The nature of film performance.

Discuss the nature of performance in relation to Marlon Brando or Anthony Perkins or Janet Leigh or Winona Ryder from films seen on the course. Your essay should address aspects of performance such as posture, gesture voice, body and visual appearance.

 

The nature of an actor’s or actress’s performance is critical so that the spectator watching their films are visually engaged and enticed whenever they are onscreen. A film could be the most highly crafted and stylish picture ever made when executed on a technical level, but if the performance from the actors are not engaging, it could effectively jar an audience’s overall perception of the film. In relation to the nature and the overall aesthetic of a performance, Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront’[1] (Kazan, 1954) and Anthony Perkins in ‘Psycho’[2] (Hitchcock, 1960) are both captivating in their respective roles as they both crafted their performances through the aspects of posture, gesture, voice, body language and movement as well as visual appearance in order to create iconic and astute performances onscreen.

There has always been a contentious issue with the differences between what is deemed ‘film acting’ and ‘theatre acting’ and whether or not these two types can merge within particular roles and performances. Andrew Dix writes, ‘Some of the most striking, if still fragmentary statements on this topic, sets film performance against theatre acting and sees it as humanly impoverished by comparison.’[3] Significantly within Elia Kazan’s ‘On the Waterfront’, I feel as if this is not the case as Brando’s performance excels within the thematic of the film, his acting throughout has indefinite theatrical qualities to it but it is the idea that we can view this film as if we are viewing a stage-play onscreen. Dix touches upon further within his writing, specifically about Brando’s acting style when he states, “Marlon Brando in ‘On the Waterfront (1954)’… draws upon a systematic repertoire of expressions, gestures, movements and intonations in order to achieve the effect which we are now habituated to think of as ‘truth to life’. ”[4] The nature of the performance given by actors is that they want to achieve an authentic portrayal, one that stays true to the material. However it is the great actors that encompass their roles completely as if they are living the lives of the protagonists they are leading.

Brando delves into the role of Terry Malloy by mere posture and his domineering presence throughout the film. He conveys an articulated and powerful persona which in a way is self-contained within his visual appearance; his combed hair, his rugged good looks as well as his black leather jacket that amplifies his rebellious aura. A particular scene within the film where Terry is walking with Edie (Eva Marie Saint) in a park in which Edie drops one of her white gloves. This was led to be known as something that was unscripted but it is the improvisation from Brando that makes this scene so unique which formally encapsulates the acting style known as ‘method acting’ a style that was advanced by a group of actors and directors at the Actor’s Studio in 1948. Ronald Bergman writing about method acting states, “Marlon Brando typified this style. Many thought there was madness in ‘The Method’ and it became the most caricatured of all acting styles with its mumbled delivery, shrugging of shoulders, fidgeting and scratching.”[5] At the time, it was considered an abstract technique but Brando as did so many other actors chose to subvert the nature of performance thus defying the conventions at the time of what made an actor, an actor.

In the scene, he merely picks up the glove and sits down on a swing and begins to pick dirt off the glove but it when he actually puts on the glove that brings a whole new sense of sensitivity to his character. Kazan loved the improvisation that much he chose to keep it within the final cut of the film. In the scene he looks contemplative in his frowning facial expressions, his posture is somewhat relaxing, again connoting the suave and collected persona that Brando is trying to convey within his character. Virginia Wright Wexman commenting on Brando’s speech in the film states, “The unrehearsed quality of his speech…in statements such as, ‘Never’s gonna be much too much too soon for me Shorty.’ An utterance impossible to imagine as scripted in which Brando delivers it.”[6]  His technique of simply elaborating from script’s dialogue relates to him reacting and improvising by putting on Edie’s white glove which conveys a sense of innocence, or frailty that Brando doesn’t choose to embody or reveal within his character at first, as it would counteract the bruising masculinity he is trying to put forward but by putting the glove on one hand and not the other alters his character to another interpretation, that there are two sides to his character, one dark and one light, one soft and one harsh. This technique of being ‘in the moment’ certifies Brando’s unique take on the nature of performance, incorporating human observation in order to make a role his own.

The nature of the performance from Anthony Perkins’ in his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is iconic as he is a man that incarnates evil and perversion but that trait is veiled by the character’s visual appearance. His exterior sees him as an average-looking and eerily soft spoken young man who is obsessed with his mother’s love and approval despite the fact she died years prior to the film’s narrative. It is Perkins performance that is so intensely disturbing that before we know the truth come the end of the film, we are still transfixed on him because of the nature of the performance he gives.

