“Severe” Stylin’: Richard Armitage and Apollo commanding stillness

North & South - E1 Source

North & South – E1
Source

There it is…my first official, in context, look at Richard Armitage as John Thornton.  Melee is all around him.  Machinery is spinning and humming, cotton dust is floating haphazardly, but he is motionless, unruffled, as he surveys the activities of his factory.  The stillness amid chaos of this scene called to mind a classical comparison to the god Apollo.  Well, naturally…  😉

Sculptures from the West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (my pic)

Sculptures from the West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (my pic)

The figure of Apollo is central in the scene above, his right arm raised.  The extreme stillness of Apollo is marked in this scene given the amount of mayhem that is unfolding around him.  This is a famous scene from Greek myth called the Centauromachy…or the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs.  Long story short, the Lapiths were a group of humans who were throwing a wedding, and they didn’t want to invite their rude, crude neighbors the Centaurs.  The Centaurs (half man, half horse) took offense to this slight and crashed the reception…cue mayhem.

Centauromachy in progress

Centauromachy in progress

Looking at the images above, it is clear that this is battle is not depicted in such a way as to convey a great deal of the action that was going on.  This almost serene battle scene is in keeping with the aesthetic of the period (ca 490-450 BC) which is known as the Severe Style.  I’ve always found the close up of the woman and centaur above rather humorous in this respect.  Look at her face…does she appear to be in much distress?  That placid face is a hallmark of the Severe Style which valued a serenity of composition over a depiction of action.  A quick look a depiction of the same subject sculpted about 50 years later illustrates a changing aesthetic:

Centauromachy from the Temple of Apollo at Bassai (now in British Museum)

Centauromachy from the Temple of Apollo at Bassai (now in British Museum)

Turning back to our central Apollo…even amidst the admittedly subdued chaos, Apollo stands apart as unusually still…his outstretched arm held stiffly aloft as he commands attention.

Apollo's message is pretty clear..."I SAID STOP! Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Apollo’s message is pretty clear…”I SAID STOP!
Source: Wikimedia Commons

This ability to command a scene through stillness is a quality that numerous people have remarked upon when describing Richard Armitage.  At the Tokyo premiere of The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson said, “Richard is one of those very rare actors, [who] uses stillness, and he uses quiet to draw your attention.”    More recently, a fellow fan, Grace, who had the opportunity to see Richard Armitage perform in the Pinter Proust adaptation at the 92nd Street Y in New York, commented along the same lines, “He can stand absolutely still for long periods of time (it’s almost eerie.”

still command

I’ve no doubt that a more comprehensive tour through the pantheon of Richard Armitage chaRActers would reveal a wide selection of “commanding stillness” shots, but for now, I think this one does nicely.

 

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