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Monday, January 24, 2022

Hollywood still matters. This year’s best actors have shown why.

Not being that guy, but this usage is the opposite of what philosopher JL Austin meant by “performative,” a quasi-technical term he applied to a speech act that does what he says. Examples are few and far between: when you say “I swear” in court or “I fold” at the poker table, you are using performatives. You may be reluctant to fold, or by mistake, but not ironically. Words are deeds.

These diverging definitions suggest an interesting tension in our understanding of what it means to perform, perhaps especially in a world where we assume everything is being done for show. A play, by definition, is something fake, contrived, artificial, shy. And also, according to the opposite definition, something authentic, convincing, organic, true.

The illusion they create is not that they are really who they are playing, but that whoever they are, we know them.

In his book The Method, which will be published early next year, critic and director Isaac Butler traces the history of this tension to acting. Starting in pre-revolutionary Russia, a new approach to theater has insisted on truth, rather than eloquence, courage, or technical prowess, as the supreme value of acting. His guru is Konstantin Stanislavsky. Russian word experience, Commonly interpreted as “experience” and described by Butler as “the state of fusion of actor and character,” was the key to Stanislavsky’s system.

The character experience is what the actor explores internally and communicates externally in such a way that the viewer accepts what he or she knows is not so. We don’t confuse Will Smith with Richard Williams, Kristen Stewart with Diana, or Bo Burham with ourselves, but we believe them nonetheless.

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The arrival of Stanislavsky’s teachings in America, where it was taught as a Method by teachers such as Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, and Stella Adler, and practiced by artists such as Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, and Kim Stanley, coincided with a renewed commitment to realism in theater and theater. movie. For the actors, the always elusive standard of “you know when you see” realism was not so much precise mimicry as psychological truth. There were various ideas on how this could be achieved, but the main principle was that the feelings, memories and impulses of the performer were tools for mastering the character.

The method reached its peak in the 1950s and 60s, but the mystery of its authenticity remains. In popular culture, “method of action” now means an extreme commitment to blurring the line between character and self, a kind of total identification that is in many ways the opposite of what Stanislavsky and his American followers professed. This means throwing yourself headlong into the image: speaking the dialect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; weight gain or loss; acceptance of outlandish behavior; neglect of personal hygiene. Not to find the origins of the character within yourself, but to literally enter the character literally, go so far into the notion that you are no longer acting.

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