Armitage dances his way through it

If we don’t get to watch him dance, at least we can watch him brawl, no?

The other thing that I couldn’t stop watching while I was selecting shots for “Armigerous” Armitage was this action sequence from Spooks 7.1, where Lucas and Dean go to the breaker’s yard to find the rucksack that Dean hid there.

Again, I’ve presented it first in real time, and then in 25% slomo (correctly indicated this time). The slomo is interesting to watch because this scene was the topic of a short delivered with the Spooks 7 DVDs. Some of the interesting points from that piece: that they practice the scenes by “dancing” their way through them; that because of the very odd setting they have to work hard to keep themselves safe while rehearsing and shooting; that they film some moments in slower sequence and then speed them up during the editing process. Because of that last point, it’s unclear what slowing the sequence does to let us see how they put it together, except simply to make a bit more obvious when they are cutting between camera angles, and to give us a closer look at the pieces of it. Despite this analytical problem, the slomo definitely makes the whole thing beautiful.

Slowing it down makes it look more choreographed, but interestingly, in my opinion, no less violent. For instance, you can tell from his stance at 0:52 (in the slomo) that Armitage already knows just how the attacker is going to come round the corner; he’s anticipating a bit what he knows will happen rather than showing a real “lying in wait” for the potentially unexpected behavior of his opponent. Knowing that Armitage is a righthander makes the decision to lead the slinging of the auto part from the left side of his body also make it seem more dancelike, sort of like a tennis backhand — though this move obviously also has something to do with the layout of the location. And when you see the scene at a slower speed you can tell that that kick to the chest of the attacker at 1:25 only hits the stuntman’s hands and maybe his knees. Still, one reason that it continues to seem so violent, and something that impresses me, is how he manages not only to keep the choreography of the violence together, but also the mood — Lucas has a real sort of bloodlust on his face that suggests a bit of enjoyment of the whole affair. And then there’s the second of breathlessness and disequilibrium at 1:53. See these caps (all mine), in no particular order:

I’m also developing a collateral interest in boxing after watching this scene so many times. Note how Armitage begins the right hook at 1:44 (again in the slomo section). I want to note that I just started reading about the taxonomy of punches today — I think that’s a hook because it involves an extreme bend of his elbow, comes from his rear hand, and because he impacts the side of his opponent’s face — but the camera angle change impacts my analytical purchase here).

I always feel like slugging is a point at which it’s easy for stage combat to look faked — that one looks pretty good, although the fact that he’s so much taller than most of his opponents when we see him punching means that the perspective we end up seeing the punch from always makes it looks a bit larger than life. Compare the above , for example, to Thornton punching Stevens in the first episode of North & South, where the height difference is fairly extreme and it seems like they’re almost hiding the punches from the viewer, preferring to show their impact as opposed to their execution:

The slugging starts with what seems, based on the elbow angle, like a shovel hook, at 1:15, followed by three regular hooks beginning at 1:28, and a blow to the face at 1:56. It may be the camera angle, or the way that the shot gets pulled off screen, that makes this seem more like dance to me than actual violence, but he saves it with his face, which is as essential to Margaret’s reaction of horror as the violence itself. Again, we’ve got these amazing facial contortions, although they’re a bit hard to see between the cotton fluff and the slow frame rate of the production, which also makes capping a real pain (so I borrowed my caps this time):

Richard Armitage as John Thornton in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The same. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

The same, a few seconds later. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

With regard to the dance, Robin Hood was the Armitage project that seemed to involved the most dance-like violence — “Robin Hood for the post-MTV generatio”n — and I feel like you can see it, even without slomo, although slomo makes it extreme, and I first noticed this in fanvids that slomo’d pieces of action in order to make them fit the music. If you slomo Robin Hood too much, you end up giggling at the violence. Here’s an extreme example, from Robin Hood 2.11, in the action sequence just before Guy unmasks the Nightwatchman as Marian.

Some of the stage combat involved is obvious, even in shown time. It’s not so bad because we can read it both as part of Guy’s characterization (he’s not that great a fighter) and also as a consequence of his extreme wrath at his opponent here. His movements are out of control, but they can read as out of control because Guy’s not very good with weapons (he’s always overswinging his balance with that sword — which must have been a trick, since they used wooden weapons and not the metal weapons that would have generated the necessary disequilibrium on their own — when Armitage is swordfighting he must always be negotiating between the balance he needs to stance and the unbalance he needs to show Guy as he is), or because his anger often gets the best of him.

