Sunday, July 24, 2016

Going to Montan' for to Throw the Hoolihan

I ride an old paint
I lead an old Dan
I'm goin' to Montan'
For to throw the hoolihan

The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, photo courtesy of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch Foundation. []

Actually, the lyrics to this old cowboy song are partly true, for tomorrow I'm going to Montana, but not to "throw the hoolihan" - by the way, no one knows what that means. Nor will there be any horse riding, at least that I know of. But I'll be gone for two weeks and hope to publish updates from the road.

This is not my first rodeo, as the saying goes. I've illustrated often for the National Park Service.

The excuse for this trip is that the Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site needs some illustrations and that's where I come in. I'll spend three days touring the site with members of the exhibits company I'm subcontracting to and NPS staff. Then I'll come home and create nine illustrations for interpretive signs around the park.

Ironically, I started my career as an illustrator with this book for Dover Publications back in 1985. It's still in print.

And here I must thank my dear wife who, when I told her I wasn't going to bid on the project because I didn't have anything current in my portfolio showing cowboys, said "Just send them something." So this is what I sent, and I got the job. Thanks Sweetie.

Another image from my Cowboys of the Old West coloring book. As always, I find the real thing much more interesting than the legend. It's estimated that at least one in four of all cowboys in the classic trail driving days following the Civil War 
were either African-American or Hispanic-American.

Oh, the most authentic rendition of "I Ride an Old Paint," that I could find on YouTube was by Woodie Guthrie:

But this one by Tim O'Brien and the Two Oceans Trio is the most stirring, even if he does sing it with an Ozark twang:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

As Much About the Present as the Past


Someone once made a comment about historical films being as much about the present as the past. This is certainly true of two Russian military epics made during World War II that I found today on YouTube.


The first is "Suvorov," a biography of the astounding Alexander Suvorov (ca. 1730 - 1800). The film dates from 1940, and I suspect it was not only meant as an ode to a spectacularly brilliant Russian general, but also as a reminder to Russians of their fighting spirit, and to Europe (Suvorov crossed the Alps), that it might be wise not to attack Russia.



The second, "Kutuzov," was also about a victorious Russian general and his army, this time Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813), who fought Napoleon. 



Since it was made in 1943, one is tempted to see the film as not only a reminder of Russia's past military glory, but to reassure the nation that the Germans, whom the Soviet Union was still in the process of pushing back to Berlin, would meet a fate similar to Napoleon's.


Both films are remarkable for their attempts to represent authentically the military uniforms, equipment, and tactics of their day. For example, this is the first time I've seen the Potempkin uniforms represented in film. 


The Soviet government was also generous in loaning authentic locations, such as palaces, in which to film, and lots, and lots of soldiers and horses. All of which is remarkable when you realize that World War II was in full swing by the time Kutuzov was filmed.

Lastly, one sees stylistic similarities between these earlier films and Sergei Bondarchuk's handling of battle scenes, especially in his 1968 "War and Peace." No doubt Bondarchuk was quite familiar with both of these amazing films.


I should note that both films are in Russian, with neither dubbing nor subtitles. But if you know the history even slightly (or look it up online) they are easy to follow and well worth a look.

A. Suvorov, 1940, with Nikolai Chrekasov-Sergeyev in the title role. 
B. This 1799 portrait of Alexander Suvorov by Joseph Kreutzinger, shows the remarkable physical resemblance between the actor and his subject. [Wikimedia Commons]
C. Russian Troops under Suvorov Crossing the Alps in 1799 by Vasily Surikov, 1899 [Wikimedia Commons]
D. Perhaps influenced by the film, this 1941 Russian poster links General Suvorov with the Russian Army of World War II.
E. Kutuzov, 1943, starring Sergey Blinnikov in the title role. 
F.Portrait of Russian field-marshal M.I. Kutuzov  by R.M. Volkov
G. German troops in Russia during the winter of 1941-1942 suffered a fate similar to those of Napoleon in 1812.
H. The Potempkin Uniform as reconstructed in A.V. Viskovatov's monumental work, Historical Description of the Clothing and Arms of the Russian Army (1855).
I. Suvorov, 1940
J. War and Peace, directed by Sergey Bondarchuk(1968)
K. Kutuzov (1943)