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I've had difficulties with original writing for quite some time now.

I kept trying, but places and characters never came to life. And then I watched Pride and Prejudice, more for visual reference on the Regency period than anything else, and I was absolutely transfixed. Stunned.


Something clicked, and I'm still trying to find out what it is. Something has irrevocably changed, now that I've seen truly excellent acting for the first time. Oh, I've probably seen it before, but I've only been aware of it for the first time. I wonder whether a contemporary movie would have had the same effect. Probably not.

The true achievement of the new Pride and Prejudice is not the beautiful photography, or the fact that they dared to cast a beautiful Lizzie and a less than beautiful Darcy. The achievement is the way they managed to extract a heart-wrenching love story out of a mildly rippling, meandering brook of a book. And the performances are staggering, truly.

I've read quite a few reviews about the movie in an attempt to understand why it affected me as deeply as it did, and how it affected others. There were a lot of good reviews, some mediocre ones, and again quite a few bad ones. I confess that I was amazed at the bad reviews the film got. Even better, they got me thinking.

I'm not a militant fan. I'm too lazy for that. But instead of wondering what the bad and mediocre reviews say about the movie, I will instead speculate on what they say about the reviewers. This, I'm well aware, is fanwank of the worst sort.

So what. Indulge me for a moment.

Let me start by talking about food.

Now, I'm a burger and fries kind of gal. A comfort food person, if you will. I'm not one for food experiments. If I find a restaurant I like, I always order the same thing when I go there for fear that if I try anything else, I won't like it. I'm as far removed from a gourmet as can be. Does that mean I can not appreciate the subtleties of gourmet food?

Yes. Indeed it does. The few times I tried something approaching gourmet food I found it either odd or only mildly pleasant. My taste buds are shallow. They don't do subtle.

I can draw a similar analogy when it comes to dancing.

There, it's just the opposite. My taste is as refined as my taste in food is simple, but I know a lot of people whose understanding of dancing is not as good as mine. Does that mean that their opinion counts less when it comes to judging a good performance?

Er, yes. I think it does.

Ballroom dancing is relatively new compared to ballet, and its audience not as well acquainted with what makes good dancing as the average ballet audience is. Therefore, they will be deceived by flashy couples or flashy choreography. In dancing, and I suppose in acting too, the things that look hard usually aren't. Spins, or splits or other flashy stuff, are not dancing but acrobatics. Good balance and flexibility of the body are tools, not the ultimate goal.

And yet if you ask the average viewer off the street to point out the best dancer or couple out of a whole group of them, they will probably go for the prettiest, or sexiest... maybe for the one who can spin the fastest or the one who can bend her body in the most spectacular way. It all hinges on one's definition of what dancing is, and Average Joe's definition will be by default less clear and less sophisticated than that of a schooled viewer.

I've noticed repeatedly that good dancers tend to be less showy about their craft than others. They don't need a choreography with a lot of flashy spins because they can imbue even the simplest figure with a fluidity and a rhythmic interest that is matchless and completely their own. They play with the music. They don't stick a series of steps onto some song and treat them independently of each other. They make their body into an additional instrument, picking up the theme and adding yet another variation.

So, back to acting.

Let's assume that acting works a bit like dancing. What is the foremost goal of an actor? To be believable in the role, sure. But is it only that? Not really. An actor also has to deliver an interesting take on the role, not merely a believable one. And that interesting take has to mesh with the whole. It has to fit into what the rest of the ensemble are doing, into the director's vision, and into the visual context of the film.

Well, theatre actors are usually better schooled. Their flexibility is higher. They can usually offer a higher range of possible interpretation, and they tend not to think of themselves as artists but rather craftsmen, which is a very good thing. Does that make them better film actors by default?

I don't think so.

The stage is a very different medium from film. Acting that happens on a stage has to reach a whole roomful of audience. That is harder, because the actor has to fill a much larger space with his or her performance. It is also easier, because the additional filter of the camera isn't there. Whatever energies build in that room, whatever inspiration, it reaches the audience directly. There is a give and take between audience and actor that is not there on film. On film, it all goes only one way. The cast, the director, and everyone else involved in the making of that film are reaching out into empty space and hoping that someone will be touched by what they did. But there is no true communication. They will never know.

Even if they get letters and read good reviews, they will never witness the moment when viewer's face lights up with pleasure over some little thing they did.

In addition, the film audience is much more varied than a theatre audience wil ever be. People who go to the theatre presumably like it. People who watch a movie might have been dragged there by their significant other, peer pressure, or they might simply be bored and hoping for an evening's entertainment that doesn't require any effort on their part. It is a testament to the power of a movie if it manages to move an audience despite all that.

And what about the acting, again?

