MICRO ELEMENTS OF FILM : Part 5 PerformanceWHAT IS PERFORMANCE?When we talk about performance we are looking at the physical expression, vocal delivery and interactionbetween performers. This also includes looking at staging and choreography where relevant. A keyquestion we need to look at is : what specific meanings do stars bring with them to the roles they play?PHYSICAL EXPRESSIONA key part of the star is his/her performance. Figure movement and expression within the mise-en-scene isanother way in which actors ‘signify’ – convey or express meaning. The way a character moves, sits or stands can transmit information about feelings and attitudes. The aimless wandering through the streets of New York of Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, for example, is symptomatic of his state of mind. He feels alienated and isolated and this is translated into his purposeless walking. Case Study The Terminator films, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, rely heavily on both his physical stature and an exaggerated figure expression for which the actor himself has become famous. A common criticism levelled at Arnold Schwarzenegger is that he can’t act. Look at the following scene from Terminator 2 and analyse how meaning is created by Schwarzeneggers’ physical expression. What information do we learn about his character and his function in the narrative of the film?Remember though, this is an extreme example of the use of figure expression and other performances indifferent films may be much more simple or subtle, indicating moods like happiness, worry or confusion.VOCAL DELIVERYThe way an actor uses their voice can also create meaning in a scene for a spectator. Think about the pitchand tone of the voice – how does it tell us something about the way a character is feeling at a givenmoment? What accent does the character have – what associations do we make based on this? Does theirvocal delivery change throughout the film – why might this be?INTERACTION BETWEEN PERFORMERSThe body language and movement of actors can generate meaning for the spectator, but the way actorsinteract with other performers on screen will also give us information about the relationships that existbetween the characters.PHYSICAL APPEARANCESome stars are considered more believable, more ‘real’, and are more likely to be appreciated for theiracting skills as their on-screen roles have more depth. Robert De Niro researches the background of his
character, seeks real-life models for the character he portrays and attempts to transform himself physicallyinto the role he is playing.In Raging Bull (1980), for example, he gained a great deal of weight in order to physically personify andageing out-of-shape boxer, as well as turning in a savage performance as the same boxer in his fightingprime.TASK 3 : Look at the following series of stills from some of De Niro’s films and discuss how the actor haschanged his physical appearance to enhance the realism of the roles he plays. What meanings aregenerated for the audience through using this technique?PERFORMANCE AND PREDICTABILITYA role is created for a star or a star is put into a particular role. Eventually, the star becomes associatedwith a particular type of role (e.g. James Bond and Sean Connery / Roger Moore / Pierce Brosnan). Theserecurring elements lend a measure of predictability to the film and go some way to fulfilling the audience’sexpectations.TYPES OF PERFORMANCE Impersonation : this type of performance is usually associated with the theatre. The actor constructs a role using her/his imagination and specific skills and is judged on how successfully they submerge their ‘real’ personality by the number and scope of roles they adopt, and how far they are acknowledged as being psychologically realistic. Personification : Hollywood more often utilizes this type of acting/performance. The actor plays a role that matches his/her physical appearance, what Richard Dyer refers to as a ‘perfect fit’, and success is judged not by what s/he does, but rather by what s/he ‘is’ (identity). ‘The Method’ : seeks to break down the distinction between the actor and the role and is a more extreme and advanced form of personification whereby the actor physically embodies the role in appearance, gesture and movement.But does the star generate meaning through acting ability (i.e. voice and body) alone? One way of testingthis is through what has been called the commutation test : this works by imagining swapping one actorfor another in a particular role to see if this makes any difference for the spectator. Any changes point towhat is unique about one actor compared with another.STAGING & CHOREOGRAPHY : BLOCKING
Blocking is a term, which you will need to be aware of in your discussions about character. If a character ispartially hidden from view by a wall or a tree or another character, he/she is ‘blocked’. If the viewer isunable to see what a character is doing, a response of concern or fear may result. Imagine you arewatching a horror film and the actions of the killer are obscured from view; your imagination creates theworst reading of that character’s actions.SUMMARYWhat an actor does within a shot obviously contributes significantly to the meanings produced. The way anactor moves could indicate confidence, uncertainty, panic, friendliness. The actor’s facial expressions mayshow fear, anger, happiness, sadness. In addition to these examples of body language or non-verbalcommunication, and to the clear differences in the speech patterns of different actors, a performance mayhave a particular effect because of what the actor has previously done in other films. Actors may beidentified with certain types of characters, and actors with celebrity status can bring connotations to a filmthat emanate not only from previous films but also from their lives outside the films. When we seeMadonna in a film, is it possible to ignore her previous roles and what we know of her personally life.