Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "5 Best Performances In Films I Happened To See In 2011"

Here are my 5 selections for this year. I based them on the fact that they piqued me in an unusual way, asked me to re-examine my own work, or I saw something in them that I loved, and wanted to define. I have excluded performances I have already blogged about earlier in the year, and, where possible, I've added the trailer for the film in question. Please feel free to add your favourite performances in the comments section, I'd be fascinated to hear your suggestions. Anyway, I hope everyone enjoyed Christmas, and I wish ou all the best for 2012. Cheers! James.


We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

 I suppose it is something of a cliché to praise Swinton these days, but the truth is, I think she has improved with age. While she has often made bold choices, she's unusual in that she has seemed more committed to cinema in general, rather than her own individual performances. It is only in recent years that she seems to have relaxed about performing. If you look at her earlier work (e.g. - with Derek Jarman) there is an actressiness about her work, as though she was giving a performance in the style of an actress giving a performance, indicating an unease. Nowadays however, she is more committed to her performances, and it shows. Last year's I Am Love was comfortably her best work, but I believe that has been topped by We Need To Talk About Kevin. In the latter film we are seeing a master craftsperson at work, as demonstrated by the sheer breadth of Swinton's expression in the film. She is in an enormous number of scenes, and each require something slightly different from her, and Swinton delivers absolutely. Scene by scene, she gives just what is required, offering subtle variations of action, and she does so with simplicity, discipline and force. Her look of shock when she arrives at her son's school to discover a tragedy, is utterly heartbreaking. This is an epic performance of the very highest calibre, and I offer it as a masterclass of screen acting.



 Archipelago is, in truth, an ensemble piece, about a family who go on holiday to bond, but seething resentments are brought forth instead. Some of the scenes are painfully tense, even when there appears to be nothing happening. But I have chosen Leonard's performance largely because she is the arch protagonist in the film, it's her snooty, reserved, agro sister/daughter, who seems to cause most of the problems. Leonard pitches it perfectly, she possesses a touchiness which creates the impression she could kick off any time. Again, her performance is very precise and controlled, and so, so true: we believe every moment of it, we've met people just like her, and know how torturously problematic they can be, and it is this truth of course, which makes Leonard so painful to watch. Check out the scene in the restaurant where she complains about her food, but complains just a little bit too much. Brilliantly excruciating.



 What a surprise and a joy to discover Elena Anaya! Where have you been, and why aren't you an enormous superstar? Anaya has a subtle screen beauty coupled with that odd mixture of strength and vulnerability (think Emmanuelle Beart's younger, more idealistic cousin, less moody). The course qualities are, of course, inherent in the actress herself, but the point is her well ordered technique enables her to give these qualities full expression. Anaya's performance has a real purity to it, free of the desire to manipulate, and these honest intentions are what make her performance seem so refreshing, and compelling to watch.



 Thank God for the films of Powell and Pressburger, otherwise we'd have almost no examples of Livesay's work, because he rarely did films, preferring to work on stage. For me, Livesay is one of the actors I measure myself against - his work always stuns me, and causes me to re-examine what it is I am trying to do. Generosity and humility are the qualities that spring to mind when I think of him. So generous with his talent, total commitment, and giving his all to express the moment as fully as he can for us. But his humility is revealed by the fact that he appears to be completely oblivious to how good he is, he's just doing his job. These qualities, combined with supreme skill and the pleasure in his play, make his performances astonishing on screen. Ever performance of his I've seen on screen, has been a masterpiece. Roger Livesay. One of the greatest actors there ever was.



 Kroner plays Antonin "Tono" Brtko, a lazy and somewhat dim-witted carpenter, living during World War Two in Nazi occupied Slovakia. Kroner is appointed "Aryan Controller" of a rundown button shop, which is managed by and old, deaf Jewish woman (brilliantly played by Ida Kaminska), who doesn't even realise there's a war on. Kroner forms a friendship with the old woman. Kroner's performance in this film is special because of the remarkable way he shows us his character's

ambivalence. There is a scene where all the Jews in the town are being rounded up in the market square, to be sent way to labour camps, and this happens literally infront of Kroner's shop window. However, Kroner has decided that the Nazi's are not going to take the old lady away, so he hides her away in the back room of the shop. The mounts on Kroner as he sits in the shop, while outside, the names of each Jew are read out in preparation for transportation. The scene really does become more and more agonising with every name that is called out. The pressure brings Kroner almost to breaking point, and the genius is how, in this fever pitch moment, Kroner alternates between wanting to protect the old woman, and wanting to give her up to make himself safe. He reveals this inner conflict to us by continually flipping between two conflicting actions, which creates the idea that he is wrestling with himself, with his own nature (which of course he is). Kroner's performance in The Shop On Main Street is a wonderful example of how an actor can express something deeply complex, by performing simple actions.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Flipping Between Mindsets"

Before I head back to Ireland to complete filming on Rouzbeh Rashidi's HE (which is going to be an utterly sublime feature, by the way), I intend to squeeze in a quickie short film, called Phone Box Gun. It'll be a Kaurismakian film noir, about a jewellery heist, where I'll finally get the chance to wave a Beretta about and wear a false beard, and further, just because I enjoy making life difficult, I'll also be directing the film aswell as acting in it.

Whenever I've tried my hand at filmmaking in the past, I've gone into it with too aggressive a mindset, which I think is inappropriate. An aggressive mindset is very good for acting (or, indeed, writing) because acting requires short bursts of heightened intensity, which are generated in the moment of performance. Filmmaking, I believe, requires a slow burn kind of energy – a filmmaker needs to be able to function consistently well over the period of time of the shoot, making many decisions, being alive to mishaps. The filmmaker is required to manage other people, which means he needs to ensure he is available for them, and create conditions whereby they can work happily.The filmmaker is at the centre of everything, all eyes are on him. The actor need only concern himself with himself, and the singular act of his performance, and all of his attention is dedicated to that, he need not multi-task – and that's just the way most actors like it,  because most actors are minimalists, it's the philosopher aspect of their work, favouring clarity and simplicity (this becomes very evident when actors move behind the camera), however, this is not a pre-requisite for the job, but certainly a common trait I have witnessed. It's also worth noting that a relaxed body and mind is crucial to the actor's work, and so another reason why they don't want to be pre-occupied with anything else. The poor filmmaker is often under stress, as he skits around, trying to keep all the plates spinning. The life of the actor sounds positively leisurely in comparison to that of the filmmaker, which of course it is, apart from that battle with the awesome which takes place during the performance (I've met more than one director who started out as an actor, but switched because they could not cope with the pressure of the performance). Acting requires a laser-like in-the-moment precision, and to deliver that requires immense discipline, mental strength, and self-control, all difficult, improved only over a long period of practice. Directors need a certain kind of generosity, a magnanimity, because they are handling different personalities, with differing talents – a director needs, to a certain extent, a big tent, whereas actors needs only a sleeping bag. 

To be a filmmaker requires a certain kind of humility: he is responsible for everything, yet much of the production is out of his control. Setting up the shot may take time, it may not go according to plan, but the key is to accept this state of affairs, not grind against it, which will only lead to fatigue and a diminishment in the quality of the work. It's also being aware that everybody else is doing their best, and it is upto the filmmaker to be able to articulate what he wants in a way that is useful and practical to the person he is speaking too. Much of this then, is a preparation issue, being ready to explain yourself, being ready to communicate – if the filmmaker cannot articulate himself properly, he should refrain altogether, and let cast and crew go about their work. I think this is the  aspect I need to work on most. I find managing people to be tedious, which is why I prefer to work with independent types, who think for themselves and take their work seriously, just getting on with it. Also, so much of acting is about energy conservation, and articulating what you want is energy draining. Therefore, directing and acting in the same production, requires compartmentalisation,  flipping between the two mindsets as and when. The point is, committing totally to the scene when acting in it, then, when the scene is over, stepping out of it, and looking at it with a director's eye. 

