Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can I Use That?

Verbal maintenance technician Charlie Huston writes:
Like all true dilettantes, I have broad fields of appreciation, but very little interest in digging deep. Also like many dilettantes, I am a writer. That is one of the primary filters through which I view the world. Asking, What is the story? Or, How can I use this in a story?

Thieves. Scribes. Imposters. Like monkeys discovering the "on" switch to a player piano, they think they've become musicians.

"I have broad fields of appreciation," incidentally, has to be one of the most American things ever typed. "How can I use this in a story?" though, is worse in its own way. This is the artist as photographer; as technician; the cog whose duty it is to read the newspapers, imbibe popular culture, then change the names, add some sex and money, and give everyone a slightly-more-exciting version of the news.

Adjustment of topic: modern cinematography has turned "acting" into the equivalent of supervising the robot that tightens the hinge on only one part of a car door, a thousand car doors per day. Directors realized that they could make scenes appear more dynamic to less-critical minds by cutting all scenes up into segments shot from different angles. In a single conversation, perspectives can change dozens of times.

Correspondingly, "actors" became divorced from acting (and "directors" from directing). When you're watching an acted conversation, and the camera switches to show the players from different sides, or one of the players head-on, the transition represents a physical break in what the actors were actually doing when the scene was shot. Instead of the actors acting the conversation, they're only acting tiny pieces of it, then recording dozens of potential variations to make later editing easier. Major actors don't know their lines, understand their story or their world, or know how to act, because they never have to. They need only be robots, reciting a handful of sentences from different angles, while focusing on the place where the other actor is supposed to be standing.

It was a clever idea. Just like the factory, breaking up the integrative process into a series of small, easily repeatable segments turns people into cogs, divorces them from the final product, and makes the final product a hollow shell. After enough McDonald's burgers, you might forget what a real hamburger tastes like. After enough factory movies, you might forget what real acting looks like. Maybe you never even knew.

Lacking many who appreciate something integrated and complete is sad on its own. Lacking those who even know that there is a possibility of something being created whole is worse. That'll be 6.99 at window 2.


  1. Would you please offer us an example of what, in your estimation, is *good* acting? Thanks.

    1. Off the top of my head? Uhh, Tim Curry in Clue. There--that's completely Anglo and mainstream, right? Oh, and Jason Alexander and Michael Richards do very well in Seinfeld.

      Given the constraints of modern direction, those who are good actors tend to be shifted away from movies and television. Once, you might've been able to find them onstage, but that trend has caused the powerful to covet the seeming tradition of the stage, and that may no longer be the case (at as high a rate as it once was).

      (Oh, I got another one for you, just because I've got this blog on the mind--most everyone in Deep Cover.)

  2. i've got one: joe dallesandro in flesh for frankenstein.