Friday, 24 February 2012

The Duel i

I've been sick.  When I'm sick I'm only good for lying down and watching films.  To feel useful in my convalescence (it was only three days) I watched movies I could consider 'intel.' for Battle of Walkerloo.
another composition of me-pretending.. and google panto horses
I watched 'The Duelists'. It's the second time I've seen this film. I love it.  It looks great, the story is tight and the themes nebulous (I define this word to mean like a nebula, big!).  Every shot seems to count.  It's insightful to see convincing characters in life/death situations wearing Napoleonic costume.  

I watched 'War and Peace', the seven hour, Sergei Bondarchuk version.  There is a spectacular ballroom scene of the heroine's first dance... and then there are the battles.  In the '90s I listened to the BBC radio version whilst painting houses for my disco money.  I remember painting an endless stair banister with stinky, sticky white gloss on a winter afternoon in Fulham whilst listening to the BBC's Pavlograd Hussars charge at Schongrabern.  When I painted the soldiers for Walkerloo I listened to the play again.  I've just got hold of the full audio-book version of Tolstoy's story read by Alexander Scourby. I plan to listen to it whilst painting some new soldiers for a new front in the Battle of Walkerloo....

I watched StarWars I,II,III and IV.  In 1977 I saw Star Wars (IV) at the cinema, I was 5.  I remember being cold waiting in the queue - you always queued for ages, in the cold, for the cinema in '70s Sunderland.
I remember drawing a picture afterward of a corridor battle just like the first scene in the film.  I thought guns that shot visible laser streaks were great for pictures... although they seemed less effective to fight with than machine guns.

As a child, my battle pictures - the only pictures I drew -  were 'action' pictures.  The composition came to life in the deployment of the elements.  They were an unfolding narrative, that could flip on a heroic act or cataclysmic incident.  Explosions and gun smoke brought the elements to life and death.  If I looked at them again it was to re-envisage the action and recount the incidents with my friends.  At some point, before the scribble Armageddon that always completed a picture, I began to freeze the 'state' of a picture at a point of high drama to share the excitement with friends.


At comprehensive school toys, the other things I used to create fantasy narratives, were made pariah but pictures could still offer a safe place to play out a fantasy action. I think these pictures come from me age 11 right at 'the end of toys'.

Watching the Star Wars movies in sequence I noticed the evolution of controlling power in George Lucas' narrative.  From self disciplined peace keeping knights, to the industrial robots of commerce, to the cloned armies of the empire led by desirous persuasion finally defeated by revolutionary freedom fighters and the re-institution of chivalry?  The first time I saw a StarWars figure was on a sunday morning after church.  I had new neighbours, they had lots of new toys and a 'play room'.

Starwars didn't edge out my war toys but it was a powerful new narrative element combining cool armoured costumes, aerial battles and sword fighting.  Star Wars has chicken, beef and pork with chewing gum, ice cream, crisps, chocolate and pop corn - that's why it tastes so good.  In the revistionist West, post Vietnam America I can see the attractive vision of a war toy clean of historical reference.  A toy that is above historical stains and the insinuation of nationalist propaganda and with that neutrality the potential for an international best seller!

There was a recent StarWars battle fought off the big screen. 'LucasFilm' challenged Andrew Ainsworth over the rights to make and sell the StormTrooper costumes the designer had originally made as props for the movie.  This off screen battle highlights the nature of a film like Star Wars.  It has become a global multidimensional cultural object, a movie-toy-videogame-sodapop-schoolyard-in-your-head-in-my-head-in-our-dreams kind of thing.  As well as a creative studio, Star Wars, like Disney, has an imperial bureaucracy enforcing it's position in reality.  The vast armies of cloned plastic toys that spew forth are in reality foot soldiers of these Imperial bureaucracies and the natural enemy of my romantic historical ethical toy soldiers and that's why my soldiers fight to set imagination free!

... ...But what if I was approached by a publisher, a profitable business, an independent bureaucracy, who announced they could make hundreds of thousands of my toy soldiers and best yet deploy them for action in floor filling displays in toy shops... and even pay me some money to make more original paintings... would that be beastly of me?

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