Making Revisions Update (11/10/15)

Usually by this time of the week I would have released two more updates about the progress of my current work. I have decided to take two weeks off as I am in the process of moving our from home which is taking up my weekends. I hope to be sorted next weekend, allowing me to continue making again. My plans on returning to the studio will include a

  • few more models for the Native Americans such as bare teepees,
  • maybe some very simple Buffalo models can be produced
  • starting animation tests
  • looking at panning of stills tests
  • Testing lighting with colour filters

Once these have been carried out/attempted I will be able to move forward in the appropriate direction. I also know that as the temperature drops in the studio, work will start to grind to a halt. If I have any footage captured I will begin to piece it together. I believe this piece will see me into the new year at the very least. I can see this being the most original piece yet and could also be quite powerful if I stay focused. All I can do now is wait, plan and test. I can’t wait to return to the studio and get making again.

The Martian (2015)

The Martian (2015)I went into The Martian (2015) with an open mind and the recent news that evidence that water has been on the surface of the planet where the majority of the survival sci-fi film’s set. I’m also come off the memory of The Last Days on Mars (2013) which in all fairness is a horror film. This is supposed to be a straight up sci-fi, coming from Ridley Scott who I have trouble at times trying to define in terms of directorial style beyond the words epic and dark. This is not a straight up science fiction, there is all the ingredients to make it so however. You have the crew of the third Airess mission that is only a few days away from completing their time on the red planet. Back home on Earth we have N.A.S.A. who is running the third of 5 missions. So on the face it does have all the necessary.

It looses that edge however of being intelligent enough to be taken seriously, I’m not saying Interstellar serious but a middle ground’s met with a heap of disco music which for me really starts to take away any real substance and weight the film can carry. That’s not to say its a bad move, it’s far from that at all. I guess it’s an interesting blend of lost in space movies and adding a lot of lighter tones to engage a wider audience. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of Scott’s films thought which has me scratching my head at times. Maybe he’s taking a new direction or just taking a break before he goes back in for more Blade Runner and the Prometheus which should keep him going for the next few years. Is this his Trance (2013) as Danny Boyle has done before getting back on it.

So what makes it work then? I think as previous reviews have stated, its one simple reasons – Matt Damon who has held the film together. The lone soul and botanist Mark Watney who is left behind by his crew in an emergency evacuation of the planet during a storm. He has to learn to survive, find a way to prolong his life for as many Sol’s as possible, (days in space days I think). He plays this incredible upbeat guy who is left to use all his knowledge to grow plants. Instead of being a series of short scenes talking to a computer whilst living on his own, he keeps a video log of his time up there. It’s like a vlog that we have paid a one-off subscription to, there’s no sign that he’s giving up here. you could see it a series of “how to survive alone on Mars” that has yet to hit YouTube. Just give it a few weeks and it will be there. He retains a sense of optimism that is contagious without becoming irritably happy about it. There are huge shots of reality that hit him. He knows he’s probably going to die alone up here, its how he wants to spend the remainder of his day.

With the only thing that really makes this film works I must turn to what doesn’t. It doesn’t lack acting talent, I can’t fault that, there are none of his regulars “cough” Russell Crowe. Scott’s gone for a completely fresh cast here, you could say more mainstream, familiar even. I think once we leave Mars and hover between Earth and the Space-ship making its way home we start to see cracks, polished but cracks nonetheless. For me its the time on Earth, first why have they renamed the Kennedy Centre the Johnson centre? I can’t get my head around that. It feels like we have gone into an alternate reality. I really can’t see Jeff Daniels as head of N.A.S.A. (Teddy Sander) which seems a little too light for me. There are some good casting choices when it comes to Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor who leads the missions and the rescue mission they discover that Watney is indeed alive.

It does however follow a more realistic looking into that what scenario, there’s no mass panic or hysteria its all controlled and chilled. Maybe a little too chilled at times, thankfully with no interference from the White House, it’s all contained at the HQ more or less. None of the characters are larger than life, it’s all very low-key that allows the audience to relate which explains the tone of the film. Probably going a little too far with the music at times, possibly some personal indulgence going on there. I couldn’t shake either Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Boogie Nights (1998) in terms of soundtrack.

