Saturday, January 23, 2010


Wow! Mike turned John and Kali and I onto a great film tonight: Edward G, Robinson's "Two Seconds (excerpt above)." If you liked Peter Lorre in "Stranger on the Third Floor," Lugosi in "The Raven," or John's favorite Kirk Douglas and Robert Ryan films, then you'll love Two Seconds.

After seeing the film I marvel that so many animation producers could be so clueless about what the real revolution in animation consists of....acting, or more specifically: stylized acting. Sometimes I think that animation is better suited for acting than live action because our industry can deliver the kind of funny, caricatured movement and expressions that really drive home an emotion, something live action can only dream about.

While I'm on the subject of live action acting I should mention Orson Welles' performance in another film I saw recently: "Prince of Foxes." Welles isn't funny like the actors mentioned above, but he does play a convincing Cesare Borgia. How did he do it? What did he do that's different than what other actors do?

It's a simplification I know, but the answer I'm looking for is that he wasn't afraid to employ stylized acting. Welles' method is to make his style so transparent that we're aware that he's playing a game with us. He's a game player and people love game players, especially when they're really skilled at it. That's why we like people like Billy Mays (spelled right?) and the guy who does the "Shamwow" commercials. I'll bet real-world con men don't even attempt to conceal that they're playing a game, so much do their victims crave to play roles in a great game.

Of course in real life Cesare Borgia was a master manipulator and game player. Who better to play him than a game player like Orson Welles?


Anonymous said...

You're right about Welles. There is nothing lazier than a cinephile dismissing Orson Welles as "baroque". It's funny how people think that that acting is any more realistic and natural than it was 50 years ago. It seems that with shaky cams and whatnot directors are going out of their way to avoid making films that are "cinematic" as if there is anything realistic about the latest James Bond films.

Hans Flagon said...

Who here has watched Orson Welles in 'F is for Fake'?

Is he confessing that his entire career has been a fraud? Or is he 'pretending' to suggest that confession?

RooniMan said...

This is a lesson to all retard executives.

Whit said...

"F for Fake" is Welles playing yet another game with the audience in his last completed film. It is impressive to see what Welles could do with no money and editing alone. He anticipated the current ultra choppy mise en scene by a good twenty five years. This little film grips the viewer and holds his or her attention for the length of its run.

buzz said...

A lot of post-Penn & Teller magicians make no bones about the fact they're hustling you, and challenge you to spot how they do it. It's become part of the act.

Unfortunately, this also leads to self-conscious irony and winking at the audience, etc., which for some stories/presentations is not the way to go. I find most Hollywood productions to be too self-aware to be enjoyable; I'd rather see an Indian Bollywood production that's goofy and over the top but delivered with utter sincerity.

Zoran Taylor said...

"......dismissing Orson Welles as baroque......."

Since when does anyone consider anything about Orson Welles old-fashioned? I thought the entire line on him among critics and audiences across the board is that everything he did was decades ahead of its time. Please fill me in on this mysterious phenomenon.

Lester Hunt said...

Welles was always a bit of an odd fish among American actors because he really represents a different tradition. American actors of his generation and later were influenced to some extent by the Stanislavsky "method," which aims at realism, whereas he was always closer to the British tradition, which makes bigger gestures and owes more to the stage. Maybe it came from cutting his teeth on Shakespeare. Other things equal, I prefer the British approach. It's like what Homer Simpson said about reality TV: "If I wanted reality, I wouldn't be watching TV!"

I disagree with what Eddie said about con men though. The people who gave Madoff their millions thought he was the real deal.

Anonymous said...

Most film critics revere Woods but a lot of younger people find him cheesy.

Anonymous said...

Citizen Kane was ahead of its time because of how it was shot more than the story and acting. Even I find Welles radio broadcasts could be a tad patronizing at times.

Anonymous said...

This is why I found Pauline Kaels attempts to give more credit to Mankiewicz as a way of disproving the auteur theory moronic. In the hands of a typical director Kane wouldn't be remembered today. It's all the awesome cinematic stuff that made the film great like the jump cut from the newsreel to the editing room in the beginning, the deep focus shot of young Kane playing in the snow and the shot of the stagehand holding his nose etc.

