He enters a limbo state known as Judgement City where he’s required to defend his past life to a pair of judges. The outcome of which will determine whether he goes onto heaven or has to have another go at life. The concept behind the film is fascinating, and executed well. A comedy with theological ideas that doesn’t take itself too seriously. During his stay in Judgement City he meets Julia (Meryl Streep) practically an angel in her past life whom he falls in love with. However during his trial time and again shows how he’s wriggled out of difficult situations without facing fear in the face, making him a stronger person and somehow worthy of going onto heaven. When he wants to take things to the next level with Julia, he finds himself once more wriggling out of sleeping with her. Not wanting to spoil what he has for what could be a lost love who’s almost guaranteed a place on the bus to heaven. He bails miserably. Thankfully the powers that be allow him to test his ability to face fear and make a run for his new love even if it means losing out at the last minute.

Another example of trial before entering the afterlife can be found in Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (1943) when an elderly Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) recounts his life to a dapper dressed devil in his tastefully decorated waiting room/library. Although the devil (Laird Cregar) is known as His Excellency the audience clearly knows who we are in the company of. The recounting of a misspent youth in an upper-middle class from turn of the century America. We can see that through all the hijinks that deep down he had the love of Martha Strabel Van Cleve (Gene Tierney) who put up with a lot in her marriage to him. Of course in the hands of Lubitsch the threat of spending eternity is hell is dealt with the lightest of touches, during a time when “boys were just being boys”.

Gangsters who actually end up in hell can be given second chances, by literally doing a deal with the devil. In Angel on my Shoulder (1946) sees Paul Muni in dual roles, is shot in the face as double crossed gangster Eddie Kagle landing him straight in hell, complete with fire and brimstone. Through his own complaining and getting in the way he ends up in the office of the devil – Nick (Claude Rains) who offers him a chance to return to his old life. By assuming the body of his double a judge, (who apparently wronged Nick). Asking him to kill his own killer. It’s not the best executed film, yet we can see through the love of the judges fiancee Barbara Foster (Anne Baxter) he begins to change his ways, turning away from his old life. Failing in his task he’s brought back to hell a changed person, it doesn’t make up for his past life but teaches the audience under the pressure of the Hays code that if you want to go to heaven you must lead a good life, a bad one will lead straight to hell.

There’s no trial or depiction of hell or heaven in Ghost (1990). Focusing instead on how a death in a relationship effects the departed. When Patrick Swayze’s Sam Wheat is shot in a mugging, he see’s the bright light that beckons him, choosing to ignore it. Wanting closure wanting answers for his abrupt death and closure for his relationship to Molly (Demi Moore) that his death causes. Both need closure in order to move on in life and death. He learns how to operate as a ghost; his abilities and new limitations. A big development comes when he can communicate with wannabe medium Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) who can now unfortunately hear him. What was once just a game is now a real-life burden for the part-time crook. She wants nothing to do with Sam who needs closure in order to pass on. Using the cliches to get to his old friend and murderer Carl Bruner (Tony Goldwyn) who arranged his murder to get into a rich account. All of this is a great big macguffin for Sam and Molly to be reunited in order to say goodbye and bring closure to their relationship. Molly had always been open to his ghostly presence, even curious to meet with Oda Mae who she learns has a criminal record, any chance to see/feel/be with Sam is worth her time.

The suspicion of mediums goes back to David Lean’s version of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (1945). The quirky and eccentric Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) is invited for both research and pure enjoyment to see if and how she can contact the otherside. Her methods are seen to be believed when she accidentally brings over writer Charles Condomine’s (Rex Harrison) first wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) complete with ghostly green make-up to suggest her changed state of being since passing over. Once brought over, we see the lengths she goes to bring Charles back with her and sending his new wife and her replacement mad, in the process. In this instance, the knowledge of knowing that your living loved ones have moved on, leads her not want to leave him again. She’ll go to any lengths necessary. Both Sam and Ruth want to be with their old partners, one is more accepting if their destiny, whilst the other wants their cake and eat it. Life goes on for some, not for others.

