Since delivering a film talk about A Kind of Loving (1962) I’ve been exploring the kitchen sink dramas of the early-mid 1960’s a purely British genre of films that explored modern life for the average person. Generally set up north and generally involving getting someone pregnant out of wedlock – a big deal back in the day. The backdrop to all of this was the gritty urban back-streets, the factories that were the backbone of modern Britain. Most produced by one studio – Woodfall and three directors who had varying success before moving in different directions. Definitely a collection of films to look out for, drama without the budget and still having an impact.
One of those Woodfall films – A Taste of Honey (1961) a comedy drama about a teenage girl Jo (Rita Tushingham) who falls pregnant after a cheeky romance with a black sailor Jimmy (Paul Danquah) whilst on shore-leave. Who was both exploring her burgeoning new adult feelings and giving into these new urges without really considering the consequences of the romance that ultimately left her pregnant and needing to then support herself. Whilst at also struggling to put up with her alcoholic mother Helen (Dora Bryan) who brought real comic timing to the film, both acting as relief and the reality of her home life not being as perfect as films of the time would have you believe. Yes you can find the odd alcoholic parent on film, but not the extent they are seen having an effect on a young daughters life.
So after a year of exploring this brand of British I noticed a more unusual film The Trap (1966) starring Tushingham also and Oliver Reed in a pioneer era Western, and even more unusual it was a British production. Set during the same era as The Revenant (2015), Man in the Wilderness (1971) and Jeremiah Johnson (1972) a pretty much untapped source for Western genre story telling. Instead focusing on post Civil War era. There’s a lot of history pre-civil war to be explored. The Trap is a rare look at British settlers in the undeveloped San-Francisco – the landscape still untouched from the gold mining boom that was probably going on elsewhere in the landscape of this film. Instead we focus on the trappers – namely a French trapper La Bete (The Beast) played by Reed with a confused accent which you learn to live with.
What really drew me to the film was the idea of a mute girl – having seen The Shape of Water (2017) on it’s release, which was a performance more reliant on acting skills than the delivery of dialogue, it allowed Tushingham to really push herself and rely more on reactions to her acting. Playing a young woman once rescued from Crow who rapped and killed her family. The shock of the events left her mute for the rest of her life. You wonder whether she will ever get over the shock and find her voice to speak again. Yet the magic of these mute roles is that a big part of you doesn’t want her to speak, it would just ruin the effect. All the build up to be destroyed with her voice. Probably raspy at best and strained, why inflict an audience with that reveal. Like most mute characters the condition comes from a place of childhood or past truama leaving them mute. The doomed hero of The Great Silence – Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is left with a permanent scar and disability after witnessing his families murder. Whilst more recently Eva Green‘s Madeline in The Salvation (2014) has her tongue cut out by the hands of her captor Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The muteness of these characters does not comes from a natural disability, but one inflicted through a violent past that they must learn to live with.
For Eve (Tushingham) she is forced into a marriage of circumstance to save a family from ruin. When La Bete comes for a large sum of money from the richest man in town – (Rex Sevenoaks) whose more than willing to hand over the money to save his family. Whilst his wife (Barbara Chilcott) taking on the role of the man here uses her questionable inititative and hands over the help – Eve a woman whose unable to question her position or task. Her class does not allow her to. We see other women earlier on being auctioned off to the highest bidder, brought over on a steamboat solely for the wifely property to the local men. However this transaction is free and ensures a families future – not picked up again at the end of the film either. Leaving Eve in the care/custody of La Bete, a brute of a man who knows everything about hunting, trapping and how to survive in the wild and little about women beyond his yearning for a wife. A perfect match for the overly masculine Reed who chews up the part with relish. Life in the wild is not something that comes naturally to Eve, who slowly adapts to life in the wilderness.
Her wits are needed when a traumatic hunting accident leaves La Bete at her mercy and care. Having first to fend off a pack of wolves, before becoming a nurse and ultimately his wife in more than name. It’s a challenge that fills the third act of the film. Being pushed to her own limits to ensure that Le Bete survives the Winter. Coming out in Spring to be closer than before she has still suffering from her past that prevents her from truly being his wife. Sending her out further than she imagined, out in to the arms of her old enemy – The Crow who are more Christian than she would expect. Their depiction may not be the best, however they are shown in a more positive light, as they rescue her and nurse her back to health. Not all Native American’s are the same as the film suggests. Would this be enough to break her self inflicted muteness or will she remain silent forever. A scene near the close of the film shows potential for an outburst from Eve who later realises what she needs to be happy in life.
