Meryl Streep mentioned this, and you know, she's completely right.
The iconic films of Hollywood's heyday don't contain believable performances. No one spoke that way, nor presented themselves in the manner in which the actors were performing. Was this something that was taught to actors in stage schools? The affectations they would put on were ridiculous. I guess Hollywood really wanted to strive for complete fantasy all around, almost cartoony.
I think it was the 60s onward where Hollywood finally chose to find realism, and actual grit -- presenting real people.
Is this ever talked about? It's almost sacrilegious to call "Casablanca" poorly acted, but it is. The films of that era should be classified in such a way where they're branded "shitty performances".
Don't get me wrong, the stories were great, and for the acting of that time, the performances were memorable -- but in a cartoonish manner. I don't think any of the actors of that generation would have survived in say the 1970s, 80s, 90s, all the way up to today if they were young and trying to break into the industry. They just aren't good enough.
For a gay site, I'll wait for a complete meltdown over this. lmao
the expectations were different...naturalistic performances only came into vogue around the 70s. The actors did what they were expected too.
Norma Shearer was pretty awful. I think we remember her iconic Hurrell photographs and remember her connection to Old Hollywood that way. Her film performances are another story - she had a strong mid-Atlantic accent and over-emoted with her hands. Like she was still in silent films. The same with Laurence Olivier, but that was more from his stage training.
I was never impressed with Jimmy Stewart either. If there ever was a one- note actor.
There's genuinely great acting during the Golden Age of Hollywood before Brando and Clift: Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Laurence Olivier, Margaret Sullavan, Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten... even Katharine Hepburn in films like "Alice Adams" and "Little Women" (when the directors prevented her from being too mannered).
There were some terrible hams (like Greer Garson and Wallace Beery), but there are some terrible hams today too.
Comparing contemporary film acting to Golden Age Hollywood is akin to comparing Golden Age Hollywood to The Silent Era.
Times change and so do acting styles.
You're not wrong, but you can't blame the actors for all it, because much of it was due to the technology of the time.
You had primitive sound recording, and even more primitive sound systems in theaters (many of which were converted from silent movie houses). you had heavy cameras with limited mobility (and for color movies huge lighting requirements). The movies were filmed almost exclusively on sound stages and backlots, and the actors had to wear makeup so thick you wouldn't believe it.
How are you going to act naturally under those conditions? Can you imagine the sound guys trying to capture Brando's mumbling in 1935?
[quote]I think we remember her iconic Hurrell photographs
Of course we do.
There was a theatricality to early film that eventually gave way to the more realistic, natural acting style we've become accustomed to.
Also, there was a level of literacy, people who wrote for movies, were literate. People like Hemingway, Fitzgerald,Faulkner, and others wrote for movies.
Things were studied, mannered, there was more 'posing.' Film also reflected the cultural mores and customs of the time. People weren't that open with their emotions nor did they understand them as well.
There were also social constraints so everything had to be articulated within those social constraints.
Even the musicals were more like reviews like music hall stuff, burlesques. Storylines were flimsy showcases for the song & dance and comic performances.
There has always been a strong connection between theatre and film, especially early film.That's why so much of early film is more like theatre staging than film, perse.
[quote]How are you going to act naturally under those conditions?
Oh, give me a break.
The last thing people wanted to see during the Golden Age of Hollywood was realism. With the depression raging, audiences wanted an escape from reality.
Vaudeville. These people came from that era, and it showed. I think it's charming.
This OP's topic is the pits, but has anyone else become physically horny from the comedic actors in the Keystone comedies they've been showing Thursdays on TCM? There's something about the pancake makeup, eyeliner, lipstick, baggy clothes and fake facial hair that fucking turns me on, and these films are a hundred years old. The comedy is very anal with all kinds of swift kicks to the backside and arrow and shotgun blasts to the rearend. Somebody had to have some kind of fetish. Were any of the Keystone players into the same sex scene?
In the old days, they had much stronger personalities. You felt you knew who Jimmy Cagney was, or Ann Sheridan or Joan Crawford, etc. That's what the studio was selling.
The emphasis wasn't on some hyperintense faux-realism in a performance. It was about being compelling and charming.
Streep's statement--if taken at face value and out of context--is misplaced.
R11, why do you even bother to respond when you have nothing intelligent to say?
Acting "naturally" doesn't automatically equal "good" acting.
The current American/British convention decrees that the best acting is the most natural, but different times & cultures have had different conventions.
Acting is an art, like painting -- the convention of a time may call for realism or impressionism or cubism or abstract expressionism, etc.
Some artists follow convention & work within it, while others defy it. Different approaches are not necessarily bad or good -- you may like one better than another, but that's just a matter of preference.
Back then movies were an escape into over the top glamour and adventure, real everyday life was hard and mundane. It was an escape.
Now, movies are still an escape, but it seems we look to them to scare us, or make us feel better about ourselves.
Today's acting is even more mannered than films from the past. Just watch EAT PRAY LOVE. Everyone is wretched in it. Julia Roberts makes Norma Shearer look subtle. Richard Jenkins overacts shamelessly. Viola Davis is annoying. Everyone, including Javier Bardem, is bad.
And THE GHOST WRITER...just awful. Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Hutton, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, all beyond ham acting.
Gimme an old style film than that modern day piece o crap.
Not necessarily bad. But a different style. Mannred and over the top.
I've never been into it. Or into the Golden Age of Hollywood in general.
OP and R20 sound like boring philistines.
All acting is unnatural. At least stars like Garbo and Leigh and Grant were compelling and fascinating.
Not to mention beautiful beyond words.
Two actors who made stylistic breakthroughs and were rewarded for it:
Robert Donat When he showed up in The Private Life of Henry VIII it was like night and day. He was so relaxed when every one else was so arch and well, ROYAL. He went on to have a great career.
Anne Baxter in The Razors Edge. Tyrone and Gene and Herbert were all so stiff and polite and proper and then she shows up all drunk and stoned and earthy. Funny how she gave one of the most comically stylized performances in film much later on, "MOSES!" Makes me wonder how she lost that gift.
M just does impressions....she is more like Rich Little than Brando
That was an interesting post, r23.
I always thought Laurence Olivier was an awful actor. I never understood why they considered him the best actor ever because he was so far from it.