The focus is however in the right place, with the people, not the media who which would re-shape how we would perceive the story-line. There’s no politics, we understand and never lose sight of what is at stake, one mans life, whose using his initiative to survive. A man whose not your standard astronaut, but someone who we can all relate to and engage with. Its light with serious moments, yet for Scott maybe a little too light. I must say however having seen the film in 3D it feels rather pointless and sometimes distractingly so. I could take off my glasses and still have a decent image, its redundant, not really benefiting from a format that has long-lost its appeal, needing to be used more appropriately. So to round things off, I did enjoy myself, we did see out hero face a lot and still make it. Damon was the only really fully fleshed person and he was cut off from it all. We needed to spend more time with these other great people who were all after the same thing. There wasn’t any real enemy but time itself working against them which is another flaw maybe. I think it could have been much better at times, better use of the situation.

Making Revisions update (4/10/15)

After yesterdays decision to focus on making more pieces for the Native Americans I have made some good progress today. I now have 4 burial/cremation scaffolding’s, two cooking spits. I wanted to do more however including a bare teepee or two and maybe some stretched skin on a frame where I would probably call it a day on the making before turning to lighting and animation tests (if I go down that route). These are one of the few models that really work, having taking cues from photographs to the models in the studio there is something about them that resonates, they are sombre yet very simple in design.

It was the scaffolding that took up most of the day as they had last time. I think now that they are done I have learned a new technique. However these pieces are not secure, only as strong as the wrapping. Which with parcel string around wood wont hold forever, it does allow some flexibility tho in the production of the piece.

DSCF6399 DSCF6401Moving onto the spits these were probably the easiest pieces so far of the day, a strong use of the screwer’s here that really works. I may reduced them in terms of length however after I place them in a proper set-up.

I ended the day looking at the fire, which has produced two test pieces for me to continue with next time. One takes is basis from a cone shape that has been squashed before glued in place and screwers are fixed around. Another test which will only show how successful it is the form of a more rigid strip of match-sticks, fixed to a strip of card that has been trimmed along one side for flexibility. I have only glued along one side also to allow for movement once the masking tape comes off. Its a hard thing to make really, a collection of wood piled in a circular form to allow fire to rise through. Only time will tell which is more successful and relpilicated or adapted. These are the first to use any PVA glue, so far I have relied on the glue gun only for the cardboard pieces. As things get smaller and more complex I have to use other methods to achieve the models.

Yoram Wolberger

Having not being in the studio today my mind has been preoccupied with my work, Turning to research ahead of my time in the studio tomorrow when I want to make a few more burial scaffolding’s, maybe a fire and cooking tripod (not sure of correct term) also a few bare teepees as well. I’ve decided to make more pieces for the Native Americans because it makes sense to really. They are the focus of the piece and have very little in the way of accessories when it comes to the play set’s so I need to make more.

I also came across an artist who reminds me of Jeff Koons – Yoram Wolberger who blows these toy figures up to full-scale, not just cowboys and Indians but anything that is plastic, flimsy and mass-produced.

Wolberger emphasizes the distortions of their original manufacture disallowing any real illusion and conceptually forcing the viewer to reconsider their meanings. When enlarged beyond any possibility of dismissal, we see that toy soldiers create lines between Us and Them, plastic cowboys and Indians marginalize and stereotype the Other, even wedding cake bride and groom figurines dictate our expected gender roles.

It’s not too far from my thinking with this piece, instead of hitting you head on with their production quality, instead I want to blow away the cliché or use it to break it down, to see how the images of the classic western have engrained the image of a distorted history that the mass audience sees. The Native American is clearly the victim and has rarely been given the time to fight back and live in peace.

Wolberger’s pieces allow us to see a stereotype that can be broken down. He’s looking at how the plastic is ultimately flesh and blood before a desired image’s imprinted upon it.  I like the finish of the pieces, leaving on the rough edges from the 2 part-mould which would have produced these figures, showing how the image unpolished image that w desire is just a construction.



