Sunday, May 27, 2007

ON ACTING: 'Interdependence'

To create reality in a scene, the actors must achieve true 'interdependence': that is, both actors must really listen to and look at each other in specific detail in their actual performances because each character must accept that the immediate goals or the objectives which they are striving to attain can only be achieved through the other person.

The other person is the most important person in your character's life AT THE MOMENT; if someone else were more important, your character would be with them! The other character has the key to your next doorway. The true reality in any scene cannot be achieved without this symbiotic, moment-to-moment negotiating with each other, through the audio/visual sensing of each other.

In life or a scene, reality is spontaneous; it is beyond planning. The future of any moment in any scene cannot be anticipated except in its general form; in specific detail--in the true minute reactions of the characters/actors to what is interdependently to heard, seen, said or done, whether verbal or non-verbal--must arise in reality on the quantity and quality of the prior thing said or done by the other character in the scene. As in the game of tennis, the real return on any shot depends on the players' instantaneous and immediate sensing of the actual speed, spin, height and force of the opponent's ball coming over the net. And so it is in acting. You may practice for a game (tennis, football acting or any other interdependent sport); but you can't practice the actual game itself. It has yet to happen; and it doesn't happen until the opposition has arrived; and you both start really playing.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Film Review: "The Waitress"

Today I went to see the ultimate chick flick: "The Waitress". I was only one of four men in the audience. There was a reason. The film is gender-subversive.

The story is simple. Three waitresses work in a Southern diner-type restaurant. The lead (Keri Russell) is married to a complete bastard...and gets pregnant because one night he "got her drunk". No woman's responsibility in this pregnancy. A form of liquor date-rape, I guess.

She does not want the baby, but...she doesn't want an she goes to her old doctor for a check-up (female doctor, of course) but finds a new young replacement--a kind of silly, nervous but attractive doctor...who she proceeds to fall in love with, and he with her, and they have lots of sex-heat.

In the middle of the viewing, I thought: it is an old fashioned Romance Novel. It is!!!! Except...and this is the subversive part: The film is so simplistically conceived and executed (including especially the dialogue and unfortunately the performances) that one tends to miss and (or dismiss) the constant anti-male gender politics in it.

(My wife hated the film by the way. Aesthetics, she said, not sexual politics.)

After two long hours, the film ends happily ever-after (for a feminist). Keri gets the baby, plus a shitload of money from an old man who owns the restaurant (played by Andy Griffith...who, although a great actor in his youth and middle age, is sadly served by this film and its silly script...oh, please, affecionados of this is not a is mean and silly female-rant!); Keri gets rid of both husband and married lover and lives happily ever after with her baby and her true female friends. (Oh, yes, one sight of newborn daughter in the hospital magically dismisses all prior--and endlessly kvetching--reservations about birthing and incipient motherhood.)

The film is a sort of an upper middle class 'every feminist woman's dream': have a pretty daughter (of course a daughter; justice: the bastard husband wanted a son), money, a job she likes, female friends, and no men (although one of her waitress/friends does marry a doddering, poem-spewing fool who is good at sex and is used by the women to schlep the luggage from the maternity hospital. Oh, she has found a peace with the sad-sack manager of the restaurant who is happy "with anything that life offers"--not a very strong male exemplar. I do love consistency of theme!!!

I would blame the writer/director/supporting-actress of this piece, Adrienne Shelley, for the gender-politics and obviousness of the two ranting hours, but she has suffered enough: she was sadly and tragically killed in November 2006 in her New York apartment by a South American illegal immigrant (male) who strangled her and hung her up in in her bathroom.

Film reviews say that her husband has set up a non-profit foundation that will benefit female filmmakers in her honour.

In memory, let me state: I will be a most happy fellow when we--all men and women--get along again easily and without unnecesary recriminations.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Television Review: "Riches"

It's Emmy's time. So they send DVDs of all the shows to members of the TV Academy, which includes me. The 'best of the best' (or so each network and cable producer thinks); wanting me to vote for them. So I tell me wife: "What do we watch tonight?" She says; "How about "Riches? That's been getting some heat? We have the pilot." "OK," I say enthusiastically. "I have never seen that. They must think that is their best show." And...we slip it in the machine, turn it on, and...not long thereafter...end of enthusiasm.

