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from Ray Carney's Shadows
"Stylistic unity drains the humanity out of a text"
If the film is primarily the creation of the director or the writer, then you have only a single viewpoint upon the theme. It is the creation of only one imagination. But if the film is created out of the actors, then the work has as many facets as there are actors; the action is seen in the round –the communal creation of several imaginations. Consider the movie as artwork on canvas. You begin with ideas, something of your own, somebody else adds something different and it changes a bit. Stylistic unity drains the humanity out of a text.
There was a doubleness in Cassavetes' method, however. Even as he reined the actors in and had very strong ideas about what he wanted from them, he insisted that they should bring a lot of themselves and their own ideas to the role. In fact, in Cassavetes' view, the difference between Shadows and most other films resided almost entirely in the centrality of the actor's contribution to the creative process. The goal of most directors, particularly virtuosic ones like Sternberg, Welles, Hitchcock and Kubrick, is to impose their vision on their works, so that each shot, scene and interaction bears their imprint. Cassavetes went in the opposite direction, depending heavily on his performers' input. If the first kind of filmmaking can be called "concentrative" –so that the points of view of the various figures within the work ultimately cumulate in a single, overarching way of seeing and feeling, Cassavetes' might be called "dispersive," because it imagines the work to be the product of as many different personal voices, styles and moods as possible. The point was not to unify the work around a singular point of view, but to diversify it by allowing in as many different points of view as possible.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
Actors developed their characters separately, and, if necessary, kept secrets from each other about what their characters felt, wanted, or knew. The danger was that if actors discussed their roles with each other, they might unconsciously incorporate each other's views into their own, homogenise the work, and play their relationship falsely. It represented another difference of opinion with Strasberg:
I differ from the working method advocated by Stanislavski and followed by the Actors Studio, which involves group discussion of the characters. For me each role must be an individual's conception as well as an individual creation. If each role is the result of communal study by director and ensemble, everything will dovetail; it will all be nice and neat and smooth; but the conflict of the characters won't be truthful. The actors don't discuss their interpretations sitting around in a group. The general theme of the work, of course, must be studied by the whole group, so that we share the same overall conception; but each actor must come at his own interpretation of his role, without the sort of group study and mutual criticism which one associates with Method work.
Shadows, Published by the British Film Institute (London, England)
Distributed in America by the University of California Press at Berkeley
88 pages; thirty illustrations
© Text Copyright 1999-2001 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.