The film camera responds to “character” first and great acting second. Most actors don’t know this. They concentrate on great acting, but without the camera being able to identify a clear, specific, and vivid character even the most Oscar-worthy acting will fall flat on screen. This is what audiences mean when they say they can “identify” with a character. It means they recognize the character as the kind of human being that would exist in their world. Recognizable characters are what audiences hold onto, so that an actor’s great acting can move, inspire, enrage, and amuse them. If they have no recognizable character to hang onto all of the actor’s great acting will be completely lost on them, on the camera, on critics, and on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
There are many archetypal characters we see on film: the hero or heroine, villain, femme fatale, best friend, girl next door, nerd, etc, etc. These archetypal characters give us film mythologies which accompany us throughout our lives. There are, however, characters that are less mythical but more memorable. They are rare gems challenging to create, and are powerful in the hands of the right actor.
The first character is the character that fights to maintain a “nobility” as a means of surviving in an ignoble world, an ignoble world of which the character is very much a part. The ignoble world clings to the character, gets on his or her clothes, tries to drag him or her down into the mud where everyone else in that world lives. This character’s nobility is what allows him or her to survive being a part of the ignoble world.
The second character is the character that lives on the silver lining of a very dark cloud. This character is haunted by a dark history, the emotional effects of which are palpable on the screen but clings to the belief that there is a lightness somewhere in the world and it may be just around the corner. This character wants to make sure he or she is ready for that lightness when it arrives. The character isn’t dancing on the silver lining of the very dark cloud, nor is the character consumed by the very dark cloud. The character is always just clinging to the silver lining.
The third character is the character that refuses to live life on life’s emotional terms. Most of us respond to life’s ups and downs in pretty universal fashion. We all tend to respond to things like loss, betrayal, a threat, a victory, even falling in love, similarly. This character refuses to respond to life’s ups and downs in universal fashion because this character believes to prevent life from defeating you, you have to throw it an emotional curve ball at every possible opportunity.
And it’s these characters that are the film camera’s real heroes.
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