Saturday, 7 July 2007

Performances That Changed The Way I Look At Movies

Emma at All About My Movies is holding a Performance That Changed My Life Blog-a-thon today, so here's my rather quickly whipped up contribution.

A constant in Blog-a-thons seems to be that some people extend the premise or even blatantly break the rules given. So I don't feel so bad about pushing the limits a bit here and considering several actors - all from the same movie. So the performances that changed the way I really look at acting and gave me a deeper appreciation of how it can pull me into a film are by...the entire cast of Network.

It's not necessarily that I think this is the epitome of acting and that no one can touch these performances. I love them, but the ones that spring to my mind as some of the best performances I've seen (that truly worked for me) are:

- Armin Mueller-Stahl in Avalon
- Koji Yakusho in Kamikaze Taxi
- Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums
- Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive
- Irene Jacob in Three Colours: Red
- Giulietta Masina in Nights Of Cabiria

And on and on...There's a certain dignity each of these actors brings to their roles that just made them sympathetic to me - no matter what their faults. There's also entire casts of Robert Altman films that bring a tremendous sense of naturalism to their surroundings via the improvisatory feeling of the films.

But I saw Network before any of these...I saw it in my second year of CEGEP (the equivalent of Grade 12-13 in Quebec - sort of like a bridge between high school and university) during a Social Science course about the media. Our teacher split it across two classes during one week and I absolutely couldn't wait for that second class. I was spellbound - not only by the topic of the film, but by each character, their passion and the torrent of words tumbling from their mouths. Very different roles then the more subtle ones listed above, but they hit you immediately because of their intensity. I've read some remarks about how the acting is too much and too theatrical. Perhaps, but it serves the material (Paddy Chayefsky's brillant script) and the main characters perfectly.

Peter Finch won a posthumous Best Actor Oscar for his bordering over the top performance as Howard Beale. He has some wondrous and crazy rants that let him bellow like a madman, but it's his quieter moments where he seems to have more focus regarding his message that impressed me even more - gave me chills at the time. Still do:

William Holden plays his best friend of many decades (Max) who is going through his own life changes. Not only is he seeing his friend slowly crumble away due to mental instability, but as head of the News division he is losing control of the relevance of his work. And he's captivated by the new programming director...

Faye Dunaway's Diana Christensen is the ultimate icy bitch. No concern or empathy for others. Little ability to feel any emotion whatsoever. Single minded in every step she takes, it's all about ratings, ratings, ratings. There's the classic scene that depicts her and Max's getaway weekend that shows them going out to dinner, eating, running back during the rain and then making love - all the while Diana spitting out volumes of ratings stats and programming ideas. You can see why Max is enticed by her surface passion and sexiness, but it's also pretty apparent that there's nothing underneath.

Robert Duvall plays Frank Hackett, the worst kind of Corporate boss. All orders, all yelling, all the time. You can see the spittle fly from his mouth as he practically foams during some of his more angry tirades.

And then there's Ned Beatty. His entire 6 minute appearance in the film is in the clip below. It's short, but the impact on Howard Beale (and the audience) is powerful and scarily effective. It's one of those roles that allows the actor to just chow down on the verbage of the script and feast away. I have to think that Alec Baldwin may have viewed this scene several times before taking on a similar role in Glengarry Glen Ross.

Seeing all these great actors just throw themselves into their roles to enable the satire and message of the movie was (and still is) an amazing experience. Along with Raising Arizona and 12 Angry Men it was a formative viewing experience that made me love film. Now that I think of it, I could probably write a similar post for the acting in those other two movies as well...


Anonymous said...

Great post! Love this movie!

So does P. T. Anderson...

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Arden. Hadn't reaized P.T. had it listed as a fave, but it certainly makes sense.

J.J. said...

It's my favorite movie of all time, and Holden's is a performance I hold very dear (the breakup scene is the best of the movie). If you're citing the whole cast, don't forget Beatrice Straight as Holden's no-bullshit wife and Marlene Warfield as the fabulous and psychotic Loreen Hobbs. Everyone was on the same wavelength when they were making this movie, and it's sublime.

RC said...

i love your listing of Mueller-Stahl peformance in Avalon, as well as Jacobs' in Red.

Those two are great suggestions for powerful roles that really worked. good call.

Bob Turnbull said...

J.J., yes Beatrice Straight was totally great as Holden's wife and probably should be included in any description of the cast. I just left her out as I was kinda rushing the post. But an excellent point...

RC, thanks for the comments. I'm glad you also liked Mueller-Stahl in Avalon because it's a performance I rarely hear mentioned.