Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fronts and Backs

One day during the week of October 12-21 (um, that's technically more than a week but I'm rounding back) I will be contributing to a blogathon on close-ups, specifically a movie close-up that I find particularly interesting or revealing. A great idea, and a tough decision: I'm saying nothing about my topic other than it's not going to be Frodo or Jack Nicholson from The Shining or HAL from 2001 or David Spade from Joe Dirt. I'll leave those to the true cineastes.

Lord knows we're not deprived of great faces in movies -- not even CGI or plastic surgery can airbrush them away -- but even more impressive to me are actors who can act with their backs to the camera. You can imagine the difficulty for a director to get this particular shot. ("Okay now, Ms. Jolie, I need you to turn around, away from the camera, and....Yes, that's correct: away from it....Well, you see, I'm trying to isolate your character in order to establish some emotional distance and....Ms. Jolie, please don't throw knives at me....You'll be in your trailer, right.") But with a capable actor--one who can act with his body--it can help create a tremendously affecting scene.

So perhaps a blogathon about actors' backs would be appropriate someday. Offhand, some possibilities might include Elizabeth Wilson playing Ben Braddock's mother in The Graduate (whom I mentioned in an earlier post), Harrison Ford hearing about the death of his partner inside a telephone booth in Witness, and most recently, Jon Hamm in AMC's terrific new series Mad Men. I haven't seen every minute of each episode, so I don't know if it came from an actual scene, but the opening credits of the series conclude with Hamm's character (the noirishly named Don Draper), sitting on a couch (or maybe a chair, I'm not sure) in an animated silhouette, his back to the camera, his right arm stretched casually atop the couch with a cigarette between his fingers. It's a great iconic image, the very essence of entitlement.

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