On Phone Box Gun, I intend to be more relaxed about how the production will unfold, and flip flop more consciously between the mindsets of actor and director, as oppose to jumbling it all together, and pushing it through by force of will. Hopefully, this adjustment to my previous approach, will lead to greater productivity, and ultimately serve the film better.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Trailer For Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri

Masterful samurai tragedy from Kobayashi's, centering on the notion; "the honour in death, the death of honour".

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "A Tragic View"




“I like the futility of effort – the uphill road to failure is a very human thing” - Jean-Pierre Melville

My penchant for Samurai films has lead me to Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 masterpiece, Harakiri. The film is set in the world of the 17th century samurai, and centres on the notion: “the honour in death – and the death of honour”. Tatsuya Nakadai plays an impoverished samurai, who  visits the House of the Iyi Clan, and requests he be given somewhere to perform harakiri  (the samurai ritual suicide by disembowelment). Just before Nakadai  is to kill himself however, he begins to recount his fate to the surrounding clan, and here the film cuts to the past. It transpires that Nakadai has fallen into abject poverty, ironically because Japan is at peace, a peace Nakadai helped to forge by fighting in the civil war,  but because of that peace, demand for the samurais' services has slumped, and many are forced to wander as ronin (masterless samurai), looking for work (unfortunately, the samurai cannot take normal jobs, because it may cause trouble). Despite his poverty however, Nikadai refuses to give up his beautiful daughter to a clan because she will be turned into a concubine, instead, he encourages her to marry the honorable but equally impoverished and unemployed samurai, Motome Chijiiwa, played by Akira Ishihama. They have a child, but the mother falls ill, and soon the child does to, catching a fever. In general, the film is about the individual who stands alone, who refuses institutional comfort, preferring a true and singular life, even if it means additional toil. Crucially, Harakiri is a film which acknowledges that life is tragic, that we humans are flawed, and no matter how hard we try, more often than not we are doomed to fail. There is one heartbreaking scene in Harakiri which reveals this, where Nakadai, at his wits end, is explaining to his grandson who lays in coma, that they have run out of options, that they have sold everything they own in order to keep the boy alive, but now they have nothing left (the boy's father, Motome, has even sold his two samurai swords, replacing them with bamboo facsimiles – the swords are deemed to be the samurai's very soul).  The tragedy is the fact that this situation could have been avoided, the choices Nakadai made to safeguard his family, have infact lead to it's destruction: he decided his daughter should marry the samurai Motome, a pauper,  who now cannot afford a physician to keep his child alive. Watching this scene, I dropped my head as I felt shame, then looking up again, I felt sorrow – seeing this good and noble warrior beg his unconscious grandson for a forgiveness which can never be forthcoming, was hard to bear. Luckily though, it is only a film, and so Nikidai experiences these trials and tribulations in the land of make believe. The point is, tragedy enables us (the audience)  to see that we are not perfect, that we can come up short, and damningly so at times. Tragedy strips us of our intellectual arrogance (if only for a moment), and offers us  a chance to acknowledge our helplessness. We are not perfect. That's why I have never been interested in disaster movies or superhero movies – they're a comforting lie – we don't have the power to re-direct meteors heading toward Earth, and we can't put on a pair of underpants and fly to Mars. It's also why I've always loved film noir, the protagonist is an ordinary person with an accomplishable goal, but he often fails, or at least, if he succeeds, it is at a far greater cost than he could ever have imagined.

Since writing “Create Precisely The Body Of Work You Want”, I have started to think a tragic view of the world can help us do just that. A tragic view enables us to be braver, to stand alone, to identify those things we want to fight for, and go out and fight for them. It is a concern with perfectionism which holds us back . Someone responded last week that “success” differed from person to person – well yes, but I would go even further and say that success and failure are highly ambiguous, whatever your definition of them. The perfectionist view implies that there is a perfect result, and any outcome other than that perfect result is a disaster. So, with the perfectionist burden too heavy to bear, we trundle along on the prescribed path, regardless of how meaninglessness and fruitless it may be – it's numbing, but at least we'll feel no pain. Perhaps you have an idea about precisely the kind of work you want to do, but you're not being offered anything like it, so you may need to step out and create it yourself – and creating it yourself is difficult because you will be criticised for not being attached to an established institution, and in any case, your precious creation could fall apart, and you could be left with nothing other than the ridicule of your peers. Absolutely. And so what? Nakadai could have made  his life considerably easier by sending his daughter away to become a concubine, but he refused on a point of principle. That your decision to employ your principles (and an aesthetic is a principle) may lead to disaster, is not an excuse to not employ them. How serious are you about doing precisely the kind of work you want? The tragic view encourages us to go for it because it accepts that we may fail miserably, and so the perfectionist burden is removed. If we do infact fail in our task, fine, but that failure will not destroy us - we'll live to fight another day.

Creating precisely the work you want to do, is, on the one hand, liberating, because you seize control of each action step, you're not relying on somebody else to come through for you (which happens almost all the time if you are an actor), but on the other hand, it is more frightening, precisely because you are controlling the steps – if it should all fall apart, you've got nobody to blame but yourself, and that can be a very lonely place. However, if we accept the tragic view of the world, that, despite our very best efforts, we may still fall short, then we may make braver choices, and seize that thing we want from the fire.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Create Precisely The Body Of Work You Want"


I've always been fascinated by Hollywood mythology, so it's surprising that it took me until this week to watch Sophia Coppola's 2010 film, Somewhere. The film charts the empty, lonely life of Steven Dorff's movie star, Johnny Marco, who lives at the Chateau Marmont, moving from encounters of meaningless casual sex, to meaningless promotional work for his latest blockbusting action flick. The paradigm of Dorff's life shifts when his daughter from a previous relationship comes to stay with him (not as icky as it might sound, as it turns out). Somewhere is a film made up of delightful moments, as when Dorff, who almost exclusively eats take-away, picks up an apple from a fruit bowl, and looks at it as though it had just landed from Mars. One of the things that struck me about Dorff's character though, was how useless he is, how impractical, and how he lacks drive, lacks passion, he just goes with the flow, he doesn't seem to care about anything, although this manifests itself as amiability rather than anything demonstratively destructive. In some respects, Coppola romanticizes Dorff's empty existence, fuelling my suspicion that she has disdain for us little people. There is however, a neat little scene, where Dorff, at a party, is engaged by a nervous young actor who asks him what “school” of acting he subscribes to, to wit Dorff shrugs, and responds that he doesn't subscribe to any school, adding that when he started out, he got an agent and “just went on auditions”. 

