Leaf

Leaf

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Heart of Stone

Stones - Torrente Torre, Italy, 2012
"Transform yourself into living philosophical stones!", exclaims Medieval Alchemist Gerhard Dorn in his precious 16th century manuscript Theatrum Chemicum. Again, he reports in Artis Auriferae that just as in the aurum philosophicum (gold) the four elements are contained in equal proportions, so the lapis (stone) also is from the four elements (quaternity symbolizes perfection); as such, the alchemists compared the Stone to gold in value and importance. Stone was identified by the medieval alchemists as roundness, simplicity and, thus, perfection. The stone has always been considered as a living entity; from the alchemical nigredo (darkness) arising - alchemically speaking - from the female element that takes the male element into itself (darkness is a female element), issues the Stone, symbol of the immortality of the Self. 
Is there anything as lasting as stone?
The greatest world cathedrals are made of stone and they will still be still standing out and high when all our modern skyscrapers are crumbling and collapsing.
The first Harry Potter book, The Sorcerer's Stone, has this precious element in its title and plot. How many of those who have read the book or saw the movie noticed the presence of the Stone in it? How many asked themselves what a sorcerer is? How many of us have wondered what relation there is between stones and sorcery?

I realize that more information than we can actually digest has been tossed into this article. The intent, though, was not to explain each quotation, but to create a mood, to stir fascination, to build a scenario and inject its senses-tickling impact through the skin of my three or four readers, transporting them into a forgotten and magical dimension.
 

There's no need to analyze quotations and tomes to see that stones have always been considered, in all eras, a living, dynamic and firm human element.
Lie down near the bank of a river and look around yourself. Stones, pebbles, rocks of all shapes and sizes, angular and round, smooth and crusty. Think of this: they have been there for millions of years, unmoved, unmovable, immortal but breakable, solid but malleable. Touch one stone, kiss it, and you become the stone. Carl Gustav Jung, as a young child, used to wonder, while sitting on his favourite stone in his house's garden, "What if, in truth, I am the stone and the stone is me?".

Am I of stone? Am I?
I am, we all are!

What is the practical scope of all this philosophizing, many might ask?
Are philosophers looking for answers when they do so?
Maybe, but I believe that the starting point should not to find solutions; it should be feeling the magic of this ancient dimension and merge into that long-lost inclination at wonderment and fascination for the small and the universal that videogames, Tv-series, and iPads have stripped away from the majority of us.


I can truly say that I have a heart of stone.

Do you?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nine Dragons Strike

Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong - 2012
Even the strictest and most fastidious person, one rare time in life breaks at the depth of one exceptional experience. When it happens, that force - call it enthusiasm and call it love - which has remained dormant in the person for long, long years, suddenly bursts out. As it does, a world of marvels reveals itself and the person, who is still poked in the side by the last thorn of rationality, rebels and finally, for once, lets himself go with beauty, poetry, tradition and love. At the question, "What if it's all a dream"?, he will reply, "Then, it's the most beautiful of all dreams, and the saddest one upon waking."

Hong Kong overshadowed with its bamboo strength and glass-modern charm the beauty of all the places I've visited and lived in so far, except, naturally, for my beloved home country. New York itself, which represented to me an ideal urban inspiration, has become, after Hong Kong, a dull and dark metropolis, dirty and obscure, opaque, slow, vulgar and lacking in luster.

As the airporter pulled into the city towards Causeway Bay, Hong Kong's blend of antique and modern was spellbinding. Thick and fascinating bamboo scaffolding sustained the fancy designs of some of the most modern skyscrapers in the world. A backdrop of green small mountains patched that limb of Pacific Ocean and, among them, after about an hour of ferry, stood fierce Lantau Island, with its giant Buddha sitting in the mist and Tai O, the fishermen village with its stilt houses. Opposite Hong Kong, Kowloon and Mong Kok, in its raw beauty that smells of local markets, temple streets and the last vestiges of antique shops with none but a few sei Gweilos walking around, lost in that tangle of Cantonese sounds which I couldn't help falling for.


But the grumpy and picky one, if he softens at the Stanley shoreline or the taste of pineapple buns, like bamboo still won't break: it's his heart that needs to be pierced.
Love, he needs.
Her.
She's in Kowloon, Nine Dragons.
Love is there too. 

The soft breeze rippling hair at the Tsim Sha Tsui pier wouldn't have meant the world without her hand in mine. Lantau and Stanley, the museum and the temples, the Chinese inscriptions, Hong Kong Park and the Siu Long Bao, yes, the Siu Long Bao, wouldn't have meant the world without her presence, her voice and her words surrounding me.

I quickly realized it was her beauty, her kindness and smile I saw reflected in the water of the bay. Her gentleness and frailty were the green of the mountains, her soft traits the breeze at the pier. Her charm the sacred inscriptions, her voice the beautiful sounds.
All I can do, now, is love her back just as intensely.

Mgoi, 唔 該, my Carman.


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An(other) Actor's Perspective

This week's post features an interview to New York City young actor Yohan Belmin.

Yohan is a French actor, singer and musician. He has studied acting at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York for the last two years and seems to be on the way to a very interesting acting career.
He told me facts and details about his childhood, the peaceful suburban town he was raised in and his being fond of the English language and culture. Yet, one detail he kept stressing on: his dimples. He says that, were he to ever become famous one day, it will be thanks to his dimples, although - and he is so sure about this - they will never get him cast to play a historical character.
Some of his credits include the Off-Broadway play Holiday in Heaven, the off-off Broadway show I Know All Save Myself Alone (where he plays French poet François Villon), and the movie Stock Broker. 

Yohan was awarded the Award for Best Monologue at the Winter Film Awards 2012.




What are some of your early memories as a kid?
 
I first discovered my creative side at 4, and it wasn't about acting! I discovered I had (and still have) a true passion for music and, particularly, the piano. The funny anecdote is that I started playing the piano on my own: after my brothers would finish taking their lesson, I would rush to the piano and try to recreate by ear what they had been playing. It was only after several months that my parents finally decided to offer me piano lessons as well, a decision that nobody ever regretted!


When was it that you decided to become an actor?

I discovered acting at 11, when I was (this time) “forced” by my parents to join an acting class for kids at the local theatre of my hometown. I was a shy boy and I remember immediately enjoying it; it brought me all the freedom that I would not allow myself to have in my everyday life. The revelation came the first time I performed on stage with the group: it was a production of Oliver Twist and I was dressed as one of the little pickpockets. That night was the first time I ever felt truly alive and in harmony with what I was doing: it gave me the same intensity as when I was at the piano, along with a sense of abandonment that I had never experienced before. It was crystal clear to me, since that night, that acting was bound to become an important part of my life.

After high school, I thought about studying acting and slowly starting a career but I did not feel mentally ready to take this risky step at such a young age. So, instead, I went on studying mathematics, which I enjoyed, at Dauphine University in Paris. I became a member of the Acting Association of the university and even became the president of the association for the last 2 years of my studies. But the more I made my way through my Master’s program, the more I realized this was not where I wanted to go. Nevertheless, I finally graduated after working part-time in finance for what has probably been the unhappiest year I had experienced in my life. The good side of it is that it finally gave me the strength to decide it was time for me to start pursuing my dream!

