Monday, August 2, 2010
"He only does big things..."
As an actor, I have spent a lifetime stealing from other actors. Good actors, mind you, but stealing. I don't feel at all bad about it. Stealing is not imitating. It's something altogether different. Although imitating can be fun, too. Just not so useful. There's the whiff of mendacity if one imitates, however. But stealing, outright theft, is another thing altogether.
I mention this because I watched the film Patton last night. A movie made in 1970 starring George C. Scott as George Patton, the flamboyant, American, WWII icon. It is a sterling performance from Scott and I don't just mean his usual vocal pyrotechnics (which he does as well as any actor working in the latter part of the twentieth century). I don't know a lot about the history of the film (although I do know that Scott was the second choice...Rod Steiger initially turned it down) but I suspect one of two things happened; either Scott quite consciously gave a performance of massive scope or they shot so much footage they pieced together this enormous quilt of a role. I think probably the former because Francis Coppola wrote the screenplay and it was more than likely too tight to fuck with too much.
Scott swings almost every club in the bag. The only aspect of the character he is unable to play is romantic love...which he sort of does anyway with his obsession with making war. He is, at times, petulant, child-like, arrogant, sensitive, empathetic, ambitious, daring, vulnerable and war-like. There is a scene in which Karl Malden, playing Omar Bradley, scolds him for his insensitivity toward his men by putting them in the path of the Germans simply to outshine his nemesis, the British Field Marshal Montgomery. Scott lays on a couch and listens and pouts like a twelve-year old. It is a remarkable piece of acting in this raging portrayal. Later, riding his horse in circles and chatting amiably with a gaggle of reporters, he does the same thing, speaking outlandishly like a child to his cohorts. These sudden shifts, showing other angles of the character, don't seem much at first, but they're clearly extraordinary choices. Scott is no accidental actor.
I mentioned to Angie as I was watching the movie (which I have not seen for more than fifteen years, probably) that I think I've stolen more from Scott than any other actor I can think of, even Brando. His impeccable diction (he's a stage actor first), his romance with the consonants 'D' and 'T,' his unusual choices when it comes to raising his vocals, his unpredictable flights from rage to conciliation. We, the audience, never get ahead of Scott, we're never quite sure where he's going with something...it is textbook great acting.
I saw him onstage once in a very bad play called The Boys of Autumn about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn grown up. Tom was a hermit living way out in the Ozark woods and Huck was on the run for being a pedophile. Talk about skewering your sacred cow. Anyway, the other actor was the very fine John Cullum,but it is Scott that holds the stage. Planted like an immovable oak tree in the very center of the stage, with Cullum blocked around him, he was frighteningly powerful. His voice, the trademark growl, was like an out of tune tuba in the theatre that night.
The thing about Scott that I love is that he is unapologetically a stage actor, a prime example of my theory that there is no "over acting" or "under acting" but only honesty and dishonesty. Other stage actors that do film simply soften their stage persona for the camera...Kevin Kline comes immediately to mind...Scott doesn't bother to do this. Pacino has apparently reached this decision, too. He doesn't soften his work anymore, just sets the bar super high and jumps. We either follow or we don't. I, for one, love to follow him.
By all accounts, Scott lived a tremendously chaotic personal life...a binge drinker, socially inept, arrogant to the point of alienation, shy yet demanding...but every single time I have seen him, even with bad writing, he towers over every actor around him. He did a play called Inherit the Wind on Broadway many years back with the fine actor, Charles Durning. Durning at one point in rehearsal apparently turned to him and said, "For the life of me I can't figure out what it is that you have that I don't, but if I could I'd bottle it and make a billion dollars." I couldn't agree more. Only once, in his entire career in film, have I seen another actor take the stage from him and that, of course, was Brando in a quirky, little film from 1981 called The Formula. Scott is his usual bellicose self, keeping us guessing as to why and when he will explode, but Brando is the very definition of sly and realized early on that he couldn't match Scott in this aspect, so instead he plays opposite him in a smarmy, underplayed, busy performance that manages to match Scott not through strength but through fascination. He's always DOING something, little things, fixing a salt shaker, winding his watch, polishing his glasses, wiping his upper lip, distracting himself...he understood instinctively the only way to stay on screen with Scott was to play to Scott's weakness as an actor, that is to say, doing little things. Scott only does big things.
Another glorious day in Los Angeles. The sun is already up and inviting. The air crisp and cool and promising some action later on. I'm turning my attentions to Praying Small today, making it into a screenplay just for the shits and giggles of it. Angie is off to the special effects warehouse (her new job) to be a 'factory girl.' We have a running joke that someday soon I'm going to dress up in Navy Whites and come carry her out like Richard Geer does in An Officer and a Gentleman.
She fixed a dinner last night fit for a king. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, Angie made it into my heart long ago. Aside from being beautiful, smart, funny and sexy, she can cook like it aint' nobody's business. I smile as I write that because I know she will, too.
On a personal note, my mother died 23 years ago today. I shall think of that today.
Off to Missouri in less than two weeks for our engagement party. Personally, I'm looking forward to those little weenies in bar-b-q sauce. I'm told someone is on that.
See you tomorrow.