Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Great Acting Blog: "A Response To Otar Iosseliani's Comments On Actors' Aura"



“I cant stand intimate scenes in cinema....because every human being has an aura which is hard to penetrate. Professional actors imagine that it's part of their job to allow the director or other actors to penetrate their aura and enter into a totally unnatural contact with somebody they don't know.
Which is also why I consider it completely shameless to have very tight close-ups of people because the so-called “actor” cannot hide who he is, he's too close to us and he becomes distanced from the character. He becomes an actual person, an individual with all his considerations. And I have no desire to have an actual person on-screen. I want it to be a character, always a character.” - Otar Iosseliani.

I don't agree with much of what Iosseliani says here, especially about close-ups, because, for me, close-ups are not necessarily intimate. However, what did pique me, were his comments about “aura” and character. It's worth pointing out to those unfamiliar with Iosseliani's work, that typically he uses “non-actors” in his films, whose general lack of technique creates an awkwardness, and this awkwardness demarcates the performance, thus the character is always present.*  Further, the “non-actor” is usually more inhibited than the experienced actor, and is therefore less apt to “show”.


But what does Iosseliani mean when he speaks of “aura”? Well, aura, in my view, means diginity – people with an aura, act with the dignity, it's their dignity which gives them an aura. And dignity is about self-control, self-respect, acting with conviction, and behaving honourably (Chishu Ryu immediately springs to mind). The character is always present if the actor remains true to the  aesthetic integrity of the work at hand, which is to say; committing fully to the actions called forth by the scene, and excluding everything else. Whenever an actor supplies an emotion which has not been organically produced by his attempts to do the action of the scene, such as when those people with a knack for making themselves  cry decide to turn on the waterworks for no other reason than that they can, the aesthetic integrity of the piece is violated, the illusion is shattered,  suddenly the audience become aware of the actor exposing himself, and the dignity of not only the actor, but of the audience and the whole dramatic interchange, is lost (typically, in a desparate scramble for self-respect, this exposure manifests itself as admiration for the actor's technique by the audience, and for the actor's part, he speaks about the moment as “liberating”, and, “a breakthrough”).

The intent to remain true to the aesthetic integrity of the scene, is not the same as the intent to expose oneself. All this stuff about actors “going further” or “making themselves vulnerable”, points to a gross misunderstanding of what acting actually is, and is part of the trend in our wider culture to just let it all hang loose. In the end however, this transparency leads to trivial acting: because in letting us see everything, the actor expresses nothing. Great acting requires discipline and restraint, precision and control, artistic choices are made, only that which is essential is offered. A truthful performance, that is, one where the actor is true to the work and to himself, is always dignified, always mysterious, and, to use Iosseliani's language, never penetrates the aura of the actor. And, for the actor, the character does not exist other than as a reference for analysis, but by only sticking to the actions of the scene and cutting away everything else, the actor's performance becomes hi-definition, deliberate, and as a result it would seem, as Iosseliani would have it, as though the character is always present – the actor is ignoring those parts of himself which are not required for the scene, certainly his quotidian troubles have been left behind. This is also how the actor may reveal the truth of his own personality, while at the same time, maintaining the essential mystery of himself.

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