Anne's Blog - July 07

"Here There Be Dragons"

Who, in hearing the wailing notes of the cantador puncuated by the staccato of heels and the buzz of castanettes, has not felt the stirring in their blood of la vida tenida, or life possessed? Life held, life clung to, life tenuous and yet wholy lived? The Flamenco is where the Classical met the Wanderers, where the rigors of the mind crashed into the crying soul, and was born a dance of death. If a person does not understand Spanish, this dance looks like a dance of sexual passion, yet to listen with understanding is to suddenly be let into a world where love is torment and the darkness of the soul is set on fire. You can see by the attitudes of the bodies that it is "la danza orgullosa" or a dance of honor, arrogance, defiance and pride. Even those of the Americas who have never heard the cantador, immediately recognize the call of the soul; it is in the blood, that cry of death, to death, in spite of death, of the life grasped and held.

The Northwest, being not a body culture, but a verbose culture oriented around the mind, has its own form of "la danza orgullosa" which lies, not in the music, but in the lyrics. There are as many different forms of musical lyrics as there are forms of mind, of course: the call of the heart, weeping, overflowing with joy, puzzled or hurt or inspired; the call of the body full of the sexual dance or drummed up on drugs or merely that tune to which you can't stop tapping your toes. However, the genius of the West is not in those favored expressions of music, but in the seepage of words and thoughts that get into the mind through this vehicle, often distorted, yet more often remembered for a very long time. What is it about the lyric that is easy to remember that the glut of prose lacks? It is my belief (but it may be a mental prejudice) that we invented poetry as a mnemonic and so, the lyric, is a very powerful tool.

Kings among the poets are many, but the poet who has the ability to instill the mind with a controversy of ideas is the king among kings. Often in a band like the Beatles, one of the lyricists will be a heart type or a body type, opting for lyrics that are easily remembered, sweet or sad, and universal. Such is Paul McCartney. Yet, even as a child, I took one look at Mr. Lennon here, and new that there was a mind. It was easy for me, even as a young teen to listen to the Beatles and say to myself, "ah, that was John." In my portrait of John Lennon here in Sgt. Pepper mode, I gave him that mind quality, that way of looking that said, "now, now, take me for a food, will you? I grew up in the streets of Liverpool, where fools die common deaths." And John, as he is here, represents a kind of Brit with a heavy Celtic background who spawned language as they strode on stones, twisting and turning the word into a knife, a sneer, a political bomb, or maybe just a way of saying, "yeah, sure". This form of Brit, from Cockney to Dublin-down-and-out, is the mental backbone of the old Empire, the dragon's breath of those islands, and the reason that the British, were, well, the British. It was not so much the "stiff upper lip" that made the Brit so distinguished, but the disdain, the skepticism, the cynical look of "yeah, right." And the word infused the dragon fire with pungence, so that British humor, today (when it is not Bennie Hill) is so twisted and dense that most Americans look at it as if it might explode, not knowing whether to laugh or run away.

The power of John's work, like that of American Hip Hop, is that of the oppressed man. I find it a shame that brains are so beat up in American schools, where, in Britain, the brain survived the British school system. Yet, even on the playground, the wit can escape the ravages of peer pressure. In this day and age, I push teaching children the scathing comeback and the critical mind as tools of effective defense against all those who would come chasing dragons. St. George is alive and well, so better get that fire stoked! And I have this picture of Mr. Lennon on my wall, to remind me that fifteen hundred years was not enough to defeat the fiery edge of the word.

"Searching for Jimmy-boy"

The other recent adventure began with Wordos, a writing group which John suggested that I join (not Lennon, Dalmas!). We went to the library to get their books, and found that some of them made their bread and butter writing Trek novels. Now, with both of us being long time fans (verse and chapter) we set about to enjoy or pan what we found. Some were good, and my judge of a good Trek book (original series) is whether I could hear the music while I read. Yes, I know, serious Trekitis. But, while my dear sister imprinted on Sean Cassidy and Madonna, my tastes were more toward Straker and Spock and once a Trekkie, always a Trekkie.

