Sunday, December 19, 2010
A Million Little Ruptures
In Leap Year (a lite treacly touristic rom-com - I didn't finish watching but I imagine it's one of the worst movies of recent years), Amy Adams and Matthew Goode walk up a hill to a castle. The modulation from moment to moment is based upon emotions that are arrived at, and then left behind, easily. That is, quickly. An entire aesthetic of both editing and performance revolves around the quick and, sometimes, deft "sampling" of emotional cues. My sense (and it's fine if it feels a bit too Frankfurt School on first glance) is that this is because the context of emotion is usually left wholly unexamined in mainstream film & TV. Only a false sense of "contained" emotion is to be respected. Emotions do not build upon each other; they do not have texture - the audiovisual, gestural archive of emotional cues is large enough at this moment to be drawn upon without elaboration, without narrative. We already see what a pouting lip means, what a raised eyebrow might mean, what a threatening posture entails ...the biggest aesthetic threat to competent film & TV acting is that people often hit these cues thoughtlessly and yet treat them as a register of "knowing" performance. This is a problem even in good examples. Party Down, my favorite TV comedy of the last several years, spreads itself thin when it indulges in the aesthetics of the awkward stare - a tired gesture, especially, after this past decade. The moment when something embarrassing or strange or gauche happens, the camera holds its gaze upon a character or two - stand-ins for the smart viewer - who give the same old face, the sort of face that JLG & JPG might have analyzed in A Letter to Adam Scott, were it to have been made. (Adam Scott - an actor I do like! - was also apparently in Leap Year, but I didn't watch long enough to get to him.) I must admit that I love a lot of stuff that partakes in this kind of gestural shorthand (like Party Down, like Ricky Gervais' shows) but I await the next development in the "smart mainstream," one that will hopefully exhibit some distance from the over-worked arsenal of faces, gestures, and picture frames.