What brought you to New York?

After some intense research on where I would like to study acting, the choice of the Lee Strasberg Institute came naturally to me. I was just delighted when my application was accepted. So, I moved to New York in January 2010. 
Studying at the Institute changed my life. Only there did I understand how empowering it is to be able to follow your passion. The walls around me started disappearing, and I realized all of a sudden that I hadn’t breathed that easily since I was a child. I graduated in June 2011 and finally started working as an actor in New York soon after. I knew I had made the right decision when in 2012, I had the pleasure and honor to win the award for Best Monologue at the Winter Film Awards, for performing the opening monologue of Harold Pinter’s One for the Road. This prize could not have arrived as a better blessing for me in an industry that constantly pushes you to question yourself whether or not you are strong enough to make it.

How do you usually approach a character?

I usually start by finding the similarities between him and me. I read the script a first time mechanically and pinpoint the moments when I naturally feel for him, share his struggles or joys, or on the contrary hate him, and ask myself why it makes me react that way. It often brings me back to specific events of my life, which I write down and explore in the future. I then read the text again by taking each sentence “off the page” – I discovered this technique (or should I say “non-technique”) after reading Harold Guskin’s How To Stop Acting. It personally stimulates me to respond more instinctively to the line. Therefore, it helps me to figure out additional moments where I naturally empathize with the character. Then, I work by substitution, trying to find the selected bits of my life that could be applied to the character’s life, little by little eliminating the ones that do not excite me. This usually leaves me with several choices that are great but do not fit perfectly with the situation(s). This is when the mathematical side of me surfaces, and starts obsessing me to find the best possible variables to resolve the equation! i.e. I take one of these “great choices” and change the elements that do not quite work for me. Once the equation is somewhat settled and makes sense to me, I go further into my investigation by
sensorially exploring the variables, of course using exercises and tools from the Method.


Is there a role you worked on where you had to radically change your approach and the way you built your character?

Yes. When it happened, it was mainly because I did not have any script, as the whole performance was based on improvisation. I once played the role of a stock broker who paid the services of an escort girl to talk about his problems, in the feature film Allure, by Vladan Nikolic. Since the scene had to be improvised, I decided to create and write my own character history. After writing it, I started the exact same process as if I had been provided a script, except that I did not connect or find exciting similarities between me and the character; I anyway had the freedom to rewrite the story and to make it ideal for me! It ended up Quite unexpectedly, what I thought would be one of the toughest scenes of my blooming career became my most enjoyable experience in film so far!

What techniques do you use? Do you mainly use the Method?

As I trained at the Lee Strasberg Institute, I mainly learned to use the Method during my 2-year stay at the school. I find it to be a very fascinating tool for the actor. My personal experience with it is that I always had a hard time applying the exercises to my scene work. I succeed in finding a sense of truth while using exercises in my preparation work, but I feel somehow blocked once on stage, not all the time, but often enough.
One day, a friend of mine recommended to me Harold Guskin’s book and told me it changed his vision of acting, saying it was an easy read. I finished the book in one afternoon and decided to give it a try. I connected really well to the idea of taking the lines off the page while reading a script and preparing for a role. But then I thought: instead of focusing on only one acting approach, why can't I just pick what excites me the most in every approach and try to make it my own recipe? In that sense, I still use the Method for my preparation and exploration work, because it has always helped me and led me to fascinating breakthroughs (I find the private moment exercise to be extremely powerful), but I would rely more (as of today) on Meisner’s and Guskin’s approaches for rehearsal work and performances.

Are you more of a theatre or film actor?

Until recently, I always considered myself as a theatre actor simply because it was what I was doing best. I experienced acting for film for the first time after I moved to New York. Acting in front of a camera has been a real challenge for me at the beginning. But I decided that the best way for me to learn how to become a good film actor was to confront myself being on set more and more often. This is when I realized that stress is what was blocking me initially. 
After more than a year of experimenting film acting, I can finally come home after a long day of shooting and say to myself that I will not look too bad on camera.

What are your hobbies besides acting?

Besides acting, I really love to sing. I like to believe that one day I will be able to land a role in a musical on Broadway! Being in a show on Broadway, even for one night, is definitely one of my all-time dreams. Until then, I’d better practice hard!

Any advice to all the foreigners willing to come to NY to start an acting career?

Don’t do it, it’s a trap! 
No, seriously, I would first tell them that it is not as impossible as we think it is, but they should reasonably prepare themselves to face rough times. Getting to know the city while being at school strongly prepared me to confront with the acting world. Also, it's necessary to have a backup plan, or strong faith in yourself, or both! I believe it will make your life much easier to know that things will not happen as expected. This will prevent you from falling all the way to the ground. Finally, and this is the most important piece of advice: if it is your dream, forget everything I said before and just do it! Even if you fail, you will be proud of yourself for trying and, in any case, it will change your life forever and for the better. 
As clichéd as it may sound: believe in yourself and keep dreaming!
 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Night At The Opera

One of the hundreds comments to the complete album upload on YouTube reads, "The Beatles reached greatness, Queen reached perfection".
As questionable as the first part of the sentence might be, there's no arguing over the second part.

A Night At The Opera is Queen's fourth studio album, released in 1975 and, probably, their best one together with Innuendo and Made In Heaven.

As they came closer to Freddie Mercury's end, Queen's music became more introspective, animated by a sense of almost religious reverence towards the memories of their glorious personal and professional past.
A Night At The Opera is, instead, where Queen rocks. Literally.

Brian May's electric riffs in Sweet Lady alternate with Roger Taylor's great drumming, and Freddie Mercury's voice reaches the pitches of quicksilver; Wikipedia terms it "distorted rock". I honestly don't know what that means, but if I were a writer, I'd think it describes it perfectly. Roger Taylor mentioned, in a later interview, that "Sweet Lady" had the most difficult drumming part he ever performed.
The song is followed right by "Seaside Rendezvous". That's where Freddie Mercury's dandy style and unique sense of humour come out at their best, together with "Lazying on a Sunday Afternoon":
if Oscar Wilde had been a rock-star, he would be Freddie Mercury.

But there's not only rock.
Love of my Life is the song I'll sing to my loved one tonight, as I talk her to sleep, and like "Lazying on a Sunday Afternoon", "Seaside Rendezvous", and Brian May's amazing Good Company, although in slower and dimmer ways, it features the nicest Victorian whims.

