The Invisible Man

No finsky for the quote today, only the gratification of knowing you're the grand prize winner.

"...I'm going to take back some of the things I've said about you. You''ve earned it."

Some of you (three) may have felt I was a little harsh with the mediums of film and television a few entries back (


). Let this entry serve as my apology for such slander. It's not that I find these mediums lacking in value. Rather, it is that they diverge from my priorities--and experience--to date, and I can't help but feel that they're overly popular. Something is lost if you never see the acting live, something important. But I want my MTV. I seriously worship movies. It's genetic. Next time I'm home I'm going to try to remember to photograph my Dad's DVD/video collection for you.

So today I suffered again from oversleeping (gad durn it, but how that bothers me) and commenced my breakfast over a viewing of "

Of Human Bondage

," the film adaptation of Somerset Maugham

's awfully autobiographical novel of the same name, starring Leslie Howard and

Bette Davis

. It's the first Bette Davis film I've seen (Leslie Howard too, for that matter) and it's plain to me her appeal. There's one shot of her eyes over drinking a glass of champagne that suddenly made that damn


from the 80s make sense to me. The movie is pretty marvelous, but awfully dated, particularly in acting style. Actually, for the time it was probably naturalism bordering on the shocking (which is apt, given the subject matter [sex, obsession, poverty, modern medicine]) but now it reads rather stilted most of the time, particularly any time Phillip (Leslie) has a moment of reverie. I still recommend it highly;


always delivers, and if you see it for no other reason, see it for Mildred's million-dollar freak out.

What was interesting for me was to start my day in this way, then venture off to NYU to work with their TV/film directing class on a short project. The set-up for today's work was very much like a soap opera set, with three cameras, all the technical roles filled by some 20+ students: the works. We began with a five-page scene that myself and two other actors had received about a week prior. There were no given circumstances for the scene, and very little contextual background. This was intentional, as part of the lesson for the class was about learning to work with actors (apparently a much-neglected aspect of direction in film schools). So we spent a good deal of time reading through and having table discussions before putting it on its feet. All-in-all, it was two hours of rehearsal before we actors


in order for the class to confer about shot lists, etc. All we were aiming for today was different aspects of rehearsal; Tuesday we'll film.

So when we returned to the set, everyone was ready in their role. And I began to learn. My character makes a surprise entrance in the scene after about two pages of dialogue. As anyone who's worked on a film or TV set can tell you, that usually means at least a half hour before you'll get taped. Like something of a schmuck, I stood backstage to await my cue. Theatre instincts. (People kept offering me a chair out in the "audience," and didn't seem to understand why I wouldn't want to sit down.) There was a monitor back there, so I could watch the action on stage through a cut-out in the set wall, or one of the three shots they were working on. As I learned to watch the monitor instead of my fellow actors, I made a couple of observations.

It could be said that whereas theatre is constructed to celebrate profound moments, film (in this case meaning anything taped) is constructed to celebrate the intimate. This is an incredible generalization, and of course the intimate can be profound, and vice versa. But I was struck in particular today by the way a camera allows us closeness and angles of visual perception that we otherwise only have when we're in an intensely intimate relationship with someone. The scene we shot today began with a couple in bed, and as camera 3 kept a tight shot on the woman, she rolled to face her bedmate. On stage, it was a simple motion, unremarkable. On screen, however, I recognized it as a specific image I had only seen with people I had slept with (and, of course, in other films). We take it for granted, an aspect of contemporary storytelling, but it's an amazing thing.

The second observation I had to make today had to do with super powers. (You can take a geek out of the comic store....) I have a favorite hypothetical question. Actually, I have several:

  • Trapped on a desert island with only a CD player for company, which 5 albums would you take?
  • What deceased historical figure would you most want to share a lunch with?
  • What animal would you most wish to be?

But the big one for fanboy #1 here is:

  • Would you rather be able to fly, or to turn invisible at will?

Most people choose flying. It often descends to a discussion of practicalities (If you flew, you'd never escape public attention...invisibility would change your personality...what good is flying unless you're


, too...if you turn invisible, do you have to be naked...etc. ....) but the point is to understand why one appeals more than the other. Of course, everyone would like to have both. Well, you can't. Them's the breaks. Me, I choose invisibility. Don't get me wrong--I'd love to be able to fly (invulnerable or no) but I see such wonderful possibilities for invisibility. (And once again, I'm going to have to ask you all to remove your collective mind from the metaphoric gutter.) You'd be the ultimate ninja. You'd have information. You'd be able to taunt politicians and just go around miraculously rewarding the just and punishing the unjust. It. Would. Rule.

We're already experiencing it! That is exactly what film allows for. We're not just voyeurs at a

glass wall

; we're "invisible wo/men," getting just as close to the experience as if we were literally there. We go in for the kiss. We rock back from the hit. The only thing missing is the physical sensations, which in many cases our body is all-too-willing to supplant. We are the "invisible man" when we watch a film. What's more, particularly with contemporary visual short-hand, we're allowed the additional super powers of teleportation and slowing-down or speeding-up time. Film empowers us in this sense, giving us this sense both of investment in the actions of the story, and a subtle sense of control over it. Sure, we're along for the ride, someone else is driving, but we're used to that. It's called dreaming. Haven't you ever had a dream in which you saw everything going on, but couldn't intervene or didn't perhaps even exist in the same reality? Oh . . . no? Just me then? Awesome.


. . .

I'm certain I'm not the first to suppose this connection, but I may be the first to parse it in such geeky terms. And of that, I am proud. I'm proud, too, to have made discoveries that reignite my excitement for the technological entertainment mediums. It seems to me now that when I consider film in these terms, it is a far-less-tapped mode of exploration and expression than I had imagined. I had an art history teacher in college who insisted that there was no progress in visual art (or perhaps he meant art in general); that artistry merely changed modes, never "improved" or in some way refined itself. Naturalism is not better than cave painting, cubism is not better than pointillism. I agree.

Oedipus Rex

, across centuries and translations and reinterpretations, can still work brilliantly as a play. Film is not an improvement on mediums for acting, nor a refinement. It simply suits our time more closely, and our time suits it (art:life::egg:chicken). What does that say about our time?

Maybe that we all want to be superheroes(tm).