Saturday, 3 November 2012

A Circle Jerk for Actors: The Curtain Call

What I feel like when I do a curtain call. 

Ladies and Gentlemen I hate curtain calls. They are inane, uncomfortable and purely exist for the vanity of the artist. 

It is often said that actors are vain in their need for approval. They make so little financially that they pay themselves with the glowing applause the spews forth at the end of a play. However this is not my experience. I hate them. I never enjoyed being seen in full costume while being 'out of character.' I hated being subjected to the cavalcade of percussive slaps that apparently tells you  you have done a good job on the stage. 

Sadly It has become common for the audience to applaud even if the show wasn’t good or the actor flubbed his way into an eternity of shit stained gobblety gook. This is similar to the patronizing tip given to a terrible server, because you know they get paid hardly enough to keep their stomach’s full of ramen noodles. One applauds the actor mainly to tip the actor. This is not a good thing. 

Applause should not be saved for the tail end of the play but should be sporadic through out. Only then the actor knows the audience’s thoughts on the play and the how she is doing.

Recently, I began work as an usher at that bastion of Tyrone Gutheriesque repertory performance; Soulpepper. The first play they had me corrale the aging cattle into is Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. This is serendipity because this is one of the plays that I know off by heart. It is only fitting that it begins my foray into the blue haired world of Toronto Rep. I was interested see how a Canadian company full of many talented and not so talented artists would tackle the decomposing symphony of nothing, that is this play. 

Well after having seen it five times....It’s adequate. 

Ham and Clov. Not at Soulpepper. These actors
are far too engaged. 
They follow the script. Nothing is out of the ordinary for a Beckettite. It lacks energy, yes, but what doesn’t in Toronto. Eric Petersen’s Nag is brilliant. Matamoros' Clov is less so. Joseph Ziegler’s Ham is practiced, boring and utterly uninteresting, but what Ziegler performance differs from this? (Maybe his Loman?) Vacratsis’ Nell is depressing and disjointed makes her wonderful. The show on the whole, mediocre, but one that follows the Beckettite code. Except of course for curtain call at the end. 

Yes, you heard me. There was a curtain call. The Star’s review said there wasn’t and perhaps not in the classic sense, meaning a wall of beaming actors parading across the playing space to bow at a painstakingly low speed, but there was a call.

At the end, the lights burst on to show a stage where the actors all stayed in their final positions. The only reason for this post show tableau is to relieve the audience of the confusion of when to clap and therefore leave. The moment evokes that scene in Amadeus where the kappelmeister accuses Wolfgang of being a poor composer because he does not write  two ‘bom boms’ at the end of his arias to tell the audience when to clap. My problem with this moment is not so much the inherent vanity of the act of the curtain call, but the fact that it negates the production itself. 

Beckett’s absurdism has been read into by many competent critics from across the spectrum, from psychology to astrophysics. All them share the goal of attempting to read pattern into the seemingly meaningless attributes of his plays. Yet, Beckett himself through the guise of his characters and indeed in later interviews about his works stresses that meaninglessness is the very point. It should begin, go on, then end as suddenly and pointlessly as it began.  Ham even states this clearly in countless soliloquies within Endgame

By the imposition of the ending curtain call, as simplistic as it is, the production proscribes rules on a chaotic entity. It gives meaning where none is meant. The production allows the audience to read into it and begin to think of this play in a chronological narrative form; which it is not as nothing happens. It is the separation between Absurdism and standard Existentialism. Existentialism holds that nothing is authentic while Absurdism goes much further and suggests that meaning is only construed by the individual. A curtain call gives a play this play a conclusion; showing the audience that this was a play and now you must clap.   Endgame should be allowed to just dissipate into nothingness. 

I must make it clear that I am not bashing this production. I am quite happy that Soulpepper even attempted to do this play for a crowd that really does not like something unless it nurses them along. I am pointing out the problem with presenting a play that does not fit a mould, in a mould. If a company cannot produce a play as intended, then why produce it? 

It was common place in the American Theatre of the 1860s and after to produce half productions or copy productions of plays. For instance you would get Othellos in the US that sang Coon Songs in amongst Shakespearean soliloquies to better entertain the Northern American audience. Here a Coon Song negates and down plays the status of Othello the commander and undermines the narrative. A curtain call does the same to Beckett. 

Is Daniel Brooks (the director) trying to read narrative where none exists? 

Sadly, no. I do not think Daniel Brooks is even thinking about the play in this decision. I think he is thinking about the accepted rules of a performance. In the Canadian Theatre mind, or at least the one that functions in this house,  a play must have a curtain call so the audience can wake up from their lolled slumber and clap. Therefore there must be one to round out the confusing dialogue driven ninety minutes of this play or the Canadian theatre gods (many of which live in the hallowed bricked walls of Soulpepper) will smite the theatre to ashes. This curtain call is a vanity nod to bloated actors on its stage. 

Actors should realize that the curtain call is worthless and not do them. Yet many don’t. Why? As I have been working in and learning about the field I have realized a terrifying trend. Actors are losing their passion for the work and merely doing the work for gratification from others. They are proving Freud right. For lack of a better word, they are doing it for possible ‘fame.’ Perhaps this is the real reason I find the act of the curtain call so reprehensible. It is the personification of vanity. Have we not learned anything from Bottom? Art for the sake of self gratification is not art but masterbation and is foolish.  

Actors, next time you stand out for a bow look at what you are doing. 

You are masterbating. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Canada's Sleeping Peasants

The Sleeping Peasants by Picasso. An accurate depiction of the
the everyday Canadian. 

Ladies and Gentlemen as many of you know I am a political person. Sometimes too much to function. Lately I have become less political. Why? Not because politics isn’t important to me anymore. No, I still feel it is one of the most important things to understand if you want to be a functioning adult. As a sidebar, I am often surprised to find how many of my compatriots and indeed, people I call my friends don’t have the slightest clue about how politics influences their lives. Some cannot even name who the current Prime Ministre is. It’s Stephen Harper by the way. Moreover  we are no longer friends. So pack up your idiocy and go. Lately, I have found my fascination with politics, especially Canadian politics, a bitter pill to swallow. There is a poison that permeates the practice now and I find myself emotionally vomiting every time I either watch the CBC or pick up my daily Star.

On the municipal level, the city is not even functioning. The council seems to have more similarities with a Battle Royalesque jungle arena where Adam Vaughan wields a broadsword and Karen Stintz cltuches a cross bow, while the Mayour has taken to cannibalism. The city council is made of series of ignorant prats that think if one wants to be a good politician, one must constantly assert his/hers opinion to the point of absurdity rather then over coming their differences to find compromise. Compromise is not possible when the folks that one represents are as navel gazing as the representative.

Provincially things are even more dire. The great nine year Premiere has felt himself too hot and pulled himself inexplicably out of a place of leadership. This should be a good thing, as he was a corrupt beast who had more ghosts then a British Mansion from a Bronte Novel. It is not. It seems he thought the Germans were invading and deployed a scorched earth policy worthy of Eastern Front Soviet tactics. He, for no reason other then the fact that he no longer wished to lead the Liberal minority government, prorogued Queen’s Park. For the uninitiated, that means stopped work for the entire government (Also why are you still reading? We are no longer friends. See first paragraph). How can this happen without widespread angry backlash in the streets? When Charles I prorogued the legislature in seventeenth century England, a ten year civil war ensued. Sure that is a bit of an over simplification of the actual event but I draw the comparison to emphasize how bad of a blow to democracy Premiere Dad’s move was. 

Premiere Dad took a page from the Feds, for Harper’s government showed Canada exactly how prorogation should be used by the corrupt politician. When you’ve misled Canada, stop parliament. I could go on for seven thousand words on the egregious poisons of the Feds, but I won’t do that. Just look up a great Canadian political commentator called Chantal Hebert. She can say it way better then I can ever hope too. 

Politicians are wronging me and all of us. We are wronging them. One of the major tenements of a functioning democracy is an informed voting pool and face it folks, we are uninformed. Why? It is because we spend, and myself is included in this, too much time looking at our own lives than at the collective good. The Dark Ages have been over for eight hundred years, we no longer need to focus all our energies on protecting ourselves and our livestock from marauding Nordic pirates. We can now look out for our neighbours. We are too busy bemoaning the loss the our beloved hockey teams or, more aptly in my case, a misperformed Shakespeare play, then holding our politicians to the fire of scrutiny. 

I am sure you are saying to me “Julian well this is the same old shit everyone gripes about: the uninitiated political voter. We can’t do anything.” 

You are right. 

That is the truth. 

How do we fix this? 

I am not sure. I have no conclusions. I have nothing to offer and this is why I have trouble following what was once for me, an every day interest. I look at Canada and I see corrupted leaders and a population of sleeping peasants. Perhaps the Dark Ages have returned.... Best get the livestock into the barn. 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

20 Film Actors That Influenced Me the Most (Part 5)

Ladies and Gentlemen it is wonderful to be an actor in a brilliantly written work, surrounded by performances that make the piece click, under the direction of detail oriented passionate directors. In my experience this is not always the case. Most of the time the work is wonky for many reasons and as an actor or director, one is forced to hold onto some sort of bright inspiration to finish the work. The way I learned how to combat this forlornness is directly from what I have garnered from the collected works of number 16. 

16 - Gary Oldman

The Mercurial Mastermind. 
Best Performance - Count Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)
Most Interesting [Honourable Mention] -  Egor Korshunov (Air Force One)
Worst Performance - Sirius Black (Harry Potter Franchise)

Many actors have Gary Oldman on their lists, so it would be remiss of me to not to include him, but I do not worship him blindly him as some do. I will say that Gary is most brilliant when sinking his teeth in a true character character. His villains are beyond compare. They are deep, quirky and usually thoroughly malevolent to the point that the Devil himself would be put off. He gets the highest distinction of anybody on this list of having one of the most varied careers that has spanned three decades and yet he has never really achieved leading man status. What can be said about him is he is usually the most memorable player in anyone of his films. (Except recently in the Batmans where he fantastically backs up a brilliant ensemble with an astounding performance as an often overlooked character. He is a mere cog in well oiled machine.) 

Gary has been recorded as saying that “he is most at home in the films that are not perfect because he is allowed to really do what is needed in a scene.” This is something I can very much associate with as I have found myself in many works that are less then stellar. I have always tried to do my utmost best to be totally fleshed out in the less then stellar work I have been given. Mainly because I know how important a great performance in a terrible work can be. Gary proved that point throughout the 90s. 

How do I then choose Gary Oldman’s best performance? I was going to choose my favorite performance of his: Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. I decided against this as I realized his greatest achievement was his wholly original take on a character that has been played by countless actors in many different guises. (Rent Immortal Beloved. It is up there with Amadeus in its examination of music artistry.) Gary’s Dracula is in my mind the quintessential Dracula. In the original source material Dracula is nothing more then a mysterious figure that is both old man and shadow. So much of what we know of the Dracula ingrained in our minds stems from the lilting speech of Bela Lugosi’s interpretation. Gary’s Dracula is not a comical monster but a suffering terror. Some how Gary is able to  mine into the famous beast and find a sad immortal warrior. This is a deeply flawed film with some uneven performances from Reeves, Ryder and even Hopkins (though he has some delightful moments) yet Gary’s performance is almost unrecognizable.  I have chosen a collection of two very famous scenes that usually find themselves present in many of the different film versions of this story. Notice how Gary imbues a kind of humanity despite the despicable whatever of Keanu and the grotesque makeup. Gary is not a monster here he is a human being inflicted with illness. 

