Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Nice E-note from GP

I received a nice response--one that particularly pleased me because it underscored an actor's desire for clarity and simplicity in acting theory:


Re: ON ACTING: A Non-Definition of Acting / 2 Jul 2007

So many people try to define acting end up only
rearranging the word pile in an effort to out-describe
all other definitions with the version to end all

Thanks for saying all that needed to be said.


As a special thanks to gp, I will repeat my July 2nd definition of acting:

"There is no such thing as acting; there is only life. Acting instruction is a jargon-filled reminder for actors to live everyday life within the following array of very narrow parameters: when acting/living onstage or onscreen, remember to (1) live excitingly, (2) on demand, (3) in front of people, and, while living in such a manner, (4) would you please say these words, move in this manner, and handle these props. The rest of acting becomes a series of variations on this theme."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

ON ACTING: Youth, Comedy and Drama

Two nights ago a student in class said to me: 'I think more young actors are better at comedy than drama. Why?" I offered this: "While young actors often have the intensity necessary for great comedy and great drama, they do not have the complexity of emotions necessary for great drama. Comedy requires unreasonable intensity about simple emotions; : lust, confusion, anger, bewilderment...youth can handle that. Drama, however, requires enacting the most complex of human emotions: paradoxes, contradictions; trying to live out, solve and survive the great moral conundrums of human existence. Most youthful actors not lived long enough to experience and fully explore those issues; and if they have, they usually do not have the acting experience required to portray them with elegance and style. There is an old adage: "Drama is the easiest thing to do; comedy, most difficult; but what is almost impossible is great tragedy."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

ON ACTING: Creating a Comic Character

To Would be Comic Actors:

If you haven't developed the capacity to laugh at yourself, to define and embrace your own ridiculousness as a human being, you are going to find it very difficult to create characters who will be taken seriously as fools.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Movie Review: "Knocked Up"

Written and Directed by Judd Apatow

Seth Rogan
Katherine Heigl
Paul Rudd
Leslie Mann
...and a lot of other funny people

"Knocked Up" is an old fashioned 'smarmy' love story/movie; set in a sexually more explicit, more juvenile, and more grossed-out time; today. (The writer/director is quoted on imdb as saying: "Its hard to shock America these days." Not quoted is why he feels the necessity to do it...beyond $$$. The film combines the age-old question of: how does a woman make a man more responsible (i.e., committed to a relationship); while we, the audience concomitantly watch the same guy go through the leave taking of buddies; or we in a generation half century ago phrased it: 'Those Wedding Bells are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine'. (Nothing if life changes; just the context.)

Overt sex jokes are manifold in this film, certainly more than than a 'boy-meets-girl' film of fifty years ago...or even twenty years ago...a sign of the times, no? What doth tomorrow bring? If I were a betting an, I'd say funny bestiality.

I agree with Mr. Apatow; its hard to shock America...but the leading lady, Ms. Heigl from Grey's Anatomy, never lets us see a specific shocking portion of her anatomy...specifically her breasts (although other's do). Her agent's decision? Perhaps she herself is 'old fashioned? Is her mother and father still alive? Breasts--hers--are not shocking enough? Too shocking?) By the way, the 'cute meet' in this story, where the boy first meets the girl, is a 'hook up' scene. Lots of shocking and un-shocking bed-bouncing between Mr Rogan and Ms. Heigl there.

This exercise moves quickly to the initiating crisis of the story/plot: her unexpected pregnancy, which leads to her decision to have the baby; which leads to their mutual try at a serious relationship, which leads to more sex. Intermittent throughout all the 'relationship' stuff are 'fart, shit and masturbation' jokes; gynecological exams; doctor jokes...and finally, birthing...fairly graphically presented as is everything else in the film; and the brother-in-law cheats on his wife...a a twist..with something more threatening than an affair: he is secretly (to his wife anyway) into fantasy baseball trading.

Let's face it: the pill (and condoms...and abortion...and the OK-ness of single motherhood) has freed contemporary generations all of the most threatening nature of sex (although this film attempts to underscore contemporary irresponsibility by offering "the exception proves the rule". What we watch in this film...with comedic attack...are average irresponsible adults-acting-like-children...and getting pregnant and wanting the child and trying then to grow up and become a responsible man...and woman...and find the commitment of love! As I said, Apatow's film is smarmy; and that is not all bad.

