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Old June 25th, 2006, 09:18 PM   #1
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Distinguishing bad acting from bad directing

I was just watching Kubrick's first feature, Paths of Glory, thinking to myself, "Why is the acting so stagey?" Acting has taken strides since the 1950s, but how much of the development can be attributed to improved directing? If the mature Kubrick, thirty years down the road, had been directing the same film, how much difference would it have made?

The issue I am grappling with is how to know when to blame the actor, and when to blame myself.
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Old June 25th, 2006, 10:10 PM   #2
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It really depends on too many factors. Was there any named talent? How green was Kubrick? Was it maybe a rushed project? Too many factors to point a finger.
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Old June 25th, 2006, 10:44 PM   #3
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Okay, it was not his first feature, but he was only 29 when he directed it. I think Kirk Douglas counts as "named talent", though I hear he was not very responsive to the young Kubrick's direction.

I only mention Paths of Glory as a typical example. Generally I find the acting in old films starchy. It's related to that "Method acting" thing, isn't it?
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Old June 26th, 2006, 12:02 AM   #4
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Yes, acting was different but so was the style of film too. I in no way could call "Paths of Glory" bad. It was different then. Even the writing was different. No person would actually say such things today but I absolutely love the speeches. Let's face it too. People are not so literate these days and wouldn't be able to tear a strip off another person in real life because they lack the ability to speak. I can't remember the last time I heard a politician actually be able to lift your heart with a speech in real life and not on the "West Wing".

It would be hard to make the same film again because the audiences expect different now.

I don't see an evidence of method acting in that film.

FYI:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_acting
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Old June 26th, 2006, 01:28 AM   #5
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Holliwood seems to be doing just fine regardless of bad acting,directing and weak plots.It all depends how the mass veiwers enjoy it on the day.
Easy Rider was a sensation in its day and seemed believable to the audiance,including me.I saw it again a few weeks ago and it looked so corny and phoney.Times move on and things change.
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Old June 26th, 2006, 04:13 AM   #6
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"The issue I am grappling with is how to know when to blame the actor, and when to blame myself."

I have really thought about this issue. Let me know if this makes sense to you.

***

If the actor can't follow instructions on the set and you start thinking about getting someone else, it is probably bad acting. Perhaps a good director can compensate with patience and good communication.

I think this is important:

If bad acting makes it into the final work, it is the fault of the director. I realize that directors may be pressured into using big-name no-talents, so I might push some of the responsibility to the producers.

The director is ultimately responsible.

***

On small productions where the director is often the producer and editor, final production results are especially their responsibility. This makes your job even more difficult since you have so many jobs and probably so few resources. Knowing that it is your responsibility, work closely with your talent and don't blame them in the editing station. Spot the problem in casting or on the set and direct them into the performance you want or shuffle the actors into the parts they can fulfill. If they trip over words, a small change to the dialog may make it more natural for them to deliver.

I think one thing that may cause rough performances with inexperienced actors is a lack of self-confidence. Assure them that you will do everything to make them look good. Explain what you want out of their performance in different ways until you know how they communicate. Communication is absolutely critical. I have seen very decent performances from actors with no experience once good communication is established.
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Old June 26th, 2006, 06:05 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Emre Safak
I was just watching Kubrick's first feature, Paths of Glory, thinking to myself, "Why is the acting so stagey?" Acting has taken strides since the 1950s, but how much of the development can be attributed to improved directing? If the mature Kubrick, thirty years down the road, had been directing the same film, how much difference would it have made?

