The Artist is superficially a silent film about a love affair between two movie stars in the 1920s. On a deeper level it’s an exposition of neo-liberal, or even Randian, industrial policy.

Essentially the movie charts the entrant of a new company into an established industrial sector. The new company offers a new production mode, and rapidly steals market share from the old company. This company rapidly loses sales, and soon is reduced to selling off its assets in order to maintain even a minor presence in the market (in an ironic filmic twist, even though these assets are sold on the open market in a clearing house, they end up in the new company’s asset portfolio). The CEO for the new entrant, being a bit sentimental – and perhap having some New Deal-style political ideals – offers to use some of its considerable assets and popularity to help the old company adapt to the new market conditions[1]. However, the old company have imbibed the Randian ideology of their times, and refuse to accept any form of charity or support – the CEO prepares to liquidate his remaining staff, but at the last minute the CEO of the new company realizes a way they can combine the classical skills of the staff with the technology of the new company, and the old company is revitalized – able to develop into a niche market combining the new technology with the old artisanal skills.

I guess this could be a metaphor for many of the great market battles of the last 30 years, especially in the technology sector – Apple vs. Windows, fixed line phones vs. mobiles, China vs. Japan, Japan vs. the UK, etc. The main weakness in the metaphor, in my opinion, is brief moment of weakness when the CEO of the new company offers charity to the old company – it breaks the otherwise forcefully presented focus on competitiveness and survival of the fittest. In comparison to the seamless perfection of the analysis of homosexual sexual politics in 300, The Artist is a weaker political metaphor, but I think it makes its point well. Particularly, it’s clear by the end that everyone – producers and consumers alike – is enriched by the competitive atmosphere, and that any attempt to protect the old company would have been bad both for its own staff, its rival and society as a whole. As the CEO of the new company says, “people are tired of seeing actors mugging at the camera to get their point across.”

The movie’s medium is, in my opinion, its greatest flaw, although I understand the purpose of presenting the movie in the outdated medium and having the crucial benefits of the new technology break through at crucial moments. The mechanism by which the new and innovative ideas of neo-liberal industrial policy are presented is itself out-dated and old, and makes the characters and ideas hard to engage with. Perhaps the story would have been better presented as a computer game? Also, it’s hard to have sympathy with a lead character who would rather shoot himself than take a job offer from a woman. But otherwise, it’s an okay love story (with very attractive stars) and nice presentation. See it if you like teary love stories and/or Randroid politics.

fn1: could this part of the film be an attempt to posit a voluntarist anti-trust atmosphere in Randian market places?

The French soldiers at the Battle of Agincourt were so exhausted by the time that they entered battle that they could barely have fought, according to new research reported in the Guardian. A professor of biomechanics asked staff from the Royal Armouries Museum to walk and run in replica armour from the 15th century, based on a variety of designs, and took measurements of oxygen use, which enables estimates of energy consumption. The Guardian website has a video of how they did it.

Apparently running in a typical suit of armour uses 2 times as much energy as running in normal clothes, because the armour weighs up to 30kg; but worse than that, running in a backpack carrying 30kg of weight uses only 1.7 times as much energy. This is because the armour distributes some of that 30kg onto the limbs, which move more than the back during ordinary movement. Additionally, armour constricts breathing. The news report also points out that in Agincourt the French had to slog through mud, which would further add to their energy load. Interestingly, armour is comparatively more efficient when running (1.9 times the energy load) than walking (2.3 times).

I’ve always been suspicious of mediaeval re-enactors oft-repeated claims that plate armour is easy to move in and not that exhausting. I suspect this comes from their limited experience of battle. I’m guessing that most mediaeval re-enactment battles cut straight to the chase, and ignore the lived experience of 15th century soldiers. Most battles probably consisted of many hours of standing and walking, and obviously we don’t do things like mediaeval re-enactment in order to reproduce the tedium of ancient warfare (or the cholera and dysentery, for that matter). So if you cut out the long, arduous process of getting to and from the battle, waiting fororders, etc. the armour probably doesn’t seem so bad. But if you think about moving around for hours in it, and the battle itself just a short part in the middle, you can see that the energy expense of just walking would be a terrific burden on the use of armour. When we think about adventurers in caves and dungeons, slogging around for hours in their full plate, it makes sense that it should put an inordinate penalty on their combat actions to represent this. Warhammer 3 reproduces this nicely with punitive encumbrance rules that quickly punish characters with fatigue penalties; I don’t think D&D was ever so good at this (largely because no one ever bothered with the encumbrance rules, I guess). Of course Rolemaster does it with complex movement manoeuvre penalties, which would be really good if they were combined with fatigue (which I don’t recall RM using).