Gary’s skill, as I said before, is best seen in the work he does in less then stellar films. Particularly when dealing with monsters and villains. The best example of this is the great late Harrison Ford action film (the period of Ford’s career that he is eternally looking for his lost family) Air Force One. This film is by most accounts an absurd idea and one that I think actually illustrates the wants of the American people in choosing their president. They want an action hero who can personally take down a platoon of terrorists single handed. The idea is as absolutely devoid from reality as Rick Santorum’s opinion of women is. In the middle of this cavalcade of gunshots, one liners and American xenophobia stands Gary Oldman as Egor Korshunov; disenfranchised and angry former Soviet (or could be Eastern European) freedom fighting terrorist. He could, like the rest of the cast, phone in a terrible scene to scene stock action performance, but Gary decides to do the exact opposite. He delivers one of the most realistic performances of his career. Egor is the perfect encapsulation on what it means to be the other side, the loosing side. He possesses sadness, passion and at times I find myself in the film rooting for him to shoot the President down in hail of gunfire. In the scene I have attached notice the passion and emotion Gary imbues into this monologue which explains why Egor is Egor. 
I found it hard to decide what Gary’s worst performance is as his performances are always so controlled and pointed. There really is no flub. Upon further reflection I realized though in Gary’s career there are instances where it looks like he is not trying and just playing a stock Gary performance which is why in some films you can forget that he is in them. Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise is like that for me. OK I can hear your cries of anger already, but hear me out. When watching the films I never once saw a great moment in his performance that is surprising ala Egor. I saw Gary delivering exposition uninterestingly. Now this is partly because of the shoddy composition of the films and yes, the story. Gary is not having actorly fun here. There is no surprise. You know what is coming. I included one of the scenes that best exemplifies this. His performance comes off like a cheap video game mouthpiece character. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

20 Male Film Actors That Influence Me Most (Part 4)

Ladies and gentlemen, my new post is entirely about silence or the power of it. Number 17 is extremely accomplished as a director, writer, composer, politician and actor (and a number of other things). He maybe one of the most self made and important artists of our last century and he achieved all this while doing nothing, very well. 

17- Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood now, smiling.
Something he rarely does
in film.

Best Performance - The Man with No Name (particularly The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Most Interesting Performance- Walt Kowalski (Gran Torino)
Worst Performance - Thomas ‘Gunny’ Highway (Heartbreak Ridge)

Another controversial pick for my opinion list. I have noticed that a lot people either really look up to the man, or think he’s a pretentious fool. I happen to be a member of the former. Clint is an actor who understands the power of silence. I find in a lot of actor’s work they are unsettled by silence and will talk right through it (Daniel McIvor’s writing is a prime example). I love it, yet in my work rarely get to use it because directors are always focused so much on pace. The reason for this focus is generally because actors and productions are so unspecific that directors hide their inattention to detail in speed. But when you have a well oiled production, earned silences are satisfying. Clint is such a specific actor that the earned silence is often more prevalent then dialogue. Some would accuse Eastwood of ‘dragging it out.’ I believe that Clint understands how scenes function so well that he can naturally hear the length of the prime silence needed. In the work of Eastwood the silence says everything and this adds an aura of mystery and imagination to the film. He puts it best in his own words:

“My old drama coach used to say, 'Don't just do something, stand there.' Gary Cooper wasn't afraid to do nothing.”

This type of silence permeates his work and gives his characters strength and abyssal depth. I think it’s safe to claim that Clint Eastwood’s characters could be called both the most masculine and the strongest males in film. Not physically, but mentally and is that not the most important trait of both a good hero and a good villain? The most wonderful characteristic about Clint’s acting work that has so influenced me. His characters always   seem to stratal the balance of evil and good. Pick up the film High Plains Drifter( an Eastwood directed installment of the Man with No Name mythos) and marvel at how a character could be considered the film’s hero even though in his first appearance he rapes a woman. Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan (Bruce Lee as well and any action hero) all owe a grand debt to the work of Clint Eastwood. Those directors have all shared adoration of the man. (As to his direction [discussed I am sure in a coming list] I am luke warm. I think Unforgiven is brilliant, but I consider Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River extremely tedious.)

Clint has many brilliant performances to chose from, but it would be remiss of me not chose the character that is most associated with Eastwood as his best.That character is  The Man with No Name from the Sergio Leone Dollars Trilogy.  No Name is actually a stock character in Westerns coming from Kirusawa samurai film roots. He is a mysterious stranger that is at the center of a series of stories without us as audience ever getting to know either his motivations or background. (One could easily claim that The Doctor from Doctor Who fits this description as well. Perhaps this is why I so adore that series.) It is here that Eastwood’s minimal stoicism is in full show. Man becomes less a human character but a wandering violent god. Clint uses only the power of his eyebrows, eyes and cigar to express how the character interacts with his surroundings. It is mesmerizing to follow this walking legend through his many adventures which run the trilogy and into Clint’s own work, finally culminating in the film Unforgiven. Some seven films are considered to feature No Name. The best is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In this film, No Name takes on one of his many nicknames: Blondie and participates in a bloody treasure hunt through the waining days of the American Civil War. Clint’s performance in this film is near perfect. It is controlled, rich, unsettling and even hilarious. Not to mention it exudes style which is always the mark of brilliance. I have decided to use the final gun sling as my example here. Note the economy of dialogue the character uses, which is gloriously balanced by the surplus of jabber from Eli Wallach. Even though at one point the character is challenged, Clint’s choice to not react, keeps him as the higher status character and you can easily see the ending from the opening frame. This scene is very near perfect, the Morricone score is sweeping, the detailed editing and cinematography is both needlessly epic while remaining minimal enough to accentuate character, and finally, the performances are all Olympic. Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach (who was originally on this list but sadly taken off through a self realization, is an extremely important character actor. Get to know his work.) are all equally as good as Eastwood. This is also the first major example of the Western using the Mexican Standoff that would become so prevalent in the works of Tarantino. Sit back, relax, allow the brilliance of this art to pour over you and get ready for spoilers. 

Clint Eastwood’s work spans from this year ,being 2012, to the 1950s when he was on Rawhide. For the last twenty years or perhaps more, Clint, has been wrestling with the changing world that he feels much to old for. This anxiety came out in a self penned, self directed, and self acted film Gran Torino made only a few years ago. This film is about a dinosaur Korean War vet that is watching his treasured blue collar neighborhood become a den for drugs, violence and gangs. He is also coming to terms with immigration and the new face of the US. Walt, the character’s name, is gloriously charming, offensive and down right heart felt possessing an honesty best suited for classic hero. Clint’s interpretation of this character feels almost autobiographical while also invoking a modern day Dirty Harry. Apt since it is Clint. Clint as his work progressed often became more eccentric to deal with his kind of otherworldly presence not suited for the world of CGI. This film and scene shows both of those traits. Walt Kowalski like No Name is a mythic creation worthy of appreciation. 

What happens when an actor begins to believe his own hype? Sgt. Highway from Heartbreak Ridge happens. This film is right at the beginning of Clint’s “I am too old for this shit stage.” Clint again plays the aging out of his time hero, but uncharacteristically Clint does far too much. Notice in this scene how Clint’s energy spews across the screen to the point that the character becomes absurd. This isn’t so much a terrible film, it is actually quite watchable and one that is played around the clock on the History Channel during the Christmas season for some reason. It is an example of what happens when Clint is uncontrolled in his performance. He looks absurd. With Clint less is more, and this performance proves it. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

20 Male Film Actors That Influenced Me The Most (Part 3)

Nick Cage sporting that high hairline and
vacuous stare that made him famous.
Ladies and Gentlemen, todays extension of my list into 20 Male Actors who influenced me the most is a man who receives a lot of joking backlash from the work he does. But his work in my opinion is some of most important examples of the weird, wild and brilliant in film history. He is always interesting and commonly brilliant. He has over one hundred films to his name and this is no small feat considering he’s only been working in film for thirty years. The majority of his work has been fantastic failures but the performance always possess an originality that is challenging and thought out, even if they come across as ‘over the top’ and comical. This is why he occupies the eighteenth spot on my list. 

18- Nicolas Cage

Greatest Performance - Peter Leow (Vampire’s Kiss)
Honourable Mention - Damon MacReady/Big Daddy (Kick-Ass)
Worst Performance - Edward Malus (The Wicker Man (2006))

Nick Cage is an actor that most are divided upon. Some think he is schlock that is crazy and yells in every film to get a paycheck. Others think he has done is brilliant actor noting his films Raising Arizona or Adaptation, but I don’t particularly enjoy the vacuous Nick Cage of those films. What I respect and indeed enjoy Nick for is the way he always makes choices that destroy the accepted rules of what it means to act. He says it better in his own words from an interview from Inside the Actor’s Studio: 

“To be a good actor you have to be something like a criminal, to be willing to break the rules to strive for something new.”

And Nick Cage is always new in his performances. Sometimes to the point of absurdity. 

This ‘breaking of the rules’ is something I have always strived for in my work. I try to look at the way people see the character and do the exact opposite of what is expected. For instance when doing a classical monologue or soliloquy I have had countless people suggest not to direct the conversation to anyone, but this is wrong! They are conversations with tangible people, we have countless examples of actors who take these speeches and use them as direct address. This breaks the rules and often shows a new perspective into the words. I always strive to break the established rules, when performing, whatever they may be. 

Going through Nick Cage’s canon there are many great performances, even Oscar winning ones, but his best on grounds of originality, depth and shear eccentricity is the literary agent Peter Leow from the dark comedy Vampire’s Kiss. For the uninitiated who have not seen this film, the plot line is as follows: Perter Leow thinks he is turning into a vampire and begins to go off the deep end into the world of fantasy. This performance breaks all the rules, he switches accents for no apparent reason, he makes extravagant moves that actually go faster then the cinematographer can capture and their is actually an unplanned scene where Peter in the throws of the Bela Lugosi like vampirism walks down a live New York street yelling “I am a vampire!” This film is unsettling and it is mainly from the unhinged antiestablishment chaos created by Cage. This film is antiestablishment to the Nth degree. (Nick Cage ate 3 cockroaches for this film. I am dead serious). As he sinks deeper into his insanity be begins to take on movement that is both Max Shreck and Lugosi inspired. You will see this and know that this is Nick Cage without the aid of makeup. I could not chose just one scene that encapsulates this performance so I found a montage of the best clips from the film. Enjoy this sequence and look at the braveness of the performance. Artaud would be proud especially considering some of the passersby are real. 
It is extremely difficult to distill Nick Cage’s work down to this or that as it really is so varied, but his recent work in the film Kick-Ass is definitely amongst his best. It is well known that Nick is an avid comic book fan and in this film he is allowed to stretch his superhero knowledge. Hell, the man named his son Kal-El. He again channels other actors in his performance. Namely Adam West. This is most prevalent when he dons the Big Daddy mask, but his interpretation of father Damon MacReady is one of the most interesting fathers in recent cinema. Nick Cage choses to play him with the Adam West style cranial blunt delivery he had when he was Bruce Wayne, as seen in the following scene where he schools his daughter in how to take a bullet. 
Again choosing Nick Cage’s worst performance is tough because  he has plethora of misfires. But my choice of his destruction of the iconic Wicker Man deserves this moniker. I love the original British Horror film and this remake is a trash pile  in the middle of a dump. I will concede I am not sure how much of this film is actually Nick Cage’s fault, but he didn’t help things. Just take a look at the bee torture scene. I have chosen an overview of just how much a misfire this film is. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

20 Male Film Actors That Influenced Me the Most. (Part 2)

Ladies and Gentlemen, after one day resting my posterior and drinking cheap beer on vacation, I return to my blog to talk about the actor that occupies the nineteenth position on my list of actors that most inspire and influence me. As you know I suggest their most important role (Greatest Performance), their most interesting performance ([Honourable Mention] based upon a different take upon their actoriness[ha!] that their best performance did not offer ) and finally their worst performance (which is self evident). 
I know in my best ‘I ... am ...... talking.... to... a three.... year....old...” voice, check out number nineteen. 

19- John Malkovich

Greatest Performance- Vicomte de Valmont (Dangerous Liaisons
Honourable Mention -   Lennie (Of Mice and Men)
Worst Performance- Athos (The Man in the Iron Mask)

I am going to type about something that I don’t believe is often associated with the Malkovich. I believe he is one of the most masculine actors currently working in film. Ok, I can now hear your cries, even where I am, of astonishment that I would suggest the most flamboyant and more commonly called ‘effeminate’ actor in film today is also the most masculine. John is definitely confident. The guys cannot be faulted for the confidence he exudes in every role he ever plays (sometimes too much).  Yet with his confidence he also exudes vulnerability when needed. John is best when he is playing characters that have a need to be pruned and preened to achieve their manliness. 