The Deadly Trackers (1973)

The Deadly Trackers (1973)I decided to watch this on the basis that Richard Harris as odd as the actor may sound next to the word Western actually works together quite well (when he’s not returning to the Sioux Ogla in The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) A lead who isn’t American in a Western begins to stretch the boundaries of what the genre can be. More realistic as an Irish sheriff as he is appears in The Deadly Trackers (1973) which at first showed real promise of being something rather good. I was first struck by the use of stills and dialogue to introduce us to the town where Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick operates a tightly run town that is safe and organised. He has put down roots with a wife and child aswell, he’s living the American dream.

The dream soon turns sour with the arrival of a gang of 4 outlaws ride into town, ignoring all the warnings that Kilpatrick runs a tough town, a man not to be messed with. We have only seen this film through stills and audio so far and a dated canvas painting filter, trying to pull us back into a long-gone time that has been painted. I could have watch the film in still form (inspiring current work) before breaking with a gunshot at a bank-robbery that would change the course of the sheriffs life forever.  The man who single handedly orchestrates the town to pick up their guns, barricade the town, ready to spring upon the gunfighter’s. He has power, respect and love in his life all up until this point until gang leader Frank Brand (Rod Taylor) who inadvertently holds Kilpatrick’s son at gunpoint. Will he shoot or wont he? There are moments when you think we’ll see this child fall to the floor covered in blood.

So far we are off to a good start, the law is like an army, the town comes alive to surround and pacify the unwanted bank-robbers before the tables are turned upon them. Taking the money and even child in the dust, before Kilpatrick’s wife Katherine (Kelly Jean Peters) who runs alongside, in a dramatic moment that causes both their deaths. It’s grim stuff to watch, even more so when you next see the now shattered sheriff who begins to lose all sense of reason as a posse sets off to track down the four men who both robbed the town of their money and the sheriff his family, he has to act to have revenge and see justice done.

Turning to the gang of outlaws they are all pretty much 2 dimensional characters, there are attempts to make them more so are laughable really. The only one we see more of is Brand played by Taylor is an ex-confederate officer who uses his uniform as a badge of honor. An ex soldier who has gone rogue, Taylor just really doesn’t sell the role of a dangerous man to me, it feels forced like the Southern accent. Turning to his band of men starting with School Boy (William Smith) who is basically illiterate and stupid, they leave him to his death, believing he will follow him. Next we have the token black guy Jacob (Paul Benjamin) who is the most educated of the men, his ideas do show real thinking compared to the leader whose driven mostly by greed. The dumbest of the characters in name and back story is Choo Choo (Neville Brand) who lost both his father and hand on the rail-road, strapping a section of sleeper in its place. It’s really laughable.

Ok with all the idiots in place we have one guy who tries to hold this film together, a Mexican sheriff Gutierrez (Al Lettieri) the only one with the law on his side, there’s no jurisdiction for Kilpatrick in the country who will not give up on his now murderous rampage. The law that was once on his side, has left him, living by his own as renegade, practically a criminal. Gutierrez is the law in the country and has ultimate power if the others choose to accept it is another thing. Its hard for Kilpatrick who becomes literally blinded for a time during his journey which shows how literal this film becomes. Visually it makes the film more interesting, he becomes dependent on the law that he has left to help save him. However it all goes wrong, the longer he spends in Mexico,  the deeper he sleeps into the shoes of the gunfighter/criminal the harder it is for him to get out of them. Now I’m getting literally almost.

The film has good intentions that gets carried away with itself. You think you’re going to get a good strong film with Harris in the lead you’d think so at least. It goes down hill fast with silly characters that attempt to make a dark film gripping that actually becomes sloppy. The heart of the film is mushy not strong and rigid enough to withstand the action, its blurred by an idea which you see get knocked about which is a shame really. I don’t think I’ve wasted my time though, it does have a story (of sorts) which has Harris at the heart which you feel, just a shame on the execution.

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Comanche Station (1960) Revisited

Comanche Station (1960)My original review of Comanche Station (1960) drew comparisons early on with The Searchers (1956) which is easy to see why. Take out the raging and confused racist and what you have left is a man looking for and trading for those taken by Native Americans. Take out John Wayne‘s Ethan Edwards and replace him with Randolph Scott‘s Jefferson Cody a man with a very different goal. He too knows and understand the enemy but hasn’t become consumed by them. Instead it allows him to survive as we find Scott once more out in Lone Pine, a location that has become synonymous with him and Budd Boetticher working together for the last time here before Scott’s final film two years later. We see even less of the developing west, is all man vs. the wilderness. 

