Science Explains Acting

This is the kind of thing I share with animators but not usually with actors because actors ought not be thinking about the mechanics of emotion while they are acting. Nonetheless, recent research on the physical manifestation of human emotion is fascinating and enlightening. In the study, researchers document that the basic human emotions function exactly the same way universally, regardless of culture.  All humans feel emotions in the same parts of the body.  Some emotions cause heat to move around in the body, focusing energy as a defense mechanism or survival strategy.  Emotions operate like pulling back the trigger on a rifle, preparing it to be fired. As actors, we know that acting is doing, which would equate to the pulling of the rifle trigger. Emotion alone has zero theatrical value.  Acting is all about what you do as a result of the emotion.

"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot."  — Charlie Chaplin

Strongly Advised:
Do Not Drink Alcohol Before Acting!

As mentioned in this month's craft notes (below), Margot Robbie, the female lead opposite DiCaprio in Scorcese's The Wolf of Wall Street, is telling interviewers that she tossed back a few slugs of tequila prior to disrobing and having pretend sex on film. My strong recommendation is that you not try that. Even though it might seem like a glass of wine or tequila would relax you and take the edge off, that is in reality not the case. Alcohol slows down your reaction time, which is the opposite of what you want to have happening when you are acting. Ms. Robbie is a newbie, not yet really an experienced actor. Don't look to her for guidance. Alcohol is an actively bad idea on set or pre-audition.

Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule

January 31st weekend, Medellin, Colombia, participating in gov't sponsored animation education event

February 10-14, Animex Int'l Animation and Game Festival,Teesside, England

February 20-21, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania

April (working on it), The Animation Workshop, Viborg, Denmark

Craft Notes:
The Wolf of Wall Street

My perception of storytelling is that you tell a story when you have something to say, a reason for the telling, a justification. Not that every story needs to be a Grimm's Fairy Tale but, on the other hand, Grimm's tales are pretty good stories. Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street has triggered these musings because I have to squint hard to see an artistic reason for the telling of it. Mr. Scorsese, a monumentally talented filmmaker in his twilight years, would presumably be interested in burnishing his legacy, but I have a strong hunch that this movie will be a net debit. Curators of  Scorsese retrospectives eighty years from now will be scrambling to find reasons not to include Wolf alongside Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Taxi Driver because, let's face it, Wolf is embarrassing for most moviegoers to watch. Shift a few of the camera angles in scenes of abandon, and you've got pure porn. This is definitely not a case of watching logs spilling over the waterfall, followed by glowing cigarette tips in the dark.

Have you seen it yet? If you have, I'd like you to join me in a little exercise so you can better see where I am coming from. Imagine for a moment that Martin Scorsese was not the movie's director, okay? Pretend Walter Jonlegston directed it instead. (Walter who? Nobody, I made up the name.) What does the change do for you?  Anything? With Jonlegston in the driver's seat, what is your take-away impression of The Wolf of Wall Street? All right, now put Mr. Scorsese back into the equation. Buy into it being "a Scorsese film". For me, Martin Scorsese's name is the only thing separating "orgiastic waste of time at the movies" from "art/cinema/film". It seems to me that a movie's worth is a subjective thing that should rise and fall on the stand-alone merits of the movie itself. Scorsese's name really should be a non-issue in contexts other than those Scorsese retrospectives and university discussion groups.

To be even more candid, The Wolf of Wall Street brings to my mind the 1979 movie Caligula, produced by Penthouse magazine. You may be too young to remember, but mild-mannered movie-critic Roger Ebert famously walked out of his screening of Caligula, writing it up in his review as "shameful trash... totally worthless... the worst piece of s--t I have ever seen." Given that John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Helen Mirren and Malcolm McDowell were featured, and Gore Vidal wrote the script, Mr. Ebert's reaction was astonishing. I wonder if it would have made a difference to Ebert if Martin Scorsese had directed it instead of Bob Guccione?

As awful as it was, at least the lead character in Caligula got what was coming to him in the end when he was murdered by his own servants. At the end of Wolf, Jordan Belfort, played enthusiastically by Leonardo DiCaprio, is sentenced to three years max in a country-club prison. The real-life Jordan Belfort, on whom the movie is based, is today living in an ocean-view Manhattan Beach, California, mansion not more than ten miles from where I live in Culver City. He evidently managed to hang onto several of his ill-gotten millions and, according to his personal website, is available for hire as a motivational speaker, presumably a carrot for those who want to follow in his footsteps. Mr. Belfort is behaving like Mr. Scorsese's movie was a commercial, not the basis for a redemptive TED talk.

Responding to accusations that he and Mr. DiCaprio glorified Belfort's life choices, Scorsese insists that he was merely doing the Shakespearean thing, holding the mirror up to nature. "I wanted them [the audience] to feel like they'd been slapped into recognizing that this behavior has been encouraged in this country, and that it affects business and the world, and everything down to our children and how they're going to live, and their values in the future", he explains in a lengthy interview with His plan was for each person in the audience to draw his or her own conclusion about the ethics and morality depicted on screen. Fair enough, but wouldn't a person have to have been living under a bus or something not to be aware that the U.S. culture has gone totally off the rails?  Do we really need to be informed of that by Mr. Scorsese?  I would personally be much more interested in what he thinks we should maybe do about it.  All The Wolf of Wall Street does is increase the level of nausea. Except, of course, for those in the audience who are watching Wolf as a how-to primer.

Another aspect of this movie has caught my attention: There has been a plethora of published interviews with supporting-role actresses who appear in Wolf, and every one of them claim to have been shocked – shocked at all the nudity and sex in the script  But they signed on anyway because "This is a Martin Scorsese movie!"  Margo Robbie, the female lead cast opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, titilates her interviewers by telling that she carried around a flask of tequila from which to swig prior to getting naked and having pretend on-screen sex. (Stanislavsky: "Tsk, tsk...") See my notes regarding booze and acting above.) If she has any observations about the degenerative cultural aspects of the narrative, I haven't come across them yet.

Speaking of Ms. Robbie, it will be interesting to see what she does with her high-octane movie debut. She gave as good a performance as she could under the circumstances, and there were even a few over-stimulated reviewers mentioning her in connection with the upcoming Oscars. No doubt she is now stocked up with managers, agents, publicists, accountants and miscellaneous groomers but, Hollywood being Hollywood being Hollywood, it is not a slam dunk conclusion that all those darlings will have her best interests and future legacy at heart. Clearly, Ms. Robbie is ambitious and is willing to (literally) go to the mat in pursuit of her dreams, but it remains to be seen if she is an actual actress. I doubt Cate Blanchett is glancing nervously back over her shoulder at Margo Robbie.

The world has an abundance of over-the-hill, fat ex-boxers, too.  But after I saw Raging Bull, I didn't feel like I had to go home and take a shower, know what I mean.  The Wolf of Wall Street is arguably part of the fabric of the problem the tribe is facing. On the plus side, though, Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety is reporting that Wolf sets the official movie record for use of the F-word:506 total, or approximatly 2.5 for each minute of running time. Well, that is an accomplishment, right?



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