En garde! Ancient art of sword-fighting slicing permanent place on big screen

From an article at CNN.com
Web posted on: Wednesday, July 29, 1998 5:16:41 PM
Correspondent Dennis Michael

HOLLYWOOD (CNN) — As the success of “The Mask of Zorro” attests, movie audiences are fascinated by the art of swordplay, and they have been for some time. “Zorro” is merely the latest evidence of our continuing intrigue with the ancient art of face-to-face combat.

Douglas Fairbanks brought fencing’s flash to life on the big screen in 1920; Tyrone Power carried the rapier forward in 1940; and Richard Anderson and Stewart Granger’s climactic duel in the 1952 action film “Scaramouche” is hard to beat in terms of audience involvement.

Now Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones of “Zorro” are taking the ancient spectacle into the dawn of the new millennium. And the audience is drawn into their duel.

Sword-fighting and the character

“When you learn to swordfight, you learn how to play the character, because the character is about that,” says Banderas.

Andy Shaw, a historian with the U.S. Fencing Association, agrees.

“Fencing is fully a bodily and emotional and psychological expression,” Shaw says. “That movement you see is that man giving it off. It’s quite exciting for someone to reveal himself or herself, regardless of how one expresses it.”

Grace, poise, confidence

Students at the Westside Fencing Center in Los Angeles include many learning the sword as a sport. Others are Hollywood actors seeking to put fencing on their resum├ęs. Classic theater training once required fencing classes.

“It gives you grace, it gives you poise, it gives you confidence,” says Francesca Caro, an actress learning the art of sword-fighting. “You move around, you observe the other person. It’s very philosophy-based. Everything you need to know is right in front of you.”

Sword-fighting can also be seen on television these days. Ralf Moeller, star of the syndicated “Conan” series, is in training to begin work on a second season of adventures. For him, that means spending hours with Kiyoshi Yamazaki, a master of Eido, the art of Japanese swordsmanship.

The art of fencing may be ancient, but there is still no more exciting place to be than at swords’ points.