Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why Keanu Reeves?

Fame is the first disgrace.

Because God knows who you are."
From script, The Local Stigmatic

If true art is hidden, is the reward of greatness immortality, or oblivion? William Deresiewicz

I have a girlfriend who occassionally will see a movie and add, "the acting is really good". Everytime she says this about a movie, I know there is going to be a major plot twist or some surprise. She said "the acting is really good" for example, about They Usual Suspects and The Crying Game. For my friend, the idea that an actor doesn't betray their own characters secrets is very important and she is highly impressed when a movie tricks her or fools her in such a manner. I rarely recall her saying anything about the acting in many movies. For her, good acting, it's all about being surprised by the actor in a plot twisting movie.

How do we define and recognize or rank "good acting"?

I believe depending on where one grows up, and what culture one is from may affect how we define good acting. As visitors know, I watch and enjoy a lot of Asian action films. The acting is good, sometimes, it is "sufficient" and sometimes, it may be very good...but often for viewers the action in these movies over rides the concern with acting as we expect from other genres of movies. (? maybe?) Scenes of action, gun fights say, in a John Woo movie are highly stylized and operetic...and it seems that as long as we believe in the idea of wild athletic stunts the acting will follow along. Actually, too much time on acting or character can be a distracting factor in the flow of action films. We want to get right into the action, thank you very much.

Some action movies highly depend on "realistic" acting techniques and believable characters. If we don't care about a princess in danger in a science fiction movie, we may not be able to believe the futuristic setting. Harrison Ford's sturdy voice over, smart talking and mature face, helped audiences believe in Los Angeles of the future in Bladerunner. Martin Scorsese explored making high realism films in the 1970's and he worked with intense "method actors" like Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro who brought an emotional reality to their macho characters and riveted an audience to accept a study of violence not before seen or accepted as "art" in films.

British film maker Ridley Scott recalls meeting a "method actor" Every director devises their own methodology. By the time I got to do my first feature, in ’77, The Duellists, which was with a certain tough guy called Harvey Keitel … He was what they call Actors Studio and all that—Method acting and that kind of thing. Method? I told him I have a method too. I had absolutely no idea what the fuck he was talking about, and I think he had no idea what the fuck I was talking about.

Acting styles change over time, and have a kind of fashion. There is a story that Dustin Hoffman when playing his role in Marathon Man would actually run marathon's and wanted to be have his head held under water for as long as possible in a torture/fight scene and the rumour is that English style of acting was quite different. Apparently Lawrence Olivier said to Hoffman Hoffman says that Laurence Olivier’s oft-quoted remark, "Why not try acting? It’s much easier," ...the story has circulated...but Hoffman claims the context has been lost....Olivier's comment came out of concern for Hoffman’s excessive partying while trying to forget his personal problems (he was getting divorced from his first wife at the time). It was not a put-down of his Method acting style.

I think Sean Penn is one of the best actors, I think he should have an Oscar for all his roles. Imagine how much I laughed when I was reading a film magazine and read the following...Fostering all this is Sean Penn as Milk, who is here to help, and to care and kevetch. Instead of going too hammy and too heavy as so often before, Penn channels his sprung energy into the man's tremendous likeability: quipping, beaming, confidently adorable.... Nicolas Rapold Sight and Sound magazine.

Too hammy and too heavy? Sean Penn? Maybe...but isn't his style the general measuring stick we hold up against all actors? Compare the acting of 1950's musicals or melodramas to Sean Penn? Those performances of say, a Douglas Sirk star...are hammy and heavy...and that's exactly why their audiences love them...on top of the fabulous sets and stories. I don't think the enjoyment of the performances in certain genres depends on "good acting" (whatever that might be for one viewer or another).

I can see why some critics would feel Penn is too hammy in the same way I can see how some critics feel DeNiro (and Keitel and Pacino and Pesci) seemed to cash in on their previous acting accomplishments by addressing them through spoofs or comedy. It's as if by the 1990's their style of acting was falling out of fashion. It seemed as if Jack Nicholson had begun doing parodies of himself to soem critics as well. I don't happen to feel that way...I feel as if there are just many styles of acting.

I think there is bad acting. I suppose because I tend to enjoy so many movies it might appear I don't notce poor acting and mistakes or tragic flaws...not true. I have my limitations heh heh.I think Renne Zellwegger's performance in Appaloosa dragged down the movie in parts. You can actually see her lose her focus in the first few minutes onscreen when she is climbing hotel stairs. I couldn't believe the director didn't film it over (I suspect a fairly low budget and Ed Harris couldn't do many retakes). A very promising fun premise was spoiled in part by her miscasting for the role....and then her collapse as the character right down to her walking! We can see this flaw in Gran Torino a fantastic movie on many levels with some very poor acting. Clint Eastwood is operatic and it fits the story perfectly. Unfortunately, some of the actors were either too inexperienced and they almost spoil the movies effects...but not quite. Eastood's campiness is part of the appeal and the movie survives despite some weak direction, script and acting. It survives much better than Appaloosa did. Overall though, there has to be something really miserable about an actor's performance to distract me, they need to make an absolute botch of something. Penelope Cruz almost always blows something in every movie she is in...she did manage to be the very best part of a terribly boring movie Vicky Christina Barcelona. (my grandparents slide shows from Europe had more excitement and sex!)..but Cruz was very good. Go figure!