I guess it was the accent and manners.
He did improve in his later films but in the old classics he was one of the worst.
BTW, I think Joan Plowright was the brilliant actor in that family. She's a brilliant actress.
Perfect example is Stage Door. But then again most of them in it were playing actresses.
any decades that gives the inept Octavia Spencer an Oscar and a standing ovation....can't be considered the best.
"It's almost sacrilegious to call 'Casablanca' poorly acted, but it is."
Sorry, whatever point you were trying to make was completely destroyed by this ridiculous statement. It's amazing that you don't seem to understand there are/were different styles of acting in different eras and also depending on the medium. That said, if you consider CASABLANCA to be "poorly acted" by any standard, you have nothing worthwhile to contribute to a discussion of acting.
Meryl Streep is becoming a complete jackass and I think she has such enormous ego to the point she becoming obnoxious! Yes there were movie stars back then, but despite that, so many actors gave excellent performances and were good actors. One of the makeup artists asked Bette Davis if she wanted a lot of makeup to be applied to make her look better. She said, what?! I’m supposed to look haggard for the part! Good grief! put very little makeup on me! Laurence Olivier did a film with Dustan Hoffman and Dustan came on the set exhausted. Laurence Olivier asked him why was he so tired? Dustan said, my character is supposed to be tired so I didn’t sleep last night. Laurence Olivier said, have you ever thought about acting? Also, there are many, many classic films that are excellent films from the golden era of Hollywood that has excellent acting. Snake Pit, a film from the 1940s about a woman struggling with mental illness is superb! Pinky, another film from the 1940s as well is about a girl who has trouble accepting she is half black! There are many, many more!
Another thing, old movies were fantastic because the viewer relied on his her imagination. There was innuendo about sex here and there and you knew what they were talking about. They didn’t have to demonstrate it right in front of the viewer in order for the viewer to get a clue what they were talking about. Besides that sexual tension was much more intense. Alfred Hitchcock used very little blood in his films. When asked why he did this he said it wasn’t necessary because it was terror and the psychological suspense that was much more horrifying than just having blood and gore all over the set. The films in the golden era were done with class and so many were truly masterpieces that transcend time.
Yes many films that were made back then were fantasy as well because people wanted to escape. They paid money to watch another world other than their own. Now everything is reality and people don’t have an outlet to escape their everyday lives once in awhile.
BTW, the so-called films now are complete garbage and overrated! Right Meryl Streep! Shia LaBeouf is going to have real sex with his co-star on film? That is acting? Since when is porn acting? Knocked up is definitely a comedy classic! Again, Meryl Streep is a complete bitch who over generalizes her colleagues acting abilities who came before HER which is bottom of the barrel. Sorry, before I read this article, I always thought Meryl Streep was an overrated actress! I still belive that in addition I believe she is a super bitch!
R23, I have to disagree with you. Anne Baxter did a very good job playing an alcoholic and she was a real actor. Tyrone and Gene were supposed to act that way because they circulated among the wealthy. When Tyrone goes on a quest to find himself his character starts to loosen up. Also, someone once told me they saw Tyrone act on stage away from Hollywood and she said she was shocked what an incredible acting ability the guy had. She said her jaw dropped to the floor. She said he was defiantly an actor’s actor.
The actors back in the Golden Era of Hollywood were unique and no two were the same. They stood out as a result of their uniqueness. There was only one Clark Gable, there was only one James Dean, there was only one Eva Gardner, on and on.With a snap people knew who they were and they didn't look near like anyone else. Now people see these actors now a days and they say, is that her? I don't know she maybe this other actress because she kind of looks like her. No no, that is her.
BTW, I'm not older I'm just a person who loves and appreciates old movies and some new movies. However, a statement like Meryl's is infuriating and arrogant!
Barbara Stanwyck was the most natural actress of them all.
So true about stars back then being unique and they each had distinctive personas. Many (not all, but many) stars today are interchangeable. I'm not even old and if you say the name of certain well-known actors under 35 I can't really picture who they are in my head. Many of them are alike to me.
When M says the acting is better nowadays it makes me wonder if she's ever seen the work of Mamie or Grace Gummer.
Growing up, my next door neighbor carved decoy ducks and painted them. They were very realistic, almost life-like. My mother thought he was one of the greatest artists in the world. My mother thought Picasso was shit.
There is more to art than realism and naturalism.
I can watch Lillian Gish in "Broken Blossoms" and find it as modern and compelling and honest as Ellen Burstyn's performance in "Requiem."
R30 go get yourself a glass of wine, dollface. Time to relax a bit. Put on some Sinatra.
I agree with OP wholeheartedly and consider this an interesting topic. I do think there are exceptional vintage actors though. Clark Gable in GWTW and Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen and Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. And I can't imagine why  has such Streep hatred. To me she's brilliant and more versatile than any actress before her.
And speaking of actresses, can anyone tell me why Clair Danes is so disliked on DL? Don't get me wrong -- i haven't been able to stand her since she played Beth on Little Women. Completely miscast! But is she really such a bitch off screen? Her husband is so hot and seems nice...why would he marry that???
Can someone please explain the Kate Hepburn "click click click" thing? I've seen that in three threads discussing Streep over the past week, and I have no idea what that's all about. I'm relatively new around here. TIA.
Someone needs to remind Meryl that just because something is different doesn't mean it's bad. A child would know that.
[quote]"click click click" thing?
Supposedly Hepburn said this about Streep to a biographer (I don't think it has ever been proven that she actually said it.)
It means that you always see Meryl thinking as herself and never fully immersed in the character.
For me, it's whether I want to see a certain actor/performance, again and again. And it goes in stages--some longer than others.
My taste will not be the same as another's.
With all that said, I try to watch Streep's performances. I still get the impression she's telling us, "Look! look! see how good I am?" I've even bought dvd's with her in them. Hope to see them, someday!
I do love realism, however! "In Cold Blood" is a movie I've watched many times. The two killers, who individually would just be small tome losers, but together made a monster, are captured to perfection by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson.
Actors who never made it big in the mainstream have stired my imagination like no big name could.
Most actors from the studio era didn't act like they were going for oscars, as much as they seem to do today.
