Naomi Watts Watch: Playing Princess Diana

This week, the first pictures of Naomi Watts as Princess Diana were made public. As with the first pictures of Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, or Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor, or Toby Jones as a different Alfred Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren, or Malin Akerman as Linda Lovelace, or Amanda Seyfried as another Linda Lovelace, we’re invited to marvel at the close physical resemblance between actor and subject, to infer that the casting has been validated, and thus to begin anticipating the arrival of the movie, safe in the knowledge that it is being well-handled; the validating resemblance is designed to prove that the film is respectfully attuned to the legacy concerns of the beloved subject. Continue reading

Naomi Watts Watch: Eastern Promises

[See here for more Naomi Watts posts.]

In David Cronenberg’s most recent films, there is an eerie deliberation over dialogue. It might well be that this is just stilted direction, cutting by rote between speakers and holding the camera on a face for the duration of a line reading. But it creates an undeniable tension that the careful placement of shot next to shot, action followed by action will be interrupted by something terrible. It’s the montage equivalent of a game of Jenga – it’s intriguing to watch the build-up, but it can’t go on indefinitely. This is most obvious in the languid, quiet opening of A History of Violence, where the aftermath of a massacre is played out like a lazy Sunday afternoon. The same eggshell-treading editing characterises Eastern Promises, Cronenberg’s nasty leer inside the Russian mafia in London. Continue reading

Naomi Watts Watch: Tank Girl

You’ve probably forgotten Tank Girl, buried it beneath the subsequent deluge of increasingly tiresome and tired comic book adaptations that followed. It was an early attempt to incorporate a “cartoony” style (inserts of colourful artwork, hyperbolic dialogue, big gestures) into an adaptation – i.e. to adapt with minimum loss of medium specificity – but it illustrates some of the enduring problems Hollywood has in this area, acquiring a hot property and then ironing out the outrageousness (not to mention the Britishness) that made Jamie Hewlett and ALan Martin’s comic books special in the first place. I wish I could say that, now that some time has passed, Tank Girl deserves reappraisal, but I’m afraid it’s still a damp mess of half-measures, compromises, its tiresome ebullience made even more slovenly by the traces of studio interference at every level. The best I can say is that, because it’s shot by Gale Tattersall, who worked with Bill Douglas on the supreme Comrades, it looks great, perhaps better, more polished, than it needs to, or that it represents the look of a big budget blockbuster before the effects of CGI had really taken hold in Hollywood, meaning that it relies almost entirely on vehicular stunts, miniatures and pyrotechnics (the Mad Max echoes can’t be coincidental) that must already have given it a pleasingly old-fashioned feel.

Continue reading

Spectacular Attractions Podcast #10

[City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)]

Charlie Chaplin refused to take the talkie bait while preparing his masterpiece City Lights for its release in 1931. While the world waiting to hear his voice, he was determined to prove that his art could persist in its original form with physical gestures conveying character and emotion without needing words to clarify their meaning. This podcast talks about how Chaplin constructs the film around a series of jokes that play on his attempts to uphold a facade of dignity in the face of destitution, drunkenness and conflict. It features extracts from the score, and a few of the sound effects that Chaplin added for the film’s release.

DOWNLOAD: Spectacular Attractions Podcast #10

This is the tenth weekly podcast I’ve made. I’ve learned a few editing techniques and improved my recording methods. Now it’s time to take stock and sort out the iTunes feed and iron out a few difficulties in organising this material online. I’ll be back with more podcasts in a few weeks, but in the meantime you can still find more Spectacular Attractions podcasts here, or subscribe via iTunes here. And you can read the original article on Pantomiming Chaplin’s City Lights, with all the links and images here.

