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!


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?


Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Thorny Side of Our Soul

2001 - Taken on black and white film with my first Reflex.
We're often charmed by a character's dark side.
What happens, instead, when the dark side is substituted by or coincides with a not-so-subtle evil tint? Dark and evil are not necessarily the same thing; Edward Scissorhands is dark, but not evil; the same goes for Bruce Wayne, Wolverine, Huck Finn, or Jane Eyre.

Just as we all have a dark side, so we all have a more or less developed evil character, a side of our soul that, in contrast with its padded and flannelly half, is prickly and spiny.  
This is exaggerated in fictional characters. Here, the personal and psychological traits are usually magnified for the conflict of opposites to be more shocking.
Yet, observe people's behaviors around you: your friends, your family members... yourself! Yes, dear, yourself! You're no Mother Theresa either!
You will find out that as good as the person standing before you might be, that person will not only present profound behavioral contradictions (which is just fine; after all, as Henry David Thoreau used to say, consistency is the hobglobin of small minds) but, at certain stages, will perpetrate a wicked plot in such vile and cunning ways as to be utterly unrecognizable even to themselves.
At least, I hope I'm not the only one who at times, upon waking in the morning, looking at my hands with the typical fixity characterizing disbelief, wonders, "What have I done"?

Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung used to consider such manifestations as compensatory functions of the unconscious. These lie dormant as primitive forces, ready to rise and break all moral barriers in unpredictable ways. Only conscious integration of these functions can result in more or less balanced reactions to certain situations of momentary psychic weakness. 
It amounts to a constant struggle with our Shadow, and we all go through it daily: whenever we're being yelled at, whenever we line up at the post office or we're stuck in traffic, whenever we find we're being cheated on, or our bank charged extra fees on our credit card.
At times, instead, we more or less consciously decide to give some allowances to our Shadow, so we plan and get our elusive and little revenges.

We are all that and, potentially, even more than that!
How could the fictional characters we create sound believable without such important inner contrasts?
How could we sympathize with them if they lacked that nasty and tricky evil side we all share?

Have you ever had a glimpse, or have you ever been aware of this special you before?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Dark Side of the Soul

2000 - Sunset in my kitchen, black and white film
What richness, what variety lies hidden, unknown to us, in that vast, unfathomed and forbidding night of our soul which we take to be an impenetrable void. 
M. Proust 

Dracula, Maxim De Winter, Faust, Dr. Jekyll, Shylock, Heathcliff, Batman: what do all these characters have in common?

Substantially, we can say, they're all good and extremely sensitive men.
Yes, Dracula indeed. Shylock, too; and Heathcliff, wasn't he a nice and romantic boy once? What happened then?
Just like all of us, they had a strong dark side to which they surrendered during a crucial moment of their life.
Of course, we real people do not bite men's and women's necks and feed ourselves with their blood (well, sometimes we do); that is pure fiction. But how many times have we looked back to our past and found a most reproachable action, one we're still ashamed of; one we still find it difficult to believe it was us acting so? Have you ever felt like it wasn't really you committing a blameworthy deed, one that you or someone else later decried as morally unacceptable?
In a sense, you're not too far from the truth: it wasn't really you.
Let me rephrase this: it was you, but under the influence of an unconscious - thus, uncontrolled - "tempestuous energy"; the same that populates the dark, undetected and unknown realms of the psyche, that is kept repressed, hidden, and that springs forth in the many Walpurgis Nights of our soul.

Be careful how you interpret! It would be very easy to justify our bad deeds by saying that we simply couldn't help it. True, at times we can't prevent ourselves from acting in a certain way, or from giving vent to extreme pronouncements. You just have to think of your own personal history to find a great number of examples; also certain patterns in the history of humanity seem to validate this theory.
Yet, it is the responsibility of each individual person to acknowledge the presence of a dark side - what C.G. Jung named Shadow - as an active part of our psyche. It is our personal responsibility to come to terms with it, and bring it to a healthy balance with the rest of our personality. 

I think this concept - the dark side of our soul taking over us, inducing confusion - is very well depicted by Lars Von Trier in his movie The Antichrist. One scene in particular presents it with ghastly symbolism: Willem Defoe is walking in the undergrowth of woods. Suddenly, as he reaches a patch of high ferns, he sees a fox lying in it. The animal is all wet and intent in tearing bites off of its own intestines. Willem Defoe, paralyzed and caught by sheer terror, observes the scene until the fox utters with a cavernous and threatening human voice the words, "Chaos reigns".

How many inner contradictions the human soul is exposed to!
Yet, it is their presence that make us human, fallible and as imperfect as we are.
It is the portrayal of the obscure half of the soul that gives fictional characters psychic and psychological depth; contradictions give characters a dual nature and make them more believable, more interesting, more human and, as such, a reader or an audience can better identify with them.

How can anybody be empathic with, say, Superman! He's all good, all perfect, all pure, all gentle. You can only explain those unaltered qualities with his alien nature. Too easy being a hero that way! No inner conflicts, no traumas, no ghosts to struggle with.
I'd rather play Batman!

Who's the most contradictory, darkest, yet all in all good fictional character you have encountered so far? 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Lie or To Die?

2006 - Self-portrait
I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it's true--
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe--

The Eyes glaze once--and that is Death--
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

Emily Dickinson

And so, I, too, would rather choose Death than lies.
Wouldn't you?