The issue I am grappling with is how to know when to blame the actor, and when to blame myself.
I think we've improved in every aspect since the 1950's. The fact is that all acting prior to the mid 1970's is "stagey". And even in the 1970's there was still some of that going on. In fact some so called "great movies" have a lot of "stagey" acting that just wouldn't hold up today. I see more "staginess" in "The Godfather" than in "The French Connection" One must also take into account that not only has technology helped in the evolution of the skills of film directors, but that the audience has evolved as well. What was credible and impressive back then is not credible or impressive any more, because the audience is more demanding, more savvy, and less gullible, less naîve. Neither Stanley Kubrick nor the actors knew any better back then.I think Kubrick evolved into a good director.
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Old June 26th, 2006, 06:44 AM   #8
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I think the director should always blame himself for bad acting. If you know it's bad acting, then why even keep the actor? It's up to you to make sure you get the right talent. Now, one thing you must always be able to identify in an actor is whether he has the ability to walk in the character's shoes. And that's something you can usually tell within a few trials. It helps the actor to be told what you want from his performance and what you definitely don't want, and even why. Explaining to the actor why doing a scene "this way" and not "that way" helps a lot. Make sure the actor has a clear idea of the background of the character, the character's personality, hopes and dreams (if any), etc.
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Old June 26th, 2006, 06:20 PM   #9
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I haven't seen The French Connection, but I found the acting in The Godfather very realistic. Otherwise I agree with everything you have said.
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Old June 26th, 2006, 08:28 PM   #10
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Acting is like any talent,for some people it seems to come naturaly while others have to work hard at it.I recently made a short film using an actor who had been doing it for a couple of years while the other actor was a first timer.The trained actor was upstaged by the first timer,she just had a natural talent.Also lets not forget,a lot depends on who casts the actor in a particular role. Like this old saying goes.You can't fit a square peg in a round hole.
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Old July 15th, 2006, 09:22 PM   #11
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The fault lies with whomever cast the person.

It is most likely the director's fault but if you have a producer stepping in and foisting off bad actors on the production, then it's their fault. Directors aren't always in the position to say no. I've done a lot of casting in my time, and there are very, very rarely surprises as to when someone is good or not. A bad performance is only the actor's fault if they don't know their lines or if they show up stoned or hungover. And you, the director, must make sure that they have a complete script at least a couple weeks before they shoot. If they have a lead role, then you should give them a full month. What you really, really, really, really (did i say really?) want are actors who know their lines inside and out, upside downs, sideways and backwards. Anthony Hopkins rehearses every scene he is in at least 100 times with his own personal coach - that's in addition to whatever the director requires of him. If you want good performances, you want actors who have their lines in their bones, and will know their lines five years from now.

As for the acting in Paths of Glory - it's brilliant, perfect acting. It is the type of acting that script demanded. You're mistaking your own preference for naturalistic acting (which you are entitled to) as evidence that naturalistic acting is superior to the heightened performances of the past. It isn't. It's simply a style that has developed to serve the types of scripts that are most popular now. Twenty years from now, we may be writing scripts in a different fashion and then we will need actors to use different styles of acting. Those styles will seem more accessible to those audiences than the naturalistic acting we see in films now. Take any of those actors giving stage-y performances and drop them in a contemporary film that requires naturalism, and with a few minutes coaching, they would put the fear of God into half the actors in the room.

BTW, Brando, in the Godfather, is as heightened and stage-y as it gets. Don't mistake Method acting for naturalistic acting - they are two different things although many Method actors have been known for naturalism. Anyway, you don't think of him as being stage-y because the style of his performance matches the substance of his character and the script.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 08:07 PM   #12
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I would disagree that Brando's acting is stagey in any way. Method, yes. Stagey, no. Have you seen On The Waterfront or Street Car Named Desire? He is, by far, one of the most talented American film actors ever, (IMHO).

Acting is a craft, and for some it takes years to become decent, for others it comes quite naturally (and some will never possess any talent at all) as any other craft such as writing. Regardless, the Director's primary responsibility is to direct the performance of his actors. Camera shots, cinematography, and the perhaps more "fun" aspects of directing are secondary, despite the fact that film is a visual medium. Regardless of how the actors came to be involved, it is the director's responsibility to mold them as best as humanly possible to utilize them in order to tell the story s/he is attempting to tell.

Just my two cents. BTW -- you may all disagree (and probably do), but The Godfather is hailed as one of the best films in American Cinema in terms of acting, directing, screenwriting, sound design and editing. One of the quote fathers of editing Walter Murch (wrote In the Blink of an Eye -- a must read for every editor) edited it. And it's only even more impressive that it was made for practically nothing. Just had to chime in -- what a fascinating discussion :-)
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Old July 30th, 2006, 09:15 PM   #13
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Emre,

I have not seen the movie, but my presumption is that neither the acting nor directing was bad. Aesthetics just change, and that has been a big one.

