Tuesday, March 9, 2010

So...what AM I doing?

When I was 5 or 6 years old I started to get it into my head that I wanted to be an actor.

My mom and dad married in Tucson Arizona and a year later I was born and a year after that we moved to New York, so that dad could pursue a career as an actor. They'd sold the car and got us all on the train because my mom hated to fly (still does).

Dad's headshot from 1963

By the time I was 5 dad was working a lot as an actor on the side from being a social worker...but only as an extra in movies and commercials. Still to a little boy this seemed pretty exciting, especially as the bug began to bite me too.

At that point in my tiny life I had already run the gamut; policeman, fireman, secret agent, mayor but then the classic 'little boy wants to be just like dad' thing kicked in I started talking about being an actor. I started talking about it a lot. I even wrote a short essay in school and drew a picture of my dad in front of a camera, then added one of me in front of a camera.

But there was something more going on for me...it was going beyond wanting to be like dad because I kept talking about it.

Right around the age of 6 my dad said to me that there was a movie coming on channel 13 that I should see if I really wanted to be an actor. He told me that it featured a man then widely considered the greatest actor in the world and in one of the most famous parts any actor can play. He was talking about Laurence Olivier's film of Hamlet.

For what seemed an eternity I waited for this movie...I asked my dad all kinds of questions and he helped me to understand it.

Lest you wonder what the hell a dad was doing encouraging a little boy to watch a film of a tragic and violent play, let me tell you, my father was great at prepping me. The ending was hard, almost everyone dies, this is what a tragedy is...etc.  Yeah, I think in this case, spoilers were acceptable, because it really did help.

Finally the movie was showing. I guess it was a Saturday night. A very special event. Possibly the first time it was on TV in New York since ABC had shown it in the 50s. Anyway. I was transfixed.

The film is as luscious as any black and white film can be. Filled with haunting atmosphere and cinematography...AND...it had a ghost in it

I found this thrilling. THRILLING. Slow moving. The eyes invisible behind the helm. Only a pained motion of a bearded face.

And the language....Let's face it...at 6 I had no idea what the fuck was being said...but it sounded incredible and I was "bound to hear".


But what really got me in the end of this movie was the duel between Hamlet and Laertes. I can find no pictures to really capture the thrilling choreography and tension...but this too grabbed me by my Batman t-shirt and held me transfixed.

I was on the edge of the couch. I was haunted by ghosts, funerals, drowning maidens and Shakespeare's language. In short, I was ruined.

I went to bed that night, fencing. Laying on my back and crossing swords in the air until I finally fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up the next day, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was the actor's life for me....

to be continued...

Below are links through my Amazon Associates account to the DVD of this movie. You just can't appreciate the beauty of it here. You have to see it. It's well worth it and worthy of any movie lover's collection. I don't agree with the Freudian take of the movie, but it was the prevailing wisdom in 1948 and so is interesting in that context.

Then there is the Campbell Scott version, which for pure storytelling and stunning acting must be seen. Campbell is  a grossly under-appreciated actor. I had the privilege of being in class with him over 20 years ago under Geraldine Page. Fecking Brilliant.

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