Bohemian Rapsody.
How can I describe it?
The album alternates pure rock with lighter strumming ("Good Company" is played almost entirely on an ukelele by Brian May. An ukelele in a rock album!). There's John Deacon's romantic mood with "You're My Best Friend" and Mercury's insults in "Death on Two Legs". There's Taylor's car roars in "I'm in Love with my Car" and May's visionary dreamworld in The Prophet's Song. Then, there's Bohemian Rapsody.
Bohemian Rapsody has it all: the perturbed introspection of he that can scream, but that knows how to whisper too and deals with the sadness of existence. Here, Freddie Mercury fears but also mocks his own destiny. His call to Beelzebub sounds more like "Come and get me, if you can" than "Spare my life". But the sweetness with which he addresses his mother can only be found in the last song he ever sang, "Mother Love". And then, who hasn't, at least once in their lifetime, identified with the words, I don't wanna die / but sometimes wish I'd never been born at all?
There's fragility and arrogance, defiance and surrender, sighing and mockery, all framed in Freddie's daffodilly frills.

In A Night At The Opera, Queen blend a fastidious search for perfection in each fraction of the album songs with vocal and instrumental experimentalism.  
No Beetles could have ever come to such heights.
Only Queen.


What's your favorite Queen song?

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Beginning and the End

Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels
Linger on the first and last sentences of a book and you will grasp its deepest essence.
The opening and the closing sentences always stand out. They represent the nuclei of the book, whose meaning is itself contained in the universality of these sentences.
They must be true haikus in prose.    

Think of opening lines like, "Call me Ishmael" in Moby Dick, or, "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen", in  Orwell's 1984. Think of "For a long time I would go to bed early" in Proust's Swann's Way, where a simple word, would, sets the tone of Proust's entire majestic work. The ending of Swann's Way is even more revealing: "The memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years." Proust discloses here the reveries that, at a given stage of our life, inevitably occupy our soul, and he does it just beautifully.
"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day" introduces Jane Eyre, while Dan Brown begins his fast thriller Angels and Demons with, "Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own", revealing the particularly sadistic hues of his novel.
Jack Kerouac begins On the Road with, "I first met Dean when my wife and I broke up", ending it, "I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of old Dean Moriarty, the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty".
Bram Stoker apparently did not charge his opening line with too heavy a responsibility, but listen to the closing words following Count Dracula's death: "And, to our bitter grief, with a smile and in silence, he died, a gallant gentleman", where the last two words, "a gallant gentleman", represent the finest tip of the hat with which one can pay homage to a defeated but honorable enemy.

The opening and closing line of a novel can tell a lot about the skills of the author and the quality of the work itself. This is easily verifiable today by simply setting foot into a bookstore and randomly grabbing fiction books to check out their beginning and end. You will see that only a small percentage out of tens of books you hold in your hands actually deserves being on that shelf.

You certainly cannot judge the quality of a novel by only inspecting a detail of it. Or two. Only by reading the entire book will you be granted certain confirmations. Yet, when a book is a novel and a masterpiece at the same time, the closing and opening line will certainly reveal that. Alone, they will contain the innermost and deepest nature of the book and its author; were you to read them only, that would be enough for you to grasp the beauty, the poetry and the essence of the whole work.

Ever thought about it?
Any opening or closing line from novels, movies, and whatnot you'd like to share?


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Friday, November 9, 2012

Reality and Fiction

The paper reported, a few weeks ago, the case of an Italian teacher, Franco Mastrogiovanni, who died after being tied up to a psychiatric hospital bed for 82 consecutive hours receiving neither food nor water and being ignored by the medical staff that kept passing by him. The 82 hours of pure agony were recorded by a camera and the video made public by a local newspaper.

The fact reminds of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring Again by South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk. The first chapter, Spring, has a Buddhist apprentice, a young kid, spend a few hours with his master near a creek not far from the monastery. The kid is playing around with stones and pebbles. For the fun of it, he's able to catch a small fish and ties a small stone to it. He later does the same with a frog and a snake, laughing and amusing himself as the animals struggle to keep alive. The master observes the scene in silence, but that night, while the kid is sleeping, he ties a rope with a heavy rock around him. The morning after, when the kid wakes up, the Buddhist master tells him that he cannot untie himself until he has freed the three animals; he also warns him that if just one of them has died, he will carry that stone of guilt forever in his heart.
The boy rushes, but the fish is dead. The frog is agonizing. The snake lies in a pool of blood: it was attacked by another animal and, unable to defend itself because of the rock tied to its body, it succumbed.
As he realizes what he has done, the boy begins to cry very heavily, riddled with guilt.

Reality and fiction often overlap, don't they.
Yet, in fiction, one way or another, through hecatombs or destruction, through the rattling of machine guns or the hissing of slit throats, a moral, even if a cheap one, always finds its way through.

This is the difference between reality and fiction:
in fiction we come to a definitive learning from what has happened once.
In real life, what has happened once, can happen again, and again, and again. 


Have you ever been kept tied to a bed or a rock with a heavy rope?


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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallows' Even

Pumpkin carving in Union Square - New York City
It is common belief that Halloween is a typically American celebration. The truth of the matter is that American didn't even know what Halloween was about until the end of the 18th century.
Since Halloween stems from not so subtle pagan rituals and customs, the first Puritans who reached the new continent were very carefully about exporting it too.

It was the Scots and the Irish who brought it all the way from their country. Halloween is a pagan holiday of Celtic origins and, nowadays, it is mostly accepted as an innocent way of having fun by both the Catholic and the Protestant Churches. After all, as long as it's game and fun, what harm can it do? Besides, how much does it retain of the ancient rituals? Only the main structure, of which we aren't even aware.

It is not certain whether making jack-o'-lanterns also has Celtic origins or was instead introduced by Christianity.
What is certain is that pumpkins seem to have been made to be carved (and make gnocchi), and aren't they just creepy?
Yet, they make a nice view on a grey weekday afternoon when, taking a lonely walk, the sight of a round orange pumpkin mixes with the smell of fallen leaves.
It is good, once back home, to forget all about it and concentrate on a hot and steamy cup of bergamot black tea.

How do you celebrate All Hallows' Eve?
Do you carve pumpkins? Do you have a nice picnic at the graveyard?


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Soundtracks

Ennio Morricone conducting
Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart are dead and will be no more.
Symphony #9, The Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky's #6 and Mahler's #2 link us to an ominous past before which our era stands small and insignificant.
Shall we infer that meaningful symphonies can no longer be produced?
No.

The quality of Art has changed; anybody today is a potential producer of art, a mediocre one, and so many call themselves artist, but they are a different kind of artists: they lack the capital letter.
Fortunately, we're still blessed by a few unique works of rare profundity, and these can be found in the most common product of mass consumption: the movies.

Ennio Morricone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and in general all of his music), Alan Silvestri's Forrest Gump ballad, Trevor Jones's The Last of the Mohicans, Danny Elfman's music to the 1989's Batman, Brad Fiedel's The Terminator, Bill Conti's Rocky, and Gustavo Santaolalla's theme to Brokeback Mountain.

How useless would an actor's acting without the proper music for certain scenes?

The best soundtracks have substituted what was once classical music. The emotions they give us are linked to more or less dramatic scenes, but the beauty of it all is that we can adapt their music to a particular event of our life. Just like classical music, they can accompany us, they reveal an emotional state, they express by means of an articulate language, one that springs from the author's personal interpretation of a dramatic, albeit fictional, event.

