Sunday, November 27, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Vincent Van Gogh - Café Terrace at Night
Once in my whole life only have I been to the movie theater a second time for the same movie.
Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris was a revelation from its very first shots.
The film opens up with amazing views of Paris during sunny and rainy days. A jazzy soundtrack makes the atmosphere chatty, casual, and intimately mundane.
I won't go into plot details, this is not a movie review. Here, I want to express my gratitude to Woody Allen for giving me the most beautifully magical moments ever watching a movie.

With Midnight in Paris, one has the impression of being projected into the charming world of an Impressionistic tale: ballrooms and trumpets, old-style cafés and Rococo merry-go-rounds, old writers, painters, and nostalgia shops.
You will be charmed by the naive sensitivity of Gil Penders (Owen Wilson); you will feel safe in the rocky strong aura of Ernest Hemingway; amused by that eccentric couple of minutes in the company of Salvador Dalì; you will fall in love with splendid Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

The film's melancholically warm and romantic dims will have you and your beloved trapped in each other's arms.

And, yes, just as New York is a "town that still exists in black and white", Woody Allen will convince you that "Paris looks better in the rain".


Monday, November 21, 2011

"Stanislavski Is Pathetic!"

William Blake - "Mysterious Dream"
I would like to share a dream I had a few years ago.
Before I do, a brief background note is necessary.

When I approached Stanislavski at 18, I was alone on the task. I was taking acting classes at the time and, although the exercises we did involved some kind of a technical training, a practical insight over Stanislavski's theories was never offered, although everybody loved to mention him. So, I resolved I would do it myself.
I bought Stanislavski's three books - An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role - and started studying. I tried to apply as much as I could, but my young age and inexperience brought me to misunderstand a lot of what he wrote. As a result, my acting started relying on method and outer technique, becoming totally devoid of an inner emotional pulse. My acting was external, robotic, lifeless, and this led me to be very, very frustrated.
My reaction was to put Stanislavski's books back in the shelf. I decided I would not waste more time with him. I dismissed him as the founder of an acting technique that was merely external, empty, and old-fashioned. Where was the novelty? I didn't need it. Acting has always been to me a way to express feelings that, in real life, were too difficult to express. What use could an external technique have for me? I didn't want to wear masks anymore.

Months later, I have this very short but intense dream:
An old actor is standing in front of me, and with a scolding attitude he says: "Stanislavski is pathetic!".
I can't remember who the actor was, except that he was one I strongly admired.

As soon as I woke up, I tried to interpret it.
My unconscious was giving me a message through the words and the image of an actor who was much wiser and more experienced than I was - not to mention more talented!
But why was he telling me that? Why was Stanislavski pathetic? He was empty, void, bleak, old, external, fake, but I couldn't say he was pathetic. If pathetic meant 'ridiculous' and 'inadequate', well, then I agreed. But then, why should my unconscious try to tell me something I was already aware of?

So, I focused on the word pathetic.
Pathetic stems from the Greek word "pathos", which means "sorrow", "pity" or, more in general, "feeling".
My unconscious was warning me that Stanislavski and his acting methods were not robotic, empty, and external. Stanislavski's techniques had, instead, feeling and emotion as their main core and, specifically, the recreation of the latter on stage.
My unconscious was trying to tell me that I had completely misinterpreted what Stanislavski wrote, and then blamed him for everything. 

That is when I became fully aware of my stupid mistake.
I took Stanislavski's books back in my hands, looking at his picture on the front covers with the meeker attitude of the one who's re-emptying his 1/10 full glass, and got back down to studying. This time, though, I was aided by people who knew more than I did and with whom I could discuss and compare my experiences and understanding of his theories.

I'd like this post to be a small introduction to a long series of links I'll make between acting and psychology.
I believe dreams are one of the most direct messages our Self sends up to balance our attitude and correct our path.
This is not the only dream experience I had, but with regard to acting, it is definitely a very significant one.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Leading Eye

There's nothing as difficult as a close-up. 
In his book Acting in Film, Michael Caine describes a technique for the use of the eyes on camera and, specifically, on close-ups.

I'll try to re-explain it in my own words since in the book I didn't find it very clear. I only fully understood what Michael Caine meant when I watched a documentary about a series of classes he held to a group of extremely priviledged acting students.

Michael Caine suggests that, when on a close-up and addressing your lines at an off-camera actor, the leading eye should be the one closer to the off-camera actor. In other words, if the off-camera actor stands to the right of the camera, the on-camera actor's leading eye will be the left one; if the off-camera actor stands to the left of the camera, the on-camera actor's leading eye will be the right one.
Now, why such a fuss?
First, choosing a leading eye prevents you from shifting involuntarily from one eye to another. Such movement wouldn't be noticed in real life, but a close-up will emphasize it to a point where the micromovement of the eye will then become evident and distracting.
Secondly, choosing as a leading eye the one closer to the off-camera actor will put your face in a very advantageous position with respect to the camera: as much as possible of your face will be shown.

Now, a word on the off-camera actor.
In my experience, especially when taking on-film acting classes, the off-camera actors never give as much energy as they gave during their own close-up. They often read the lines even though they're off-book; they only half react - when they react at all - to the on-camera actor's performance, often never keeping eye-contact.
Personally, I find this very selfish and disturbing.
A movie is a collective project. As it is true that an actor should give the best of himself and just as it is true that he should do so for the sake of his own performance, he should first and foremost do so for the sake of the whole movie. This means that actors are not hired to score; they're hired to cooperate with their fellow actors in the movie for it to become a product of high artistic quality.

Lastly, if you're the off-camera actor, stand (or sit) as close as possible to the camera. I don't want to have to give the camera my profile to speak to you and, thus, have my close-up ruined.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Warm Welcome to the Fall

I would like to take a small break from my discourses on acting and dedicate this week's post to the Fall.

The Fall: I associate the Fall with Sinatra for some reasons I can't explain. Maybe because there's something romantic about the Fall. The warm colours of a burning candle glittering through a glass of red wine: this is the image I have in mind in this precise moment, as I write.

In contrast, the realization that everything is ending adds a melancholic backtaste to that red wine.
I find this best expressed in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "A Rainy Day", although the poem is not specifically about the Autumn.

The Rainy Day  

2010 - Autumn Rain

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the moldering wall, 
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the moldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! And cease ripening;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all, 
Into each life some rain must fall, 
Some days must be dark and dreary. 

    H. W. Longfellow