Friday, August 29, 2008

ON ACTING: The Audience's Purpose

The purpose of viewing art is to keep our passions stirred, to have them momentarily placed at the forefront of our consciousness, so that later, when the stirring is in the past, we may, upon reflection, henceforth be more likely to tame our passions and enhance our future through experience, understanding, analysis and insight.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Can a film be too beautifully shot?

Can a woman be too beautifully built?

Can an actor be too beautifully (and self-indulgently) sensitive?

The answer to all three above questions in the film "Elegy" is 'yes.

Both the director and cinematographer of the film caress each frame of each shot with lights and the camera so lovingly and beautifully that I was highly appreciative...for a while.

Penelope Cruz is a work of nature. The sum of her voluptuous parts (eyes, lips, breasts, hips, legs...all right, her feet are just far greater than seeing each part individually). You see her; you (probably women as well as we men)immediately want her. She is Innocent and dirty, young and old, intelligent and naive. And she can act on top of everything else. Although: I couldn't quite buy her as the character: a young (albeit life-delayed) graduate student?

Ben Kingsley is a force of male energy. And acting talent; but so much is wasted in the film on feeling sorry for himself (as the character). Do I believe the character could turn down (refuse commitment to) Penelope Cruz for over a year? And moan about it and do nothing about it? No. I can't feel sorry for that kind of stupidity.

As I was watching Ben Kingsley I was reminder of Anthony Hopkins exquisitely resisting Debra Winger in "Shadowlands" (no lust here; more a fear of intimate refinement)...and they finally get together commitment-wise. To fear commitment when a perfect (for you) partner is offered gradually erodes audience identification and respect: the character's fear becomes neurotic, then self-indulgent, then more for a doctor's office than a compelling film.

"Elegy" is an adult film, a thinking film, a lush sexual film...and well worth seeing.

Probably it's flaws arise from the fact that it is based on a novel by Philip Roth ("Portnoy's Complaint"). "Portnoy" was wtitten when he was young. Unfortunately, he is still complaining as he gets older; and the screenplay and production of "elegy" fall into his trap.

ON ACTING: A Mantra for Actors

From a poem by Giordano Bruno (who was burned at the stake, by the way, in Rome, by the Inquisition, in 1600):

"Suddenly I am raised aloft by primordial
I become Leader, Law, Light, Prophet,
Father, Author, and Journey,
Rising above this world to the others
that shine in their splendor.
I wander through every part of that
ethereal country;
Then, far away, as they gape at the
marvel, I leave them behind me."

An actor should only be so lucky as to follow his dictates...and be burnt alive on the pyre of overwhelming success.

Monday, August 18, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: "Tropic Thunder"

Is laughing at oneself (pointedly) a sublime form of Narcissism? Is Hollywood self-deprecation a superior state of self-loathing? If these questions ever struck you, see "Thunder Alley", a monumentally unfunny in-joke.

Even the adolescents in the audience during the showing I attended did not laugh, except once, in the beginning at Jack Black's farting. After that, the jokes seemed beneath their dignity. Has Hollywood now reached the point where their humor onscreen is aimed at kids under eleven? Or only at themselves (Hollywood in-jokes); which may be the same thing?

The picture lacks plotting (at least of the clever kind), character (one note per person/instrument does not a symphony make), comprehension (unabated noise does not enhance clarity), and, as stated above, humor.

Some critics are taking offense at a white actor playing a character in black face and another character making fun of brain-challenged people. I disagree: this film if beneath offense. It threatens no one. Insipidity is a dulled instrument.

I'm sure the producers and Ben Stiller (who was the creative-??-force behind this movie) might reactively put up the shield of satire to counteract negative criticism--and to excuse their excesses, which primarily includes excessive dullness. The shield would be porous, however. There is in the pantheon of art excellent satire--not this film--and there is very poor satire--this film.

Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr. Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller are brilliant actors, four of the best of their generation. But in this film they are like an All Star team 'strutting and preening' their way to a loss in the first round of the Olympics.

I blame Dreamworks, the studio behind the movie, who must have OK ed the script and underwrote the expenses. They (S, K and G) should know better; the old adage applies: never let the inmates--the actors, Ben Stiller in particular--run the asylum (after all, isn't that, in a sense, the lesson of the movie).

Or do movie moguls today, the whores of the teen-age marketplace, know the difference anymore? Perhaps everything and everyone (in the US and their in-joke popular culture) is within the asylum; the inmates are all-inclusive? And the final truth of the matter is that no one is running the place? Similar to families where the kids are run themselves (and their expenditures) and lobbyists who run the government--or lack thereof?

Oh could have been least I paid matinee prices.

Friday, August 15, 2008

ON ACTING: A Note RE Comedy

Comedic actors, as characters, must always be outrageously extreme in their passions and needs, but their acts must always be grounded in reality; emotional truth, if you will. Comedy takes the flower of performance and stretches it very high, but it must never in the process allow it to be pulled out of the nourishing ground of reality.

Monday, August 04, 2008

ON ACTING: The Joy of Self-Discovery

Actors get bored with certain roles because they know all about themselves in certain behavioral arenas.

The joy of acting a "new" character is the pleasure of new personal self-discovery: an actor says 'I would like to do that role because I rarely get live/enact that aspect of myself in my everyday life. In my careful everyday world I rarely get to feel/discover and reveal those aspects of my hate, or my lust, or my prejudices. But, in acting I am free to 'play' those aspects--or, for that matter, all others demanded by a particular work: to explore the uncharted regions of my own personality.

The audience conspires in that permission of freedom because they also need to explore through the actor explored aspects of themselves; and to achieve that, they grant me, the actor--as leader of the audience--the right to explore myself in a role free of any audience or personal self censorship/judgement."

Audience grant actors that freedom because it is what society grants (and expects) of all researchers: a gathering of the facts without pre-judgements or bias. They want/expect actors to suspend any pre-determinations of right or wrong, moral or immoral, ethical or unethical; to act without prior censorship. Conclusions of performance become, as conclusions in good science, left until later, when all the facts of free performance are gathered. Actors thereby become essentially researchers free to pursue experiential emotional facts in performance unencumbered by prior-determined right or wrong.

So, when granted that freedom, actors become joyously free to explore new rivers (of of themselves), not simply rivers (roles) they have charted and mapped before, over and over again.

And even when and if the role does demand (because the audience loves that repetitive aspect of an actor and the producer will pay high salaries for the actor to re-ride his personal river again), the challenge becomes for the actor to dive deeper in that familiar river, explore that aspect of the actor's human experience at new and uncharted depths...and thus discover their essential self at newer and deeper regions of truth.

Friday, August 01, 2008

ON ACTING: The Strata of Character

During the overall progress of a scene, there is an increasing revelation of who and what the character is; until, at the end of a scene there is the penultimate moment of recognition, the deepest level of self-revelation.

The layers of a character's personality--including the sequencing of them, their hierarchy of depth or shallowness within--are the character's emotional profile.

The actor must remember that upon entering the scene all of the character's emotions are potential within him/her.

The rivers of experience have deposited chronologically and sequentially the 'mud' of the character's emotional reactions over time: early happiness, confusions, angers, sadness. They have built layer upon layer, like geological strata, the emotional events of the character's life as they have residually piled up and affected him/her, become his/her personality. Nothing is lost. There is no past, just an ever-expanding present, ready to be exposed.

The scene acts then upon the character like an excavation tool, a huge shovel, digging moment by moment, throughout the scene, deeper and deeper into the character's geological emotional nature; until, by the end, all the character's truth is revealed; and climax, the deepest self-revelation, is achieved.