Friday, June 29, 2012

The March of Fascism

The federal government long ago expanded its powers far beyond anything James Madison and his fellow framers imagined. The Constitution is in reality meaningless, but the Supreme Court, whose purpose is to make sure our laws conform to the Constitution, twists its reasoning to justify interventionist laws as the mixed economy marches toward fascism.

Yesterday the court upheld Obamacare as a tax increase, and sure enough, Congress has the power to levy taxes. It’s right there in the Constitution; you can see for yourself.

You can’t expect the Supreme Court to save America from continuing down the road to serfdom. Not only is our culture moving that way, but the Court would have to rule against its own precedents such as Wickard v. Filburn, which stretched the Commerce Clause to cover any economic activity that affects interstate commerce. It would take five remarkable Justices to defy the rest of government, academia, the media and the nihilist postmodern philosophy or our culture — and apparently, the Court has only four such men.

The idea of being limited by the words of an 18th century document makes people like Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi laugh. To them providing for the general welfare means whatever the state thinks is good for you. And their intentions are good; all they want to do is give us all free health care. Any further argument is just politics and legalistic quibbling.

Do you think the word “fascism” is hyperbolic? The “tax” in Obamacare will be payments to health insurance companies. If fascism is the form of socialism in which private property is kept nominally in private ownership but dictated by the state, then Obamacare is something Mussolini would have loved.

I believe the Affordable Care Act has been deceptive from the beginning. The purpose of Obamacare is to create a mess. What will happen when insurance companies must cover people with pre-existing conditions? They will lose money, and then they will go to the government for subsidies in order to remain in business. Eventually, the statists will argue that health care would be cheaper to the taxpayers if the federal government eliminated the middle man and managed it on the European model. (Yes, that model that is now in economic crisis.)

I think they will succeed. If there is one thing I am confident our government can create, it’s a mess. You must remember, Obama does not work on the old model — that of getting practical results and spreading prosperity. He doesn’t care if his policies work. He only wants the strong to sacrifice to the weak and the individual to sacrifice to the collective. To leftists this is good and all else is evil, even if evil is more practical.

The Supreme Court cannot save freedom in America. Can anyone? Is there any hope? We need cultural change, which means the spread of reason, individualism and free market economics, which means the philosophy of Ayn Rand. A nation gets the government it deserves.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Actors Are Not Dogs

I got drunk with this director. It happens now and then. Around 1:30am, when we were both deep in our cups, he confessed to me what he really thinks of actors.

"An actor's job," he said, "is to follow the director's orders."

If only actors would do the things directors tell them to do -- learn your lines, project, move as directed, pick up cues and pace and energy, pursue your objectives -- then a show would be fine.

Dogs can be taught to follow commands -- why not actors? Come to think of it, in the shows I am now in I sit, heel, beg, roll over, play dead and stay. Why, actors are just a fancy breed of dog that speaks Shakespeare! All they need are the commands of a firm but loving master.

This director is utterly wrong because he misses the essence of acting. I am convinced, after 40 years of acting, being in plays in New York and LA, studying four years with a hard-core Stanislavskian, reading a shelf full of books and contemplating for hours, that acting is about finding a personal response to the lines. (If you want to know more about this theory, read the best book on acting ever written, How to Stop Acting by Harold Guskin.)

This essential act cannot be done by a director's orders any more than an editor can dictate what words a novelist should use in his first draft. Like the fiction writer, the actor must get his personal response from his subconscious mind. The results will often surprise, and they cannot be dictated or anticipated, not even by the greatest director in the world. Like the editor, the director at most can only say "This does not work. Find something else." (And that editorial function is important.)

When a director concludes that obedience is the most valued aspect of an actor, then it is all too easy for him to conclude that he must intimidate and frighten the actors into obeying his commands. He creates a climate of fear. Thus creativity dies.

As William Ball writes in A Sense of Direction,

Fear is the primary enemy of creativity. When an actor approaches his role, it is always with some degree of fear. One of the jobs of the director is to encourage the actor to overcome his fear. Every director will find different techniques to supersede fear, but the most effective technique is for the director to assure the actor by what is said and done that they are allies; that the work will proceed on the basis of two people working toward a mutual goal.

