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


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?


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?