Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reality Versus Film: Movement

I saw our school's production of Rent last weekend with a bunch of friends.  I mainly went because one of the lead actors was a friend and we were all going to see him.  I didn't really enjoy the play, but that does not mean anyone did a bad job.  I always have trouble understanding song lyrics, so it was hard to figure out what was going on.

Also, the people were so alien to me that it was like watching some kind of National Geographic special about a strange primitive tribe.  The only character that I could relate to at all was Benny, the 'bad guy' of the play who has made good and escaped the life of poverty and misery and disease that the rest of the characters live in. ( This may have been partly due to the fact that my friend was playing Benny. )

But that is not the main point of the post.  I noticed, while watching the play, that the movements of the actors were quicker and more jerky than what you see on movies and television.  This does not mean that they are bad actors.  They were moving like real people do.  And in really old movies, people are shown as moving like that.

I have noticed a similar thing when comparing martial arts movies to the real-life videos that we shoot.  In real life and home videos, the movement is very fast, happening in a kind of flurry, like the fights of animals on nature shows.  By contrast, fighting in cinema seems so much more deliberate.  It seems that the actors are trained to pause dramatically for a split second after each movement.  This happens even in modern, fast-paced movies.  They may execute the techniques quickly, but there is always that pause.  Instead of a confusing flurry of movement, the audience sees the fight as a collection of discrete actions.

I understand why this cinema convention developed.  It makes things easier for both the audience and for the actors.  The audience has an easier time understanding what is happening.  The fights are easier to choreograph and practice, and are less tiresome.  It also allows the actors to show off their flashy movements; the audience actually has time to notice them, process them, and remember them.  By contrast, an accurate depiction of a real fight would seem fast, jerky, messy, and far less elegant.

The same thing is true for movements in things other than fight scenes.  Real movement is quick and jerky.  However, actors who move like this seem flighty or frazzled.  The audience seems to expect actors and actresses to move slowly and dramatically, far more than they would in real life.

It is interesting, and a little, scary, to think about how television distorts our expectations and our sense of reality.

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