Hitchcock himself displayed a certain intolerance in some way for method actors, particularly managing them on a film set. In 1972, in the ‘Masters of Cinema’ interview he stated, “Method actors are like children. They are alright for the theatre, but their little problem with film is especially where cutting is involved.”[7] This in some way could have influenced the nature of Perkins performance in ‘Psycho’ as he was certainly a prolific actor but he was not known to of took on the levels of performance that Brando would take on when approaching a particular role. Perkins performance is all about depicting the disturbingly bleak aspect of his character’s life and his upbringing himself as he does present himself as being an extremely lonely and troubled individual. He portrays this through his movement and facial expressions; he moves quietly and either smiles or chuckles when he is talking to various characters, in particular Marion Crane and also when he is confronted by Detective Arbogast. His physical appearance that being his hair and clothing aids the nature of his performance as it is aimed to convey the image of Norman Bates of being harmless and innocent as he wears such casual clothing; he tucks in his shirt, his shirts are simplistic with no need to impress and his hair it neatly combed.

However this veil of innocence is broken at the end of the film, where the truth is finally revealed and that it is he who is the killer of Marion and Aborgast as well as the deaths and disappearances of other young women. When committing the murders, he dresses up in his dead mother’s clothing as he psychologically takes on the role of his mother whilst still having her corpse in the house as if he is doing this all for her. In the basement scene he explodes with rage and agony when he is caught trying to murder Marion’s sister, but it is the penultimate scene of the film where we see the true nature of Perkins’ performance, through his facial expressions which sees how psychotic and deranged his character truly is.

The dialogue throughout the scene is the voice of Norman’s mother but is told as if from the mind Norman himself, the lines, “They’re probably watching me […] and they’ll say why she wouldn’t even harm a fly”[8] sees Norman moves his eyes and head in conjunction with the non-diegetic voiceover that we hear onscreen. From this you could suggest that Perkins performance is delivered through the technical aspect of the filmmaking itself, with the uses of non-diegetic sound. As well as this, the nature of his performance is layered with emotions and expressions that does indicatively see his dissolve into the role of Norman Bates.

The performance of an actor in a film again does impact on the overall success of the film. An authentic portrayal of a particular character is one that engages audiences and makes them believe that the actors themselves are the people they are playing onscreen. Both Marlon Brando and Anthony Perkins are seen to be quite different in the way they approach their roles with Brando conforming to the stylistics of a method actor in which he totally encompasses the character he is playing and improvises in ways that sees him observe human responses. Perkins is more subtle within the nature of his performance as Norman Bates through his own physical appearance as well as his emphasis on facial expressions and body language and movement which overall sees him convey the emotions of a tortured young man with a severe split-personality.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Bergan, R. and Bergan, R. (2011). The film book. New York: DK Pub.

Dix, A. (2008). Beginning film studies. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Jankovic, D. (2011). Alfred Hitchcock – Masters of Cinema (Complete Interview in 1972). [Video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umfiwI-7I0M [Accessed 27 Dec. 2014].

Wojcik, P. (2004). Movie acting, the film reader. New York: Routledge.

 

Filmography

Psycho’, (1960), dir. By Alfred Hitchcock, prod. Alfred Hitchcock, Paramount Pictures, USA.

 

On the Waterfront’, (1954), dir. by Elia Kazan, prod. Sam Spiegel, Columbia Pictures Corporation, USA.

[1]On the Waterfront’, (1954), dir. by Elia Kazan, prod. Sam Spiegel, Columbia Pictures Corporation, USA.

 

[2] Psycho’, (1960), dir. By Alfred Hitchcock, prod. Alfred Hitchcock, Paramount Pictures, USA.

 

[3] Dix, A. (2008). Beginning film studies. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

[4] Dix, A. (2008). Beginning film studies. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

 

[5] Bergan, R. and Bergan, R. (2011). The film book. New York: DK Pub.

[6] Wojcik, P. (2004). Movie acting, the film reader. New York: Routledge.

[7] Jankovic, D. (2011). Alfred Hitchcock – Masters of Cinema (Complete Interview in 1972). [Video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umfiwI-7I0M [Accessed 27 Dec. 2014].

 

[8] Psycho’, (1960), dir. By Alfred Hitchcock, prod. Alfred Hitchcock, Paramount Pictures, USA.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s