When you slomo it, though, you see just how extremely physically and openly Armitage is dancing. Right from his advance across the room toward the Nightwatchman (I assume, at this point, a stuntman), we see a sort of controlled drive of momentum. A fascinating moment comes at at 0:50 in which his self-disbalancing gives his body an amazingly sinuous contortion. After 1:17 we see not so much a fight as the cooperative lifting that might come from his dance days, and in that entire subsequent sequence the slomo shows us the ways that Armitage is mostly lifting, rather than throwing, the smaller stuntman. We can see this clearly at 1:35 where the camera catches the stuntman using Guy’s arm as a cooperative support for his next mood. The big clue to the fakery, unfortunately, is the shovel hook at 1:31, which seems just as bad in shown time as it does in slomo. You get the feeling that Armitage is almost afraid of hurting the stuntman here, though he quickly pushes to alleviate that impression in the subsequent, measured stomping, to which he adds a lot of powerful hip rotation. It would be truly frightening to wonder if the thighs behind those boots were going to come down on one, I think! There’s something that might be a right cross at 1:59 (interesting because Armitage doesn’t seem to throw a straight punch very often), though the camera angle obscures it.

Back to the original topic, which was Lucas’ fascinating, entrancing, violent dance in Spooks 7.6: if, like me, you really like watching Richard Armitage move his thighs, here’s a cut of the scene that involves just the part where he’s using his legs, at 10% slomo, so  you have plenty of time to enjoy the way Armitage dances his way through it:

Aaah. I watched that clip a lot today. I’m grading. That clip almost makes it bearable. Almost. Armitage in action can make me forget almost any trouble.

~ by Servetus on November 15, 2011.

31 Responses to “Armitage dances his way through it”

  1. I love watching Richard move. Especially in slo-mo.

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  2. Incoherent thoughts after watching the breaker’s yard scene, something I’ve done numerous times, but it gets to me every time. The “dance”, the thighs… *sigh*

    My heart always breaks for Guy when he is continually defeated in his skirmishes, then subsequently suffers Vaisey’s ridicule and rage, highlighting his vulnerability and the precariousness of his position. It also makes him more human, but thank goodness he found his inner warrior in S3.
    I don’t slo-mo much in RH, usually only the shots of Guy striding out. It’s the thighs again… 😉

    The scene in the breaker’s yard is one of my favourites, and it’s in what I believe to be one of the best Spooks
    episodes. It was thus very interesting to see how they put the scene together, choreographing the fight sequences.
    Yes, Richard certainly impresses with the way he keeps the mood and the character, all the while moving to the “dance.” Maybe with his inherent talent and all those years of training he can move through the choreography with ease.
    I’m always in awe of how well he moves, I never get tired of seeing him in action. As long as his legs are, he never seems to be in danger of getting tangled up or appearing gawky, he’s controlled, graceful and athletic.
    And oh so easy on the eye!

    Thankyou for another interesting and enjoyable post, servetus! 🙂

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    • It’s the combination of acting and dancing that really sells the scene, I think. You can see this a little if you compare to how Keith Allen is doing action in RH when he’s fighting with Guy. He is just not used to miming the facial expressions to go with the violence with the skill that Armitage manages.

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  3. Yep, with you on that again, Mezz and Servetus. I watched the videos first…before I knew Servetus had made this new post…so I’ve been admiring the moves on and off for about 3 hours!

    I wonder if Richard thought about how tight his jeans were at the wrecker’s in the 1st video? Not so much for how they looked (just lovely IMHO!) but for the possibility of his splitting them at the seams?????

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    • yeah, the videos go up before the post does, usually, as I have to try them out, so if you’re subscribed to my youtube channel you get a little teaser.

      jeans have reallly well reinforced seams. Sadly for us.

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  4. One of the joys of Lucas watching is knowing those jeans are almost always snug and there is a really good chance we’ll get to see him in action–fighting the bad guys, racing through streets, punching up Robinov in a pool (ooooh, tight black WET jeans? Heaven.)

    That physique of his is a marvel to watch at rest and in motion.

    And, as you have so ably pointed out, Doc, we don’t have to look at those blurry Cats rehearsal vids (although I have quite a number of times) to see RA dance. His characters–Guy, Porter, Lucas–have all danced for us.
    Hmmmm–wonder what sort of dancer Thorin is?

