Here’s a roundup of TV sketching done in 2013/2014 that I’ve not yet posted here in this blog.
These sketches of PRIS from BLADE RUNNER, were among the earliest drawings I ever did with my left hand that I actually began to like. I’d avoided drawing for the better part of 2013, because my crude left-handed efforts would rock my already pounded optimism, and remind me of a cherished ability that I’d just lost. Then, in August/September 2013, I finally sucked it up, and began to draw with my left hand in earnest when Julia and I began sketching from the TV, starting our drawing sessions with paused images from old faves like BLADE RUNNER. I revisited these early lefties in late 2014, adding a watercolour wash which clarified my hesitant and spidery line. In hindsight, choosing frames from BLADE RUNNER to relearn to draw had a double personal significance, because this film was originally released in another threshold year for me; 1982. I’d just moved to the Big City from the country to start work as an inbetweener, and while it was immensely exciting to enter the industry I’d aspired to since childhood, triumph was infused with tragedy as I went back to my hometown each weekend to be with my terminally ill mother.
Although BLADE RUNNER is now considered a science fiction movie classic and influenced decades of movie production design, my memory is that it wasn't popular when it was released, though adored by we sci-fi types. Perhaps the reason for BLADE RUNNER’s underwhelming performance that year is simply that in 1982 so many films competed for the box office dollar: TOOTSIE, BEASTMASTER, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, DARK CRYSTAL, E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, FIRST BLOOD, POLTERGEIST, THE WRATH OF KHAN, TRON, WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, THE THING, SOPHIE’S CHOICE, DINER, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID and GHANDI to name a few. If you wanted to take your mind off your troubles, 1982 was a great year to use movies as the distraction, and I spent many week nights at the cinema to escape. Ironically, all these many years later, rewatching those escapist movies from 1982 brings vividly back to life that complicated mix real-world feelings I sought to hide from that year. BLADE RUNNER has trapped in amber that mix of contradictory emotions, not just because it reminds me of my own triumph and tragedy of 1982, but because of its plotline of hidden emotion and imminent death in a fantastic city.
This is supposed to be Sean Connery from the 1964 film GOLDFINGER (although I’ve accidentally drawn him wearing David Byrne’s too-big 1980s suit). The line-drawing was started back in September 2013, and since then I've reworked the drawing a few times, adding detail, and finally watercolouring it just this month. It was while drawing this sketch that I began thinking about watching the JAMES BOND movies when I was a child, leading to a blog post in October 2013. A tuxedoed Sean Connery smoking a ciggie in a night club is one of those iconic 1960s images, like Marlon Brando astride a motorbike was to the 1950s, or a rifle-toting cowboy John Wayne was to the 1940s. When the BOND movies hit in the early 1960s, Britain had only just recovered from its postwar rationing and life among bombed-out WW2 ruins. Though a victor in WW2, Britain was left essentially bankrupt, and learned that it was not the power it once was. The 1960s BOND films (and the 1950s BOND books before them) took place in exotic locales that the average Briton wouldn’t afford to visit till the 1970s, and reassured them that although British influence appeared to have gone, secretly Britain still pulled the strings that made the world operate (and secretly its cars were still cool, and secretly its gadgets actually worked).
Just as we now, with the advantage of hindsight, see 1950s Hollywood monster/alien invasion films as America processing its Cold War fears, the 1960s Bond films seem now to represent Britain grappling with diminished global political relevance and the sting of Empire gone forever. The suave, elegant, and deadly BOND spanked a variety of anxiety-inducing types (conniving lefties, oily continentals, scary ladies, cat lovers, and judo dudes) while offering condescending help to the current world policeman, the USA. BOND’s relationship to Felix Leiter and the CIA is a variation on Sherlock Holmes’ relationship with Lestrade and Scotland Yard; the USA gets the credit but we know that Britain has really solved the case behind the scenes. (“Couldn’t have done it without ya, James”). The British power fantasy in the BOND films caught on globally and played a part in the 1960s “British Invasion” of popular culture, ironically making Britain internationally relevant again via its own fantasies, compensations and yearnings. Though the political clout of Britain was reduced, its cultural clout was perhaps even stronger than before.
We watched a lot of DOWNTON ABBEY last year (when I posted a sketch of Maggie Smith) and here are a few more sketches. This soap opera about the two communities living side by side in an early 20th century British mansion– upper class aristocrats and their working class servants– may be an obvious choice for a country with a history of an ingrained class structure, such as England, but I think it’s interesting that American shows don’t do this more often. In an American TV show about a legal firm we only follow the lawyers and never meet the people in the mailroom. If a show is set on a Starship, we will meet only the bridge officers and not the tech support dweebs on lower decks. If it is set in a hospital we only care about the Doctors, and not the orderlies or the folks processing the stool samples in the lab. Come on America, where’s your sense of upstairs/downstairs 1%/99% camaraderie? The fantasy here in the USA is that it is a completely egalitarian society, but the not-so-simple reality is rarely examined on TV.
As much as I enjoy the milieu of DOWNTON ABBEY, after several seasons the show is not as interesting to me as it once was, simply because a status quo is maintained episode to episode and season to season. There’s always something just about to happen; someone is about be accused of murder, someone is about to be disgraced by scandal, and someone is about to leave the family, but inevitably most of these things work out and are back to approximately where we’d started. The series’ first season, set in 1912, started off strong, with boyfriends dying during covert sex, their corpses secretly carried through the mansion by candlelight in dead of night. There were revelations about this servant or the next, and mini scandals always a-brewing with the aristocrats upstairs, and we were constantly warned that the modern world was about to change everything. Then of course there was WW1 to deal with. But in hindsight, the only true drama in the entire series happened when a couple of the real life actors tired of the corsets they had to wear and the scripts they had to read and decided to leave the show, which forced the writers’ dramatic hand, and some characters had to actually die to be written out of the series. DOWNTON ABBEY promised to be a chronicle of a time of great societal change in Britain, strange then that so little of that real-life drama is in the show. The most recent season, set in 1924, the only dramatic change in circumstances was the death of the dog in the title sequence (the pooch-thespian wanted to move on to a more challenging career in Purina dog chow commercials). I could hold on a few more seasons till WW2, just because I know that eventually Hitler can be relied upon to force some drama, the bloody trouble maker, but any time that you see Fascism as a solution to your problems, it’s time to re-examine your priorities.