"What?" I say out loud. "A gypsy family who steals from just about everybody...on their way to meet a mother whose getting out of jail after two years in the slammer....who's a junkie besides"!? The pilot show follows them as they travel around the country and and steal more money...and when anyone gets hurt (like people die from their shenanigans!) they mourn and cry and look sensitive. I'm sorry...those sensitive looks...and a music score that tells you how to feel and when...I know they are supposed to make me identify with (that means, care for) this trailer park trash family, But all I am reminded of is the ls joke: In Arkansas you go to a family reunion to get a date.

Dad, of course, is a most capable fellow: he plays golf with the best, dances, philosophizes, seems totally capable in all things (although he does climax in 32 seconds leaving Mom unfulfilled...but she remains pleasantly understanding. She accepts the excuse that he's only quick because it has been two years since he last saw her. What world do they live in? Not mine. Id like her to have an advisory session with my wife!)

What is it with TV today? The only family's these days in TV-land who exhibit traditional values of any kind are dysfunctional families? No wonder James Dobson and his 'Focus on the Family' is pissed off. Is goodness only possible among gangsters and undertakers; "Sopranos", "Six Feet Under", etc.? Is it impossible these days to have meaningful and dramatic problems in a family with one wife, one husband, adults who are social drinkers, kids who study once in a while (I must admit, however, in "Riches" the kids in this family do study: how to steal, how to let Mom and Dad grab a 'quickie' in a rainstorm, etc.)

Pushing the envelope into weirder and weirder is not creativity and "meaningfulness". The "American Dream (and in this show they are purporting to deal with that concept seriously--of course!!!) is not simply dreaming to be rich through theft. It used to be about hard work and toeing the agreed upon or democratically negotiated line to create and earn your opportunity.

I'm sure I'm being knee-jerk unfair to this show; if I saw some additional episodes...which I won't...I'm sure there will be redemption somewhere. Unfortunately, I'm not interested in these characters redemption. I don't want them redeemed; I want them off the air. So the network (FX, in this case) can find a slot for a different "meaningful" 'push-the-cultural-envelope' show to replace them: how about a family of humans and canines who share an apartment (or large doghouse in big, overcrowded post-modern city), eat dog food together (vegan recipes) and have happy sex together...meaningfully, of course; sex which lasts longer than 32 seconds...the stars in the show being young dogs...and think it is great post-coital fun (for both dogs and humans) to shit on the shoes of anyone who works hard, saves their money, is good to their neighbor, and is sexually satisfied making sex with their spouse...or partner. However, I do have one request: in that new show I hope the grunting and groaning of sex a la 'doggy style' happens off camera!!! Sex for me has always been a participatory sport; not a spectator sport.).

In summary, I'm not sure yet whether I'll vote for "Riches". You see we in the Academy are honor bound not to decide who's best until we see all the shows. And I have professional integrity. Besides, this may be the best of the 2006 lot!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Film Review: "Away From Her"

I wanted to like the film. I truly did. I read the reviews. A lot of others reviewers liked the film. It was made in Canada. I like Canada. It was made with wonderful, multi-talented and experienced people. I like all of that. And I am simpatico with the topic/theme of the piece: dealing with Alzheimer's.

However I found the film's execution of that topic illustrative, not dramatic; it was empathetic, but not sympathetic. (To elicit my sympathy characters must fight their destiny. Even death should be fought against to create sympathy; why not Alzheimer's?)

'Fiona', played by Julie Christie, is manifesting the signs of early Alzheimer's disease. She is only 62, but already she is forgetting; worse, she is wandering away from the house by herself and has to be tracked down by husband. A bright, intelligent, realistic and proud woman, she decides it is time for assisted least or until (hopefully) she improves. Her husband will he live without her; especially given his guilt: thirty years before he was, when a professor, he was a serial philanderer (with his students)? Does he--did he ever--really love her?

She wins out: and enters an assisted living home...where they must accept, in the first thirty days, enforced parting; no visiting. (The rules of the house: he is not allowed to visit her the first thirty days, to help her get acclimated to her new environment.) During that time she--by my reckoning a little too soon and a lot too conveniently--falls in love with an old man patient (played silently and nicely by Michael Murphy). She maintains she has known him before--a brief period of love when they were young--but the question remains open: is that love a real 'memory' just part of her Alzheimer's condition?

