Actors and Their Craft: NYTimes Recalls Silent Screen

Nytimes-B

Features like yesterday's online enhancement to "The Scene Makers: Actors Who Defined Cinema in 2010" in The New York Times Magazine, remind us just how versatile and rich Web video can become. Don't' miss it.

The magazine article on acting is brought to life and given an entirely new dimension in the ambitious video project directed by Norwegian photographer Solve Sundsbo. In pin-sharp black and white, with no audio track other than evocative scores by Owen Pallet, 14 of this year's most accomplished actors and actresses perform short silent scenes.

Robert Duvall contemplates his own visage while shaving, showing begrudging acceptance. Javier Bardem does a quick burn into slow-motion rage and destroys an elegant dinner table. Michael Douglas does an eerie turn at dark contemplation by the power player that ends in a meaningful stare at the camera -- made all the more powerful by his hollow cheeks and our knowledge of his own recent health challenges. Jesse Eisenberg, a geek with a gun, turns uncertainty over firing the thing into determination and scary comfort with the deed. And Matt Damon goes on a tirade to the camera. Almost making the view reel back, fearful of getting hit. And James Franco, making out with himself in a mirror? Yeah, you gotta see that one, because what would any film, TV show, soap opera, bestseller list or Web video project be without a helping of the ubiquitous James Franco?

For all of its usual New York Times pretensions (and boy do they shovel it on), the project underscores the uniqueness of online video. The medium makes a worthwhile project like this imaginable because the platform now provides just the right distribution, attention span and latitude for experimentation. In some ways the lack of speech throughout the scenes matches the noisy, multitasking environment in which we often watch online video. It requires only visual attention. How ironic that a next gen platform works so well when it appropriates the art of the silent film - black and white and mute. Like the pre-talkie era, the clips really bring out each of the actors' physicality, control of expression and mood. Fill a computer screen with one of these clips, themselves mostly done in close-ups, and you come face to face with the acting on a different of intimate level.

Oh, jeez. Who is getting pretentious now?

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