With the opening scene lacking any real dialogue, a series of gestures and about two or three lines we have secured Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates) and riding hopefully back to civilisation and safety, something that both of them are still far away from. We don’t know either characters intentions, their pasts or recent experience, its straight into a situation that will need to explain to build up these characters. One flaw of the film is the lack of attention that Nancy Lowe really received, her time with the Native Americans as a captive/squaw are completely ignored, she has been saved, end off really for her. This is something which John Ford couldn’t ignore, answering The Searchers with The Two Rode Together (1961) where a female captive comes to terms, and readjust back to a white way of life. I guess for Nancy all that is yet to come. She becomes the centre of attention as the film goes on in other ways.

So with Nancy safe and on our way back to her old safe life we stop by yet another stagecoach station, a symbol of isolation and progress, a step along a journey many yet to be completed. We have already what can happen in these locations in the Boetticher’s world where danger is lurking around the corner. With a station acting as a stopping place where anyone can drop by, if that be for rest, food, good or even money and blood. This time its a gunfight against Native American’s who are fighting other men who are riding over for safety. We see how unprepared Nancy is for a gunfight, unlike her rescuer Cody who tries to keep her safe as possible as bullets fly, and joining in the fight to defend this outpost of white civilisation, also just to survive which is a very human act.

With the first fight of the film out of way another one begins in the form of words and actions, three men against one, as newly arrived Ben Lane (Claude Akins), Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust) discover Nancy and what she represents, a newly returned captive with a price on her head. Losing what power she has, becoming a pawn and losing respect in Cody whose labelled like the others, in it for the money. Its a similar theme, one man against the odds, ganged up against as he travels the open country. His character is tested in each film as different men in these seven films (more or less). Its once again the older man Lane who is the leader, age giving him the edge, the intelligence, the younger ones are seen as muscle and weight in a battle, extra lead to fire from their guns.

Being the last film in the series I can see already from the 4 films I have now revisited clear imagery at play. We have Lone Pine a landscape where very little can live or grow, no idea what lies behind the next pass or ridge. The perfect hiding place really. A stoic figure in Scott who always has to fight on his own. Always on a journey to somewhere, with a past that is hard to match and not to envy. A single woman who plays the role of damsel in distress who has yo be saved from falling into the hands of the bad-guys who are after her. The visual style maybe the same (more or less) which creates a world for these darker stories to play out, like dime-novel without the fantasy. Its not about being yellow or your abilities with a gun. These films are about what drives us under all those guises and how they determine our actions, making for some seriously gripping films that never relent.

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Making Revisions Update (27/9/15)

I’ve taken a darker route today with the work. I have written about a lot of death happening in my piece, with so much focus on the Native American’s I need to have burial scaffolding, which I have seen in a few films. I wanted to see if it was possible to make them at the scale I am working at. I’ve only constructed two which have been a learning curve, a model that doesn’t have any glue at all, never mind cardboard or balsa wood, this is a really step-away and an extension of my model making skills.

Learning as I make about how to make these structures. I think as I found with the teepees I needed a process that worked. I found I was amending as I was making. Learning new techniques in the dark. Looking at old photographs of the structures I noticed there was little holding them up, using the right pieces and propped up enough to cremate their loved ones. I began with one that was away of getting around the scale and standing up, it felt to crowded, moving away from the original structure.

I came away with two versions, one that was more supported at the base. the other with none at all, letting the piece hold itself, which is more natural and unpredictable. I can easily remove the supports of the first piece I made. Now that I have a technique in place I want to make a few more. However in making these pieces I am going away from the playfulness of the piece. Yet the overall content that I intend to film/photograph is darker, death is a reality if the history of the Native American which I can’t escape. I feel this could be a very strong piece if done the right way, which I am still finding.

Making Revisions Extra (26/9/15)

I started the day in the reverse which is rare for me, once the work was over I got carried away, placing the figures into the work. It was the first time that I had everything out to, allowing me to see what is possible, could I have it all out at one time when it comes to capturing the work? Probably not but I can see how things work close up. It was also a way of seeing if anything else was required. The Town really works as it is, the design allows the colourful figures to really bounce off and work against the cardboard. Whilst the Native American camp could do with something, it looks bare. I’ll be looking to build a few more pieces now. Below is a selection of the photographs I took during the day.

