I was a little nervous about tonight’s crit group, however I found it rather helpful. I have a few directions to take the work in, even taking it back to Melton Mowbray where it originated.
- The tests weren’t that violent, even tame, find more with blood, guts and gore etc and emphasise those elements, removing the guns and the shots to focuses purely on the result of violence
- Take a violent scene, construct a set of that scene and project scene in that, adding context extra depth to the scene.
- Work with Melton to put together a performance piece, linking the film High Plains Drifter (1973) and the historical event. I really want to around the town with a pant brush – I would be more than likely arrested for it though.
The third test video was liked the best as made more use of the street set-up, I still feel it separates the antagonist and victim, I would have to mix them up for that to work. Even using two projectors to achieve it. Also arranging the models to face each other traditionally. I was encouraged to really get into cowboy character, which is becoming more tempting, maybe even playing Clint, his role in Drifter could be a fun role, and very dark.
- We discussed the position of the genre and the potential of making a piece that looks at its current position, how it reflects contemporary times – maybe even a feminist Western, which a few do exist, such as Meeks Cuttoff (2010), The Homesman (2014) and Unforgiven (1992) looking more at the female presence which has been very much underplayed in the genre. I have enjoyed the female focused western.
I’m really open to see where things go, the saloon I have started may now be scrapped, unless I can adapt it to a scene, the first one that comes to mind is the ending of Unforgiven, which would allow me to see how this idea first works out. I am also considering approaching galleries in Melton to look at possibilities there. The end piece should be shown there, it feels right that it returns to it’s roots, seeing the connection of a phrase and a film brought together. Editing footage to focus on the result of violence, to see the death, the blood etc is going to be exciting to see too. Just a shame I have to wait to the weekend to start anything.
I’m still catching up with last weekend, the last test video has just been edited and I am ready to share it with you now. I ended the day after I had an idea the previous night to combine to the test videos I have been using, the innocent and the perpetrators of violence together. Which meant that I had to re-cut the longer of the two to work together without over running massively or forcing me to repeat the shorter clip which would lose any real effect the piece may have.
I projected it initially, soon realising that I had to reposition the model miniatures either side to fall under the light of each clip. The first few times I ran the piece it was working however the way the footage was falling onto the models it felt uneven. So I went back to tweak it before running it a again. I had to rejig the model, which now sat more comfortably. They had lost the parallel nature of being a street, I had to divide them so they fell on one side or another at the back where the street wraps around.
It was working now, the violence building up for either side – fair enough the timing was a little off, it’s a test so it’s not a big concern. However I felt that the division between both was taking away a big part of the work. By dividing the street I was also losing the relationship between the two, confined to one side or another which is not reflective of the genre or even reality, Violence in those terms knows no boundaries, which I had set-up here. When the violence’s blanketed over the whole town it has more impact, but less sculptural. Having the two channels of action I can potentially show more now. Meaning I need to mix the two up over the two sides of the streets. I also feel that I need to look at violence committed indoors, so another separate piece needs to be built and footage edited together. Also do I still restrict it to white on white violence or do I move to pure violence in the genre, seeing the victims as just victims of violence not race or otherwise. I’m going back to making and sourcing then to see how things progress further. I definitely have a working piece it just making the most of the potential content to have the most impact.
Then comes the question of how far I have come with this piece, the historical roots from Melton Mowbray’s history of what was thought to be violent incident, which, when compared to today’s standards it’s pretty tame really. I’ve abandoned the literal Wild West translation to look solely at the violence of that era through the lens of the genre. If I look at the true roots of the piece; High Plains Drifter (1973) a horror/western that sees a ghost turn a town on its head before letting it be burned to the ground. I seem to have forgotten the other the town pre-violence, not just during and post violence, which could however be illustrative. The purity of the white model miniatures, which is essentially a blank canvas for the town too. I can project onto it whatever I please, I could tell a narrative which is not my style (expect Playing with Plastic (2016)) or leave it blank for audience interpretation which is my style.
I found out a few weeks ago that the origin of the saying “Paint the Town Red” which I saw taking on a literally meaning in High Plains Drifter (1972) has roots in my home county. The town of Melton Mowbray to be more specific.
It is said that year is when the Marquis of Waterford and a group of friends ran riot in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, painting the town’s toll-bar and several buildings red.
If the history is correct or not in terms of origin of the phrase, it does change the my perception of the phrase which is known today more for having a good night out. Going back to the film which the man with no name Clint Eastwood ordered the town of Lagos painted red, and renamed Hell. Which this bright tone of red does conjure up.
The idea that a colour in block form can change the tone of a location is something I want to look at in a future piece. My initial thoughts are to build a model set that’s painted white, before being re-lit in different light. Being initial this would be a quick response that would ignore colour theory, the power that certain colours create and signify. I may even make a few trip to Melton, making a site-specific piece. It’s very early days and I have a few other pieces that have been quietly waiting to take form in the studio. My next piece could be a performance I made earlier this year. I need to see how that works out. Also I am considering a piece that pits both John Wayne and Clint Eastwood against each other.
Before any of those ideas can go any further than my head I need to complete my short film as the new year begins.
My first encounter with this film was on my birthday during the install of my degree show. I was recommended to watch it by a friend who knew I would like it. That’s an understatement, I loved it. My memory of High Plains Drifter (1973) has long since faded, all I could remember was the ghoulish red town and the whipping flash-backs which stay with you long after the credits have rolled. In terms of the western genre this has more in common with its Italian cousin, the spaghetti western which strictly speaking are not westerns, they have the form of the genre but don’t really have the language of the American full-breed which if I’m honest are less violent during their greatest period. The violence was exploited and amplified. Once you get over the dubbing of all but the American star of the film (Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood et al.) you have this pumped up action film with more sex and violence than you’d have found to that point in the home of the genre. They didn’t carry the legendary status in the characters as subtly as Shane (1953), having built them up in the opening titles as these already fastest guns in the west-types such as Django (1966) where we are treated to another installment. Back home they’re stirred into action, not wanting to fight and draw their guns so easily, having more progression in the gunfighters.
