Shane – my thoughts

Shane – my thoughts

I just seen the film again and must reread the book. I am surprised at some of the positive reviews, as I consider the film disappointing, certainly so when compared to the book. At the centre of my hesitancy is two things, the portrayal of Shane by Alan Ladd and the acting competence of Brandon de Wilde who plays Joey, the family’s son and the protagonist of the book, if not the film. Much of my problem with Alan Ladd is physical, he’s too clean, and does not appear dangerous enough, and certainly not at first sight. (Has my expectations of the arriving stranger been set for ever by Eastwood/Leone’s “Fist full of Dollars”).

I feel that Shane’s past, his reputation, and his desire to leave it behind is also underplayed, partly because some of it is exposed in poorly acted, at least on one side, conversations with Joey. The sexual/romantic tension between Marion and Shane is also, in my view, underplayed, I feel because of its time, and what they could then show in the movies. Not that I need to see them shagging, which would be wrong as it is not part of the story; possibly, those commentators that say her attraction was to him and was resisted due to Shane’s sense of honour and love for Joe are right.

It all comes right in the end, the honourable stranger, kills the homesteader’s nemesis and their hired gun, moves on, and the nuclear family, we assume lives happily ever after and the town becomes a peaceful law-abiding community, foretold by Chris’s epiphany which is more clearly stated in the book where he becomes the Starret family’s hired hand. I think that this is more hopeful and closer to the author’s intent than alternatives explored in Barham’s recent review;  the story is told by Joey and I think the pessimistic outcomes suggested in that review, are not part of the story Schaeffer wrote.   

The imagery of Fistfull of Dollars seems appropriate, the motive of money in Fistful, if not Yojimbo is not; although the there’s the release of Marie Sol but the story is Kurosawa’s and comes from Japan. It’s not quite right, the themes of a man trying to leave a dark past behind him and build a better future, is better reflected in the Outlaw Josie Wales. I also rewatched Pale Rider, and am taken aback by the number of people who can’t see Shane in the story and revisit the mysticism of High Plains Drifter where the protagonist is either the most real ghost ever, or possessed by the spirit of the dead Marshall. On the other hand, Josey Wales is the story of a war tired warrior trying to create a family home and eventually leave his violence behind him. In this case, he survives the confrontation with the biased law chasing him, in Shane we are unclear, but Shane has to move on.

Perhaps it’s not possible to watch this post war film, released in 1953, with 21st century eyes, but I have always felt there’s something off about it. Alternatively, it’s another proof point for not watching a movie of a book you love.

Read the book!

I think I must have read the book first, as I agree with Roger Ebert, Alan Ladd is too clean, if not pretty and the buckskins are wrong (and again too clean). I also think Ladd lacks the aura of dangerousness. Ebert would seem to agree, and says

There are intriguing mysteries in “Shane,” puzzles and challenges, not least in the title character and the way he is played by Alan Ladd.

Over the last couple of years the decline of the Western and its part in the politics of the USA have come under review. An article from Marc Barham, places the film firmly in the category of a political diatribe, and the author ends the review with a highly critical view of the flawed coming of the American dream. Barham also places the homesteaders vs. ranchers in the context of the theft of land from native Americans; from his point of view, justice was on neither side. This is a view examined by the Cynical Historian on Youtube, in a piece called, When the Western Genre Perished, 1968-75 who also centres his focus on the making of the frontier and the genocidal conflict with native Americans. There are others. There are also those who disagree, see Eric Monkonnen’s review of “Gunfighter Nation” on which much of this critique is based, the book not the review.

Many westerns contained a cold war message, but some would argue that in Shane the need for lethal violence comes from another ideology. While it was an early example of this narrative, it is part of a desire to sanctify the individualism of justice in the USA while ignoring the oppression of native Americans who were the original custodians of the land. Possibly it’s the victory and need for skill in violence that the cleanliness and politeness undermine. There’s something deeper to be written about how a nation, coming from the ultra-legal response to the Boston massacre, the creation of a republican constitution of laws developed such an individualistic, and self-justifying, scofflaw, might is right, approach to law and order. We can see forces that would take advantage of this in the USA today, I wonder if they can restore the original ideas of equality (albeit then, only for some) before the law.