I was also taken by surprise this week, by people who came out and not only defended ass kissing, but passionately advocated it after I had criticized it in last week's blog. If you haven't read it, I said that you shouldn't use your work to kiss ass, but simply let it speak for itself. One person came out and said that actors should kiss as much ass as possible, another said that ass kissing was an actor's only means of “getting work”, and another, a theatre producer, said that the actor who has the attitude that they will not kiss ass, goes straight in the “trash”. Why this advocacy for the loathsome toadyism? Well, ass kissing is a form of schmoozing, which is to say that you want someone to give you something but you have nothing to give in return. The ass kisser believes that one can become an enormous success without engaging in the nasty unpleasantness of actually learning a demonstrable skill, ie - without hard graft. This is not merely a point of view for the ass kissers, it's actually crucial to their psychic well being. Why? Because progress without effort enables the ass kisser to maintain their delusion that they are simply “special”, that they're not like us little people. For what else can success without effort mean? When, as happens with the vast majority of those who go into acting, they learn that the life of the actor is mostly about toil, we see them freak out, unable to cope with the shattering realization that they may need to put in a shift at some point, they flee the business altogether – hence the preposterous drop-out rate (in many respects, it's these wannabees who give acting a bad name – for sure, actors spend a lot of time working on themselves, but that's not because we think we're special little creatures, but because we use ourselves in our work - do we criticize professional sports people for being “obsessed” with their bodies?). In the end, that's what the ass kisser desires: the Stephen Dorff/Johnny Marco lifestyle, an unconstrained life, effortless and useless, where every whim and urge is catered for, the entire world their playground – not only is it success without effort then, but it's success without responsibility – and the ass kisser is rewarded with all this for the mere fact of their existence.

I'm advocating that the actor take responsibility for his work, and put in some graft so that his work is actually worth the attention of an audience. I'm advocating that rather than try to preserve our well being by ingratiating ourselves, the actor should cultivate a rational self-esteem through hard won accomplishments which require no outside validation. Don't “just go on auditions”, but define your ideal work, and apply yourself to the things within your control in order to construct precisely the body of work you want*. All this is an immense task of course, which will be spread out over many decades, and requires constant self-improvement such that we can work ever more productively, and for longer, necessary in order to get everything done. Understanding how and why you are making progress, boosts confidence and self-respect, which in turn becomes a self-perpetuating process of ever greater accomplishment. That doesn't seem to me, to be a bad place to be.


*I'm reiterating this point, because although people responded to my ass kissing comment, nobody responded to this comment – actors are constantly being told they should be grateful for whatever scraps come their way, but why not aim for something more?



Sunday, 4 December 2011

Some Interesting Thoughts By Mike Figgis On Cinema

...#IsConventionalNarrative passe? Speaking for myself I find it way past its shelf life.Observational cinema and interractive dialogue work.

...why I am finding inspiration in #theAmericanMusical and #IngmarBergman. Both have strong 'theatrical' elements,no fake realism.

..therefore less time wasted on Phony relationship with the audience, convincing them of 'reality'. #InvasionOfTheBodySnatchers good example.

* Figgis originally posted these words on Twitter.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Andre Wilms Talks About Acting In Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre

The trick to great acting? Do nothing


MONTREAL - Film is notable for its ability to feel real – to take us into a situation and give us the impression we’re living it – or to sweep us away into Hollywood-style fantasy. But there is a less-celebrated strain of cinema that goes in the opposite direction, toward surrealism.

The work of Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki falls into this last category. His latest film Le Havre is an oddly endearing, shrewdly comic drama about illegal immigration set in the French port town. Where most any other director would milk the tale’s torment for everything it’s worth, Kaurismaki has his cast play it straight, delivering life-important lines as if they were reading the phone book. It’s classic Kaurismaki, and it works like a charm, injecting offbeat humour into the most serious situations and bringing the narrative to another place by consistently defying our expectations.

“He hates emotion,” said André Wilms, the French actor and Kaurismaki regular, in a sit-down interview during the Toronto International Film Festival in September. “He wants it to be very reduced, (like) Buster Keaton. He says, ‘Play it like an old gentleman. Don’t make me crazy with your actor tricks.’ ”

Le Havre posits Wilms as Marcel Marx, a solemn shoeshine man who hides a young African refugee (Blondin Miguel) from the authorities, while his wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) lies sick in the hospital.

Wilms could almost be said to be non-acting for most of the film, as he shuffles from scene to scene with a grim look on his face – not seeming to want any part of his own heroism, but unable to avoid it and, most importantly, unable to not do the right thing.

Some actors might be frustrated by such constraints on their expression, but Wilms couldn’t be happier.

“I have to say, he’s the only great director I’ve worked with,” he said. “He’s a real genius. And I totally agree with him. I see (actors) playing really intense, real suffering and everything, and I am bored. Okay, suffer – I don’t give a sh-- about your suffering on the screen. Less is more. It’s very difficult to do nothing; to cry is easy.

“I try to make my job as humble as possible.”

If Wilms is deadpan in the film, he is outdone only by fellow Kaurismaki veteran Outinen, who takes her monotonous delivery to outrageous extremes. She won best actress at Cannes in 2002, for her role in Kaurismaki’s The Man Without A Past, which also took the festival’s coveted Grand Prix as well as the Ecumenical Jury Prize

“She understands Aki,” Wilms said. “She’s very grave … She doesn’t speak a word of French. She learned (her part) all by heart, phonetically. I worked with her for hours and hours.”

Wilms’s own history with the director goes back 20 years, when he was cast in Kaurismaki’s only other French film, La vie bohème, after being sent to a rather unusual audition.

“It was two in the morning in Paris in a bar,” Wilms said. “He was sitting behind two bottles of white wine, three beers and a bottle of vodka. He sees me coming in – he’s very big, like a bear. He said to me, ‘Oh, you have a big nose, you can smoke under the shower. You have sad eyes; you are hired. Okay, let’s talk about something else.’

“He never saw me act. He didn’t know anything about me. We became friends. I don’t know, he’s a bit like (a character) in a Western – ‘Let’s do it, and don’t talk about it. And don’t ask me questions, please.’ ”

Kaurismaki approached Wilms for his latest project wanting to make a film about a serious subject, immigration, but also wanting to do something with a lighter tone.

“He said, ‘I only make depressed, dark films; nobody wants to see them. Society is so dark and apocalyptic, we have to make a comedy. And I will make two happy endings.’ It’s his kind of comedy. And a fairy tale, but the red cap (Little Red Riding Hood) has to eat the wolf,” Wilms said.

Shooting in France was an obvious choice, given the country’s immigration issues. It also brought Kaurismaki closer to some of his greatest influences – classic French directors Robert Bresson, Jean Renoir and Jean-Pierre Melville.

North American film fans may be reminded of Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley, directors whose works are marked by minimalism, humour and a playful affection for the absurd. But while comparisons provide orientation, Kaurismaki has made his own distinct mark on the world of cinema – a unique vision, at once insightful and ironic, that changes our ideas of what a film can be.

“Aki is a bit apart,” Wilms said. “He’s an outsider who makes his own world … He doesn’t like the whole (mainstream movie thing) – wow, fast, camera always moving, explosions – he hates this. He calls these popcorn movies, and says, ‘I don’t want to be a popcorn director.’ But he is okay. He’s much more a poet than a filmmaker.”

Article via

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Independence Of Thought"

This week, I attended a short film event, and was struck by one the films, in the sense that it was technically very flashy, very clever, this filmmaker certainly knew how to use a computer. The problem with the film however, was that it was utterly utterly false, I felt as though I had seen the film hundreds of times before – every idea seemed to be borrowed from somewhere else, nothing seemed to be the filmmaker's own creation. As I reflected upon the film, it occurred to me that such a savvy filmmaker must have known what he was doing – this film was the opposite of artistic intuition. I wondered why such a technically accomplished filmmaker decided to make a film that was such a rip-off. Then the answer hit me: this filmmaker is not interested in making a work of art, is not interested in creating, is not interested in delighting an audience, what they are interested in however, is self-promotion. The film exists merely to showcase the skills of the filmmaker (which were, let me stress, considerable) – the object of the film's existence was to flatter potential financiers and employers.