Geez, if M thinks Golden Age actors are bad, one can just imagine what she thinks about her sister in law's acting abilities and the overall acting in THAT genre.
r30 I agree with most of what you say. I LOVE old cinema (I'm fairly young too) but I do understand what Meryl is trying to say. I don't have a problem with it. I agree with many of the arguments people gave here about acting then and now and why it was the way it was.
I love those old movies so much even when they are bad. I loved them even as a kid. I always felt they had a certain kind of magic and mystery that newer cinema doesn't have.
Actors used to be larger than life. They aren't anymore no matter how much entertainment media tries to make them seem that way.
Streep has no sexual charisma at all.
The tick tick tick comment from K Hepburn about Meryl was how mechanical and methodical Meryl was.
oops, click click click
I think it was "click click click, you can see the wheels turning in her head."
R30, I love you! ESPECIALLY since you're younger and notice acting styles so well. Bravo!
Fan of R30 (and yes, I'm old)
Yes, R30 is a spry 55. Young indeed!
I always thought Joan Crawford overacted in everything, especially Mildred Pierce.
R30 = Eldergay about to have a stroke
It was that stupid affected phony accent that didn't color the performances of Bergman, Dietrich and Garbo. The manner of speech and inflection was so annoying. Even narrators and announcers from the old news reels and educational shorts all assumed that sing-songy phoniness. How good could the acting be when they all tried to speak in a fake upper crusty inflection that existed only in the heads of Hollywood producers? Everything has evolved and gotten better. Back then physical beauty standards were higher and talent not so much.
R51 is an idiot.
Browse this collection of recent Vanity Fair 'Hollywood issue' photographs. It's the biggest collection of homogenous looking nobodies.
[quote]I was never impressed with Jimmy Stewart either. If there ever was a one- note actor.
He could be great when he had to display torment, despair and anger such as in Vertigo and It's A Wonderful Life.
Their on camera mannerisms came from the silent film era. Big gestures.
Hollywood wasn't selling authenticity then. They were selling escapism, romantic and otherwise. People were enthralled by the experience, the size of the screen, and the stars of that day were required to be larger than life. You couldn't see movies any place else, you had to go the cinema and Hollywood was capitalising on creating an experience that was unique in itself and so much more grand and interesting than "real" life.
It was a different machine back then. Now they sell special effects.
The Golden Age of American cinema was the 1970s.
When I think natural actor I think Spencer Tracy.
Watch him eat on screen, totally natural and unselfconscious. Watch today's actors in an eating scene, fidgeting with the food with an almost disgusted look on their faces.They are so selfconscious about eating.
Today's acting is as mannered as Old Hollywood's.
Most natural acting era was the 70's i guess. But I think it depends on the gritty realism of the movies than anything.
Was Garbo's cringe worthy performance in Grand Hotel over the top mannered or was it an honest take of an unhinged diva that made it cringeworthy.
R15 got it. If you think that acting is bad, it's only because you have an idea in your head about what it means to "act well." There are different styles and they can elicit different responses from the viewer. Acting is an art more than a craft, unfortunately acting "teachers" and Hollywood tastes have completely ignored all other styles other than "naturalism," which is a faux-realistic style. They same thing happened with voice teachers. Now everyone sings in that same "American Idol" style.
It's really ignorant and misguided to think of those old performances as "bad." Expand your cultural and artistic universe. It might even make you appreciate an actor like Meryl's style more.
I rather see Golden Age of Hollywood acting then Streep acting (especially lately).
Where is this quote from Meryl? She's always been lavish in her praise of Bette Davis.
Don't forget, if you're talking about the 30's and 40's, there were no film schools here. Most of the directors came from Europe, or they were finding their way the same as anyone in a new industry invented as you go along.
The only reference point or experience for many was with live theatre or vaudeville. Live theatre also influenced the 50's and 60's, but theatre was changing too, with work by people like Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Elia Kazan, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Harold Prince, etc.
West Side Story revolutionized the concept of "musical." Both stage and film versions.The frothy Rogers & Hammerstein, and Rogers & Hart, Lerner & Lowe stuff was still popular, but things were changing.
Streep needs to take a chill pill. Every performance she's done has NOT been a home run IMO. She-Devil and Death Becomes her, she played them too broadly. Still of the Night - her lack of sex appeal was obvious. Julie & Julia - a classic example of ego over talent, resulting in godawful miscasting. She was awful as Julia Child. Reminiscent of Will Smith's turn as Ali - it was more of a bad impersonation than it was a performance.
R64 I don't disagree with you, but honestly I hated her in the Iron Lady movie. I thought that was her nadir! All I kept saying to myself was, "How could she!"
I actually don't mind her Romantic comedies. I liked the Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin one. I actually loved the sets! I loved Prada, too.
I felt the Julia Child movie was pointless except for Stanley Tucci. I could watch him read the want ads.
Even nowadays there are very few "natural" actors. Jeff Bridges and Debra Winger are a couple I can think of.
Yeah...I wouldn't have said that they weren't "good enough," because some of them could have been versatile or could have used naturalistic acting if they had been born in a more recent time.
Can the earlier styles be exasperating for me to watch? Well, yes. But I have yet to totally buy into more than just a few characters that I've seen on film, tv, or in theatre, ever (and I was born in the 80s).
M is probably subconsciously referring to herself and peers of which she approves. I agree with whoever said that acting is mostly all unbelievable.
Acting styles change. Certainly verisimilitude became much more important after the golden age of Hollywood. But that doesn't mean that people didn't speak the way Hollywood actors of the golden age spoke, in fact the way Hollywood actors spoke influenced the way people spoke, and it certainly doesn't mean that acting which is stylized and heightened is necessarily bad acting. Bad acting comes in many forms, including over underacting. In other words, your post, OP, is simplistic.
So Tom Cruise is a better actor than Spencer Tracy?
"Meryl Streep mentioned this, and you know, she's completely right."
Meanwhile, not one of Meryl's movies has ever made a GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME list.
Not one Meryl movie has ever ranked on the SIGHT AND SOUND lists, which are generally regarded by film historians and academics to be the best representation of the finest movies that worldwide cinema has ever had to offer.
Not one movie of hers has made it into the National Film Registry, which preserves movies that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
She didn't even make the AFI list of the twenty five greatest female screen legends. A majority were actresses from the alleged "wretched" golden era.