The husband, played by Gordan Pinsent--once the post-thirty days visits are allowed--visits and visits and visits,and experiences long, torturous feelings of loss: Julie is more interested in Michael than the husband.

Intermittently, Jordon visits the home of the Michael's wife (played by Olympia Dukakis). They sit and talk (and later fool around) during cross-cut scenes sprinkled among the scenes of the husband's visits to his wife. He watches (1) his wife's deterioration (forgetting him) and (2) her puppy-like attraction to the new man. At one point he muses with the home's #1 nurse (played sympathetically by Kristen Thomson): is his wife's actions vis-a-vis the 'new lover' a manifestation of Alzheimer's or a long delayed punishment for his old playing-around days?

Unfortunately, there is somewhat of a plot turn here: what starts as a serious, sensitive and simple depiction of Alzheimer's and its effect on both the victim and the loved one, turns into a love triangle (rectangle?) that seems almost 'soapy': while it is still delicate and sensitive in style, it is also slow and somewhat predictable. I won't tell you the ending. It works too had to be suddenly unpredictable--and turns out in my mind to be a cheat: an unresolved ending.

The movie was written and directed by Sarah Polley, a young and talented Canadian actress and writer. In my estimate, the writer failed the young director. While some of the scenes are beautifully shot (winter as a bleak cold landscape mirroring the bleakness of Alzheimer's is particularly filmically exploited), the actors (whom most critics will love with but I did not) struggle against the inertia and passivity of the story; either slipping into mournful self-pity, albeit Scandinavian Bergman style (Christie and especially Pinsent) or get caught up in acting-qua-acting (Dukakis, along with Thomson and Wendy Crewson; another usually fine actor, who plays the director of the assisted living home).

I got the feeling the director Ms. Jolley capitulated to the writer Ms. Jolley that she led--or allowed--the actors into playing the overall 'meaningfulness' of the story and situation--rather than letting the story establish the meaning itself. Beware the thing you love: it can lead you to self-indulgence).

I have to admit, I saw the film on an overcast day, at 1:30 in the afternoon; at matinee prices. That might have negatively affected me. (Context can be everything, after all.) However, I've seen some of my favorite films at that time of day; and at cheaper prices. No; the context was not a contributory factor. My sense of aesthetics were. Let me simply applaud the filmmakers for tackling such an important topic in such a loving and talented way; and offer this idiosyncratic support: may everyone who reads this review call me stupid and flock to this decent yet very flawed film.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

ON ACTING: The Past and the Present

What is the relationship of the past (where emotions are formed) to a character's present (where a character's objectives are striven for)?

Consider this: If our human past were perfect, humans would have need to fulfill present goals: everybody would already have everything they require; humans could just sit collectively on a mountain top in Tibet, harmoniously chant "....hhmmmmm!". It would be bliss...and very UNDRAMATIC and UNCOMEDIC.

Satisfied humans are boring to watch!

For me (and for characters in drama) the past has never been perfect. Gaps have been created in my factual and emotional experience that need present redress. The loss of a love-one creates in me the need for a new partner. The loss of a job requires new employment. Yesterday's digestion leaves me hungry today. (Dare I say that the sniff of death wants me to try to live forever...whether on earth or in heaven.)

In acting we often say "Where the character is coming from determines where he's/she's going." "The past dictates the present." "Know the past and you can understand the present." "Past is prelude to present (and by implication, future)." In effect: The present goal (objective, aim, etc.) of a character in a scene is a direct reflection of the character's non-fulfillments/denials/losses (and the emotional residue0 of their past. That's why in acting we want to know a character's 'Prior History', the 'Moment Before', old and new 'Relationships'--even a character's biological inheritance: genes aren't perfectly inherited from Mom and Dad to put you in blissful balance, either.

Exciting life (and therefore exciting drama) is a past-deprived, emotion-filled, objective-seeking teeter-totter. We enter the world (and continually experience it) with ass in the air, or pur 'bottom' hitting bottom, digging deeply into the earth...destined to spend the rest of our lives (and scenes) trying to get--and stay--in balance (through goal-seeking and the achievement of our multi-various aims!)

