The Tower

For reasons that will become clear, this is posted in memory of my dear friend Linda… known as ‘Henderbird’… who died yesterday.

1965 saw the release of the film The War Lord, starring Charlton Heston. It was directed by Franklin J Shafnner, who was considered by the studio to be a reliable pair of hands for a star vehicle. The screenplay was adapted from a now almost forgotten play by Leslie Stevens, called The Lovers. The story is of a Norman Knight, Chrysagon, charged by his Duke to suppress Frisian incursions at the border of his kingdom. While on active duty, Chrysagon becomes obsessed with a local woman, Bronwyn, the foster child of a Druid chief, pledged to be married to her childhood sweetheart. Chrysagon enforces droit de seigneur, the right of a lord to take a woman on her wedding night. It doesn’t end well! Viewed today the film is patchy, with clunky moments that undermine its undeniable pleasures. But balanced against its deficiencies, it looks wonderful, even when hampered with the technical limitations of its time. Though the horizontal matte-line is painfully obvious in this image, the composition and the mood combine to lovely effect. (The matte artist was the peerless Albert Whitlock.)

 …

As Chrysagon de la Cruex, Charlton Heston was clearly uneasy with the aspects of a narrative that required him to show the vulnerability of a man brought to his knees by desire, let alone love. In his published diary Heston was a tad ungenerous about the inexperienced young Rosemary Forsyth, who played Bronwyn. The evidence on screen is that he was the one struggling with his character, while she was simply not given anything in the script to work with, and was probably in awe of the star opposite her. In front of the camera Forsyth looks frankly terrified by Chrysagon’s rage, and painfully vulnerable and disadvantaged by her nudity in their first scene together. Though a charismatic actor when playing heroic roles, Heston could be a ham when out of his comfort zone, and his default response here lacks any subtlety or delicacy. There is simply no chemistry between him and Forsyth. Nevertheless the scene sticks in the mind, largely due to the underlying unease Chrysagon feels in the presence of what might be ‘old magic’, and this tone, underlined by the soundtrack and music, is one of the film’s great strengths, together with the battle scenes that really get the pulse racing.

Below: Heston is always more at ease in action scenes and in the saddle than when anything more cerebral is required.

Shafnner, so good at the action, was out of his depth with the Druid wedding. With the ‘extras’ woefully under-directed and left to run about and badly act-out the throes of unbridled sexual passion, it all just looks damned silly. Nevertheless, the art department do much to capture the sense of a culture in which pre-Christian religious practices continue to hold sway, an aspect emphasised by the consistently inventive and rapturous music score by Jerome Moross. (At the Druid wedding, wind-chimes and rattles add to the sense of the restless forest.)

Below: more evocative imagery conjured by the great Albert Whitlock.

Elsewhere in the film there is much to be enjoyed. Chrysagon’s manipulative brother Drago is played by Guy Stockwell, who eats the scenery, the furniture and any other actor in his orbit. For me, as an hormonal teenager entranced in the darkened cinema by the heightened passions on the screen… most of them not involving poor Rosemary Forsyth… Stockwell was the chiefest pleasure of the film. (I always preferred the bad boys!) Richard Boone as Bors, Chrysagon’s second-in-command, lends a solidity to the ripely over-heated, men-only environment, and you know you’d want a Bors in your corner if you were in a tight spot.

Below: Rosemary Forsyth as Bronwyn and handsome Guy Stockwell as as the villainous Drago.

The sense of isolation conjured in the bleak landscapes and solitary tower, stayed with me long after I’d viewed the film. Director of Photography Russell Metty doesn’t put a foot wrong, aided and abetted by Whitlock and the Art Direction of Henry Bumstead and Alexander Golitzen. In my head I wanted to be in that place. (And one day, I arranged my life so that I was in it, or as close to it as I could get, when I went to work at Tretower Court and Castle.)

But what of the magnificent set made for the film? In a debased form it was rebuilt and became an attraction on the Universal Studio ‘Tour’. Here it is as it looked in 1967, a mere two years after the release of The War Lord, and already stranded in a sea of awfulness.

The battered door-sign that announced the history of the tower to visitors.

warlord1

By the time the War Lord Tower was demolished in 2001 to make way for a shiny new attraction, it had been reduced to use as a store-room for merchandise, the film it had been raised for largely forgotten. Looking at it in the photographs, I can’t say I’m sorry it’s gone. For too long it had looked like some sad old zoo animal, uncared for, out of its natural environment, ignored by the crowds shuffling past that no longer paused to wonder why it was there. I like to remember it as was intended by the film’s art directors, Henry Blumstead and Alexander Golitzen, standing sentinel at the water’s edge, with marsh-birds calling and the reeds rattling in the wind.

Back in 1965, my friend Linda ‘Henderbird’ Henderson and I were passionately in love with the film, and I purchased the album of the music so that in our more excitable moments we could ‘act-out’ the story together. She was always Bronwyn and I ended up being Chrysagon. I don’t think I ever admitted to her that I wasn’t much interested in Chrysagon, and that I really wanted to swoon in the arms of bad Lord Drago!

Much, much later, as a painter I made images of the solitary tower, in the shadow of which I’d retreated to mend myself… see image below… when I was battered from having worked too long in the theatre.

Tretower Castle

Looking at the images from the film today, it strikes me that my paintings are significantly more like the tower of The War Lord, than that of Tretower Castle in Gwent. That’s come as a bit of a revelation.

23 thoughts on “The Tower

  1. Dear Clive, I’m so sorry to hear the sad news about your friend Linda. It’s wonderful though that you met in the summer, she must have been thrilled when you appeared at the door of Ty Isaf; a lovely surprise for her, and lovely memories for you.
    I have never seen the film as I can’t bear Charlton Heston, he only does one expression and, as you say, was a bit of a ham actor ( and when he was head of the NRA he certainly did not endear himself to me) . Those matte paintings are beautiful, like fairytale landscapes.
    Your tower paintings are so wonderfully evocative of historical landscapes, they are captivating in both mood and mystery. XxL

    • Dearest Liz, thank you for your warm thoughts. They’re welcome on this rather bleak winter morning. Yes, Linda’s face was alight when our eyes last met. I’d just seen her back into her and Jonathan’s motor-home. It had a rather high step, and I had to get up close and personal around her rear to get her in. She was a tiny thing, but weakened from the illness. We laughed a lot. It was a good moment. Linda always had a streak of black comedy in her.

      Heston has not worn well. Peter and I watched a bit of The Ten Commandments on a tv programme, and his performance in it was almost unwatchable, though that was the style of the time in such inflated epics. Throughout a long career he did ‘flinty’ OK, and the broad-shouldered swagger, and he redeemed himself somewhat in Planet of the Apes, which is is an interesting film and casts him well as a not particularly likeable character. But the NRA business was horrible, and I couldn’t bear to look at him thereafter.

      At my Facebook page, where I recently posted it, your ‘Winter Tower’ is garnering lots of ‘likes’! xxx

      • Oh, that’s good to know, I do love our painting so. A little bit of Clive hanging on our wall. I still can’t face Facebook, though, I’m afraid emails and blogs are just about all I can cope with, you are so with-it, man!
        xL

        • Social media is fine if you don’t allow it to rule your life, and some very good things have come via that route for me, including the recent arrangement for me to illustrate Hansel & Gretel. No complaints on that front.

          Sending heaps of love. I owe you a massive catch up, but I think we’ll do it in a phone call.

  2. Clive,

    How wonderful that you were her surprise summer visit! I am sure she must have loved visiting you and Ty Isaf… What a good memory for you. I also have been bemused of late by getting older, by people leaving us behind–as Sendak said, we are helpless to stop them and then we love them more.

    And it’s always interesting the way subterranean childhood images sometimes surface and reveal themselves. You’re convincing on the tower, and I agree with Sarah about Drago–I immediately thought of some of your figures when I saw his face and style of hair!

    • Clive and Marly

      I was putting Clive’s monograph away on the bookshelf last night and my gaze falls upon “The Comfort of Angels Attending The Dying” on the front cover:

      The angel on the right in the painting, if my eyes do not deceive me, bears a distinct resemblance to the Drago of Clive’s teenage years.

      I know from an earlier post at the Artlog that friends have commented that they can see Clive’s partner, Peter, in the other angel in the painting.

      The Artlog is definitely bringing out even more of my curious tendencies!!