What happens though if a deceased couple don’t want to passover. Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988) sees young couple Adam and Barbara Deetzes (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), moving into their New England home, just before they are killed in a freak accident, leaving them in a state of limbo, unwilling to enter the creepy afterlife, they try to haunt the new owners into leave the house – another ghost cliche. Failing to create the atmosphere of a haunted house they call upon the Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) (don’t say it 3 times) to assist them in getting rid of the new occupants. He fails miserably, instead creating anarchy for everyone. Ultimately the Deetzes and Maitlands decide to live together. The young coupe are so unwilling to passover they decide to live with the living, this is ultimately temporary, they may decide to leave, or wait for them die too.

If the Deetzes and Maitlands can live together, why can’t anyone do it. It takes a certain kind of open minded individual to take on a haunted house such as in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). Mrs. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) does just that when the estate agent has been struggling for years to lease the property. She’s able to connect with Rex Harrison’s Sea Captain Daniel Gregg’s ghost ghost who haunts the home. She sees him more as a companion that she connects with over the course of her life. Unwilling to move out, they come to an agreement that doesn’t make himself known to her daughter. They form a bond of friendship, which throughout he disapproves of her partners, which create comical friction between them both. He decides to leave as he no real connection to the house anymore. Only to return on her death that finally unites them. He loves her from afar, only able to express it really in death when love as we know it ends.

We know that ghosts are the form we are believed to take in death, only those that can’t accept that form or have unfinished business stay behind to resolve it. It’s clear that a number of characters have some in the films I’ve explored here, needing it’s duration to find some closure before moving on. Some long to be with the ones they love most.

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story (2017) depicts a ghost in limbo playing with the inconogtraphy of what a ghost is, distills and reforms it into a playful and profound image that we usually find on the streets every halloween. C (Casey Affleck) simply wears a bed sheet over his body and assumes that role, looming in his marital home. He’s unable or unwilling to accept his own death, where we find grieving M (Rooney Mara) eating a whole pie in one sitting before she eventually moves out and gets on with her life. For a time and the rest of the film C’s ghost occupies the home, which has its own life around him. He becomes a passive observer in the homes history. The audience sits with C under the bed-sheet. This naive image of a ghost becomes so profound. As much as he inhabits the space he doesn’t haunt it, neither does he choose to move through walls or fly. Instead he becomes one with the space, looking on at the occupants that live their, becoming part of the furniture you could say. Here it stands out, unable to move through walls like Sam and the Deetzes learn to. He simply exists in this plane of existence to observe and explore the changing state of the house that he still calls home until suddenly it’s no longer there. Suggesting that we may have stronger connections to places rather than the people we choose to live with and love. C let’s go of M as soon as she leaves the home, he gives up on leaving and starting the afterlife. He’s very much like the Sea captain who for a time is unwilling to leave his old home. Ultimately he dies with the house in this experimental film.

Letting go is hard enough to do in life at times, the past, being wronged by a friend or loved one. But when it stops you moving onto the next life it’s a decision that can haunt you even in death. When pilot Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfus) in Always (1989) dies in a plane crash, he’s unwilling to accept what Audrey Hepburn’s angel is telling him. He stays to mentor (as best as a ghost can) his replacement Ted Baker (Brad Johnson) at the airbase, whose gets close to Pete’s lover Dorinda (Holly Hunter) whose trying to move on. Pete has to accept that both the living a dead need to move on with the lives in order to be happy. He reluctantly allows this, thus completing his journey to enter heaven.

