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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Dianne Wiest and Judy Garland: Talent and Technique





I've randomly chosen Dianne Wiest and Judy Garland to exemplify what I mean when I say that talent is a variable whereas technique is not.

What is talent?  It's been defined as having a dramatic instinct, depth of imagination, and other generalizations.  I agree, but more precisely, I think that a talented actor is one who's extremely empathic, and even more precisely, it's an actor who, with every sentence they utter has a thought, image, that forces that utterance from an intention.

 I recently saw Judy Garland's performance in A Star is Born.  I was impressed by the scene I've chosen, unaware that it's considered a famous scene from that performance.  I think that Judy Garland was one of those natural (genius?) actors who, by instinct, perform correctly.  It didn't matter whether she was singing or acting; she always uttered a sentence that emanated from a thought.

Dianne Wiest is a talented actor.  It's my impression that she doesn't use technique, but relies on her instincts, which are often reliable.  From In Treatment, the 2008 HBO series, she performed a clear need (aka action/objective).  In particular, when she described standing over the grave of her husband, she definitely saw an image in her mind's eye.  I'd like to point out that neither Adler nor Strasberg would have been able to discern whether she used an image from her own life experience or if she imagined it, but that she saw it is indisputable and her cognition of the image and describing it is what produced an honest emotion. 

However, in the 2006 autobiographical film written and directed by Dito Monteil, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, she apparently didn't decide upon an action, which, according to her lines, seemed to be the need to convince her son that his father loves him.  It's the end of the story.  Her character barely expresses herself throughout the film.  She called her son  to come home for his father's sake and as soon as he arrives, his father kicks him out of the house.  Why didn't she decide what thought/image would drive each sentence?  The first sentence she uttered about Antonio doesn't seem related to her overall action.  So, why does she say it?  Why does she continue to talk about Antonio in the beginning of the scene?  She says, "Look how nice it is now," again -- how to begin?  She must take in the environment, especially if her character comments on it.  Is it too warm for wearing her sweater?  When she does summon the courage related to the reason she came outside in the first place, everything she talks about is related to past memories.  What are those?  Images, anecdotes from the past; each of which the actor needed to create and summon in order to convince her son that his father loves him. What are those images from so long ago, on this hill -- her husband running after Dito with a forgotten lunch?  A jacket?  Dito says one word: "Sorry."  Didn't she hear him say it?  It's because he said "sorry," that she summons the courage to admonish him with, "You can't come back with hatred for your father." New Thought:  "How could you love him in that book and not see him for so long?" "I know you have your reasons," exposes another new thought, an empathic awareness of her son's POV, memory of her husband's behavior from her son's perspective.  What prompts that new thought?  It could be many things, but surely an obvious one, a memory of a hurt expression on his face when he was a boy.  Now he's a man.  How has he aged?  Has he put on weight, lost it?  He wears a beard; what does she think of the beard?  "....look at you...you're a man now...good to look at you."  Her son put his hand on hers; Ms. Wiest had no reaction to that physical gesture.  That gesture, coming from her son, whom she hadn't seen in 20 years, communicating that he understood what she was trying to convey, was the climax of the scene!  It's possible that Robert Downey, Jr. didn't make the gesture in other takes.  Nevertheless, if Ms. Wiest had been thinking the thoughts of the character, she would have reacted to the gesture.  The cumulative result of the error of not using technique renders a descriptive rather than dramatic performance.

I've written elsewhere on this blog about Marlon Brando and the anecdote about Stella Adler.  Brando was a good example of someone, once he learned, analyzed, what he instinctively knew, always applied the technique to his work.  Technique can never get in the way of talent, it can only enhance it.