Guest post by Benedict Jones.
The year was 1998. There was a resurgence of new comic books, which was something my friends and I lived for. It was our teenage-fiction of sorts. Action movies made a push for flashier martial arts and complex choreographed fight scenes more than ever. The popularity of Japanese cultural themes had also been growing, through Japanese animation and continuous re-hashing of samurai related stories. We had already been huge fans of guys like Brandon Lee (the son of the famous Bruce Lee), Jean-Claude Van Damme, and of course Wesley Snipes. Vampire movies and themes were also in the mix, from Interview with a Vampire to one of our favorite Japanimations, Vampire Hunter D.
Along comes Blade, a movie that truly hoped to satisfy all the things that excited us. It’s nostalgic to think about an era when we couldn’t just pull it up online, and stream it over and over again. Once we fell in love with a movie, like we did with Blade, it was a ritualistic outing to the local theater to see it as many times as we could before the painful wait for its release on VHS. Or, could you imagine, DVD?
Everything from the shocking opening moments with the blood-rave, to the truly great fight scenes, and of course the amazing props, Blade captivated us and provided so much suspense. I was hooked!
During the same era I traveled with my father to auctions around the country. You can imagine how wide my eyes became when there, glowing in a case with the vampire symbols from each “house” carved around it, illuminated in a blood-red backlight, was the Katana and Throwing Weapon from Blade. THE BLADE ITSELF! For sale! “This is meant to be.” I thought. The opportunity to own the props from one of my favorite movies? I couldn’t pass it up, and they came with me.
Shortly after, I moved to California and had opportunities to be around the film industry, helping on set, being an extra, etc. By 2006, the Blade props were occupying a corner on a wall, somewhat forgotten, until a friend of mine asked about them. It sent me down a rabbit hole of understanding props, and the weapons makers that put extensive thought, time, and effort into creating them.
After a little research I found the name of the man who was “Weapons Master” on Blade, Tony Swatton, and saw he had a shop up in Burbank called Sword & Stone. I gave a quick call, and he agreed to let me come in to show him the props. At first Tony questioned that I had “the real thing” as many copies had been produced by this point. It was fun to see his look of surprise when setting eyes on them and recognizing immediately, “Wow, this is my work!”
I was truly impressed with his shop, filled with work from his various productions, and seeing the time and attention he put into each creation. As a blacksmith and gem-cutter by trade, he truly builds each prop from the ground, up. Blade is just one of the many films in his impressive resume, which started out with Hook in the early 1990s and ranges from Spider-Man to The Last Samurai, and more recently Thor and Hunger Games.
I’ve included some pictures of one of the Blade props, the “Scissor Throwing Weapon.” You’ll notice the handmade features: the handle with a molded-grip (fit for Wesley Snipes!), some of the rough edges of the interior portion that was cut away, and the overall impressive design of the weapon. It’s famously used in a scene where Blade (Snipes’ character) boomerangs it around a room, decapitating several vampires in the process (don’t worry, I’ve cleaned off the vampire blood). When holding it in your hands, the practicality of such a move sinks in, as it’s hard to avoid cutting yourself on the wrist if you aren’t careful. But that doesn’t make it any less fun. Although many are impractical, the magic of props is how powerful they become due to their style, design, and the way they’re used in the story.
Truly, the job of the props-maker isn’t just to create things that get used functionally, as much as it is to craft an aesthetic that becomes symbolic of the film for all time, much like Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, or Dorothy’s slippers from The Wizard of Oz. In the case of Blade the connection couldn’t be any stronger, with the title referencing the power of the particular weapon/prop that is used, and it driving the entire narrative (similar to the Maltese Falcon).
The same could be said for set design, costume and wardrobe, and even sound design; they’re all “characters” in the film. It’s been a fun experience owning the props from Blade, and prompted a lot of learning an appreciation for props in movies overall. The audience never gets to see these parts of the process of filmmaking, we only see the finished product. It reminds us that creating films, whether they turn out to be masterpieces or otherwise, takes an entire team of dedicated and skilled people executing their tasks with attention to detail.
As such, there are many unsung heroes in filmmaking, and it never occurred to me until having this experience that for the movie Blade, Tony Swatton is one of the heroes. Another hero we have right in our community is the IU Cinema. The tireless work they do to create a diverse lineup of great films is something few (if any) towns get to enjoy. Many thanks to them for screening Blade on its 20th anniversary, and allowing me to lend a few words about its props.
Blade screened at the IU Cinema earlier this semester on August 24 as part of the Not-Quite Midnights series. Other films remaining in this series are They Live, The Valley of Gwangi, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Benedict Jones is a business consultant and entrepreneur. He enjoys that which is found at the intersection of preparation and performance, working as a photographer, voiceover artist, and even achieving his Sport Pilots License, among other hobbies. Film and stories of the human experience are also near and dear to his heart.