Do you have a favorite soundtrack?
Does it accompany a particular moment of your life?   


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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tremors

Christmas 2011
Night.
Quiet outside. Not a sound.

It's the best part of the day because the silence enshrines those who aren't sleeping yet. It is a holy sensation to realize that the only light in the dark comes from where you are.
I often imagine a passer-by peeking, unseen, into our kitchen: he will see the cotton tablecloth and a pinkish light from the lantern, and he will think of the scene as a warm Kincade indoor setting. 

A temblor.
It doesn't stop and it's not the refrigerator fan. The walls and the ceilings shake.
The rumble.
C.'s hand, gently holding mine from the nearest side of the table, has now a firmer grip. I get up prompting her to do the same, and I say, "Come". I open the door leading to the terrace and fire-escape, but we just stand underneath the door jamb. The rumble is much louder from outside.
C. doesn't understand why we're not rushing in the yard, so I say, "Trust me".
She is holding me tight leaning her head against my chest, and I hold her tight too.
I see a cat bolting scared across the back street from the backyard.
And it's gone: "See? We're still here together". 
No big deal, really. I'm used to it, but the rumble, with its soft and caring muffled sound, still manages to form in me a sensation of deep disquietude.

I used to be very fascinated by Jung's description of the human psyche as linked to the geology of the earth.
What if the quake was but a perturbation of the soul? Mine, maybe, or her's, or someone else's, or, rather, of a wider collective conscience?

This happened last night at 12.22am and lasted for about fifteen seconds.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake, or a temblor? Which aspect of it scares you the most?   

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

You Can't Be a Happy Artist

Barbed wire and a plant - 2004
American novelist Jack Kerouac believed in the Buddhist concept that life is Suffering.

Maybe not every single moment of one's existence is dictated by suffering, but can one really be an artist - a poet, a writer, an actor, or a musician - without having experienced a degree of sorrow? In other words, can a happy man be a successful artist?
When I say "artists" I am referring to grand and genial personalities who created masterpieces and key concepts during this and the past centuries: Melville, Kerouac, Dostoyevsky, Poe, to name a few writers; musicians like Beethoven Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler; actors and directors like Kubrick, Volonté, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy; painters like Van Gogh and Modigliani; scientists like Tesla and Einstein.

I often noticed how famous but not talented actors were able to obtain a high and touching performance while going through a rough patch. For some curious incidence, the character they portray is going through a similarly tragic moment. This is the case with actors like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD, Mel Gibson in The Beaver, Stallone in Rocky, only to name a recent few.

Herman Melville expressed through Moby Dick his outcry against the cruelty of God while Beethoven cast his challenge at God by creating his masterpiece, the Symphony #9, when he was completely deaf. Many of the artists I mentioned here were scarred by a life of extreme poverty, or they experienced family losses at a very young age, depression, mal d'etre, exile, physical impairment, extreme solitude, with all the consequences that such conditions imply.

As we can see, many great works arise from a tragic moment in the life of their authors, and the ones I mentioned are just some of the most notable examples.

I can't help wondering, then, with the pretense of knowing the answer, whether the unhappiness in the life of all of these artists can be considered the main agent in the greatness of their creations.
    
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Radio Gu Gu


Winter 2009

Loneliness.

It's winter fall. Skies acquire deeper hues and the atmosphere seems to be more rarefied.
Walking down the street, everyone huddles up in their woolen clothes, hands tucked in their coat pockets and letting nothing in, neither the cold nor other people's glances.
You can try and walk to Times Square, but it feels even lonelier, no matter how packed it is.
Back home at sunset, you take a pan out of the upper cabinet and start cooking, for which you have no stomach whatever.
Winter 2009
It's human contact you need, you need to feel you're part of a warmer universe.

When I feel this way, I turn to my pal of old: the radio.
Not any station will do; it has to be talk radio. Magically, the world is now spinning around me and I'm its pivoting point.
Suddenly, from the solitude of home, it brings bits of world inside: headlines, cultural, literal, and musical novelties (two weeks ago I discovered the vibrant voice of Irish singer-songwriter Adrian Crowley), weather forecast, facts, songs, telephone calls, questions, answers, interviews, readings, dialogues, and acting.

Not any talk radio will do.
My radios are BBC Radio from Great Britain and Radio3 from Italy. BBC has two of the best stations ever, BBC Radio1 (I'm particularly fond of Scott Mills' prank calls, among the other things) and BBC Radio4, one of the best cultural radio stations in Europe. The Italian Radio3 is instead, to me, the best cultural radio station I ever listened to. I also listen to 77WABC (New York City), but just very rarely.

Live talk radio is what helps me fight loneliness, although not the only thing (I have one or two persons in mind too).
It is where, to me, inspiration and ideas gather, and where we can find some of the finest improvisers.

How do you fight loneliness?
Which are your favorite radio stations? 

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Birthday Suits




Showing himself or herself in the nude is not really what an actor will do so easily.
Of all the big Hollywood stars, think of those who actually disclosed their integral nudity in film: extremely few! And, if you examine the context, they only did so when their once bright career was at a desperate stall.

I can think of Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man, Maria Bello in A History of Violence, Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places, Kate Winslet in Titanic, Halle Barry in Swordfish, Eva Green in The Dreamers, do I need to mention Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct? The most daring scene of integral nudity and sex together, however, was to me Charlotte Gainsbourg's in The Antichrist, where one of her nude scenes reached pornographic heights.

There are, I think, two main reasons why actors might decide to do nude scenes: they either need to boost their career or they need to climb out of a ditch of oblivion. In my opinion, the latter is a dirty trick but it sometimes works.
The former is absolute insanity.

Yet, actors actually do give the impression they are totally undressed during sex scenes. Are they?
Most of the time, no.
Keep in mind that actors can be shy too. If they felt so comfortable being in genital contact with each other on camera, they would probably do porn.
What they do is they might ask the make-up artist to help them protect certain areas of the body with skin-like and similar types of protective layers.
Remember, they're just acting! For very revealing and hard-core scenes, instead, they are usually replaced by actual porn actors.

They might not show themselves naked in film, but are they really naked on the film set?
Keep in mind that, nowadays, everybody has a cell phone, with the added possibility of taking digital pictures very quickly and at anytime, film crew members included. No serious actor would want to expose themselves that way, especially in the intimacy of about 70-80 people moving like ants around them during filming.

I hope to have briefly satisfied someone's curiosity over such delicate and highly choreographed scenes.

Questions?
 
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Monday, September 17, 2012

Genre Favorites Blogfest


 Exceptionally for this week, I'm posting on Monday (but my Wednesday post this week will be up as usual on Wednesday evening).
Participating in Alex J. Cavanaugh's Genre Favorites Blogfest, I was asked to list my favorite genre of Movie, Music, Books.

So, let's see: 

Movie: Psychological Drama - I could very well say that Fight Club rocks.
Music: Rock/Pop - What can I say? Queen.
Books: Quite flexible on this, although I alternate fiction and non-fiction - I'd say, Swann's Way and The Name of the Rose for fiction, Memories, Dreams, Reflections for non-fiction.

