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Painting the Town Update (18/2/17)


After writing last weekend off due to the weather I have made a much-needed return to the studio again. I decided to call a halt to making any more model miniatures for now. Focusing on my now scaled down collection, adding some minor details to them all.

I began by adding the roofing to sides of the models, which I should more or less complete next time. I also turned to using match-sticks for the posts for a few of the pieces. I’ve discovered that these pieces will be harder to paint, I’m also amazed at how these little additions complete them even before paint is even added.

I’m looking forward to adding the last details before painting gets underway.

Take a Tour of my Studio – 2


I was recently at a family do, chatting with one of my cousins who was interested in my work and studio. I wanted to share photographs of my studio, which I shamefully didn’t have. I had plenty of my work though. Also it’s been 3 years since I last allowed you into my studio at Two Queens in Leicesters Cultural quarter. The space has changed a lot since that original post. My work has grown, changing in medium and scale over that time. I still have a few old model hiding under the cardboard which I have collected, whilst the space is in a constant state of change as I move from one work to another.

53 Postcards – video


I’m finally able to share with the video of my debut performance – at Imp-Fest (2016) at Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, London 19/11/16. It will be available here for a short time, taking up its home over here. I would like to thank my sister – Rachel for documenting it over the course of 3 performances that night. Here is an edited version of the whole night.

Beau Geste (1939)


beau-geste-1939A few months ago I wrote a review about Barbary Coast (1935) which saw the Western trying to survive in the guise of another genre, then the gangster which if you think about is/was an updated version of that genre. It was fascinating to see what is honestly a much forgotten film, even with Edward G. Robinson in the lead, a fish out of water whose the shark that swims with the fishes who are the genre. Staying with the 1930’s, and the struggling Western I came across the sub genre of the Victorian epic, a more familiar film is Gunga Din (1939) however I’d like to focus on Beau Geste (1939) also.

As Richard Slotkin explained in Gunfighter Nation it was the Western in a different guise, moving the action from one large nation to another, which could be England or France throughout their all-conquering empire. Here we have the French aristocracy and 3 English brothers who’ve been adopted into it. Before meeting the brothers we see a troop of the Foreign Legion arriving at an outpost, populate entirely with the dead soldiers who once occupied. You can see they all died in battle, hanging over the parapet in the fort. They have all met grisly ends, that much is clear, we don’t yet know how they reached that fate.

Jumping back 15 years we meet these 3 brothers as children in the comfort of a stately home in the country, playing war in the pond with model battleships complete with explosives. From a young age they want to go off and play war. When a side looses instead of leaving it as that, onto the next campaign they treat the loosing side with respect, sending the loosing side off into the waters, setting fire to them, enacting a Viking burial. They have a respect for the dead even at the tender ages of 10 if not younger. They have an understanding of gallantry and honor in the field of battle, something that we shall see come through in the film. After this scene we see the sale of a sapphire, however it doesn’t get passed the children who hide, one inside a suit of knights armor – Beau Geste, on the surface its funny to see the child hiding. He’s escaping into a soldier’s uniform that has probably seen battle. Now its acts as protection against unseeing eyes in peace time of France.

Moving forward 15 years again to almost the time we first started the film, we finally meet the adult brothers, who are not really English but young American stars, still who cares they sold tickets and I’m not going to knock Gary Cooper in anything from the 1930’s. It’s all happy families in the midst of the England which they will soon go out to protect. The young girl who knew the brothers, now a young woman Isobel Rivers (Susan Hayward) is now the affections for John Geste (Ray Milland). However before they leave the Blue Jewel, (not sure if it’s a sapphire goes missing in quick switching off of the lights. A family treasure’s stolen before them. Unusually before they begin to investigate they allow Isobel to leave, as she’s a woman she’s above suspicion. It’s gallantry of an old respectable world that sees her leave, Leaving only the men and Lady Patricia Brandon (Heather Thatcher) and the men to work it out.

