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Doc's on directing actors

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Bob Cole
Doc's on directing actors
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:25:14 pm

It's time to learn something from the masters. I'm looking for rec's for doc's which show great directors at work with actors.

For example, I vaguely recall a documentary which features Ingmar Bergman as a film director. The only thing I remember is a scene where an actress enters an apartment, and discovers that her partner has left her. He gives her a very specific suggestion for a "bit of business" about putting down her keys. I know it sounds trivial, but the "before and after" was amazing.

Anybody remember this one? Or have rec's for others?


Bob C

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Scott Roberts
Re: Doc's on directing actors
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:44:31 pm

Check out the behind the scenes doc on The Shining (it should be on any special edition of the DVD/Blu-ray), and watch Stanley Kubrick aggressively direct Shelley Duvall... the point of tears...

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Stephen Smith
Re: Doc's on directing actors
on Feb 8, 2017 at 12:19:56 am

I liked the behind the scenes feature that came on the North by NorthWest DVD. It was interesting to see how Alfred Hitchcock approached directing. One actor was frustrated that he never got any direction and asked Hitchcock about it. Hitchcock said something like if I like what I see and don't give direction.

Stephen Smith

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Tim Wilson
Re: Doc's on directing actors
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:41:27 pm

[Stephen Smith] " It was interesting to see how Alfred Hitchcock approached directing."

The best documentary on directing, period, is based on a book (!!!), Francois Truffaut's Cinema According to Hitchcock, which was the first time that anyone tried to write down what ANY director does. It happens that this director was the one who broke nearly all the rules, and Truffaut, himself a director with strong ideas on the subjects, laid it out in lavish detail. Easily the most important film book of any kind, to this day, but for directing, I'm not sure there's anything else in the running.

The documentary is about the long conversations that these two fellas had, but also about the continuing influence of those ideas on directors including Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Peter Bogdanovich, and more. Released in 2015, it's called very simply Hitchcock - Truffaut, and I can't recommend it highly enough. You want to hear directors talk about directing? Here ya go.

It's genuinely charming, as well as entertaining and informative. There's a lot of love between these guys (all guys, for absolutely no good reason except, claims director Kent Jones, scheduling conflicts...whatever, dude) that really colors the proceedings too. A lot of great energy.

(In fairness to his cop-outs why there are no women featured in the film, I should note that Rachel Reichman co-produced and does a PHENOMENAL job on the editing. What a gem this is! Kent talks about their collaboration, and the film, here. Highly recommended reading also, actually....)

I do have one disagreement with Jones on the subject of acting and actors in particular. Hitchcock says very plainly that actors are cattle -- you can hear the actual words -- but Jones is sure that Hitchcock couldn't mean that, because of the fruitful relationship he had with so many actors. To me, that's nonsense. Let the man's words speak for themselves, especially when combined with their actions.

Truffaut himself is horrified by this notion, so Hitchcock tells the story of Montgomery Clift as a priest crossing a road, blah blah blah -- the way Hitchcock has written the story and blocked the shot, he needs Monty to look up at a specific time, to a specific place. Monty, as a Method actor, pushed back, not convinced that "his character" "would have looked up just then". Hitchcock's response was I don't care. You'll effing look up exactly then, exactly there, or I'll hire someone else. Next take: Monty looks up, then and there. Problem solved.

Truffaut counters with a story of letting actors surprise him on Jules et Jim, and Hitchcock is all "no thx lolz 😂😂😂".

Now, Hitchcock later walked this back to say, "I never said that actors are cattle. I said actors should be treated like cattle"....but the point is the same. He's the director, and when he says what needs to be in the shot, it's YOUR job as the actor to figure out "your character's" motivation to do what I tell you to do....but you need to do it. I don't think that this diminishes his respect for the craft of acting per se, but it absolutely reflects his contempt for preciousness, and any attempt to undermine HIS role in DIRECTING what's on the screen.

So while Kent absolutely gets this wrong, he leaves enough room for Hitchcock to make his own case, while Truffaut makes his own case very much to the opposite.

Nobody had any reason to guess this at the time, but Hitch was pretty much done at that point. I can't imagine that he'd have had a good time with Brando, DeNiro, Pacino, and other actors who relied on a certain combustibility, and whose best-fitting directors gave them lots and lots of room. (For that matter, one of the most powerful scenes in Taxi Driver -- with Scorsese in the back seat of the cab -- comes from DeNiro directing him, with the advice, "Make me pull over.")

It's been over a year since I saw it, and it's still obviously sparking a lot of thoughts, so I'll leave that as my final recommendation. You'll be thinking about this movie for a very, very long time after you see it. Maybe forever after. I dunno, though. It's only been a year. So let's say, you'll be thinking about this movie for at least a year. That's still pretty good, right? 😁

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