But the odd part was that almost all the artists could do Bones and Spock, but few could draw Captain Kirk. For some reason, Bill Shatner defied artists. Certainly, both Nimoy and Kelley had serious elements to their faces readily caricatured, and Shatner was pretty normal looking, but the ability of artists to capture him was really astonishing, as you see below from this random selection of book covers.

Bloodthirst Crucible Ghost Walker Rihannsu Sanctuary Starship Renegade

Now is it my imagination, or do many of these Kirks look like other actors? We know he's a generic American type, the Hollywood chin, the broad head of the action hero, the short nose and light coloring of preferred Amerian TV, yet the picture on the bottom, for the novel "Renegade" is about the only one who comes close to actually looking like Bill Shatner. The others are obviously Kirk, but look again at how easily Nimoy (Spock) and Kelley (McCoy) are recognized. If you saw these portraits out of context, it might be hard to recognize ole Billy boy, let alone Jimmy boy, well, not quite, that's not fair. Most of them could be reconized, but are still "off" is some way. Why is it, for instance in "Sanctuary" that the artist has an easy time of Spock, except for misplacing the mouth somewhat, but really blew it on Kirk?

You see what's coming--a challenge. Yet, in looking at hundreds of photos of Shatner as Kirk, one can see that he's a type who changes with lighting, like many actors(esses). Usually this generic type gets starring roles where Nimoy was Spock for all eternity and really had a struggle with it. So it wasn't Shatner's looks that damned him in future roles, but his acting, a style he chose for Kirk that was easily parodied and got him into trouble with other roles. However, all that being said, Shatner has some interesting facial features that, while subtle, mark out his photos to the point where he could never be mistaken for another actor. The formost of these is his upper lip, which is captured by many of these artists. Yet the other feature that he has is an unusual forehead, which most artists cannot capture, going for the more generic forehead with a large, central, frontal eminence. Shatner is distinguished by NO frontal eminence and very strange super-orbital ridges which make a set of shadows on his forehead that are captured only in the last title and to a lesser degree by "Ghost-Walker" and "Rihannsu".

Before I go on, let me say that Kirk, as a role, was almost as interesting as Shatner as an actor. Now, I abhor Kirk, I think he's annoying, not as bad as McCoy, but not someone I would care to know. But, as a role, he had the opportunity to express all sides of a personality not usually seen in American TV. It would appear that the artists are just as unable to grok this personality as they are able to "get" the caricature of the actor. I find the illustrating challenge (such as in the picture of Lennon) to "capture" the essence of the personality. So, I answered Sky's challenge and tried to draw Shatner as Kirk. By golly, he was hard. I redid both of these sketches twice.

Captain Kirk

Now, I'm cheating. These other artists had to work in a grosser medium, that of paint, but I will do a color sketch of our "Jimmy boy". But you can see by this demo, at how much his face changes under different lighting with the Mecurial moods of this character/actor. What I wanted to show you is that by stressing the elements of the face that are the caricature elements, it's possible to capture the essence of both personality and physiogamy. Although we no longer practice typing people by facial types, the personality wears the face and not vice versa. Just as Lennon is my idea of the quintessential Celtic/Brit, Shatner as Kirk is my idea of the essence of the American: curious, daring, aggressive, a bit naive, a bit self-centered, and very extraverted. I wanted to capture Kirk's mental type, which is why I did the sketch on the left where he's about ready to jump in and say something, too curious and sure of himself. The image on the right shows just how generic he is but how this can be saved by the forehead, yet also falls into the "not readily recognizable as Shatner" category. Sky was impressed by the fact that these two sketches don't look like the same guy, but brothers, perhaps. This is partially due to how lighting can change a face.

Maybe a job doing Trek covers? But I'll continue to draw this actor just because he's so danged hard!

© 2007, A.R. Stone