Friday, May 18, 2007

ON ACTING: On Heroes and Generations

The acting student asked me: "Why are there so few heroic American actors/stars today; take-it-on men like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant? The actors of today," she said, "seem by comparison to exhibit a certain 'non-masculine-ness' about them: they are less direct, less willing to take charge, less responsible. They seem more 'delicate-under-pressure.'?

My answer: art mirrors the nature--and more cogently, the philosophy of its time. And audiences, when looking in that mirror, want to see reflections of themselves.

The philosophy of the Nineteen Thirties, Forties, Fifties, emphasized a certain optimistic worldview: that life could be confronted; a humans life and present/future could be moulded--with effort, granted--to his/her desires. A confidence was in the air then, a belief in the possibility of 'free will'; that the active expenditure of heroic qualities could effect positively the human environment. As Shakespeare said: "The fault, Dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in we ourselves." And even more pointedly: "We are the architects of our own design."

Today, in our post-modern, relativistic world, a philosophy of determinism seems to hold sway. Today's predominant philosophy seems antithetical to these earlier positivist 1950's sentiments. Life now seems now to be seen mostly as something beyond each individual capacity to change. The present events of each humans life are severely restricted--pre-determined-- by one's past, one's genetics; and the future is waiting to be created by forces outside our control. The goal of most humans today is merely to survive. We today are mere leaves on a river, floating to a destination we know not where; our only hope, our only possibility, is to stay afloat in the tumult of the currents.

In comparison: the leaves floating on the rivers of mid-Twentieth Century America--while fragile also...and they were floating just as rapidly on downstream currents...were more positivist leaves; they acted as though they had sturdy arms and legs; John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant would have churned their leaf/appendages and begun to swim to a distant shore. Survival for those actor/character/star's was an active pursuit of success and not a passive chore of survival.

John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant were scripted in their performances to take on hundreds of black hats at once; their characters were written to believe they could win. Even in their screen romances, girls tested them and challenged them to prove their full mettle. They were expected to swim moats, lead armies and destroy dragons.

Whether they did or not was irrelevant. What was most important was that they exhibited these heroic tendencies to accept challenges and seek victory. Because they were being paid (in admission fees) by a generation of people who believed in heroes--and the possibility of the heroism--and they wanted their convictions to be substantiated and confirmed by their onscreen actor/hero's behavior.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

ON ACTING: An 'Honest' Performance

An honest performance is one in which the actor-as-character pursues their objectives and deals with the vicissitudes of plot without any special insight.

The honest actor-as-character has little special perspective of past, presence or future as she/he strives for his/her goals; they are too busy striving to successfully survive--to force life to conform to their purposes--to have much objectivity or overview on it. An honest performance is a performance where the actor-as-character lives the life of the unwitting patient and not the all knowing psychiatrist. Or: an honest actor-as-character lives the life of a burrowing hedgehog rather than a soaring eagle.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

ON ACTING: The Past and the Present

What is the relationship of the past (the character's past) to the present (the character's objective).

Philosophically: If the past were perfect, humans would be in a perpetual state of satisfaction. No one would need to fulfill present goals: everybody would already have everything they require. We humans could just sit collectively on a mountain top in Tibet, and collectively release: "....hhhuummmmm!"

But (at least for characters in drama...and my life!) the past has not been perfect. Gaps were created in my factual and emotional experience that I feel strongly need present redress. The loss of a love-one creates in me the need for a new partner. The loss of a job requires new employment. Yesterday's digestion leaves me hungry today. (Dare I say that the sniff of death wants me to live forever...whether on earth or in heaven?)

In fact, in acting terms, we often say "Where I'm coming from determines where I'm going." "The past dictates the present." "Know the past and you can understand the present." In effect: The present goal/objective/aim of a character in a scene is a direct reflection of the character's lack-of-fulfillments/denials/losses in the past. (That's why in acting we want to know a character's 'Prior History', the 'Moment Before', 'Relationships'--even a character's biological inheritance...I hate to tell you: but genes aren't perfectly inherited from Mom and Dad in blissful perpetual balance, either.)

Life (and acting) is a dramatic, objective-seeking teeter-totter. We enter the world (or the scene) with either our ass up in the air, or else hitting bottom, digging deeply into the earth...and then we spend the rest of our lives (and performance) trying to get--and stay--in balance.(through goal-seeking and the achievement of our multi-various aims!)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Film Review: "Georgia Rule"

My wife wanted to see a 'chick-flick' for Mother's Day. She chose "Georgia Rule" starring Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan.

The film is set in small town, Idaho: the home town of the main character, Grandma Jane weird it is to write that. It is an unabashedly Mormon town...nice, friendly, sweet, rule-abiding Mormon.

The plot: it is a Grandmother, Mother, Granddaughter story. Mother (Lilly; Felicity Huffman) is taking her incorrigible Daughter (Rachel; Lindsay Lohan) to Grandmother's (Giorgia's; Jane Fonda's) house in rural Idaho as a punishment for past behavior and a condition of her going to college (Mama's paying). The deal: spend a summer living with Grandma in rural Idaho and out of San Francisco--Rachel's hometown--which, as we all know, if anyone lives there too long incorrigible people get more incorrigible..or she doesn't get to go to Vassar!

Mother (Felicity; who used to be a drunk in her youth...and still is!) drops Daughter unceremoniously at Grandma's house, and prepares to leave town immediately because she and Grandma never got along (too much Georgia rule). Grandma, a devout Mormon (no blasphemous talk around this lady--a very occasional 'fuck' is okay, but no taking God's name in vain...a literal mouth-washed -with-soap is the punishment!) is lovable but cantankerous Jane Fonda (who is still a-little-too-good-too-look-at-but-not-really for the part...aging should be respected and not overly confronted by all of us...even by Jane Fonda!).

The rest of the story is: Will Grandma (and her rule/rules) melt Granddaughter's inncorrigibility (and for that matter, Daughter's drunkenness)?

Well, first, Granddaughter incorrigibly gives a blow-job to a sweet, virgin Mormon boy (played with a bit-too-much cloying washer-board-brow sincerity by Gary Elwes) and thereby screws up his since-the-sixth-grade-relationship with a nice Mormon girl--because Mormon boys have to tell the truth; and he does.

Next, Lindsay tries to seduce the local, handsome widower veterinarian whom she works for (played nicely by Dermot Mulroney) with whom Grandma has secured Granddaughter a job...and who (very conveniently for the drama) used to date/love Mother (Felicity). Dermot is tempted; Lindsay has a nice body...which is on display throughout the film, by the way.

Granddaughter (whether through anger or connivance...I forgot) spills the beans: step-daddy (adequately played by Garett Hedlink) has had sex with her from age twelve to fourteen (and this is the source of her incorrigibility and her sexual over-appetite for men). But is it? Granddaughter is a big-time liar (part of being incorrigible) she telling the truth or not? Mama (Felicity) won't believe it (she loves her husband); step-daddy denies it...but is suspect because he is a big time defense lawyer and we all know what that means (especially if we live in San Francisco and it is seen from the vantage point of a small town in Idaho).

Well...the plot goes on and on..and the mystery of sex, love and drama (and comedy, let's not forget the comedy: blow jobs with virgin boys; and the reaction of jealous girls...funny, no?) I said, it goes on..and on...and on....

I won't spoil your seeing the film for you by telling you the wrap-up...but ...if you accept it is a Mormon conceived film (perhaps financed by Mormon money? More on that in a minute) you can guess the wrap up: good prevails over bad, family love conquers all, and God reaches across the generations and heals. And the Mormon boy goes on a mission. Literally. It's almost the last line in the film. And it's worth the price of admission to see Jane Fonda (acting wise) summon up all her talent just ignore the kid's line!

The writer, Mark Andrus is a talented award winning writer: he wrote the Academy Award winning 1997 "As Good As It Gets", a most, most funny comedy, romance, drama (Mr. Andrus' charter, I believe) starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt; as well as writing a particular sweet favorite of mine, the 2001 "Life As A House" starring the always brilliant Kevin Kline.

But...on this film, he went wrong; and I can only venture a guess or two as to why.

Perhaps one-too-many 'comedy-drama-romances'; the wells gone dry? Perhaps being around Garry Marshall, the director of the film? Who reverted to his "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley" mode instead of "Pretty Woman" which had a little style and subtlety?