They don’t get very far before the action soon moves to a desert in Morocco, two of the brothers Beau and Digby (Robert Preston) are now in uniform, they’ve done their training and now ready for to defend the Empire. It’s all one happy Empire out here, and the troops are keeping the peace. This can easily be translated to America, enlisted soldiers living on the fort, protecting civilians from “Indian attack”. In Geste the land around this is sand dunes for miles, they are the only civilisation for miles. The new recruits are about to be introduced, the scruff’s that have made it this far are ready to defend. These include the final brother John who can’t be separated from them for long, combined with a strong of duty to his country.

I haven’t even looked at the broken chain of command, the power-driven Sergeant Markoff (Brian Donlevy) who will do anything to take command from the dying outpost commander Lieutenant Martin has died after a long fever leaving disciplinarian in command of the fort. This allows him to work on the men, bearing down hard on them like never before, making life hard for them. Training is over and a new regime has come into force. Teaming up with none thief and spy Rassinoff (J. Carrol Naish) who inform him of an impending mutiny among the men. They’ve had enough of being worked to death in this inhospitable landscape, time to rebel.

With all this set-up we go into a much darker second half that sees the fort pushed to the limit of endurance of following the chain of command. The Mutiny is soon thwarted when Markoff blows it wide open, placing all but the Geste brothers under arrest, they are the only ones with bayonets, armed but unable to fire at their fellow-men. The chain of commands being tested when hostile or Moroccan forces who surround them. It’s time to put the mutiny and prisoners to one side and defend, it’s all men to their stations – about 30 odd. You can see from the first wave that it’s futile to keep up the attack for too long. However this is a film and the Legionnaires must win, at least for now.Each wave represent an attack by Native Americans, coming back with more expendable warriors to fall at the guns of the Blue coats.

As the men start to fall they aren’t left as they fell, instead in a unorthodox manoeuver the fallen are propped up, acting as number of things. A second defence to take the bullets, as decoy soldiers acting as an improvised illusion, the appearance of more men when there are far less. The men left alive carry on, but know that once they fall they’re bodies will receive the respect of the fallen. I’ve never seen such a tactic used in on-screen battle, it’s a desperate move by a desperate man who wants not only power but wealth that’s promised in the rumor of the Sapphire being in the possession of one of the Geste brothers, Markoff will do anything for it. The rules if war and chain of command mean nothing to him. In the far off outpost they are alone and at times have to make up their own rules. It’s up to the Geste brothers to finally remind us of what they learned back home in England, they are the opposite of what the officers above them represent.

Maybe now I need to see more Victorian epics and see how they translate to the Western, see how the legends are created for another empire that can easily be rewritten for another. My exploration of this genre never ceases to amaze me.

Jackie (2016)


jackie-2016I’ve had a day to really process Jackie (2016) a film I have really been looking forward to. If only to gauge into more into the history of American history, it’s a glimpse into the life of Jacqueline Kennedy around the events of her husband John F. Kennedy, which really need little explaining really. It’s the first time that any First Lady has really been given the feature-length treatment which makes for another strong reason to check out this bold film that could open up for further first lady biopic’s.

Anyways enough of the introductions to first look at Natalie Portman‘s performance which really is her best, I know the trailer gave me a glimpse of what was to be seen. It’s a role that she has completely lost herself to, becoming absorbed into a public figure who has reached legendary status, short of what her husband reached. We meet her weeks what’s thought to be a few weeks after the state funeral for President Kennedy, giving her account of events to a journalist, believed to Theodore H. White of LIFE magazine played by Billy Crudup whose faced with the most challenging interview of his career. Jackie from the outset tells him that it’s her story, which she will personally edit before being published. Throughout the film we cut back to the interview for her to tell him not to write this or that. It’s too private to be released to the public, something that has not stopped the public’s imagination and countless biographies that have since pieced together her life and events around J.F.K’s assassination. Looking at Portman which she is not for the course of the film, she is so poised that you accept her as Jackie.

