Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Social Realism

Last night I watched Robert Redford’s ‘The Natural.’ It’s one of his best films. I prefer it more than the more commercially successful ‘Out of Africa.’ His films are more iconic and are rich in symbolism unlike Paul Newman’s films which are grittier – more on the social realism side. Newman was good in the films that focus on Southern Gothic like Tennessee William’s ‘Cat in a Hot Tin Roof’, or Larry McMurthy’s ‘Hud’ and other films based on stories from William Faulkner. Redford’s films are more contemporary preferring films with nature as his backdrop like ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’. Bernard Malamud’s ‘The Natural’ is rich in American symbolism with baseball as the backdrop of a story about dreams, redemption, father’s and son and farm lands. Kevin Costner is following Redford’s lead – focusing on the same themes but with more lines and vocal dexterity. Redford prefers less dialogue preferring to act with his body and communicating with his eyes. In this sense he is like another legendary actor- Gary Cooper who was also accused of playing himself in all his movies.

Even Redford’s social realism films like ‘Brubaker’ or ‘All the President’s Men’ lack scenes which exploit his speaking talents (or lack thereof). He prefers roles that portray the hero as the strong silent type which he can exploit with his physicality. He gets away with it because of his extraordinary good looks and unlike Paul Newman who is also good looking but effective with long speaking roles. Normally actors like to grab long speaking roles or roles with lots of dialogue but Redford prefers to act with his body like Sean Connery, preferring to show scenes of confusion or deep thinking  or other such inner turmoil by fidgeting around, creasing his brow or other such mannerism without speaking. On the other hand, actors like Marlon Brando or Al Pacino would explode with verbosity when trying to express deep emotion. They prefer words to express inner emotions while Redford prefers to reduce them to the absolute minimum. He also disdains rehearsals or multiple takes and prefers to have only one take in order to be authentic in his acting.  

Redford wanted to be a painter and drifted into acting in his early years. He became a director in his later career possibly to finally express his visual imagination. His films became the canvas to express himself with his Sundance institute as an art studio where young artists like painters are trained in the old traditional sense of a studio. One sees that he is ahead of his time, channeling his success as a film star to nurture creative talents in independent cinema, where directors like Quentin Tarantino or Stephen Sondenberg  learn their craft. But most people do not seem to realize his contribution to American arts because they are blinded by his looks and do not see beyond his physical beauty. But long after he is gone, his films as an actor, as a director, his contributions in Sundance and his ski preserve in Utah will enshrine his legend. It’s a pity that he could not be a better actor in the mold of Clint Eastwood – not a great thespian but with a considerable iconic status both as actor and director. I guess Redford is also working against type and did not live to excess like some artists do – living a solid and exemplary life. His life compared to so-called Hollywood rebels seemed staid and conservative which is reflected in his art.

In one sense, Redford can be seen as boring – lacking the colorful life of people like Clint Eastwood or Warren Beatty but not lacking in solid achievement. Like Eastwood, he has a long track record and the staying power to continue working and still achieve significant milestones. Perhaps like Eastwood and Woody Allen he still has a lot of good films ahead of him in his twilight years. He has starred in a lot of great films that will remain in anyone’s top ten best films as well as directed some of classics too like ‘Ordinary People’, ‘A River Runs Through it’ and ‘Quiz Show’. I hope to see his latest film ‘The Conspirator’ which is an interesting story on Lincoln’s murder. Clearly the topics of his films are diverse and not trivial. He could spot talent too – having young actors who achieve greater acclaim later like Morgan Freeman. But he did not spread his wild oats which I think is due to the isolation he got in the Utah Mountains. This isolation keeps him whole - away from the fakeness of Hollywood and celebrity. His common sense individuality is something that is missing in today’s world.

I attended Toastmaster leadership training on Saturday morning. Afterwards, I tried to do a lot of things again by reading all the books I borrowed and trying to watch many films too. I have not finished Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of Now’ but read some articles on another book on Mindfulness. I agree with the principles like it was a formula to keep sane. Live in the present, count your breaths, meditate, control your desires and so on but I find myself in a wheel, turning incessantly forward unable to follow the lessons of wisdom. It’s the reason why I cannot write anything despite my desire. I am not serious – preferring to follow the wind, trying to get something done in my myriad interests. The result is nothing gets finished. I am listening to William Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’ and will be leaving next week for Nevada to complete the project I am working on. Lots of preparation and work and challenges and problems to be solved and I still persists in distracting myself – afraid to be grounded because that would mean mediocrity and stability losing the curiosity and quest for knowledge that makes life interesting.

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