The actor will learn to relinquish his fear when he sees that the director never causes another actor to be frightened. If the director terrorizes, victimizes or humiliates someone else in the cast, an actor will automatically deduce, "That may happen to me one day," and his guard will be up perpetually. So it is important for the director to have tremendous self-control. He must never send messages of derogation or contempt to any member of the cast. It is essential for the director to be the actor's ally, and each director must develop techniques that send messages quickly about that alliance -- the kindness with which he speaks to actors, the way he touches them, the way he praises them, the way he always has time for their questions, the way he overlooks their mistakes. Fear has to be supserseded if the director expects to get the best out of an actor.
(And it does not help if the director plays good cop while his surly production manager plays bad cop.)

When a director establishes a climate of fear, then the actors stop contributing. They do the safe thing: sit back and wait for orders. They're a little like the good Nazis -- you can't blame me, I'm just following orders.

Actors who do nothing but follow a director's orders are bad actors. They are not doing the important work, which is finding the values in each line and finding their personal response to those values. There is a lot more to acting than just playing dead.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Finding the Values

Watching actors rehearse lately, one thought comes to me over and over: they're not finding the specific values in each line.

It is often said that art is about concrete specifics. Generality is the enemy of art. I think this is partly right, but also expresses the empiricist bias of our time. Art should integrate the concrete with the theme.

But I can see the point in this when I watch beginning actors. Their biggest mistake is to generalize; they think something like, "this character is angry in this scene," and then play every line angry without variations. That's bad acting.

The actor has to look for the possibilities in every line -- and this process takes more time than many actors like to spend. The actor should give himself a standing order to watch for passages in which everything he does is the same. That's a warning that he is not finding the specific values in the lines.

I like to act the way Hendrix played guitar: the odd surprise can come at any moment. The line can go anywhere. Sometimes grief can elicit laughter and joy can mean quiet solemnity.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Scrambled Eggs

As a brief addendum to my recent post on acting, this video on YouTube, 10 Reasons Why I Hate Method Acting, got me thinking about all the nonsense about acting. For the most part I agree with Coach Scotland. David Mamet's books on acting also demolish the Strasburg school of acting that places so much emphasis on evoking emotions -- in the actor, not in the audience.

When I was a teenager and a drama geek in high school, I read something that said if you act Hamlet, you should know what Hamlet ate for breakfast. I took this advice seriously. It came from an AUTHORITY. He must know what he is talking about, right?

For years after that when I would prepare a role, I took a few minutes to decide what my character ate for breakfast. It was always scrambled eggs. Perhaps this is because I enjoy scrambled eggs.

Bottom the weaver in A Midsummer-Night's Dream? He ate scrambled eggs for breakfast. Joe Keller in All My Sons? Scrambled eggs. Jupiter in Amphitryon 38? Even the gods eat scrambled eggs.

Finally, I told myself, "If someone asks the breakfast question, just say scrambled eggs for all characters." (I even wondered at one point if I should have an answer for lunch and dinner, too.)

I did not suffer this nonsense because I thought it would help my acting. I knew it was pretty much a waste of time. I did it so that if anyone asked about my character's breakfast, I would have an answer -- because I wanted people to think I was a serious actor. I did not want some acting know-it-all to sneer at me and ask, "You don't know what your character ate for breakfast? And you call yourself an actor?"

Thus does nonsense flourish. Some authority says this is good, this is cool, and young people, desperate to have others think they are smart and hip, parrot the nonsense. Political Correctness preys upon fearful young people this way. The argument from intimidation, which Ayn Rand dismantled in one of her many great essays, uses the same fear.

By the way, Ian Fleming was also a great lover of scrambled eggs and he made his hero James Bond eat them. He loved to detail Bond's style -- what he drank, his clothes, his cigarette lighter, his car. He even wrote a recipe now called Scrambled Eggs James Bond.

So if Daniel Craig were asked what Bond ate for breakfast, he could say scrambled eggs and actually get it right. Or he could give the questioner a withering stare and make him feel really, really stupid.

I am currently working on Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing and Buckingham in Richard III. They are both huge eaters of scrambled eggs, you bet.

Friday, March 02, 2012

100 Points

Today is the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. It is an astonishing achievement, one of the greatest personal feats in sports history.

On 710 ESPN people have been discussing whether it will ever be done again in an NBA game. All the experts say no. In 1962 Wilt towered over the  rest of the league; today the players are taller. Only Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 points in a game himself, says yes, it will be done again.

Kobe is right! It will be done again, though maybe not in my lifetime.

I base this prediction on one fact: never is a long, long time. It's not just the rest of my lifetime or the rest of the 21st century or the 22nd century or the 23rd century. Never is forever.

