Monday, August 22, 2016

To the Rescue

While watching a television drama a few days ago, you couldn't help noticing the kind of anomaly an editor would notice. This was a breakfast room scene, in which one character waved a bit of toast about, collateral to some dialogue, before taking a bite out of it. 


A moment later, the slice of bread had returned to its pristine state, with no bite having been taken from it. On a scale of one to ten covering the problems and anomalies in a given performance, this was a one or, at best, a two.

Aha, you thought, in so few words. One of the actors flubbed a line or the director was not happy with the proceedings. A new scene was shot, some editing was performed. Someone else may have noticed the missing bite and decided the viewers wouldn't notice such a detail.

This got you thinking about so-called body or stunt doubles, those men and women cast to portray an actor assigned some task or tasks of physicality the actor is unable to perform, unwilling to perform, or who, in rehearsals, was thought not to provide sufficient élan to the required physicality.

The stunt double must not only fall out the window in a more plausible way than the actor was able to fall out the window, said stunt double must resemble, or be made through artful makeup and manipulation, to resemble the actor who could not so artfully fall out a window or, indeed, fall out the window at all.

The closest you ever came to requiring the services of a stunt double came in relatively recent years, when you appeared in a play, overstepped your markers, and took a spectacular tumble off a setting, recovered immediately, then, in character, stepped back into the scene, having created some adjustment in the reactions of your fellow actors, but making your spectacular fall appear as something scripted for you. 

Never mind the effect on the seam of the rear of your trousers, which was quite unprepared for the demands of your impromptu tumble. The net result was you, faced with an unexpected breeze for the balance of the performance.

The stunt double suffers all such consequences on your behalf even though, were you to see such a person and know that person's intent, you might be presented with the curious binary of envy and relief, envy of the stunt double's physicality and relief that you would not have to put your own to risk.

In a realer version of life than in story, there are not so many close marching events present; you are not living in a state of constant denouement. This condition frees you from the mere thought of being yanked out of the narrative at the key moment in order to be replaced by your stunt double. 

At the more relaxed pace of real life, however fraught real life may be, there never is the manufactured potential of an individual who looks like you and who can be called in to endure the delights and surprises the story has in reserve, waiting for you. 

In more reflective moments about the differences between real life and story, and the potential metaphors for characters as persons or persons as characters, you are led on occasion to think of that most remarkable stunt double of all, The Golem, an elaborate, magical character who is ccomposed of sticks and branches, river mud, and clay. 

The Rabbi who constructed the Golem animates him with a word, written in Hebrew, which he places, according to the version you read of the story, in the creature's ear or on his forehead.

After The Golem performs his task of keeping the Jewish ghetto of Prague safe from menace, he is decommissioned, again relative to the version you read, by removing the scroll from the creature's ear or erasing one of the letters of the Hebrew word on the creature's forehead.

At this time, the best you can do is to consider your own stories with care, alert for the times the story itself requires a stunt double, then wondering what word or words to put on the scroll.

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