Sunday, April 25, 2010

color me ravished

I went to see this movie tonight. Wow. Just, wow. This movie reminded of what a incredible pleasure a film can be. It's masterful. Seductive. Engrossing. Suspenseful. Joy-inducing. Funny. Politically sharp. It's incomparable.

At some point in the middle, I realized that these characters had become my good friends (there is some superb acting in it...). I was pierced by the thought that the movie would end at some point, and I would have to say good-bye to them. But I was quickly and easily drawn back in to the captivating story.

(Some)people in (some) other countries really know what a movie is. People who make movies in this country? Not so much.

I had walked across town to the cinema bebopping to my beloved New Pornographers (whose new album comes out in less than TWO WEEKS, and who I will be seeing at the Fox this summer!!!), but on the way home, after this movie, it was time for something a little more...melancholy. Soulful. Deeper. It was time for Damien Fucking Rice. (This had nothing to do with the movie, but it perfectly expresses the mood I was in when it was over.)

On the walk home, I felt like I was seeing San Francisco for the first time. The nineteenth century streetlights, the twentieth century buildings, the restaurant cleanup guys hosing down the sidewalks, people driving cars with the scars to show they have some good stories to tell, it was all a marvel. What a gift, what a treat, what a thrill! I will sleep the deep sleep of contentment tonight.

PS This movie won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Film!!!!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

organize your butterflies

On Talk of the Nation on NPR yesterday, they were remembering the Civil Rights activist and leader Dr. Dorothy Height, who passed away in the last few days.

She was quite a lady:

In 1963, as Martin Luther King, Jr. told the March on Washington, I have a dream, only one woman stood on the platform behind him: Dorothy Height. A lifelong champion of civil rights, she organized a meeting the next day where women in the movement could address racism and sexism. Dorothy Height died earlier today at the age of 98. She was born in Richmond, Virginia, grew up near Pittsburg, won a scholarship to Barnard College in New York only to find the school had already admitted its quota of two blacks.

In the 1940s, she lobbied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on behalf of civil rights, had the ear of presidents from Eisenhower to Obama, who described her in a statement today as the godmother of the civil rights movement. She played leading roles in both the YWCA and the National Council of Negro Women

One of the guests talking about her was Blanche Williams, founder of the National Black Women's Town Hall Incorporated. Ms. Williams told the following story about Dr. Height:

And I remember when I was about to go out and we had done it at the historical headquarters in D.C., I said, you know, Dr. Height, I'm really nervous, you know. I've got some butterflies, because, you know, C-SPAN was covering it. We had this, you know, sold-out - you know, sold-out event and so forth. And it was just - I was a little nervous. And, you know, I'm a speaker. I'm a talk show host, all these things. But it was for Dr. Height, you know. So she said, Blanche, I want you to remember something and then, you know, very, very calmly - and she just had this very profound way of saying things. And she said: All you need to do is organize your butterflies.

I know that many actors struggle with performance anxiety, so I thought it would be good to pass on this sentiment. What a great image of transforming fear into fortitude!

Dr. Height's use of the word "organize" is interesting, also, because in the Alexander technique the concept of using the body in an organized way is constantly invoked.

We have lost a visionary and a courageous leader. Thank you for everything Dr. Height!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

listen to the Pinter actor

The New York Times has a nice piece up about David Hodge, a British actor playing the drag queen character in an upcoming production of La Cage Aux Folles, opposite Kelsey Grammer. The actor is a protege of Harold Pinter's:

That changed in 1993, Mr. Hodge said, when the director David Leveaux cast him as the bodyguard Foster in Pinter’s “No Man’s Land,” in which Pinter himself starred as the alcoholic intellectual, Hirst.

“Harold and I became great friends, and the truth is he became a second father to me,” said Mr. Hodge, who went on to act in or direct the Pinter plays “Moonlight,” “Betrayal” and “The Caretaker.”

“He was someone I could talk to and confide in very easily,” Mr. Hodge added. “And I felt I was very like him. I just didn’t have his genius.”

Look what he has to say about how he has come to understand acting:

“For a time I really thought acting was just impersonating,” he recalled. “But impersonation is just big brush strokes, really. What makes acting different is empathy.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Neo-Nazism alive and well in LA

Pictures of a recent Neo-Nazi rally in downtown LA, complete with Swastika banners and flags, here. Also? The rally was apparently held to commemorate the birthday of Adolph Hitler.