The Trap is not best Western, let down by it’s budget mainly. It does however allow for a focus on pure acting from a then young Tushingham who is mainly all smiles and frowns. Her face is straining to express emotions at times. Usually these roles really show what a actor is made of, here we can see she’s at the edge of her range. There are times she does rightly carry the scene, however others she’s clearly struggling most of the time opposite the literal giant of Reed whose loving being out in the elements. It’s another take on the woman as victim at the hands of the savage. The savage becomes a white trapper here who understands the land just as well as his Native counterpart. A curio of a Western that has to be seen to see how a foreign country views the American West, instead of focusing the traditional they switch to the Davy Crockett era that’s refreshing for the audience.
I’ve not actually done as much making as I have done in previous weeks. Having reached the end of the making process for this test piece. I might be adding more detail later on however.
Focusing on the base, constructing a cave at the bottom of the shaft where cowboys and possibly Native Americans might go into hiding. I’m starting to think about how possible events may play out in the event that the aliens had succeeded in taking over America. I began the day by drawing out and then shaping out cave ends that were soon fixed to the structure, adding even more stability to this piece. After a break for lunch I began to cover up the base that created the cave.
It built up quite quickly allowing me time to pause and begin to think about the concept more, leading to some research to begin. Part of that led to me finding a painting that really celebrates the term and idea – Manifest Destiny. American Progress by John Gast (1872). Today its not so much prophetic as disturbing, you have a woman in the middle of the piece – Progress making her way West moving the savage Native Americans, Buffalo out of the way as progress in the form of trains and stagecoaches follow in her way. Farmers waiting to move out and settle on newly claimed land. Ironically it’s a woman bringing civilisation West and not a man, maybe it’s the aesthetic of a woman treading over the land being more pleasing on the eye than a farmer or prospector, traditionally a male role men leading the way and women following quietly behind, keeping the new homes ready for their return from a days work in the wilderness. A woman here suggest also the virgin land yet to be touched by the American dream, ready to be tamed to be worked by the American Anglo-Saxon’s that believed it was their god-given destiny to reshape the land. This is where the research took over for me. It was an editors article – John O’Sullivan article that first mentions the term Manifest Destiny that’s adopted by some, but not all politicians. Also the term was only really used between 1812 and 1860, just before the Civil War broke out. It was the fear that the spread of slavery across America which was becoming difficult to accept. So it’s more about the spreading of American ideals initially, spreading and sharing the right ones as the expansion process was rolling out. The image of the woman could be easily replaced with a spaceship or a flying saucer firing lasers into the ground as all life escapes to the East. This is definitely an image that will inform my current work.
The Louisiana Purchase (1803) allowed this expansion into territory that was to American knowledge undiscovered, the French declined to share any details about the huge swathes of land they have just sold, probably to help fund/resolve the unrest back home under Napoleon. The extra land was also a worry to politicians not wanting the spread of slavery again.
I also came across part of a speech/reason behind the resolution to the 1812 War between British British Canada, which was over Indian Raids into the Midwest. I learned the original reason behind the acquisition of Native American land.
“The United States, while intending never to acquire lands from the Indians otherwise than peaceably, and with their free consent, are fully determined, in that manner, progressively, and in proportion as their growing population may require, to reclaim from the state of nature, and to bring into cultivation every portion of the territory contained within their acknowledged boundaries. In thus providing for the support of millions of civilized beings, they will not violate any dictate of justice or of humanity; for they will not only give to the few thousand savages scattered over that territory an ample equivalent for any right they may surrender, but will always leave them the possession of lands more than they can cultivate, and more than adequate to their subsistence, comfort, and enjoyment, by cultivation. If this be a spirit of aggrandizement, the undersigned are prepared to admit, in that sense, its existence; but they must deny that it affords the slightest proof of an intention not to respect the boundaries between them and European nations, or of a desire to encroach upon the territories of Great Britain. . . . They will not suppose that that Government will avow, as the basis of their policy towards the United States a system of arresting their natural growth within their own territories, for the sake of preserving a perpetual desert for savages”
It took a few reads to understand what was really being said beyond the old pleasantries of political speak. So my understanding is…
- They would rather take land with a little fuss as possible, that would allow farmers to work the land.