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    • I would imagine that with the weight of his costume even RA would have difficulty moving with his usual grace!

      Tight black WET jeans? Oooh, heaven indeed, angie! *thud*

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      • BTW I meant to ask you angie, how are you feeling this week? Much better I hope. 🙂

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        • Thank you, Mezz, yes, I am better. Much more mobile and my cold is better, too. Sunday–after a week and a half of making do with a basin of water and towelettes–I had a proper shower and shampooed my hair and it felt WONDERFUL. Benny brought up the transfer shower seat my mother had used in the farmhouse and that gave me the support I needed to manage it all. And one day, I may actually be able to bend over and touch my toes again. 😀

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      • Yeah, and dwarves are not generally known for their gracefulness. I am so curious to see and hear more of Thorin in action . . . I am so very intrigued by what we have seen so far. Mr. A brings something new and fascinating to each and every character. What a treat for us.

        Yep–tight black WET jeans moulded to those bodacious dancer’s thighs and delicious peaches, a black pullover clinging to that broad sculpted chest . . . oh, boy. Yessirree, Bob.

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        • You do have a way of painting a picture with words angie!! And what a delectable picture it is…the drooling is getting quite out of hand this end!! 😉

          PS If I’ve done my sums right, you’re up very late!!

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          • Hmmm, yes, 2:52 a.m. here. My sleeping patterns have been unusually goofy lately ever since the car accident. Saturday night I couldn’t get to sleep at all, and then Sunday I slept from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I have been working on my latest fanfic and watching “Slings and Arrows” on Ovation. At some point I will get back to a somewhat normal sleeping schedule (when I get a job) 😉

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  5. In a year’s ago print interview, the actor told of his parents sending him for tap dance lessons to correct his pigeon-toes. (what super parents, so vigilant over their boys’ welfare!) It is probably Armitage’s strong natural musicality that has helped provide him this physical control and to overcome the natural awkwardness of a teenager grown so suddenly out of body, towering over his peers, before the muscalature grew into the height.

    Another scene that has impressed me is Spooks 7, ep 1, when Lucas, released from the car boot, stumbles, recovers his balance. That is poetry in motion. It speaks volumes to the survivability and vulnerability of Lucas 7.

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    • Yes, it had to be no easy feat for a 14-year-old boy to handle those long limbs. I do wonder if the slight stooping of the shoulders is due to a very tall boy trying perhaps unconsciously to size himself down to fit in with his peers? I think of my oldest sister, who developed rather earlier than other girls and tried to make it less noticeable and still has a residual slumping of her shoulders.

      Lucas had my heart from the moment he stumbled out of that trunk–gaunt, disheveled, but most definitely a survivor. And yes, Mr. A once again masterfully integrating that dancer’s instinct into his performance.

      I think John and Margaret are very extraordinary parents of a very extraordinary son. No wonder he enjoys spoiling them.

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      • Angie, I think you are probably right about stooping due to being very tall. As an almost 6 foot tall female, I know I certainly went through that phase of not wanting to stand so much taller than all of my friends. In my case at least, my male friends caught up, for the most part ;).

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        • Yes, chabesquen, standing out at a difficult age when we most want to belong isn’t easy, is it? Richard has said he not only wanted to be shorter, he also thought he looked odd.We know he got ribbed about his nose. If only more gentlemen were as “odd-looking” as he turned out to be. ; ) There are lots of cookie cutter pretty boys out there; give me a man of distinctive masculine beauty, i.e. Richard Armitage.

          And I am sure you carry those inches with pride these days. 😀

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          • Angie, Richard is certainly one of those men who grew into his looks (as well as his nose!), getting more good looking with the years. I love that his is a very distinctive beauty, not the cookie cutter pretty type as you say, it’s part of what makes him so special. And to think he is even more gorgeous in the flesh according to those who have seen him!!

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    • I know I’m coming in a bit late on this discussion, but there’s a similarly impressive stumble that RA does in Miss Marie Lloyd, when he’s playing subtly (as opposed to the usual obviously that actors do) drunk. You can see it here, at about 6:35 in: http://youtu.be/8VzLTV6u-Rw

      I think it sets up the character moment well, in that he’s playing a man who is physically graceful and has enough experience drinking to be able to hold his liquor, but is *just* barely drunk enough not to be completely in control of himself. The moment comes as a particular surprise, since the previous 10 seconds of screen time, he’s moving normally enough that you don’t realize he’s supposed to be drunk…and then the stumble, and the surprisingly graceful recovery–his character is, after all, mostly still in control–but that little chilling moment sets you up with dread for what’s coming later in the scene, and reveals his brokenness. So artfully done; such excellent foreboding in such a small gesture!

