Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Bated Breath

Last night in my scene study class, two students were in the later stages of working on a scene from Suburbia. It was wonderful. They were talking to one another. They were alive head to toe, reacting to one in another in the simplest of ways - sliding over on a bench to invite a sit-down, subtle but fully alive furtive glances, bumping shoulders. It's always a good sign that after seeing various students work on a particular scene over the years, I wait with bated breath to hear what they might say next.
It's especially encouraging to watch fine young actors let go of their bags of tricks and patiently discover new ways of playing a particular set of given circumstances. In doing so, I believe each found tremendous subtlety and dimension.
I look forward to seeing what they do next. A swell place, too, as I appraoch one of those months when half of my regular students are not going to be in class for various reasons. With a small studio like mine, that means I pay the rent and earn less than a clerk at 7-11.
So thanks to those that are open and growing for bating my breath.

And thanks to the boys at Gearhead for gainful employment, further easing the sting of reduced studio revenue.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Writing is on the Wall

Public schools in Georgia are closing for two days next week to save gas. I suppose when education results in complete dependence on fossil fuels, it makes absolute sense to shut the schools down.
Our supreme leader truly is crude.

Went to a performance of Portland Taiko last night. I didn't like it. I thought it devoid of what Lorca called duende, roughly translated as feeling. Arbitrary banging. Arbitrary banging of simple rhythms by smiling white folks getting cultural. Some sort of reverse minstrel show. A Left Coast version of Stomp. About half of the performers were of Asian descent, many Japanese. Obo Addy and several Ghanians came out for the final number. It was only then that I felt anything anyplace other than my ears. The Africans were the real deal and I couldn't help but think that the Taiko folks were blessed and cursed to be sharing the stage with them. Of course there was a standing ovation. As our babysitter pointed out when we got home, put a person of color on the stage, the darker the better, and the crowd will stand and cheer in Portland.
Of course they'll ask them to live in blighted areas until they get around to gentrification, pushing them out of the way until they need cheap housing or to be entertained.

It's a crazy world. Which is no news at all. The writing has been on the wall all along.

Con amore per umanita,
Signore Direttore

Friday, September 23, 2005

This Side of Paradise

The title of the first of F. Scott Fitzgerald's few complete novels, much more minor than Gatsby, but closer to home for me as I devoured the books of The Lost Generation in my teens. Its protagonist, Amory Blaine, looked up at the spires of Princeton assuring himself that he would surely do better in school next year, but knew deep inside of himself that he would not. And in fact, did not.
Was he being honest with himself that some things are not meant to be? Or simply rationalizing his lack of effort?

I've had a few students argue about objectives lately, claiming that a character doesn't know he or she won't succeed as they pursue his or her objectives. In short, that they are always in it to win it. Maybe I'm just a fearful doubting Thomas, but I think desire is almost always plagued by a measure of doubt. If not, where would the tension come from? Surely not the other person. My battles within have always been more epic than those without.
I find it far more involved and nuanced to witness a character check his or her own doubts about his or her objective against the other/s/ in a scene.

Just got the phone call I've been waiting for since Tuesday. I'm the new manager at Gearhead Grip and Lighting. I start Monday. A set schedule. A paycheck. Healthcare benefits. Paid holidays and vacation. Things I've never experienced. I'm excited.

My theory is I'm surrending to win. I'll keep you posted.

