Monday, July 02, 2007
I thought I'd talk about dramatic acting theories. I should warn you that I've never had an acting class in my life. I'm interested in slapstick comedy and I know of no school where you can learn to fall flat on your face the way Buster Keaton did. Anyway I still have opinions about drama and I'll talk about one or two of them here.
Uta Hagen (in the first video, above) is a terrific actress! You might have seen her in "Boys from Brazil" where she played an imprisoned German nurse. She had a sequence with Laurence Olivier -- Laurence Olivier! -- and your eyes were on her the whole time, not Olivier! Not too shabby! Anyway she's a leading acting theorist. She's always talking about how actions are the result of conscious decisions and I use that insight all the time in storyboarding.
In the video above Uta says she hates to see acting that looks like acting. Aaaargh! With much humility I have to beg to differ. I like acting that does look like acting. Think of Olivier's opening speech in "Richard III" or the way Laurel and Hardy used to act. It was artifice: beautiful, stylized artifice.
Here's (above) a film about Sanford Meisner's Russian-influenced technique. Meisner in his old age had the world's funniest voice. It was gravelly and gulpey like Janice Joplin trying to talk while drinking from a water cooler. Meisner was famous for yelling at students and for promoting the full-strength Stanislavsky Method. This is fine for dramatic actors but I think funny people should be wary of it. Look at how good Marilyn Monroe was in her pre-Method days ("Some Like it Hot") and how horrible she was after the Method ("The Misfits").
Here's (above)Ian Mckellan explaining his acting method. He says he just pretends. MCKellan is just kidding here and his dialogue is scripted, but I've heard Olivier say the same thing and he really meant it. British actors used to be puzzled by the American Method theories. They were more interested in training the voice and in finding rhythms in the text. I feel the same way. If I was an actor I'd want to study elocution for a few years before studying acting. I'd want to do Cicely Barry (famous author and voice coach) before doing Uta hagen.
This last video (above) is by Michael Caine. It's about film acting exclusively. Caine did a terrific job here but it assumes the student has already learned the fundamentals of stage acting somewhere else. It's still worth watching. Caine is remarkably clear and has a real knack for teaching. Watch all six parts on YouTube if you have the time.