Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 15

Okay I am now following DeAnne Smith. I think that’s the right word, though I wish that blogspot had a term that didn’t sound quite so ominous – like I’m stalking her or something. Also I wish she would update her blog more often. DeAnne is Canadian, which can’t be helped I supposed, does a great line in stand-up, and according to Consuela (my Tejana maid) is the love-child of Daniel Radcliffe and Andrea Gibson. Now I come to think of it, I wish that I had a term better than “does a great line”. Consuela has just told me how the words “doing a line” can be interpreted. Really, Consuela? Jings! I didn’t know that. Well, you learn something new every day.

Consuela and I have been looking at TV and movie cliché lately. Like whenever there is a character on British TV who is a young Chinese woman she is inevitably called “Soo Lin”. All the way from Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) to Spooks, without fail, a Chinese girl will be Soo Lin. Any of you out there actually know anyone called Soo Lin? You do? Oh.

Well, on to movies then, and in particular to old Westerns. I am a fan of the late Jay Silverheels, who is most famous for having played Tonto opposite Clayton Moore’s eponymous Lone Ranger. His lines in the role were never too taxing, and consisted manly of “Him bad man, Kemo Sabe”, and “Me do”. Although the part must have bankrolled him for quite some time he once complained wryly to the effect: “I’m supposed to be this Indian super-scout who can track buffalo ten miles away, but every week someone creeps up behind me and hits me over the head with a pistol butt – I’d have terminal brain damage by now!”

One thing Jay Silverheels suffered from was what I call all-purpose Indian casting. He was a Mohawk from Canada, but one of his first larger roles in Holywood was in Key Largo as a Seminole. Really you couldn’t get much further South from Canada without taking your socks off and swimming…

He’s not alone in suffering from this. Think of a Native American actor – Will Sampson, Chief Dan George, Graham Greene, Rodney A Grant – they’ve all had this. A casting director needs a Native American, so apparently he calls Dial-an-Indian and picks the first one on the list like he was a taxi cab. You might have been born and raised a Navajo, but if the script calls for anyone from Tlingit to Mataponey or from Mescalero to Onondaga that’s where you got to go!

Wes Studi, the well-known Cherokee actor (no, not the fake WS who is currently spying on me from a nearby hilltop, I mean the real WS) has been seen as history’s most famous Apache (Geronimo), literature’s most famous Huron (Magua – a role he just owned!), a Pawnee, a Shoshone, and heaven knows what else.

Would we do the same for European actors?

Okay I need someone to play a Greek fisherman. Who’ve we got? Who’s next up? Ewan MacGregor? Yeah he’ll do fine, cast him!

Some more thoughts about old Westerns. These aren’t original thoughts – I heard them somewhere – and if I could give due credit I would, but they have stuck in my mind and I thought I would share them.

The black-hat’s six gun only ever has five shots while the white-hat’s always has seven. When the black-hat realizes he has run out or ammo what does he do? Yeah, that’s right, he looks at his gun and keeps pulling the trigger – “Damn! Out of bullets again! I don’t believe it – that’s the fifth time this week! And it’s not as though I don’t count them as I load them. I do it religiously – I go one, two, three, four, six, just like that!”

Then he throws his gun at the white-hat. “This should work, like it didn’t for the four other white-hats I tried to bushwhack this week…”

Of course the white-hat still has one or two bullets left in his gun. You or I would just execute the black-hat on the spot – heart and head – in order to save any further trouble. But what does the white-hat do? He throws his gun away and closes with the black-hat for a fist fight.

We all know what’s going to happen next. The white-hat fights by Queensbury Rules, the black-hat fights dirty, throws sand in the white-hat’s eyes, grabs a length of chain or a piece of wood and swings at him. For nine tenths of the fight the black-hat is winning; he has slugged the white-hat in the jaw so many times it’s a wonder that the white-hat isn’t in need of radical dental surgery. But suddenly the hero scores one to the villain’s jaw, and the tide of the fight changes. Two more punches and the black-hat is on the ground, cowering, glowering, wiping blood off his lip with the back of his hand…

There are more clichés. The truncated curse for one. No one ever finishes a curse:

“Why you…”

“What the…”

“Well I’ll be…”

The late Tom Mix saying (silently) “Why you…”

An actor in a Western will go all around the houses not to say “God-damned”:

“You gold-durned, dad-blamed, gosh-darned, doggone, dang-blasted, ornery sidewinder. Why, dag-nabbit, if I had my shootin’ irons…”

There are a few musical clichés in Westerns too, but this medium doesn’t lend itself to illustrating them. I will however mention one, which is the three tits and three bums. Imagine the scene in the fancy saloon – not a spit and sawdust joint, but one with pretentions, because it has a stage, limelight, and a small orchestra. On stage is Dolly Malone the Prairie Canary, pretty but feisty Yankee Soprano, legs all the way up to her bustle and beyond. She sings a popular ditty, first verse and chorus, and then come the three tits and the three bums from the orchestra – the cue for the audience to join in with an extra chorus, thus:

DOLLY: “… and it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game!”

ORCHESTRA: tit-tit-tit  BUM  BUM  BUM

OMNES: “Take me out to the ball game, take me out in the crowd…”

Sadly we will never see the like of this again.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. Consuela and I are getting into our camo gear. We’re going to sneak up on the neighbouring hillside and see if we cam get to the bottom of this faux Wes Studi business once and for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment