I Dunno, Today's Acting Just Doesn't Do It for Me


So, I was reading the above thread when I got to the entry about the movie Ponette and I dutifully watched the offered clip. I read the consequent comments that the movie was a real heart-wrencher and “the whole theater was sniffling…,” and “I’m trying not to cry here at work…” etc. and all I could think to myself, and I say this meaning no disrespect to the obviously talented little girl actress, was, “Meh.”

It’s not the child actor’s fault. I’m sure she performed exactly as the director wanted, and everybody else seems enthralled with the movie. There’s a quiet scrunching of the face, and a genuine tear when the girl is told her mother is dead. There’s no yelling while trying to hit her father for what she hopes is lying. No flinging herself on the ground. No high-pitched squeals of anguish. Just a very reserved, very quiet, “touching” spit-take. Nice.

The spit was the only thing that kept my attention from wandering off. But that’s how it is with most emotional movies today. Such wonderful minimalism. Tell a person their world is ended, and they’ll suck in their lips, get glassy eyed for a moment and nod with a solid sensible stoicism. Even the littlest kids in movies will do this now. How natural. How real.

And excuse me, how dull.

I watched another movie today. It was from 1957, and it was called A Face in the Crowd. Talk about ham. Andy Griffith’s character of Lonesome Rhodes was a raving loon most of the time, all bugga eyed and loud as hell. Patricia Neal was in there swinging with mouth agape and sobbing and glaring, and all the rest were hunched up and crawling to Lonesome Rhodes, licking his boots. The only one showing restraint was Walter Matthau, of all people.

And you know what? It was riveting. I couldn’t look away.

Yes, they are two different movies from two different eras and involving two very different contents. Maybe I’m just jaded. Or not sophisticated enough.

Or maybe Hollywood faces are so stiff from all the Botox pumped into them.

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Not likely to see anything that memorable again.

You obviously haven’t seen many Nicholas Cage movies.

I’d go back even further, to the 30s and 40s. Movies back then were actual works of art, not just “naturalistic” mirrors of society. Everything . . . the screenplay, the dialog, the characterization, the acting, the set design and the costumes . . . was powerfully stylized and even bordering on the abstract. This was before the “slice of life” crowd took over and made everything “ordinary.”

Fuck that…even that’s too recent for me. I can only get into the megaphone crooners from the 1920s. Dickie Crickets and Kid Jersey…man, those guys had some feeling to their performances. That was soul. Everything today is a buncha crap…buncha bullshit.

Is this too restrained for you?

(From There Will Be Blood, but not the scene you think).

Thank you!

Ponette isn’t a good example of restrained acting. She was what, four? Four-year-olds don’t understand death. But take away a favorite toy or sit 'em in a corner – you’ll see some emotion.

I completely disagree. I have a hard time watching old movies because the acting is so overdone. All the women delivered their lines with that breathless “Oh, Rhett!” quality, and the men were so flamboyant that it completely takes me out of the story. I cringed when I tried to watch Liz Taylor and Katherine Hepburn’s “Little Women” on t.v. the other day. They practically squealed with delight when their mother walked in. No one acts like that. The newer versions are so much more realistic.

I blame the fact that a lot of the actors were former radio and Broadway actors who hadn’t learned how to pare back their expressions and mannerisms in front of the camera. Cameras can get right in the actor’s face and capture subtle expressions that can convey emotions far better than over-delivered words. That is the advantage of film over live theater. If I wanted wailing and gnashing of teeth, I’d go to a Greek funeral.

Well, at least it would give me an excuse to knock off the boss that just laid me off.:wink:

And if it is, how about this?

(From Mystic River, and yes, it’s exactly the scene you think).

Incidentally, both of the above performances won Oscars.