It was a nice, sweet, film; a bit slow; but I did not laugh as much as I thought I would entering te theater. It is somewhat funny (smiley) in a juvenile sort of way, precocious and clever (although there were not many laughs in the theater the day I saw it). I have great respect for the writer/director, Mr. Apatow. He is a fine craftsman. But if the film is not as funny as his predecessor ('brought to you by the people who did...) and stable-mate, "The 40 Year Old Virgin". Nonetheless it is still a cute little gem in a year of fake jewels. Mr. Apaow was once exec-producer on "Freaks and Geeks". He now makes films--at least the above mentioned--about freaks and geeks swimming through average waters.

The writing is: "I know how to press all the buttons", clever-but-also-cliche sort of writing (funny but not sophisticated: joke-y, not witty...and the ending is predictable). The acting is excellent throughout. All the actors are 'right on' (comically)...and when an ensemble is that uniformly positive--as all performances are in this film--you have to give credit the writer/director. The fish stinks from the head first, right?...so when it smells like perfume, you have to compliment the head! (Comparison-shopping wise, Paul Rudd as the brother-in-law stands out for me as the best actor in the piece, although he didn't have an ostensibly showy role, it was a hard role; and he pulled it off excellently. The others, Rogan, Heigl and Mann are not far behind in excellence.)

For me, the funniest scene in the movie is: the two leading ladies being denied special early-entrance into a nightclub which they earlier had succeeded in getting to the head of the line. When they complain, the Black Bouncer tells them with deep sympathy that he can't let them ahead of others because they are old and pregnant, and therefore fail the hotness test. The scene is funny because it is so darkly true...in a witty, poignant sort of way. The Bouncer justifies his rejection by telling them he even has to obey management's 5% quota on black entrances also, even though he is black. He's as much a victim of management as they are. Hotness and race prejudice; unfair but...a job is a job.

The film is successful. And a commercial hit. And rightfully so. I think its successful...and deserves is $$$$grosses...because the target audience is juvenile...12 to 36 to 66...and we are a culture fixated on our own need for youth...and that is what the whole film is about: a 'juvenile-ish' refusal...worse even, an incompetence, to accept adult responsibility. The audience looks in the mirror...sees itself...and laughs. Who knows...maybe its the start of hot adultness!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

ON ACTING: Acting Like a Duck

A great actor moves through the water like a duck heading for a distant shore: gliding gracefully along the surface (text; or style) while paddling like hell beneath the surface (sub-text; or substance); or, as Ernest Hemmingway said: "Courage is [an actor exhibiting] grace under pressure".

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Great acting is a moment of grace."

Friday, July 13, 2007

ON ACTING: More on Comedy: "The Absence of Laughter"

To be a good comic film actor, one requires great confidence...one could even call it the obliviousness to instant judgement. The great actor Jack Lemmon ("Some Like it Hot", "The Apartment", etc.)--like all actors who do film comedy--never ONCE heard a laugh when he did something funny. He performed comedy, did extremely funny things (or so he hoped) over and over again, from film to film, without ever literally hearing a a positive reinforcing laugh until long after the on set performance. (No one on the crew is allowed to laugh on a film set..it screws up the sound track.) So Jack had to be funny, and funny, and funny again without ever knowing for sure (eliciting an instantly responsive laugh) that he was comically succeeding.

One of his great directors, Billy Wilder, once described making a film as someone who makes love...than has to wait six months to find out whether he had an orgasm. Jack made funny...then had to wait six months--or at least until he got into a screening room or a preview room with an audience to absolutely verify (by finally hearing the sound of laughter) that he was funny.

Jack had guts, courage, and a high degree of confidence in his abilities. (A few garnered Academy Awards didn't hurt maintaining those comic acting aspects!)