Perhaps Mr. Andrus felt a little too much obligation in some strange, unknown way to Idaho Mormonism? (I thought after viewing the film credits: maybe the writer is related to Cecil D. Andrus, the ex-great governor of Idaho and Secretary of the Interior under Jimmy Carter? His Daddy? His Grandaddy? But...then I thought...Cecil Andrus was a Lutheran? Oh, well...I still believe there's a connection somewhere.)

Perhaps bottom line is bottom line: the financing came from Mormons, and Mark Andrus felt overly obligated to please the 'piper' and not his 'muse'? He is very diligent in not overly criticizing or ridiculing that faith; which I respect and appreciate. I've spent many years and much time around Mormons ...and I invariably found them a bright, talented, caring, decent group of people.

But...whatever the reason, the film fails for me. I believe what it believes. I like nice sweet films (SEE: "Life As A House") but I wish this whole project could have been conceived with more style and subtlety.

By the way, Lindsay Lohan is more than fine as an actress; I now want to see her again and again in something more challenging (and it has nothing to do with her figure!!!). And I continue to be amazed...and pleased...and gratified...and respectful...with how fine...super actress Felicity Huffman is.

I disliked the film less than my wife, by the way. Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

ON ACTING: The Difficulty of Scene (or Script) Analysis

Script analysis is probably the most difficult acting aspect for most students to master. Let me emphasize two central reasons for this. First, the idea of a script itself; it is an incomplete picture. It is only a blueprint of a house and not the house itself; a blueprint of to-be-acted behavior and not a complete picture of the behavior itself.

A script is only a job shorthand; it is a series of to-be-spoken-lines where, like a blueprint, are only dotted outline of one's overall full behavior is proferred; and those dots aren't fully connected. In fact, the final picture--in the case of a script, the full and final realization of human behavior in a performance--can only...must IMAGINED from the dotted lines. And if you haven't built many houses or performed many scripts you are at a distinct disadvantage!

Second: actors are inclined to the world of feeling and not logic...and language--scripted dialogue --is explicitly logical; and only implicitly emotional. Actors are by their nature prone to see only emotional leaves in a script and rarely embrace the whole tree. (And even when they do sees whole trees, they rarely see the overall forest)

Which, in point of fact, is only as it should be: writers are hired to write words (logical discourse); actors are hired to live the emotion that gives rise to and is implicit in the dialogue. Writers create trees and forests; actors create leaves that make them beautiful.

Which brings me back to my point: scene analysis, the understanding of the logical meaning and structure of whole forests (stories) and trees (character) is the most difficult task for most actors.

Let's say I am right. "Well, Doctor, how to I correct for the disease of deficient practice scene analysis?"

My medicine: life analysis...i.e., study the way people (actors: you yourselves) live life in producing everyday dialogue. Actors should spend a great deal of time studying themselves; learning to analyze themselves; being honest (to themselves) about the goals and objectives underlying (their) language. In terms of learning scene analysis, it is a very cheap way (no textbooks to buy; you are your own textbook) to learn to see the strategies and tactics that underlie all human discourse.

To understand life in the blueprints of life called scripted stories and characters...requires the actor artist to know themselves. It is like the old saying: "It takes one to know one." All knowledge proceeds from self-knowledge. An actor's ability to analyze a script will grow in direct proportion to their increase in honest self-recognition.

Because a script is a mirror of human behavior...and the actor must be eager and willing to see themselves in the script's written reflection of their words and deeds. Ultimately, to read and analyse cogently a script or character is to say: "...oh, I know FROM EXPERIENCE (my experience) exactly what's going on when someone says such and such in such and such kind of situation. I can understand...I can identify...I can easily analyze that script!"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

ON ACTING: Random Thoughts from "The New Yorker"

On the airplane day, reading "The New Yorker" magazine, I came across three statements that I thought might be of interest to actors and acting. The first comment was by John Lahr, theater critic, reviewing (not over-favorably) a new comedy that opened in Boston called "Persephone" by Noah Haidle; the second two comments were by Anthony Lane, (film critic) negatively assessing "Spiderman III", and relatively favorably reviewing "The Treatment", a new movie starring the great actor Ian Holm:

"Next time out, Haidle needs to be more ruthless, both with his characters and with himself. Comedy may be a banquet, but, as the philosopher said, without a killing there is no feast." (Boldness and italics mine.)

