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Friday, July 9, 2010

Inspirations: The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tony Richardson (animations by Richard Williams)



Above is a compilation of several animated sequences (created by Richard Williams), which appear in Tony Richardson's The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968). The film in general, and the animations in particular, were a big influence on my first book, Pistols! Treason! Murder! In the film, these sequences punctuate the live action sections, and provide a satirical commentary on events. Below I discuss these animations in an extract from the chapter I contributed to Historical Reenactment: From Realism to the Affective Turn (Re-enactment History), edited by Paul Pickering and Iain McCalman (see here for further discussion of this chapter).

Consider Tony Richardson’s underrated film, The Charge of the Light Brigade, made in 1968 and set during the Crimean War in the mid-nineteenth-century. Richardson is immediately faced with the challenge of authenticity. Is telling a story set in the nineteenth century by means of modern media (that is, moving pictures intended for projection upon a cinema screen) an anachronism? Most complaints on the issue of anachronism concern questions of content or mentality—the latter usually involving the attribution of modern attitudes and beliefs to historical characters. The idea of formal anachronism is rarely raised.

The Charge of the Light Brigade is punctuated with animated sequences—made by Richard Williams—that are its most brilliant coup. These are very obviously not realistic at all, at one level. On the contrary, they consist of moving allegorical tableaux that dramatise relations between the European nation-states (the English lion and bulldog, the French cockerel, the Russian bear). However, their style is realistic in the sense that it invokes the satirical cartoons from the magazine Punch or the etchings that Phiz created for Dickens’ novels—and also perhaps their eighteenth-century forebears, William Hogarth and James Gillray. Considered as pastiche, the animations are lovingly detailed, and their tone faithfully reproduces the imperialist rhetoric of the mid-Victorian era. But they are not just pastiche. Something has been added to the original sources: most obviously, the simple fact of animation, but with it has come a different attitude, a kind of detachment and self-conscious manipulation of hindsight that is (by definition) absent from the primary sources. Very quickly, the integrity of the representation is (deliberately) undermined, as unified tableaux disintegrate into collaged fragments in a way that anticipates techniques later used by Terry Gilliam in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Anachronism is deployed as a critical technique.

For Fredric Jameson, the unwillingness or incapacity to acknowledge anachronism is one of the fundamental characteristics of pastiche. To put this in positive rather than negative terms, one of the achievements of pastiche is to actively suppress the concept of anachronism. By contrast, deliberate use of anachronism, and especially of formal anachronism, is a central feature of The Charge of the Light Brigade, in which the tension—even the contradiction—between modern methods of storytelling and the very different narrative techniques used by people in the past is a creative tension. The only unforgivable error would be to pretend that this tension did not exist–as pastiche does. History exists to map the fault lines between the past and the present, rather than to paper over the cracks.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The animated interludes in Charge of the Light Brigade are utterly brilliant - funny, serious, whimsical, historically accurate. They are some of my favorite bits of animation art ever.
Anne Bobroff-Hajal