Lesson to the actor: discover in your traiing and work what 'makes your character funny' (primarily the hyper-serious, extravagantly emotional involement of the character, the total acceptance of the situation of the piece, and the character's emotional need to quickly, finally and thoroughly resolve that situation in his/her favor); then ride the dialogue and physical action of the piece all aimed at absolutely necessary and difinitive goal-achievement, and remain innocently oblivious to the foolish aspects of what you are needing, saying and doing. One of the central rules of 'funny': The last person who thinks the character is funny is the character him/herself. Perhaps that's why Jack didn't need to hear laughter when performing. It would have been inappropriate; he (his character) thought very little of what was going on was funny-at-all!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

AN OFFER...Tell me, ask me, about the problems you have with acting and I will try to answer them here.

ON ACTING: Dull? Bland? Shallow?

What do the words 'shallow', 'dull' and 'bland' mean, especially when applied to actors? Are they terminal conditions, categories in and of themselves, or mere way stations on the road from fear to courage? I opt for the latter.

People are not intrinsically shallow (that is, UN-deep). ALL people are deep; they only sometimes seem and/or are called 'shallow' because their emotional depth merely hasn't been drilled down to yet...the 'bit' of life has either not been hard enough yet to penetrate their rock of resistance, or their rock of resistance (fear) is too tough.

Similarly, no one is intrinsically 'dull'. Some people have just found it practical and beneficial to 'dull' themselves, to sand the sheen off their personality, as it were; like an animal that tries to avoid predator enemies by blending into the countryside. Remove from these 'dull' people the feeling of being surrounded by predators, the will 'UN-dull' themselves, rapidly reveal their intrinsic sheen of personality: like the old cowboy film school-marm who unfastens the hair bun, letting her hair--and sexuality--so that both can flow unimpeded into the night; or the mild-mannered reporter who becomes Superman when his values, honor or others lives re threatened.

The same holds for 'bland', which Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as "smooth or soothing in manner or quality", that is, a personality without rough edges. Nothing 'edgy' or threatening, or controversial or exciting about a 'bland personality', is there? Although...a thought: isn't that the way most neighbors remember serial killers: "they were so quiet and unassuming"...and 'bland'?

Shallowness, dullness and blandness are only stopping points on an extended journey; mere expedient, temporal conditions...subject to be ameliorated--changed--by courage and the proper conditions. What do you think two thirds of acting training--especially emotional acting training-is about?

Shallowness, dullness and blandness simply reveal a condition of flaccid emotional muscle, not the fundamental absence of muscle. The corrective: Work out emotionally and I promise you those muscles will Schwarzenegger-ize.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

TV Review: "Dexter"

I saw the first episode on the Emmy distributed DVD. It was called 'Dexter'. I assume it was the pilot. Sick. Showtime, and it's producers/directors/writers do not deserve a review. They don't need a review. They have money; the usual prostitute's reward for 'kink'...in this case, bloody, perverse and immoral 'kink'.


Monday, July 09, 2007

IN ACTING: ...and Comfort

Great actors learn to be extremely comfortable (as an actor) being extremely uncomfortable (as the character).

ON ACTING: Jazz and Acting

Quoting a New Yorker article, April 16, 2007, "No Obstaces" by Alex Wilkinson:

"Jazz musicians occasionally say that novice needs to learn all about his instrument, then he needs to know all about music, then he needs to forget everything and learn how to play."

Ditto, the actor.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Movie Review: "Sicko"