I mention it because it's totally unacceptable, and because I wrote about the film The Believer the other day, about a Jewish Neo-Nazi.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

going for brokaw

I went to Southcoast Rep in Costa Mesa to see Howard Korder's new play In the Garden, and I bumped into the master director Mark Brokaw, a graduate of the Drama School at Yale and Obie Award winner, and one the the creators/synthesizers of the approach to acting that I teach at Mother of Invention. Mark was there because he was working on a new play called The Language Archive, which has since opened, and the production got a great review in the LA Times. I have seen quite a bit of Mark's work, and it has been consistently superb. Particularly memorable was a production of Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth in New York, which starred Mark Ruffalo. It was one of the most memorable nights I have spent in the theater, and I didn't even really like the play itself.

Really looking forward to seeing Mark's work again!

Ryan Gosling's tell

There is a movie that came out in the nineties in 2001 that I had really wanted to see but somehow never did. It's called The Believer, and stars Ryan Gosling. It concerns a Nazi in nineties New York city. It so happens that this young Nazi is a Jew who was kicked out of synagogue for his precocious impudent questions in Torah class. His Nazi compadres have no knowledge of his origins.

Well, I recently rejoined GreenCine, a local, and I guess more environmentally friendly, version of Netflix, and The Believer was the first movie I got. It is a remarkable movie. I highly recommend it. And it has harrowing relevance to the current political moment, saturated as it is with rightwing hate talk and militia activity. It is an incredibly intelligent movie that is unflinching in its examination of the frightening ardor and intellectual passion of the leaders of these groups.

What was interesting, though, was that Gosling was not good in the role. I was suprised by this. I had admired his work in Half-Nelson, and was ready to be impressed with him here. Instead, I found him to be painfully self-conscious, all scowls and poses and no visceral engagement. Only in a penultimate scene, in which he speaks to an assembly of rightwing political benefactors, does he find his footing, and by then it is way too late.

He has a tell that he is watching himself, and that is his incessant licking of the lips. If you sit in a theater and watch acting that is truly compelling, you will notice something remarkable: no one is coughing. It is not that they are consciously preventing themselves from coughing out of reverence or respect for the actor; rather, the members of the audience have largely forgotten their own bodies and its attendant physical sensations, including the need to cough. They have been induced to project themselves into the body of the actor, and hence they have almost no awareness of their own sensations, unless such sensations are very powerful and insistent. They literally for get themselves.

Conversely, an audience watching bad actors will seek to escape the embarassing spectacle before them and retreat into their own sensations and thoughts, and their will be a superabundance of coughing, almost as if the coughing were an involuntary way of complaining to the actors about their inability to enthrall.

And an actor who is truly, viscerally, engaged in what he or she is doing, truly absorbed in his effort to affect those with whom he interacts and with the vulnerability that underwrites that effort, will not be mindful of his lips and whether or not they need moisture. Occasionally, perhaps, you will see a fully engaged actor lick his or her lips, but it is not a habit or a mannerism that happens repeatedly. Gosling, in this movie, licks his lips constantly. The lip licking is the actor's preparation to say a line, not the character's preparation to speak. Gosling also does a lot of face-scrunching.

There were some other actors who did magnificant work, most notably Theresa Russell, Heather Goldenhersh, and Elizabeth Reaser. They act circles around Gosling. The second DVD I got from GreenCine is Lars and the Real Girl, which also stars Gosling and in which he got critical accolades. It will be interesting to see whether he is good in that. It's possible that I was taken in by his charisma in Half-Nelson, but it's also possible that he had an easier time finding that character in himself. Given his role in The Believer, that would not be difficult to understand.`

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

where's the heat?

You may have seen the 1995 movie Heat, in which Al Pacino plays a cop and Robert DeNiro a robber. Apparently there was an earlier low-budget version of the movie called LA Takedown. Segments of both movies are on the Intertoobs, so you can watch and compare.

Here is a major scene from the movie in which predator and prey take a timeout in a coffee shop. I think one of the living legends acquits himself very well versus his doppleganger in the earlier film, the other one not so much.

Have a look and see what you think.

LA takedown version:
(If you only see a bunch of HTML below, click the headline above to go to my blog)

Heat Version

PS The part where they both say they don't know how to do anything else is very...resonant, to me anyway.

HT JB Waterman

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Zen and the Art of Archery and the art of acting (not to mention the art of teaching acting)

I came across a blogpost discussing a book I have not read, called Zen and the Art of Archery. I found this from the blog post very resonant:

What Zen instructs is that learning is not about the outward manifestation of a skill, but the inward journey through the self. On several occasions the Master leaves Herrigel to struggle hopelessly and heroically with the fiendish difficulties of drawing a bow correctly, only giving him helpful hints when he has reached the point of desperation. Why won’t he tell him these things earlier? Herrigel asks. Because he has to exhaust all the possibilities for himself before he would be ready to take in what the Master has to say. And isn’t this the truth? How many times have I told students what they need to do, only to be met with blank stares or the insincere gestures of over-anxious acceptance. The truth only makes sense when we are ready to hear it, and not a moment before. We have to work things out for ourselves. It takes Herrigel a further two or three years to figure out the ‘right’ moment to loose his arrow, the moment when his hand will fall easily away from the bowstring, without jerking backwards. The long process to reach this point not only teaches him much that is wordless about feeling the task in hand, but it prepares him for the understanding that mastering an art like this is a spiritual activity, not one governed by tricks and predicated on the easy joy of achievement.