And hey, I forgot about the Guilty Pleasure
Chocolate. 
Ah, a movie, book, or music?
Ok then: Chocolat!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Typewriter Monologue

Watching an acting student doing a monologue during voice class at the Lee Strasberg, months ago, I came to a few technical conclusions.

In the monologue, he's ranting against a literary agent who refused to promote his book to publication. His loud raving becomes the content of a letter the writer is typewriting to his agent.
The actor didn't find a typewriter for the scene, so he just pretended to have one simply typing the air.

I'm grateful for the many mistakes he made during his performance because I learned an important lesson.

From the beginning it was clear he didn't know how to type.
He typed on the typewriter the way he would type on a laptop, which just can't be. If you ever used a typewriter, you know very well that you have to crush down on those keys if you want to see some ink on the paper. So, the movement should have been much slower, heavier, with each of the ten fingers beating down on the the proper keys. If he had focused on that the way a real writer does, his lines would have come out just naturally, and he would have been too preoccupied with what is known as behavior to instead pull useless faces for the entire duration of his monologue because he had nothing better to do. Typing was the most important thing he was doing, but he turned it into a frill, an imprecise acting whim. 

This is not a criticism but a critique and, hopefully, it comes out as a constructive observation rather than an arrogant remark.
The acting student's mistakes gave me the confirmation of how important finding the proper behavior for the character is; then, it made me understand how crucial it is to perform it as correctly and precisely as possible. Only through behavior can truthfulness be achieved. Only through a fastidious search for precision can perfection be obtained.

Who still prefers to type on a typewriter rather than a keyboard?
Apart from me, that is.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Good to Drink

Sample of an Italian woman filling bottles at a water fountain in Tarcento, Italy


According to Wikipedia, each person consumes an average of 370 liters of water per day in the United States, with peaks up to 720 liters; each Canadian consumes around 343 liters, with peaks at 1,287 liters in the city of Montreal.
I know, we all enjoy making love in the shower, sometimes, with water running hot down our body for over 1 hour. We need to tend our garden, our bonsai needs to be watered everyday.
Other than that, you've got to be kidding me!

Traveling to the small town of Tarcento, in the north of Italy, I discovered how the Italians - and the Europeans in general - are so much more water-conscious.
Many cities and towns in Italy are involved in a project called "Casa dell'Acqua", "Water House". In the little town of Tarcento, in particular, the project takes the name of "Buine di Bevi", which in the local dialect means "good to drink".
A water fountain is located in the town center. Two taps provide still and naturally sparkling water through a line of pipes directly from the spring, which is in the Musi mountain chain, north of Tarcento. And - listen up - the water is free (well, 5c a liter for the sparkling water).

What are the advantages?
Taste New York City's tap water, or Montreal's for that matter, after you've tasted Tarcento's and you'll figure it out by yourself.

1- The people in there drink pure water from the mountain spring that has been filtered, disinfected, declorized, kept at spring temperature, and whose pipes are constantly kept under control, cleaned and changed if needed.
If this is not healthy, I don't know what is, then.

2- This idea reduces the water costs per family, but not the quality of the water they drink which, with all due respect, here in North America is less than a dream.

3- People are becoming aware of the importance of water in times when unlimited consumption is neither a good nor an ethical choice. 

4- Bottles usage is drastically reduced. People gather at this nice billabong with bottles, mostly of glass, they've been re-using for months.

They gather. With their bags swollen with bottles they seat on some wooden benches, waiting for their turn at the tap. As they wait, they talk with each other, asking how's the wife, and the kids, in the meanwhile, are playing a few yards away on the sidewalk, just outside of a small bar. Yes, it is downright beautiful.
They slow down their rhythm by introducing a priceless habit, the ritual of manually getting their own water, transporting it, and enjoying every single moment of the act. And retirees won't pack the post office. God knows how much Xanax, Citalopram, or Inderal this would save us!

Let's keep laughing at the Italians then, those poor son of a bitches, with their Berlusconis, their failing warfare, and their ridiculous politics. But you should consider that, sometimes, they come up with something as precious as you will never find here in America. Never.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Got Tagged Again

I was tagged by Anna of Barefoot Arrow Song, a nice blog of Elvish taste.
Let me answer her 11 questions then.
Let me not list the rules though, because I will have to break four out of five anyway: I will answer, but I won't tag anyone this time.

Ok, let's go.
Here are the eleven questions I'm supposed to answer:
1. If you could meet your death at the hand of any fictional character, who would be your worthy opponent?
2. What kind of character would you be in a science fiction epic?
3. If you decided to be a super villain, would you win? Why or why not?
4. Pick a plant - tree, flower, herb, or something else flora. Now character sketch: What is his/her personality as a human?
5. What's an unpopular opinion you hold about music?
6. What do you do with notebooks/sketchpads/journals/diaries/similar once you've filled them up?
7. Your doorbell rings. Surprise! It's me! What is your first thought/action?
8. What book/movie/show do you love that you wouldn't recommend to anyone else?
9. You offer a shivering eight-year-old stranger your coat. She smiles at you, and you're not sure if it's a nice smile or a cruel smile, and runs away. You stick your hands in your pockets only to find something in them that wasn't there before. What is it?
10. What is the loveliest voice to fall asleep to?
11. Did you ever get excited when you found out two people you know (or know of) know each other? If so, who?


1 - He has to be intelligent, so no women and no superheroes. Jorge of Burgos I think. 
2 - An extremely contradictory hero.
3 - No, I can't win. I will succumb the moment I show a spark of humanness and vulnerability, and the audience will feel sorry after all.
4 - Nettle. An itchy character, people keep out of his reach, until, for some fateful twist in the plot, they are  forced to deal with him.
5 - That The Beatles suck for the most.
6 - Store them in my bookcase, somewhere safe, so that I can access them whenever I need to. And have them burned with me when I'm no more.
7 - Look, it's late, I'm tired, I was going to sleep. Come back tomorrow, ok? SLAM.
8 - A movie: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover by John Greenaway.
9 - Money. Yeah, sorry but, money. A lot of money. As shallow as it may sound.
10 - Sean Connery's.
11 - Why should I get excited if I'm not involved?

Well, that's it.
That's it, right?
Yea, that's it.




Monday, August 20, 2012

Down With Plastic

You will hardly find plastic bags in the European Union now.
All the bags are biodegradable, made from corn fabric and other similar natural and fiber materials.
Looks and feels like plastic, but it isn’t. They naturally melt after a period of a few weeks.
Is that progress or not.

We all know how useless and environmentally unfriendly plastic bags are. Yet, supermarkets won’t spare the use of them. The cashiers, in some cases, will give you up to a plastic bag per item! I mean it! I saw that! It’s only in the higher level grocery stores you will pay 5c or 10c for a plastic bag, but who can’t really afford to pay that?
The next thing you see is a seagull going through slow death because he remained trapped in a plastic bag, or a whale floating dead in the water with a swollen stomach because she took a plastic bag for jelly fish.