Historically the ‘real man’ has drifted back and forth from the feminine to the masculine. In our current historical period, twe mark masculinity by how close they are to the masculine ideal being a Lumberjack, or blue collar heroes. I always aspired to the preened beautiful witty man, hence the the Fop of the title. John performs this character the best. He is always in command of his appearance, while maintaining the window into the soul under the mask. 

What I learned most from him is need for vulnerability in confidence. He discusses this in the commentary on the Dangerous Liaisons:

 “I wouldn't describe myself as lacking in confidence, but I would just say that - the ghosts you chase you never catch.” 

Confidence and arrogance is the mark of the truly vulnerable and this is the essence of manhood. 

In my work on stage I have played many excessively strait men. Some so ruled by their lower brain that they go to excess and become dangerous. These men often regard women as meat. When I play these men I never play them as disgusting monsters that are wild, I play these predators as self indulgent and beautiful. They believe these women are an accessory, a thing of beauty, to be worn but not respected. This is a perspective on the predator I learned from John Malkovich. (With all the recent abuses against women I wish stress that this not an opinion I hold in real life. This is just perspective on how to deal with characters of this type on stage.)  John’s adept abilities to deal with libido is best shown in in his best performance. 

John Malkovich’s best performance has got to be the Vicomte de Valmont in that dastardly sexual battle royale Dangerous Liasons. In this fantastic period piece, John plays the vulnerably confident Vicomte that is both dastardly offensive and sympathetically adorable. I think in the scale of masculinity, edge and villainy, this character is in the top five all time. John in this film maintains a picture perfect balance between preened beauty and raw vulnerability. It is hard to pick one scene that encapsulates how raw and terrifying his performance is in this film so I thought I would share the scene where is armor is golden at the top and dissolves into nothing at the end. (Also clock Glenn Close, she’ll be on another list.)

After taking a look at the raw power of that last character you’d be surprised to see John playing a simple character with a lot of heart. Lennie in Of Mice and Men is a tough role, for how do you play a character that is so vulnerable but is cursed with a dark underture in what ever he loves, he loves to much? It is almost the exact opposite of the Vicomte, vulnerable with an underlying confidence. Every time I see this film I am left wordless by the fact that I feel so sorry fro Lennie when he finds that his love kills. I know I should feel terrible for the poor women who falls victim to Lennie’s love, yet your heart really reaches out to character. Unsettling to say the least.
John’s vulnerable confidence sometimes gets the better of him as seen in his extremely poor performance in a terrible film. This movie is pretty hard to watch, because of the scene munching that seems to be in every minute of the film from every actor but John’s Athos is probably the worst of it. I cracked earlier in this post that John sometimes delivers every line as if he were talking to a three year old. This film is the perfect example. John’s confidence is so strong in this film that he feels anachronistic. In every scene it feels like he is in a different film. Take a look at 
You Have the Chance to be a King Scene from The Man in the Iron Mask Movie (1998) | MOVIECLIPS. Sorry I could not find a Youtube Clip, as it seems people don't like this film. 

Thursday, 23 August 2012

20 Male Film Actors That Influence Me Most (Part 1)

Ladies and Gentlemen, what are blogs for if not for obtusely personal opinion lists? Therefore I thought it only fittin, in my sixth post, to compile one. My choice was to compile a list of film actors whose body of work most influenced me. I rated them on how much I draw on them and their performances for inspiration in my own work. I want to be clear, this is not a list about stage performances, though many of these actors have illustrious stage careers, this is a list that is purely based upon their respective film work. This is also not a list about my favorite film performances (though some of them would cross over into that realm.) For instance, Michael Caine in Cider House Rules would be on that list but is not here. He is not because his body of work has not influenced me all that much until very recently when I read his memoir What’s It All About? (a memoir every young character actor who is frustrated enormously should read.) 

All right, so here’s how I organized this list. I have numbered it beginning with 20 to 1, obviously, and if you are the one out of my ten readers who needs to see who number one is; you’ll have to wait for the twentieth post to find out who it is. (It will not be a surprise.) I also have suggested their greatest performance in my opinion, as well as their most interesting performance which is often not the same and finally, their worst performance. I will discuss each at length. 

With that lets get on with number 20. 

20- Daniel Day Lewis 
Daniel Day-Lewis. Looking Irish. Looking Roguish

Greatest Performance - Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York)
Honourable Mention- Gerry Conlon (In The Name of The Father)
Worst Performance-  Daniel Plainview (Their Will Be Blood)

Some of you who know me are probably surprised he made the cut, as you are aware of my disdain for the method and those arrogant actors who have to think, feel, eat, sleep, shit their character (mainly because I can’t do that. I generally force my characters to bend to me and not the other way around.) Yet, Daniel has left indelible effect on how I look at characters. In an article that contained an interview with him I read years ago he said something very important that I have never forgotten:

 “acting in a scene is not about helping your partner act but giving your partner something to fight against. They must stand up to you. You must not prop them up.”

I am sure those of you who believe the other way would think this is inordinately selfish but take a moment and examine the thought. He is not saying ‘you must scene steal;’ he is saying give your partner an obstacle to fight against and that is the ultimate prop up. When you know you have force as an actor, own it, don’t bend for your partner it makes the scene more interesting and therefore memorable. Two atoms bouncing off each other. This has always stuck with me and every time I step out to do my thing, I always go full force with my choice. I always attempt to present something tough to go against. In my experience this has often intimidated or made other actors not ‘trust me,’ I think was term used, but I have also worked with actors who ‘brought the proverbial it’ and these few are my favorite to work with. I have never met one that pushed me back to the point of submission, but once a female got damned close. You know who you are. 

Anyway, Bill the Butcher. No one can say that he did not ‘bring it’ in that film. He is unabashedly the worst kind of American fanatic in any film, which is hilarious  considering he is so very Irish and this film was about the Irish. I believe he was helped in the fact that no American actor really could grasp a character that strikes at the heart of the evils of American patriotism and xenophobia because like it or not US friends, it is instilled in you from birth. An outsider needed to look at this terrible stage in American development. Four American actors who turned the role down before Day-Lewis donned the Glass eye. I have read the Herbert Asbury book this film was based on and Daniel Day-Lewis not only looked picture perfect, he also embodied what Bill sounds like in the accounts of him.  His greatest moment is the scene I have posted. Bill in all his foul glory is wrapped in the American flag delivering a compelling morning monologue about his greatest conquest. 

