Armitage beyond, or: The uselessness of words, and why I continue the chase

pod1005Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood 1.8. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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The picture above was the POD at RichardArmitageNet.com a day or two ago, and the second I saw it I right-clicked to make myself a copy. Automatically. It’s another one of those pictures that somehow encapsulate the notion of “Richard Armitage” for me.

They encapsulate something that still feels — after over three years of writing on this subject almost every day — indescribable.

You’d think I’d have gotten better at finding words for this by now.

I’ve talked about aspects of this problem before — why writing about Armitage will not cure the fascination with him — as a function of shame about my crush and of fear of shocking readers. Admitting my feelings has made me better able to stand up for them not only here, but also in my real life.

But as that problem recedes for me, another emerges on the horizon — the way that I’ve started to see Richard Armitage as ungraspable.

For instance: I could tell you a lot about the picture above analytically. I’ve spent a fair amount of time since 2011 (and will spend more time this year) on the anatomy of Richard Armitage’s face and the movement of muscles and sinews that goes into making an expression. I could say, for instance, that the moment in this cap gets a lot of mileage from Armitage’s very marked sclera, particularly as they’re set here against darkened eyelashes (Guyliner!), that Guy, like every character Armitage plays, gains from the capacity of Armitage’s grey-blue eyes to take on the color of the set around him; that the effect of his features and eyes is enhanced by the dirt all over his face, and by Guy’s black clothing. I could talk about the stark emotionality of Armitage’s abbreviated upper lip, or the simultaneous hardness and vulnerability he signals at the labial commissures (the latter point is probably more evident if you look at the caps right around this one, with Guy’s face in closeup), or the way that the muscles in his cheeks make his smile lines look cruel and hardened here, or the unintentional affective bonus Guy takes from Armitage’s aquiline nose. I could talk about microexpressions in Armitage’s acting, about the way that Armitage often seems to be able to signal two things at once in his face, and how that talent can provoke in the viewer an inability to look away. I could talk about how all of that that works in the scene — taking it apart frame by frame, discussing choreography and gesture. Not today, though I’ll do it again.

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rh108_113Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood 1.8. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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I could have done that before Armitagemania and blogging, I think. It’s how I was trained, to divide things down to their smallest meaningful, perceptible pieces and label them via their contingent parts. Those diagrams? I’m almost always making fun of my lectures when I’m making them. What blogging did for me was reawaken the gaze that did that task from a long, paralyzed, humiliated slumber.

What I’ve learned over the last three years, moving on from that point, is more connective — to avoid the worst error of the scholar, which involves tearing things to pieces and leaving the reader with shreds and nothing whole in the end. I’m not just peeling an onion into bits only to discover there is no center — I will recreate a center. So when I let myself write emotionally, I’m trying to put my self and its perceptions and my desires back together. That task is harder and I still don’t succeed at it at the rate that I would like to. There are things I want to write and can’t quite put down even though my feelings are visceral, posts I jot down and write and rewrite and revise and reread and still don’t publish. Sometimes they make it out, though, and watching Armitage makes some of these things easier.

On that level, I could tell you how I feel about Guy in the scene above, the ways in which I identify with him and his problems, and about the ways that Armitage’s acting makes the conflicts that Guy feels seem painfully acute to me in my own circumstances; about the ways that Armitage acts and reacts in this scene that illuminate problems and trends in his own performances; about the gut-level response that the combination of visual and verbal in the character Armitage is playing stirs in me (it’s not just Marian who’s stirred by you, Guy!) In writing like that, I take all the little pieces I’ve identified and I tell you a story that’s about me and about Richard Armitage and whoever he’s playing. I could discuss the connections between dancing and fighting and the way my breath catches when Robin and Guy tumble down the hill together; the fear I feel when Robin holds the poker to Guy’s face; the whole question of the connotations of blindfolding and bondage and the deep registers they push my emotions into; the way I squirm when I see the way that Guy manipulates Robin verbally.

But there’s still more to say.

So what’s beyond that, beyond the dissective qualities of analysis, beyond the unifying force of emotion in legitimating a certain kind of perception? There’s still something else, some sort of … something that’s beyond.

Because I have always felt that sense of “beyond” about Armitage.

It’s “beyond” and so I can’t describe it. Or not yet. I can only pinpoint it in striking details and feelings that I can’t quite put my finger on.

There’s something about the tossed bangs above, in the way that they signal tempestuousness, and it’s reproduced in this publicity photo, for instance.