- They don’t want to tell the Native American’s how to lead their lives.
- They will be exchanged like for like land in terms of quality, not so much scale, as I have ready previously.
- The new boundaries will be respected – in reality they will become reservations that no white American would want to go near.
As I made more sense of all this research, manifest destiny still exist, just in a different form, the land grabbing has been done. The land has been reshaped pretty much for the use of the American Ango-Saxon’s who along with other European settlers have made their own. The political ideal of democracy is the only thing they can still promote beyond their borders. It’s what has lead to America’s entry into WWI, WWII (that and Pearl Harbour) among other more modern American wars, wanting to bring democracy where it doesn’t exist, or not in the form they want. Now currently isolationism is very much foreign policy of the Trump administration – “America First”. There have been interventions just more subtle, in hopes that democracy – American style will one day take route.
Away from all the research which is starting to inform my thinking I needed to take a break from all of this to just play, see how the cowboy and Indian toys would work if they were all in this cross-section piece. It was really fun to do, I can see where the camera would potentially go and any difficulties that may arise (there are a few) which I would need to amend. Maybe a bigger cave for example, or building separate larger sections for more in-depth work. I’m already thinking it will be an animation.
When I consider the aliens I’m drawn to the H.G. Wells saucers from War of the Worlds, it’s like I’m moving the action back a century before technology would have allowed us to understand the visitors before it worked out in our favor. I could simply suggest their presence through special effects or other methods. That’s one for another day though.
I’ve had an unwanted break from the studio, it’s really being bothering me. When I had other things that needed to do, pulling me away from the studio where I’d rather work full time (if only I could). Enough moaning and I’ve had a really good day, doing more than I had expected again. Beginning the day wrapping the largest element that would later form the cross-section of a gold mine.
Once that was wrapped in brown paper I was ready to fix them all into position. Taking into consideration the difficulty of blending in each section, leading me to work on the 2nd element sooner than I thought. During this long process I ran out of the brown paper I was using, switching to a much lighter stone colour, which thankfully works OK at this stage as it suggests extra work has been carried out by the miners digging into different rock.
I finished the day making a start on the cave at the bottom, which became to arches (of sorts) which acts as legs that support the entire piece. I’ll be wrapping them up next time and working on the other ends to create the cave effect to. So far It looks far more defined, it’s taken more work to bring it to this level. This piece shows that a lot of progress has been made. I’m considering buying more balsa to work on buttresses for another test (or to add to this piece) which will hopefully show more progress. This piece whatever form it may take is using a lot of material, both recycled and new. I’m leaning towards an animation, which potentially will have more advanced sets since Playing with Plastic (2016) which was more floor based. This relies on more sculptural pieces to explore the work.
If I’m honest I had no reason before now to really return to Rio Conchos (1964). It was inspiration for an early piece of work that I’ve made. The unfinished mansion of the confederates who had fled after the surrender at the end of the civil war. I could see the potential in the building, even looking at how it was first framed, from behind the pillars on the porch we have no idea what state the new home is in. The focus of the work has been put into the entrance, emphasising the need to display the power they had once lost back over the border. A need to assert power and stature in a foreign country was clearly essential for Col. Theron Pardee (Edmond O’Brien). This time around I wasn’t so much drawn to the mansion, that drive has been fulfilled, allowing me to focus on what was just a chance to return to a curio of a Western that had faded in the memory.
The memory had become so fragmented that the mansion was really all I remembered. Leaving me to truly rediscover what is really another chance to explore the influence of The Searchers (1956). From the opening scenes I could see clear comparisons between them. We see a number of Apache’s being gunned down just as they are about to pay their respect to the dead they have brought out to cremate. We find James Lassiter (Richard Boone) hiding from view. He enjoys the killing, showing no respect for these Native Americans wanting to say good-bye. If there were more Apache’s he would surely have carried on until he had no more rounds of ammunition. Much like Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) whose stopped by Reverend Clayton (Ward Bond) who can see that this same emotion is all-consuming in the man on a mission of search and destroy.
The very next seen we found Lassiter sleeping in the burnt out homestead when he’s found by Union Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman) and his men. Not so much for killing the Apache’s, more so the gun he used. This could easily have been an alternate version of The Searchers – Edwards, a Confederate solider who we learn wasn’t present at the surrender. Also he could have been so grief-stricken that he stayed in the also burned out homestead and avoided the 7 year search, which would mean no film. It’s a version of events that’s taken up in Conchos instead, who without a supporting community and family a search was never carried out. Lassiter does however know who killed his family, not that we learn this until the final act of the film.
