sugoll (sugoll) wrote,

Swordplay in films

I have a theory about swordfights in films.

There have been some relatively recent films involving Western swordplay. There was the Bratpack Musketeers films and The Man in the Iron Mask. There was The Musketeer, which ignored western swordplay and applied Chinese broadsword to a rapier (hint: it won't work). There was The Count of Monte Christo, which had a few nice touches, but managed to obliterate the final fight thanks to appalling editing. And now we have another Musketeers, which lets us down on the swordplay.

My theory is that actors aren't learning fencing these days.

The problem with rapier and smallsword fencing is that it's hard. It's full of small, subtle movements that are quick and precise, and it can be difficult to understand the difference between doing it right (so that it works) and doing it wrong (so that it doesn't work at all). Compared to the big, swirly actions of a cut 'n' thrust sword, it's a lot harder to put together a sequence that looks exciting and varied, can be followed by an audience, and - crucially - can be learned by the actors.

I suspect that in days gone by, actors learned to fence anyway, either because it was expected as part of society, or because it was expected as part of their trade (look at Romeo and Juliet, with Mercutio's death, or the finale of Hamlet). Basil Rathbone was one of the best fencers in Hollywood; the Admiral's Men themselves were, I understand, respected swordsmen in their own right.

With fencing as part of their standard background skills, actors would be far more able to pick up a complex choreographed sequence than someone starting from scratch, but I suspect that the latter is now the case.

(I have no evidence to back any of this up, of course. Feel free to chime in and point out I'm wrong.)

Of course, we keep hearing about all the training that big-name actors undergo in preparation for their blockbuster rolls, in terms of their fight sequences, but I have a suspicion that the same isn't true of fencing.

Tags: fencing, movies
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