Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The World Cup and the Movies: Singin’ and Slidin’ in the Rain

John Sayles' film about the Black Sox scandal

To watch the aftermath of the recent World Cup – seeing the victors singing, dancing, and sliding on their bellies in the pouring rain while yellow confetti swirled down from on high – is to understand the meaning of the word jubilation. That sense of utter and complete spontaneity is something good movie actors try hard to capture. To act (on stage or on screen) is to feign your character’s emotional highs and lows as convincingly as possible.. There are diverse schools of thought, including the famous Method introduced by Stanislavski and embellished by a series of American drama gurus, as to how fledgling actors can learn to convey the truths of emotions not their own. To put it simplistically, some coaches encourage their students to mine their own psyches as a way to get in touch with feelings that will enhance their characterizations. But in any case actors look for ways to present the spontaneous emotions of someone else. And they need to be able to call up these emotions on cue, night after night (in a stage production) or take after take, if they’re shooting a film.

Sporting events of course have it all over movies when it comes to unexpected twists and turns. When crowds gather around the globe to watch the World Cup on large screens and small, they have no idea what’s coming next. There’s no director, no screenwriter, who has worked out in advance the most exciting possible outcome. That’s why we feel such angst when games are rigged (see, for instance, the Black Sox scandal, involving the fixing the 1919 World Series): our expectation is that here’s one area of life in which the playing field is supposed to be even, so that anything and everything can happen.

The jobs of actors and athletes are hardly the same. Still, there’s some interesting overlap. It has often been noted that jocks who engage in histrionics when bumped or tackled by an opponent are playacting, exaggerating the bodily harm they’ve suffered so as to extract the maximum penalty from the opposing team. And of course athletes work as hard as actors do (maybe harder0 to project an off-court, off-screen persona that will elevate their standing with the viewing public. Think Usain Bolt at the Olympic Games. Think any one of a number of star basketball players. Their swagger, their charisma give them appeal that can translate into endorsement deals, sportscasting opportunities, even movie roles.

I once wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times about a course offered by the University of Southern California, the sports home of many world-class athletes. Taught by Louie Piday, a working actress who had entered USC with a synchronized swim background, it was a drama class tailored to jocks who dreamed of pursuing an acting career when their playing days were done. Through acting exercises and scene study, they learned the rudiments of performance, and Piday did a great job of bolstering their self-confidence in this new field. By the time she finished reminding them of their well-developed sense of teamwork, discipline, and body control  (all essential tools for the acting hopeful), they all felt like future Oscar winners. I couldn’t help asking her later: was there any area in which these would-be thespians weren’t absolute naturals? Well yes—they weren’t so good at using their voices and speech patterns to best advantage. But with coaching and serious study behind them, some could surely make the grade.

Which brings me to LeBron James, whose signing with the L.A. Lakers has local basketball fans salivating.  Surprise! He wants to go Hollywood.

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