There’s no question to me that aspects of the book were amended for the film to make it suitable for a 1950’s audience. The [American] civil war slurs used to provoke one of the homesteaders into a gun fight have replaced the insult that the farmer had native American blood from the book, although I wonder why? The Searchers did not shrink from this racism. On re-watching I had wondered about that part of that scene. What were ex-Confederate fighters doing so far North in Wyoming, and in the film, Shane uses the same albeit reversed slurs. In the book, this is not what happens,

“What you want Wilson, and what you get are two different things you’re killing days are done. Wilson had it now. You could see him grasp the meaning. This quiet man was pushing him just as he had pushed Ernie Wright. As he measured Shane, it was not to his liking. Something that was not fear but a kind of wondering and baffled reluctance showed in his face. And then there is no escape, for that gentle voice was pegging him to the immediate and implacable moment. “I’m waiting, Wilson. Do I have to crowd you into slapping leather?”

Shane – Jack Schaeffer

Even in 2008, when in California, I found colleagues in the US company I was working for who had difficulty with a Brit using ‘Yank’ for American; the memories are still live it would seem and the film was made less than 100 years after the ACW.

One thing that Barham might have wanted to pick up, is that the location of the town in ‘Dollars is indeterminately in Mexico or the USA. If in the USA it will have recently been acquired from Mexico and the role of those tied to the land in Fistful is merely that of observers.

They argue that telling the story from Joey’s eyes is an important part of the story; as said I think Brandon de Wilde’s acting lets the film down. And while this review  gets the story, I am not sure it’s the one the film tells but this quote nails what it should have been,

Though Alan Ladd was never formally recognized for his performance, the innate sadness and complexity he brings to the title role is key to the film’s success. He subtly embodies the plight of a lonely man who cannot escape his past, however hard he tries.


On WOTCs permissive licences

On WOTCs permissive licences

Earlier this year, Wizards of the Coast, the owners of Dungeons & Dragons, bought D&D Beyond, the premiere and largest web store for the rules of D&D and they are now trialling a new version of the rules called One D&D; they are also planning to release a virtual table top solution and have a new movie in production. Also recently at a Hasbro earnings call, one of their executives stated that D&D was now a lifestyle brand and was under-monetised. This has created a sense of fear amongst 3rd party creators that WOTC will revise their intellectual property sharing agreements to the detriment of themselves and non-Dungeon Master players who have been identified as under spenders. Depending on where you look, this has created a lot of noise; I think there’s a lot of fear being generated, and it interests me to consider the issues in the context of the software industry practice. I think that software industry grew the open source models and the interaction by games vendors such as Wizards with software continues to inform good & bad practice

What they’re doing.

This is what I think the current state of WotC’s commitment to permitted use of their intellectual property is. (I am not a lawyer etc.),

You may produce written material aimed at supporting table-top gaming using material from the SRD[1] and charge for it. Any other use of WOTC’s intellectual property is governed by the Fan Content Policy, which says any other artefacts must be free (as in zero cost) or subject to a specific commercial agreement.

There’s probably a change coming in WOTC’s zero cost licensing of D&D although their statement says that they will probably only change the Fan Content policy which requires fan content to be free to the market. What is there today is less than some seem to think. It’s not in the interests of WOTC to eliminate or reduce the business opportunity the current licencing permits, but it seems they plan to extend their offerings into games and movies and want/need to assert their copyright ownership of what has always only been available under specific bi-lateral agreements and to assert and protect their trademarks. Third party creators will probably be able to continue to monetise what they already have as they will keep rights under the OGL; they will also have the ability to move their content to an alternative rule set which is in the interest of neither party.  

My warning is that they don’t want to become Oracle or Games Workshop; organisations better known for their legal departments than the value and care they offer their customers.

I was surprised that WOTC had released an open license[2] at the time of the rules version 3.5 establishing a right to use a specific sub-set of the rules, the right to charge for it and the right/duty to recognise the ownership of the material. It has been argued that this was an attempt by D&D’s then new owners to repair the inherited relationship between themselves and their customers and I find it more than coincidental that the OGL and the Cluetrain manifesto (or on Medium) both came out in 2000. One of Cluetrain’s arguments is  that your best sales people are your customers, so you don’t want to go to war with them.

Signals that WOTC may be prepared to dial up their intellectual property ownership claims include the fact that ORCPUB, a D&D rules compliant character repo, was closed down amongst rumours of legal action, although those that ought to know best and rescued the code deny this fact.  But WOTC bought DnD Beyond an alternative D&D character repo with a more tightly integrated implementation of the rules and a freemium charging model. This purchase would seem to be a critical step towards initially a web channel beyond a store and later a streaming model by which I mean real time availability of data i.e. your character sheets. While offering a dramatic improvement in data availability, this is aimed at extending the paying customer base to include non Dungeon Masters.