Where do I start with these events that slowly move forward from the assassination through to the funeral. The process of grieving on-screen allows us to get inside the still raw and fragmented memories that are still fresh for Jackie. An approach which I had prepared myself for. These memories make up a film that feels raw and very personal, whilst also putting in the necessary fact such as the rushed inauguration of J.B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) which can only reminded and reinforce the fact she is no longer the first lady. Everything is happening so fast for her, whilst for us its slowed down.

I have to mention the soundtrack by Mica Levi who last provided the disturbing atmosphere to Under the Skin (2013). Here the music is more traditional with an unnerving edge that gets again under the skin of the audience. It stops you from getting to comfortable as we see a woman’s life change over the space of a few days, her position, status and situation all changed.

Portman allows us into raw and vulnerable of times in Jacqueline Kennedy’s life as we see her having to deal with the change in not only her position to having to deal with the funeral arrangements, those suitable for a man of J.F.Ks standing, wanting the same level of ceremony that’s attached to Abraham Lincoln. There is a bit of history within the film in this respect as she starts to see his own position in American history, the 3rd President to be assassinated and unique, becoming the 4th and last to date. The unfolding events in connection to Lee Harvey Oswald who was later killed. All this history packed into this heavy film.

We see touch upon a single parent having to explain to the children of their fathers death, not an easy task for any spouse that has been left behind. However we hardly see the kids, its all about her and her grief, the kids are just too young to really understand. In concentrating on the wife we see a side of the marriage and Presidency that was unknown to me – Camelot the musical, having  compared him to the a few times, we hear the final track as recorded by Richard Burton blasting through the White house as she begins to really process and grieve for her husband. A montage of that time which could have been hours, a night or a few days, preparing to leave and for the funeral, still playing the role of First Lady it will take one last appearance to bring her role to a close. I’m amazed how Portman could turn on the tears with and well the eyes up, she must have been tapping into personal events to deliver the emotion on-screen.

Away from her we have reality in the White House carrying on, L.B. Johnson wanting to move in and set up in the Oval office. Whilst Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) is left with the task of looking after Jackie who needs to be handled delicately, we see him on the defensive against the new administration as he tries to grieve for his brother which takes the form of swearing. He’s guiding her through, protecting her from potential danger and reality as it happens around her.

So coming to the film as a practical novice as far as Jackie Kennedy  is concerned I have gained an insight into the events which combine recreations of events, if only in part to build up an image of who she was during that tragic time in her life. What caught me was the recreation of the White House tour, putting herself on display for the world, opening up the house to the nation. Staying true as possible to the original piece. From director Pablo Larraín who created the authentic (as possible) look for the recreation comes from a much effect used for No (2012) which converted footage from an old film camera – producing a very authentic polarising and washed out SD image.

Obviously this film has been held back for the good ol’ Oscar bait, it’s not a film you’ll remember for the events depicted within, if anything its that one performance which makes it worth watch. Also one of John Hurt’s last performances, you can see a lifetime of work is on display in his role as the unnamed priest, you can see a life of experience in his face, the Irish accent is forgivable and almost natural. bring with him his natural grandeur and that little nod that raises the film further up. I hope that Portman wins best Actress, although she has stiff competition from France with Isabelle Huppert who I would like to see in Elle (2016)

Painting the Town… Update (5/2/17)


I think I’ve reached a point where too many more maybe too many to work with for the moment. I’ve made a further 5 pieces today in the studio increasing my total to 15. I might have to return to some old sketches or photographs for more including a general store then I think it’s time to stop, add more detail and paint them all white.

So onto today’s model miniatures, first a very simple livery stables, followed by an expanded jail. I then made two smaller models, both very similar apart from their roofs, one flat, the other traditionally raised. I finished off with a more complex hotel/saloon.

I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made in such a short time, It will slow down now as I add detail which is always a slow process before I paint and see what overall effect they have.

Painting the Town…Update (4/2/17)


I’ve been waiting all week to get back in the studio, just to get my hands on the cardboard and my glue gun, all to make a few more models. Well I’ve done just that today, focusing on 4 more new pieces. I’ve decided the smaller I go, the less detail and shape to the model miniature as you just can’t achieve it. Looking at the pieces which had steps I have reduced them to one, the pillars are just a quarter of a section of ca cardboard tube. Still I am very pleased how small I can still maintain some level of detail. If I went much smaller it would be lost.

