For decades, I have found Orson Welles to be as complex and as essential as any of the great creative souls of the 20th century. This excerpt from Cahiers du Cinéma, No. 84, June 1958, reveals the profundity of his own self-knowledge and its revelatory, yet disguising, nature upon screen.
You know, in the old classic French theater, there were always some actors who played kings and others who did not. I’m one of those who played kings. I have to be, because of my personality. So naturally, I always play the role of leaders, men of some unusual breath: I always need to be bigger than life. It’s a fault of my nature. So it’s not unnecessary to believe there’s anything ambiguous about my interpretation. It’s my personality that’s responsible, not my intentions. It’s very serious for an artist, a creator to be at the same time and actor. He runs a grave risk of being misunderstood. Because my own personality intrudes between what I say and what you hear; and a great part of the mystery, the confusion, of the interest, and all you can find in the characters I play comes from my own personality and not from what I say.
This excerpt, Comito, Terry, ed., Touch of Evil: Orson Welles, Director, p. 205.
Classical language is yet our language. Centuries have past since what we consider classical was contemporary. And yet, the aesthetic discoveries made by Western civilization, which represent our common tradition, provide us with many opportunities to delight in them, whether poetic beauty or dramatic engagement.
This is the first in a series of video readings of brief segments of the classical language. I’ve read this poem in its entirety for you in a conversational, modern American style. One can say, readily, that this is neither the dialect nor the style in which the poem was written. One question to ask, when reading any work, is this: what did the author intend? Does one take a liberty to read this poem aloud in the modern tongue? And conversationally, without reference to the meter?
The Undertaking, published in 1633, was written by John Donne. The speaker has discovered a woman of rare virtues, worthy of his greatest love and admiration. He must, however, love her in secret (as she presumably must love him in return) because the men of these times will not allow that such a love is commendable.
Yesterday, I reassembled my voice studio (post-Harvey) and I’m back in business. Frankly, I don’t think it has ever sounded better. (My video studio, used for film auditions, was less laborious to reassemble, but that’s up, too.)
Within an hour of setting up, I had surprise followed upon by surprise: two commercial scripts requesting auditions, one for a major league sports organization. So, whereas a week prior I thought I might be out of the game for weeks, here I am back in.
I post this especially for younger artists (in film, the drama, music) who are friends of mine. You’ll know who you are.
My hope is that my contemporaries will also find this talk as valuable as I do. I agree with it premises and its conclusions: they echo mine, being, in fact, foundational ideas in my life.
I’ll tease you to listen with this quote from the talk: “What is the point of drawing the second mustache on the Mona Lisa?” I hope you’ll be patient with it and not click away after 30 seconds, such is our habit now online. I suspect you will see it all differently after you’ve listened.
Some years ago, I recorded a Rawi Hage’s, DeNiro’s Game, in a Beiruti English accent. The print version had won the 2008 IMPAC International Literary Award — it is a wonderful work that moved and impressed me — and I was honored when Audible asked me to read the audiobook version of the title.
For several weeks, I studied the accent with the help of two supremely intelligent and encouraging Yale grad students, both of whom had grown up in Beirut, one Christian, the other Muslim. Since that time, I have, never having visited Beirut, felt a strong kinship to the city, without ever knowing why exactly. Perhaps it is simply romance.
And then, today, I was reminded of that once again reading this article written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and how history is driven down to in the details, well beyond the shallow, pernicious parlance of the modern day.
To hear one claim that ideas can’t be acted, when they are in fact precisely what one demonstrates through the body, is to be witness to a kind of malpractice. Some may opine that dramatic action consists entirely of the actions of one character in reaction to another, and vice-versa, but this is like drawing a bird, having never seen it fly.
Here is a wonderful demonstration-in-action of what some call “textual analysis” (really just a thorough understanding of the ideas in the text), in which McKellen proceeds upon the premise that “sense,” once grasped, populates itself upon the body. This is opposed in my mind to “Method, and the concomittant intentional placement of superficial characteristics upon character. The former more difficult than the latter, but achieving greater results.
We live in an age with a profusion of material comforts and a paucity of aesthetic ones. But I sense the change, see the evidence of it happening before my eyes, even where I’d not considered it possible. We who agree on this — and you know who you are implicitly — will nourish it, foster it and bring it to fruition in time.
Here’s another Swede — after Hedda Stiernstet about whom I’ve not posted but will — who mightily impresses me on the small screen: Sofia Helin in The Bridge.
Is my admiration only because I am unable to parse the language, the vocal inflections? Or does she really have something? Partly the former, I think, but definitely the latter.
The actress plays a detective with superior police skills and a mastery of facts but a complete lack of awareness of the the personal sensibilities of others, often brutally, and yet she is not malevolent. I am entirely persuaded.
Here’s the video with Dag Malmberg as her superior officer, a man of patience and experience, with precisely the sensibilities her character of Saga lacks, evident immediately at the start of the dialog, even without understand the language.
From an article in the Telegraph (UK, 2015): “Becoming Saga, she explains, requires a lot of physical effort. She has to change the way she talks, holds her head, moves; has to become straighter, tenser, more alert. ‘It’s like a vice gripping all over my body,’ she explains.”