Sunday, November 24, 2013


A Student in Expressions
I've been watching Vivien Leigh movies to get a full appreciation of her talents and to assuage my overwhelming loneliness. As a result, I have slightly changed my opinion on her rumored mental illness. I'm starting to think she actually sacrificed her life and reputation to delve into the character and relationships and drama of men and real order to have more experience to draw from when her character called for certain depth. I'm painfully aware of the costs to take ones art to another level. Most artists are content with pretending to act...drawing a line between their work and their life in order to maintain some kind of normalcy. A Hollywood mantra I heard more than once is, "The best acting isn't acting." Leigh seemed to decide that in order to really bring something new to the stage and screen she would need to dig deeper than usual into the heart of people and in order to do that she would have to break some rules. Eventually the lines became blurred and she couldn't or didn't want to return to normalcy. Such is the price of the intrepid explorer. Of course I will leave room in my theory for the possibility that she really was bat shit crazy and I'm merely being a foolish romantic...defending my lady's honor even after she is dead. Her acting mannerisms were developed on the stage, which explains her annunciation and professionalism, but her personality was definitely developed on her own time and at the cost of many broken hearts.* How else does one refine that kind of charm and dynamic charisma than by playing the field? I recall a woman cut from the same cloth as Scarlett O'Hara showing off my ring on her finger and lying to some lustful men in a Mexican cantina, "See? We're married."
"Married?" They asked.
"Of course," I replied. "Can't you tell by how miserable I am?"
And no one laughed.

The film "That Hamilton Woman", filmed a mere 2 years after "Gone With The Wind"** has two major attractions:
1) Leigh speaks in her native tongue.
2) Leigh does impersonations within the script. I count at least 5 examples.

The first is a nice element if you've only watched her speaking in Southern Belle accent or southern Has Been accent of Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire. The second element is something I've always felt gives immediate dimension to a character...when they act within the acting...they are written to pretend to be someone else or act out something they did in an anecdote.

Here's an example from a script I wrote:

Good ticket? Treat you right?
(shaking his head)
Ticket was fine. It’s...well, the ticket didn’t suck too much. It’s these assholes on the bus. Jesus, please! Talking on their fucking cellphones like they own the joint.
[imitating a cellphone user with his right hand holding an imaginary phone]
‘He said what? Really? Your pussy stinks how much? Oh, yeah, I love to get fucked in the ass. I’m such a fucking asshole that I’ll just talk on my fucking phone like a stupid bitch. That’s how much of a cunt I am! I’m a fucking asshole cunt!’
I hate them assholes too. Ignorant. Don’t understand how they can afford a cell phone but they got to ride the bus. How does that work? If I had a cell phone I’d buy me a fast car. One of them new Fords.

All the great comedies have this element: Tootsie, Some Like it Hot, Caddyshack,*** and The Breakfast Club**** the premise involves acting within acting. It's an element featured in my guilty pleasure "How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days" where both lead characters have hidden agendas. I love it. Leigh's character was based off the real life scandalous Lady Hamilton of the 1800 era who apparently fucked her way to the top of the Italian social ladder and along the way picked up some skills of deceit and impersonation. Within a minute of meeting Emma she disrobes after intentionally charming Lord Hamilton, the British Ambassador to Italy...and the audience is let in on the hidden agenda of Emma: She's a conniving, manipulating little nymph whose objective is to screw anyone it takes to get what she desires.

On a trivial Mt. Vesuvius anecdote: "It's knowing little things like that, that make you a Lady."
The detail I love is that she takes her own corset off and throws is on the ground after tossing both shoes on the ground and talks of herself as "A Lady" She is a courtesan, at best; at worst she's a tramp. The script was written by Walter Reisch and R.C. Sherriff; these veterans were instinctive writers who had excellent material to work with but they got many details into the script, the nuanced lines and heavily insinuated comments...kind of transparent by today's standards but, in the hands of talented actors, they play. The pace is feverish and the black and white unfortunately puts Leigh's face in shadows a few times but otherwise it's a good movie and a rare time in history where someone as dynamic and pretty as Leigh was filmed in her element. They say Winston Churchill loved this movie because of the naval warfare element but one look at how charming Leigh is will tell you he loved it for a beautiful escape from nightly Nazi bombardment. If there was room on the Voyager 1 satellite for a clip from this film I think we'd have aliens beating down our doors looking for Vivien.

Anyway, the topic today is desire. Specifically how desire is used well in art. I want to point out that in "Gone With The Wind", "The English Patient", "Doctor Zhivago"...desire is elemental...something we can relate to or at least aspire to in our daydreams. But most importantly, it is how dramatic art works. Without desire then you have Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith shit dribbling around for 90 minutes and pointlessly confusing everyone.

That Hamilton Woman works because desire is paramount, Lord Hamilton desires beautiful objects, Lady Hamilton desires acclaim, Lord Nelson desires victory. If you analyze successful movies you will find desire is a main ingredient. I'm not talking about "Want" or "Need"; I'm talking about "Desire", desperate desire. That's a fine line in linguistic terms but not in terms of humanity. Once you have the elements in place, the desires established, then the rest is filling in the blanks. Reisch and Sherriff do a better than average job filling in the blanks with pertinent and compelling dialogue, but it all comes down to desire. Desire is the music, and you are only writing the lyrics. A year after "That Lady Hamilton" was released "Casablanca" would focus on the same element. Desire drives a story line better than anything. Add some star struck lovers and it's a time-tested formula.

I don't want to leave the impression that desire is only a romantic comedy or dramatic romance element. "Silence of The Lambs" is also all about desire. I think Hannibal Lecter says, "What does he [the villain] covet." And Clarice also has desires (redemption) as does Hannibal (intimacy) and Buffalo Bill (transformation). Everyone has desires that drive them (mine is universal transcendency) and when these are clearly established in the writer's mind then everything else will fall into place. Take away desire and you have a pretentious and trendy Wes Anderson flop that makes me puke.

A final note on Leigh...her charm is infectious and I think she got that way by paying attention to what drew the best response from men in real life. She understood/learned that animated women are interesting...and intelligent women are alluring...and aloof women are sexirable (I meant to type desireable hahaha but that's too revealing to edit). So she combined everything and on top of all that she's blessed with very petite features. The audience is fortunate the directors of the time used one camera and got the most out of every camera position...dialogue goes on for minutes without a cut to another angle. It's so blunt and honest that I swear modern directors should have a limit on the amount of film they can use BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE THEM THINK ABOUT THE SHOT FOR A SECOND and maybe ACTORS WILL MEMORIZE MORE THAN ONE SENTENCE AT A TIME.

I've heard that between Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin a man, any man, should be able to assemble a functional personality and code of conduct. Given these three as role models you should be able to simply impersonate your way to success. I've tried to do this but it's easier said than done...I kind of ended up with part Jerry Lewis and part George Burns. I wonder if the same is true of Vivien Leigh since I see almost no trace of her dynamic personality in modern lead actresses, let alone women I meet on the street.

Here endeth the lesson.

*Lawrence Olivier is a dull actor to my eyes. He's good only in that he's not annoying. Maybe I'm missing something or can't judge properly since I never saw him on a stage. Totally lacking in personality. A wet rag. I think Vivien Leigh saw in him someone who would look the other way while she fucked every costar and sailor in Hollywood.
**1941 pictures also included How Green Was My Valley, and Citizen Kane.
***Bill Murray's impersonation of a golf announcer.
****Bender's (Judd Nelson) impersonation of Brian's (Anthony Michael Hall) family followed by a reenactment of his own family is classic: "Shut up, bitch! Go fix me a turkey pot pie!"
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.