I was curious to see how all 10 pieces looked together, which is something I had been waiting for, as I want more to project against (when finished). I was reminded of the full-scale pieces immediately, whilst also very excited about what I’m going to get next time I project, I can move the kit in closer, or even change the angle. It was also interesting to see the models so small in one location instead of spread out on the floor, they’re confined to not even half a studio space. I should really take advantage of this discovery. Below are a few shots I took of the town from above, the first time I really could now they are so small.

 

Seven Men From Now (1956) Revisited


seven-men-from-now-1956If it wasn’t for John Wayne having a scheduling conflict we may not have had the Ranown cycle. He was supposed to be playing the lead in the latest Budd Boetticher film that his company was producing. However he was about to start on The Searchers (1956) instead of leaving his director and film without a lead he recommended a good friend of his – Randolph Scott the role. It was the start 7 film partnership that would form the Ranown cycle created by the actor and director. Making their own Monument Valley out of Lone Pine, another iconic and ready-made stage for the myth of the West to be played out in.

It’s been just under a year since I reviewed made my last entry regarding this series of films, as I remember some films were stronger than others, now I have come full circle and back to the beginning with Seven Men from Now (1956) which really set-up the formula which was reworked in the majority of the seven films. We begin with a stormy night, getting the drama going straight away, a tall and water-soaked figure walks away from the camera to the rocks in search of shelter. It’s the ever reliable and stoic Scott playing Ben Stride who finds a campfire, keeping two men warm. It’s all cosy now, asking for a cup of coffee, when we learn he has lost his horse sometime ago in a gunfight, he’s been walking all day, tired and wet from a very long day. The two men grow suspicious when they discover he was a sheriff, reaching for their guns, the camera cuts away amidst gunshots, before we see Scott riding away with two horses, him on the back of one. The only survivor, but was it out of murder or survival. I carry this dark thought with me for a few minutes, questioning his motives, is he the man I know on the screen or someone whose out of a ride for revenge.

As always he rides alone and prefers it, enjoying the company of no one unless he really has to, which comes in the form of the Greer’s a couple traveling to California. Annie (Gail Russell) and John (Walter Reed) a poor excuse for a man who is struggling to get his wagon out of a muddy patch of ground. How has he gotten this far without being killed by gunfighter’s, cowboys or even worse Chiricahua’s who are on the loose. Surrounded by danger from the unseen and his own lack of manhood. Yet Annie has stayed with him, there must be more to him than meets the eye. Stride the gentlemen he is begins to ride with them, out of duty for the couple who have somehow survived this far into the West.

So as much as he wants to be alone with his tortured thoughts as he acts as guide and security for the traveller’s. We learn later on more of his past when they stop at a way station and the arrival of Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and Clint (John Beradino) join him, they know more than the Greer’s who are just happy to be resting. We learn that the sheriffs wife was killed during a Wells Fargo robbery, a crime that Stride couldn’t stop, loosing his position in town soon after. He’s not only lost his wife but his position in society. He’s only a man with a debt to settle with the men who killed his wife.

There are similar back-stories throughout the Ranown cycle that have created these complicated characters for Scott to play, this is just the first of them, he’s digging deep into the psychology of the men he plays. Before we learn more we see who Masters is when they face a raiding party of Chiricahua’s who up until now have been spoken about. They are soon taken care of revealing his true colours, shooting a captive man in the back. Was he one of the seven shot down leaving six for Stride to take aim at, or was he being protected, funny how he was shot in the back though.

This is one of Marvin’s larger supporting roles before rising up to top billing. We can see how this clearly more physical actor can psychologically get under the skin of our hero. Sharing the Greer’s wagon shares a story, comparing one woman to Annie, who naturally pales in comparison, taking aim at both husband John and Stride who he was aiming at more. He doesn’t need a bullet to get under his skin, whilst John’s too cowardly to defend his wives honor. This Western is not just one of action and guns, its one of the mind, making it stand out from the standard B western.