Fragment #10: David Campany on Acting and Posing in North by Northwest

How does the dialectic of stillness and movement impact upon the representation of the human body? Let us consider ‘posing’ and ‘acting’ as two distinct modes of bodily performance. We might associate acting with unfolding or ‘time-based’ media like cinema or theatre. Posing may suggest the stillness of photography or painting. Of course, plenty of examples complicate this. Think of scenes of arrest such as the tableau vivant in theatre, cinema’s close-ups of faces in stilled contemplation, blurred gestures caught but escaping a long exposure, or narrative scenes acted out for the still photograph. Such things are too common to be exceptions.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959), Cary Grant’s entire performance is a series of balletic swoops and pirouettes strung between archly frozen poses. He is on screen almost the whole time and his inter- mittent halts provide the suspense in the hurtling story of mistaken identity. Early in the film he stoops to aid a man who has been knifed in the back. Stunned, Grant puts his hand on the weapon and becomes easy prey for the incriminating flash of a press photographer. We see the resulting image on the cover of a newspaper: his indecision has framed him decisively. He flees in panic, setting the plot in motion.
Grant’s performance is a slick and knowing commentary on the very nature of screen presence. Each pose is a wink to the audience that he is toying with his own identity and celebrity. Fans knew Grant began life as plain Archibald Leach, a circus tumbler from Bristol. In the film he plays Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive mistaken for the non-existent spy George Caplan. Grant holds his poses for longer than is strictly necessary, long enough for the story to fall away momentarily and allow the audience to stare at a man with four names. At one point Grant breaks in through a hospital window. A woman in bed yells ‘Stop!’, first in shock, then with a comic swoon. What if your movie heart-throb really did spring to life from a frame on your bedroom wall? Grant’s technique, much like Hitchcock’s, is extravagant but it differs from convention only by degree. Hollywood performances, especially in thrillers and dramas, criss-cross between filmic character and the excesses of star persona, between acting and posing.
From David Campany, Photography and Cinema (London: Reaktion Books, 2008)

Naomi Watts Watch: Ellie Parker

Recently, my blog has been enjoying increased traffic thanks to a short, elderly post I made about Naomi Watts, who had been identified as the best value-for-money of all Hollywood actresses. It was just a brief mark of my appreciation, but garnered a lot of hits, probably in no small part due to the inclusion of large, glamourous publicity photographs. Now I feel that I should pay Naomi some proper attention, since I noticed that she enjoys very little critical analysis of her work, and because I’ve never really written about movie stars (or performers) very much around here, and it would be a good opportunity to try out something different, inspired at least in part by the recent Screen Studies conference in Glasgow, which focused on performance. So, here begins a series of occasional posts (and these may be very far apart) about performances by Naomi Watts, in no particular order, starting with Ellie Parker from 2005.

Read on…

Fragment #6: Robert Bresson on Directing Actors

No actors.
(No directing of actors).
No parts.
(No learning of parts).
No staging.
But the use of working models, taken from life.
BEING(models) instead of SEEMING(actors).

Movement from the exterior to the interior. (Actors: movement from the interior to the exterior.)
The thing that matters is not what they show me
but what they hide from me and, above all, what
they do not suspect is in them.
Between them and me: telepathic exchanges, divination.


On the choice of models.
His voice draws for me his mouth, his eyes, his face, makes for me his complete portrait, out­ er and inner, better than if he were in front of me. The best deciphering got by the ear alone.
Who said: “A single look lets loose a passion, a murder, a war”?

On the choice of models.His voice draws for me his mouth, his eyes, his face, makes for me his complete portrait, out­ er and inner, better than if he were in front of me. The best deciphering got by the ear alone.ON LOOKSWho said: “A single look lets loose a passion, a murder, a war”?


On two deaths and three births.

My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected onto a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.

A model. Enclosed in his mysterious appearance. He has brought home to him all of him that was outside. He is there, behind that forehead, those cheeks.


Radically suppress intentions in your models.

To your models: “Don’t think what you’re say­ ing, don’t think what you’re doing.” And also: “Don’t think about what you say, don’t think about what you do.”

You will guide your models according to your rules, with them letting you act in them, and you letting them act in you.


Model. Questioned (by the gestures you make him make, the words you make him say). Re­spond (even when it’s only a refusal to respond) to something which often you do not perceive but your camera records. Submitted later to study by you.


Nine-tenths of our movements obey habit and automatism. It is anti-nature to subordinate them to will and to thought.

Models who have become automatic (everything weighed, measured, timed, repeated ten, twenty times) and are then dropped in the middle of the events of your film – their relations with the ob­ jects and persons around them will be right, because they will not be thought.


Actor. The to-and-fro of the character in front of his nature forces the public to look for talent on his face, instead of the enigma peculiar to each living creature.

No intellectual or cerebral mechanism. Simply a mechanism.

If, on the screen, the mechanism disappears and the phrases you have made them say, the gestures you have made them make, have become one with your models, with your film, with you – then a miracle.