Furthemore, if we go by this insane logic, how does she explain her own performances in PLENTY, MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, and IT'S COMPLICATED?
I like Meryl. I like some of her work, and I do think some of it is truly great. But she's fell head first into her own hype. She's not as grounded and personable as she used to be.
This is a fascinating thread with a lot of well considered responses. I'm 71 and I think the performances of the past are as valid for their time as today's are. The stars of yesteryear were STARS, groomed by the studios and that is reflected in their "star" performances. The so-called stars of today look like the people next door and that is reflected in their performances. I like both.
I think a lot of actors today are more ballsy and take their characters to new levels of believability. That may be because we as people now are more open to subjects that were considered controversial 20 - 40 years ago. But as in any art form, science or technology, I think people will always be willing to push the envelope. That's just how we are as humans, we are curious and experimental creatures, and that's definitely a good thing!
For those wondering, the quotation comes from a 60 Minutes interview:
[quote]I think the acting is better than in the classic days.
They teach acting in film schools now?
Maybe that explains some of the terrible performances we are getting.
Reminds me of Mr. Haney's School of Television Acting on an episode of Green Acres:
"The first rule is: Always talk into the orange juice can and never look into the tomato can."
I was always told that the heavy emoting of early Hollywood was a leftover of stage and silent movies plus no one wanted reality back then. The thirties were depressing as shit.
[quote]old movies were fantastic because the viewer relied on his her imagination. There was innuendo about sex here and there and you knew what they were talking about. They didn’t have to demonstrate it right in front of the viewer in order for the viewer to get a clue what they were talking about.
The audience in those days was accustomed to using their imagination due to radio. An audience today doesn't use their imagination for entertainment because it's never been part of their viewing experience. Everything is spelled out for them.
An episode of "Kath and Kim" was about dogs mating so they actually had two dogs fucking in the background. You only saw the top part of the dogs humping, but the visual was there for all to see.
Our local NPR station has Old Time Radio on Sunday nights. I love the old movies that I "see" on radio every week. Several weeks ago I experienced "The African Queen" starring Humphrey Bogart and Greer Garson. It was fantastic to imagine this while listening to radio. Prior to this, I had only seen a little clip of the Bogart-Hepburn film and didn't know the whole story. This radio experience was wonderful.
I know yours is an old post, R26, but I must say that I agree! I'm a huge fan of the GAOH but I've never understood the Laurence Olivier love. I could never see the amazing actor I was told that I was supposed to see. I'm glad I'm not the only one.
Watch Shirley Booth in Hot Spell or Come Back Little Sheba. She's brilliant.
Then watch her as Dolly Levi in the Matchmaker.
She's good in that, but it's a whole different style of acting.
And she did both well.
Agree and disagree with this. I sometimes watch classic movies and cannot believe what I am seeing. A classic example of acting is Paul Muni who in his day was considered a great actor but nowadays is so over the top he's almost unwatchable.
Also, before Brando there was John Garfield who could be mannered but was still one of the first naturalistic actors. Another actor who lost themselves in their performances were the silent ones of Richard Barthlemess.
This is embarrassing, but...
I watched the end of "The Wizard of OZ" last weekend...B&W with Dorothy in bed, etc. Garland is completely natural--there isn't any distance between her and the character. She's a lot more "real" than St. Streep is in a lot of her highly-praised, click-filled turns.
r81 is an ancient queen who needs to lay off the poppers.
[quote]Meanwhile, not one of Meryl's movies has ever made a GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME list.
[quote]But that doesn't mean that people didn't speak the way
Yes it does, and no family lived like "Leave It To Beaver."
I was always fascinated with the great John Hodiak. According to an interview, he never took an acting lesson in his life. In some aspects, he exceeds even Walter Huston, March and Tracy in his transparency.
The various alleged Stanislavski spin-offs seemed to have destroyed any charisma actors had, even compared to some of the most histrionic actors from the silent era. Watching actors wearing their hearts on their sleeves always seemed more the province of mental health professions than a paying audience.
I think one of the few golden era actresses, whose performances have brilliantly stood the test of time, is Deborah Kerr. She was wonderfully subtle and she rarely overacted.
" there was only one Eva Gardner"
Never heard of her. What did she do?
OP's post is depressing as hell.
well, I can't really agree with this thesis.
Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity" Spencer Tracy in many things... there aren't many people today [including Ms. Streep] who can create that kind of authenticity on the screen.
Also worth thinking, people in the early to mid 20th century often were what we think of as "larger than life" Katherine Hepburn was "that way" 24/7 it might have been an act, but it was her life's work.
You also have to realize in looking at older films that scenes were longer and there weren't that many quick cuts, leaving the actor to sustain the screen for longer periods of time than today.
Ever watched Twelve Angry Men 1957 version? Dinner at Eight from the 1930's? There was excellent acting and in black and white it was all about the acting. Ever heard of film noir?
Exactly, R28. Kristen Wiig has done more subtle work on SNL.
Chalk it up to the influence of method acting.
I've caught some movies from the 1930s that were pretty hardcore realistic when it came to the down and dirty psychological warfare that can exist between couples. Was apparently the censors got into the act shortly thereafter and cleaned it up.
Yt? he staunchest lyrics I've heard were from the 30s as well...that includes rap/hip hop.
But let's get serious for a second. Modern box office is about special effects and super heroes...hardly gritty realism.
Pauline Kael also remarked somewhere that Hollywood actors are much better across the board now then ever before. She was writing in the late 1970s I think
I'm not quite so sure no one spoke in that grand mid Atlantic way. If you listen to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, it's clear that some people in fact did. Also, Hollywood influenced the way people behaved so that many people did aspire to sound and act the way people did in the movies - it's cyclical.
Beyond which, more naturalistic acting didn't begin as late as some here suggest. If you disagree with me on that than you really need to see some Magnani movies.
Many of the old actors came from the theater, where they had to speak loud enough to be heard in the back row.
The problem with the original OP might simply be the "Baby duck syndrome," the tendency for the viewer to "imprint" on the first actors they watch, then judge other actors by their similarity to those first actors.