Shawn Dickinson said...

Wow! That Edward G Robinson clip gave me chills. I need to find a copy of that movie now!

buzz said...

One can spot a Welles film in no more than 30 seconds of any clip taken at random from any movie he directed (F FOR FAKE being the exception since so much of it was archival footage).

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is my fave of all his films, though I also like TOUCH OF EVIL, MACBETH, and OTHELLO (and KANE, of kourse).

Kali Fontecchio said...


Chris Merritt said...

Heya Eddie - drop me a line - I seem to have lost your email address! I have a Clampett question for you...

Hans Flagon said...

I was sure someone was going to draw a comparison between Welles and William Shatner. I've never seen Welles be more Kirk like.

I saw more of Robinsons classic years second hand via WB cartoons and via impressionists, although I really enjoyed his last decade or so, Soylent Green et al.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Hans: I'm so sorry! I accidently deleted your letter instead of the spam advertising I was trying to get rid of.

Anon, Zoran, Anon: I love Welles' best work (including his radio plays )and find the artifice exciting. Olivier was also dismissed as a "technical" actor by his critics. I love technical actors.

As for being ahead of his time; His acting seems very 19th century, but does seem to have a modern component as well. I don't lnow enough about acting theory to be more specific.

Buzz: True, very true.

Lester: Maybe I should have qualified what I said about con men. The ones I personally knew were generous with cues and warnings about their true intentions, and still managed to find victims. I assumed my experience was universal, but maybe it's not.

High level executive con men only have to con other executives. The middle management sells the pitch to everyone else, and they may not be aware that it's phoney.

Whit: I've gotta see that film again!

Anon: Woods?

Anon: I agree about Kael, but I still liked her book about Kane.

Buzz: You're right about Amberssons being a terrific film, even if it was tampered with. For me his other best films were Kane, Jane Eyre (director's credit went to someone else, but Welles' influence was unmistakable, even if he denied it), and Third Man (ditto the director's credit). Of course he did a lot of great cameo roles, and his radio work had some brilliant highlights. Get hold of the one-hour abridgement of julius Caesar that the Mercury people did for radio.

Chris: Okay! Remind me if I forget!

Zoran Taylor said...

Remember the ferris wheel scene in "The Third Man"? Last time I watched that with my Dad he said something like, "There is only one guy in this brilliant movie who could walk right into a modern film and be absolutely convincing on every level - Welles." I still think of that. And Welles was the first person to use an entertainment medium to test the intelligence of his own audience. War of the Worlds is today vaguely remembered by the ignorant masses as some cheesy thing about aliens by the fat guy who sounds like The Brain. It was, and is, the most bald-faced, unapologetic declaration of it's own consumer's idiocy ever attempted. It's more punk than punk. Not even Zappa did anything like it.

Hans Flagon said...

Huh? Eddie, was it -my- letter/comment? I sent no letter.

And everything I have posted to the comments thread here is showing, as far as I remember; f is for fake, and Shatner/Welles similarities.

talkingtj said...

i kinda think youre missing the point on old orson welles-he was a stage magician first-just like penn and teller-everything with him was deliberately big and baroque-he was a master illusionist-jumping from hand tricks to broadcasting tricks to camera tricks- all the same to him-convincing the audience there was depth to what he was doing was his best trick-therein lies his genius-shadow and smoke and mirrors-creating an eternal illusion-a lasting impression-the eesence of great acting.
eddie! youre fired! from the mighty mouse episode catastrophe-the general public didnt really know you guys then-what made you think it would work - its funnier now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Zoran, I love Orson Welles. I just meant that there are aspects of Welles's diction and style that are ripe for parody as are every great directors.

JohnK said...

I like the Robinson clip much better than the Welles one.

Robinson has a lot more variation in his vocal delivery, his gestures, his pacing and his expressions. Plus he structures them all so they build dramatically.

The Welles performance seems largely arbitrary to me. He has a great sounding voice and he relies too heavily on it. Any variation in it is mostly a variation of volume, not so much of emotion or color.

