Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On Remembrance - Part II: Disintegration

S. Dalì - The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory
I'd be lying if I said that this and the previous post do not stem from a very difficult moment I'm going through. All of a sudden, I saw my personal life turn upside-down. All the small habits that I once had and shared, which were so precious and which gave so much value to life - are gone. Forever.
Everything seems bleaker than it once was; even the world around me has a dismal and strange aspect, one I can hardly recognize. The normal order of things has changed irremediably, and all my fixed stars proved to be not so fixed after all. A series of dreams keep reminding me of my present state of tension, while others, in the past, anticipated it. Unfortunately, their message has only become clear with a hindsight; despite all my efforts, I was unable to correctly interpret them.

The Dragon has indeed smashed his way in, spitting fire, taking command, and rectifying my path; the decisions I wasn't able to make in the past because they were too painful, or because I was too blind, the Dragon has forced me to make them now, and he's now compelling me to move on.

Yet, no matter how much strength I might find in me, I still need something to cling on to, a port of call, a haven, a familiar nest where I can be nurtured and tender-rubbed on my belly.
The music of Ennio Morricone accompanies me as I write this post. To my side, a cup of organic bergamot flavored Earl Grey tea sends up warm gushes of vapor, as if it knew that warmth is what I need right now. The soothing and constant presence of a very special friend has been of great comfort and consolation.  

The rest is remembrance.
More than ever, in these moments our soul turns to the memory of certain beautiful and touching instants of the past. Yet, the realization that these splinters of time, which arouse the strongest emotions, are now long gone and that they represent the inevitable end of something beautiful endows them with a melancholic and gloomy backtaste.

What to do? To remember or not to remember?
Is Lee Strasberg right, do we have to wait seven years before we can safely use remembrance for our artistic and personal purposes?

Ennio Morricone's music is now slowly veering into more gentle and flannelly notes that seem to reflect the introspective and certainly pathetic nature of my questions.

Is it good to linger on painful remembrance? Or should we just stop sighing and finally let go of those memories?
My feeling, as of now, is that they are at once painful and comforting, and their persistence has the sweet taste of sorrow.

How can we so nonchalantly disintegrate them?


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Remembrance - Part I

Salvador Dalì - The Persistence of Memory
There is something I need to confess: I have been indulging on whether to deal with this matter or just avoid it like the plague.
True, I wrote something about memory a few weeks ago, but it was a purely technical post, a rather impersonal one, which began with the lofty tones of a scientific dissertation and ended with questions that have now become, for me, an almost desperate plea to know and to understand. 
So, I had decided I would never publish anything else on the matter until at least one doubt could be sorted out.

Then I started reading Marcel Proust's Swann's Way, the first volume of his titanic work Remembrance of Things Past. I had waited thus far before devoting myself to it; I did not want to be simply stirred by curiosity, but I wanted the push to come from an inner need. This is how I usually approach any books.
From the very first page, I could see how daring Proust had been, laying himself before his memories, either the glorious or painful ones. Then, I shamefully realized that my decision of not writing about it or anyway sticking to an impersonal approach was not just dictated by my usual attempts at trying to come to an all-comprising and complete system, to then and only then write about it; my reluctance was rather dictated by pure and utter fear.

It is the fear of entering a realm - that of memory and the emotions that arise from it - where the lack of control once we step in is confirmed by the words of the greatest psychologists and psychiatrists that ever lived, not to mention my personal experience which, when all is said and done, counts a lot to me.

I thought about Strasberg's assumption that, as long as we work with memories older than seven years, there is nothing to worry about. Yet, I know by direct and indirect experience that older memories and long-gone events can affect us emotionally in just as uncontrolled a way as an event that happened the day before.
Moreover, the human soul is by its own nature inclined to find much deeper inspiration in pain rather than happiness.

Marilyn Monroe, beautifully portrayed by Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, was a profoundly unhappy person; Stephen King witnessed the violent death of a friend at a very young age. Although he reportedly has no memory of the event, the most basic notions of psychology tell us that it is still there, repressed somewhere in his unconscious, gnarling and twisting. Jim Carrey suffered from scattered but intense bouts of depression. Vittorio Gassman spent his last years merged in a profound mal d'etre.
I cannot believe there is no relation between their state and their work as actors.