      On a different note, a later moment that scene particularly struck me because of the way RA portrayed the hurt and distance via a lack of physical openness, when his character’s wife sits on his lap. I’ve seen a man in my own life react that way when feeling that emotion and I recognized it immediately. In fact, RA’s body language in that moment bore such an uncanny resemblance to what I’d seen that I was struck with a moment of recognition, and then a sudden desire to go apologize to the real-life person for having caused them such pain. RA as mirror, again. I guess that’s what a good actor can do: show you truth while lying with every fiber of their being. 🙂

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      • Lucas North also stumbles the first time we see him, and it’s so evocative!

        Then again, though, there are the points, especially in his early career, where we can see he’s struggling with a walk. It’s interesting when he hits and when he doesn’t.

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  6. It is amazing to see how much of the dancer comes out in RA’s fight scenes. The slomo really does show the beauty of the movement. And…oh my, those jeans. They certainly do highlight those magnificent thighs!

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    • Mmmm, we do seem to be quite taken with those magnificent thighs don’t we! *sigh* I’m looking forward to the professor’s analysis of them in Armitage Anatomy. (No pressure of course, servetus, only when you want to!! 🙂 )

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      • Armitage Anatomy Analysis!!!! Sounds good to me with SO many areas for discussion too! 😉 We’ll be waiting Servetus!! 😀

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      • I’m still working on the face. As someone noted there are something 600 muscles in the human body 🙂 Of course we can’t see all of his.

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  7. Angie, I thought a year ago that he was slightly round-shouldered, and yes, put it down to his always having to stoop a bit to hear! (Mr. A did allude to this once, wishing he were closer to 5’10” than to 6’2″ – well, we don’t wish that! Even if we have to shout to be heard, and earn a stiff neck from looking up 😀 )

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    • I always have thought, once I discovered RA shot up to his adult height at 14, that he incorporated some of that teenage awkwardness into his performance as John Standring. John always seemed as if he felt the need to apologize for being such a big man, bless his heart.

      And I love every last inch of our tall lad. Always have liked a tall, dark and handsome bloke. Tall enough that when i wear high heels I can still look up to him.

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  8. Hi Serv,
    I loved the slomo detailing the action. You’re so right about the dancer’s movements inherent in RA’s physicality in fight scenes. Oh my!
    Cheers! Grati ;->

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  9. The fight in the junkyard is my favorite–cleverly thought out and well-executed. Rolling back onto the car is a great way to vary the moves in the fight. And I especially like the way Lucas improvises a weapon using a piece of junk he picks up in passing (is it a muffler?).
    Jackie Chan does a lot of that kind of inspired, spur-of-the-moment fighting, and it’s something that only happens when the person has lightning-quick reactions and an instinctive awareness of their surroundings. Seriously, when someone is trying to beat you up, it’s very hard to look around and think, hmm, I wonder if there’s anything here in this unfamiliar place that I could potentially use as a weapon. (Okay, well, I’m sure it’s all planned ahead of time. But still.)
    The fights in Robin Hood looked cartoony to me, which I suppose they were meant to be, because the show was for a younger crowd and all.
    But the fight in North and South really shocked me. It was so brutal. And I was horrified that John Thornton kept hitting and kicking Stevens.
    After I’d seen the whole series, I thought it was a good choice dramatically, but it was a whole different order of fighting than either Spooks or RH.

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    • This is a comparison I’d honeslty never have thought of, so thanks for that, Saralee.

      I think the N&S fight was different dramatically, but it’s the same kind of choreography — you can see just a bit of it as Thornton rounds the corner and then stoops to pick up Stevens and shove him against the wall — there’s an extremely dream / dancelike moment there.

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  10. […] was interesting to me, after looking at that scene, to look back at this post (“Armitage dances his way through it“), where I was focused on the dance-like quality of an action scene. But his mouth is also […]

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  11. […] dance to fighting as well, because both have to be choreographed. I’ve remarked on this for the case of Lucas North in particular at length and briefly for Thorin Oakenshield in The Battle of the Five Armies and rather tangentially for […]

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