“Oh well, I never leave plastic bags in the environment”.

That’s not the point, prick! Don’t you get it? You won’t, but someone else will and ten cents for a plastic bag are not enough to stop stupidity in action.
The system clearly doesn’t work.

And people won’t buy fabric bags for $2 either. Why should they, when they can have ten plastic bags, perhaps more, for $1? They’re too unintelligent to realize that buying three fabric bags for $6, they won’t have to spend a penny on shopping bags for years. People just don’t have an eye in the future; they can only see the here and now.

So, the Europeans are going through their Great Depression; they’re burning out billions of Euros per day. Still, there’s something important we can learn from them.

Do you use lots of plastic bags?
Don’t!

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

To Rome With Love

Junk.
The most disappointing Woody Allen movie ever. I thought Bananas was the worst one before seeing To Rome with Love.
The expectations were fully met, though: when the Europeans scoff at a Woody Allen movie and the Americans love it, you’re sure your money is going wasted.

The script is simply lame. Not a single line to salvage, not a single gig.
The Italian actors suck; the American are nothing better. The acting of the Italians is exaggeratedly enhanced. We’re not simply talking about the typically Italian way to overuse their body language; this is pure abuse, not to mention the absolutely unnatural and unreal way they speak, offering poor imitations of Woody Allen’s idiosyncrasies. Benigni is the only exception.
The acting of the Americans is pure mediocrity. The presence of Woody Allen in the cast serves as a weak filler to the many gaps the movie has.

It was back in high school when a verse by ancient Greek lyric poet Pindar expressed what I thought was an obvious truism. I can’t recall the exact words he used but, talking about artists, he stated that a genius can never be mediocre; he can either produce works of lofty heights or pieces whose low quality can only be termed garbage.
Woody Allen lately reached his highest peaks with Midnight in Paris, Whatever Works, and Hollywood Ending, without mentioning his earlier films.
To Rome with Love, abiding by Pindar’s statement, is merely garbage.

Have you seen To Rome with Love?
Which is your favorite Woody Allen movie? 

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Honolulu, I'm coming!!

Merlin in The Sword in the Stone
Well, it's not really Honolulu, and it's not really a vacation. But I'm out of town and was unable to write my blog post today.
But hey, this is only postponed.
You will be able to read my review of To Rome with Love by the end of the weekend.
Saturday? Sunday?
Hmm, let me surprise you.

Enjoy the rest of the week!






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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sunset

Street Mirror - 2011
Everyone stands alone 
at the heart of the earth
Pierced by a ray of sunlight.
And suddenly, it is evening. 

Salvatore Quasimodo 


I am European.

I sometimes cast a glance to the other side of the ocean, and sigh from nostalgia. This happens more and more often as time passes by.
I've been wondering, all these years, what it is that makes me miss my lands so much. The conclusion was not hard to reach: change.

Everything has irremediably changed in my hometown and the people who live there. Details which were once dear to me and whose memory I am so fond of do not exist anymore.
The nut tree in my garden I used to climb up is no longer there. The fig tree is also no longer there. What once was a green stretch of land, is now the limited backyard of some disgraced architecture.
The people have changed. My friends are older, more tired. Sadder. Some of them have whiter hair. Nobody plays soccer on Saturday afternoon at the old broken down tennis court we used for a soccer court; nobody goes there, not anymore, because the children don't play soccer anymore on Saturday afternoon. But the court hangs on; time scarred it with a few breaches around which the ground swelled up a bit.
Poor forlorn tennis court. 
 
I used to visit a friend every Saturday and Sunday afternoon until a few years ago. We'd have long chats in the garden, under the maple tree. Then, his old mother would make tea accompanied by Ladyfingers. She used to buy them especially for me, and we'd talk and talk for long hours.
And suddenly, we've grown older. Last year she couldn't remember who I was. It took my friend and I two hours to help her remember a few details about me. The day after I had to explain everything all over again. The tea with the Ladyfingers were not there waiting for me. My friend, seeing my disappointment, said, "I can go buy the Ladyfingers for you and we can have tea".
I told him, "It wouldn't make sense anymore. Don't buy them. Let's just have some tea".
And as my mother drove past his house, last week, she saw how unadorned the garden was. My friend's mother is now too old to even plant flowers; only the nice Settembrine that my friend himself plants and adores remain.
No more vegetable garden. No more beans, tomatoes, zucchini. No more sage or parsley. No more roses. No more nothing.

Yet, my friend says that things haven't really changed. I know very well that he's just trying to make me feel better about it. But the last time I saw him, I could perceive the aura of sadness that surrounded him. It seemed to me that the calm acceptance of the universal order we all believe in within our circle of friends has become, now, a painful and sorrowful resignation that my friend tries to disguise but can no longer hide.

So, on my way back home, I'm afraid of what I will find.
But even more, I'm afraid of what I won't find.

Is your return home as heavyhearted as that? 


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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

And Then They Laugh

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in The Devil's Brother, 1933
I was a kid when I saw for the first time The Devil's Brother, starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
The funniest scene in the whole movie is, of course, when Stan gets drunk on the wine they're trying to fill a huge container with, to bring it upstairs for the innkeeper to serve it.
The container comes to a full and Stan, instead of telling Oliver to stop passing more, simply drinks it to get rid of the wine in excess. And he keeps drinking, and drinking, and drinking.
Once back upstairs, Stan, dead drunk, suddenly starts laughing over some light jokes. His laugh is so contagious that Oliver, although not drunk, also can't hold it in.
Nothing else happens. They simply laugh. But oh, how they laugh!
And I, a kid, would laugh my heart out along with Stan and Oliver. 

I personally find it more difficult to laugh realistically than to cry when acting.
Not to cry can be, after all, a more effective and touching way to cry than actually shedding tears. The same doesn't apply to laughing though. If a director asks you to laugh, that's just what you have to do. And you better know how to do it well, or you will sound unnatural, fake, and amateurish.

Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger knew all of these risks when playing Joker in Batman, not to mention the further problem Heath Ledger faced: he had to be careful not to laugh like Jack Nicholson did 15 years before for the same role.
They both created, then, but on purpose, the most unnatural way of laughing ever.
And they did it majestically!
This way, they were able to play around with it and be creative, without the technical pressure of failing it, but rather experimenting and having fun.
Ledger made it sound so fake it actually gives you a chill up your spine every time you hear him laugh as Joker.
Jack Nicholson's Joker had a sinister charm; Heath Ledger's was downright scary.

I suppose I wanted, with this, to reminisce a bit about Stan and Ollie.
And still point out how difficult laughing on cue can be.

Can you laugh on cue?

