I think there are all kinds of directors out there, and each one brings something special to the world of cinema. Some love stories, some love effects, and some love the sound of their own voice as they tell other people what to do. I don’t think it disqualifies me as an auteur, but I certainly don’t buy into the philosophy of director as dictator. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort - and as director, for good or bad, I’m merely where the buck stops. The thing is, my great love as a director is the actors. I love their talent, their beauty, their idiosyncrasies, even their baggage.
All that being said, I’m not very fond of people in general - and for reason which might seem ironic, being that I love actors so much. I find it irritating how people, with a multitude of words and phrases and languages at their disposal, rely on a few script-like phrases and reactions that they regurgitate over and over again instead of creating any new meaningful dialogue. Instead of producing real emotional responses, they pull up generic stock emotions like some bad soap opera actress. How boring and predictable we must seem to the aliens assigned to observe us.
All that sounds like what actors do - and perhaps with the bad ones or amateur ones, it’s true - but with real committed actors, it’s not true at all. Real actors make regular people and their stock emotions seem like a high school production of Our Town. You see, actors aren’t people - they’re the echo of people - of life. Acting is like the Heisenberg principle of emotions. We can’t know emotions through actual people - but by the echo of where they were and what they have done. That’s where actors come in - and movies. I think maybe this is why we watch movies - to see some emotional truth in a world of pleasantries and repetitions nothingness.
Actors convey truth. Picasso is quoted as saying “art is a lie that tells the truth.” He may or may not have said that - if he didn’t, how human of him. If he did, how brilliant - because it’s true. Actors lie, writers lie, and directors lie, but through that lie, a truth shines through - a truth about life, existence, nature, love, hate, humanity, post-humanity - whatever.
This year, there were so many examples of truthful lies in cinema - from Lady Bird to Call Me By Your Name to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, but it was God’s Own County that left me haunted and aching long after I left the theater. I recently bought the DVD (the Blu-Ray wasn’t out yet) and revisited the dreary farm in Yorkshire, and I can reduce the power and truth of the film down to one pivotal moment. In the scene, Johnny Saxby, the cold, hard, and emotionally depressed protagonist, has yet to warm up to Gheorghe, the Romanian farmhand. He’s been downright nasty to him so far - calling him racist names and treating him like shit. When Johnny cracks his cold hand with a hammer while working on a rock wall...
Gheorghe’s natural instinct is to care and comfort, and he grabs Johnny’s hand.
With just a look, we see the anguish and confusion and longing from Johnny.
We see his entire history with that look - years of hard living on the farm, and harder living still after his father’s stroke. In a moment, he remembers what tenderness felt like - and realizes how bad he wants it.
It’s a revelatory moment in the film. I’m not going to lie. That’s the moment tears poured down my cheeks - not because I was sad, mind you, but because of what a perfect acting moment it was. Josh O’Connor is an emotional genius. I’m eager to watch his career progress - and would love to one day work with him.
I think some directors aren’t so fond of actors. There are the George Lucases, trying desperately to usher in an era of CGI characters, no longer having to deal with personality conflicts, poor performances, or substance issues….
And there are the David O’ Russel’s or Stanley Kubrick’s who notoriously abuse actors, sometimes sadistically and always unnecessarily.
(for the record, I support Lili Tomlin in this whole debacle)
But I love actors - and all the baggage they bring with them. When I was younger, I was an actor in theater.
I’ll always feel a kindred spirit with actors. I understand what they want - and what I want - and that what we will get is a dance between the two of us. I could never imagine using an actor as a puppet, miming my ideas about character and intonation. Acting is not a facial and vocal choreography. It’s a search and rescue mission.
This is my eroticism. Perhaps that makes me an emotionality pornographer. I can accept that.