Now, I have always had a problem with showcases, even having participated in them myself in my younger days. The reason I have a problem with them is because they are a subversion of intent. I have many times been involved in productions where an actor has subverted the truth of the scene at hand by making choices which they thought would help them make a sale. I remember being in a play and one of the actors was playing a homeless person, and was required to look rough and unshaven, but one night he decided to go on clean shaven, because he wanted to appeal to an agent who was in the audience. Admittedly, this is quite a blunt example, and the subversion to make oneself seem more “likable” or “cute” can take many more subtle forms. Further, much of this perversion takes place for economic reasons, as in the case of the filmmaker or the actor above, both are making work choices which they think will improve their financial position, or at least offer the potential to improve their financial position. In the case of actors generally, this is the influence of the audition process, a process which possesses a corrosive flaw: that the people who are doing the casting do not view the actors' work in the same way that the audience does, namely that they are judging the actor, while the audience, in the main, does not judge the actor, but sees him as a bringer of delight. So, actors learn throughout their careers to appeal not to an audience, but to potential employers, and make their decisions accordingly. This can lead to a lack of engagement between actors and audiences, because actors are not trying to communicate something to the audience, but are trying to promote themselves – that's two very different things – in effect, everything becomes a showcase. The spin off of this, are showreels, where past work is jammed together onto one track. Showreels have always seemed unsatisfactory to me, false, even when the work is good, because the scenes are placed into a context they were not intended for. Showreels are tinny. “Networking” is the cousin of all this stuff, whereby the actor turns even his social life into a sales convention, and friends are seen as prospects. When I walk in a room you don't need to shove a business card in my hand – meaningful relationships in life, whether personal or professional, happen naturally, we naturally gravitate to the people we like, and the people we like energize us.

There is a taking-our-pigs-to-market aspect of almost any endevour – if you want an audience for your play then you have to let them know it's on - but the work itself shouldn't in effect become a sales pitch – I've always felt that the best way to promote myself is to put out great work, that's the position I want to be in: if you want to know about me then read this blog, look at my past work, but I'm not going to betray my work to get you to like me: take it or leave it – herein lies self-respect. Further, for our work to carry any meaning, it must be anchored by principles. If you are not interested in your work being meaningful to you, and you want to play the numbers game, then this blog is irrelevant. But if you are out there, and you've got your own ideas, and you think for yourself (or maybe at this stage it's just a feeling you have) then I say: keep working at it, strive to define those ideals, and vow to live by them. Fight to create the body of work you want, never shrug and just go with the flow, even if it would make your life considerably easier to do so. If you understand the true of value of your work then you will never need to pollute it by kissing somebody's ass. Let your work speak for you, always remain true to it - people may come and go in your life, but the work will always remain. Some people will love what you do, others will hate it, be grateful for the former, and decline to concern yourself with the latter. Stick to your guns. There is a lot of talk these days about “independence”, but the most important kind of independence, is independence of thought.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Filmmakers' Artifice, Actors' Truth"

I have been editing my short film, The Audition, and have come to realise that, to a certain extent, editing is a brilliant way of learning about acting, because the editor is selecting and arranging the performances depending on the needs of the film, and clearly, a great deal of analyzing the performances takes place in order to get this job done. The Audition is a very gentle film, the drama is slight, and therefore, the performances need to be very precise in terms of expressing the individual beats of the film, otherwise there would be nothing to see – The Audition doesn't have big moments in it to masque generalized acting. Not only do the performances need to be precise, but so too does the editing, each little expression in each shot needs to be weighed up very carefully, the juxtaposing of differing nuances can alter the meaning of the film – again, there is nothing broad about the The Audition; a look, an inflection, a gesture, all of these expressions are crucial in such a minimal work.

So far this process has lead to an affirmation of many of the ideas and principles I have been exploring and trying to articulate here on this blog recently. Upon reviewing the footage, I was shocked by one of the first things I noticed, which was that I almost mumble (but not quite) one of the early lines in the film, my speech is tense, I speak it almost in a staccato – this is the symptom of an underlying tension. However, as the scene progresses, so does my performance, and I begin to relax and speak freely, and my personality begins to shine through. My initial shock wore off, as I reflected upon it, and understood that this is very much the pattern of an audition in life – to begin with we are cautious and reserved, frightened of failure, but as we break the ice and then hit our straps, we loosen up - from this particular moment in the film then, I can infer something general about life – there is a provocative little truth to it, and it is arrived at by allowing the moment to unfold as it will, not applying some outside ideal to the dialogue, a perfect recital would have given a lie to the scene. The performance should be an actuality, not a reference.

It is the actor's job to bring truth to the scene, whereas it is the filmmakers job to supply the fantasy, or, put another way: it is the actor's job to be truthful under imaginary circumstances created by the filmmaker. On The Audition, I am both actor and filmmaker, and so there is a convergence of aesthetics as it were. For me, cinema is not a realistic art form: the script, the camerawork, the editing, are formalized – the dialogue for example, has a deliberately precise rhythmn. The object of this formalism is to draw attention to the fact that the film is an artifice, and it is the actor's responsibility to anchor this artifice with truth. The combination of filmmaker's artifice and actor's truth mean that the film corresponds to our dream life, and our fantasy life, that world which lies below and on the margin of our consciousness, not necessarily articulate, not necessarily understood, but fabulous nonetheless. The actor is the audience's (and the filmmaker's) representative within the film, the actor provides them with access into the film. That the actor give  a truthful performance is crucial, because this enables the audience to participate fully in the film. As with a dream or a fantasy, no matter how weird and wonderful it is, we always recognise the truth of ourselves within it. The same needs to be true of a film.

Nuts4R2 Reviews Rouzbeh Rashidi's Bipedality


Bipedality Ireland 2010
Directed by Rouzbeh Rashidi
Experimental Film Group

Bipedality is yet another of director Rouzbeh Rashidi’s “slow burn” movies. And by slow burn I mean it starts working on you right away but the power of it crawls slowly up your brainstem without you at first noticing it. Although, having said that... it has to be noted that the first couple of really strong shots in this film don’t so much crawl as, well... rather they sit you up and shake you and make you pay attention.

The film starts, you see, with two quite achingly beautiful tracking shots of an industrial landscape by a river and I just wish I’d at some point have gotten to see this on a bigger venue than just the screen of my Macbook Pro. Unfortunately, these kinds of films just don’t get cinema releases. The two shots pan up and down in their constant pursuit of travelling the length of the river and allowing viewers to take in certain details of the landscape... and these are accompanied by the sound of rain and thunder. These are pretty much the only moving camera shots in this whole piece.

In anybody else’s movie, this might be considered a typical opening play at an establishing shot... but this is Rashidi we’re talking about here. If you’ve seen any of his movies before (or even read my reviews) then you’ll know he’s just not going to be that interested in leaving it at that and, sure enough, he soon cuts to a shot of another landscape but the effect is jarring because it’s a) static and b) got a completely different soundtrack to the previous two shots... basically an audio representation of bird song and tranquility. Thus both the audio and the visual form, from moving to static, has a jarring effect on the viewer.

After a while we cut to the two main and, but for a few shots near the end, only characters in the movie. A man and a woman at, presumably, the start of a relationship (although they don’t know it yet) talking at length on a bench (and I suspect a lot of this was done without any script) about a five year old child who has gone missing since an incident involving a fire and their perceptions of a mother who has become desperate to find this child (naturally). This conversation, like all of the rest of the sequences in this film, is punctuated by intercut shots of different landscapes using different filters and treatments while the sound of the conversation continues on.

It seems to me that, from this first conversation onwards, the film then follows pretty much a pattern of a reflection of itself in terms of structure... the only thing really missing is two tracking shots to close out the picture. I’ll explain this a little more in a while but it’s interesting that the syntax I’ve used to describe the echoing scene structure is “reflection” because, it seems to me, Rouzbeh Rashidi’s film-making is all about inhabiting a “cinema of reflection”. I’ve noticed this before in his films but the words that are coming out of the characters mouths... even the way they interact with each other (with or without verbal stimuli), always confounds a conclusive comprehension of the scene because, like in real life perhaps, you are constantly aware that what is not being said by the characters is much more important than what’s actually coming out of their mouths.

Everyone always seems to be looking internally for some kind of universal truth which will help to get them through their day... or at least make them clearly understood. It’s like the characters are constantly exploring their inner dialogue trying to nail something which can’t quite be nailed. Now, you could say thay this is an expected outcome of the process of the acting if, as I believe, a lot of Rashidi’s films are improvised in terms of the craft. However, I personally believe the auteur is at work from the director in this matter because, this quality may well be exactly what Rashidi is looking for and why he so favours the form of improvisation over standard scripting techniques. I suspect he gives limitations and topics as opposed to handing out pages and pages of dialogue to his actors.

It always feels like his characters are looking for some sense of closure from the situation they’re in and Rashidi rarely shows these situations or catalysts in his work, just the “reflection” on these incidents. Frankly though, if these two particular characters are looking for some kind of relevance and closure from each other or by looking within themselves... well, they’re pretty much buggered if they’re in a Rashidi movie. Although, to be fair, in this movie there may well be a certain closure of a kind (if you don’t think about it too much)... but there’s not a whole lot of closure for the audience on this directors films, or at least that’s how it seems to me.

There’s a sense of trying out different visual techniques in this movie too. One brave shot has the two characters carrying out their conversation as a reflection of themselves in a moving body of water which is in front of them, even though there's been no visual indication in any of the previous shots that they are in front of said water.

After 25 minutes, the scene changes to an interior shot of a kitchen where the same guy and gal have obviously moved on in their relationship with each other. They are obviously living together but are having a bad time as their relationship has ground to a halt by the attitude of the woman to the object of her self reflection and inner life. It's uncomfortable to watch the couple bat around the death of their relationship, even as the discussion is both beautifully framed and again, like the earlier conversation, is punctuated by insert shots of beautiful scenery. And a lot of this scene is juxtaposed with the sounds of rain and thunder to enhance the tension beneath the words.

I wonder if Rashidi chooses the moments in a scene to cut away to an insert shot with a specific design or whether the positioning within the flow of the film is based on masking certain parts of the scenes “out” which Rashidi is less happy with. Again, there are some really great contrasts of texture and in one notable cut away, density is created with a shot of a forest which brings the simplicity of the textures and composition of the actual kitchen setting back into sharp relief on the return to the master shot.

After 15 minutes or so of this we cut to the guy having a shower... the woman watches him, although he is unaware of this. She seems underwhelmed. The two regroup on a sofa for another round of non-communication... this time, silent non-communication.

This goes into a minute or so of black before we cut back to the characters again as they have moved in a little more in time and are once again sitting on a bench and talking... athough it's not the same location as the earlier sequence. The woman seems less interested in being distant... but she's making no sense and a lot of this stuff reminds me of a past relationship I once had. Sometimes it's hard to unravel the truth of a matter if one of you is becoming slightly unhinged. It's actually a little frightening how the non-sequitur of the woman's dialogue, with her talk of knowing where the child mentioned in that first conversation disappeared to, can be used to indicate the fragility of us all... and reveal the truth that we are all, deep down, strangers to each other.

The missing child is, of course, a standard Rashidi set up to non-disclosure... although there is, surprisingly, a certain small sense of tension-release to this film at a non-verbal level... as the couple kiss passionately at the end. All this serves to increase awareness that the words of the characters are mostly irrelevant... as if Rashidi uses dialogue as mere window dressing to the more important aspects of dramatic tone and visual contrast in his work.

I said earlier that there was a certain reflecting quality to the scene structure and now I’ve got this far in the review I can reveal that it seems to go something like this...

TYPE A: Conversation in external location.

TYPE B: Conversation in internal location.

TYPE C: Shower scene (bodies of water and the sound of them seem to be a running theme for this movie).

TYPE B: Conversation in internal location.

TYPE A: Conversation in external location.

Now I don’t, for certain, know if the director planned this structure to push the “dual” element implied by a title like Bipedality (or just made this visually implicit by limiting the majority of the shots to a cast of two) but I’d like to think that there was a certain plan to structuring this movie like this. Perhaps to just pull the rug out and disorient the audience a little more by confounding the predictability of ending on a set of tracking shots (as I was expecting the film to end with while I was figuring out the scene sequence while watching).

But this is what Rashidi does. He doesn’t make films to pander to the narrative expectancy of an audience. He makes films which will challenge (to a certain degree) and certainly inspire an audience to look beyond their expected world view as it applies to watching movies. No answers are given and no answers are necessarily conceived... just a set of cinematic rocks to rub together to produce a certain friction of thought. The film Kill List, which had a mainstream cinema release earlier this year, does much the same thing but in a slightly more commercially acceptable manner.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that, as usual with a Rashidi movie, you get back what you put into it. Your place as a member of the audience is not to question why or fathom the problems and concerns of the character... it is to look at the characters and see them in both the simplicity and complexity of life and to draw your own sense of meaning (or lack thereof) from the visual and aural collisions on screen. And if you are willing to allow yourself to experience these kinds of films in these kinds of ways... then your rewards from viewing these kinds of movies will come to you and bring the kind of mental enrichment you require, without the necessity for clarification or meaning or, in this case, a sense of a mystery solved.

Lay down your tools and receive.

Read more by Nuts4R2 at

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Audition - Short Film - Teaser 1


The more I work on The Audition, the more I see that it is a gentle little film, very slight, I would like to say in the Chekhovian mould....Emotions are transfered as are fears. I still have much work to do on it, and thought I'd post this fun little teaser.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Why James Stewart Quit"

They do not make them like this anymore.

“I've always been skeptical of people who say they lose themselves in a part. Someone once came up to Spencer Tracy and asked, “aren't you tired of always playing Tracy?” Tracy replied, “What am I supposed to do, play Bogart?” You have to develop a style that suits you and pursue it, not just develop a bag of tricks”. - James Stewart.

I once read somewhere that James Stewart quit acting because he no longer liked himself on screen. This makes a lot of sense to me, I need to like my work. It'll never be perfect, but it's important I'm on the right trajectory, in terms of becoming the ideal actor I'd like to be. If I was not on this trajectory, then I would either quit, or fix it.

Now, it's always a shock when I first see myself on screen, because my performance rarely conforms to the idea of the performance I had in my head, nor does it resemble how I felt while I was giving it. If we're dealing with the moment honestly, then our performances never will be how we expected them to be, all sorts of bits and pieces emerge which we had not intended, infact - it couldn't be how we expected it, unless we impose our ideal on the moment rather than dealing with it as it unfolds, and the truth gets lost. However, once the first shock wears off, we can begin to appreciate our performance for what it is, and calmly debrief from there. Acceptance then, is the first step to improving our work – accept that what we see infront of us is the actual performance we gave. If we get all neurotic about our work, then it will be very hard to progress, because it means we cannot truthfully reflect upon what we've done – we will either repress it and pretend that our performance was ideal, or freak out because our performance was not the ideal we saw in our head. I say forget the ideal we saw in our head, it is a red herring, we should compare what we have done to the needs of the scene instead, to do that is useful and rational.