Yes, I’ve actually seen some of those religious revivals that There Will be Blood portrays, and yes that scene is somewhat restrained. The congregation can’t even be bothered to respond. The whole idea of an exorcism (“Get out Satan!”) is to really let loose and start screaming your fool head off. The same goes for getting saved and “getting the spirit”. Believers will say it’s the Lord’s spirit coming down on everyone, but it’s really just a release and a collective endorphin rush. Pretty weak endorphins in that scene, but I understand from the script that there were ulterior motives involved on Day-Lewis’ character’s part. With that in mind, I suppose the scene is better artistically as underplayed. The preacher I found a little too ‘meh’ as well. (Do you know the late Sam Kinison was a revivalist?) I don’t find the scene gripping, but then I haven’t seen the whole movie.

As for Mystic River, again, I haven’t seen it. I suppose there was some big build up for that outburst. Skillfully done, it would be more to my taste.

I remember reading somewhere that the idea behind Kabuki theater’s bizarre performances was for the acting mannerisms to be as stylized and exaggerated as possible. The feeling is that natural acting is too close to real life to be entertainingly theatrical. I think that’s close to the point I’m trying to make.

You should check out Barbara Stanwyck and Spencer Tracy films.

No wonder you were cringing – half black & white, half color, half filmed in 1933, the other half in 1949, with two different Jos and Amys! :slight_smile:

The Katharine Hepburn LW was in B/W, from 1933, with Joan Bennett as Amy (Taylor’s role).

Taylor’s LW was in vivid color, from 1949 (with June Allyson as Jo). Allyson was more down-to-earth than Hepburn, so you might have enjoyed her more.

There’s a definite stylistic difference between some old-school actors and modern actors, but it’s not absolute. Nicholas Cage, Al Pacino are good examples of more OTT actors these days. Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman… these are all much more naturalistic actors from the classic era.

Me, I love both styles. Seems a shame to only like one form of acting – it’s like only appreciating one style of singing or guitar playing or painting…

That’s the whole point. If you want “realistic,” go sit on the corner and watch humanity stroll by. My whole life is “realistic.” When I go to a movie, I want something beyond that.

There’s a lot of that out there. Especially in the US, where so much of life is trends and what’s hot, we really do believe that any cultural product which ignores market forces ignores reality - is stuffy - is irrelevant to real living breathing people.

I can’t tell all those Jennifers apart - there are a dozen of them, they are all generic and bland, and they all look alike. Little brown hamsters scampering on the great wheel of Hollywood.

Same goes for the Kates - there are too many generic Kates (except for Kate Winslet, of course).

And fat, homely, and/or disgusting frat boys making fools of themselves onscreen. Direct offspring of Adam Sandler, they are!

I’ve seen A Face In the Crowd a dozen times and enjoy it every single time!

Those are only the shitty mainstream movies. That’s like turning your radio to some pop station that plays nothing but Li’l Wayne and Lady Gaga and then declaring that there is no good music in the year 2009. There have been a lot of great movies with great actors recently, and also a lot of great television shows (the '00s have been an incredible decade for TV. Some of the best acting can be seen on HBO shows.)

Also, Adam Sandler is not a bad actor. Watch Funny People and you will definitely have a different view of his skills.

Nothing against Adam Sandler, I know he has some talent. He just started the dumb-slob onslaught. Just like I blame Meg Ryan for not exactly starting, but making popular to a ridiculous degree, ditzy romantic comedies. Will they EVER vary the formula? Attractive young couple, meets cute, have fun jobs and beautiful clothes, fight like cats and dogs, one stalks the other, until True Romance ensues. Fade out…

I think part of it is the number of takes. For instance, I read that in a 30 minute sitcom an average scene requires seven takes to get a final print.

Now I don’t know what a “scene” constitutes but it seems that if there is that much repetition some of the feeling is going to be lost. I reckon movies would have even more takes.

True. I think people will look back at the HBO of the 00’s and see it as a great achievement. From the Sopranos, the Wire, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Deadwood and more, TV shows has really proven its worth.