I think the Guardian has probably over-egged the pudding on this one though, so here’s a few additional thoughts:

  • The study subjects weren’t fit: Some workers at the Royal Armouries are probably re-enactment types[1], and might be used to armour, but at a guess most of them weren’t that fit or trained for running in armour. My guess is that, just as longbowmen trained to use the bow, mediaeval soldiers trained for their armour, though this guess could itself be over-optimistic (“training” is actually a pretty modern concept). So it could be that the relative burden of armour compared to no armour is reduced in mediaeval soldiers compared to modern archivists, since fitness training tends to adapt the body to specific activities
  • The study subjects were modern: and thus almost certainly physically healthier than a mediaeval soldier, with better diet and less childhood illnesses to reduce fitness. However, they were likely also bigger, and bigger people (I think) use energy less efficiently. But one should never underestimate the importance of good modern diet, housing and healthcare (as well as childhood fitness training at school) in improving the fitness of modern people over their ancestors. So it could be that armour was even more exhausting for the mediaeval knight
  • Study bias due to armour type: Wikipedia tells me that actually most soldiers didn’t use the type of armour depicted in the video on the Guardian site, and were more likely to wear weaker wrought iron or composite armour types, that are probably also easier to move in (though wrought iron full plate could be awful, I would guess!) It also tells us that the elite knights in the vanguard at Agincourt[2] were relatively unharmed by the longbows. Still, they would then have to engage in melee combat against lightly-armoured and mobile foes while exhausted. So the best tactic for these guys would be to ensure they were surrounded by less heavily-armoured allies while they regained their breath; unfortunately, the longbowmen would have reduced the numbers of those less armoured mooks quite hideously (the stats and description of the bows at that wikipedia entry suggest that for the lighter-armoured French soldiers Agincourt would have been truly terrifying). In any case, the army fielded at Agincourt would not have looked much like the army being tested in the linked study
  • The longbow was actually not that effective: Wikipedia also tells us that, although they had a few successful battles, the French quickly got the measure of the longbowman as a weapon of war, and in some battles either defeated them or routed them. This is probably because tactics based on the longbow depend on this phenomenon of exhaustion – you thin out the lightly-armoured troops in the charge, and by the time the knights reach you they’re too buggered to fight. But I guess this depends on either a numerically superior force or having very good positioning to force a long charge (as happened at Agincourt, with mud). This goes to show that tactics are ultimately more important than most single weapons or devices. Also, I guess that although the longbowman appears, superficially, as an appealing strategic investment (lightly armoured, so cheap to equip, and manpower was something every mediaeval country had an excess of), he was probably actually a type of elite professional troop that was highly expensive to develop (15 years on that bow!), and you only need to beat them in battle once or twice to have essentially destroyed a once-in-a-generation investment. So maybe as a military tactic the longbow was as much of a dead end as the knight. The pikeman, on the other hand…

It’s nice to see science attempting to answer some of these questions about how the ancient world waged war or achieved some of its more impressive peace-time achievements (like the science of longitude, cathedrals, etc.) Some of what we think of now as quite barbaric or backward practices, or don’t esteem because they’re trivial in the modern world (like church-building) actually required prodigious talent and willpower (like any kind of mediaeval warfare) or skill, and it’s good to appreciate that.

fn1: If you’re from the Museum and you’re reading this, please don’t sue me for this slur

fn2: Ah, the days when the people who chose to go to war actually had to lead the charge! I bet if that were expected of your average modern politician, we would have much much lower “defence” budgets that were actually for defence.

We rejoin our heroes in the town of Albany, where they found themselves coming to terms with the new landscape of the colonial world. They were now welcome in Albany as heroes, and trusted advisors to its new Council of Elders. Their house remained their possession, and now also they had possession of their own kingdom bordering on the French and Indian territories, which they now needed to find a way to administer. The war had reached a stalemate to their South and for the time being, as Spring passed into the sultry heat of Summer, the three conflicting peoples of the new world paused to consider their next steps, to bury their dead and to honour or shame those who had brought the world to its current pass.

