January 2015

What is an artist?

Here is a smart article from January's The Atlantic about the history and evolution of the word "artist". The author is former Yale University professor William Deresiewicz. His contention is that today's artist must construct multiple identities. "You're a musician and a photographer and a poet; a storyteller and a dancer and a designer -- a multiplatform artist." Sounds right. The most talented people I know personally are like that. IMO, the only non-negotiable aspect of art is that the artist is sharing an idea, a perspective. Art is all about communication.

 

"To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling—this is the activity of art."Leo Tolstoy from his essay "What is Art?"

Acting for Animators Workshop Schedule

February 9-13 Animex 2015, Teesside, England

April 10-12 Weekend with Animation Masters, London (in planning stage)

May 5-8 FMX, Stuttgart Germany

In planning stage for 2015: Taiwan, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia, China

Craft Notes:
Birdman

It's a funny thing about important films: they tend to polarize the audience. Several of my personal good friends sort of shrug their shoulders when I bring up Birdman. One told me that he isn't much impressed by the "artificiality" of the legitimate theatre and, of course, Birdman is set in and around the St. James Theatre on Broadway, so he didn't see what all the excitement is about. Others I talked to about it are less eloquent. "Too much crazy camera work", "I about went crazy with the constant drum beat music track" or, simply, "It's not my kind of thing." Well, okay then. I'm standing in fire on this one because I think the movie is drop-dead brilliant. You won't find better or more nuanced American-style acting in any movie this year. Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone are giving a master class in acting, often purposefully over-the-top. And what they are doing is Olympically difficult because the movie's director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, wanted to give the illusion of the entire thing being shot in a single take. Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) did the cinematography, and if he ever parked the camera on a traditional dolly, I can't see it. His camera is in constant Steadicam motion, and the scenes are l-o-0-o-o-ng, starting in a dressing room, for example, proceeding down narrow hallways, pausing backstage and then moving seamlessly onto the St. James stage, where a full house audience is watching. Trust me: acting with a Steadicam floating in and out of a scene, occasionally inches from your nose, is hard to do. The camera is distracting. These actors manage it with aplomb, deftly shifting intentions and context, making certain they are facing in a particular direction to coincide precisely with the arrival of Mr. Lubezki's Steadicam. Seriously, the acting and cinematography are, as the New York Magazine reviewer put it, "the very definition of a tour de force."

And then there is the music track, a continual drum solo by jazz musician Antonio Sanchez from the Pat Methany Group. It rarely stops, his underlying heartbeat thump, thump, thump juxtaposed with the emotional riffs ripped open in the plot. In a New York Times interview, Mr. Iñárritu said he played tracks from the drum score all during rehearsals, as well as between takes on the set. The actors are playing with Sanchez as much as they are playing with one another. The basic plot involves a former, now older, action-figure movie star (Keaton), trying for a career come-back by producing, directing and starring in a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver's marvelous short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Times, tastes and technology have overrun him since he last stood in the spotlight. Today there is something known as "tweets", and Facebook Pages, and "trending" and "going viral", all things that his fresh-out-of-rehab world-cynical daughter (Emma Stone) knows all about. Thematically, the story has to do with where truthfulness begins and ends in the world, which is why placing the action in a Broadway theatre is so perfect. Edward Norton, at one point, says (paraphrasing now, forgive me): "The only place I tell the truth is on stage." Think about it. That is an awfully profound and smart observation. If you had to testify to it, how much of your day would you say is spent truthfully?

Naomi Watts has been near the top of my personal list of favorite actresses ever since her remarkable work in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Remember the scene in which she plays an actress auditioning for a movie role? She darn near gave her acting partner (the late Chad Everett) a heart attack with her acting choices!  To really appreciate what she did, listen to the words and imagine them on the script page. Think of how you might have played it. Then watch her play against every impulse you have. If you admired her in Mulholland Drive, you will love her in Birdman, guaranteed.

Edward Norton is also frighteningly good in this movie. He physically disrobes only once, but he is psychically undressed from fade-in to final credits, pulling off emotional transitions like Brian Boitano pulls off triple axels. Norton is a major talent, an actor's actor, and it is exciting to realize that his best work is probably yet to come. He already stops my clock.

Emma Stone, as Keaton's daughter in the film, is only 26 years old and has already ammassed 31 significant film and television credits. She's the real deal and fully holds her own with Watts, Keaton and Norton. She captures the smart vulnerability and emotional angst of a young person in 2014, trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the world. She's another one who will be defining screen-acting excellence in the coming years.

Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough and Zach Galifianakis flesh out the rest of the cast, more than holding their own with the lead actors.

I did not set out to write a review of the movie in these notes, but I did anyway. It is good, very very good, and I recommend that you see it ASAP. Birdman is an illuminating and audacious piece of work.

p.s. Leave the kids at home.

Until next month..
Be safe!

 

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