However, we should also compare our performance to our definition of what great acting is, we should compare it to the actor we are striving to become. Again, this will lead to effective improvement – if, for example, you think you need superb diction in order to be a great actor but you mumble, then you know what you need to do. I thought it strange that James Stewart quit for the reason he did – surely a man who enjoyed one the most glittering careers there ever was, possessed the capacity to fix something he didn't like about his work? Afterall, he probably didn't get to where he did by being sloppy and lazy. Then it occurred to me that Stewart must have seen something in his work which not only compared unfavourably with his notion of great acting, but that that something must have been beyond his power to put right. He gave his last onscreen performance at the age of 78, so we might conclude that whatever it was, it might have something to do with age, either way, it convinced him he was no longer capable of attaining his great acting ideal.

As Stewart says, you've got to develop you're own style and pursue it – I take this to mean developing your own aesthetic. It's about being an individual creative artist rather than an employee. It also happens to be more pleasurable, meaningful, and fulfilling to work for your own satisfaction rather than trying to please other people, which rarely works anyway, and usually ends up with a loss of self-respect. Define the ideal actor you want to become, and pursue that ideal, and discard anyone or anything which seeks to block that pursuit, and if it's you yourself blocking it, well, then, you know what to do.

The Great Acting Blog: "When James Stewart Quit"


They do not make them like this anymore.

“I've always been skeptical of people who say they lose themselves in a part. Someone once came up to Spencer Tracy and asked, “aren't you tired of always playing Tracy?” Tracy replied, “What am I supposed to do, play Bogart?” You have to develop a style that suits you and pursue it, not just develop a bag of tricks”. - James Stewart.


I once read somewhere that James Stewart quit acting because he no longer liked himself on screen. This makes a lot of sense to me, I need to like my work. It'll never be perfect, but it's important I'm on the right trajectory, in terms of becoming the ideal actor I'd like to be. If I was not on this trajectory, then I would either quit, or fix it.

Now, it's always a shock when I first see myself on screen, because my performance rarely conforms to the idea of the performance I had in my head, nor does it resemble how I felt while I was giving it. If we're dealing with the moment honestly, then our performances never will be how we expected them to be, all sorts of bits and pieces emerge which we had not intended, infact - it couldn't be how we expected it, unless we impose our ideal on the moment rather than dealing with it as it unfolds, and the truth gets lost. However, once the first shock wears off, we can begin to appreciate our performance for what it is, and calmly debrief from there. Acceptance then, is the first step to improving our work – accept that what we see infront of us is the actual performance we gave. If we get all neurotic about our work, then it will be very hard to progress, because it means we cannot truthfully reflect upon what we've done – we will either repress it and pretend that our performance was ideal, or freak out because our performance was not the ideal we saw in our head. I say forget the ideal we saw in our head, it is a red herring, we should compare what we have done to the needs of the scene instead, to do that is useful and rational.

However, we should also compare our performance to our definition of what great acting is, we should compare it to the actor we are striving to become. Again, this will lead to effective improvement – if, for example, you think you need superb diction in order to be a great actor but you mumble, then you know what you need to do. I thought it strange that James Stewart quit for the reason he did – surely a man who enjoyed one the most glittering careers there ever was, possessed the capacity to fix something he didn't like about his work? Afterall, he probably didn't get to where he did by being sloppy and lazy. Then it occurred to me that Stewart must have seen something in his work which not only compared unfavourably with his notion of great acting, but that that something must have been beyond his power to put right. He gave his last onscreen performance at the age of 78, so we might conclude that whatever Stewart saw in his work that he didn't like, it might have had something to do with age, either way, it convinced him he was no longer capable of attaining his great acting ideal.

As Stewart says, you've got to develop you're own style and pursue it – I take this to mean developing your own aesthetic. It's about being an individual creative artist rather than an employee. It also happens to be more pleasurable, meaningful, and fulfilling to work for your own satisfaction rather than trying to please other people, which rarely works anyway, and usually ends up with a loss of self-respect. Define the ideal actor you want to become, and pursue that ideal, and discard anyone or anything which seeks to block that pursuit, and if it's you yourself blocking it, well, then, you know what you need to do.






Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Character Work: Letting The Character Lead" By Emmanuelle Chaulet

She studied acting and the Michael Chekhov technique with Robert Cordier in Paris, France and with Mala Powers of the International Chekhov Institute USA. A Fulbright Scholar at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York, she is a theatre director, teacher and actress with over 20 years of experience in theatre and film both in France and the U.S.
Lead film roles include “Boyfriend and Girlfriends” by French New Wave master Eric Rohmer, and “All the Vermeers in New York” by Jon Jost.

Character Work: Letting The Character Lead


When I recently responded to a blog post on character preparation, I brought up the idea, central to my method, the Energize technique, of “Letting the Character Lead.” James asked me to share with you an excerpt of my book A BALANCING ACT on that subject.


Here it is, found in Chapter VII:


Try to “hear” the character speak.

Begin to cooperate with your character,

asking questions and getting its “visible” answers.

Michael Chekhov


A character, sir, can always ask a man who he is.

Because a character truly has a life of his own,

 marked by his own characteristics, because of which he is always “someone.”

 On the other hand, a man – I’m not saying you at this moment –

 a man in general, can be “nobody.”

Luigi Pirandello



The outside-in approach

The theatre world has been divided on this issue for centuries. Some say it is better to create a character from personal knowledge and past experiences (Lee Strasberg, for example). Others say that imagination must be the primary foundation for the actor’s work, that form precedes content and that by working on the form of the expression, the body language and the gesture, the emotion will follow (Michael Chekhov, for example). I have been trained both ways and I see truth in each. I am a strong believer in using both in some ways. The order and sequence in which the actor needs to approach the role doesn’t really matter. However, I truly feel that an actor must get inspiration from outside his personality or he will forever play himself in various situations. Yet, he also needs to root his performance within his own subconscious, in order to be truthful and to exploit the various facets of his personality. After all, actors are chameleons. They love changing personas, and they naturally have an ability to do so, or they would not have become actors.

The first phase of the Energize technique is based on the outside-in approach. In the next chapter we will see how to integrate the inside-out approach via the use of sub-personalities. Ultimately, an actor should use both simultaneously. I conceptualize it this way: starting from inside to open the aspect of oneself that is most appropriate for this particular role, then later reaching outside to wear the new “skin” of the character.

But first, one needs to get to know and befriend the character. Stanislavski called that “falling in love” with the character. In Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello[i] puts the following words in the mouth of the Father, one of the six “immaterial” characters who tries to convince a director and his acting troupe to perform their story:


Father: One is born to life in many ways and in many forms: as a tree, or as a stone, as water, as a butterfly…or as a human. And one can also be born as a character … “He who has the luck to be born as a live character can even laugh at death. He will never die. The one who will die is the man, the writer, the instrument of the creation. The creation never dies …  They live eternally, because, being live germs, they had the good fortune to find a fertile matrix, a fantasy that knew how to raise and nourish them, to make them live for eternity! …

DIRECTOR: All of this is fine. But what is it that you want here?

Father: We want to live, sir!

DIRECTOR: For eternity?

Father [referring to the actors]: No sir, only for a moment…in them.