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ChrisFloyd08Richard Armitage as photographed by Chris Floyd (2007). Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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On some level, that series of pictures recaptures for me actor photographs of a long bygone age, the ones where the thespians are sometimes posing in costumes from their most famous roles and trying to indicate a sort of histrionic mood in line with the “tragedy” and “comedy” masks sometimes used to stand in for the theatrical profession. (Regarding the actor photographs, I think I was thinking of Sarah Bernhardt; the masks are on the Pattison College insignia.) I think, in our own age of naturalistic acting, we see those photographs very differently. But people were said to have cried when they saw Bernhardt on the stage, and when I saw this picture for the first time, I thought, “This is a man who could make a viewer cry — spontaneously and uncontrollably.”

That’s the “beyond” — understanding what makes that possible, that something that stands well beyond the pieces that make it up and yet even unconsciously beyond the emotions it provokes. Understanding that thing that makes Armitage, reapplying the words of Jonathan Hyde, such a masterful technician of the, and especially my, human condition. Plumbing the reasons why, given the right person and the right experience and the right role, this person can step right into someone’s soul, can pluck a string that sets every other string in the emotional neighborhood resonating.

If Armitage is holding up a mirror to me — something I’ve been arguing forever — I want to know not something beyond how the mirror works, or what I see in the mirror in terms of the feelings that it provokes and the whole that it helps me to understand. In this metaphor, I don’t know exactly what to call “the beyond” — only that I want so badly to understand. I want to know what’s “beyond.”

When I saw the photo the first time, probably a week or two into Armitagemania, I thought, “Yes, this man is a great actor, or if he’s not one yet, he will be some day.” Because something about the man photographed here pushes through the ill-fitting collar of the shirt, through the extreme kitsch of the wet hair in the face (which is a reinterpretation but connects Armitage to Guy, too). Something about the energy of the eyes and the complex soul that can be almost smiling on the left side of his face and almost frowning on the right, something about the effect that draws the viewer to eyes in a piercing glance so vehement that it has to be shielded, cloaked half in light, half in shadow. Something about the glance that is simultaneously penetrating and assessing and absorbing. About the energy that says “I am young” and the lines that say, “I’m older than you think.” About the architecture of the nose and forehead that says, “I am not unformed,” even as the expression says, “I am enigmatic and you may make of me what you will.”  Something about a “beyond” my perception of the details and my feelings about them that says, “This man is both incredibly still and potentially wild, a tiger and a mountain, and yet, in this moment, enigmatically both and neither.” Something that says, “This man could expand and explode or contract and dissipate from here, and it’s not immediately obvious which of these he will do.”

Something that says — whether it’s true or not, whether it’s at the center of him or only appears to be — that something here is simply not negotiable, that it has to and will be communicated — even as we don’t know quite what, even as the what itself changes like light playing on a meadow.

This is the “beyond” of Armitage — this thing that’s caught in contradictions and behind words, still on the other side of things that I can glimpse and feel, but not know or understand.

A there that appears to be there. But still beyond.

~ by Servetus on May 13, 2013.

15 Responses to “Armitage beyond, or: The uselessness of words, and why I continue the chase”

  1. The “damned elusive Armitage?” No matter what, the fascination seems to hold. Great post as always.

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  2. Oh my, yes. I’ve been trying to articulate many of these very ideas for the past week, working on a piece about just what it is about Lucas North that has the ability to shatter me the way he did.

    And the thing is that the harder I reach for clarity on this, the deeper I’ve gone, the more lost I’ve found myself in the truth that I just don’t know. The fact is simply that I was wrecked after finishing his story and that I have never cried as hard or as painfully as I did, alone in the dark, because *Lucas North*. So you are absolutely correct in your assessment that this is a man who has the capacity to make people weep “spontaneously and uncontrollably.”

    Your post has come closer to reaching into my head to explain the Armitage Effect than I think my 9K (and counting) words have yet done, making me wonder if it’s worth continuing to delve, or if I should just accept that the cause of my extreme response to Lucas North is unknowable. Because you’re absolutely right. It’s a sort of hypnosis, it’s contradiction, it’s the “beyond” of the man. Some things defy the attempts of language to bind them.