As been pointed out before, acting style of the first silents emerged from the stage, which required exaggerated histrionics so everyone in the playhouse could see the actors on stage, even from the balcony. With camera closeups, actors like Walter Houston learned to tone down their style. That's why I like Hodiak as he doesn't mumble, stumble and slouch like the Method actors.
The famous quote about Pauline Kael: "She has everything that a great critic needs except judgment." Unsurprisingly, most of her favorite movies have histrionic acting styles deriving either from the stage or pseudo-Stanislavski spin-offs. In this she resembles Bosley Crowther, despite their differences over [italic]Bonnie and Clyde[/italic]. Nor is it surprising that with a few obligatory Bogart exceptions, they dismissed most film noire.
Most film critics are affected by the Baby duck syndrome and are firmly immunized against the subtleties of true art, let alone even the most obvious intent of the filmmaker. The mental horizons of most film critics wouldn't expand beyond an egg crate. I'm always surprised how many people rely on these critics on whether to view a film.
I believe Kael made that comment about American film acting having never been better around 1989. One of her supportive examples was Dianne Wiest's performance in Parenthood.
I think people are confusing bad acting with acting in a grand manner. I would argue that Norma Shearer was an actress of the grand manner and also, in many performances, simply not a convincing actress. In contrast, Claude Raines's style of acting was arguably just as vivid and heightened but always impactful, truthful and brilliant.
Acting is not always about realism because not all plays or films are realistic. Styles and conventions of performance change but there are always both good performances and bad ones.
R98, I'm in agreement about Kael's fault of judgment and often idiosyncratic leanings - after all, passion often supersedes the intellect.
However, it just isn't true that she preferred those types of performance styles. She always expected "authenticity," which is different from "realism." What seemed - to her - to be an authentic characterization meant it could be portrayed in any style, or combination of styles of acting. Consider her being one of the first to lift Stanwyck to the first tier - this was based on her verisimilitude, not her ability to weep in STELLA DALLAS.
Most of the comments here about acting styles (which, by the way, are just part of "production/directing styles" in which they are inevitably nested" are only partially true and reflect rather a bias towards naturalism, which itself is a distortion of what could be called documentary realism. Also, the misstatements about the nature of Method acting seem based more on performances - famous ones - that represented a misalignment or gratuitously clueless job with the term "method" hung on them in an inaccurate way.
Offering Walter Huston (for heaven's sake) as the exemplum for downplaying is a delightful miss. That man was pure ham, and ham is not subtle, even when it just sits there quietly exuding its pork. I love him - but please.
OP is right. Most of those old movies are filled with some shitty acting. Crawford and Davis are the worst. You'd have to be one gig assed queer to find any of that crap watchable.
Now I'm thinking of that cast member on Saturday Night Live who used to do a parody of exactly this (OP's topic). She was done up in entirely black/white makeup, and would emote exaggeratedly to "Johnny" in stilted soliloquies that sounded like a bad pastiche of flicks from the '30s/40s.
I'll admit I'm a foolish girl, Johnny, I am, it's true, I cahn't help being sentimental and tendah-haahted. But don'cha SEE, Johnny? I did it all, All, ALL for YOU, Johnny!"
Who was this, anyone know?
Can anyone give examples of what actors are displaying all these styles? What style is Vivian Leigh, Loretta Young, Bogart, Bacall, Liz Taylor?
But OP, Meryl is ugly, so it doesn't matter what she thinks. Ferret-faced bitch.
[r101] = Ghost of Marlon Brandon as Stanley Kawalski
Ironic that the OP refers to the Golden Age as Hollywood's heyday, but not today. Also it's been noted that in most of the arts, never has there been more education and students, and never has there been less art.
It's been argued that the peak period for plays was the Elizabethan era, painting the 17th century, novels and opera in the 19th century and film between the silent era and 1963. While all sort of development has taken place in all these arts beyond their "Golden Ages," it has not always been for the better. Film acting is not alone. Much of what passed for modern architecture has proved to be largely a soulless disaster, the biggest modern success being possibly suspension bridges.
That bad taste and manners in film is taken as a sign of authentic acting has reduced the audience to the level of an AA meeting or group therapy session.
What the Golden Age of each art evokes is true soulfulness. With modern acting techniques, never has more histrionics evoked more spiritual emptiness. We have no real stars today because we have lost the art of acting to psychobabble and politics.
The people who know how to create real movies are either dead or retired. The only real artistic difference between them and us is that we're already dead and retired and don't know it.
Something that I thought was kind of odd, the male characters were always in suits, always.
Did men in the 20s, 30, and 40s, always wear suits? Was that believable?
It's always been the same with movie stars, they don't have to be great actors, they just need a lot of charisma.
"It's almost sacrilegious to call "Casablanca" poorly acted..."
No, it's idiotic, OP. But then, you were followed in this thread by a great many other idiots who, like you, make sweeping generalizations and fail to understand that different styles of acting are suited to different types of films according to subject matter, tone, etc.
To name only one of hundreds of films that belie your statement, please do yourself a favor some time and watch THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Then come back and apologize for your ignorance.
Most of you who complain about actors don't really know shit about acting or actors.
Most of you are either jealous or simply ignorant.
[r112] the idiot is you. The OP knows exactly what he/she thinks acting is. The posters who think non-Method acting is obsolete know what they're talking about. They're merely victims of the baby duck syndrome and were imprinted by their teachers. They've already seen The Grapes of Wrath, which they've been taught is old-fashioned crap.
There's a group of us who argue for the period between the silent and pseudo-Stanislavski era. If those are sweeping generalizations, so be it. Go write your Ph.D theses elsewhere. This is a general discussion forum for people less pedantic than you.
And we're not talking about Shakespeare or kabuki styles, only Hollywood.
Jennifer Lawrence is much better than older actresses. Plus she inspires other fat girls to find love.
Stanwyck is fantastic and REAL in Remember the Night. Check it out - such an underrated film.
Gene Tierney was also a revelation in Leave Her to Heaven and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
If you are starved for attention, you use two words: Meryl Streep. Genius. Can someone please change my Pampers?