Looking at Clint Eastwood’s influences his time with Sergio Leone strongly influenced him, the violence the stranger with no name, the anti-hero who you end up routing for comes out on top. His first western behind the camera he is still find his own unique voice, one he is adopting from the persona of the man with no name. The tone of Drifter is very European, its hard to sum up in a few sentences, the town looks freshly built, making it more become a backdrop that standout, it’s a newish town that is trying to sustain itself. Laying it’s foundations next to a lake that seems too close for comfort, suggesting it could all be washed away in stormy night. It all becomes very fragile. The town of Lago is actually another character that’s abused in the film (more about abuse later) which we see is transformed, blown up and eventually burnt down. Its part on the film is on some levels more important than the people who inhabit it.
Turning to the townspeople I’m reminded of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) a town with a dark secret that is bubbling on the surface ready to spill over. Except we don’t have a strong replacement for the mean Robert Ryan who did actually scare the life out of Spencer Tracy (during filming) who was the outsider looking for the truth. The secrets a lot looser here as the film takes on more of a horror tone, Clint’s not giving us a straight Western, it’s a Western-Horror complete with flashbacks which you don’t really see in genre, that plague your mind. A sequence which is played out at least twice but feels a lot more in the mind. It’s the conscience of the town put on the screen.
There is also a strong influence of The Magnificent Seven (1960) or should I say more precisely The Seven Samurai (1954) a cowardly town turn here to one outsider (not seven) that is more dangerous than the men they have been home to for at least a year that have played host to that have just been killed. Except these are all Mexicans who are fighting off bandito’s, they are American citizens who should by rights be able to pick up a gun and fight without fear. They seen off the Mexicans and almost solved the “Indian problem“, why are they so afraid? They need Clint’s stranger who doesn’t really care for them at all. Which leads me back to the flashbacks which are very important in our understanding of who he is, or in fact was. He is not so much flesh and blood as he has ghostly presence, he knows more about the town than he lets on. I believe he is ghost of the whipped town Marshall Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) who we see in versions of the same scene that we’re reminded off. It’s the reason that The Stranger is here, the reason the town’s scared of the men who will be riding back for revenge after a year in prison. We follow these men back, they are ruthless in their journey, killing for horses, clothes and fun, these are dangerous men for sure.
The Stranger’s presence in Lago shakes everything up, from his first hours he has raped a woman Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom) which is brutal to watch, yet filmed from the woman’s perspective a glimmer of what is to come from Unforgiven (1992) nearly 20 years later. As much as Eastwood is a feminist he wants to come across as the revengeful type who will take what he wants. Maybe this was Duncan’s lover, we just don’t know. We do know that she vocal in her experience to the law who simply want to pacify her modern views that wont be accepted until the next century. We don’t linger as much on the rape as we do in Eastwood’s later film which hinges on request of the prostitute who places a bounty on the man who disfigured her. From a lower position in society they are exerting more power than the men who want to keep both cases quiet. Ironically their next encounter is much more consensual after working his charm and danger, as if he has broken a horse in, now he simply has to ride it when he wants (yes I know it’s a poor analogy but suits the film).
Here in Lago having The Stranger in town is very much to their advantage who abuses that power. From the beginning he turns things on there head. With a free card to do as he please, have what he wants he makes the much small person Mordecai (Billy Curtis) the sheriff and mayor of the town, the butt of the jokes, is placed in the strongest position behind the stranger. He’s not there for comedy with Clint who wants to play with these people who are fighting themselves more than they had before. It’s chaos in Lago. In-fact Mordecai’s built up, from being this typically comedic role to one of great importance, he uses his position to abuse those who have given him s*** for years, now it’s his turn. He is also another way into the past of the town, he too has a connection to the late Marshall, which may lead to his role in the film being so prominent.
I could go on forever about this film there is a lot going on so I’m going to turn instead to the ending which once again got me thinking of another piece I could make in the future, as the town is literally painted red, bringing new meaning to the phrase, which ironically has roots in my home county of Leicestershire in the town of Melton Mowbray when the Marquis ran riot causing mayhem and literally painting the town red in places. This is too strong to be coincidence, turning the idea on its head so the townspeople are causing the mayhem, they are preparing themselves, practically inviting the trouble. Renaming the town Hell, which has move to the surface of the Earth. The town can be seen far quiet a distance now, in one uniform colour of bright fake-blood.
All brought about by Eastwood’s ghost which is more than just showing up the town. He is getting revenge on them all, luring them into a false sense of security before deaths unleashed upon them. The role of the gunfighter’s turned on its head, no longer is he the gun for hire or protector of the people he is using his position to induce fear and draw it from his own past. Could he be the devil as the film draws to a close, he rode literally out of nothing and back into nothing, as if the ghost can now rest peacefully knowing that he has settled his unfinished business. Eastwood early on is showing that the standard western has to change, with his Italian influences and the changing language of cinema. You could say this is more fun than the formulaic Western but that would be ignoring the level of violence and rape that goes on. He is definitely pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the genre which he is reshaping in his image.
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (westernsontheblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter as Social Commentary (thewesternwordslinger.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.co.uk)
- Clint Eastwood’s film High Plains Drifter (1973) (tim-shey.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (sonofcelluloid.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (commonsensemoviereviews.blogspot.co.uk)
- HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) (cinefilestv.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (Universal, 1973) (jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.co.uk)
- High Plains Drifter (1973) (voyagesextraordinaires.blogspot.co.uk)