Gerry Conlon is his most interesting character because Gerry is actually very unlikable though this film. He is a layabout and generally wisps through life. But the extraordinary circumstances that he finds himself in, change him so very much. Day-Lewis plays this with intense understatement. Also I think Pete is the greatest scene partner he ever had. Pete clobbers Daniel in many of the scenes they share in this film and that is no easy feat. 

His worst performance is a controversial pick no doubt as he won an Academy Award for it. But an Oscar does not a brilliant performance make. (As my actor number 1 will no doubt prove.) He is so over the top in this film. His interpretation of Plainview is so absurd that it becomes unreal in film that is trying to be very real. Plainview is Bill the Butcher on cocaine with a Quaker accent. It took me nearly a week to get through this film because I could not stop myself from laughing at everything D. was doing and thereby missed entire scenes of important dialogue. I am not sure what was the point of this film nor how the choices that were made by Day-Lewis were not reigned in. I actually got a Jim Carrey vibe from him when I first saw this film. (I love Jim but not when Day-Lewis does him.) Enjoy Daniel Day-Lewis taking his own personal philosophy to the astronomical extreme. See how it does not work.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Jack Is Not a Bandwagon

Ladies and gentlemen it was a year ago today that Jack Layton died.

Don’t zoom away thinking you are about to read a moaning gushing tome about how great Jack was or how we are all somehow less without his presence. I instead thought I would use this day to discuss what it was like last year at this time for me and my group of friends. Also I thought I’d use this day to talk about Canada since his death. 

My favourite picture of Jack and Olivia. Also what a surprisingly
accurate Tricorder. 
I will concede at the outset of this post that I am a card carrying paying member of the federal and provincial New Democratic Party. I am proud of this but this past year has really put tests upon my activism within the party. I’ll get to that later. First off, let me account what I was doing this time last year. 

It was the tail end of a summer that was a big change for me. I had just undergone a major upheaval and left my simple though stressful existence in Mississauga being a slave to acting training. I had just begun to grow roots in Toronto with a permanent real job, with decent hours and not bad pay. Also I had some semblance of a social life with some very decent buds I had acquired over my many trying years in scholarly struggle and we all were more or less enjoying our summer. Politically, the Conservative majority was fresh and hadn’t yet reared its ugly head of bigotry and corruption that we now see daily in the news (when it is not covering the Olympics or the gaffes of bigoted American politicians and their opinions on female genitalia.) Life was generally good, if a tad boring. 

The boredom of a Toronto summer was broken that morning when I went to CBC online and saw that Jack had passed. At first I was shocked. I knew full well the man was ill and had been following the recent leadership change in the party, but like many, I did not expect it to be a permanent change. I can recall actually screaming out in shock, (well as much as I can scream which sounds more like a short blast from an out of tune trombone then a legitimate cry of anguish. Let’s call it a manly yelp). I immediately flipped on my radio and it was confirmed by the dulcet tones of the lady reporting, I do not recall who, that Jack had indeed died. 

After confirming the event through various mediums I knew I had to get in contact with my NDP brother. I am a Leftist who happens to vote NDP when I am in Canada but In truth I hold beliefs that are generally further Left then the party. Since I am in Canada the NDP is my best and really only choice. On the other hand my NDP brother is a staunch supporter/zealot that has an unfailing faith in the party that I can’t even begin to possess. I knew this death was going to hit him like a ton of bricks. 

After some time I did get in contact with him and sure enough this event had brutalized him. He had already hiked out to Jack’s Danforth office and been mired in the grief and shock that was spewing forth. We met up later in the day and went down to City Hall to join in with the chalk writing and the other BS that was going on. I call these things BS because looking back, it was schlocky and sentimental, but I’ll save those observations for later. Anyway, this day was a tough day for me and a much tougher one for the many other NDPers who were more invested in Jack’s legacy then I. 
The week of Jack Grief passed by and I can recall reading tons of literature about Jack’s efforts for the party and how the NDP had grown under his leadership. This information is common knowledge to all those initiated enough to care so I won’t go into it in much detail. I will say that, I think it is safe to conclude that Jack Layton was the most important force in the NDP since Tommy Douglas. I don’t think this is exaggeration. It is only right that there was such an outpouring of sadness from the NDP. I don’t know if the outpouring from Canada as a whole was as warranted. Up until this point in the decade of Jack’s leadership he had largely been written off as an inconsequential third party candidate that was more like a spaniel nipping at the heals of the big dogs named Conservative and Liberal. Right up to his win as Leader of the Opposition, intelligent members of my circle, still were worried about the strategic vote and probably wasted their votes upon the Liberals in effort to stave off a Conservative clobber. I have no basis of fact for this assumption but many of them shared their opinions in the days before the election. There is no doubt in my mind that this voting out of fear played right into the hand of Harper’s majority. Vive la Belle Province is all I’ll say to that. Suddenly these same people who had been spending their summers thinking in fear were crying about the loss of this spaniel newly crowned ‘great man.’ 

I recall in the week of Layton Grief, I began to savor a sour taste in my mouth. Where were all those chalk writers when we needed them in the election? If we had the many who spent hours in Nathan Phillip’s Square and other places, vote NDP, maybe right at current we would not be under a Harper majority. 

The funeral came and went. It really was a wonderful expression of Canadian unity and one that I witnessed firsthand. My NDP brother and indeed our friends were legitimately broken up by the mass of grief and celebration at this funeral. It truly was a sight. 

Tom Mulcair. The William Riker of the NDP. Complete
with beard.
Memory of this sight dwindled fast for me as in the coming months we as NDPers had a choice to make and it was not going to be easy. At times this choice nearly pulled the party apart. Ed Broadbent deserves a half of the blame for this as he tried with all his might to schism the party and it nearly happened. I was not able to attend the full leadership convention as I was forced to make ends meet, but I was heavily involved in the Twitter sphere during the weekend before I came to witness the finale first hand. I tweeted the hell out of Twitter, beginning the day with 130 tweets to my name and finishing the day with 459 tweets. I was even caught in a small debate about Nathan Cullen that was covered by those voices of middle ground opinion; the CBC convention panel. I remember at one point in the day after the many votes, thinking the NDP had it’s chance really to lead nationally and was now squandering the good will of Canada, the titanic gain of support of the prior months, in a civil war. Though it was a long day, Tom Mulcair was chosen and all seemed like the party was ready to take on the new task of really leading the country (or trying to as much as an opposition party can in a majority government). This was not so. For the support of Canadians suddenly went silent. 