Brought into face justice at a military outposts that doubles as refuge for families making their way West. Everyone is living in a world if fear, something that Lassiter has experience first-hand, changing his outlook on life. A selfish shell of a man who resents the union for winning the civil war and the Apaches for killing his wife and child. Left to rot with his old friend and partner Rodriguez (Anthony Franciosa) who I saw as another Mexican stereotype whose allowed to be a little more than the sidekick at times.
Now for the subplot, the rife used by Lassister had previously stolen, before being sold on. Captain Haven want’s to track down these stolen weapons, hoping to use a gunpowder as bait to bring them to the guns. Something he feels he can achieve if he enlist the help of his newest prisoner. An unorthodox method that sees them cross the border. The prisoner sees this as an opportunity to test his luck, bribing them to also release Rodriguez, a ruthless man who will do anything as long as he gets his own way. Waging his own war against the victors of war as he carries out one last campaign.
Made during the early days of the civil rights movement we have Jim Brown’s Sgt. Ben Franklyn a rare Black soldier, depicting progress in the Union army, a victory for the freed slaves and taking note also of Sergeant Rutledge (1960) which had an all black unit of men. Here they’re mixed, reflecting the hope for better integration within the contemporary U.S. army. Here Franklyn, named after one of America’s founding fathers plays a fairly decent sized role for a traditionally white-centric film and role. He’s able to freely express himself to his superior, no fear of reprisal, carrying out orders and most importantly he gains the respect of Lassiter who a few years before fought for his continued life as a slave.
Moving the focus back to Lassiter whose not afraid to make personal sacrifices, he’s on a mission, one that even he doesn’t really know about. We finally begin to see a more human side of him when they’re surrounded by a band of Apaches who surround another burned out house. A house that only holds reminders of a past that he has yet to resolve. When we see him turn from killer to protector. He becomes the other in order to help them get away. Even their captor, a Squaw – Sally (Wende Wagner) who he begins to see more as a woman and human being to protect. She loses the image of Mexican Apache to become someone to be protect. She’s the Debbie of the film, whilst Boones – Ethan Edwards has begun his long journey to redemption and hopes of moving on. He faces one last challenge, to fight his Confederate past when he’s brought to Rio Conchos, the new base for Pardee’s men south of the border. Becoming Confedardo’s. Hoping to rebuild and return for another chance of glory that has rejected them.
The final act is full of emotional and physical pain for everyone left alive. Visually it’s a little hard to make out at times what is going on, shot in day-for-night conditions for the finale as they tied up men who by this point has been dragged by Apache horses. A form of torture ordered by Blondebeard (sounds more like a pirate than a Native American name) Kevin Hagen who we learn killed Lassiter’s wife and child. The Scar of the film is finally revealed and is just as mean as his white opposite who came for him. It’s a dramatic fiery mess that draws to a close what has been not so much boiling over but simmering for a while. Boone plays the sneaky under-hand kind of man, layered with grief and anger, not quite a hero or anti-hero, he just wants what is justice in his eyes and that’s all that matters.
I wanted to post an update yesterday, however I felt and needed a break from most activity to just switch off as much as possible. Plus I didn’t really achieve much either so I decided to leave things for the day. That was then, today I’m actually pleased with the progress I’ve made. A far larger scale piece that really has come along quite well during the day.
Yesterday I had drawn up a new cross-section with another level and a cave at the bottom, which I am looking forward to seeing come together. The spaces around the tunnels I had drawn up were then raised up into 4 separate elements which I have them begun to wrap. The process of constructing them was pretty straight forward. I’ve got a nice method for the curved edges which I break up into multiple pieces. I spent the rest of the day wrapping each of the pieces, starting with the smaller one’s which I knew I could complete in the day. I knew the larger element would take far longer due to it’s size. When I was reflecting on the days work I could see that I had constructed 4 objects over the weekend in their own right. It feels a shame to have them just fixed to the board and joined up with more wrapping. I feel that they should be explored, or at least acknowledged before this realisation is lost to the progress of making this piece.
I’ll continue to wrap up the remaining piece and sadly fix the elements to the board and start more fun work of making the piece stand. I am also considering bringing in balsa on this piece, which would be used for buttresses at intervals. I think that maybe held back until I know whats going on.