This is the sixth in a series of reflections about David Mamet's controversial yet influential book, ten years after its initial publication. Click here for the previous installment.
This is the penultimate installment in my True and False series. As such, these last couple of blogs will be a little less concise as I try to touch on the few remaining things I find interesting in the book. In particular, this bit about Belief vs. Acceptance made me laugh, but in a good way:
Ever wonder what it would be like if your wife, husband, or lover died? Do you believe it has happened? No. You imagine for the moment that it has happened because it is enjoyable to do so. Not to wish their death but to imagine. To experiment with the dramatic. Anyone ever play with the idea that you have a wasting disease, and you are writing your will? You toy with what you would say, with the wisdom you would impart from your position of one removed from life.... What fun. Your imagination may, in fact, even be piqued by reading the above suggestion. Now: what happens to you when I ask you to believe you are dying?I just watched The Queen the other day, and even though it's not what I would consider a light-hearted romp, and even though James Cromwell gets all the best lines, you can just tell that Helen Mirren - a consummate professional - is having so much fun playing the role. Of course she doesn't believe she's the Queen, but she's having the time of her life by letting her imagination run wild with the wonderful possibilities.
On page 58, Mamet uses the phrase "respect for the audience." I wonder if this is an allusion and/or response to Uta Hagen's Respect for Acting. Purposeful or not, it demonstrates where he believes an actor's priorities must lie: serve the audience first, and one's skill and craft will follow.
It's interesting in Mamet's description of the rehearsal process that he says, "The actors should become acquainted with the actions they are going to perform." Acquainted, not ingrained. I get the impression that Mamet prefers a fast and loose rehearsal process, where the performance can be prepared in a short amount of time with minimal preparation, in order to leave room for further discovery when the curtain finally rises for a paying audience. For this same reason, Spielberg refuses to rehearse with his actors before the camera rolls. He wants to catch that sublime and fleeting moment when an actor makes a surprising discovery and encounters the unexpected for the first time, no matter how much film might get burned on "bad" takes. I know many actors who would fear and reject this technique, but it seems Mamet would encourage it.
I once made a short film called A Challenge to Brecht based on this quote: "Nothing in life is as interesting as a man trying to get a knot out of his shoelace" (p. 95). The idea being that an actor trying to achieve an external goal is more interesting than one struggling with internal "emotions." So I staged a flat grey background with a single chair, whereupon a man walks in, sits down, gets a real knot out of his shoelace, and walks off. No dialogue, no music, no camera movement, no editing. The whole thing was less about three minutes. I had the great fortune of being able to present the film before a paying audience, and by all accounts people were actually interested in the action on screen. It was a fun experiment, and in my challenge it seemed as though I had proven Brecht (and Mamet) right.
Thanks again to Geoff and Ben for their generous help.
Please click here for the next installment of True and False: Ten Years Later.