Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Great Acting Blog: "Great Acting Is Wrought"


I recently watched a film which, by all accounts, I should have loved: the precise full frontal camerawork, the pared back narrative, “gaps” in the montage which encourages the viewer to create the film in his own imagination, and I am always interested in good protagonists who descend into moral turpitude as a result of tragedy. Despite these merits, something bugged me about it - I was never quite able to accept the film while I was watching it, and at times I even felt something akin to embarassment. I finally lost respect for it when, near the end, the protagonist solved his spiritual crisis by having a bit of a tantrum and a bit of a cry, then threatening to kill himself before his friend intervened. In the next scene his hair is washed (which indicates that his inner conflict has been resolved) and he is ready to return to his loved ones after his self-imposed exile.

The problem with this film is that there is no proper struggle on the part of the protagonist throughout the film to resolve his crisis - what we see is the pretence of a struggle -  and the reason is because there has been no struggle on the part of the filmmaker to create the film is in the first place, only the pretence of struggle. My guess is the filmmakers studied the “hip” cinematography of the day, and the “hip” “issues” of the day, and constructed the film using a pic n mix of “hip” cinema, the goal of which is to supply a pre-determined effect. The trouble with this approach is that the results are alienating, because we feel, rightly, that the filmmaker is making assumptions about us in an effort to control what we think (it's like the person who, in trying to extort an endorsement from us, posits a notion which is apparently unassailable because it is fashionable, or because it is oh-so-magnanimous, and assumes we'll agree) – it's when cinema becomes advertising. The filmmakers here are complacent, they are well educated and know which end of a camera to hold, so perhaps their goal is not to create a work of art, but to get us to admire them. What I am criticizing here is not their skills then, but their art. You cannot copy and paste art, whatever the form and no matter how skilled you may be – it is drawn from the strange, vague and inchoate feelings that lay beyond the outskirts of our consciousness, and the inner struggle is the struggle to bring forth those feelings and give them a form which makes them meaningful, first to ourselves, and then to other people. If there is no struggle then there is no true creation, and therefore no art.

Well, the good news for actors is that you can't pic n mix your performance from other actors – your personality and the way you look are unique – there's only one of you. However, the equivalent for an actor in terms of supplying a pre-determined effect is working out exactly how you are going to say the lines, and exactly which moves you are going to do and when, and simply step on stage or before the camera, and execute your preparation regardless of what is actually happening in the scene – the famous example of this is the actor who is playing a scene where they have to creep into a room making as little noise as possible, however, when they open the door it unexpectedly squeaks, but the actor ignores this because it wasn't in the script, and continues to play the scene as it was rehearsed. This performance is not a performance at all, merely a reference to the work done in rehearsals, and it's usually dull to watch regardless of how technically accomplished it may be, because nothing is being created in the moment. The exciting actor is the one who doesn't know what is going to happen next, and possesses the will and the courage to face the truth of the moment as it presents itself. This kind of actor does not fall back on his preparation when the spooky unforseen upsets his apple cart, but struggles to come to terms with it as best he can – this is extremely hard work, and very different to some complacent, reasoned, hand-picking of pre-determined moments.

Great acting is wrought.

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