Monday, October 29, 2012

Real Things, Not Real Things And Other Things

I don’t have much for today, but a couple of the things I have are really interesting to me, so I’m going to post about this stuff today so that at some point in the future I can come back to it in—I hope—much more detail.


First of all, I need to mention that not last Friday but the Friday before last I said at the end of my post Ophelia’s Songs that I had a big allergy attack. It was really awful. When that stuff happens, it takes me days to recover. So all through last week I was taking Benadryl every night to get to sleep. I felt terrible, and Benadryl gives me mood-swings the day after I take it to sleep. So during the day last week I was feeling sad (even though I knew it was the medicine affecting my thinking). That’s why my posts may have sounded more, umm, despondent than normal last week. But I started feeling better this weekend and, I hope, this week I’ll have more energy.


When I started feeling better this weekend one of the things I did was visit one of the suburban libraries around here.

The library next to the hill where the vampires live!

(That’s from my post about the library, Real Estate Gothic.)

I took out a book to re-read that I’ve read many times before. And I took out two DVD sets that I’d never seen before. The book and DVD sets don’t immediately seem related, but in my thinking they very much became related and that’s what today’s post is going to be about.


The book was “Landscape Into Art,” by Pavel Machotka. It’s a book written by a psychology professor who is also a painter and photographer. He visits many actual locations in France that Cezanne used as motifs for paintings, and speculates about how Cezanne may have been thinking about the scene and about the techniques Cezanne used to convert his thinking and vision into a painted canvas.

I don’t like landscape painting at all. And I don’t know enough about painting to come to any worthwhile conclusion about Cezanne myself—was he a genius or an energetic, delusional idiot? I don’t know. But books about Cezanne are often very interesting and this book is one of my favorites.

I don’t like landscape painting at all, but I very much like portrait images—drawings and paintings. I have some kind of mental block about working with people I know, but with strangers it’s my favorite kind of art. So I try to internalize the speculations from Pavel Machotka about Cezanne’s work with landscapes to see if I can make any use of them in my thinking about portraits.

This is a very intriguing issue for me because obviously I’ve given it a lot of thought over many years and, really, I’ve made no—so to speak—headway at all.

It’s frustrating and fun at the same time. It’s frustrating because I’m usually able to think things through once I apply myself to them but this whole issue is obscure to me. On the other hand I feel very engaged with this issue because I feel I have so much to learn and so much in front of me still to do.

And, although I didn’t expect it at all, the other stuff I took out from the library over the weekend touched a little bit on these very issues, portraits and images and the meanings underlying them.


For people who don’t know about Doctor Who, the basic background is that the show was an immensely popular British TV show for decades and decades. Then it was canceled. After a few years the BBC assigned some producers to bring the series back on the air. They attempted to pick up more or less right where they left off, with the same series continuity. I enjoyed the show in its early years and I especially liked the show during the years they had a great writer named Douglas Adams as the script editor. But I had never watched any of the “new” episodes. I thought the show, especially under Douglas Adams, had set a writing standard so high that modern writers wouldn’t be able to even come close to matching it. And since the show had so many elements early fans really loved, I thought it would be painful to watch what modern writers and producers did to it. So I had avoided the new episodes. But when I mentioned Doctor Who in my post When The Light Is All Reflections a couple of weeks ago I got to thinking about it and I thought, well, I’m not dead yet, I might as well make a little effort to stay alive and see what current generations are watching as “Doctor Who.”

So over this weekend I watched the complete fifth and sixth series with an actor named Matt Smith as the Doctor and an actress named Karen Gillan as his current companion Amy Pond.

And it was one of those times when my thinking was right on the money. I found it horrible—something like actually painful—to watch the new episodes. The actor and actress seemed to be doing everything they could to bring life to their characters. They were both energetic and attractive and reasonably pleasant. But I found the stories stupid and heavy-handed and endlessly pointless—ridiculous arbitrary plot conflicts and ridiculous arbitrary plot solutions to every problem. All the worst characteristics of the original series, but without any of its warmth and fun and real humor, without any of its redeeming features.

So I won’t be keeping up with the new Doctor Who.

However—and almost predictably—the actress Karen Gillan who plays the Doctor’s companion Amy Pond was very pretty so I looked her up at Wikipedia. And I saw something interesting.

This is the Wikipedia picture of her character Amy Pond. She plays a plucky young Scottish woman. As with most television these days there were lots of tight close-ups and Karen Gillan did a great job, I thought, fleshing out the character. “Amy Pond” seems reasonable and convincingly real. The plots I thought were awful but the actress did the best she could with the nothing—the less than nothing—the writers, directors and producers gave her.

And this is the Wikipedia picture of the actress Karen Gillan.

This is really interesting to me because the picture of Karen Gillan as herself appearing at some convention doesn’t “look like” the character Amy Pond at all. I don’t know if I would have recognized her if I saw her.

This is really interesting to me, the way an actor or an actress can get into a character, animate a character, bring a character to life with seemingly real expressions and reactions. But, then, when you see the actor or actress in real life the reality is so different that it is hard to even put into words. Obviously it is all an issue of muscles in the face and how the head it carried on the neck and shoulders and how the body is moved. But a good actor or actress will make such tiny, tiny changes to all those little things—subconscious and conscious things—that it becomes something like real life magic.

And it’s interesting in a larger way because we all—so to speak—play characters ourselves from time to time and in various ways. We express moods, emotions, reactions.

Photographs, of course, can capture every little thing. So if an actor or actress is “in character” the camera catches everything the actor or actress is doing, even if the performer isn’t consciously aware of it.

This seems to me to be an interesting test of an artist’s rendering ability. And an interesting test of art overall.

Can an artist, I wonder, draw or paint a person so well that the differences between an actor or actress in character or out of character would be visible?

It seems nearly impossible to even specify or enumerate the items or elements that would be different between two such images. A photographer can capture such things simply because a camera literally captures everything that is physically there in a scene from a particular vantage point.

But when an artist looks at a person, does an artist see enough to consciously or even subconsciously capture enough in a rendition to embody whatever the subtle differences are between an actor in character and an actor not in character?

This is interesting. As I’m getting my energy back, I’m probably going to be doing sketches of that Karen Gillan photograph from the convention, and sketches from some similar poses from screen captures from her episodes in character as Amy Pond.

If I get anything interesting I’ll do another post on this topic.

I’m certainly not the only person who’s ever wondered about these kinds of things. I've posted before (and here and here) about writer-director Wes Craven’s film “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.” There is a scene in that film where actress Heather Langenkamp is portraying actress “Heather Langenkamp” and writer-director Wes Craven is portraying writer-director “Wes Craven.” When the two characters in the film discuss why the monster is attacking “Heather,” the real writer-director Wes Craven wrote this bit of dialogue for the characters to exchange:

“HEATHER”: “Isn’t there somebody who can stop him?”

“WES”: “Actually there is a person in the dream, sort of a gatekeeper, so to speak. Somebody Freddy has to get by before he can come into our world. That person’s you, Heather.”

“HEATHER”: “It’s me? Why me?”

“WES”: “Dramatically speaking, it makes perfect sense. You played Nancy, after all. You were the first to humiliate him, defeat him.”

“HEATHER”: “That was Nancy. Not me.”

“WES”: “But you gave Nancy her strength. So in order to get out, he’s got to come through you.”

And of course Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet” in the sixteenth century, explicitly juxtaposing stage actors and “real” people in a stage play even back then.

Actors, acting and real people being real people and what we can perceive about each other. Real things, not real things and other things.

It’s an interesting topic. Probably my favorite topic. I’m always trying to figure out where monsters fit in.

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