Thursday, April 2, 2015

Slipping on a Banana Peel or Ham Sandwich

Because of your longterm interest and related devotion to writing, your life has not been your own. Lest this sound like one of those "out of control" statements relative to the admission of an addiction and a desire to embrace some twelve-step recovery program. this was not your intention. 

Instead, you stand to acknowledge how your life has been co-opted by the numerous characters you've set in motion, using experiences and suppositions of your own making to help bring these vagrant sorts to a state of plausible being.

Of course you've tried to keep an eye or ear open for easier targets of opportunity as well.  Two individuals from your university days, both of them department chairs, have had any number of appearances, their persona beginning with the armature of your observations, wrapped about with your ultimate regard for them.  

Thus did you learn from them.  It was one thing to see them as types, but it was another to turn them loose without any leavening from you, any sense of them as individuals with humanity.  The more seriousness of intent you gave them, the more they did the work you'd set out to describe.  

The chair of the department during your undergraduate residency, thanks to his quite competent lecture on Alice in Wonderland, became a wonderland character.  The more recent department chair in your teaching days at one university became forever The Arse Poetica when you heard him being described as such by one of his students.

Another from whom you learned a good deal was one you might well have met in a university context; indeed, he had a Ph.D., liked to be called Doctor, liked to think of himself as an academic with rigorous standards of methodology.  There was an odd chemistry between you, which led to tension.  This was the chemistry of you actually patronizing him to the degree you believed he was patronizing you.  A dangerous combination for a writer, guaranteed to produce overdrawn characters who could well play the actor's trick of upstaging or stealing the scene from you or characters more like you than not.

Which brings up another matter.  You can begin this by saying there are two types of characters for a writer, those more like the writer and those less like their creator.  Listening to actors discuss the difficulty in "finding" characters closer in intensity to themselves, you began to see how a character might enjoy the potential for discovery in trying to connect with characters perceived as unlike themselves as possible.  

A good example of this comes from an individual you did not consider much as an actor until you saw him perform the role of Angelo Maggio in the film version of James Jones' novel, From Here to Eternity.  The actor was Frank "Sinatra, who did a remarkable job of bringing to life one of the few supporters of the character Prewitt, portrayed by Montgomery Clift.

Sinatra did so well in his portrayal that his career gained momentum.  He went from a supporting actor in From Here to Eternity to the lead, the following year, in The Man with the Golden Arm.   Given his life and upbringing, you could join those who argued how Sinatra "found" both characters from his own sensory memories.  

He made other films afterward, but seemed to be saying he'd proved what he'd set out to prove as an actor, could now return to his number one preference as cabaret singer and entertainer.  But suppose he'd gone after something with a greater reach, something not unthinkable yet remarkable, such as Macbeth.

Whether reading or watching now, you find yourself in attitude,back in the early days, before you'd even thought about writing, much less about it being for you. How would you act/portray a character you liked, say Errol Flynn in Robin Hood?  As for now, how about Art Carney, in Harry and Tonto, or that remarkable detective story, The Late Show?  And of course the times lost daydreaming how you would do Lear?  

You recognize yourself as having internalized a good deal of the exaggerations and table thumping of the ham actor, thus you've already given yourself and your characters lessons in restraint.  You don't do much in a restrained manner.  Perhaps there is some you there as a source for characters a bit less vaudeville, a bit more measured.

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