The silence was overwhelming as Tom took the reigns. People had retired from paying attention to politics. All the issues that they had at the funeral that caused a cacophony of passionate cries; party corruption, the environment and economic disparity, couldn’t even get a single ear in Canadian discourse. Scandals flowed like hot lava from the Conservatives. The Jet Scandal demonstrated that Conservatives were doctoring information and concocting blatant lies. Not a peep from those Summer Layton Lovers. Peter McKay and other Conservatives were using government services as their own private serfdom. Where were the Summer Layton Lovers? Still asleep even though Tom railed at them with the furor of Jack. Most egregiously, Conservatives even circumvented democracy with the Robocall scandal. This is a scandal that seemed better at home in the Ukraine during the Orange Revolution then in the snow drifts of Canada. Yet the Summer Layton Lovers were now more concerned with the NHL. There was more concern with shouting down the coach of the Maple Leafs then about a party violating basic rules of democracy. All the goodwill and interest in the direction that Canada was going, fueled by Jack’s death, had disappeared. 

Today we are being inundated with remembrances of Jack’s legacy again. Once again the Summer Layton Lovers have returned to NPS to write their messages of hope upon the 1960s concrete walls. Once again we are treated to the spectacle of 'peace, love and friendship.' This time though it is ingenuous. These same people have shown they do not care about Canada. As the government collapses around them they give each other flowers in remembrance of a man who supposedly died for Canada. They are not celebrating Jack’s legacy. They are defecating all over it. 

Jack Layton was a great man, do not get me wrong. He was a civil servant, a leader who fought for Canadians and their country. He is a man to be inspired by because he stood for what he believed in. He defended the disenfranchised. These are all truths. What he is not, is a political deity. He is not a symbol for the Occupy Movement as I have seen him used for. He is not a symbol for idle protest about nothing coherent but mild uninformed anger, an occurrence all to common now, especially amongst folks of my generation. He is not a bandwagon. 

Dear viewer, reader, or whatever the great fuck you are; I repeat Jack Layton is not a bandwagon. I’ll write it again for extra measure. Jack Layton is not a bandwagon.  OK. I concede that parts of this post are more passionate and angry then they are full of fact. I concede that perhaps I am generalizing. I do this out of frustration with a year of inaction. I say to you if you go out today and join in the remembrance, if you flip on your television and get swept up by the hype, really think about the people who are participating. Do not just join in blindly. Jack is not a Che Guevara like image to be hijacked and placed upon the hipster counterculturist shirts who don’t know what he stood for. He is the first of many in Canada who are (yes this is a cliche, esp. if you have seen the film)  ‘mad as hell and wont take it anymore.’ I implore you come join in the movement to finish Jack’s real legacy of change. Come join in what Stephen Lewis passionately spat at Stephen Harper during the funeral. Come be a participant daily in Canadian politics. Stay connected to the issues and be educated. For God's sake, vote! Don’t just idly bemoan the loss of a charismatic figure. Come be one of those disenfranchised and mad Canadians that have much to do in the toppling of the Conservative tyranny. Be one of those, inspired to use all their fibre in achieving the end of a foul and corrupt majority government. Only then are we honouring Jack’s legacy. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

My New Hat

Ladies and gentlemen it has been just over a week since I purchased a new hat.
This is not the hat. 
This is an unusual act for me as I have only worn a hat on three occasions in my life. All of which were stage performances. The first, was my brilliant turn as the main Aryan threat in the Sound of Music. Here I traipsed around in the blackest hat since 1918 Russia. It was a dark forbidding headpiece which accurately portrayed my shadowy German authority to the Von Trapps as it obscured my face into a shadowy Nazi monster Gestapo nightmare. The second time, was when I stood on the great ship H.M.S. Pinafore in the operetta of the same name. It was an undersized little bellhop hat that conveyed my desperate bossy demeanor throughout that show while I solo’d my way through the best Gilbert & Sullivan ditties. The third time, was during my tenure at that great Mississauga theatre that so often performs archaic plays that spur on a nap with a standing ovation at the end; Theatre Erindale. Here I played a monstrous Ring Master that was either supposed to be the devil or the incarnation of legendary Southern Ontario lawyer Dennis O’Connor. I cannot recall and I don’t think the audience knew either, but they enjoyed my none diarrhea related songs. (You see the major theme of this show was volcanic explosions of the posterior.) You can now see then how much of a titanic event this purchase is to my life.
This titanic event pails in comparison to the fact that I actually found a hat that fits my Rock of Gibraltar like head. As anyone who was either cursed or blessed with height from a young age will tell you, certain body parts are larger to assist the bulbous frame of the body in carrying itself. My head took the brunt of this accentuation. Hats and me have been friends like Pirates and Ninjas: violent and hate filled. (Ninjas and Pirates have been forever locked in combat since the great Ninja and Pirate battle of 1972.... Don’t believe me? Well, it feels like it is true.) This violent and hate filled conflict found restive resolution on a rainy afternoon in the neighborhood of hippie delights: Kensington Market.
As anyone who has ever galavanted down the streets of that historic and over gentrified place will tell you ‘there are so many G.D. hats in Kensington Market.’ (Quoted from Slim Pickens’ visit to the Market.) An accurate observation and one to me that has always been a slight annoyance. I had often looked through the hoard of head coverings that infect the Augusta line and laughed when I placed the offending article on my head for it reminded me of stuffing a cannon ball into a Smith and Wesson revolver. That was until I entered a vintage furniture store that was occupied by an extremely annoying desk clerk. (If you are reading this, Desk Clerk, I am sure you will agree with my assessment of your character.) I was fiddling around with the many hats that lay on on one those metal hat trees when I discovered my future fashion friend. My new friend was as yellow as a banana and brimmed like a cross between Rocky’s funny little hat from the later films and a 1940s Bookie. I placed it upon my head, looked into the mirror and after I marveled at my gorgeous visage (which is my normal reaction upon seeing my face) I noticed that this hat looked fantastic and most importantly fit. At first I did not believe it but after being annoyingly assured by the beast behind the counter that I was not dreaming, I decided immediately to buy this hat and ‘buy’ I did.
Looking back after a week of this hat being in my life, I can tell you that it has made my life more interesting. Now I have a friend to share my many jaunts around the city with. I can go to the butcher and feel proud of myself like no other, as I receive looks from gawkers, no doubt because they are marveled by this badge of courage. I can go to the bar and feel better then anyone else who does not have a hat. I can call upon my marks for playing the two ten split and then not paying up the buy on time. More of the former then the prior. (I just sometime pretend that.) It has made my standard of life full of whimsy.
Dear viewer, reader or whatever the great fuck you are; I do indeed enjoy my hat and if you see me in a flighty visit around the city you will no doubt enjoy this hat as much as I. (For Doctor Who fans you will notice its similarities to Sylvester McCoy’s yellow Time Lord boat hat.) Now it is time to place my hat upon my head and head out into the world for the day for I an my hat have much to do!

