The silent movie is enjoying a comeback—for this week, at least. And it's courtesy of The New York Times. In a video gallery entitled "Fourteen Actors Acting – A Video Gallery Of Classic Screen Types", the paper has teamed up with Solve Sundsbo, Owen Pallett, and 14 of the year's most accomplished actors and actresses to give us a unique look at the craft of acting through a series of silent vignettes.
The concept is to show how much emotion and information can be conveyed by great acting, even when sound and color are removed from the equation.
Matt Damon is here. So is Natalie Portman. They've got Jessie Eisenberg, Robert Duval, and James Franco too. There are, as the title implies, a total of fourteen actors, and they each perform a silent scene set to Pallett's somewhat haunting and evocative score. Each clip is around a minute in length, and the themes range from the mundane (Duvall shaving his face or Michael Douglas just sitting in a chair contemplating) to the extreme (Matt Damon on a swear-filled tirade or Eisenberg shooting a gun at an unseen target).
You can go here to view the gallery—just click one of the screen-shots and the video player will pop up, and you can browse through the rest pretty easily by just using the arrows provided. The paper has also graciously uploaded each video to their YouTube channel as well, which allows me to embed a couple.
Here's Michael Douglas… contemplating something very, very serious:
Now here's Matt Damon, going off on a rant about something that has him pretty upset:
And one more for good measure—Jesse Eisenberg (from The Social Network) shooting his gun at… something:
There's also a pretty awesome slideshow of still shots from the videos, each capturing the more intense moments from each actor's scene.
You see year-end articles every year that run down the best movies, best albums, best television shows, etc. And this is really just a very arty version of that same thing. The New York Times is saying these actors had great years with standout performances. In previous years, the paper has allowed the selected actors to film a video where they talk about the craft of acting and what it means to them. This year they wanted to up the ante:
"This year, we asked them to do it: to show us — in a few gestures and with a few props but without dialogue or story — what acting is. And here they are, striking some of the classic attitudes of cinema, turning their bodies and faces into instruments of pure, deep and enigmatic emotion.”
An interesting project to say the least. While it has the feeling of pretention—with the black and white film, emotional score, and silent-style scenes—the videos are actually quite moving more often than not. It's amazing how much emotion—and how subtle an emotion—each actor is able to portray without any sound and with only a minute or less.
The Lesson? Good Acting Spawns Emotional Connection
That's a good lesson for anyone hoping to find success in creating and producing video—giving the audience an emotional experience is the most important goal. Great, snappy dialogue is all well and good, but it isn't a requirement for the viewer to have an emotional payoff. The stripped-down nature of these videos serves as a reminder that the simplest concepts and executions are sometimes the best method for conveying emotion. Oh, and find good actors for your videos—they can sometimes do more than all the special effects, scriptwriting, and camerawork put together.
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