If the NBA lasts long enough, someone will score 100 points again. It will take a perfect storm: a great player will have to be "unconscious," shooting phenomenally well; the opponent will have to have lousy defense, but stay close enough in the game to keep the great player on the floor; and the opposing coach will have to be stupid enough not to double or triple team the great player. So it will take greatness on one side and epic stupidity on the other.

But what if America meets its demise? It could all end in a nuclear holocaust or a meteor strike. In that case, the naysayers can go "Nyah, nyah, nyah, no more 100-point games!"

The NBA could survive the political discorporation of the USA -- if the people in North America want their basketball more than they want a nation called the United States of America.

I think sports would survive if America became some kind of dictatorship because tyrants need bread and circuses to keep the masses sedated. The quality of sports would decline with the end of freedom, as dictatorship causes economic decline and scarcity of resources. The market creates more and more resources and scientific advances that can go into training, medicine and sports science; this would end under dictatorship, and the quality of everything, including sports, would deteriorate. Olympic times would go up and people would wonder how athletes in the old days ever ran so fast and jumped so high. But this might actually make the possibility of another 100-point game more likely. A phenomenon like Wilt or Michael Jordan could blow away a league of declining skills in the darkness of tyranny.

Then there are the Christian mystics who believe the end of the world is nigh. (How can they know when it's supposed to come like a thief in the night? They write books, make movies, run web sites and predict the exact day the world will end. This is a noisy thief coming.) If these people are right, then Wilt's record is safe.

I say it will happen again. But don't hold your breath.

UPDATE: Revisions.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Art of Acting: Recent Thoughts

My thoughts on acting continue to evolve. Here is where I stand now.

I am more convinced than ever that the great theorist of acting has yet to come. Stanislavsky, though of much value, is not the last word on acting. He was the first word, and a good start, too. The theory of acting is like the science of physics after Galileo but before Newton. We know some, but it hasn't all been put together yet.

Until the great theorist appears, actors must stumble on, learning their craft by trial and error from the most important teacher: the audience. You learn to act by acting, just as writers learn by writing.

At the moment I am preparing several roles for a Shakespeare festival -- Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing and Buckingham in Richard III. I am using the approach of Harold Guskin, as set down in his book, How to Stop Acting.

It's good. Damn good. It's the best "method" I've ever used. As I work, I find surprising line readings and points of view, all unplanned, all coming to me from my subconscious mind. I speak the lines more naturally than ever; it is me in those circumstances and conditions.

Guskin opposes scene analysis. He thinks such intellectual work just gets in the way of what he calls "instinct" -- what I call the subconscious. The whole point of his approach is to get rid of all preconceptions so that you get in touch with what your subconscious mind feeds you.

Why is this good? Because that's the way you talk in real life. The words come to you from the subconscious, and that's the natural way we talk. If you can get to the point as an actor that the words in the script are coming to you the way words normally do, then you sound natural.

His approach takes a lot of time -- probably more time than most actors are used to spending on their lines, especially actors who are not getting paid for what they do.

I am not convinced that all scene analysis is bad. In real life, you have a purpose when you speak. How do you find the character's purpose in speaking? Well, by thinking a little about his intention, or objective. That's scene analysis.

Then again: when I studied verse speaking with David Melville of Independent Shakespeare Company, I asked him if he worried about objectives. He said no. He is strictly of the Noel Coward school of acting: learn your lines and don't bump into the furniture. And he is a good actor. Go figure.

Guskin is good because he mirrors so much of the theory about writing fiction. The writer must tap his subconscious. Same with the actor. I think Guskin's approach integrates well with Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction.

Here are some principles of my own that I hold as important.

1. Don't rush results. I believe this is the number one mistake made by beginners. They have a shallow idea of how the line is supposed to sound -- which they got from watching actors on stage and in film and TV -- and they imitate those results. Then they stop thinking about the line and carry their vapid results into performance. Method acting, and all good schools of acting, are all about getting to results in a good way rather than imitating the results of famous actors.

Of course, you will have problems with many directors who want immediate results. I worked with one director who, on the first day of blocking, while we were stumbling around with scripts in hand, wanted projection, energy and quick cues. He wanted the performance. This is called "bad directing." What do you do with such a director? Give him what he wants, then go home and do the real work. When you shine before the audience, he'll take all the credit for his brilliant direction. You'll know the truth.

