Monday, January 30, 2006

>>>>>>>>>GENERAL THOUGHTS; <<<<<<<<<<

Feminism, gender equality, role reversal and woman's equality, etc., were made possible because of two fundamental discoveries: the forklift and the pill. Before the development of the forklift and the pill, women were dependent on men for heavy lifting and for protection from indiscriminate pregnancy (hence the usual choice: staying with one man is generally better than being at the mercy of many). Now with those two discoveries firmly in women's hands, dependence on men can be a thing of the past.


Why is today's audiences so fascinated with self-destruction?

Ray last year (2004); this past year (2005): Walk the Line and Brokeback Mountain?

Tragedy I understand. A wonderful definition of which is "...fighting the inexorable." But Walk the Line (and Brokeback Mountain) are not tragic; they are merely pathetic. The main characters don't indulge in tragic struggles. They capitulate. They are 'bathetic' ('bathos')...wallowing in self-pity. There is very little fighting to attain a beneficial destiny except beating on your partner and, in Johnny Cash's case (the bio-figure in "Walk the Line"), struggling to get the beer and pill bottles open.

I know, young audiences believe society is mean and judgmental. And that harshness is best represented by inflexible, harsh and unyielding father-figures. Johnny Cash's father purportedly never forgave him for living after the death of his better-behaved brother. But using a negative past (problems with parents) as justification for an irresponsibility and non-accountabe adult present is too easy; it is the stuff of juvenile self-indulgance and self-pity...and creates, as in this film, as in Brokeback Mountain, unsympathetic, unheroic central characters.

The acting in the film is fine: Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix are terrific (expecially in the singing duos)...but the picture is: just...OK...juvenile-istically (if I may coin a word) formulaic. Bio-pics must be held to the same standards of character and plot and storytelling as other dramas. And this one fails in delivering dramatic sophistication and inspiration. All bio-pic creators take dramatic license...why not demand they take expert license!!! Walk the Line, unfortunately, walks an average line amidst plot and character. A 'B' film. All right....B+. I'm having a generous day.

Friday, January 20, 2006

ON ACTING...with "Authority"

Actors often have to play an 'authority' figure (a parent, lawyer, doctor, team leader). Sometimes in reference to their overall talent, are told: "Your acting needs more authority."

What does that mean? Confidence? Strength? Comfortableness in ordering others around? Where does authority come from? Is it innate and/or can it be developed?

I often find it convenient and illuminating to look at the root word or interior core concept when analyzing a longer word or complex concept. Authority is an extension of 'author'. An 'authority' figure (or actor) authors their own existence. They create their own destiny. They are in charge of writing their future. Or as Shakespeare put it: they are the "the achitect of their own design".

If you want to have authority...or, as a corallary, to play convincingly an 'authority figure', orchestrate/manuever the events around you to satisfy your own purposes, impose your will on others, create your destiny, convince others to do your bidding. All is possible. The page is blank. Write your own scenario.

Believe in free will. Deny determinism. An authority figure/actor accepts responsiblility for their own future, believes that all goals are possible, and...perhaps most importantly...have the strength and willingness to pay whatever emotional price that committment requires.

The pen is in the author's hands. Let the emotional ink flow.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Bad critic and Orgasm"

"A bad critic is like a high-priced whore: the more they practice, the better they get at faking an orgasm."

Reviewer quotes in the movie ad section from today's LA Times: Syriana: "...brilliant. George Clooney is hypnotic, haunting and quietly devastating..." "Filmmaking of the most bravura style." "...images that tear the heart..." Munich: "...spectacularly gripping and unsettling..." "demands to be seen..." "Bana...the actor projects a combination of sensitivity and ruthlessness and he knows how to present a face for which worry is a new experience." "dazzling set pieces and geometric camerawork..." Match Point: "...the screen comes alive whenever Rhys Meyers radiates his cunning magnetism." "...the effect of this mesmerizing mind teaser is spellbinding." " of the most erotic and exhilarating movies in years." Brokeback Mountain: "A film in which love feels as if it were being invented." " with the uncharted mysterious ways of the human heart."

Come on, guys (Peter Travers...twice, Kenneth Turan...twice, Pete Hammond, Mary Corliss, and Manohla Dargis, et al...), these movies are fine movies, and I know the box office is off, the whore house needs all the compliments you can give and great quotes get your name in print...but, give me a break. Tone it down. With all the screaming and back-scratching, you might wake the kids...and they'll discover they're being hyped to death.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

ON ACTING: "Being private in public"

A student once asked me: "Stanislavski, the great Russian teacher, is reputed to have said that the good actor must learn to be 'private in public'; how can one be private in public? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?"

No; good acting requires nothing more than what we do in our everyday lives, only better, fuller, more precisely and on demand. All human beings, at one time or another in their everyday lives, have experienced intense 'private-in-public' moments (perhaps not in front of a million people, but thousands, certainly): standing up and cheering at a football game, or yelling at the kids in a crowded department store. Or getting so involved in a heated conversation on a crowded train that we aren't even aware that the people sitting next to us, much less the ninety other commuters, are avidly listening and watching us. Or engaging in an intimate discussion in a restaurant without any awareness that the restaurant closed a half hour ago, we are the only remaining customers, and the waiters are running vacuum cleaners at our feet.

Granted, it takes training and practice to choose to act in front of people elegantly fully, precisely and on demand, and to remain sublimely unselfconscious when everyone (in a theater or before a future film audience) have gathered together for one purpose: to watch us talk, or walk, or cry or kiss. But once again, as in all acting--in this case, being 'private-in-public'--the difference between acting as a professional or acting in real everyday life is one of quantity not quality, of numbers (of audience members) and not logical lifelike possibility.

Monday, January 02, 2006

ON ACTING: Memorized Dialogue and Real Acting

A student wrote to me: "How can an actor give a "real" performance when the words he/she says are not there own words but dialogue written by someone else?"

My answer: All human speech is memorized. No one, even those of us born in England, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, was born speaking English as part of their genetic inheritance. We learned English from others; and only after learning English did those English words become part of our daily interaction with other English speaking people.

Human beings were born with a speech instinct, but not for particular words or a particular language; all words are learned. So when actors are required to speak specific words, they are really being required to do nothing more than what we non-acting human beings do every day: learn a particlar vocabulary with which to expess our inner feelings. Except: actors have to be more precise in the selection of those words (i.e., they have to stick to the script).

In my everyday life, I am often called upon to restrict my language (choice of words) to what is emotionally and linguistically appropriate: I must carefully choose my words when visiting someone ill in a hospital, or at home with my parents, or at work at an important business meeting. It just so happens that as an actor, I am required to restrict it further. I must not only learn how to feel specifically the appropriate feeling delineated in the script, but also restrict the words to those written in the script to express those specific feelings. I must not only speak at a hospital, home or place of business on a stage or set in English, but I must speak just these particular English words to express those feelings. No problem, says the good actor. I have been learning English dialogue/language all my life; as a good professional actor on stage or on set I will learn to live comfortably and real-ly within the most narrow restricted verbal parameters. I will learn how to live emotionally and spontaneously within the most rigid language confines.