Does truly good acting, transcendent acting, require a schooled public? Or at least a more perceptive one than the usual popcorn-guzzling lot? I'm not sure. In Pride and Prejudice Matthew MacFadyen's acting, and to a lesser extent that of Keira, is so subtle, so layered, that I caught many things only on a second viewing. The sheer multitude of physical cues that MacFadyen gives as to Darcy's character delights the dancer in me -- from the way he stands in his aunt's drawing room, one hand propped on his hip in an arrogant stance that is belied by the desperately bored look in his eyes, to the painstakingly corect way he sits at a table. Everything about Darcy's aloofness screams 'tries too hard'.

MacFadyen acts with everything he has: his body, his face, his voice. Everything is a canvas for the character he creates, and unlike other theatre actors I've seen in movies, he resists the urge to overact. His Darcy is so painfully restrained, in fact, that he seems close to exploding any minute. At the beginning of the movie he seems bland and sleepy, but before long, one starts to see the lid is actually trembling, and when it finally flies off the cauldron during the infamous 'car crash scene', nobody is surprised.

Breathless, shocked, near tears. Not surprised.

So. Where am I actually going with this?

I'm not sure. Since I've started to write original stories where I can't fall back on ready-made characters, I've realized that writing is acting, most of the time. The things that work in acting will work in writing; the things that don't will look ridiculous on the page as well. A good example is the infamous 'the hero threw his head back and laughed': it's as ridiculous on the page as it would be in reality.

Sadly, in some respects film is superior to writing because as a rendering of reality, it is more faithful. Writing can go into detail about things that happen in a character's head, but when it comes to communicating immediacy, it is clearly inferior.

The car crash scene especially, that breathless, rhythmic escalation of emotion that suddenly explodes, leaving devastation in its wake, made it painfully clear to me where the boundaries of writing lie. I cannot write something like that because I cannot at the same time impose a rhythm and an interpretation on the reader. On the page, even a bit of description of gestures and facial expressions would kill the escalating melody of the dialogue. However, leaving description away would strip the scene of cues the reader needs, clues to the character's motivations as they become increasingly hurtful towards each other.

I think what frustrates me the most is that duality of fury and attraction that was so delicately, so painfully expressed in that scene. Even while they are yelling at each other they come closer and closer. They are both wounded and furious, but for one long moment they end up staring at each other's mouths, nearly kissing. It's such a perfect way to illustrate the force of the attraction between them, and yet one that would never work in writing, because of all the conflicting emotions they express at the same time.

That pesky rhythm thing again.

Well, I'm not going to deliver any answers this time. I'm still exploring the interconnectedness of all things creative, the odd places where inspiration looms.

I certainly did not expect to be inspired by a period movie but I was. Creatively, it gave me wings at a difficult time. It is probably pointless to try and find out why so I can repeat the experience in a more controlled manner but it never hurts to try.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 6th, 2006 04:30 pm (UTC)
THe reasons you've discussed above are exactly why I loved that movie so much. It was elegant and simple in its presentation, but in some ways that reality is much harder to pull off than a pyrotechnic bit of overacting could ever be. With the usual summer blockbuster, you see the flash and overlook the sublte. With a movie like Pride and Prejudice, the sublte is what makes it shine.
Jun. 6th, 2006 04:59 pm (UTC)
That's exactly what I thought. the problem with the summer blockbusters is that they aren't about people. They aren't about anything much, except perhaps the visually dazzling shots. They usually repeat and tired story and go nowhere in particular. That's why, for me, the new Star Wars movies didn't work.

Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, was about people, more so than the book.

And Pride and Prejudice is not only about people, but about people in close-up. The camera dares to show naked skin that isn't polished to perfection. The clothes are wrinkled, there is dirt everywhere. I love the fact that the men are not so smoothly shaven as they would have been with modern appliances.

The people and things have texture, and so does the movie. :)

Jun. 6th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
V. powerful post, with much food for thought :)
Jun. 6th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Very unpolished post, too. I'll have to go over it again when I have the time and smooth it out a little.
Jun. 17th, 2006 01:43 am (UTC)
Hi! I was just wondering if you'd mind if I added you to my friends list. I've been a big fan of your art for a couple years now- found you on DA- and I enjoy reading your journal entries. ^^ Anyway, I just wanted to make sure and ask before I added you.

Oh, and I completely agree with you that writing is indeed acting. When writing an author has to search deep and BE that character or the character just falls short. I think some of the best books and movies and so on are more character driven, not necessarily plot driven. If you can't believe in the characters, what's the point of the plot?

Anyway, I think the way you described writing is the best way anyone could ever describe it. ^^
Jun. 17th, 2006 08:25 am (UTC)
Sure, you can add me. :)

I agree about character-driven versus plot-driven: character-driven is definitely better. I shall have to think on whether there is actually a difference between the two, though. One of them might just be inept writing.
Nov. 3rd, 2006 03:48 am (UTC)
Hey girl,

I saw Pride & Prejudice at the movies and I thought it was poor. The reason, I saw the A&E version it was far and away the better version. It was more faithful to the book. Also the actors were simply better. I was spoiled by it as I saw it first and the new failed to live up to its standard. You should see it. If you liked the movie you'll like this far better.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )