Monday, October 13, 2008

Playin' Cowboys

Yesterday, for a change, I decided to do something rather different. I've been pretty well planted in the 16th Century for the past few years (something that has interested me for many, many years though, I just haven't always indulged myself in it always), but after watching "Appaloosa" (below) I decided it was time to pull out the old Western gear and do some playing with that. I haven't managed to indulge myself in THAT passion for several years, so it was about time. I still have most of my kit of course, so it's not as though I need to go out and buy or make anything. Just dust it off, oil it up and put it on.

I doubt that I'll get TOO excited about it, though I may wander over to the local Cowboy Action Shoot at the end of the month, and "one of these days" (when our schedules coincide) I'll take the class in Mounted Cowboy Action Shooting that the local Sheriff's Posse puts on. So far it's always been when I have other things scheduled (like last weekend, when we were doing the North Country Muster). I'll drag Bev along of course, as soon as she's able (she'll be a while, as she had surgery last week that has knocked her for a loop. Pray for her speedy recovery!), and we'll knock their socks off, I assure you. Well, at least we'll have fun.

So here are a few photo's that Neb took of Woodrow (who may just be a bit on the stout side for a cow pony...) and me having fun in the back pasture, playing "Cowboys". It would probably have to be either 1860's or early 1870's, what with me packing my cap-and-ball revolvers and a Henry Rifle. Someday we'll do a photo shoot with later-period stuff just to counter-balance things, but this will do for now. BTW, the saddle was made by my compadre RJ Preston of Fay, Oklahoma. It's an interpretation of the Thornton Grimsley Dragoon saddle of 1833. Close enough, it certainly works for a pretty long period of Westward adventures!



North Country Muster

We managed to survive our "School of the Renaissance Soldier: North Country Muster" on the first weekend of October. Unfortunately it also happened to be the first weekend of Autumn/Winter and rained pretty much throughout the weekend. Ah, authentic Northern European Weather to go with our event! Luckily it wasn't too cold, just very, very wet.

We didn't manage to attract huge numbers of new folks, but we did attract a few new recruits and bring back a few others, so we count this as a success. I believe we managed to muster somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 hardy individuals, willing to brave the elements in order to enjoy Life in the Sixteenth Century. Good thing we had lots of wool to wear.

For my own part, I was pretty pleased with the results. We mustered a total of 8 horse, of whom 6 were able to do all of the crazy Cavalry things that I love to inflict upon people (and horses). Not only did we get to practice our various drills such as wheels, column-to-line, etc., but we also for the first time under my command practiced "Dismounted" tactics. Meaning that we had four of the Horse armed with firearms who dismounted, handed the lead to their designated horse-holder, and went forth on foot to distract and annoy the Foote with our fire. Most enjoyable, especially as the Shotte (the musketeers) had just fired off their last charges, and were ready to head back to camp for more ammunition. Happy were we when we made this discovery! I wondered why they weren't shooting back...

Did I mention that it was wet? Most of the Horse (and the horses) were intelligent enough to billet in the barn. Your Rittmeister of Horse however was stubbornly insistent upon setting up canvas and living well... and damp. Setting up in the rain, taking down in the rain, then getting the wonderful chore of drying out LOTS of canvas in our garage. Thankfully we have a huge garage, and lots of poles to drape things from, as I believe we ended up with most of the tent-roofs to dry out. But dry they did, and all are now safely put away, with not a spot of mildew on them.

As always we ate well, thanks to our Victualer Cindy Madsen. Greater thanks cannot be transmitted, as a full belly makes the worst conditions tolerable. And the conditions weren't all that bad, so the wonderful (and plentiful) food made it all that much more fun. I think I always gain weight on these outings, even though I labour from dawn to dusk. Strange.

So as always, we had a wonderful (of soggy) time, the horses (as always) took a day to get used to the idea of what we were doing, and started to really click just about as it was time to pack up and leave. Alas. One of these days we'll figure out that we need THREE days of such training to get the horses' heads into the proper frame of mind. Next time.

Speaking of which, next time should be in April, at the Actions of the Lowe Countries in Sacramento. Just enough time to get everything cleaned up, dried out, and rust free. Maybe a few more recruits crazy enough to join us in our wild adventures, too.



Monday, October 6, 2008

Appaloosa (The Movie, Not The Horse)

I usually don’t use the term “Superb” to describe movies, since I generally much prefer to work on them than watch them, but I have to say that Appaloosa, starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, is just that: Superb. My wife and I just got back from watching it this afternoon, and I was totally blown away by not only the skill of the director, cinematographer and the stars, but also the props, hair & makeup and costume people as well. Usually it’s in the Hair & Makeup department that things go south in period pieces, but they actually did a great job on this one. Even when background people may be just right, the Stars are usually seen in some horrid contemporary hair fashion that may look right to the modern viewer, but clashes with the period being done, and in 20 years will look downright silly. Not this time: it looks good.

Likewise the clothing. Even Renee Zellweger’s clothing is spot-on, down to the underwear (yeah, you get to see some of that, too). The men’s clothing is great, what with vests and ties everywhere. The boots were good two-piece boots of the period, and the spurs were the fine “California” rowel spurs of the day, not the clunky “Western Spurs” that are worn now-a-days. And the HATS! My God, they are GREAT! All sorts of hats of the period, but best of all is Viggo Mortensen’s hat, it is GREAT! I’m officially jealous of THAT hat.

Props did a fine job with the gunbelts, saddles, you name it, and the Armourer outdid himself. From Viggo’s 8-gauge double shotgun (them things are BIG, and his was indeed a bloody big shotgun!) to the fact that his carbine (1866 Winchester) and his pistol (1872 Colt “Open Top”) fire the same ammunition (.44 Henry Flat), thus making them very serviceable together. Ed Harris’ combination of a pair of 1873 Colt Single Action Army’s and a Winchester 1873 Short Rifle was nice too: again, they easily could be in the same caliber, since Colt brought out their SAA in .44 Winchester Center Fire (aka .44-40) in 1878, and the story takes place in 1882. Plenty of time for Harris’ character to pick those up, while Viggo Mortensen’s character would still be considered well armed. Heck, one guy even had a Spencer carbine! Little details like that make me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Other details were absolutely wonderful, for instance after one of the shoot-outs, which happens in the blink of an eye. Viggo says to Harris “That was fast”. Harris answers “Everybody could shoot!”. Most gunfights were that fast, none of this long, drawn-out Hollywood gunfight stuff, and this was true to life, at least when depicting professionals. A fair amount of lead flying, lots of blood, and not much time elapsing. Thank God Harris (the Director as well as Star, Writer and Producer) chose not to “Sam Peckinpaugh” us with morbid shots of slow-motion carnage. Fast and furious, then over.

The story itself was very well played out. Subdued, really. It’s a buddy story, with the girl who comes between them, but it’s not done the way one might expect. The two main characters of Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are long-time partners. They don’t talk a lot, and don’t need to either. Lots of looks, a few words, and deep understanding of how the other man works is all there for the viewer to see. It’s the way films are SUPPOSED to be done, without a lot of talking. SHOW ME, don’t talk me to death, and this is exactly what Harris does in this film. He shows, doesn’t talk.

There is a lot to be said for this movie, and I really can’t think of a single bad thing to say about it, which for me is highly unusual to say the least. But I think that the very best thing I can say is that in the very last scene, with Everett standing in his “Shootist” stance, he looks straight out of Frederick Remington’s paintings, and is absolutely perfect in stance, clothing, weaponry, hair, you name it. On this, higher praise I cannot possibly give. He looked “Right”.