  3. I mostly only remember the music, unlike Lion in Winter when I have fond memories of film AND music.
    I too am sorry for your loss but rejoice in the incorruptible memories that your heart and mind will ever hold.
    Keep ‘wielding’ the brush and pen dear chum and keep those ‘beasts at bay.’
    Love as ever (and of course always.)
    B xxx

  4. I’m sorry to hear the sad news about your friend Linda and that December has been difficult so far. But your comment about the secret visit this summer was lovely Clive, I guess we have to hold onto those moments for some comfort, and thank you for this post; you’re always introducing me to fascinating artists, films and all sorts that I would never have come across and I’m very grateful 🙂

  5. Sorry about your friend.
    But what a beautiful homage to her.
    I do not know whether there is life after death. But I think the people we love live in us, while we still remember them with love.

    This film is one of my husband’s favourites, and we watch it about once a year. He identifies with Chrysagon. I have never dared admit to him, that the one I pined for, all this time, was not Heston but the delectable Guy Stockwell! (Me too!) Bad boys are so attractive!

    • Oh Maria, you bad girl! Sadly Guy Stockwell is not around for us to fight over. I’m quite sure you would have won.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts. Linda has been much in my mind today, though I’d much prefer it if I could phone her and speak to her in person.

  6. Commiserations on the death of your friend, Clive, but also thanks for bringing back memories of The War Lord. I’ve seen it twice, I think, once when it first came out, and it lingers in the mind as an atmospheric and at times quite magical film. I see it gets 67% on Rotten Tomatoes and having read your more recent review I’d certainly be interested to see it again to find out how it would hold up all these years later.

    Bors sticks in my mind but I was a great fan of Richard Boone in those days. I understand that Chrysagon’s hawk has been identified as a Harpy Eagle, a native of South America!

    • I did see it recently, Harry, and it’s as strong as I remember in its good aspects, but more disappointing than I recall in its weaker ones. There is a void at the heart of the film created by Heston’s inability to be vulnerable… or caring. I found myself thinking what a better job Guy Stockwell would have made of Chrysagon, but that would beg the question, who might have played Drago? The action sequences are stirring, though I was appalled by the ‘Druid Wedding’, which was so much better in my head than in what I saw, though it clearly had an effect on me when I experienced it the first time.

      It probably took a big old Harpy Eagle to match Heston’s ‘epic’ stature… and his aquiline profile… on the screen. Hollywood is notoriously disinterested in authenticity regarding such matters as eleventh century Norman falconry practices.

  7. I can only say how sorry I am Clive. Shellie and Sarah have said anything that I would have said and so beautifully too.

    As I get older, I realise how much we are influenced by books, images, films from our childhoods.

    Keep doing what only you can do!
    Love
    LXx

    • Thank you, Lorrie. December has been a bad month so far, and we’re only just over a week into it. I’m thinking of sending it back and requesting a replacement.

      Yes, I see how significant are our early exposures to books, films, images etc. Makes you realise how important it is to ensure children see and experience the very best.

  8. You have such a wonderful store of knowledge, Clive….and are able to pass it on to others in an approachable and (seemingly!) effortless way. Thank you.

    The interesting insight into your own work was, perhaps, one of those lovely moments when something clicks into place…and brings a smile of recognition? And those tower paintings are magnificent. Thank you for those too. x

    • Hello Shellie. It was strange indeed to start gathering images from the film today, and to see so much in them of my paintings. I think I’d known this in the back of my mind, but hadn’t really unpacked the information until now.

      I’m so pleased you enjoy what you find here. Sometime I worry that I’m just withering on about stuff no-one cares about apart from me.

  9. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend, Clive. The friends of our childhood and youth are often linked with events, which resonate throughout the rest of our lives, even though it often means we have to live our lives to realise their true importance.

    Remembering Linda, through your mutual love of a favourite film, is a very touching way to honour her life and your friendship with her.

    I know the places and objects in your paintings are often infused with memories and links to important people,. I do hope, with today’s revelation, that when you now see the tower in your paintings, you will eventually be comforted by memories of Linda, ‘The Warlord’ and the excitement of those teenage years you spent together.

    • I’m so pleased that Linda’s husband Jonathan brought her here during the summer. She wasn’t at all well, but we had a lovely day together, catching up after the many years that had passed since we’d last seen each other. (He’d kept the visit a secret from her, and she hadn’t any idea where she was when they pulled up outside Ty Isaf until I came out of the house to greet them.)

      Time passes so quickly, and it’s shocking when I pause and realise that the greater part of my life is well behind me. It’s that thought that drives me to work so hard, and to try to make the last quarter… if I’m lucky and get that long… be the one that produces the richest outpouring.

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