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Pub

Ladies and Gentleman yesterday I went to the pub. This is not news to anyone really. I often go to the pub, but yesterday I had a realization while enjoying my libation: the Public House is the ultimate place of ideas and thoughts. 

A picture from last night. I am the gentleman on the left performing an impromptu Puccini Aria. I was not aware we should have been armed.
It is all too common in the busy technological world that we roll around in to forget our relationship to history. Sure we read about it through articles and books (if you are one of the dwindling few who still read books). We may watch it pass by on the movie screen with Colin Farrell in a cowboy hat attempting another lame brain accent. In contact with these pseudo historical presentations and these pseudo cultural passion plays, we usually remain distanced from our local history and culture. To remedy this we could go off to local plays, but they are too expensive and usually of such dubious quality that they are not worth the effort. We could go to the library, but then again we would have to grit our teeth and bite our tongue to stop the vomit spurred on by the sea of body odour assaulting the nostrils, wafting from the may patrons that use the place as a hotel. Where do we go then? We go to the local bar. 

I have many local bars surrounding my dank little basement home. The Village Idiot stands not a stone’s throw from my door. This place is a cute little pub that goes on operating as if the 30s never ended, while offering upmarket Belgian beers to attract yuppie art connoisseurs or American tourists who have found themselves abandoned by the red double-decker tour beast that strolls the city. This little place only holds my patronage once, maybe twice, a month. 

Further down the dusty path that is College Street lies the trio of ‘counter culture hangouts,’ Sneaky Dee’s, Toby’s Eatery and Crown and Tiger. The first is a spicy cultural icon that I don’t often enter unless invited to accompany my more hip and with it friends. The second used to hold my patronage often, but then they hiked the terrible chanting rhythms of  that sweaty urban artistic expression called Hip Hop to an astronomical level even the Vulcans can hear it nightly in their neck of the woods, if that planet does indeed exist. (I contend that it does.) The third, is for lack of a better word, a ‘dive’ that revels in the cheap bohemian patron that so often haunts the streets of Kensington Market scavenging sunglasses and copious fedoras before they go to an acoustic concert of moaning folk music. I sometimes find myself in this locale mainly to visit with my less motivated friends who are quite content with their lives slinging Ventis to passersby only to go home to the newest hot thing on HBO (something I can definitely identify with). Alas, none of this trio calls to me in any special voice. 

The voice that calls to me rises up not too far from the T-shaped intersection of Carlton and Parliament. This place is a marvelous medium sized pub that serves excruciatingly good food and brilliant southern Ontario beers by the cask. Stout is the name of this marvelous place. It is a place that has board games at the ready for any socially malignant group of twenty somethings who need an excuse to see their friendzone and share a recent story about her boyfriend ‘not appreciating her.’ It is a place that serves naturally grown produce alongside extremely good meat. It is a place that keeps its music low, except for the occasional Sunday night that a Finnish transient amolodically sings Billy Joel songs that he only knows half the lyrics too. Last night he regaled me and my drinking buddy with his version of the lyric “play me a song Mr. Piano Man - Lai lai diddi kayaee.”  This place is in short a haven. For you see this haven, as I just called it, is the perfect place  for a lengthy conversation. 

This is why we go to the pub. We don’t go to drink, for we can just buy a tall boy of Carling and sit in our room enjoying reality TV. We don’t go to find a person to mate with, for you can go to any club with DJ flipping buttons that trigger a change from one beat to the next. We don’t go to eat because we could go to a real restaurant with a Head Chef that concocts sauces and other things. We go to communicate. We hope it is through our booze filled conversation that we arrive at some answer to what ever question we are asking at the moment. 

Last night I was asking why I feel a need to go to pubs to think? It can’t be just my indeterminable need to live my life ALA one of those actors of old who drank themselves silly, slept all day, then did marvelous Hamlets at night. This is not a recommended way of life as any one who has read anything about Richard Burton will agree (but he did get Liz Taylor; so there might be something to it.) Old dead Welsh actors aside, I go to the pub to think because it is a connection to my and indeed our past. If Carl Jung is right, then there is a collective unconscious that drives us to arrive on the things that we do. There have been Public Houses since Augustus rode around being a golden clad jerk and probably before him under a different name. When we go to one today and sit and watch the booze filled sloppy discourse going on around us, we are partaking in a ritual that reaches into the past. This ritual draws you closer to the ghosts of ancestral drinkers around you or the ghosts of ancestors past that enjoyed your choice of drink or the ghosts of ancestors you bring up in passing conversation. You are paying homage to the thoughts that have flowed before you in that room and any room that ever held two brains in liquor addled talk. 

Dear viewer, reader or whatever the fuck you are I implore you go to your local pub. You will see what forces make your neighborhood tick  and it will show you the importance of people you have never met but also share the common ground in Toronto (or wherever you hale from). Your conversations will inspire you. You will reach a state of heightened passion no matter however you define it. Hell! If nothing else occurs, you will get tanked which is always an advantage. Just as long as you know that you are participating in the oldest exercise in humanity; drinking, talking and thinking. To you I say go to your pub and drink a few for we all have much to do!