It was Elia Kazan who is largely credited as a director for pushing the movie from very stage-like acting to more realistic acting, and he did that with A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954). Until then, and for a while after, stage-like acting was a bit of the norm. That said, when I see Streetcar it feels like a play to me, because the aesthetic has come that far since then.

Method acting is not the cause of what you didn’t like. If anything, it was the cure. Strasburg was pushing it around the same time, but I don’t think it got ubiquitous until later. It stresses a more internal process that involves the actors connecting more with the feelings of the character than trying to indicate them with grand motions.

Acting is still evolving. Look at the difference in acting styles from I Love Lucy to Three’s Company to Friends to The Office. In a sense it has gotten closer and closer to realism. It may not stay there… we’ll see.
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Old July 30th, 2006, 10:05 PM   #14
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Just wanted to add a bit to the last comment. A Street Car Named Desire, the film, is based upon Street Car Named Desire, the play. The legendary playwright Tennessee Williams himself adapted his own play into the film script (hence the stage-like feel of the film is more or less unavoidablely true). I would daresay it is the long passages of dialogue and not the acting itself per se that lead to any stage-iness. Also, interestly enough Elia Kazan started off directing Broadway plays such as Death of a Salesman and a Streetcar named Desire.

Regardless of your political beliefs, he was one of the first legendary directors contributing, as was mentioned, to more realistic movement in acting in cinema as a whole, as mentioned.

I, too, haven't seen Paths of Glory, so forgive the diatribe. I am definitely fascinated by Kubrick's subsequent films, however.
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Old August 4th, 2006, 11:24 AM   #15
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Again, more naturalistic acting required different

screenplays. That's the entire point I'm trying to drive home here. Compare the written dialogue in Paths of Glory or On The Waterfront to the dialogue in any well written contemporary screenplay. The dialogue itself is structured completely differently. The energy of the dialogue is completely different. It's dense dialogue, using formal grammar and requires rapid, aggressive delivery to work. The characters speak in complete sentences - something no one who is good at dialogue now writes much of. What Kazan began moving us toward was giving actors different types of text to work with. The changes in the writing had to come first - although, obviously Kazan had a vision. You cannot do text like they have Paths of Glory in a naturalistic style. You simply cannot. The structure of the dialogue is different. Unless you're willing to go on record as saying that Mankiewiecz is an inferior writer to Akiva Goldsmith....

And I love Brando - I'd go so far as to say that his performance in Last Tango may well be the finest performance in film history. But there is nothing naturalistic about his performance there either. The scene at his wife's funeral is explosively theatrical.

As for Brando in Godfather - he was incredibly stagey. He was incredibly stage-y in Apocolypse now. Why? The role demanded it. That doesn't mean it's second rate acting - it's first rate acting and that's why you don't perceive it as such. But there is NOTHING naturalistic about that performance. Brando is an entertainer and he is going to make his work fun to watch. Films need breathing room and heightened performances create space for the audience. In Godfather II, you have DeNiro giving an incredibly naturalistic performance as that character as a young man - and you have a completely different type of film. GFI is a melodramatic potboiler. GFII is genuine drama.


Naturalism, as I said previously, is just one more style - nothing more. But the difference between stage-y performances then and stage-y performances now is the difference in the written dialogue.

BTW, for an interesting lesson in incorporating heightened acting into a naturalistic project - check out Catch-22. The scenes in front of the airplanes with their engines going that have Buck Henry and Jon Voight (I think) yelling at each other to be heard is Nichol's humorous and elegant solution to the problems that naturalism sometimes creates in comedies.

Oh, and editing has changed dramatically since the forties and fifties. The amount of edits per minute has gone up dramatically. In a sense, the theatrical aspect has been transfered from the actor to the edit of the film. In earlier films, you frequently had long master shots with two or more people talking - and they were looooong shots. That requires a lot of theatrics to sustain the audiences interest.

Last edited by Lori Starfelt; August 5th, 2006 at 03:02 AM.
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