Cinema has spent more time staying in the world of the living than trying to create a believable heaven – or whatever your religion teaches you. It’s more relatable for the audiences. The need to explore the next life and how we communicate with those who has passed away can be incredibly powerful for some. The bridge to the afterlife comes in the ghosts that are usually unwilling to simply pass over, they have to see their loved ones before they make a final goodbye. Defending Your Life, Heaven Can Wait and even A Matter of Life and Death (1946) look back more on the lives we had, to see if we made the most them, how we affected the lives of others. A film that perfectly sums up that is It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) that shows an alternate world by simply wishing for it, we can see how much we make a difference just by being there. There’s no afterlife there by another life to be seen from a distance. Where ghosts exist in the world of the living, there’s a need – usually a partner that needs to be visited before they can let go of the old life. The depiction of the Afterlife may come in cycles (typically every 30 – 40 years, maybe after the Pandemic finally leaves us behind, we may look at dealing with the overwhelming grief that has yet to be resolved. Looking at the next life allows us to accept our time on this planet is short and our pull to stay here is stronger than we’ll ever know. Only wanting to leave in the knowledge and comfort that we may meet our relatives once more or be reborn and the circle of life continues.

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

If I’m honest with myself this is not the kind of Western that I thought I’d be writing about, a Sam Raimi film, better known for the first wave of successful Spiderman films and The Evil Dead (1981), his earlier style known for fast action and over the top balletic violence that borders on the laughable. However for some reason I wanted to check out The Quick and the Dead (1995). I chose to go in blind to this barmy Western that both entertained and made me laugh at the extremes it went to.

Looking beyond the Raimi take on the Western, with all the comic book violence, this is a very loving pastiche of the genre. Sharon Stone taking the lead in a male dominated genre, she’s riding into town seeking revenge, for whom or why is unclear until she makes her presence known. We know she’s not a woman to be messed with in the opening scene as she teaches a prospector not to get in her way or underestimate her just because of her gender. We know she means business and we have her respect, without resorting to silliness that the rest of the cast resort to.

A gunfighting contest is about to take place, with $123,000 up for grabs. Not in the same spirit as the one that James Stewart took part in aiming at targets to show off simple prowess and skill (Winchester 73 (1950)). Each gunfighter here will face off against each other – the kind of battle that a young boy imagined with his plastic cowboy figures. Here it’s about being able to proof your worth as a gunfighter not just as a marksman, you’ll be lucky to leave with your boots on. The entrants are all walks of life and every cliche you can find in the genre, from the just freed convict to an invincible Native American whose taken multiple bullets without meeting the next life, to rich gunfighters who pride themselves on their personal record and personal flourish – an Ace of spades for every man’s life goes into his deck of cards. It’s all laughable but entertaining to put up with.

Stone’s character Ellen enters the contest, there’s no rule that states only men, it’s just the perception that they are poor aims (a misogynistic view today). Allowed by town baron Herod (Gene Hackman) who can see she’s a worthy opponent, after freeing Cort (Russell Crowe) a young preacher and former gunfighter. It’s hard for her to earn the respect of the other men, was she just lucky that night or is she actually a quick and accurate draw. Hackman only a few years after his Oscar win fits back into the genre and has a lot more fun this time, there’s no mediation on violence and legend creation in Unforgiven (1992)

The following day the contest begins, each fight on the stroke of each hour ala High Noon (1952) just to add that extra bit of tension to see whose quickest, listening out for that slightness of the first stroke. It’s just a matter of whittling them down. Including a teenage Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio) the son of Herod who sees himself in the same leagues as the James brothers or Billy the kid, skilled young men who can fight among seasoned older men. He could easily have been the young man who shot and killed Johnny Ringo (Gregory Peck) in The Gunfighter (1950). He reaches future rounds, wanting to live upto his father and really earn his respect.

The gunfighting contest serves as a backdrop to allow Ellen with hopes of reaching the final – if she can stay alive and reach Herod in the final, however she draws Cort first. She’s had enough, after riding out and into the town, not wanting to take another life. So a plan is needed to draw Herod into her trap, one that begins with a shock before being an explosive finale that only Raimi can deliver, taking out all that is close to Herod before comically delivering justice. That’s after we get a flashback that twist that in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) that fully explains Ellen’s pain.