Making Revisions Update (26/9/15)

It feels like longer than a week since I’ve been in the studio, itching to get back and finish off the fort and get the figures out to have a play, which I did for most of the day. I draw on all the other lines which actually brought the piece together. I also draw on the building on the inside of the Fort. I went for one building a stables with quarters above with another sign.

Its all come together and I had to see what would happen with the egg-box packaging as rocks again, wondering if it would work at this scale. I decided once all my pieces were out there to see how they would work with the Native American’s first. I was able to go back to some classic imagery at times too.

The Tall T (1957) Revisited

The Tall T (1957)The third of film of the Ranown Cycle, and the 3rd of the series in sequence is another strong entry. Set mostly in the Lone Pine which allows The Tall T (1957) to be a visually distinctive film to watch and reflect upon once you leave it. I am really enjoying my journey back into these darker B-westerns that really don’t deserve that label, the script elevates it to something far higher. I guess the budget and number of unknown actors ultimately dictates that definition. However I think that lack of high-profile actors, apart from Randolph Scott who had fallen out of favor unlike his contemporaries doesn’t seem to care, immersing himself into the material that makes it all worthwhile. The length of these films is just about right as-well, short, sweet and incredibly sharp for the adult audience at the time. It doesn’t talk down to anyone.

The beginning of the film is pretty straight-forward, Pat Brennan (Scott) rides in from what looks like the untamed wilderness, it’s all light-hearted as we meet the people of Contention another frontier town that is full of characters. I am already trying to workout who is going to make it on the journey ahead. Beginning at a stage stop once more, a recurring location in these films. Traditionally a passing place on the journey of most westerners in the genre. Popularized by Stagecoach (1939) which I originally saw this film as. Its much more and nothing like it in many respects. After a what is a carefree trip with Brennan through town buying candy for his friend’s son, you can see Brennan is a decent man who is everyone’s friend, he can’t do wrong.

All this is a false pretense as soon as he is horses-less he’s left vulnerable to whoever passes by. Hitching a lift on a stagecoach driven by old-timer and friend Ed Rintoon (Arthur Hunnicutt) who lets his ride up top. Going well so far until they reach familiar territory – the station, its deserting which is worrying to say the least. All’s revealed from the emptiness where so much life happened, it’s a band of four men led by Frank Usher (Richard Boone) who reveals what has just happened, the death of father and son buried in the worst place, down the bottom of a well. It’s not a good start to the second half of the film. This is the beef of the film, what we have waited for, away from civilization, from law and order, where things are supposed to make sense. Now three men are in charge and its only going to get worse.

Hopes of a making a bargain are offered by newlywed Willard Mimms (John Hubbard) who offers to get a ransom from his new father-in-law. The first character to show his true colours is also the most unlikely, a prisoner negotiating his way out. He’s a coward and greedy, having married for money not love. Riding back to town to get the ransom set-up with one of the men. Leaving us with us with probably the worst of the gang who lead Brennan and Doretta Mimms (Maureen O’Sullivan) to a hide-out, an abandoned mine. We see the younger men start to show their lack of intelligence, a weakness that will eventually work in hero’s favor. These are not men you’d want to meet in town or out in the open, not so much ruthless as dangerous and stupid which is a terrible combination.

This behaviour begins to show to Brennan and Usher two maturer men who have lived enough to know what is right and wrong, life has happened to them and are stronger for it, it’s the paths they’ve taken which have defined them. You could say they are the same before taking different routes in life, they want their own lot part of the world, just going about it different ways. However the real transformation in the film is Doretta who wakes up and understand what she wants in life, able to change her life for the better by the end of the film.

Its a tense Western that doesn’t waste any time in getting going. You could easily place this film in the stage a 2 act piece that would have the audience begging for some release which you don’t get until a gun is fired. The tone of the Ranown Cycle is set by here, its taut, sparse and very adult for its time. None of the big personalities you get from other actors, Scott doesn’t come across steal scenes, he is very much the star but says very little and means a lot, you feel at ease with him on-screen especially out there you do.

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