Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Emily declares her love for actors again

I probably won't post again until Sunday because I'm going to Carmel for a romantic long weekend to stay in a nice quiet B&B that will make me remember what it's like to live in a place that's not a city.

So since it's completely impossible for me to only do one thing at a time, last night while I was looking for hotels to book I watched some old movies I'd recorded and never watched. I was on a divorced Cary Grant kick, evidently, because I watched His Girl Friday then The Philadelphia Story.

I appreciated how both films managed to make use of one location for most of the film and really relied on character interaction and dialogue, but I really loved watching three of my favorite old school actors in The Philadelphia Story. Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and my one true love, Jimmy Stewart are just amazing together. Except the ending. I didn't like the "let's pair everybody off because they're conveniently located next to me and they're better than the other person near me" message. But the exchange between these three brilliant people is fun to watch.

Which made me think of something Alfred Hitchcock said.

I know he's voted number one director ever in the history of the world and all, but I can't get on board with his view of actors, especially coming from someone who worked with Jimmy Stewart. Have I mentioned how much I love Jimmy Stewart?

"All actors should be treated like cattle," he said. If an actor is looking to find motivation he cites "your paycheck."

Wow. What an ass, genius or no.

I guess he'd know. I mean he walked through a lot of scenes and that went fine, so he's proven himself as an actor.

I think of the Buffy episode "The Body", where Sarah Michelle Gellar had to do seven takes of her long shot reacting to her mother's death. Or The Basketball Diaries, where Leo had an emotional breakdown while begging his mother through her house door to give him money so he could buy drugs. Oh yeah, that's really easy. Just turn it on and off like a spicket. And if you don't like it it's really easy to find somebody else who can do it with fewer complaints. So shut up and act.

Yeah, there are prima donnas. Just hang out in LA a little while and you'll want to start punching actors in the face every time they go on and on about how awesome they are even though nobody wants to cast them, but that's all because casting directors are stupid and haven't appreciated their genius. Bitch, please.

But I defy any director to toss a random actor into Jimmy Stewart's place and see how well they do.

Have I mentioned that I love Jimmy Stewart?

I watched a short once on IFC that was well written and a very clever idea but the actors were abysmal. The short was terrible as a result and I'm not sure how the hell it made it onto IFC.

So with that in mind, here I go into casting the short. I just put out my first casting notice this morning. Oi.


  1. Whether Hitchcock was an ass or joking, this all comes down to the basics of film direction - that "acting" can be created through choice of angle, camera movement, and editing.

    The Kuleshov experiment - where a *still photo* of an actor with a completely blank expression was edited with other images... and the audience believed that the actor was smiling and crying and angry and... well, all sorts of things he just was not doing. By adding a context to that still image of the actor, the audience *saw* the actor emoting.

    Hitchcock replicated the experiment in REAR WINDOW with... Jimmy Stewart. You know how he kind of leers at Miss Torso and the Newlyweds and smiles warmly at the couple with the pully and... well, it's all the same shot of Stewart looking *without any emotion*.

    What's interesting is that the Kuleshov experiment was done entirely with neural camera angle and no movement... add those two elements and you can make the audience *see* all kinds of "acting" from someone just standing there with a blank look.

    Most actors who worked with Hitchcock enjoyed the experience (Stewart and Grant worked with him again and again) because as long as they "hit their marks" Hitchcock would allow them to experiment and do what they wanted to. But there were times when you had to be in the exact position for the shot to work.

    - Bill

  2. I'm not denying that direction is vastly important. Good heavens no. It's the attitude expressed in those quotes that bothers me.

    Take the film version of Much Ado About Nothing. There are brilliant actors and then there's Keanu, who blows the whole film because it's a terrible role for him.

    You can't possibly tell me that's all camera angle.

  3. My problem with actors is they seem to think they are the most important thing about a movie.

    It's true that they could be the most important part of getting a movie made, but that's different.

    A lot of actors want to come in and change dialogue, and character quirks, and all kinds of other things simply for their own vanity, or to create a bigger challenge for themselves (or to make a part potentially less challenging in some cases I've read about).

    At the end of the day an actor needs to realize it is not all about them. Sometimes, all they need to do is show up, say the lines as written, act as directed, and go home. It's not improv class, it's a movie.

  4. Anonymous7:13 PM

    In Hitchcock films the actors were not the main characters. The camera was the star. The way he used the camera to reveal to the audience a hidden world was genius.

  5. Also, acting and actors have changed over the last forty years. I'm not about to say that actors pre-1950's weren't extremely talented, because they were. But it wasn't until guys like Brando, Dean, Clift, Newman, and later Nicholson, Duvall, Pacino, among others came along that actors stretched themselves all that much. Back in the older days, even the big name actors really were stuck in a box of playing certain types of roles over and over again. Only the really great ones (such as Bogart, Grant, Stewart for a few examples) were really able to stretch as actors.

  6. Good luck with casting -- it's a toughh part of the process. Hard to really tell in casting sessions what's gonna happen in the infinitely more complex experience of the film shoot.

    One thing though, keep your head clear and then trust your gut.

  7. This post made me think of you and your students.

  8. Keanu is terrible in that movie... and it probably could have been much better with direction. KB is an actor, so his direction "style" is basically to set up the camera and let actors act. That's kind of non-direction. He doesn't use the camera to tell the story, he uses the actors.

    If he used the camera to tell the story, Keanu (who is the luckiest man in Hollywood - look at how many hits he's been in *and* how many great indies he's been in) would have seemed as if he were not a hunk of wood.

    - Bill


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