Thursday, 7 June 2007

Short People

Mention of dwarf actors in the last entry (I've met that Big Mick from off of The Black Adder- Episode 6, you know. We talked about A Small Problem, the short lived size apartheid, apart-height if you will, sitcom and his first TV role- working with Stratford Johns on The Book Tower. I like a good Stratford Johns anecdote myself, partly because almost everyone who worked with him refers to him by his real name Alan, which makes you feel all lovely and insidery from the get-go), puts me in mind of someone I studied Drama with in the 1980s, who's sadly died since, Julian Skelton.

Julian was a vegetarian, an avid fan of the Stranglers, and a follower of the Animal Liberation Front. He had short, spiky, dyed hair, wore only black clothes and was a dwarf. He may also have been an anarcho-syndicalist, his mate Joel was. Maybe he just listened. If they'd ever made a film of The Wasp Factory, Julian would have been a shoe-in for the punk dwarf role in that.
As I recall it, he also got his Equity card younger than anyone else I knew by virtue of a summer holiday job on the George Lucas picture Willow. You can see him most clearly in the finished film as a market trader who angrily shouts a few words at some kids who've stolen fruit from his stall, but he's milling around in other scenes too.

Willow features a whole village worth of dwarfs, giving proper acting parts to people George Lucas had previously primarily, encased in tin and fur. They were playing a different species to 'normal' humans admittedly, like the Dwarfs of Wagner and the Dwarves of Tolkein, but at least they were allowed to act like people and get quite close to Joanne Whalley's navel while Val Kilmer worked his charms on her.
Willow's dwarf actors and extras took over a London hotel during the filming, which Julian recalled as a surreal experience, suddenly becoming the norm in the middle of the city rather than the object of curious stares. Whether anything went on like the reputed debauchery of the similarly hotel liberated Munchkin actors during the making of The Wizard of Oz, he never said. He may not have known, to be fair, he was young and more interested in Joanne Whalley at the time, which is a hard position to take issue with really.

Julian bought epic numbers of Stranglers rarities with his Willow money, and probably loads of black clothes in difficult sizes too and came back north with tales of cowering from big dogs dressed up as monsters and other such glamorous on set goings-on.
The film was released and was a moderate success. Joanne Whalley married Val Kilmer and most of the dwarf actors went back into working in animal skins and metal boxes, and life went on.
Years later, George Lucas wrote a novel sequel to the movie, which may well have been a write up of the notes for a sequel that immoderate success would have brought, I don't know.

Outside acting and reading fanzines about 'themeninblack' Julian also went hunt saboteuring, laying fake scents and honking horns with mates to annoy posh country blokes on horses hunting foxes at the weekend. What delighted me most about this was he had a knitted black balaclava to disguise his identity while doing so.
I liked to imagine angry huntsmen seeing him later back in his civvies, hanging 'round the village for his lift back into town.
"There certainly was a dwarf in a Rattus Norvegicus t shirt out there in the woods," they'd say to each other, like dumb bad guys out of Zorro "but his face was covered so I can't be certain it was this dwarf in a Rattus Norvegicus t-shirt."

Julian died one January around eleven years ago, after collapsing coming off stage in a play. I gather he'd had a few unhappy years since I'd known him and hadn't looked after his health too well.
When I told another acquaintance of his death, they asked, in that curious way you do, what play he'd been in. Somehow, we have a collossal need for specifics and trivialities when faced with death, it's as if detailed knowledge of the circumstances helps us believe it more.
I had to say it was bloody 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' of course. I wish it hadn't been.

In unrelated 'did Ian buy a doodgy mp3 player?' news, my I-River H10 has developed a hint of lemon. The scroll button has decided to stop working, which means it currently has about 10 percent functionality and, perhaps more crucially, it will only play back at volume settting 0, which is, you know, not entirely useful.
It is I believe still in warranty, so repair or replacement should follow with luck. I'll keep you posted on developments, if any further idiosyncratic non-functionality develops or more or less standard poor customer service hilarity ensues you'll be fairly high up the list of the first to know.

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