Sunday, August 22, 2004

Illustration of Ungrounded Concepts, By Way of Phillip Seymor Hoffman

Once again, some fairly quick and rough notes on how it seems to me people think...

A month or so ago, I was watching The Movie Show, and they had an interview with the actor Phillip Seymor Hoffman about the movie he was in, Owning Mahowny. In the interview, Hoffman commented on acting.

The way I remember it, he compared being an actor to being one of those people who balance spinning plates, because it involved mentally keeping track of a lot of thigns at once as you go about the performance.

One of the people I was watching it with said that they didn't think that was necessary for acting -- basically, that you could just do it as a natural expression of a character, that once you were familiar with the character and role, it should, to some extent, flow out from you.

Their point was, there's no need for acting to be so "calculated". And the fact (or at least it seems to be a fact -- I don't know this myself) that some of the best actors past and present have had a more "natural" style seems to support the point that it isn't necessary.

I disagreed with that point, becuase... because.. well, I couldn't put it clearly into words then, but I think I can now. The thing is, while some people might not need to be so calculated in their acting, others may well be. Their nature, the way they think, the way they go about doing things - any or all of these things just may not be suited to a particular style of acting.

You might argue that a natural style is better than a more calculated style. The issue here, however, was whether a more calculated style was necessary or not. (In passing I would say that I think this view that the use of "natural talants" makes something surperior is a myth -- but that's something I'll have to talk more about some other time).

Now, to the point of this post. I believe the mistaken view that a calculated style is unnecessary stemmed from thinking in terms of the concept "acting" without bringing "real world" considerations into the thinking. Rather than thinking through this issue of whether the calculated style was necessary in concrete terms, it was thought through in abstract terms.

Why was it thinking in terms of the concept "acting" and not concretely? I'm not sure best how to explain this. Perhaps the following might help. It's meant to be analogous to the stream of thoughts that might've gone through the person's head. It's just mean to be illustrative of the general nature of those thoughts:


you are thinking of the issue of whether a calculated style is necessary or not to be able to act well

you can think of examples of actors who act well, who do not require a calculated style

thus, to act well you do not need a calculated style.


That is, all of the thoughts are referencing the person's concept of "act[ing] well". This is what I meant about when I said they were thinking in terms of their concept of acting.

At no point did the person actually think that acting well (thus acting) requires people to do the acting, and that this fact might have some bearing on the matter. Making this realisation and considering whether it had any bearing is what I meant by bringing "real world" considerations into the thinking and makint it concrete.

If acting were just a single thing, as it implicitly was in the above train of thought, then if we can find any examples of where this thing does not require the calculation, then it shows that such calculation is not required.

In other words, the problem is when concepts are being applied, to think about real or imagined situations or issues, but not being grounded in the concrete details of the situation.



I hope this does not sound like an argument against the use of abstraction in thinking, because it's just an argument against inappropriate use of abstractions in thinking.

1 comment:

  1. > basically, that you could just do it as a natural
    > expression of a character, that once you were
    > familiar with the character and role, it should, to
    > some extent, flow out from you.

    Any story worth its salt sees change in the character
    and their deliveries/manerisms/actions. Since movies
    are rarely shot in order, i would suggest it is not
    sufficient to just turn up and "be" that character?

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