Technically we can see that the look of the films in the series is being established, the imagery of Lone Pine. Visually it’s a bit hit and miss, editing is not as slick as it can be. The cinematography is starting to show signs of something greater, however the focusing can be distracting when we cut to a new scene. That’s not to take away from what is otherwise on-screen and in the script.

I’d forgotten how short and sweet these films really are, it’s a lean film coming in at under 80 minutes. We are soon back in civilisation where more characters are met, led by Payte Bodeen (John Larch) who is possibly the leader of these men. We also learn where the money is that has been with the Greer’s the whole time. The guilt of Strides past has never really left him, taking the money into his own care, taking responsibility, ultimately taking action for the loss of his wife and position. It’s a twist I forgot was even in the film, showing that it’s been a long time since my last viewing and just how well the film works as it moves to the finale as we see the characters all being revealed for who they are, they’ve all been hiding something from us and ultimately themselves.  I’ll leave you with a clip from Blazing Saddles (1974) which just shows how much I have missed Randolph Scott on my screen and the imprint he has made on the genre.

Painting the Town… Update (28/1/17)


Its been the first day of the new year to have been working with cardboard, and it felt good to return to my favorite material. With so much in the studio I’m spoiled for choice, for the first 5 model miniatures of the year I decided to use 1ply cardboard. This has allowed me to work fast on a small-scale.

So moving this work forward I want to see how the project I want to see how they work against more models. I’m thinking smaller as I am reaching the full-scale of the projector. Also seeing the violent images falling onto more objects should’ve a different effect. Today I have started to construct more models, beginning with the four originally scaled down to half the size so I can still add some gestural detail later on before painting. I have produced 5 today, including a new model based on one of my livery stables.

I’m hoping to make a good few more, taking my whole collection and making smaller versions of them which will be nice to see how they compare.  Otherwise its been a full on day of making which I have missed, I’m looking forward to making more, adding the detail before painting them all white again.

Blazing Saddles (1974) Revisited


Blazing Saddles (1974)Nearly 4 years ago I revisited Blazing Saddles (1974) that was before I really understood it beyond the surface level reading of the film which is perfectly valid. However the more I have read about the Western genre, the more I can understand this comedy Western, which I’m sure is still the most profitable of the genre, reaching beyond the male dominated audience to reach one far broader who would never usually seek out a Cowboy film.

So lets remember what I discovered originally (briefly) before moving on to a darker and in-depth

  • The fart joke – “Of course Saddles was the first film to feature a fart joke, which again i found hilarious, yet for different reasons, as many films depicted cowboys camping, sitting around a fire eating beans, which must if you think about it create a lot of wind if that is all you eat for a while. Acting as not just a joke but a great comment on the genre, something that you wouldn’t first think about.”
  • Black Sheriff – “The major flipping of convention is the casting of an African American in the lead role and as the sheriff (Cleavon Little) placing him in a world that is still coming to terms the emancipation of slaves, especially in the South, which as we see took it hard, not with a second agenda that is never revealed to the people of Rock Ridge when Bart is made sheriff by rail-road baron Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman) (not to be confused with Hedy Lamarr) makes him sheriff of a town ear-marked for demolition by the workers for the laying of more track. A clever way’s needed to scare of the people, without buying the land which would be a long drawn out process.”
  • Flat-pack town – “Everything about the genre is more rigorously challenging the conventions of the genre more than the earlier Cat Ballou (1965) which was more introvert in it’s exploration. A very big gag that’s played out to fool the enemy before they finally enter the town is to build a replica of fronts to recreate the town, down to the smallest detail. The very aesthetic of the genre’s mocked. The fourth walls broken many times, something that very few films do, and something Brooks has done time again to great success.”

Now moving to a more political angle of the film which Westerns have been used time and again to reflect the thinking of modern American politics both at home and abroad. The Vietnam War may have been over for a few years and troops now home, however the nation was still reeling from the images and the trauma that’s brought home with the veterans of what was a national shame. So take the politics of the war and spread it across the Wild West.