And so it was that the characters found themselves facing a ferocious delegation, consisting of 2 farmers and a fisherman from the town of Rouse’s Point, the furthest point from Albany in their new kingdom. These men, shuffling nervously before the great men and women before them, had travelled far from their home to present the  characters with a document swearing their fealty in poorly-spelt English, and also to present them with a list of requests. These worthies wished to discuss matters of taxation, defense and native land rights, which weighty matters were soon dealt with by Lord Merton, using his usual even-handedness. Their first subjects departed, satisfied…

After this the characters took the opportunity to meet Miss Cora Munro, her silent and distant younger Sister Alice, and of course Alice’s husband Magua. Alice spoke little and seemed little interested in anything except her husband. She presented in the manner of an English lady, in skirt and bustles with a parasol, but the faraway look in her eye, the braided hair, and the tattood lines on her arms and chest made it clear that she was no longer in accord with the formalities of British society. Magua attended her dressed in his inimical style, imitating an English gentleman. He wore torn breeches, a red English soldier’s jacket looted from an unfortunate casualty (and still stained with that poor soul’s lifesblood), his tomahawk festooned with the torn remnants of a British flag, and his chest bared to show tattoos, rippling muscle and a wide variety of scars. He had indeed made every effort to oblige the fashion and customs of the colonial gentry…

What better place to hunt Eagles?

What better place to hunt Eagles?

The Munros, Magua and the characters took a picnic at dusk on the hill overlooking Albany. They had hoped to see fireflies, since it was the season; but the smoke and poison of war had driven the fragile insects away, and the only such lights they could see were the distant fires and explosions of the siege of New York. At this picnic Miss Munro presented the characters with a detailed contract outlining her claim to prospect the hills of their new kingdom for rare herbs, and they agreed to consider her request if she would consider acting as their regent. She, of course, agreed to this and as a token of her good faith invited the  characters into the hills North of Ticonderoga, there to indulge in a spot of Eagle Hunting. Somewhat dubious as to the nature of this activity, the characters agreed. So it was that they found themselves, several days later, sitting on a remote bluff deep in the hills of their new kingdom. Before them to the Northwest lay a splendid view of hills and plains, falling away to the distant glint of the St. Lawrence River. They sat, with four of Magua’s braves, around a fire over which Cora had boiled some water. As the braves began drumming, Magua threw a herb on the fire and  a strange smoke began to envelope the clifftop, where as if by magic the wind had  stopped blowing. Cora poured herbs into the water and stirred, and an acrid and disgusting smell covered them. Then Cora asked which of them would proceed with the hunt first, and Merton, ever willing to sample a new drug, of course raised his hand first. Cora offered him a small shot of the boiled water and then, as Merton drank it down, Magua leapt forward in one of his customary unexpected changes of mood. Towering ominously over Merton, he drew from his beltan Eagle’s feather and cast it into Merton’s hand. Merton, suddenly struck numb by the liquid, fell backwards clutching the arrow; and as he did so he heard and saw an Eagle, circling far overhead. In moments his senses had exploded outward and, in a rush of wind, sun and sky he found himself in possession of the Eagle, looking through its eyes, feeling the wind in its feathers, even sensing its feelings. He circled high in the sky for a long, silent, wind-stroked time before his host’s questing eyes found the rabbit they sought; and then, still fully aware of all around him, he was siezed by the Eagle’s lust for blood as it plummeted earthwards to its quarry…

… only to be hauled from his reverie by Magua, who snatched the feather from his hand and thus dragged him, groggy and confused, back to the leaden grip of Earth. It would be unwise, Magua warned him, to be in the Eagle when it catches its prey. There is always the ominous threat of not returning, or of being changed.

In turn each of the characters was offered their flight, in an Eagle, a Falcon, or finally a swift. So they experienced their kingdom from the air, and looking down saw its beauty, or felt its ferocity. As Magua and his braves cleaned their camp, Cora told them that the herb used for this effect was grown in their kingdom and could no doubt be used on other beasts provided a part of the beast was available to them. She had merely to find it – and who knew what other uses it might have?

So convinced of her claim’s usefulness, the characters returned to Albany. However, when they reached their house they discovered their Butler missing, and the house silent and dark. Immediately suspicious, they went looking for him, prepared for battle. Outside the butler’s chambers they were attacked by a mysterious assassin-creature, a wiry beast of some 8′ in height, demon-possessed, with remade arms composed of demon-flesh, brass and bone. From one arm snaked a chain of brass links and wicked bone-and-brass spiked balls, and from the other protruded a sinister set of blades. The beast could turn invisible and struck with stealth, attempting to dismember Brian the woodsman. Eventually they subdued it, and searched it for signs of its provenance. It was clearly a sophisticated mixture of infernal and Remade technology, its chain powered by clockwork and its body enhanced with a strange white, bone-like substance mixed with bronze. There was no other clue to its origins but for a symbol on one of the brass strakes of its weapon arm, consisting of a Fleur-de-lys with the letters SPM engraved underneath.

Once again, do the characters find themselves embroiled with the French?