I have written before (and at Medium) about how software open source models might apply to fantasy role playing games and video games, specifically about Bioware and its Newverwinter Nights game and licence. Bioware and latterly WOTC recognised that their offerings benefit from having a community of story tellers to expand the offering. It’s better for people to engage in a ruleset that has thousands of stories rather than one with dozens. These people, dungeon masters and players create markets and in the case of D&D spend a lot of money with WOTC.

Lessons from the software industry

There are two lessons or three if you want as to how and why some generosity in licensing pays back. The first is that when WOTC produced V4 of the D&D rules, they offered a more restrictive licence; the community rebelled and created Pathfinder and other alternatives and accessed the rules via the 3.5 rules version of the Open Games Licence which is irrevocable[3]. Customers can, nearly always, go somewhere else; perhaps the Hasbro suits just don’t get it. However their “D&D and Gaming” division accrued $2bn dollars revenue[4] last year; how much more do they need. The second lesson is that the current resurgent popularity of D&D has been incubated by the public interest and live play streams of games played by Hollywood stars and most visibly, Critical Role[5] i.e. by 3rd party creators. Another lesson I have learnt through observing an ex-employer of mine, is not to compete with your licensees; Sun Microsystems built itself by ‘creating markets and then competing within them,’ but so successfully that eventually there was only one OEM left, and it was Sun that failed not its final partner.

The IT industry has much experience in developing less restrictive licences than the traditional “All Rights reserved” model developed by author-publisher business. WOTC’s licences are somewhere in the middle of the range between public domain/CC0 and all rights reserved, it’s probably best considered a copyleft licence.

What would be best.

Volume counts. Ask Microsoft, Apple and Google. Permissive licences build volume and good will from customers and fans. Large eco-systems create demand. Again from the IT industry, Sun had built its prominence partly though freely publishing its code which itself had open source origins, and a promiscuity in allowing 3rd party products to run on their software platform.

This takes us to another aspect of the mutual advantage that licensing brings; 3rd Party creators needs. Licensing the rules and worlds of D&D is of advantage to Wizards so that others can expand the market, but also to the licensees as they want to or ought to want to acknowledge the use of D&D rules. These rules, worlds if available and the size of market are the reason that people will buy their products, so whinging about the badges (and trademark acknowledgement) is just that. I know that when looking for a MMPORPG, I was attracted to Neverwinter Nights because it is/was derived from D&D, I know the rules, and understand things like ‘class’ choice, but my final decision was made on the basis of the charging model.

One part of good “welfare economics”, and one of the purposes of copyright law, is that derived works are to be encouraged. I’d also add that within partnership efforts, each partner should be rewarded according to their contribution, anything else introduces monopoly diseconomies.

It seems that they WOTC or Hasbro want a cut from the community content, that D&D Beyond is a new channel, that creating a chargeable VTT would be another attempt to charge players not DMs for content and like streaming content providers, move to charge by the second. D&D Beyond has up till now had a freemium model; I’d advise them to keep a zero/low cost entry for 3rd Party creators as they are an essential part of market building.  

I hope that WOTC remain committed to the view that community creates value and maintain their free, low cost licensing for low turnover and hobbyist creators.


See also if you want my notes and links on my wiki. None of this is legal advice.

[1] The SRD does not include milieux material, so if you want to use Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk or World of Krynn or any other WOTC milieu you need a commercial agreement.

[2] The licence is restricted to artefacts designed to be used in table top play and consisting of books or static electronic files.

[3] I doubt that its irrevocable.

[4] Hasbro is a highly profitable company, reporting 16.1% EBITDA on $6.42bn Revenues

[5] Much of the original content in Critical Role has been made available by WOTC, presumably through a cross licensing agreement. …

European food, will it go or will it stay?

European food, will it go or will it stay?

I mixed in some French mustard with my scrambled eggs this a.m. and strangely it reminded me of the first time I ate it, the mustard not the eggs; in France on my exchange. It reminds me of how much food in England has changed, via the influence of foreign holidays and EU imports. I can’t remember the first time I ate garlic (or garlic flavoured food) but it wasn’t served at school or at University and was hard to find in the green grocers. I mean probably in France, chez Mary. The rest of this post, brings back comments reviewing Back in Time for Dinner and reminisces about my first Kebab & Curry ...