I think an awful lot of an audiences enjoyment of a movie has to do with their own sense of comfort, imagination and personal decision to enjoy or reject a movie. I say this because how do we explain Bollywood? How do we explain martial arts movies? How do we explain the popularity of old Hollywood musicals? In part...because an audience maintains a kind of childlike innocence...and wants. to believe. The trend of streetwise realism in the 1960's and 1970's North American cinema reflected a disillusion in politics and society. The audiences that loved the method actors of Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert De Niro...often weren't interested in the 1980's return to imagination and fantasy (Star Wars, Indiana Jones).

There is a segment of the movie going audience that doesn't like to be "taken for a ride" because that triggers the lack of faith of something else where being "taken for a ride" was negative...either their society, family or politicians. There's an entire area of criticism that resents so much of moviemaking, and it's almost like listening to Seinfeld characters bitch about bad dates. I sometimes think people are so cynical to movies and music because the more we hate something it sounds like we're really "thoughtful" and intelligent and "we can't get fooled".

We picked up a movie I've been wanting to see since I first heard about it in was a mythical project Al Pacino was working on called The Local Stigmatic. It's been on a dvd set for a couple of years and the play was a kind of grail for Pacino...he was never going to release has an incredible insight into the kind of hatred and seemingly jealous attitude of many movie watchers. It's as if there are some viewers out there who want to ask an actor "Who do you think you are?" "why are you so famous"? "For what?" It's especially rampant negativity on the internet...where so many people think to sound smart and intelligent you have to hate-on someone famous or some red flag topic or subject. The Seinfeld Syndrome. (hey, I loved was funny because they were sociopaths and it's fun to laugh at sociopaths...not BE them)

The message of The Local Stigmatic is very complex. I would venture to say that it shows how attracted and exultant we are of chance and being lucky...that fame is just lucky break and the rest of us are bitter about not being so lucky...yet we keep on gambling...

We treat movies like a crap shoot and we don't want to look like easy marks...Yet, if we don't like the outcome we bitch.

And this is sad to me...when going to the movies should be like falling in need to let go...

After winning an Oscar for “Philadelphia,” Mr. Hanks went on to “Forrest Gump” (and another Oscar), “Apollo 13,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Green Mile” and “Cast Away,” thus cementing his position as a new generation’s Jimmy Stewart. New York Times

If the New York Times is correct is giving us the analogy that Tom Hanks is the new jimmy Stewart, I suggest that Keanu Reeves is the new Cary Grant. Reeves has been criticised for a narrow range of emotions and style. The same could be said of Grant. Reeves has been criticized as always playing himself (Ted) what ever movie. I think Grant brought a specific attitude and himself to each movie. One of the common appeals of Grant and Reeves is their androgony. And we all know how sexy androgony is...think rock stars...The biggest difference between Reeves and Grant is how they speak. Grant was a master of witty dialogue and banter yet remaining always stable as Cary Grant. it didn't matter what he said, he was always Cary Grant. There is something reassuring about watching him in a movie. We always know who he is.

A sense of stability is also felt with Keanu Reeves. What some critics call wooden, I prefer to call steady and reliable. I think the single most important reason women love Reeves is because he is almost always an equal in his roles with women and he has a totally non-threatening manner and persona which many contemporary women find highly attractive. We love him because he's not John Wayne, or Charles Bronson or Arnold Swartznegger. Reeves is not an actor of words...he often has limited speaking parts and his appeal is from his total character shown by what he does...not by what he says...and this is perhaps not as flashy or intense or multi-layered as Brando, or Penn or DeNiro...but it's highly attractive. Reeves is as erotic moving to fight as he is for a kiss because he hasn't distracted the observer with speech but rather with "peace of mind". Reeve's calm is like an erotic stoicism, if you will :)

Above is an excerpt from an awesome interview with Mickey Rourke...called The Dark Side of Fame-thanks Asterisk!

Movie reviews by Nicolas Rapold:

1.) History of Violence
2.) Chaplin's Killing Joke
3.) Rapold's Top Ten
4.) Phantom Memory Films of Chantal Akerman
5.) Rapold's 2007 picks.


mister anchovy said...

good acting makes a film better without making one think about the acting.

tweetey30 said...

I dont know where to start with this one. Yikes..Good acting is when you cant tell the actor from the person the actor is suppose to be playing. You believe for the most part that the actor is the person he/she is playing. I have seen plenty of those movies. Like Lord of the Rings, the last one for example. Aragon becomes king at the end. He plays the part expertly. Because in the first two you never knew..

* (asterisk) said...

Penn is always awesome, full stop. Like you, I never consider his acting hammy or anything other than naturalistic.

Glad you enjoyed the Rourke interview. I'd forgotten I'd sent you a link but hoped you'd got it! It's great, isn't it?

Candy Minx said...

Mister Anchovy, yes, that is the common sense idea isn't it...and it's the casting director's perspective. I think there are a lot of other factors though. Again, how come "Gran Torino" is such a powerful movie despite the half a dozen inexperienced acting...almost distracting, moments? And the script has a couple of weak spots...? And...good acting can't save a series of bad decisions by a director. We have hundreds of movies that are just okay...but have amazing acting and actors in them. Maybe thousands.

Tweetey, I know this post isn't very clear...I kind of was writing with a stream of ideas and just wanted to leave it out there. You've got the similar feeling as Mr. Anchovy, about good acting and we forget we're watchign someone fake it, or pretend. Thats teru...what I find interesting is there are a good deal of performances where we accept the character with very little info about who they are...I love the kinds of actors and roles that within seconds...we know the person ("Argaon")...which is very different than the kinds of roles where perhaps...even by the end of the movie we don't know who they are (the priest in "Doubt")

Hi Asterisk,oh I've watched the Mickey Rourke interview in full...on YouTube a number of times. It's really one of the best interview about movies, movie making, and acting (and the process of life-long learning) I've EVER seen. It's completely mindblowing. It is also amazing to see an actor actually, honestly sitting there and being such a real person...under the circumstances (cameras, interview nerves, scandal and difficult personal topics).

The quote about Penn being hammy was from "Sight and Sound" magazine, was quite stunned. I thought at first, maybe it was some kind of British actng versus U.S. acting styles...but then the critic seems to be an American. I was really like, sheesh...what do you want from these actors heh heh. The writer is fairly interesting and all...I just wasn't expecting to hear anyone dang so tough on Penn. The comment is a good example of how much the opinions of writers, of an audience are subjective to ones idea of what makes a movie "good" or worthwhile...and how much that personal attitude is a matter of personal taste rather than of critical or organic enjoyment.

Candy Minx said...

Thank you to the web site "Club Keanu" for linking this post to your site and thanks for the kind words. And thanks to "Club Keanu" readers for visiting here and reading these thoughts. It's great to get in touch with other Keanu Reeves fans as the guy takes a lot of heat and I absolutely love him in movies! It's nice to see kindred spirits out there!

Cheers...and here is "Club Keanu" web site shout out:

The Preacherman said...

Sean Penn is indeed awesome and I quite agree....

Keia...Kee...Ki...however you spell it Reeves...why?

Mind you we've a grade A actor over here if he gets the chance. Can't understand why he often doesn't seem to. Paul McGann. He starred in a TV movie called The Monocled Mutineer and was as good as anything I've seen anywhere.

Still rate Depp despite Pirates...

Anonymous said...

I am not a fan club member but I am a fan of Reeves and I so connected to your take on his craft.
In many ways what he has offered over his 25 year career is much more important than the usual award winners. I'll see his movies in the theater every time & have the dvd on the day it comes out. And I surely wont be doing that for any other actor.

S.M. Elliott said...

Hmm. So hard for me to define "good acting". I guess I call it when I see it. So much of an actor's appeal rests on persona. For instance, I like Laura Linney because she often has this manic woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown vibe.

I would have to say method acting works for me. I love classic films, even corny old '30s stuff, but I have to admit the acting is usually terrible. Very stiff. After method acting came along, realism followed - and that's what makes most of today's films and plays so gripping.

Underground Baker said...

This is a fun post - and a favorite topic for us to while away a few dollars on the phone candy.

Speaking of acting I just caught the last half of sunset blvd. on the weekend. OH my god, the woman (ok, I've forgotten her name, can you believe it?) with the over the top characterture was so amazing.I bought into her character because it worked in the context of the movie and because I couldn't take my eyes off of her. Not to mention the total creep factor. And how refreshing to see a male character playing the whore.

(I can't get her claw like hands out of my mind)

What is great about Penn and many other actors is that its not just about emoting feelings - but movement, gesture, breath and for some actors that metamorphasis on what seems like a cellular level to becoming a character is just magic. I especially love it when they can turn the characters on and off on cue. (not that I get to see that very often but it's wonderful to witness)

generated by