Closely related to this:

2. Imitate what people do, not what other actors do.

3. There are two general stages of acting: finding the reality and communicating it to the audience. Strasberg erred too far on finding the reality, and forgot the audience. Mamet and perhaps Guskin err too far on ignoring the work of finding the reality. Rushing results is often worrying about the communication to the audience too soon.

4. An actor must act, just as a writer must write. Moreover, it's best to act in plays, in which the purpose is to perform before an audience. I've never liked exercises. They always say an artist must practice, practice, practice, but I believe the best practice is being in plays. The audience is the greatest school of acting. Having the ultimate purpose of performance makes all your practice purposeful, important, efficient and meaningful.

5. Listen to the other actors. This is emphasized by the Sanford Meisner school of acting. I don't know if all his exercises of two actors repeating things back and forth are worth a damn, but I do know that listening to other actors is great. Most people listen in real life (except bores who love the sound of their own voice). Listening creates reaction. Listening also puts you in touch with the subconscious. Listening is natural; it's what we do in life. Don't stand on stage just waiting for your time to speak.

6.  Research is BS. Anyone who reads medieval history while preparing for a role in Richard III is wasting his time. What does Shakespeare's Renaissance imagination have to do with the reality of the War of the Roses? It's all in the script. You must understand what you are doing and who you and the other characters are, but most of that information is in the lines. Ask the director or dramaturg if you're confused.

7. Ask yourself why you act. Do you love it?

Look at poets. Can there be a less rewarding artistic endeavor in our age than poetry? There is no money in poetry. Few care about it. But some people write poetry from some unquenchable inner urge. It's who they are; they are poets. Why are you an actor? It's good to think about these things. Stella Adler certainly did.

Andrew Breitbart, RIP

I never knew Andrew Breitbart, but I admired his courage. The left despised him; in fact, they still do, and they are now heaping scorn on his corpse, as one would expect from the tolerant and kindly left. They hate him because he was effective. He took down Acorn, their instrument for undermining elections in America, and so became a leading target of leftist bile.

Following his Twitter feed was a daily lesson in the frothing madness of the left. Breitbart always retweeted the insulting, hate-filled tweets he got; he was happy to let his enemies reveal themselves with their own vituperation. They are a seething, juvenile, mean-spirited lot, and not terribly clever, either.

(I gave up following Twitter because every week or so my password would not work and I would have to change it -- most exasperating. Maybe my computer has a virus or something.)

Courage is important in our age. The increasingly totalitarian left depends on conformity of thought. This does not mean persuading those who disagree with them, but shutting them up. And the best way to shut someone up is make him afraid to speak his mind. Smears, intimidation and character assassination are the methods of the left. (How many people in Hollywood , publishing, government or academia remain silent because they know that speaking out is career suicide? How many women, minorities and gays toe the PC line because stepping over it means shocking decent people more than profanity did in the Victorian age?)

The main purpose of government schooling now is to mold young Americans into docile conformists. Political correctness is leftist thought control: these things you are permitted to say -- those other things, no decent person must say. Independence is the virtue above all others that the left cannot abide.

When the left accepted the premise that the end justifies the means, they crossed a line. They are now the totalitarian left. This ain't your father's Democrat Party. These people are radicalized, and they mean war. Words are no longer tools of rational communication; they are weapons to be used in the political struggle.

With the left so far down the road to serfdom, good men need courage above all. Andrew Breitbart had it. We lost a brave fighter for freedom.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Infantilization of the West

A young man in college that I know says Hollywood did not perfect the art of making movies until the late '70s. He won't watch anything before the Blockbuster era. Forget Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, M, and a thousand other classics; give him Terminator.

I suspect most young people would agree with him, though they might not be so arrogant as to dismiss Hollywood's Golden Age in bold contempt. And not just young people: my Mother, who grew up watching the movies of the '30s and '40s now finds them too tedious to sit through.

It sickens me. I think just the opposite, that movies used to be good, but with Jaws, Excorcist, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc., Hollywood learned it's a fool's game to try to write intelligent movies for adults. They give the people what they want, and the people want comic books.

I recently read an anecdote from a writer who took his young son to see "Aristocats." It was a cartoon, so he thought his boy would want to see it. About five minutes into the movie he noticed his son had turned his back to the movie and was crying into the seat. When asked what was wrong, the boy said, "I don't want to watch a movie about grown ups!"

Apparently, "Aristocats" is about teenage cats who have teenage concerns such as falling in love. The boy wanted to watch cats his own age.

Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this child. I think he is representative of kids today. But I must say, things have changed, and not for the better. When I was that kid's age, my favorite movie was Lawrence of Arabia. I enjoyed James Bond, horror movies, war movies, westerns, Jason and the Argonauts, Doris Day movies, Elvis Presley movies; these cats are all adults. Seriously, I can't think of any movie about children that I loved. The closest thing that comes to mind is Sound of Music, Mary Poppins or Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang.  But those were more about adults who had children around, like Father Goose.

I also noticed recently that Barnes and Noble has a large section, in its dwindling space alotted to those relics called books, for Teen Books. A whole aisle of books written for teenagers. Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but when did this happen? When I was a teenager, I was reading, among others, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Asimov, Heinlein, Ellison, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Dick, Simak, Farmer and Tolkien. (I also read comics, which are for kids, but even they are about adults trying to save the world. Not many comics deal with the agony of acne.) Teenage literature? You must be kidding me. Are today's teens retarded?

Western culture is being infantilized. I don't think it's a conspiracy, and I'm dubious of the claims that the Frankfurt School of communists is behind it all. I think it's a manifestation of the death of reason in philosophy. I don't know the exact chain of cause and effect. I suspect that consumers get used to what producers give them: no one knew he couldn't live without an iPhone until Steve Jobs invented it. The producers of our culture, the intellectual elite, long ago lost all confidence in reason, and the virtues dependent on reason, such as independence, productivity, integrity, and so on. They give us the reality they can believe in -- sensationalist action without thought, without mature values.

Open any book written by George Eliot. I am always struck by how characters talk in 19th century literature; they speak in rounded, complex, grammatical sentences. They have the respect for other people to speak in considered propositions, as if communicating with reason were important.

Compare that dialogue to just about anything you get in post-modern literature. Today's writers think subtext -- the hidden, unstated meaning -- is more important than explicit communication. (An idol of mine, Henrik Ibsen, was a pioneer in subtext, and it can be breathtaking when done well.) So you get inarticulate louts saying uh a lot, because they're experiencing a midlife crisis or hung up by their oedipus complex, or whatever. After a century of naturalism and modernism, we have lost all confidence in rationality; it just doesn't seem true to fiction writers.

The ramifications of all this will reverberate profoundly throughout the 21st century. It won't be good.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Superbowl XLVI

The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 21-17. The experts on sports talk radio assured us that the Pats did not deserve to be two-point favorites with the strength of the Giants' defense, and they were right.

The game was a textbook study in the importance of field position. Tom Brady of the Patriots had his back against his own end zone much of the game, and was sacked in the end zone once for a safety. The Giants on the other hand started only two drives on less than their own 20-yard line, and started one drive on the 48. Congratulations to the Giants' kicking, punting and special teams for keeping New England in bad field position.

It was an exciting game, only the second NFL game I watched all the way through this year. I find the NBA immensely more entertaining. I'm more interested in watching my Lakers play the revitalized 76ers tonight than I ever was about the Superbowl.

Oh, and then there was the rest of the spectacle. Madonna was good. I don't know why anyone would sit around listening to her bubblegum/disco music and her chipmunk voice, but her live show is kitchy, campy fun. She entered like Cleopatra on a float pulled by slaves, wearing some headpiece that looked like it was stolen from the Asgaard set of Thor. Come on, who couldn't love that? It's better than some geriatric rock band singing songs of young lust from 1969.

The commercials were okay, but they have become too belabored and self-conscious for me to pay more attention to them than the ranch dip on the table. Their purpose is to make everyone talk about the commercial, which seems like a postmodern distortion of the purpose of advertising.

Like everything in American pop culture, the Superbowl spectacle long ago ossified into self-parody. It is important because we want important values in our lives and we return to such rituals in some nostalgic quest to find thrills that once meant something. Perhaps to the young Superbowl XLVI had real meaning.

I'm overthinking this, huh? Yeah, I'm no fun at parties.

Friday, January 13, 2012


There are two distinct issues concerning Tim Tebow.

First is his ability as a quarterback in the National Football League. He finds a way to win. I respect that.

Second is the idea that he begs some all-powerful supernatural being for help, and this being helps Tebow because he begs with great sincerity and belief. I do not respect that.

Are we living in the dark ages? Or is the widespread respect and admiration for a football player who begs for help from some all-powerful supernatural being (for whom there has never been a shred of evidence) an indication that we are heading for the dark ages?