Fono ai noi,

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Dispassionate Gardener

Saw The Constant Gardener yesterday for my Monday matinee. Having forgotten to wear my watch, I checked the time on my cell phone around an hour into it and every ten minutes thereafter. I was bored and anxious for its anticlimactic denoument to come so I could go.
The exhaustion of my patience with the film coincided with the end of the jump in time segments, which ultimately I found very arbitrary and therefore tedious -- just as the director settled into telling the story it was too late. I suppose the jumps in time were thought necessary to fill in all the backstory. I may have known it was adapted from a John LeCarre novel prior to seeing it, I'm not certain. I did say to myself while watching it, Oh this story is intriguing, but I'd rather read about it in a john LeCarre novel. (If I ever read those types of books.) I just didn't find the backstory all that necessary. The wife of a quiet, well-peered diplomat is very active politically. She spends a lot of time with a native Kenyan doctor helping the poor. A pharmacuetical company is up to no good with the help of the British government. Shadow agents eliminate the bleeding heart wife when she gets too active in her discovery of evil doing.
That's a good set-up. I don't need to know she has always asked too many questions going back to meeting her husband at university. I can see that in the way she handles herself with the poor, the Kenyan doctor, her husband and at a diplomatic social function. I don't need to see them fall in love in a flashback. I'm not so cynical as to believe they might well have been in love to have gotten married in the first place. For all the the first hour's attention to backstory, it makes the sudden introduction of the wealthy cousin in the third act feel more like movieland than reality. Though I liked the jump in time juxtaposition of his eulogy and the gardener's final earthly moments.
For a film that does a good turn in showing the shanty towns and the suffering of the African poor as well as offering some truthful though often, dare I say, too understated performances, it shrinks from allowing reality to unfold before us with any patience. Think of the power of the long take in such dire living conditions. The fast cutting really worked in the director's film, City of God, precisely because the world it was depicting depended on fleet-footed survival. We were given the chance to sneak a peek into a world that doesn't allow Peeping Toms.
A note on the preformances: Rachel Weisz was great. She had conviction and compassion and showed great courage. All of the supporting roles were well played, though F. Murray Abraham suffered a sliding dialect and the manner in which the Kenyan doctor's eyes lighted on the heroine was exactly that -- mannered. I found Ralph Fiennes far too understated. He hit some wonderful notes of realization that reflected his inner life and his character's temperment and class at key moments. However, if the film hoped to show a man awaken to a less distanced relationship to the world, I think the actor failed. Though he may have failed, he is not to blame. As always the buck stops with he or she at the helm. In this case, the director didn't give his leading man and his audience a chance to watch the gardener's garden grow.
All that said, I appreciate that the film was about human beings. Unfotunately, the view of humanity was obfuscated by frantic cuts, desaturated images and too much backstory and exposition. I never groaned, I just got a little bored at times as the story went in one eye and out the other all too self-conciously.

I predict Phil Hoffman will be accepting a gold statuette from the Academy next Spring based on the trailer for Capote. Wow.

Pasta and Bagels,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Kentucky Windage

There are three ways to hit a target with a rifle - blind luck, Kentucky windage and zero the sights.
Blind luck is a wily devil, betraying its beneficiary sooner or later, especially if it coincides with beginner's luck. Blind luck is particularly troubling when one has a run of it and believes it an indication of a talent that requires no further training.
Kentucky windage involves firing a shot and adjusting to the sight's inaccuracy until "a little to the left and a squirrel tail lower" hits the mark. Of course this method must be adjusted any time the distance to the target moves. Sure to be the case in a live action scenario.
Zeroing the sights takes a little longer. Set the front and rear sights to mechanical zero. Fire at a target at 25m and first adjust the front sight for elevation and then the rear sight for windage and elevation until all rounds strike within 4cm of the target center. The weapon will be set at battlesight zero for up to 300m. For longer range shooting, a second zero can be set and marked as necessary.
What I'm trying to draw is a parallel to preparation for the actor. I find that most actors tend to rely on blind luck and Kentucky windage. When we practice contacting ourselves and opening our instruments, setting ourselves to mechanical zero, rather than rush into practicing for performance, we stand a better chance of having more accurate use of ourselves.

A River Dertchee,
Il comandante

Saturday, September 17, 2005


There is very little I feel compelled to report this week.
Classes were great -- new faces and new energies. There is a certain desperation that emanates from many aspiring actors. One of my tasks as a coach is to interpret and react to it accordingly. Becoming an actor of any measure requires a great deal of courage. Like talent, I find that courage is an innate attribute. It comes out with diligent exercise, but can not be taught. I run into problems when I make assumptions or sweeping assesments about the level of courage in the studio in any given class. Even with small classes, I often find it difficult to adjust to and encompass six to ten hearts. I suppose the best thing I can do is speak from my own heart and experience, thus being as courageous as I am capable.
Much like staying close to oneself as an actor -- if it is yours and in the moment, it is always the best you can do.
Oh, to practice what one preaches.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Nella terra dei ceichi …

… the one-eyed man is king.
The winner of the Best Actor Award for the 2005 Filmerica Challenge is yours truly.

How about them apples?

Buona sera,
Signore Attore ahem Direttore