Showing posts with label acting theory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label acting theory. Show all posts

Sunday, July 19, 2009


"It's a Wonderful Life": the film is falling out of favor lately, largely because it's been on the vintage favorites list for a long time and people are looking for something new. Too bad, it's a great film. Anyway, I brought it up because I want to talk about one of my favorite sequences in the film, the one where Potter tries tries to buy off George Bailey with the promise of a high-paying job.

It's an interesting sequence because Potter's been treated as a one-note villain up to this point so you'd expect him to play the sequence in a high-hatted, "Take this offer or else!" kind of way. Instead Potter uncharacteristically tries to sweet talk Bailey. Watch the clip. It begins 4 1/2 minutes into the video.

Did you watch it? What intrigues me about this is that it's a simple attempt at bribery that doesn't add anything to the story, yet it manages manages to be one of the best scenes in the whole film. Think about it. We already knew that Bailey and Potter were enemies. We already had abundant evidence that Bailey preferred integrity to money. The sequence tells us nothing new, and yet....

What I'm going to argue here is that the sequence exists for a theatrical reason. Up till now the Potter part of the story simply laid down information. It took great pains to let us know who the good and bad guys were. That's fine so far as it goes, but live theater people know that audiences crave scenes where they can boo the villain...where they're tempted to yell, "Don't go in there, Dick! he's got a gun!" Even in the middle of a story, they want sequences that end with the patriotic triumph of right exemplified with angelic choirs waving the flag and the villain being hissed off the stage.

Not only that, but actors need scenes where they can shine and not simply be pawns racing ahead to the next plot point. In this sequence Barrymore gets to be sunny for a while. This means he can anchor his performance in a deliberately insincere sing-song, which live audiences love to re-act to, and actors love to play.

That's all I have to say on the subject of live theater and film, but I have a copy of "Cyrano de Bergerac" on the desk in front of me and it wouldn't be much trouble for me to scan in a couple of terrific paragraphs that I read last night. Let's goes!

Great, huh? Here's an excerpt from the same scene, a couple of pages later:

Wow! Good old Cyrano...a real force of nature!

Friday, June 20, 2008


Here's (above) what they call an "Actor Demo Reel." YouTube is full of them. The Hank Harris example I used here is far better than most and yet it still disappoints on some level, (actually, the first example on the reel isn't so bad) and I was curious
to understand why.

The answer it seems to me is that Harris geared himself up to play the kind of "post-modern" roles that TV offers now. Post-modern man perceives himself as a statistic, a victim, a cork on the waves of social and psychological forces. That's so different than the way people perceived themselves in the golden age of fiction when it was believed that man possessed free will and was on the Earth to undergo a trial, and when people still believed in good and evil.

But it also has to do with tapping into weird, supernatural forces. Harris is always believable and appealing in the parts he plays in the demo, but is that all there is? Didn't Margaret Hamilton transcend "believable and appealing" when she played the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz?" Wasn't Peter Lorre more than simply scary and convincing in "Stranger on the Third Floor?" How about Garbo in "Grand Hotel?" It seems to me that it's an actor's job to bring to the project a pre-existing character of great power and iconic significance.

Then there's technique. It seems to me that a good actor lays down a tone and a rhythm that other actors can bounce off of. Actors playing a scene are like musicians in a jazz combo. They're laboring to create sounds that combine into a beautiful, satisfying whole. In my opinion you can learn more about this from the great character and supporting actors than from the stars.

I admit that I don't know anything about dramatic acting. If I did I'd probably have a lot more respect for what Harris did in the demo.

NOTE: In order to publish this post I had to delete my two previous ones dealing with solo dancing and Jim's sense of film. I started this post before I began the others (then saved what I'd done as a draft) and now, when I try to publish it, it will only post beneath the others where it won't be seen. The only thing I could do was to delete the top posts. My deepest apologies to commenters on the two deleted posts.

Friday, August 18, 2006


I'm not a professional actor so I'm sticking my neck out on this. I hope the pros will let me know if I don't know what I'm talking about. OK, here goes....

Good live action acting is good reading. Acting is not a branch of psychology or dance, it's a type of music. That's why the most important part of rehearsal is the reading. The actors and the director sit around a table, scripts infront of them, and try to find the rhthym of the dialogue. They're like a jazz combo trying to figure out how they all fit together. Some may come out of the reading with a larger role to play and some will come out with a smaller role to play. Sometimes an extra line or an extra character will be mandated. It's all part of the quest to find the overall "sound."

When I use the word "reading" I'm not only referring to what happens around the table but also to the literal act of reading itself. Good acting is frequently rhetorical and oratorical, even when it's fairly intimate. Thinking about acting as a sort of heightend speech from a podium prevents an actor from getting too precious and emotionally self-indulgent about a line. It reminds him that his main asset is the quality and control of the voice itself. A good actor knows that how you say something is often even more important than what you say.