[r100], years ago, I ran across professors who forbid the class to use weasel words and phrases, such as "realism," "naturalism," "passion often supersedes the intellect," "authenticity" and other high-sounding hoo-ha. One prof, who was a minor playwright, exposed critics like Crowther, Simon, Kael and Company, as witchdoctors or priests who made their living sprouting such gobbledegook to intimidate the living. Oh, film critics are so full of themselves!
So you've managed to say 221 words of meaningless drivel. And you cloud up the waters like a squid expelling ink by injecting "production/directing styles," which pertaining to the stage, which would be OK if were we talking about the stage. We're talking about Old Hollywood. And the development of Walter Houston's acting style has been thoroughly documented and your opinion of him is pure nonsense.
But the Method people have hypnotized themselves so much with their psychobabble, it's little wonder that acting in the US is in the state it's in.
And don't drag in the auteur nonsense. The screenwriter will always be primary over the director. The old movie moguls watching the dailies never said "what good direction," but "we have good pages." The director was usually the brother-in-law of the producer in those days, thank God!
Stanwyck overacted everything. I saw Double indemnity and laughed my ass off at that shitty acting. She sucked. Joan Crawford sucked. Gene Tieney played the same tucking character with a different name.
Here's the famous "Traffic cop" scene from [italic]Double Indemnity[/italic] between Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.
[quote]Now I'm thinking of that cast member on Saturday Night Live who used to do a parody of exactly this (OP's topic). She was done up in entirely black/white makeup, and would emote exaggeratedly to "Johnny" in stilted soliloquies that sounded like a bad pastiche of flicks from the '30s/40s. Who was this, anyone know?
It was "In Living Color," not SNL, and it was Kelly Coffield Park.
"The OP knows exactly what he/she thinks acting is. The posters who think non-Method acting is obsolete know what they're talking about. They're merely victims of the baby duck syndrome and were imprinted by their teachers. They've already seen The Grapes of Wrath, which they've been taught is old-fashioned crap."
R114, I've re-read that tortured, confused sentence of yours three times, and I still have no idea what you're trying to say. But let's cut to the chase: Are you saying you think THE GRAPES OF WRATH is or is not "old-fashioned crap?"
[quote]Gene Tieney played the same tucking character with a different name.
Who's tucking what, WHERE, bitch?
I believe it was a left over from the silent era. They really had to emote on camera since there was no sound.
I'll also add that frankly I like the old "stars" better than today's boring and bland ones who also can't act. No one stands out as distinctive. Back in the Golden era they had very distinctive voices. Bogart, Hepburn and Bacall were identifiable without even seeing them.
R109 I worship you.
R118, please do not pretend that your posturing and dismissal of both scholarship and my own 35 years in professional theater somehow offers an argument against the clear, concise and well-reasoned statements I made.
You are simply making an ugly face and expecting people to honor it. This is the tactic of the type of person who cites an old professor rather than thinks for herself. You are not only a philistine (to use another helpful term anyone with sense recognizes). You are an arrogant, pretentious philistine.
Or, in DL terms, a cunt.
35 years of professional bullying and lying and destruction of the remnants of our film culture, you pretentious airhead.
As I said,the people who know how to create real movies are either dead or retired. The only real artistic difference between them and us is that we're already dead and retired and don't know it. And you, dear, died 35 years ago and don't know it.
In the "golden age", there were fewer expectations to demonstrate range and films often were built around the personas that actors had developed. That doesn't mean that people couldn't play different kinds of roles--Paul Muni's career was basically that. Cary Grant perfected being "Cary Grant" but could make it fit light comedy or first rate drama. There were people like John Garfield were early examples of Method acting.
Casablanca is a ludicrous example of "bad acting" Bogart has begun settling into a persona that worked for heroes and heavies. Bergman communicates a great deal through subtle emotion and the supporting players like Sydney Greenstreet do a great job of filling out the stock company without seeming like cheesey tv actors (think just about everyone in the last 20 years whose flopped in film, despite success on tv).
The silents are a different matter. people had to telegraph plot without dialogue, and minimal subtitles. You could get away with more slapstick and broad portrayals, but many people could be subtle and multidimensional.
These days, you have the methods types, but you also have technicians like Streep. In roles without accents, etc. like her supporting role in "Deer Hunter", she's ok but doesn't have the definition she has even in something light like "Devil Wears Prada" or "Julia and Julia". In the latter, she's just far more interesting than her contemporary counterpart and its because Streep nails her. Old Hollywood encourage mannered performances around a particular persona. Someone like Streep is mannered, in the sense that she researches a character and uses technical details like accents to sharpen it.
Today's acting is great.
Damn, R127 is tiresome.
Oh Jesus, please reincarnate Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, and the Warner brothers.
Also reincarnate Sam Goldwyn.
R121, yes, thank you! Kelly Coffield Park from In Living Color. That explains why I couldn't find her by searching SNL.
Anyway, that clip at R121 is a perfect example of what OP is talking about.
Golden. Meryl Streep narrates a documentary about her contemporaries in the world of global cinema. Zhang Zying and other great female non-English actresses are profiled, from India to the Middle East. I am donating this idea to PBS because I would make love to a monkey to see Meryl on any kind of screen.
Those of you who hate old movies and who think the movie stars sucked as actors go back watching your Jerry Springer program, Bravo TV, the Kardashians, and many other complete pieces of junk.
The writers today have no talent whatsoever. Anyone can write these scrips today because most of the scripts are swear words and the constant word that is said most of the time through out the 2 hours of film is Fuck. Also, its not a major achievement today in the film industry to be boasting when they depend a lot on computer technology than on good scripts ,and cranking out one action film after another, which the films consists of dialogue of Pow! Bang! Bang! Punch!Also, the old films had class. They had a lot of innuendo between the two characters sexuality and you know what they were saying or when the screen faded out in some scenes you knew what they did. The films back then allowed the viewer's imagination to play a major role, you know, using your brain?! Today, everything is laid out in front of the viewer because people are too dumb to figure it out. Films like American Pie, Dumb and Dumber, Knocked Up, and the list goes on and on,would never ever be made back then because again, they had class.
Meryl Streep has a lot of nerve, her acting sucks! When she played Julie Child like a Caricature and in a satirical manor, which she dose with most of her biographic portrayals.Julia Child was once a spy during World War 2 and she was highly intelligent she wasn't remotely an air head as THEE IDIOT ACTRESS portrayed her as! To be a spy, you have to be intelligent.