As my wife and I walked out of a screening of "Sicko" last night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the man behind us said: "Well...we all knew all that...but I'm glad he said it."
Did I enjoy the film? Yes? Did I think it was brilliant? No. Do I recommend you see it? Absolutely.
Michael Moore is not a documentary film maker; he is a populist propagandist. He would have succeeded under a Communist regime as well as he does today, in a capitalist one. He takes a point of view; and sells it. Brilliantly and unabashedly.
The essence of "Sicko" is--in case there is someone who doesn't already know (is that statement a measure of Moore's already attained accomplishment and success?): the American for-profit Health Business is sick (as in diseased): Health Insurers, Drug Companies, Doctors, Hospital (especially HMO's), Washington Lobbyists and Politicians (does anyone know anymore where one group ends and the other begins? Forget 'a 'open door' between them...there is NO door), Health Corporate Capitalists, Health Corporate Executives, and poor old George Bush. Always poor old George Bush. Where would Moore be without Bush? Forget Bush...blaming him is too easy a way to ward off our self-responsibility. Bush-ism is a symptom, not the disease.
Moore is offering this for audience's to contemplate: $$$$$$$ corporate indifference and greed have tragically denied 'the people' (that is, the 99% of us...who don't own 80% of America...only 1% does) more, better and cheaper health care. In making his case, he provides brilliant tragic and comic anecdotal evidence of same. His solution: 'single payer' universal health care', a health plan that is offered by every other modern industrial nation in the world; in support of which he takes us on a filmed journey to some of those other countries (France, England, Canada...even Cuba).
Is Moore wrong? no. Is he right? Yes. Is he simplistic and one-sided? Yes? Must he be? Perhaps so. Hitting stupid people (us, the American electorate) aside the head to get them to realize they are being taken for an unproductive health ride often requires a two-by-four and not a pillow (that would be a set of impartial and objective statistics).
"Sicko" is a docu-prop, or 'agitprop' piece, as they used to say, like "Gore's global-warming-warning "An Inconvenient Truth" documentary. Moore's film is not as good. However, it is, in its own way, just as effective.
For the reasons I would rather have Gore as President rather than Moore, I would rather "Sicko" have seen a more focused, in depth, balanced (if such a thing is even possible in a documentary) analysis of the health (or un-health) industry. While Gore is getting funnier (I saw him cracking really witty spontaneous jokes the other night on a 'serious' talk show; and Michael Moore is getting more profound. Is that a tectonic shift?
A final overview: Money, greed, consumerism, and corporate license is at the core of our problems in America; health and otherwise. The challenge: putting a human face of capitalism. Christianity did it in the Nineteenth Century. Communism forced it in the Twentieth Century. What is going to do it in the Twenty-First Century? Islam? (My God! Is that what really behind all the 'fanaticism'? Think about it.)

ON ACTING: Comedy versus Drama.

May I propose some simple distinctions between comedy and drama.

In comedy, characters are less complex, but more intense; in drama, they are more complex while less intense.

Comedy is more unforgiving: in comedy you either are funny (and get a laugh or at least a smile) or not. In drama, the audience's judgement on actors is less unforgiving...actors in drama enjoy a less definitive and sliding scale of audience approbation. (How do you measure degrees of silence?)

Comic characters rarely admit they are wrong; their denial of reality is deep and unremitting (in fact, the other person is always assumed wrong). In drama, characters can enjoy moments of reasonable and even admitted doubt.

Comedy demands a greater degree of character innocence: comic characters rarely have any perspective on themselves and their situation. That what makes them do and say funny things. Whereas, dramatic characters are allowed a greater degree of self-awareness.

In comedy, a character's emotional needs are beyond extravagant. Their needs are obsessive/compulsive. Think of it this way: in drama, characters take their emotional needs seriously; in comedy, characters take their needs very, very, very, very fucking seriously.

More to come...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

ON ACTING: Tragedy and Responsibility

There can be no tragedy without choice; no choice without conviction; no conviction without belief; no belief without accountability/responsibility.

Today's drama suffers from too much bathos, not enough tragedy. It is doctrinaire drama: the social realism of victimization, the lowly art of focusing on illustrating the dramatic futility of our lives, highlighting our personal irresponsibility for our actions. Shakespeare wrote: “The fault, Dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in we ourselves”. Today, we have flipped the coin, willingly given over responsibility for our lives to the stars. We are cowards.


Monday, July 02, 2007

ON ACTING: A Non-Definition of Acting

There is no such thing as acting; there is only life. Acting instruction is a jargon-filled reminder for actors to live everyday life within the following array of very narrow parameters: when acting/living onstage or onscreen, remember to (1) live excitingly, (2) on demand, (3) in front of people, and, while living in such a manner, (4) would you please say these words, move in this manner, and handle these props. The rest of acting becomes a series of variations on this theme.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Mercurial Acting

Watching a good actor perform is like trying to grasp mercury. You think you have it in your heart, mind and hands...but the moment you touch it--or in viewing a performance, it touches you--it escapes, eludes your easy, predictable grasp of classification. You try to control it again, embrace it with complete understanding, but it escapes again...and again, and again. Until, when the two hours are over, and you are exhilarated, exhausted, and strangely satisfied by the elusive, moment-to-moment process...and you applaud, cheer and remember mercury's conquest of you.