Sunday, 15 March 2009

My Method Acting essay - still in progress (and it should be ready pretty soon)

I'm still writing my essay on Method acting and therefore I decided to watch a lot of performances. An interesting fact: while Laurence Olivier played Hamlet on stage in London, he once confessed that while he performed the To be or not to be monologue and the audience was amazed by his emotions, he was actually thinking of the wine he'd drink later that same evening. I actually think that he said that just to get some attention, because he was obviously confused by the Method and couldn't communicate with Method actors (like Brando, James Dean, De Niro, Al Pacino etc). I think I mentioned in my last entry that Brando calls him an architect of an actor in his autobiography. Anyway, I decided to watch as many of Elia Kazan's films as I could. I realized that Kazan is really a great director of actors. There's so much attention for detail in the performances actors give in his films. I just watched East of Eden again. I first watched it two years ago, but now I realize I knew little about acting at the time and I now realize what a great job James Dean does in the film. I finally got a copy of A Splendor in the Grass and I'm going to watch it tonight. Yesterday I watched for the first time Wuthering Heights with Olivier in the lead and I enjoyed it pretty much, even though I couldn't get rid of the feeling that he's faking emotion all the time. It's always tricky to judge other actors because of the information you have about them. And the more performances they gave you see the harder it gets. An example: Of the Old Hollywood actors, I like Bette Davis (and I've only seen one performance: that in All About Eve, and let's face it, it's hard to not be impressed by that one). But all the others: their performances are all about their charisma and their own image and not about the characters they're playing. I've seen a few performances by Katharine Hepburn (many of the professors at the Academy consider her a great actor), but every time I see her on screen, I see Katharine Hepburn. She's always the same. Always the same gestures. Always the same mannerism. And I cannot find the connection to her characters.

Anyway, I'm still a little bit confused by the Method. I don't get it fully. I think I understand most parts, but some are still big question marks.

I'll write later about the Elia Kazan films - with some brief reviews.


  1. I think you are oversimplifying the situation with Catherine Hepburn, and overpraising the Method actors. I am known to be too critical to the Method, I admit... I mean, Lee Strasberg could not really act, so why should I think he could teach how to act? Also, Montgomery Clift never seemed too convincing to me, not to mention absolutely horrible Gregory Peck (and these two are often given as positive examples of how to use the Method). I can't remember who said that (I heard/read it quite recently - could it be on your blog or something?), the Method, as originally invented by Stanislavsky, is something which might be perfect for theatre, where one need to repeat that amazing and heartbreaking performance every day for several months, where it becomes a part of an actor's life. For the cinematic effects, however, it works differently, it's about one amazing performance, and this is not something you can learn from the Method, I believe. (Orson Welles says something related to that in one of his interviews where he discusses the archive footage that survived from von Sternberg's work on I Claudius, Charles Laughton's performance is amazing there.

  2. But Marlon Brando, who's a film actor more than a stage actor, is a Method actor as well. As are Al Pacino, Robert De Niro
    and James Dean, who are the actors I look up to. I don't say that I don't enjoy Katharine Hepburn's work. Some of her performances are enjoyable (as The Lion in Winter, but it's a part that lets her go over the top). But her acting is what I cannot connect to. As if she's there just to be admired, not to make a connection with the audience. And I think the Method helps to make the connection, to be more spontaneous. And I disagree that it's more suited for the stage, because it's all about the method to create a believable character and not just pretending, which I think is crucial in film as well. It's all about realizing a character in a way, which is near life and it represents a possible way of achieving that goal. I don't actually agree with everything, but to me

    Anyway, I checked about Gregory Peck. He's using the Meisner technique. I can't say a lot about him, because I've only seen To Kill A Mockingbird, but I've always considered the old Hollywood silent macho type. In the performance in To Kill A Mockingbird there's nothing really intense, no emotion on the surface, but I think he's rather somebody who relies on his charisma. But I can't really comment on his performances,because it's really unprofessional to judge based on a single performance. :D

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  4. Your first paragraph looks a bit unfinished ;-) Anyway, let's agree to disagree... I do seriously consider the acting of many Method actors flat and oversimplified, theatrical in the sense that they found some good (sometimes very good) interpretation that they are able to reproduce, while truly great cinematic actors come up with something no one could ever reproduce!

  5. I understand your point, but to me the Method is much more about finding the complexities of the character you are portraying and trying to bringing it as near to life as possible. It's not about the repetitiveness of the performance, but about the style of the performance (at least in my opinion). Anyway, I'm really curious about what you think of Paul Newman! I just saw one of his early movies and even though I think he's a good actor, I can't get rid of the idea that he's sooo imitating Brando. :D

  6. Alright, - anyway compared to you I am an amateur in that, so let's just say I was sharing my concerns with you - I don't want to create an impression that my opinions are worth much (at least that they are worth more than yours); sometimes my behaviour in discussions is too confusing...

    I think Paul Newman was a good actor, but that's about it. I mean, I am not sure I want to make comparisons, but if, for a second, we compare him with Alec Guinness or Charles Laughton... well, I know for sure whom I would prefer.

  7. Well, I don't have any issues with your with behaviour in discussions. I pretty much enjoy discussing things with you, because you obviously have seen a lot of films. ;-)
    And I'm not a really big expert in the theories myself. I used to believe that acting is all about instinct and impulses, but now - once I face all the theories and schools of acting, it becomes even more interesting and all I try is just finding some meaning in all these things. Understand them. :D

    I don't know much about Charles Laughton really, but I'm in awe of Alec Guinness. Do you know the anecdote about him having some issues with Star Wars? He's not only a great actor, but very ironic about the craft. But I think I like most of the classic British actors - a few years ago I watched Shine and I remember being impressed with John Gielgud. And back to the Method. Probably I'm just a big fan of some Method actors. I'm really, really obsessed with Brando and Pacino. But I realize that there are parts of the Method that everyone understands in a different way and I can't even relate to some ideas in it.

  8. Well, I secretly hoped that I am at least half-interesting by myself, without my knowledge of cinema ;-)

    Sir Alec tells in his autobiography that when a little boy approached him to tell how he liked Guinness' performance in the Star Wars and how many times he saw the movie, he asked the boy to be a good boy and promise him something. The boy eagerly agreed. Sir Alec asked him to never watch Star Wars again. :)

    Gielgud was amazing as well. As well as Michael Redgrave. But then again they have all the British theatrical traditions in them, they should be good...

  9. And I've read somewhere that while making Star Wars, George Lucas once came to him to tell him that he wasn't satisfied with his acting in a certain scene. And Alec really badly wanted to tell him that he was sick of the absurd dialogue and that's why he couldn't do it. :D Every time I think of it, I just can't stop laughing. I love the Brits. But once again, you surprised me. :D
    And when it comes to British theatrical traditions, there is always Vanessa Redgrave. Last year I found some vids of her performing in The Year of Magical Thinking. And I love her in lots of films. And of the younger ones, I'm a huge fan of Emma Thompson. She's closer to my idea of what a great actor is. :)