R121, it was Christine Wiig
Oh Sanka Lady! Put a little arsenic in R127 's next cup of soothing and relaxing Sanka decaffeinated coffee, please.
Bitch, please. Meryl is starting to believe her own press. That cow has turned in some crap performances too.
Very interesting R100.
I've only begun to catch up on the old classics fairly recently. In fact I just watched Casablanca for the first time yesterday. (Loved it and especially Bergman and Claude Raines). Obviously the acting is mostly different than today's acting but I've found that the performances tend to be fairly effective for the movie. Sure there are some hams here or there, but there are plenty of hams now too.
Seems like Meryl has lost her way a bit.
Meryl needs to take a few remedial courses from the Punchy Players.
R141 - if you liked Bergman and Rains, you should watch Notorious. It is a great Hitchcock, Bergman and Rains are at their best, and Cary Grant taps into a dark side of his persona that he rarely brought out on film.
Notorious is one of my favorites.
I understand people thinking old Hollywood was full of bad acting. I think once you get around understanding/appreciating that the movies were MEANT to involve campy/affected acting you will like the movies.
Honestly this is no different than some people not liking Broadway musicals or daytime soap opera. Once you get over the grammar/conventions/styles that are unrealistic, you might enjoy.
I find that although the acting wasn't natural-- the source material and scripts seemed more varied in both genre and audience.
I am only 24 and I am mesmerized by old Hollywood. When I have TCM (whe i have cable) I watch it all the time.
There was some wonderful acting in the classic films. There was a time in the '20s and early '30s where acting could be extremely declamatory and melodramatic, and it evolved, as it has evolved today. But one poster said it best, it was the personalities, the images, that the studios were selling. And to me, a personality can be much stronger than an acting performance.
I like what Bette Davis said, and to me it sums up some of the acting today: "Today everybody wants to be real, but real acting is bigger than life."
R145 - good for you. I wish more people your age felt as you do.
Considering how many mediocre films Meryl has made or films where her performance is perhaps the only interesting thing in the movie, she should perhaps restrain herself from making sloppy generalizations about several decades worth of film.
People are still watching Dark Victory and Now Voyager. Anyone watching Ironweed, One True Thing, her violin movie, etc.
And the "natural" actors like Brando made their share of klunkers as well. Nicholson and Pacino have turned into caricatures of themselves especially in the "I owe a lot of ex-wives and girlfriends and spawn money so I need to make some movies" films they make.
Bette Davis in the 1970's said about acting, "I think it should show just a bit of work, to be completely natural is not acting." Well we can debate that and I love the golden period as much as I love the 1970's natural period. But let's acknowledge that there were greats and silliness in both times.
I think the greatest actors and stars were on film during both of these times, 1930 to 1950, and 1967 to the early eighties. Not really before or since. We have some exceptional actors now, and there always will be, but it is being bred out a bit, to be great or different.
Nick Cage, Sean Penn, Jennifer Lawrence, Jodie Foster, Hillary Swank, Leo DiCaprio, Reese Witherspoon, Anne Hathaway, Annette Bening, Denzel Washington, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Jude Law, and others all demonstrate the last wave of mediocre. Not star system, not method.
Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, Charlize Theron and most of those brits show it can still be done better. No matter the role or director.
The method style of acting is something I studied for a few years. It comes down to this. A great actor in a big performance is there to perform in such a way as to modulate and guide the audience through an experience. They must be immersed in the character and use techniques to get there. BUT, method acting is not about pissing all over yourself in an effort to make the audience feel your humiliation. They should feel wet. Too many method actors are performing beautiful masturbation. We have seen some high wire performances and have read stories about actors not being able to shake the character. Daniel Day Lewis is a good example of this - an actor who pisses himself to let you know it is raining. And yet it all comes out a bit dry.
Poor Meryl. Possessing every gift in the world of all styles of performing and changing them like a butterfly. Old time show the seams Movie Star Acting(Out of Africa, Sophie's Choice, The Devil Wears Prada) realistic performances that display her lispy voice and wan light,(The violin thing and Deer Hunter and Manhattan)and some method stuff that immerses her and some times dazzles us or leaves us cold or wet.(Ironweed, Silkwood, Marvin's Room and most terribly Postcards From the Edge) She wins and looses, but she should not be knocking the old school style and I doubt that she liked the question. It is where she has been best and found most of her success. She just hates to admit it.
Iron Lady and Julia vs. Julie and Mamma Mia are just crap with a legend at helm. No better than Bette Davis drowning some kid in the bathtub in her early-late name above the title films. Showing off.
There are great method actors - make a list.
There are great natural actors - ditto.
There are great personality stars who become very good actors over time.
Some think acting is just pretending. That used to be for television, but no more.
The Golden age did exclude any of them.
Fuck this post is long and not scholarly. I am a performer, therefor a hunk of beef/cattle. Don't take my word for anything.
For a sterling example of great acting in an older movie, check out Shirley Booth in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA from 1952.
Although the movie feels very much like a filmed play, there isn't a false note in her performance as the long-suffering wife of a recovering alcoholic. Her co-star, Burt Lancaster, said Shirley Booth was the finest actor he ever worked with.
The link goes to a short, heart-breaking scene (that no doubt cemented her Oscar win that year.) The whole movie is available on YouTube.
Oh R150! I plead to differ from you! The play, Come Back Little Sheba, itself is cringe worthy in 2013.
Yes, her husband is a filanderer with the hots for a younger girl and at least one of them is alcoholic. But Jesus! The dialogue just doesn't hold up anymore---all that "Daddy" stuff and wooden bullshit. I was happy when the dog, Sheba, finally ran out of the house and got run over by a truck.
When I see an old play like this--and Inge was great in his time--I and everyone else has to look at it as a product of its time. Not quite as magnificent Long Day's Journey Into Night but certainly as earnest.
It's an old, once well-regarded play. But there is a reason why it hasn't been revived on Broadway in over 50 years and that is because it is a relic of its time.
R151, I have to disagree with you.Come Back Little Sheba deals with someone who is dealing with alcohol addiction and dysfunctional issues that intertwine a negative cycle. That is very relevant today as it was then and it is a message that transcends time. This issue transcends time because it shows how destructive being an alcoholic is and how scary this addiction problem can drive the abuser to the edge. When I first watched that film on TV, I thought the acting, subject, and story was very real and very raw.