"The fact is that if the fantastical is to flourish it must lay down the conditions of its magic and abide by them; otherwise, we feel cheated. (Tolkien knew this better than anyone.)"

(Finally, quoting a line spoken in "The Treatment: '"Constructing passive sentences is a way of concealing your own testicles, lest someone cut them off."' (Actors who offer passive performances, take note!)

Monday, May 07, 2007

ON ACTING: "Shirking" From a Fight

Drama is conflict; all acting is conflictual activity: taking on the 'other' and succeeding.

Some actors, however, don't like to conflict: and their body betrays their reluctance.

A student in class the other night, Ms. C., was obviously a "shirker" from conflict, as she herself said later when watching a taped replay of her performance. During the scene, her head was tilted at an angle. She was always looking at the other character from the side of her eyes, not full face front. Her bodily posture was regressive, leaning back. Her left foot may have been lightly faced front, toward the other character; but the second foot was placed half a step back, and at a slight angle, like an animal preparing to withdraw/retreat. He brow was in a constant state of "scrunching", her forehead lined with the creases of perpetual discomfort, her eyes and face betrayed a sense that she expected to be bashed at any time. Hope and victory were not a part of her physical stance. Her voice followed suit: it was tense, high pitched, tentative, as if squeezed through a narrow aperture. It was not a very appealing performance.

So we discussed: How does one physically manifest the exact opposite? how does one appealing behave when one is comfortable (being uncomfortable) in a fight?

We decided the exact opposite of her taped performance would result. In a brave (and appealing) performance an actor's head is erect, un-tilted, facing full front--eyes centered in the white pupils. Feet are slightly apart with toes facing full front, leaning forward, almost up on the toes--a fighter's stance, if you will. The forehead is smooth, the brow un-tensed. The actor's chest is relaxed, giving the lungs full space to expand with needed air when taught muscles require extra oxygen for extra muscular effort. The voice comes from the diaphragm; even more importantly, it emits a full, rich tone because the open chest cavity does not pinch the escaping air into a squeezed sound.

A few years ago I remember reading a book from the 1940s from a Hollywood studio acting coach; his central thesis in the book was: "The essence of good acting is a tight buttocks." I remember laughing, thinking how far we've come from those acting days. Then, I paused...the coach was teaching at one of the top studios, wasn't he? did he last if he was such a fool? So...I got before the mirror and tightened my buttocks, A lo and behold, what did I discover...but that along with a tight buttocks comes (1) erect posture, (2) head-held-straight, (3) the eyes were forward, (4) the body titled into the scene, (5) the forehead is smooth and (6) the voice emanating from an open, barrelled chest.

I asked Ms, C. to practice walking around that way for a while erect, head straight, forward looking, up on toes, smooth fore headed, talking in a lower register--and with a tight buttocks if she were so inclined!--and see if life's vicissitudes faced in that physical fashion felt--and acted--any differently. I opined that I thought it would...and that she might start to like and start operating in the more conflict-accepting least on stage.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

ON ACTING: Perspectives on Comic Acting

In comedy, a character's emotional needs are, without exception: extreme. Blood flows more greatly to the comic character's heart and groin, leaving less blood to operate in the head area. That's why comic characters do and say funny things. They are operating under a level of emotional need most of us (in the laughing audience) would consider unreasonable. And their great desire to fulfill their unreasonable emotional needs are what causes them to do and say unreasonable things. And it allow the audience to have a dual reaction: "I know exactly how they (the comic character) feels...but I wouldn't go that far!"

Comic characters are never funny to themselves. Comic characters operate in a state of denial-of-reality. Some call that comic state 'innocence'. The logic behind a comic character's blinded posture: anything but a dishonest evaluation of their emotional state would inhibit comic characters goal-seeking, and keep them from the taking the extreme (funny, to the audience) measures their great emotional needs require.

In comedy, the other character(s) is always totally wrong and the comic character is (to themselves) always right!

Comedy operates at the top of human emotional range (but never over-the-top...over-the-top is false acting!) Comic characters operate in a fast paced world because their emotional need is extreme, and comic characters therefore have little time to pause on the road to fulfilling/relieving that extreme emotional state. (One does not amble to the bathroom when one's bladder is extremely full! Comic characters, whose emotional bladders are always filled to the brim, move very rapidly and often clumsily to find goal-achieving relief.)