He has a few interesting clever gestures (like smacking the guy with his feather), but you can tell that he thinks they are clever. They really stick out and distract from the scene.

His changes in expression are mostly so miniscule that they don't add much to what is going on. The few studied expressions seem arbitrary and don't actually match the voice or the words being said. They look like they are just there to keep the scene alive, but are not as well tailored to the meaning of the words as Robinson's are.

Welles has a tendency to read everything with the same amount of importance or weight, whereas Robinson's performance is much more tailored to the scene.

Ken Mitchroney said...

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And on sale at 14.95

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

John: Well, Welles is a Shakespearean and you're not into Shakespeare. You're comparing two styles of acting that are employed for two different purposes.

Brian said...

Like Billy Mays, but for sports betting. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Has John K seen the third man or A Touch of Evil? I think they would turn him around on Welles.

Andrew Mortlock said...

He is being pretty funny I reckon, but I get what you mean.

thomas said...

There's one Italian historical or Biblical epic that Welles acted in, that bears Welles' directing imprint (in my opinion) in its opening sequence, which takes place in a temple. Welles plays an old king, in heavy make up. The sequence is mostly silent. Its reminiscent of his part playing Falstaff, but I think it predates it

After Imdb-ing, The film is David and Goliath (1960); welles plays King Saul. There's some dynamic camera movement in the opening sequence which is impressive compared with the rest of the film.

mike f. said...

Not much information is available on the Net about Two Seconds, but I found some interesting user comments about the film on the IMBD review page. Here are 2 of the best:

"GENIUS" 19 August 2004
Author: ken campbell OKLAHOMA CITY

I caught this movie last night when I couldn't sleep.Not being a fan of Edward G Robinson I decided to watch for the kitch appeal I guess I was expecting to see him play some world weary mob gut who would say funny things that I could repeat at work,well about 30 minutes in I was absolutely gob-smacked It was like watching a train wreck I could not take my eyes off it. I am not exaggerating when I say I will always remember this movie and be haunted absolutely haunted by the riviting almost painful job done by Mr.Robinson I thought I knew who this man was I thought I could judge his body of work with out ever seeing this movie I was wrong This movie will stay with me for a long long time.

"Superior Acting by Edward G. Robinson" 10 May 2002
Author: Dale Durnell

The movie, itself, may not be the finest available for viewing entertainment. However, the outstanding acting skills of Edward G. Robinson are fulling exploited and beautifully captured. And, that talent, that genius, makes "Two Seconds" a must see.

Robinson shows the depth of his talents and the emotions he is capable of demonstrating. Ah, that contemporary actors could act so well. Watch the expressions on his face, watch his hands, watch his walk, watch the pain -- this is not melodrama, this is a thespian par excellence showing the world how it is done.

Alas, the movies does not appear to be available for purchase, but this is one outstanding film that should be in any collection of those who are serious about studying drama and acting skills.

Lamont Cranston said...

Lester Hunt: Welles began on the stage in high school, began professionally at the Gate Theatre in Dublin for a year, and then back to New Yorks Broadway for several years.
So he was very much a stage actor, but was always aiming for a direct immediacy grabbing the audience whether it was stage or radio or film.

Princes of Foxes is very much a b-movie, and he is intentionally hamming it up.

Anonymous said...

Welles should also be credited with taking advantage of every medium he worked in. He obsessively studied film before making Kane and invented countless techniques that are now a standard part of film grammar.

He was once supposed to work with Disney on an adaptation of the Little Prince with Welles shooting the live action part and Disney making animated interludes. When Welles went to Disney for a meeting with Walt and the animators he was so excited and full of ideas that Walt left the room and killed the project. "There can only be one genius at Disney".

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: Welles doing The Little prince!? Fascinating! I could see where he and disney wouldn't hit it off, though.

Mike: Wow! Interesting letters! The first guy did a great job of articulating what was right about this performance.

thomas said...

Hello - Sorry for the "back post". I was wondering if there was some problem going on with you blog. The last 2 pages diappeared.