  
Notable laughs: 
- Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy in The Devil's Brother.
- Jack Nicholson in Batman.
- Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
- The divine Erik Hartman in his show Boemerang
- Eddie Murphy in most of his comedies.
- Jim Carrey on David Letterman, some 15 or 20 years ago.
- Dustin Hoffman during an interview over the word "cut".  
- Roger Federer interviewed in 2007 at Basel

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Everybody Cries

2007 - Plant and Rain on Window
Everything's changing.
Half a century ago, also in the movies, men would hardly show themselves cry. It usually took a certain degree of tragedy for a man to cry. Even then - take Henry Fonda - the most beautiful melancholic eyes would often substitute tears.

The trends have drastically changed.
In terms of acting, the new techniques hit directly at a performer's emotional side. It's almost everyday at the Lee Strasberg Institute I could witness, during the pre-class warm-up and relaxation exercises, students of all genders and sizes burst out crying. Admittedly, a tear or two would at times well up my eye too, albeit with more of an Asiatic composedness. But there is where I fully understood that when you see an actor cry in a movie and do it well, he's probably crying for real; no onions or chemical stuff under their eyes to produce tears; at least, not anymore.

But what about crying off the stage?
That is no unusual show either.
Crying isn't a bad habit per se, but we all have to admit that the world have sissied up considerably as of late. We're maybe more technologically and scientifically advanced, but it seems that our emotional balance is much less enduring. We are rope-walking on the edge of an outbreak - hopefully not a breakdown just yet.

Here are some notable weepers:

- Barack Obama over his grandmother.
- Mickey Mouse over Walt Disney.
- Sinead O'Connor in her video of Nothing Compares To You.
- Natalie Portman in almost every movie she acted in.
- Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (and probably after his botox operation twenty years ago).
- Jean Claude Van Damme in many interviews.
- Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
- Christian Bale at the MTV Movie Awards. 

Do you vent your frustration weeping? Tu Quoque?

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Breaking Patterns

Cornfield - 2005
There's something beautiful and almost hypnotizing about patterns. It's not difficult to follow a pattern once you've adapted to it. You confine yourself in it, you hide into it; it becomes your haven because that is where you don't need to exercise your mental faculties: you just have to let it happen, and it will happen.
But doesn't it get damn boring after a while?

It does? Well, if it does get dull to you, then how about to your audience, or readers?

Changing pattern is important both in acting and writing, unless you're aiming at literally putting people to sleep!
When on stage, I try not to be always preoccupied with the same behavior for the whole duration of my scene. Even a twitch, when repeated over and over again, becomes a pattern and loses its meaning. A pattern is only important, to me, when I can use it to take people by surprise.
Breaking an order means doing exactly the opposite of what that order requires to exist; if it's based on constant motion, then I stop. If it's based on stillness, then I suddenly move. If my character has to stammer, there's at least a line or two I will say with a perfect control over my speaking skills; and if he's, by default, a slow-speaker, I'll lose control and speak a line or two like New York's Monday morning. If he's blind, he'll see the light for a split second.

It's not realistic? It's not what happens in real life? Who gives a - hum - I'm not too concerned about it. I would never want my character to be stuck in normal real-life situations. All I care about when I work on a character is making him believable. I don't want him to be rationally real, but emotionally real.
An inner contradiction, for example, is a way for your character to break patterns, although it requires lots of hard work that is both emotional and physical.
But hey, no pain no gain.

What's the best way to have your fictional characters - or even yourself -  break patterns?

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

American Accent

Flatiron Building, New York City, 2011.
I was browsing YouTube looking for a tutorial video on how to improve my American accent. A decent video, that is.
Yep, for myself.
My background is very European and my accent very British. Although my American pronunciation has greatly improved lately, most Americans can still detect my British accent. In fact, they almost always have no doubt about it and go straight to the question, "What part of England are you from?" before they even know my name. The next question being, "Why the hell should you want an American accent over your British accent?".
I usually point out, "Standard American". Then, with the poshest accent I can make, continue, "Unless they want to cast me as John McLane in Die Hard speaking like Prince William of Wales".

This is the first of a series of videos by actress and accent virtuoso Amy Walker.
She provides clear and detailed explanations on how to speak in a nice and believable American accent, jazzing the whole thing up with cute acting gigs. And, most important of all, she won't just provide you with the pronunciation of single sounds or words in isolation, but she will give you a broader insight over the typical American intonation, rhythm, and vibe, which is what we actually need more than anything else.

What can I say? I have a passion for accents myself. I like to try new things out and getting a flawless American accent is a challenge I committed myself to.
Without the intention to offend, I believe lots of native Americans would also benefit from such linguistic insights. I was at Staples' early this morning and I overheard the storekeeper (clearly a young American) say "signAture" with the stress on the a (which became a long a) in the second syllable from the left. I found it rather funny.

Mastering more than an accent requires a very strict discipline and the ability to shift from one personality to another. It is not just phonetics, it is also a cultural factor: you must convince yourself you're American to speak with an American accent. Amy Walker suggested to dress like a typical American in a typical American context: jeans, shirt tucked in your pants, jacket. As stereotypical as it sounds, it might work!

What accent would you choose to speak in which is not your native accent?

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our Secret Chamber

Belltower - Berlin, 2003 (Slide)
Secrets make our lives valuable.

Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung wrote in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole. For me the world has from the beginning been infinite and ungraspable.

We all must have a small personal secret. It's our connection with the hidden, introverted side of ourselves, the one we turn to when our soul curls up and relies on its own warmth.
A secret makes us feel good. That's it. It makes us feel protected, hidden because it is protected and hidden. We are our secret and nobody else is aware of it.
A secret is a projection of ourselves; we identify with it, we create a connection with it. We are it.

A secret is the little pebble from your hometown creek that you always carry with you, in your pocket, touching it whenever you need to reconnect with your deeper self.
It is the mantra you recite on the subway train, making sure nobody can hear you or see your lips moving.
It is the faces you pull when you're alone in the elevator and the doors finally close; but when they reopen, the cutest cherub in the floor is back: serious, determined, reliable. We're damn professionals here!
It is the diary you fill in at the end of each day, or whenever you have something personal to write in it.

A tiny, personal secret helps us balance our social life and the personal, more intimate side of ourselves.
We often travel and try to have experiences of all sorts and kinds; we sometimes forget, instead, that major sources of inspiration can be found inside of ourselves, in that secret chamber that contains, after all, worlds of mysteries and wonders!

Do you have a secret?
What is it?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Technical Perfection

2007- Antonio Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, Louvre, Paris
All the greatest and most ingenious artists were perfectionists.

Their quest for technical perfection would often be strongly criticized by their detractors and their art would take longer to reach global recognition as higher artistic craft.
The criticism often comes from the assumption that the artist is more concerned with formal virtuosity, while giving content little or no importance. Their works are then termed sterile, unemotional, artificial, void.

I am for perfection.
I admire whoever aims at it. The history of the arts and science has taught us that those who have aimed at perfection were the ones who reached up to the highest peaks of excellence. Yet, the value of their masterpieces was only acknowledged decades - if not centuries - later!
I often like to recall the urban legend according to which Paganini, probably the highest violin virtuoso in the history of music, was once violently criticized during a performance because of his search for technical complexity. In answer to that, he stripped his violin bare of all its chords except one, to then complete the concert on one chord only.
I don't know the percentage of truth in this anecdote, and I'm pretty sure it's never been officially confirmed. Yet, it makes a point: those who criticize a search for perfection are just envious of an ability they don't have - and will never have. The best way to spite them is to continue, unperturbed, on our path. Gain talent, and they'll chew their intestines off of it!

