Thursday, May 15, 2008
Allow me to riff off an old post over at Peli Grietzer’s Second Balcony. In it, Peli bemoans his inadequacy when it comes to appreciating acting. For an example, he considers Hugh Laurie, who is able to do “embarassing”:
as well as “cool”:
and decides that the yawning size of the gap indicates genius. But he also recognizes that such a perception is not exactly fine-tuned. I don’t think Peli should be too hard on himself. The Academy voters don’t seem to have that much more sophisticated an understanding. Take a male with gross developmental disablities (Rain Main) or a female who’s willing to make herself look ugly (Monster), turn it up to 11, and that’s Acting!
But I too wish I knew more about acting. One of the many things I have failed to do in my life is attend much theater. Somehow I think it would help me better understand the inherent theatricality of all poetry. But if I may add another example of the kind of obvious Acting! that impresses me, I’d like to say a couple of things about Geoffrey Rush’s performance in The Life and Death of Peter Sellars.
And I’m serious, only a couple of things. First off, if you haven’t heard of the movie, that’s because it got trapped on HBO, who financed the production, but didn’t want to finance the promotion that a theatrical (that word again!) release would have entailed. Stuck on the small screen, Rush’s turn never made the general impression it could have.
Second, I think the most difficult screen acting to do is playing another major screen actor, trying to supplant, if only for the run-time of the movie, an indelible screen presence. If it isn’t just a bit part in a movie, it comes off (to me at least) as a make-up project, as in, they sure got him or her to look like him or her, or they sure didn’t. For Rush to take on such an singular figure as Sellars certainly took a lot of nerve. Before I saw Life and Death I didn’t expect him to succeed, but afterwards, I was quite amazed.
Third, Rush goes one further than just doing Sellars. Interspersed throughout, the script has the Sellars character playing other characters in the film, such as his first wife, his mother, Stanley Kubrick, etc. These usually take place as each character is exiting (usually with a great push) his life. Stills of these scenes appear at the end of this short:
The Kubrick bit was particularly stunning. A la Grietzer, I’m going to say that playing an actor playing another character who has appeared in the film is a tour de force, to say the least. And I should. Say the least, that is.
Fourth, Sellar’s underhanded backing out of the part of Major Kong saved the movie. Not only did it allow the Slim Pickens performance, which is a supreme delight, but it saved his own performances in the other characters. He would have been a farce as the cowboy bomber pilot, that is, he would have gone from playing farce to being a farce. So the broken foot ruse might be evidence that Sellars knew more than Kubrick did.