It’s not only men who are capable of seeking out and delivering revenge in the genre, sadly it’s all too rare. What could have been an Annie Oakley style affair sees Stone enter the male dominated arena of the Western genre and hold her own. Bringing with her a woman’s sensitivity. She’s a quick draw but would rather not kill if she can help it, you can would and not kill your enemy, better to shame them and allow them to learn instead of teaching them the ultimate lesson. The Quick and the Dead is definitely a Western to watch at least once, full of references but can also be incredibly silly and fun in equal doses. As always it’s refreshing to see a woman hold her own, much like Regina King more recently in The Harder they Fall (2021) which delivered violence with more style and panache than the over edited, over zooming Raimi which gets boring fast. There’s a lot to explore in the film, the references, I didn’t even mention the use of veteran actors from Pat Hingle and an underused Woody Strode. I may return to this silly but fun Western in the future.

Two Queens Members show (2021)

My work Horse Wrangler (2021) has been included this years members show at Two Queens.

Photography – G. Sian

The Last Hunt (1956)

I hadn’t expected to come across another film outside of my research project, thinking it to be comprehensive at this stage. Still that’s not to say something can fall through the cracks. I discovered The Last Hunt (1956) by chance, it’s only when I sat down to watch it, I found a lot of similarities between Wayne’s Ethan Edwards and Robert Taylor’s Charles Gilson who has equal disdain verging on racial hatred for Native Americans. That’s along with the constant use of Loreana a piece of music that’s synonymous with The Searchers (1956)

There’s no search and rescue, instead a focus on two men on one of the last Buffalo hunts before the species neared extinction.The film states at the beginning that hunt depicted was part of a controlled herd thinning of buffalo in a national park – any killing depicted was controlled. This buffalo hunt reminded me of the fit of rage that Ethan Edward’s goes on one winter, what starts as just finding a buffalo to feed themselves becomes a futile attempt to starve a nation. Martin Pauley (Jeffrey Hunter) tries to stop this moment of madness, being thrown to the snow-covered ground. Ethan exhausts both rifles before they hear the bugle of the U.S. cavalry. It seems this whole scene has been expanded into its own film and released the same year.

Alongside Taylor’s Gilson we have Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger) who we learn was raised by native Americans. Working together uneasily as Buffalo hunters. We meet McKenzie as a rancher who just doesn’t have the heart for it. Gilson tempts him back to the more profitable business of Buffalo, a trade that history knows help bring both a species and a race to its knees before the end of the 19th century.

To actually depict the killing of Buffalo on screen adds to authenticity of the themes being explored in the film. Today the fim may not be made on animal rights grounds. However it was shot under its own tight conditions, making the whole film possible, cutting together shots of actors shooting and Buffalo falling dead to give the illusion they shot them. With the buffalo taking a rare focus we take the point of view of the native American even though we see a handful on-screen. Their treatment is poor but more realistic, banned from saloons, unable to buy from stores, seen as outcasts in a society that neither wants to see or hear of them. The inclusion of Jimmy O’Brien (Russ Tamblyn) a red-headed native who attempts to blend in by cutting his long hair, it’s not enough to disguise. He’s met with violence until he’s hired by McKenzie before we learn of his backstory.

Whilst Gilson can be charismatic, his casual racism makes him fit right at home. Whilst McKenzie tries to keep his cool, it’s not an easy task for him to adjust to white society. Happier to be alone in the open of the plains. Gilson hires Wood Foot (Lloyd Nolan) who has a wooden leg, a veteran buffalo hunter who joins the team and used to hunt alongside McKenzie. Both men have hired the men who will eventually be asked to take sides between Gilson and McKenzie, just how will things go.