There's nothing wrong with a sane obsession for the minutest details, as long as the acting is not unemotional, the writing sterile, the music uninspiring, and the playing bleak.
Technical precision allows us to convey a meaning exactly the way we want to. We need an alembic for contents, or we'll just have a heap of meaningless material.  

I'd rather aim at perfection and miserably fail than produce mediocrity.

Are you a perfectionist?
What is perfection to you?
 
   


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Objectives

Wassily Kandinsky - Circles in a Circle, 1923
Every action we perform in real life has an objective. The same should apply to fiction.

When working on a character, it is of extreme importance to ask yourself, "Why am I saying this? Why am I behaving this way?". Your answer should include the causes for a certain action or line; even more importantly, though, it should include its scope, or purpose. It's the latter that allows your character to keep going, projected towards a final goal.

After establishing who the character you're playing is and doing all the necessary work to build the character, there comes building the scene. It is essential for each scene to ask yourself, "What is my objective?", "What am I trying to get here?".
This, together with understanding what you are doing with the other characters in a specific scene, will not only set the tone, but give you a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you should carry it out.
It is a good rule for your objective to never be a physical one, for example: "My objective for this scene is to slap this person"; if you want to slap somebody, all you need to do is slap them, it's as simple as that. Your objective should be an emotional, abstract one, like, "I want to humiliate this person"; a physical action - like a slap - is simply a way to pull off that objective but never an objective per se.

Also, I don't think an actor should be concerned with consistency.
Of course, if a character is shot in the knee at the beginning of a play, then he's supposed to limp to different degrees for the entire duration of the story. But this is nothing about consistency; this is continuity, another important but different concept.
Emotional consistency is just nonexistent in real life; why should we be limited by it when working on a character? Michael Shurtleff, one of the most famous Broadway casting directors in America, termed consistency as "the death of good acting".

You will soon realize that the script or the play are, for each single character, brought forth by superobjectives. At the same time, scripts and plays are divided into smaller units of objectives according to the number of scenes in them. At a deeper analysis, a scene can also have more than one objective.
Naturally, this is only one of the many aspects an actor should focus on. 

If I were a writer, I would use a similar method for my novel writing.
Would that be a mistake?
  
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Who's Got the Sweetest Disposition?

Donald Duck, drawn by Carl Barks
Who never ever starts an argument? Who never shows a bit of temperament?

Oh, who doesn't remember the cute tune from those 40s and 50s Donald Duck cartoons? Who doesn't remember the epic Christmas snow fight between Donald Duck and the three nephews, the raging jealousy inflaming his rivalry with Cousin Gladstone, or the endlessly complicated adventures Scrooge McDuck gets him into?
I certainly do!

Unca Donald is an ensemble of all the human traits, either positive or negative, that we can normally find in people - and in ourselves. He is at times jealous, at times generous; at times mean and sweet, unfortunate and honest, a liar and a wise duck, a trouble-maker and a yellow, a grump and a smartass! He is probably one of the most imperfect characters ever created. That's why we all inevitably sympathize with him. He always has to face the consequences of his actions. Unlike Mickey, he does so only because fate has forced him back against the wall, but he will try to blame someone else first. He will try to get away with it, just as we try to (I, at least); and, just as it happens to us (to me, at least), he always gets caught and pitilessly exposed to public derision. Fortune gives him the cold shoulder even when he most deserves to be rewarded. Yet, he often ends up the victor and, just as often, he ends up the vanquished, no matter how good his intentions were.
Donald Duck is a container of behavioral chiaroscuros, but when all is said and done, he is always a good duck; he always finds a way to redeem himself through the many contradictions of his character.
He is fortunate enough to have been drawn by the best comic artists in the world, Carl Barks, Don Rosa, Giorgio Cavazzano, Massimo DeVita, Al Taliaferro, only to name a few.

Since I was a kid, Donald Duck has been for me a role model in some ways. I would literally devour Donald Duck comics and would read each of his stories hundreds of times. I would re-enact his adventures with my imagination whenever I had a hard time falling asleep.

I have to confess that for my acting I often copy from Donald Duck.
If I have the chance to re-adapt a gesture, face, or pout he made to one of my performances, then I will, yes siree Bob!
I suppose this is my way to say thanks, and I would never ever miss the chance!

Who's fond of Donald Duck raise hand!


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Verba Ex Profundis - Words from the Abyss

2008 - Full moon on a cloudy night
I often wake up at dawn with the most interesting phrases or sentences in mind.
Some come from my dreams. Sometimes, instead, strange pronouncements come out exactly the moment I wake up; I literally catch myself uttering or whispering words while I'm still in the limbo that separates sleeping from being awake. Only once they're out do I realize what happened. That's when I pick up the pencil and my notebook to write everything down before I forget it.
Sometimes there's only a book at hand on my nightstand. So, if you grab a book from my bookcase and take a look at the first blank pages, you might incur into some otherworldly calligraphy; I usually do not turn the light on to write and I'm as tired as not to even open my eyes. Yet, by the time I wake up again a few hours later, I have forgotten, if not the whole, almost every part composing it.
When I take my notebook back in my hands, I wonder at the marvels I'm confronted with.

The first feeling is that it wasn't me, but someone else uttering those words. I called this phenomenon Verba Ex Profundis - Words from the Abyss. I took the habit of giving each of my dreams - or pieces of dream matter - a Latin title.  This allows me to keep my dream material in a dimension which is not the usual one; an unconscious dimension which, although distinct from it, is still in contact with my conscious dimension.
A Latin title also forces me to approach my dreams with the degree of respect and reverence that one would devote to a sacred practice.

Certain sentences apparently have no meaning. Yet, analyzing the context of the sentences - and of the entire dream - in relation to the period of my life, the details assume a clear meaning, although it might take me weeks, months, or even years to understand it.

Once I dreamed of a whole poem written on a white board. When I woke up, I was able to remember it from the first word to the last and write it down. I later on figured out that it wasn't technically a poem I had dreamed of; it was rather prose presented in verses and introducing a religious concept.
I haven't yet been able to make sense of it.

One early morning, in 2006, the year I developed my profound interest for psychoanalysis and analytical psychology, an emblematic phrase flowed out of my mouth upon waking.
I knew from the very beginning that the meaning of the phrase represented the gate to my newly discovered passion.

I am deeply convinced that a careful analysis of dreams and of their elements can be of great help in giving depth to our fictional characters. Whether we act or write, mastering our ability in psychological analysis can only enhance our artistic skills. Should I mention the good it will do us as individual persons? Isn't it a way to gradually get to know more and more chunks of ourselves?

Do your dreams ever speak to you through actual words?
Have you ever analyzed the meanings of those words?

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