Acting For Film II

  • It’s often said that acting for the camera is “doing nothing very well.” It’s understandable why many would embrace this oversimplification. There is a grain of truth in it.

    In fact in the early part of the 20th century, a Russian filmmaker, Lev Kuleshov, in an attempt to prove the importance of the juxtaposition of images in creating what was referred to as the “Soviet Montage Theory,” enlisted the help of a famous matinee idol of that period to prove his point. Kuleshov instructed matinee idol Ivan Mozzhukhin to stand in front of the camera and asked him to “do nothing.”

    After shooting this brief footage, Kuleshov went into the editing room and interspersed his actor’s clip with stock footage of a bowl of soup, a child in a coffin, a beautiful woman. He completed the edits and showed these various short clips to small groups of people to get their impressions.
    All members of the selected audience agreed, no matter which clip they saw, that Mozzhukhin’s acting was exceptional. Those who saw the clip cut together with the soup said that the actor did a great job expressing his hunger. Those who saw the clip with the dead child said that Mozzhukhin’s grief was very moving. Those who saw Kuleshov’s clip editing the actor together with the woman said that his lust for her was palpable. You can see that actual experiment at this link to Youtube http://youtu.be/4gLBXikghE0

    It’s true, that filmmakers can manipulate images to move their audiences. Many people were emotionally moved by a pig in the movie, “Babe”; or more recently, by a horse in Speilberg’s “War Horse.” Think about the impact some animated characters have had on your emotions.

    If the art of acting doesn’t factor into these instances; if a film editor can manipulate the emotions of the audience irrespective of what you do as an actor, then what’s the point of putting time and energy into creating a rich inner life for your character?

    The man who gave birth to modern acting, Russian director Constantine Stanislavski, loathed the prepackaged postures and gestures of melodramatic acting and yearned to take acting to a place that was rich with meaningful expression; the type of art that changes lives.

    His goal was to create a practical technique that was designed to help the actor create a rich inner life for the character they were playing and then revealing this full human experience to the audience through simple, truthful and yet powerful actions.

    Take a look at much of the acting in film; particularly television acting. One actor delivers their line (which they usually mumble because this seems more “real.”) and the other actor squints their eyes or cocks their head to demonstrate for the camera that they are listening and reacting. Much of our acting has returned to the use of stock postures, gestures and facial expressions similar to the melodramatic times.

    Acting is like trying to capture smoke in a bottle. It’s very difficult to accomplish fully. But there are a few simple truths about acting that make it possible to reach for greatness. But these must be kept for our next entry.
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