The primary obligation of a comic character/actor is to live in a self-created world of tension (created by great emotional need and the great goal-seeking need to fulfill it) so that when the ensuing joke, the funny action, the silly (to the audience) words and reactions flows from the comic actor's body and mind it enables the identifying audience to relieve its own actor-induced tension in the form of a laugh.

Friday, May 04, 2007

ON ACTING: An Approach to the Concept of 'Character Development'

Character Development is a concept that encourages a progression, or change in character, as the actor/character proceeds through the plot of a story. Character Development is the beginning, middle and end of the changes of personality generated by and interwoven with the beginning, middle and end of plot.

Changes in plot invariably occur in a script (it would be boring otherwise, wouldn't it?), so why shouldn't it be just as invariable to have personality changes--development--in those very characters that perpetrate and are being effected by those plot changes? (Oh...I suppose a cynic could could argue that people don't change; they just get better at what they are; what passes for changes in people is simply our--and maybe their own--periodic discovery of themselves). Either way, whether you believe in the concept of true character development, or in the concept that human character simply becomes more increasing revealed, character development in a performance is sine qua non desirable in all good acting. (After all...who wants to end a scene where it began...plot-wise or character-wise?!)

Following are a couple of ways an actor can aid themselves in the achievement of this beginning middle and end of character development/revelation:

(1) Enter a scene as stupid as possible; enter a scene as oblivious to future events as your character could possibly be. For example, if the girl's going to leave you by the end of the scene, enter the scene believing you have a great relationship; if you are going to get the great job, assume you are going to remain unemployed forever... Drama and comedy rarely happen to smart, prescient people. They happen to the oblivious.

(2) Assume your character getting their 'objective' in the scene will be easy...and brief. Difficulty and length of effort catches you off guard. (This tactic is really creating a form of character overconfidence, isn't it?) Other character's resistance as the scene progresses becomes a surprising turn of events; making more likely your character's coming up with new (and changing/developing) aspects of personality to counter the surprising resistance from the other character. This 'dumbing-down' tactic will also aid the actor in achieving a moment-to-moment freshness in the scene.

(3) As a variant on (2) above, expect all scenes to be short, and every line to be your last one. Think of all your memorized dialogue (words that the writer has written, and words you have learned) as only money-in-your-pocket, preferably to be not spent. Dialogue is always unexpectedly spent, and only when necessitated by the other character calling for a price: your verbal retort. Good scenes invariably progress line at a time.

(4) Make winning in the scene critical. This will enhance the possibility of character change. (Would-be-winners don't stay with losing tactics too long. If your anger doesn't work in winning your objective in a scene, try sadness. If that fails, try humor; if that fails, try...etc.) Necessary change is the bedrock foundation of development!

This is not a complete list, but hopefully it will get you started...and developing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

ON ACTING: 'Your Face in Lights'

Alex Wilkinson, in The New Yorker, October 20th, 2003, while writing about the importance screen lighting, said: "You can take fifty thousand soldiers and hundreds of ships, but if you're not really moved by what the actors do it doesn't succeed.?"

In effect, shine your best light on the money: the actor.

ON ACTING: Real versus Fake

One time, the great director Bernardo Bertolucci issue a statement in defense against Norman Mailer's criticism that the sex in Bertolucci's movie "Last Tango in Paris" was fake as enacted by Marlon Brando and Romy Schneider (and therefore somewhat diminished in its artistic purity, or in its desirable ultimate experience): Bertolucci emphasized he was making a movie, and the first truth about making movies is that they are all fake. (By the way, Marlo Brando defended the fake or simulation of sex: "It was such a cold day that my penis shrank to the size of a peanut.")

Bertolucci is right...only I would add this: Everything in movies is fake but the actor's emotions. They must be really felt. Actors emotions are what gives all the other fake elements in movies their authenticity; or reality.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

ON ACTING: Listening and Looking

"Acting is listening (and looking). "A personal note: It took me many years to discover I don't listen to or look at anyone unless I want some thing from them.

The lesson for actors: listening and looking skills grow in direct proportion to character goals; want more, you will listen and see better.

I would encourage all actorswho desire to "really" listen and look on stage to seek goals unequivocally and assiduously from the others in a scene.