I especially like this part:

The truth only makes sense when we are ready to hear it.

There is a Zen parable about a teacher and a student. The teacher is pouring tea. He pours the tea until the cup overflows, and keeps pouring. The student, astonished, asks "Master, what are you doing?" The teacher replies "This cup is like your mind. How can I put anything into it when it is already full?"

Students who come to the class with genuine curiosity and eagerness to learn, and who are prepared for, and undeterred by, difficulty and failure, are the ones who succeed and are the most rewarding to teach, and the ones who make the most progress.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Patsy Rodenburg tells a helluva story about why she does theater


She trained in Voice Studies at the Central School of Speech and Drama and is a published voice and acting coach. She has worked regularly with Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ralph Fiennes, Joseph Fiennes, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Natalie Portman, to name only a few. She was previously in residence with the Royal Shakespeare Company (9 years) and also works with the Royal Court Theatre, Donmar Warehouse and Almeida Theatre, London. She has also worked extensively with the Moscow Art Theatre, Complicite, Cheek by Jowl, Comédie-Française, etc. She directed a production of King Lear in Los Angeles in 2008. Patsy Rodenburg teaches in the United States at the Michael Howard Studios in New York City.

(If you just see a bunch of HTML below instead of a video, click the headline above to go to my blog.)

See also my post building roads with blood on their shirt

David Lynch's favorite filmmakers, right from the horse's mouth, plus what about that haircut?

(If you just see a bunch of HTML below instead of a video, click the headline above to go to my blog.)

acting on the brain

A psychology professor named Sophie Scott put legendary British actor Fiona Shaw in an MRI machine and had her recite bits of text from her one-woman version of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and, alternately, read off numbers that appeared before her on a screen. The belief was that when Shaw was acting, different parts of her brain would be active than when she was reading numbers.

Here's what she found:

But what really excites Scott is the parts of the brain Shaw was using for the poetry "In addition to all the parts of the brain associated with motor skills, like moving the tongue or lips, she used a part of the brain associated with analysing or doing a complex transformation of a visual image. If I told you to imagine the figure 8, turn it through 90 degrees, and then think of it as a pair of glasses – that's the extra part Fiona was using when she was performing the text."

Scott interprets this phenomenon as follows:

This part of the brain has the funtime name infra parietal sulkus. "Interestingly, it's not the part used by non-professionals when they try to produce a voice," Scott says. "Actors do it in a very different way from you or me. When I started doing this research I came from a phonetics background where you break speech down, analyse it and build it up again. But professionals don't. They're doing something much more visceral and bodily."

Turns out Shaw wasn't surprised at what they found:

Indeed, Shaw had an intuition of what she did before Scott performed her experiment. "I think actors' brains are like musicians' in that they've been trained to learn enormous sections of language not by rote but by imaginative association," she told me before going into the scanner. "You're often in a visual architectural space in your head. In order to remember it, I need a visual image in my head."

Are all actors like that? "Probably, yes. And people who aren't actors certainly aren't like that because they say things like: 'How do you learn your lines?' Well, you don't learn your lines, you live in the imaginative moment and the line is inevitable in that situation."

Live in the imaginative moment and the line is inevitable in that situation. Inevitable. Necessary. Necessity. The mother of invention.

You know what they say about great minds.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

a voice teacher testifies

I came across this recently. Some gems:

I am often heard to say: “stay in the center of your voice”. Sometimes people take that to mean that there is only one note that is perfect. In fact it is not that at all. The center of your voice is the place where there is an unconstrained open passage from crotch to mouth where the full richness of every emotion has free and easy passage. Thus the voice gets to carry all the emotional messiness of the character in each and every word.

Mostly what happens though is a constraint in the throat that strips emotional connotations so that the artist begins to push harder emotionally and vocally which further thins the emotional voice.


For me fecundity is rich, ripe, an oak log rotting in a forest that is home to moss and mushrooms. It is amber and alto and soprano ribbons of autumnal honey sunlight. It is a place where life and death are in a slow motion dance. It is the primeval, primordial home (center) of our voice. And so the voice must become the conduit of that emotional fecundity.

Sounds good, right?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

run don't walk

Just. See. It. A movie that makes you remember what a real movie is like. There is a lot of great acting in it, but the woman who plays the tattoed girl is incomparable. Swedish cinema is alive and well.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is gearing up to remake it. HA!

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