Listening to the character, befriending it

One of the first exercises I do with my actors is a relaxation/visualization focused on the character. After a good lying down relaxation on the mat, during which time I take them through all the chakras, aura, and different elements of the energetic system while doing a self-clearing, I ask performers to visualize the character they are going to play. Using their five senses, I ask them to observe, feel, listen to, smell, touch in their minds eye, and (why not?), taste the character they are going to play. This exercise is a “getting to know each other” time, as if the character and the actor were going to become dance partners, and even live together for a while in a marriage. I ask the actor to explore the persona they are going to embody. Using their subconscious and not censoring any information their imagination and intuition are going to give, they create, or more accurately, discover, the character’s personality. A composite of voice, movements, posture, mannerism, thoughts, inner monologue, and personality traits, the character then starts having a life of its own and becomes a real person. I ask actors to listen to what the character wants to tell them. I ask them to take notes at the end of the relaxation/visualization. The character will tell its story, its challenges, and share what its objective, deepest wants and yearnings are. He or she will talk about their struggles and about the obstacles in their way. They will talk from their point of view about the other characters, about events in the play or in their life before the play. He or she will share their childhood, their stories of love and lust, abuse and revenge. From these confidences, the images and feelings about who the character really is will be more vivid, more tangible. The objectives and actions will be clearer and more obvious. This inner dialogue is like having an imaginary date with your character, befriending him or her, finding its qualities, its humanness, and listening to its point of view and its story. Stanislavski talked about “flirting” with your character. It is indeed a seduction dance, a tender approach. Shirley MacLaine writes in Going Within about her performance of Madame Sousatzka:


“I proceeded to sculpt, with Schlesinger’s help [the director] what Sousatzka looked like, what she wore, how her hair was styled, what jewelry clanked on her wrists, how she walked, talked, ate, breathed, laughed, and cried . . . She became a composite of reality; a real, living, breathing character fashioned from our creativity. After I finished my composition of thought, I let her go. I threw her up to the universe and said “Now you play yourself through me.”[ii] 




© Emmanuelle Chaulet  A BALANCING ACT 2008


Emmanuelle Chaulet is a Lecturer of Theatre at the University of Southern Maine, and an artist’s coach. She is the author of A BALANCING ACT, (Starlight Acting Books 2008) and can be contacted at or




[i] Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author, trans. Mark Musa, (London: Penguin Books, 1995)


[ii] Shirley MacLaine, Going Within (New York: Bantam, 1990), 20-21.


Hal Hartley Comments On Reaching Kickstarter Goal For "Meanwhile"


I woke up this morning to discover we had reached -- and surpassed -- our Kickstarter goal of $40,000.

THANK YOU to all of you who have pledged! This is great.

But we still have 19 days to go, so tell your friends! I might be able to pre-sell enough DVDs to earn back the cost of the film. That would make me what is called in the biz a "profitable filmmaker." Not a very glamorous designation but it helps get professionals to return your calls.

Me and the gang here are anxious to start designing and manufacturing the DVD, CD, and lobby card. Also, on the agenda for December is the final audio mix and the mastering of the music.

It's a good feeling to make work when you know it has somewhere to go!

So far, this has been a fascinating experience. As I've already written to some of you, I have never had such a direct line to my audience. Though I don't try to make work for any specific audience, it is good to know -- generally -- who is watching and -- critically -- that there are people who want to see more."

Via Flixist

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "The Thrilling, Provocative, Beautiful Truth"

I hold an often ridiculed view that the scene the actor is playing can impress upon the his mindset. I don't mean that actor “becomes” the character – this is nonsense – I mean that the scene can influence the actor, for example: if the actor discerns in his analysis that the character he is playing doesn't care about what is happening in the scene, it may become that the actor stops caring about the production he is working on. Please note: the actor cannot know this influencing is taking place, it happens gradually, almost imperceptibly, and the actor will blame his eventual change of mindset on everything except the real cause: the scene itself.


However, for the organic actor, this influencing is positive and creative, even if it is unconscious. If for example he is playing a scene where the character is bluffing, all kinds of wonderful, little, provocative moments may reveal themselves in performance, small tells (eg – playing with an earlobe, or handling pieces of paper), which are unplanned, infact, could not have been planned, but there they are, fabulously expressive, complex, intense, and true. The actor doesn't want to consciously re-create these great moments - they're great because they're spontaneous. The actor may try to re-create them because he cherishes them, and further, they represent strong work and so it makes sense to recreate them, but the actor must resist this temptation and create afresh each time. Any re-created version of them will be a dead thing – that moment has passed, move on.


The alternative to the organic actor is the presentational actor, who frees himself from the hassle of creation by mapping out his entire performance: every gesture, every turn of the head, every inflection, has been planned in advance (and labelled “characterization”) and the performance is merely a plodding implementation of the plan, even to the extent that changes to his scene partner's performance are ignored. The object of presentational performance is to control everything in order to avoid the terror of facing upto the truth of the moment (which can seem like an abyss). Presentational acting has got nothing whatever to do with creating, and everything to do with limiting criticism, it's rarely provocative or exciting in it's search for bland flawlessness. Furthermore, this actor plays everything in inverted commas as it were, indicating to the audience that he isn't really the character (because of course we couldn't discern that for ourselves – doesn't this actor know that his performance is an illusion which the audience willingly buys into?), and would show that the character is bluffing by using a predetermined general physical nervousness, flicking the eyes, and other cliches, rather than letting the performance manifest itself by confronting the moment. The performance of the organic actor however, appears not to be performance at all, but simply the functioning of his personality, indeed, no differential between his work and his personality can be made.


It takes courage and strength to face upto the truth, it is far easier to brush it under the carpet, and trot around in a bland hypocrisy. Acting is not about being perfect all the time, although yes, we need to strive for excellence. The moment may not be perfect, it may not be how we intended it, but it may be true, and this truth is always provocative, always thrilling, always beautiful.



Monday, 7 November 2011

Nuts4R2 Reviews Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris

We’ll Always Have Paris!

Midnight In Paris 2011 Spain/USA
Directed by Woody Allen
Screening at UK cinemas.

Warning: Spoilers abound in this review.

I don’t often get to see Woody Allen films these days but, when I was a kid and then a teen, he was one of my heroes. Stardust Memories was one of my favourite of his movies, although I loved the majority of his work (including his “early funny ones”) and I also liked to listen to his stand up material.

These days I don’t get to see his work much because, frankly, it usually only appears on local cinema screens for one week over here in the UK if you’re lucky, if at all. For Midnight In Paris, I’d missed the week it did at my local cinema but travelled into the heart of London to catch it down there while it was still around.

Midnight In Paris belongs in Woody’s slightly more outrageous “fantasy” work if I had to try to place it or position it with any of his other movies. It’s like the plays he was writing in the 60s and 70s which had a certain fantasy element which the audience really needs to buy into and suspend disbelief with. These movies are now more prominent within his body of work but I guess he started this kind of fantasy cinema with his movie The Purple Rose Of Cairo and it’s very much a signature of his more wilder flights of fancy that he tends not to be at all interested in the mechanics which make his fantasies work on screen (or whatever venue they are in - stage play at the theatre, script in a book) and some younger audiences these days, who seem to be obsessed with the intricate plot devices to make their fantasy worlds more “believable”, may have trouble with this fact.

For me though, it’s always a breath of fresh air that Allen doesn’t bother to explain his worlds... you just have to accept them or not and move on. Midnight In Paris is a case in point.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a struggling writer who is about to marry his sweetheart but, as you will probably guess from the earliest stages of this film, he’s going to be left seriously questioning that relationship before long. While on holiday in Paris he finds a portal to the past, whereby if he waits at midnight in a certain spot, a car will arrive for him and whisk him away for a few hours back in time to 1920s Paris where he falls in with the likes of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter etc. Hanging out with the literary set gives him the confidence he needs as a writer and, when he falls in love with Pablo Picasso’s latest lover, played by Marion Cotillard, he realises that he can’t continue on with his headlong rush into marriage (especially after Hemingway clues him up that his fiance is having an affair). After he and his new 1920’s sweetheart travel back in time to meet Toulouse-Lautrec, and he sees the effect this has on her, he also finally sees that he can’t live his life in the past and that the present is always somebody else’s golden age and that he needs to live in it while it’s here.