The war on Communism becomes the spreading the railway from East to West, the latest stretch reaching just outside Rock Ridge a small town in the way of progress, or the progress in the form that modern America wants. That’s not before we meet our soon to be Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) who along with other railroad workers do not play-up to the stereotypes that the genre and cinema have reinforced, singing a modern American standard, in the face of an ol’ time tune by the white Americans who are the idiots. The perception of the others underestimated, much like the 5 stages communist occupation, that the Eisenhower administration started out with being used by the North Vietnamese were using, taking China’s lead, instead of considering that is could be adapted for their own culture.

Moving forward past the N***** jokes which still hit, playing up the ignorance of the white town, afraid of the until then (1874) freed slaves. There is a town meeting, the second that they have in the film. Where the leaders of the town stand there is a board, all Johnson’s, with different initials, it’s the same regime under a different member of the family that has gone unquestioned for seemingly decades or centuries, this is the norm of the town, a black Sheriff, a foreigner coming into, supposed to infiltrate in the guise of law enforcement from the enemy soon becomes an ally. It’s like the soldiers over in Vietnam who saw the madness joined in with the natives and fought back. It’s treason but acceptable in the Wild West where.

Bart and Jim (The Waco Kid) (Gene Wilder) see past the sides they are supposed to be upon, defined by politics, genre and history to take on the corrupt establishment. This time the power-mad Headly Lemar (Harvey Korman) and the puppet Governor William J. Lepetomane (Mel Brooks) who dreams of the higher office. It’s all about strategy, using power to overcome the other. The new sheriff and old gunslinger whose cleaned up his act come together and work on a plan that will fool the railroad men along with the hired guns that are sent into do the job they don’t want to do themselves. They can’t buy the land, it must be taken with force, reflecting the government not being able to talk or sway the Vietnamese of the South from not adopting communism.

So the plan, build a duplicate of the town of Rock Ridge that will fool the incoming army (a band of misfits, criminals, Nazi’s, bandito’s, rapists, all the scum of the earth coming together and do what the railroad won’t to, kill. The replica takes the language of the classic Hollywood back-lot literally, building town fronts (in one night) with the help of defective railroad workers – African-Americans and Chinese who put their differences aside for this act. The replica they build along with wooden people are accepted, fooling the mercenaries. This is the jungle the natural habitat of the Vietcong who know and understand their environment better than any foreign soldier who enters. They can fool them, allowing a few to die, the native has the upper hand throughout. It’s a genius piece of writing and satire, combining the genre that tears up and puts back together the country in a different with the conventions of warfare in the jungle.

  • Moving onto my last point of this film, I find the ending in a new light, I previously found the breaking of the fourth wall to be too much “I did and still don’t like the ending that sees the cast of the film breaking away from their world of the west into that of the black-lot’s which then makes you aware that you are watching actors playing roles. Is this about how the fights in the films never got so out of hand they spilled over into other productions. The line between the reality of the film and our reality is never healed, the damage is done so why bother or try to return to what was. Something that still bothers me, becoming a comment on the reality of films that I have never liked, even in the Looney Tunes cartoons that had self-aware characters who spoke to the audience, yet that was far more apart of their appeal, to engage and entertain the audience by talking directly with them. I find that still disconcerting.”

Now I see it in a different light, as the world of the screen breaks into the real world, or that of the fabricated real world which we have been digesting for the course of the film. This could be taken further to the images of the then War in Vietnam which had been recently brought home. This is a film that wants to show up the illusions, reveal the truth of the mayhem of it all, that you can’t get away from what you have watched. Those who create the images have no idea what is really going on, as much as they stick to the plot it now unfolds closer to home, the fourth wall is not just broken its smashed into tiny pieces.

Looking back at this film for now the third time I finally get what this film is all about, on one level it’s all American, all about celebrating a genre which has shown overtime how flexible and durable it in when it comes to mocking it. It’s also one of the smartest films you can watch, if you get passed the gags which you could be found on the floor at times.