Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Great Acting Blog: "From Fake Independence To A True Artistic Culture"

Being independent has nothing whatever to do with money, or lack thereof. It has got nothing to do with the means of production. Independence is about how you think. We're currently seeing the proliferation of filmmakers who describe themselves as “independent” because they operate with very little money and outside any organized structure like Hollywood. However, the true objective of many of these “independents” is to win the affection of a large corporation, or perhaps become one themselves, and the starting point for this effort is to produce a script which is merely a bad rip- off of the latest commercial success. What's independent about that? Nothing.

Of course, the vast majority of these phonies fail in their attempt to become big shots. And so, they do the next best thing, and mimic, what they perceive to be, the behaviour of a Hollywood player in order to make it look like they are one. But the difference between the actual Hollywood player and the fake, is that the Hollywood player possesses real world accomplishments (regardless of the griminess of the pole climbed) whereas the fake's accomplishments exist only in his head. By copying Hollywood, the fake strives to convince himself (as much as to convince others), that he too is part of the club, but of course, his membership is a fantasy, and, perhaps then, this is the closest he will ever get to the land of make believe. These losers read somewhere that Hitchcock treated actors like cattle (oh really?) and so decide to do likewise thinking this alone will get us to recognize and bow before their genius, and that they too are capable of making a movie like Shadow Of A Doubt or Strangers On A Train. Of course, the real reason the phony treats actors like cattle is because they are absolutely terrified of actors, and of acting, and rather than allay that terror by learning to understand the craft of the actor better (because that's a real pain in the ass right?), they decide to convert their fear into contempt, and invoke Hitchcock (or whatever Hollywood prize cow they choose for whatever situation presented) in order to justify their pig ignorance. It is very difficult to spot these fakes before you've wasted time on them, but the only sure fire tell-tale sign I've found, is that their script stinks to high heaven and they don't care, or worse, they don't realize.

It takes enormous courage and strength (built up over time) for a filmmaker or a playwright or an actor to go his or her own way, to stand alone and express their own view of the world, to define and employ their own aesthetic, to produce their own films, to start their own theatres. Perhaps it is more difficult now than it's ever been, for we are a people brainwashed by the screaming indoctrination of the fame and fortune principle, and anyone who tries to produce work outside of this principle, which is to say an actual artist who dedicates his life to his work and longs to produce something remarkable,or, put another way: an actual independent, is seen as illegitemate and unserious.

Many times the artist produces work which doesn't look like anything that's gone before, and we find it difficult to accept because it is too unsettling, too startlingly original, or it reveals an ugly truth about us humans for the first time. Harold Pinter's debut play in the West End, The Birthday Party, lasted just a week, playing to empty houses, before closing. Orson Welles was largely ignored during his lifetime and many of his films denigrated, buried, and/or taken away from him and re-edited by hacks, his works only became celebrated masterpieces after he died. Often, for a true artist, the typical channels in our culture for producing work are closed off, those channels being too conservative or they have an agenda other than aesthetic (usually commercial or political). Robert De Niro, an actor with a towering body of work, was embarassingly bad in auditions and got work originally through his friendship with Brian De Palma, and Samuel Beckett self-published his early novels, a mere 200 or so people read “Murphy” in the first 4 years of it's existence, and yet now, in the 21st century, Beckett is held aloft as one of our most important writers. Suddenly, I think of the great John Cassavetes, an actor who struck out on his own, and produced some of the most remarkable and influential films in the history of cinema, some of which he spent literally years making, and Cassavetes often re-mortgaged his house and lived on credit in order to fund them. Point is, if he had asked someone's permission to make his difficult films, they may never have come into existence because he was not employing any formula in their construction, but giving expression to his own vision, and, further, his scripts would most likely have dumbfounded the corporate accountant or the government official.

Actors: I urge you not to become jobsworths. If you come across a true visionary, an artist, chances are his or her work will not look like the picture drawn for you by your drama school tutor or by some accredited “handbook”. Watch as many films as you can, explore the arthouse even if it's not your usual thing, read as many scripts as you can, because that's how you'll learn to tell the difference between a good film and a bad film, between a good script and a bad script, between the phony who gets a kick out of manipulating actors, and the real filmmaker who only wants to do good work. And perhaps then, by teaching ourselves the critical tools and therefore the ability to recognize a real artist when we see one, we actors can validate and support their work through the employment of our skills. And, in so doing, we can actively help to create a true artistic culture, one in which we can participate with pride, one that energises us, and inspires us to greater heights, one which loves the audience and strives to serve it by offering works of beauty, works of grace, and works of truth.

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