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Million Dollar Movie

alpacino

Good profile on Al Pacino by the great John Lahr over at the New Yorker:

Over the years, there have been rumblings about Pacino’s overacting. He can certainly roar; he can pound the furniture; he can go big with the facial expressions; he has made some dud movies. But the drama, for Pacino, is almost always inherent in the character he’s hoping to convey. His portrayal of the blind Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in “Scent of a Woman” (1992), for instance, was considered hammy by some, but, in Pacino’s thinking, the character was a lunatic—a suicidal, narcissistic man who drew attention to himself through his affectation of swagger—and he played him that way. “I paint the way I see it, and some of the colors are a little broader and a little bolder than others,” he said, adding, “Sometimes you take it to the limit, sometimes you may go a little overboard, but that’s all part of a vision. I say, go with the glow. If an effort is being made to produce something that has appetite and passion and isn’t done just to get the golden cup, it isn’t a fucking waste. Yes, there are flaws, but in them are things you’ll remember.”

Pacino protects his talent by leaving it alone, which accounts for his vaunted moodiness. “There are various superstitions connected with reaching his center, and he doesn’t want to discuss them ever,” Mike Nichols, who directed Pacino in “Angels in America,” said. “He’s consulting somewhere else. And the somewhere else does not have to do with words.” Pacino almost never talks shop. When he was at the Actors Studio, in the late sixties, whenever Strasberg gave him notes, he said, “I would actually count numbers in my head not to hear what he was saying. I didn’t want to know. I thought it would fuck up what I was doing, where I was going with my own ideas.”

Even Pacino’s speech patterns, which forge a kind of evasive switchback trail up a mountain of thought, serve as a defense against too much parsing of his interior. “Al is dedicated, passionately, to inarticulateness,” Nichols said, pointing out that in conversation Pacino has no “chitchat.” Playing dead in social situations is his instinctive strategy.

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Author! Author!

Here’s a must-read. John Lahr on the new production of “Death of a Salesman”: 

Cast to a T, and beautiful in all its scenic dimensions (with Jo Mielziner’s original, 1949 set design), this staging of “Death of a Salesman” is the best I expect to see in my lifetime.

And Ben Brantley writing in the New York Times:

…The tears that brimmed in my eyes in those initial wordless moments receded almost as soon as the first dialogue was spoken. And at the production’s end I found myself identifying, in a way I never had before, with the woman kneeling by a grave who says, “Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry.”

Mr. Nichols has created an immaculate monument to a great American play. It is scrupulous in its attention to all the surface details that define time, place and mood. (Ann Roth’s costumes and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting feel utterly of a piece with Mielziner and North’s original contributions.) And as staged and paced it is perhaps the most lucid “Salesman” I’ve ever seen.

…That Mr. Hoffman is one of the finest actors of his generation is beyond dispute. His screen portraits, whether in starring roles (like his Oscar-winning turn in “Capote”) or supporting ones (“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Boogie Nights”), are among the most memorable of recent decades. Though he was brilliant in the 2000 revival of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” his stage work has been more variable.

Certainly his performance here is more fully sustained than those in “The Seagull” (for Mr. Nichols) and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” But as a complete flesh-and-blood being, this Willy seems to emerge only fitfully. His voice pitched sonorous and low, his face a moonlike mask of unhappiness, he registers in the opening scenes as an abstract (as well as abstracted) Willy, a ghost who roams through his own life. (And yes, at 44, Mr. Hoffman never seems a credible 62.)

Mind you, there are instances of piercing emotional conviction throughout, moments you want to file and rerun in memory. Mr. Hoffman does terminal uncertainty better than practically anyone, and he’s terrific in showing the doubt that crumples Willy just when he’s trying to sell his own brand of all-American optimism. (His memory scenes with his self-made brother, played by John Glover, are superb.) What he doesn’t give us is the illusion of the younger Willy’s certainty, of the belief in false gods.

Yes, I’m About to Go Get Lifted

There’s a nice appreciation of Elia Kazan by John Lahr over at The New Yorker to mark the release of a new 18-DVD set, The Elia Kazan Collection:

“I’ve never seen a director who became as deeply and emotionally involved in a scene,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography, “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” “Kazan was the best actors’ director by far of any I’ve worked for. [He] got into a part with me and virtually acted it with me.” Arthur Miller wrote, in “Timebends,” “Life in a Kazan production had that hushed air of conspiracy. A conspiracy not only against the existing theatre, but society, capitalism—in fact everybody who was not part of the production.” Kazan didn’t razzle-dazzle his actors with talk. Instinctively, when he had something important to tell an actor, he would huddle with him privately, rather than instruct in front of the others. He sensed that “anything that really penetrates is always to some degree an embarrassment,” Miller noted, adding, “A mystery grew up around what he might be thinking, and this threw the actor back on himself.” Kazan, who was no stranger to psychoanalysis, operated on the analytic principle of insinuation, not command. He believed that, for an interpretation to be owned by an actor, the actor had to find it in himself. “He would send one actor to listen to a particular piece of jazz, another to a certain novel, another to see a psychiatrist, another he would simply kiss,” Miller recalled. Kazan’s trick was to make the actors feel as though his ideas were actually their own revelations.

Kazan’s ability to submerge himself in a story served writers as creatively as it did actors. “I tried to think and feel like the author so that the play would be in the scale and in the mood, in the tempo and feeling of each author,” he said. “I tried to be the author.” Kazan is remembered primarily as a director, but his invisible contribution to writers is equally important. Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, Willy Loman, Big Daddy, Brick, Maggie the Cat, Chance Wayne—defining figures in the folklore of the twentieth century—all bear the marks of Kazan’s shaping hand. Of the many playwrights with whom he collaborated—William Inge, Arthur Miller, Archibald McLeish, Thornton Wilder—he had no partnership that was more intimate or influential than his work with Tennessee Williams. “It was a mysterious harmony,” Kazan wrote. “Our union, immediate on first encounter, was close. . . . Possibly because we were both freaks.” Kazan and Williams also had in common an oppressive father, a doting mother, a faith in sexual chaos as a path to knowledge, and a voracious appetite for success.

Kazan’s 1988 memoir, “A Life,” is well-worth tracking down.

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