Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Alfred Hitchcock & economical style & actors

Thanks to Vladimir I got some recordings of Francois Truffaut's series of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock (which I had read in a book form a few months ago and enjoyed immensely). There's a lot to like about these interviews: it rarely happens that filmmaker discusses his own career step by step, film by film, pointing out things, which were a real challenge to him at the time and actually considering other possibilities to make it (at the point the interview is taken). And it's even more interesting because of Truffaut being a critic turned filmmaker himself. I still vividly remember a line from the book's preface (or possibly it was something he said during the interviews, I don't remember exactly! must check it!). He said that he considered film differently as a critic as he did as a filmmaker. And that's true, because critics way too often focus on the story itself - the development of story, of character, of how the director works with these tools within the frame he's given. And when I talk to Bulgarian directors (like Ludmil Staykov, who's a very impressive person, I have to admit and a filmmaker who had his roots in acting & theatre; he's already in his 70's and though he doesn't make films anymore, he's devoted to teaching at the National Academy), he works like this. He doesn't focus as much on the visual side of things, but works within the character's development. Because (at least in the theatre) that's the crucial thing. That's what everybody is looking for. The visual side is actually managing. It's like finding the most effective (and at the same time the most economical & simple) way of telling the story within the frame. And I think it's really what European filmmaking is all about. Filmmakers in Europe aren't the flashy visualists American filmmakers are. (And I don't have anything against visualist filmmakers and I think that unlike critics, other filmmaker could value the visual style, but no way style over substance.) Because somebody like Steven Spielberg and Marty Scorsese work with many cuts. They cut often, they love to change the POV (point of view, if you don't know what that is) and that's maybe even necessary for the films they're doing. I don't blame them. It's the way they experience the power of the medium they're working within. But I just don't think I would work like that. I don't believe I'll by any good & don't think it's the way I see things. To me filming is always finding the best possible shot & doing a transition or a cut only when necessary - for the rhythm. And I think Hitchcock works like that. He's a very economical director and I love that about him. Woody Allen works like that and I think it works. He's actually one of the few filmmakers who really find new ways of pushing the envelope, of changing the nature of the mise-en-scene. I was kind of perplexed when I first watched Annie Hall & characters kept to leave the screen and even left the space I (as a viewer) was observing, empty. And the camera didn't follow them, didn't change the POV every five seconds and it was kind of liberating for the actors, because they just work on their characters and they work as stage actors. On the other hand, there is Robert Altman who works like that with his actors (I really regret I didn't have the chance to work with him. Ambition, you know ;-)!), who just puts a few camera on the set (they work simultaneously) and just wants to capture everything which is happening between the actors on film. And that's why I love the motion in his films, because he finds other ways than the obvious editing to make his films work in terms of rhythm. The rhythm is set by the actors, who through improvising find ways to make the story work on different levels.

And talking about actors, I love this economical acting style as well. Altman's actors have it. They don't push, they don't try to get all the spotlight. They don't overdo things. Watching Helen Mirren in Gosford Park is feeling she just isn't acting, but kind of living this life & I couldn't even think of her as an actor. No, I ever imagined that she kept living in this estate house, cleaning and being the cold woman on the surface (with a tragedy in her life) & she came to life because of that. Because her performance was about feeling as a whole & not about giving as much information as possible & stealing the spotlight. She doesn't have lots of scenes actually, but when she's on the screen, she really delivers something barely noticable, but important to keep her character arc moving. I often regret that non-professionals rarely understand and value these performances. I have lots of friends, who are interesting and intelligent people and I really hate it when they say about a performance like Helen Mirren's performance: "It was okay, but nothing special." Come on, it was special. It was more than just special. And just because Russell Crowe played a mad mathematician who fights against a mental illness in A Beautiful Mind, doesn't make his performance special. Actors call performances like that baity, but not interesting. I used to think like my friends, actually. When I wasn't really doing it myself. But now - as I deeper I get into acting & directing & theatre & watching and analyzing films and being a wanna be as a filmmaker & theatre director - I understand how little they mean in general.


  1. It's an interesting post.

    Gosh, I nearly forgot Helen Mirren was in Gosford Park!

  2. Oh, I love her in Gosford Park! She was incredible. I love her in it, because she's both delivers a scene with a knockout, but doesn't go over the top, which most actresses would have done. And I love her accent, actually! ;-) And her last scene really broke me. She's amazing in it. Maggie Smith is fun, Emily Watson is fun, but I just remember Helen Mirren and actually Kelly McDonald, who's an actress I really love and hope to see more of. She was very innocent and human in it. Loved it.