Culture for all

Culture for all

Tracy Brabin, in her statement, “Culture for All” says,

When times are dark, culture and creativity provide a light. That’s why I’m proposing a vision of Culture for All to be at the heart of Labour’s forward journey.

She has great ideas on Football, the BBC, diverting the festival of Britain funding, access to the creative industries,and comments on nepotism, class bias and the impact of other informal networks, together with the impact of the growing gig economy relationships in the creative industries.

For instance on football, which she identifies as important community resources and hubs, she says, “We need to tackle the mostly undemocratic ownership and control of football clubs, and the way that sport is organised, so that fans and communities are properly engaged.”

While she recognises the stake holding interests of fans in sport, she doesn’t spend the words on talking about them in terms of acting, music nor film? Although she does say ” … Campaign to put more digital cultural content online. Just as the National Theatre has done in response to Covid-19, so too must we support our regional arts institutions in reaching new audiences.”, although this is also weak on the contribution of value by fans.

There is a good section on health and well being

On digital she says, amongst other demands, the UK needs, “a new properly resourced internet regulator to tackle online harms, abuse and misinformation” is needed and Labour should “Make the case for a Digital Bill of Rights so UK citizens have greater control over their own data”. She does not repeat the free broadband promise on which I comment positively here, and less positively here.

This is a thoughtful review of what we could do, it might be a shame she lost the shadow spokesperson position, but she remains Shadow Spokesperson (Minister) on Cultural Industries.


This does not repeat big media’s bollocks on the “Value Gap”, which is an unmeasured & unmeasurable concept aimed at appropriating the value created by fans and commentators and implementing a trickle-down approach for artists and performers. It appeared in one of the NPF reports.

Featured Image: cropped from Tracy’s twitter feed …

Good Eating

I fulfilled an ambition, I ate in the Fernsehtürm Restaurant, creamy coriander & carrot soup, Berlin meatball and potato salad finished with apple tart and cream accompanied by a rather pleasant German pinot noir. The weather and view wasn’t so good, but it’s very high in a low city Here are my pictures as a slide show


Powered by flickr embed.

and here they are at flickr, for those without flash. …

Modern Art

On my first day in Berlin, I went looking for its future, and decided to visit the KW Institute for Contemporary Art. This has a three part exhibition on, in a beautiful building with an equally beautiful courtyard where the Cafe serves its wares. I spent most time in the rooms displaying David Wojnarowicz’s work. I don’t know if it was the arrangement or just the content, but I found this underwhelming. I am loathe to write too much about my views on art as I don’t wish to expose my philistinism and lack of education but this was not inspiring. Perhaps if I had spent less time getting to the warehouse room, I might have spent more time but most of the work on display was photography although there were a couiple of film pieces. They may even have been titled, but if so I missed them. There was one on the Cold War with a number of clips from US news stories, including stuff on Kennedy’s trip to Berlin. There was a talking head about the value and authenticity of rage which I am beginning to dispute. Political action must come from a sense of solidarity and you can’t find that when you’re angry for yourself. …  …

Berlinische Gallerie

While in Berlin, I visited the Berlinische Gallerie, the modern art gallery, they had a couple of exhibitions and some standing exhibits,the former included Julian Charière’s “As we used to float”, and Freedom by the November Group. I bought some post cards to remind me of the visit.

I looked at the November Gruppe photography exhibits. Some of the propaganda pictures, particularly a magazine front page illustrating two women on the front of the Berlin illustrated times, it could have come from the Soviet Union, showing in my mind the unity of the working class, I dout this was the message hoped for by their authors but there we are.

I have observed before, and I am sure it’s not original that photography changed painting as painting can never meet the realism of photography but the photo exhibits showed the German/Berliner experimentation with photographic techniques as artistic expression, so it moves in a full circle.

In the post war room,they tried to tell the story of a conflict of styles, Abstract vs. Socialist realism; I quite enjoyed the big picture used to illustrate the West’s adoption of abstract, but I couldn’t find a post card; it reminded me of some of Jackson Pollock’s work but with a lot less black. I was underwhelmed by what they chose to illustrate the East’s Socialist Realist art. The picture above, which I don;’t think was exhibited was painted in 1976, and would seem to be an interpretation of Berlin at the time, or at least more like what I expected. (The artist, Karl Horst Hödicke, would seem to have lived and studied in West Berlin.) …  …