An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On acting and on reading

There was a strange discussion that developed on Facebook today. Serpent's Tail posted that Tilda Swinton's service had been secured for the film version of "We Need To Talk About Kevin" - WNTTAK hereon in. Strange, and strangely illuminating.

I was first in, with a response that I thought it an excellent choice - that she is a talented actress but soon there was a thread developing that decried the choice on the basis that TS always played cold characters (the naysayers had clearly never seen TS in Julia) . Soon people were suggesting other actresses and in most cases they were vastly inferior actresses but one who had already portrayed characters similar to the poster's reading of the character in WNTTAK.

What these discussions illuminated is interesting. interesting and strange. First up is the idea of what an actor is. We seemed to be operating two separate definitions. In what I shall call the American definition an actor/actress is a person who appears in films until he or she is cast in a role not very far removed from their own real personality and is thenceforward cast forever in not very nuanced versions of the same role - think Jack Nicholson, think De Niro, Pacino and Hoffmann. The British definition is significantly different. In the British definition an actor or actress is a professional who can convincingly portray on stage, or celluloid, or even digital video a wide, and in the case of great actors an almost unlimited variety of characters nothing like their own real life personalities. Tilda Swinton is a great actress within the British definition and thus the WNTTAK role is well within her scope. I suspect the director understands this. I'll work with the British definition thanks - Tilda is a great choice

The second point raised is possibly more interesting and it has to do with reading. It is my opinion that film and literature are separate artistic disciplines (it was, interestingly enough also Joyce's opinion and was largely responsible for the birth of modernist literature) and so the very idea of film adapting literature is abhorrent to me. We know from our French cousins that there is no such thing a s definitive texts and that each reader gets from a text a different experience (it's a lot like radio having better pictures than film). What was happening in this Facebook discussion was that the contributors were projecting their readings of the book's characters and selecting actors who they had seen in similar roles.  Of course this projecting of a reading is primarily a film director's job. He or she may or may not take any notice of the actor's reading even if the actor is of the kind to have a reading. 

My point, in all of this? That acting is misconstrued. That the ideas that the laity have about film casting are deluded. That film adapting literature is a bad idea - for literature at least. That we do not think enough.



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