Acting, writing, painting, composing and playing music, are experiments of the soul. We must be open to inspiration, no matter where we get it from; but there's a degree of caution we should take as for how we get it. Psychoses and, in the best scenarios, neuroses, are there, constantly lurking to affect the methodless and those who are not in control.  

Can we be creative and be inspired without vowing ourselves to unhappiness, I wonder.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Animal Exercise

I would like to dedicate this post to my beloved dog.

The animal exercise was first introduced by Lee Strasberg as part of the actor's training. It is taught today to acting students as an essential tool toward a deeper physical characterization of a role. 
The exercise consists in the exact reproduction of an animal's behavior: the actor imitates the sounds of the animal, moves exactly like the animal, and reproduces its general attitude. What Lee Strasberg suggested, though, is not to begin right away with a pure imitation. The actor should, instead, start by carefully observing its behavior to the tiniest details, asking questions like, "In what does this animal differ from me?" or "What makes it pull its ears back in certain contexts?".

Little by little, after weeks of practice, the actor gradually stands the animal up. At this point, the animal element is adapted to the human being, retaining its strength but becoming much more subtle. 

The animal is chosen according to the characteristics of the role to be played. 
Good actors often use animals to build their characters: Marlon Brando disclosed all his brutal manners in A Streetcar Named Desire by moving like an ape; Jim Carrey walked pulling and pushing his neck like a pigeon to portray his egocentric and eccentric mode de faire in Ace Ventura. Shall we mention Batman? Tarzan? Mowgli? Or Catwoman?

Personally, I came to realize years ago - so, even before becoming acquainted with the animal exercise - that living with a pet for countless years implied a very close, daily, and effortless observation of an animal's behavior. When you live with a pet, you become familiar with its different ways of barking or meowing; each way has a different meaning. Wagging the tail has meaning, but not always the same meaning: my dog does it when he's happy, or when he's asking for something, kind of like buttering us up because he knows he shouldn't ask us for that. The way he looks at me varies with the context. He bit me once, and a second later he looked at me in a way that could only mean, "I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me". 

I believe that the animal exercise will be much, much easier if the first approach involves your own, dear pet. The process of observation and study is much less intentional when it comes to your pet. You will realize how easy it is to imitate him and, at the same time, you will feel perfectly comfortable, natural, and subtle when adapting its behavior to a common "human" context. 

I also believe that a similar study of animals - maybe, but not necessarily carried on in a different way - could also benefit a writer's work on fictional characters. 


Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to Get Back to Business

Although sometimes we might still forget to write 2012 instead of 2011 when we date a postcard, a document, or a letter, being in 2012 is no longer news. After all the big fuss, all we know is we need to roll up our sleeves, drag ourselves out of our post-holiday depression, and get back to work.
Just like every beginning of the year, the problem is that we are always a bit disoriented about where to take it back from.

Some Hollywood big shots decided 2012 should give them new thrills. So, actors such as Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, and many others ventured into new or classical Broadway stints; Times Square is wrapped with posters and technicolor billboards advertise their shows just everywhere.
Smaller fries, instead, have to sigh out of their comfort zone and put themselves back in the business.

Here’s a quick list of a few things you can do to gradually get yourself back to brass tacks:

1)      Tell your contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and whatnot that you’re back! 
2)      Use your holiday experience to find elements to work on. 
3)      Put down a small list of goals to accomplish by the end of 2012, making sure they are feasible and falling within your current possibilities. 
4)      Remind yourself that what you are doing is the best thing you could do for yourself.  
5)      Dedicate at least one hour of your time per week to business: sending professional postcards, contacting agents, giving out business cards. Doing business is just as necessary as refining your skills.

Personally, I favor a gradual return to riding the waves, holding onto the holidays atmosphere for a while longer.

Do you usually suffer from post-holidays depression and need your time to put yourself back in the business?
Or do you usually prefer not to linger a minute more in useless idle?