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  3. Ah yes! He is slipping through fingers, still .
    Great post, thanks:)

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  4. I am being a total devil’s advocate here, so please excuse me, BUT: Do we/you really need to analyse the “beyond”? While I feel the “beyond” when it comes to Armitage, too, I personally do not feel the need to grasp it. Quite the opposite – I revel in the fact that it is inexplicable and not graspable. Because this is what deep emotions are made of. It is what draws you to another person, it is what makes you decide on someone as your SO. I am glad that it can’t be explained – I think we attempt to explain too much in our lives. Why not just accept that there is “something” in Armitage that speaks deeply to us. Maybe it is like a divine essence, meant to have an effect on others, but simultaneously undetectable and inexplicable…

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    • I agree with you. Part of the wonder of attraction and love for me is the component of mystery that fuels it. I don’t need to have everything explained, especially when it comes to why I like somebody, why they elicit intense positive responses from my body, mind and heart. I find that when I analyze everything to death, one of two things happen: either my anxiety is such that I can’t handle it, or I become bored. The fact that Richard’s profession by its very nature makes him a chameleon is the fuel that fires up my curiosity and imagination. Mind you, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to know anything at all about him or his work, but I like to keep guessing what is really going on there. I believe he would be as attractive and enchanting a person even if he was not an professional actor; we just would have never had the chance to find out how wonderful he is…perish the thought! That said, one of the intriguing aspects of human behavior is how something or someone can elicit such different responses from us. I, for one, am very glad we do not all feel the same way when it comes to Richard. Who wants to interact with a group of automatons? Not me! Such is the beauty of the Armitage Army. I’m grateful to know so many amazing women (and some men) because of Richard. He has given us a very valuable gift we will never be able to repay, except by our loyalty. 🙂

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    • Obviously I can’t speak to anyone else’s motives for needing to quantify the “beyond,” but a major part of it for me is the fact that, as a writer, this is a fundamental part of what I do. I have to deconstruct humanity in order to learn how to *construct* humanity convincingly. When I come across such an intriguing personage as Mr. Armitage, or many of the gloriously layered and contradictory characters he has played, it would be a failure of my craft not to at least *try* to peek behind the curtain and figure out where the magic is coming from.

      I also have other reasons that are more personal, but the point is that there *are* legitimate reasons. And while some people thrive on enfolding themselves in the beautifully unknowable, some people simply have the kind of questioning nature that drives them to ask these questions, even if we know there may never be any definitive answers.

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      • I understand where you are coming from, Alyssa. A writer needs to know the “why” in order to represent. I suppose I am coming to this from the POV of a photographer, who needs no “why” but only a “what” in order to represent something. I will also say that I tend to falter in face of philosophical questions such as the “beyond” because I am worried that I lose my mind over searching for an answer that I cannont grasp. Hence I do not even attempt to search. Kudos to anyone who does.

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    • I don’t know what anyone else needs to do 🙂 Just what I need to do. In the words of John Thornton, others are free to do as they please … 🙂

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  5. dichotomy is a quality I’ve always found highly enticing, and you described Richard’s so sensually: “incredibly still and potentially wild, a tiger and a mountain, and yet, in this moment, enigmatically both and neither.” that sums up his incredible acting prowess so well, a subtle thing that runs you over like a freight train! the man himself appeals to me as well, but i try to hold myself back from knowing/analyzing too much. my curious nature & need to understand pushes me to peek behind the curtain for the validation that there is indeed someone back there, manning the controls & pushing all the fancy buttons, but I step back and move the curtain back into place because I don’t necessarily need to know the intricacies of how it all works or why he chooses the design and application that he does. I only need to know just enough to keep me guessing; I value the guarantee that there will always be more, something I don’t know.

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    • Oh, of course there will always be stuff we don’t know. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to know it, however 🙂

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    • I so agree with you. The dichotomy of characters like Lukas/Guy vs John Standring/Harry are definitely part of what makes this actor so fascinating, to me at least. I delved into this fandom because of NS, and was completely sucked in by Guy and was a goner by the time I was through with Spooks. I was, in some ways, creeped out by how much his roles/facial expressions reminded me so much of my first husband. Then I saw Sparkhouse and VofD and decided that my fascination wasn’t so creepy – RA and my first husband both just happen to be “my type” physically.

      I think RA’s potential has remained largely untapped; I hope he continues to expand on the dichotomy of characters he can so clearly successfully portray. Things like Arsenic and Old Lace jump to mind…

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  6. […] One is that unlike in 2010, when I had practically every scene Richard Armitage had been in on DVD memorized, I now have the experience — if I haven’t watched a particular production for a certain amount of time — of watching it with new eyes. And frankly, when I turned Strike Back on again a few days ago after a couple of months off, it was like a kick in the stomach. Armitage still does it for me and to me, and I want to know why. There’s more to understand, stuff I haven’t explored even on top of the lists of themes I’ve targeted. I want to get to the “beyond.” […]

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  7. […] art opens up the heart; the actor is the technician of the human condition; Richard Armitage has opened my heart and shed light on my all-too-human condition. Not everything […]

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