As usual with a Woody Allen film, the direction, cinematography, script, performances and general execution of this production are all top notch and I wouldn’t expect anything less from this genius of contemporary American cinema. Woody Allen is one of the true artists of film and, while it’s easy to forget his genius due to the lack of exposure his films tend to get these days, it’s still a basic truth that the brush strokes he paints his celluloid canvass with are as relevant today as they always have been. And the strength and truth of his work is not something which can be brushed off lightly, even though his films usually have an intrinsic lightness or fluffiness in their demeanour (if not their subtext).

And frankly, you’ve got to love any film where the main protagonist hangs out in a bar with young Man Ray, Bunuel and a rhinoceros obsessed Salvador Dali (in a great little cameo by Adrien Brody) and then, when he later meets up with Bunuel again, gives him the idea for The Exterminating Angel. What a great little film this latest slice of Woody Allen’s brain turned out to be. I’m so glad I made the trip into London to see it... and I’ll definitely be picking this one up on DVD and giving it another watch next year. Great movie. Nice idea. Treat yourself to an hour or two in the company of the smart set of 1920’s Paris. A definite recommendation from this reviewer on this one!

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Take Pride In Your Work"

I always take great delight in seeing a director's face light up because of something I have done. I don't mean the loathsome ass kissing which goes on, I'm talking about delivering a difficult moment such that it solves a problem the director could not previously articulate – this often leads to genuine relief and joy on the part of the director. I always try to fit myself into the mode of the production, even if it contradicts my own aesthetic - this is correct – the production is not for the actor to impose himself on and make bend to his will, rather he is there to serve it. The actor should never compete with a director, and always remain respectful, if there is disagreement then it should be handled privately. It's not the job of the actor to judge the director, it's the job of the actor to communicate the play to the audience. The director is the actor's boss, and has brought the actor in to deliver very specific goods within the overall production. Moreover, if an actor cannot keep his petty insecurities in check, then he should get lost – the actor who allows his neurotic fears to dominate his reason and make the rest of the group suffer is a despicable act of gross selfishness, and is singularly the most destructive thing I have ever witnessed within a company. As the saying goes: keep the drama in the play. We are living in a society which has infantilised it's citizens by enshrining “how you feel”, however, all good actors know that how you feel is unimportant, it's action that counts. Great actors are spiritual warriors, and exercise self-control. Ultimately, generosity toward those he is working with is an important quality for the actor to possess. The actor comes across many varied working cultures and working methods, and those actors who survive in the jungle are the ones who can adapt to changing circumstances quickly, infact, I have come to believe that this is how the quality of an actors talent should be measured, ie: his ability to function effectively in a diverse range of situations. The actor then, needs to be adaptable.

However, it is important that the actor take a break from adapting to the modes and cultures of other peoples' productions, and produce his own. I've written before how an actor can understand his own work better and come to define his own aesthetic by producing his own stuff (and therefore function better on other peoples' stuff), however, I also think he should take time out periodically to do this, a sort of creative pit-stop, a chance to tend to the core which is present in all his work. Writing, directing and acting in his own productions can give the actor a crystal clear view of his work, he will be applying his own aesthetic from top to bottom, and so can see what's changed in his work, where any kinks may have developed and iron them out, what needs to be improved, what has improved. Producing one's own work means working with actors and crew, which provides a test of whether the ideas behind the work can be communicated to other people. Personally speaking, I find directing other actors is an especially useful task because it forces me to articulate my thoughts about the script in simple, actable terms (the way I would want to be directed), which also functions as a confirmation of my own working methods. Explaining what I think to other people is a very good bullshit test too, because if I cant explain it to another such that they understand it, then I don't know what I'm talking about. Furthermore, these explanations must be practically useful to the listener when in the field, pretty theories are useless in the rehearsal room. The pressure which comes with taking responsibility overall for a production then, keeps you honest because other people are relying on you to help them do their job well, this humbles, and helps to shake off the crust of decadence which may have formed while working on other peoples' productions, where the actor is responsible for himself only, and need not concern himself with the minutiae of production (where even finding the right prop can turn into a major endeavour). Accountability is the thing, there is no place to hide, there can be no excuses, that work up on the screen or on the stage is undeniably yours, the totality of it this time, not only your performance. You set the standard, how you perform sends out a message to those around you, a message about the work in hand, about your work generally, and about how you think it should be done. Accomplish a standard which is high enough to keep the idealism of those who decided to collaborate with you intact, and hopefully then, they will want to see your face light up by solving a difficult problem – this happens when we work on something we're proud of.


Taking time out to repair, renew and improve, is taking pride in your work.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "The Audition, A Tradegy Of Manners"

So I suddenly find myself preparing for my next short film, “The Audition”, which is about an actor, Tony Wallis, who is being seen for a play, but every time he starts to read the script, the director cuts him off after the first line, and corrects his reading by demonstrating how the line should be said, then repeating back to Tony how he was saying it, thus hi-lighting the difference between the two. The trouble is, Tony can discern no difference between the way the director says it and the way he says it – indeed, there is no difference, both versions are identical. However, instead of pointing out that there is no difference, the actor goes along with it in order to get the director to like him and show that he is a good actor (as he thinks the director might see it), and each time the director interjects and corrects the actor's rendition, the actor berates himself more forcefully*. So, Tony Wallis gets himself into a pickle by engaging in hypocrisy, by lying, which ends up, as it so often does for the hypocrite, in humiliation, which is followed by despair if one is predisposed to truthful reflection, and a vow to never let it happen again. The one not predisposed to truthful reflection, will repress the lie and learn to love the lie, so much so infact, that they begin to think it the truth – yes, that's right, they become a hack.


The Audition is a classically structured tragedy (ie – the protagonist causes his own downfall by the choices he makes, he is the cause of the plague on Thebes as it were), I may even describe it as a “tragedy of manners” if such a thing exists. It's an usual script in the sense that the objectives of each character appear, on the surface, to be complimentary, as oppose to conflicting, the Interviewer wants Tony Wallis to be the perfect actor for the role, and Tony wants to show the Interviewer that he is perfect for the role, and so both spend the film trying to please eachother in this way – however, rather than address eachother directly, they conduct a sort of séance of delicate etiquette, the scene even ends with them thanking eachother, professional niceties, and, perhaps, broader social codes, are maintained at all times. Having said that, the Interviewer possesses a specifically English (as oppose to British) upper-middle-class viciousness, a passive-aggression, which is typically masqued by charm and good manners, it looks like helpfulness but is infact denigration. There are many examples of this in The Audition, as on one occasion where the Interviewer interrupts Tony's reading of the script by offering him a glass of water when Tony's throat does not appear to be dry – a very subtle put down of the actor. However, there is very little Tony can do about this, except to stay professional and fume internally. If he had said something back to the Interviewer, debrief with agent would be interesting:


Agent: “he's a well respected theatre director, why an EARTH did you tell him to go fuck himself?”

Actor: “well, for starters, he offered me a glass of water....”


Seek your own good opinion of yourself. Stick to your own personal truth as you would do in a performance. If pleasing another means lying, then refrain. It's about being self-reliant which means validating yourself as an artist, not looking for others to do it for you. This requires strength and having the courage to draw your own conclusions. It's folly to think that everyone you meet will have honorable intentions, just as it's destructive to think that there are no honorable people out there. Learn to tell the difference and act accordingly. But never the spit the dummy. Hopefully then, every encounter, good or bad, will make you stronger, and you will avoid the vile fate of self-betrayal, as befalls our actor, Tony Wallis.


*as Elia Kazan told us, the emotion increases in proportion to the actor's failure to accomplish his objective.