You can see an Ethan/Martin dynamic between Gilson and McKenzie as soon as the first days hunt is over. Cutting between the two men, one shoots with ease and enjoyment, whilst the other struggles with each kill, as each Buffalo falls to the ground it hurts McKenzie he doesn’t like the position he’s in but dose the best he can in this new situation. The turning point comes when Gilson joins him as one Buffalo is left, a White Buffalo, the most sacred of the Buffalo (to some Native Americans) is standing before him, He can’t shoot his rifle, yet Gilson can’t help but shoot, seeing the rare beast a prize, a massive profit. my prior knowledge of white Buffalo’s goes back to the cheap Charles Bronson film The White Buffalo (1977) an poor animatronic beast that Wild Bill Hickok (Bronson) and an aging Crazy Horse hunt down. The image of the mystical beast dominates the film more than the acting. In The Last Hunt the depiction is more realistic, the consequences of it’s death at the midway point dominates the rest of the film.

We also have the inclusion of a frustratingly unnamed Indian woman played by Debra Paget, whose survived being shot at by Gilson in a fit of rage and pleasure. We actually see up close the killings that John Ford holds back from showing in The Searchers. The woman joins them along with an orphaned baby whose willing to talk to both Jimmy and McKenzie, the closest we get a to Debbie figure in the film, yet she’s full Native American – possibly Sioux. Her inclusion along with Jimmy and a few scenes with Spotted Hand (Ed Lonehill). Everything that happens shows the racial hatred within Gilson whose willing to kill or rape without a second thought. He’s definitely on the same level as Indian hater as Ethan who commits his own atrocious acts against innocent Comanches. With both we don’t know their motivations or where the hatred was born. It comes fully formed, the Buffalo hunting gives Gilson an excuse to kill so many Buffalo and profit from their deaths.

All along we see McKenzie slowly snap becoming the man he was raised by Native Americans, he can’t hold back his nature anymore. Dealing in Buffalo skins can only go so far before he can’t go on living this life. On his return to camp he decides to leave with the Paget and the baby to start over – starting by supporting the local Sioux reservation that we see is starving for food. Once again we see that the Western is capable of showing the mistreatment of the Native American, if only in a limited form. Ford extended this in his poor but well meaning Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

Ultimately we don’t get a final shootout, instead the unravelling of Gilson whose held true to his own beliefs and lies for so long that when he finally meets up with McKenzie again it’s mother nature who has the final word over his fate. Hate the gods that Native Americans believe in intervened and stopped him, or has his will just given out, that feeling of being indestructible no longer works. Whilst those who understand the ways of the Indian survive, are they better or just more in-tune with how to survive. The racist is literally stopped in his tracks, he can no longer harm, kill or incite fear in others.

The Last Hunt is not a light adventure Western, very much in tone with the work of Anthony Mann and Ford who pushed the psychology of the genre to the limits. It’s depiction of Native Americans is well meaning but still very much lacking. We see the struggle, yet Jimmy and Spotted Hand are the only named Indians, they act to fuel the hatred in Gilson, who never learns of McKenzie’s past, just his perceived wrongdoing. Something was very much in the air in Western films of the mid 1950’s, I wonder how many more I’ll come across on my journey that is this research project.

Ulee’s Gold (1997)

A film that came to my attention through my research with an actor Peter Fonda who I didn’t really rate too highly, I’m starting to re-assess that after Ulee’s Gold (1997) another film that continues my research project. No physical search is carried out, all the information that Ulee (Fonda) needs is given to him through the course of the film. It’s how he deals with that and the events that keep him at home and dealing with everything in his own time and way. He’s too old and too many responsibilities to just simply drop everything. He’s not your average hero for sure.

Thought to be one of Fonda’s best performances I can certainly see why, his brings to the character nuances and quirks that are soon picked up by the viewer. The careful removal of his glasses demonstrate how he’s treated life, slow and on his terms to the detriment of his family life. A beekeeper who sends away his staff at the most crucial time, when the honey’s to be extracted. He takes his job too seriously and trusts very few people.