The other day I watched Harriet Craig for the fist time on Antenna TV. Joan Crawford was just super in that role. It stuns me that film isn't included in the Joan Crawford DVD collection. Also, it is extremely hard to get which is completely nuts!
The Golden Age of Hollywood were films to entertain the public. Today everything is reality focused so much, that the viewers aren't allowed to escape and let their imaginations run free.Also, good scripts mattered back in the golden era of Hollywood. The writers worked long and hard to produce a a good story and script that didn't use cheap dialogue as they do today, which one line after another is constant swearing. A preteen can write dialogue like that,which reveals a lack of talent and creative input. In the golden era of Hollywood, the standards for good script writers were expected to produce at a much higher level than today. This was also true for directors, costume designers, etc.
Those on this thread who claim they were just movie stars in the golden era of Hollywood is correct to a point. The movie star was the main focus, but there were many who got into the acting and really focused on the film project with a lot of depth. To generalize is not relevant because it is not based on facts as the whole picture.In films today, there is no release from reality anymore because the films now have messages behind them. Political messages, messages of philosophy, etc. Stop the preaching and get back to entertaining and produce good stories and scripts again.
Rosalind Russell in "Craig's Wife" (basically the same film) is far superior to Crawford in "Harriet Craig".
Thanks R143. I actually watched Notorious first, and loved Raines and Bergman so much that I went looking for their other movies.
R149, I really thought you were saying something compelling until you named two of the greatest hams who ever hammed and Charlize Theron(?!) as greats.
Come Back Little Sheba was revived on Broadway in 2008.
One of my favorite Golden Age performances is that of Paul Lukas in "Watch on the Rhine." He was a wonderful actor, one of many. Notorious - one of my favorite films of all time. Casablanca - just saw it in the theater again - loved it.
Meryl always seems a little bit phony to me. She gets the externals right, but she's never been as compelling as the big golden age stars.
Of course today we have Adam Sandler, Jennifer Lopez and Tom Cruise. Truly gifted thespians.
absolutely - you watch Walter Huston in Dodsworth and Treasure of the Sierra Madre and think "Thank God now we have real actors like Tom Cruise!"
NOT! NO FUCKING WAY!
Perhaps Streep should take a closer look. At Claude Raines, Barbara Stanwyck, Anna Magnani, Robert Donat, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Cagney, Luise Rainer, Vivien Leigh, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Frances Farmer, Wendy Hiller, Leslie Howard, Miriam Hopkins, Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Mae West, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Ryan and countless others of their colleagues.
These were not hacks.
My favorite film from this era was "Here Comes Mr. Jordan." It was fantasy, but I found the acting held up pretty well by today's standards. It was CORNY, but not so much more than you see today. I wouldn't cafll today's filmos that much more realistic, except in the use of popular turns of phrase in the scripting, and with evil winning more often,but that's minor.
Anyone who presents John Travolta as an alpha male at a disco is pretty detached from reality.
[quote]---all that "Daddy" stuff and wooden bullshit. I was happy when the dog, Sheba, finally ran out of the house and got run over by a truck.
Speaking of bullshit, you didn't see the film or else you forgot it.
The dog, Little Sheba, has been missing for months when the story begins. He never returns and he never appears for even one second in either the film or the play.
I guess I don't understand Meryl Streep being critical - on TCM's "Word of Mouth" she talks about how Bette Davis was her idol.
R159 - thank you for naming all those stars. Walter Huston is a particular favorite of mine.
[quote]Speaking of bullshit, you didn't see the film or else you forgot it.
The dog, Little Sheba, has been missing for months when the story begins. He never returns and he never appears for even one second in either the film or the play.
Also, the husband's definitely not a filanderer (or a philanderer, for that matter).
Regarding Pauline Kael as a critic, here's a gem by Renata Adler on Kael's review Arthur Penn's 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde":
"She (Kael) has, in principle, four things she likes: frissons of horror; physical violence depicted in explicit detail; sex scenes, so long as they have an ingredient of cruelty and involve partners who know each other either casually or under perverse circumstances; and fantasies of invasion by, or subjugation of or by, apes, pods, teens, bodysnatchers, and extraterrestrials. Whether or not one shares these predilections—and whether they are in fact more than four, or only one—they do not really lend themselves to critical discussion. It turns out, however, that Ms. Kael does think of them as critical positions, and regards it as an act of courage, of moral courage, to subscribe to them."
Not surprisingly, Kael's four predilections is what Hollywood uses in place of transparent acting, actor charisma, coherent story, elegance, avoidance of gratuitous vulgarity and plain common sense. Her love affair with the films of Brian De Palma was something worse than Bosley Crowther's pedantic nonsense. The daughter of a Republican chicken farmer from Petaluma was not always an improvement over Crowther, who had the mind of a Kansas City housewife with all the prejudices. A pox on film critics. Watch the movie and make up your own mind!
Kael could be over the top, and towards the end of her career was a very sloppy, silly writer, but she was the only critic of her era worth reading. There isn't any major critic who comes close to her.
(I loved Renata Adler's SPEEDBOAT.)
OP is falling into the self-reflexive fallacy of "I don't like it, therefore it's worthless."
(see Randolph County School Board)
I agree with the posters who realized that Meryl Streep was being a pretentious bitch. Not a first for her. The majority of classic film actors were staged trained & purposely appeared slightly larger than life on screen. Pre-TV audiences didn't want realism. They wanted to escape the hum-drum of their everyday lives! Bette Davis pretty much summed it up (starting at 6:12) on this old Dick Cavett clip. I'm sure most Pre-Method/Classic Film actors/actresses felt the same way.
No r168, it is my review of Adler's review of Kael's review. And you are the reviewer of me!
How about when the old school movie acting style is needed and a modern actor cannot handle that?
Robert Redford in Out of Africa
The part could have used a bold Clark Gable type, instead they got the faux-method acting Redford.
I don't think Streep was dismissive of old Hollywood, she simply said that she thinks that screen acting is (generally) better now. She has been more generous than others in recognizing Bette Davis, Carol Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, etc.