The following article was published inĀ N-SPHERE June 2010 issue.


“What is the real difference between the acting experience and the immediate one?”, this is the question, dear reader(s). After films that revolved around the making of other films, or books, or even places – which had such a powerful effect on their viewers, that they were able to mutate their perception over the immediate reality – this question is inescapable. In the mouth of madness or Shining stand out as two of the most eloquent examples in this particular matter.

As far as I could gather, the line is a very thin one. It is just a matter of context, just the fact that in acting what we experience is of no physical consequence to us, nor to the viewer. If you take that out of the table, there are performances that move us and haunt us, and there are performances that may be ok, but with no effect upon us. There is acting as a game, and acting as a process of mutation. I have somehow David Cronenberg to thank for the latter, since his first movies, and not only, dealt with this particular subject on a regular basis. The first case usually occurs in the more domestic part of the cinema, where no one wants to step on any toes, no one wants to harm anyone, where things are peachy-creamy in the end; however, this part holds no real interest to the subject at hand. What’s the point of a game if one knows all the way that it is a game and nothing more? What is the part of a simulation if everyone knows it is a simulation? Someone must not know or must not perceive it like this for the whole magic trick to work. Someone must really be the tyrant puppeteer and someone else the puppet.

So my real interest is directed towards that part of sinae(ni)ma in which the sun doesn’t always shine and, even when it does, it does so to mess with your head – joking , more or less. In this particular case, actors are not only acting, because such possibility disappears. I can’t look at Emily Watson in breaking the waves and say that she is only acting, I can’t look at a film that hammers all that rotten conventionalism and say “it is only a game”. Because it is not and if you do not believe me you can ask Georgia Brown (Village Voice) how she felt about this film. An the examples can go on with films such as The Shining, La passion de Jeanne D’arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer) and so forth.

In such frameworks, actors invest a lot more than they would when acting in casual films, so the material to them becomes as real as it is to the characters they portray. Therefore, everything is articulated to the point where the film itself and real life are two separate narrative blocks. This is not only an acting-related issue. It is the visual aspect, as well. It is the overall mood that may draw the viewer even closer. After all, the film is as much about the visual aspect as it is about acting (you can see that the storyline itself comes in third). Basically, raw storytelling is a writer’s job more that it is a film-maker’s. In movies, what matters is the way stories are developed, the things that we retain from the big-picture, the way we insert them, because, plot-wise, a film doesn’t have the narrative consistence of a good novel so there is no need to try to make cinema copy literature.

There is another thing: the active viewer nowadays, maybe even more present in film that in literature, is a viewer that doesn’t need the whole picture drawn to tread the film’s path, one that can improvise and on whose imagination the film really works. This happens more often in film because, while retaining a certain level of abstraction, there are more elements to plunge you right in: a theme song you liked, a line, the expression of some character, the way a particular scene was shot, the fact that you can really hear someone say the things you always hinted to be true, even if it is, theoretically, a part of the act. To that viewer, the actor is the character, and in maybe many cases and even many more to come, an actor cannot pull such a stunt if – deep underneath his persona – he doesn’t recognize the character presence inside him as well. All identity is mutable, all information is the same, it just takes a little longer to put the pieces together and figure out what everything really stands out for. For there is a big difference between what we don’t know, what we don’t know we know, and what we know but cannot express. If you handle the latter two, you may find yourself in a surprising situation.

That’s it for tonight. See you on the next transmission, fellow actors!

Movie still: La passion de Jeanne d’Arc. 1928.

by Shade

Full article here.