Sunday, December 30, 2007

Actors: Smarter than 5th Graders?

A case can be made that film acting is the lowest of all the art forms - and perhaps the world's most overrated profession. In fact, I'm going to make that case, and as usual, I'll be overstating it.


Let me start by saying this is not a diatribe against celebrity culture. I understand why people are interested, or at least entertained, by the Tramp Trio. In fact, I plucked my quarter down when I saw the NY Post headline "Britney's Shear Madness", in order to see pictures of Ms. Spears' bald head.

Celebrity culture is as much about mocking these people as celebrating them. No, this is a look at acting as its performed at its highest level, and the ridiculously high regard we have for these people.



How Easy is Acting?

At the expense of being unfair, one might define acting as saying words that other people wrote while wearing clothes other people picked out, surrounded by scenery designed and selected by others. Even the essence of acting - the speaking of lines and physical movement that accompanies it - are done under the direction of someone else.

Unlike the novelist or songwriter, the architect or composer, the sculptor or choreographer, a significant part of an actor's art is created by others. Unlike a stage actor, scenes are filmed in short snippets - and you can always take a mulligan if you mess up.


Film acting is easy enough that it may be the world's only profession that can be performed at the very highest levels by children (not to mention their intellectual equals, models). Who was not mesmerized by Haley Joel Osment, who was 10 years old during the filming of The Sixth Sense? Abigail Breslin was captivating and completely believable as Little Miss Sunshine. Anna Paquin was 11 in The Piano. Justin Henry was 8 years old in Kramer v. Kramer. Eight!


Those four were all nominated for Academy Awards, the highest honor in the profession of film acting. And Tatum O'Neal actually won an Oscar at 10 for her performance in Paper Moon (though I thought her best work was in Bad News Bears).

Can you imagine any other profession having an annual awards ceremony in which children are regularly honored as the best in the business? Pharmaceutical research? Actuary? Plumber? Manufacturing foreman? Bank teller? ER nurse? Oncologist?


Or to keep in in the arts...painting? architecture? cellist? Is there any chance whatsoever that the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction will be given to a 3rd grader? It's impossible, in fact, to even imagine a child winning any of the non-acting Academy Awards ("And the Oscar for Sound Editing goes to...Little Ricky Horton from Truman Elementary School!")

And yet we revere these people. John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn are legends. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are among the most admired people in the world. I'm not saying they aren't good at what they do - of course they are. But so are Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon, at a much harder job, and nobody cares about them.


It Wasn't Always This Way

Let's play a little game. Try to think of a novelist who made his mark before 1900. Got one? Probably more, right? Now, think of a playwright...a composer...a painter...a sculptor...a poet? You have more than a few names in your head. In fact, you can probably even picture what some of these people look like...Mark Twain, for example. Shakespeare, Beethoven, maybe even Emily Dickinson.


Now, think of an actor from before 1900...got anyone? Still waiting...no, John Wilkes Booth doesn't count, even if he did make his mark on the stage.


Now, how many actors can you name from the last 75 years? Given enough time, you can probably crank out more an impressive list. Actor worship is a relatively new phenomenon.


I'll Wrap Up Now

Alright, I've rambled on long enough on this subject. Besides, it's New Year's Day and I think one of the cable stations is doing a Clint Eastwood marathon. And I love Clint Eastwood...


5 comments:

John M said...

If anyone had a chance to catch it on HBO late last year their was a small awards show for Comedian Jerry Seinfeld and during his acceptance speech he goes on a rant about how actors receiving awards for acting is a joke and all that. It's pretty funny and along the same lines as your blog. If anyone gets a chance check it out you could prob download it on youtube.

Anonymous said...

Some pretty dumb logic here. Think of an actor before 1900?

You do realize that there were no cameras before 1900, so there's no way that people alive today could have seen performances from back then, meaning no way to judge a particular actor much less remember them.

Compare that to someone who did a painting or wrote a novel or symphony back then - yep, the evidence of what they did is still easy to see today. Lousy competition.

And I'd suggest that the simplest way of judging how difficult something is, is to ask can YOU do it?

It's easy to say that an actor giving a given performance has an easy job - I'd argue if it's so easy, let's see YOU try and give a performance equal to those most highly respected.

Let me guess. You can't. So if it's so easy, why can't you? And if you can't do something SOOOO easy, what does that say about your level of skill? Man, you can't even do what a *little kid* can do.

By the same "logic" used in this blog post, I'm surprised that you don't feel the same way about novelists - after all, they're just putting a bunch of words in order, right? Painters are just doing the same thing that little kids do with a brush and a canvas, right?

And for the record, there have been kids who were prodigies with skills at an adult level, just look at Mozart, who was writing symphonies as a child.

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freakflag333 said...

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