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minstrel hussain boy

one of the most frustrating things a film actor friend of mine talks about is how much of film making the actors have absolutely no control or input upon.

to illustrate that one night he had me play the scenes in fosse's "all that jazz" of the fosse standin, joe gideon, cutting a scene of stand up comedy incessantly. no matter what else is happening in that character's life, he returns to the cutting room to cut and recut that one scene, then into the viewing room to see the results. at one point near the end of that process the harried and worried producer (all this obsessive cutting has sent the budget flying out of control) looks at it and says "goddamn you, it's better."

then we jumped to a hospital scene where a snide reviewer intones "the only scene worth watching is the standup scene where it's obvious the director simply let the actor take control and let the chips fall."

it's really hard to judge an actor's performance in film because before, during, and after that performance there are so many other, more powerful hands on it.

i saw pacino onstage doing richard iii. he was so mesmerizing that i returned to watch him two more times. (it helped that richard is one of my favorite plays and characters) each night there were subtle, tiny changes. in an interview he was asked about the halting walk he developed. he told the reviewer "i was wearing a shoe on one foot that was 2 sizes small. then i just tried to walk as well as i could." there's a pragmatic, but still artistic genius in that choice. he realized that someone crippled isn't trying to limp, they're trying to walk as well as they can.

over the years i've enjoyed watching pacino, at times he transcends the material, other times he is buried by it. but he always insists on being seen and heard.

there's a courage in that.


America (and film the world over) had a helluva stretch there.

Regarding actors and Minstrel Hussain Boy (Hiya!), I'm sympathetic to a point. I certainly love watching (and creating) live theater. But since I've worked with quite a few actors and occasionally get pressed into acting myself (nothing that impressive) – film and television work is often very different from stage work. The cliché, which is fairly true, is that the stage is an actor's medium, in television the writer rules, and in film, it's the director. I prefer to work with people with strong theater training versus just a few Hollywood acting classes, some of which are good, many of which are crap. However, some stage actors can't make the transition. They're too big or artificial or "stagey." (Michael Caine's book and video is one of the best how-tos on the technical aspects of screen acting, by the way.) Some actors who deliver a good performance in a particular take cannot do the same thing twice, and some also feel it's beneath them somehow. They get cut out of the movie (or cut down) because their footage will not cut together. (Scorsese and Schoonmaker often say to hell with continuity, but that's a longer discussion, as is the contrasting styles of various directors on set.) I also knew someone who graduated from an acting program who was taught – by an idiot teacher – to deliberately sabotage takes in a way that, in theory, would prevent the director and editor from cutting into "the performance." It's selfish and egotistical, and such people, too, will be cut out of the film. (It also betrays an ignorance of the medium.) Theater, film and television are collaborative arts, and there's always a give and take. But ultimately, an actor's job is to serve the project, not him or herself, and to take the goddam direction. Learn the lines. Study the craft.. Practice any special skills or choreography as much as needed. Don't needlessly hold up production. As an actor friend of mine has said, he's never been on a set where his job wasn't easier than the crew's. Yeah, there are idiot directors out there, too, and sometimes the actor's lot sucks and is truly unfair. I have another actor friend whose big (small) scene was mostly lost because the director noticed a cool reflection and decided to shoot the scene entirely in a wide on the reflection. But as the saying goes, love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art. Everyone wants to make the actor look good (in the case of a villain, that would be "looking good" by being an effective baddie). In television, there's no shame in being in a failed pilot; many successful TV stars first earned cred and good will by slogging it out in projects that just didn't work out, and producers kept bringing them back because of the actors' talent, commitment, and professionalism. There are tons of actor vanity projects out there, too, plenty of which never see the light of day either, and there's a reason why (unfortunately) many of them stink.

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