So where’s The Searchers link you maybe asking, I was wondering that but was soon answered when he was asked by his jail-bird son Jimmy Jackson (Tom Wood) to rescue his drug addict wife/partner from Orlando where she was staying with his old partners Eddie Flowers (Steven Flynn) and Ferris Dooley (Dewey Weber). The condition of Helen’s (Christine Dunford) safe return is that he should find and return some money that was stolen from a robbery that landed Jimmy in jail. Helen is our Debbie a captive that is no longer wanted by her captures, her drug addiction is more than they can handle. She’s not really a captive, more an unwanted guests whose presence and present state is now unwanted by these two criminals. All they want is the money that she mentioned.

Her return with Ulee to his home is similar to that of Cynthia Ann Parker met with interest and gossip. Ulee wants no help until he’s pushed into a corner. In order for her to recover and begin her journey to sobriety she needs medical help from new neighbour and nurse Connie Hope (Patricia Richardson). A private man whose self sufficiency has got his so far, raised his granddaughters single handedly has given him a sense of pride and independence that’s hard to allow him to ask for help. His manner is that of a polite John Wayne or Ethan Edwards who can be standoffish at times and wants to work alone but ultimately has to open up to outsiders. He resents the local Sheriff Bill Floyd (J. Kenneth Campbell) seeing him as a pencil pusher and a servant of the government who can’t think for himself. That and he sent his son to jail.

Ulee is very much a solitary man, a throwback to the silent generation, nothing like the actors own baby boomer he grew up with, Fonda’s playing very much against type in a role that has he lead but not doing very much. A silent hero who wants to be like the his ancestors who got on and didn’t complain. Mixed with his own feelings of his time in Vietnam that saw his who platoon wiped out, leaving him the sole survivor. He survived one war to face another back on the home front. Unlike Ethan who avoided coming home, joined up (as his medals suggest) with Maximillan before his much anticipated return a few days before his family were massacred and kidnapped. He carries his own guilt with him and want to stay alone for most of the film.

As Helen begins her slow recovery, she begins to reconnect with her daughters Casey (Jessica Biel) and Penny (Vanessa Zima) who at first are reluctant to have her back. He recovery is predictable in Hollywood terms, seeming to stay clean without falling off the wagon. At least we see her assimilating back into her old life, unlike Debbie (Natalie Wood) on her return to white society at the close of The Searchers. The film isn’t about her as much as it is Ulee she feels guilty for creating the situation she’s placed Ulee in but it’s only a scene at most.

The retrieval of the money by Eddie and Dewey is not as I predicted. The drive over leaves a heavy hint of how the finale will play out. Throughout the film we are dripped fed where the money is, it’s the macguffin to see Ulee rise to the challenge in his own quiet way. Instead of picking up the gun that once held him powerless, he kicks it into the swamp water, where no-one can get it. He levels the playing field but doesn’t act on this rebalancing. Instead he just feels safer for a time before he’s stabbed, leaving him in the hands of Connie who he finally lets his guard down to. He becomes more human, open to others, something Ethan will never experience because of all the violence and rage that he carries inside of him. Instead we see him left vulnerable outside the Jorgensen homestead that has turned its back on him. There’s no place for Ethan, that’s not the case for Ulee who through his acts save him from a life on the outside of his family.

I’d be happy to classify Ulee’s Gold as a western too, not just in terms of location out in the edge of the tropics of Florida’s swamps. A small rural town that seems to know everyone’s business. Ulee’s dialogue is rich and elegantly simple. A hero that does very little but owns the film. He’s old and tired after a long life of raising his family and farming honey, when trouble comes his way, he doesn’t back down but takes it in his stride. Like a gunfighter who wants to rest but know he needs to face down another enemy at the other end of the street. Also is a now overlooked gem of the late 90’s that needs to be appreciated once more.