The last time I was in Long Beach I was on route to Catalina to join my mother as she searched for inspiration for her latest series of paintings amongst the coastal life of Catalina. Perspective is a very important part of her work so we went up in helicopter to search for whales and then underneath the surface in a submarine to see the fishes, then out on a boat to search for sea lions. Painting as with acting begins with a stimulus which grows into its manifested form with time and cultivation. Though that stimulus is qualitative and its cultivation must be considered to produce a great work of art.
In An Actor Prepares Stanislavsky described 'stock-in-trade' acting as 'suitably organized to replace feelings with mere artifice and uses practiced cliches, while ham-acting does not even have these at its disposal and indiscriminately sets in motion the first available "common" or "traditional" cliches which have neither been polished nor adapted for the stage.' ... Ham-acting, like stock-in-trade, starts when experiencing ends" - Stanislavki
In other places I have heard Stanislavski refer to what he was reaching for as the art of experiencing. In this way to pursue anything purely for affect in artistic work without it having gone through the humanity of the artist results in contrivance. In the art of experiencing, the totality of a human being is revealed in their quiet acceptance of the life that surrounds them. Words are not spoken, behavior not enforced without the impulse emerging to do so, and when it does take hold it ripples throughout the speaker and the audience in turn. The same can be said of the painting, as Auerbach would say it is a 're-imagining of the natural world'. Auerbach also said of his work;
"In addition to the artistic influences, I am influenced by my current private life, my feelings about it and my energy level and state of health" - Auerbach
This substance of feeling behind the paint imbues each brush stroke with a guide to the inner life of the painter and each behavior of the actor. Among these reasons is how my artist mother found herself in Catalina walking the jetty that had seemed to be there for the 9000 years since Native Americans first settled there, and her actors son walked beside her questioning deeper purpose in life's myriad.
While I was invested in the experience my thoughts would often turn to the premier of Road To The Well, as it was a week before the premier at The Chinese Theatre as part of Dances With Films, I realized in the large how the success of the film would be determined by the audience and industry reactions.
I said to my mother as we walked, that I was worried my interests lately had been too esoteric. Investing myself in the ethereal realms of art and philosophy the past two years in pursuit of finding my father amongst the relics of the 20th Century art world (Peter Fuller Project). Had been so complex and it consumed my life, I wondered if there was ultimately any point to it all in a world that was ultimately driven by capital, a crisis of faith not helped by the fact that I had studied existentialism for Road To The Well to get inside the characters skin at the bequest of the director. Which served as my greatest inspiration for the experience and, yet for at least a year after we wrapped I found myself in the grips of that same void, wrestling with intellectual riddles which set me both apart and directly in the centre of the world around me.
She told me how at art school she would tell people that Monet was passé, because of his popularity in mainstream culture, but now she paints homages to his Waterlillies and her work is firmly in line with post-Impressionism. She told me that artistic life tends to flow in circles like that, periods of resistance and at times feelings reverence towards the same inspiration. The only thing that remains the same is the image, or the film/painting.
"Psychologists and philosophers have in the main adopted this point go view. It is also the point of view of common sense. When I say that "I have an image of Peter, it is believed that I now have a certain picture of Peter in my consciousness. The object of my actual consciousness is just this picture, while Peter, the man of flesh and bone, is reached but very indirectly, in an "extrinsic" manner, because of the fact that it is he whom the picture represents. Likewise, in an exhibition, I can look at a portrait for its own sake for a long time without noticing the inscription at the bottom of the picture "Portrait of Peter Z..." - Satre, The Psychology of Imagination
Though many of my ideas have evolved, the one thing I've always maintained in my work is a point of view on film acting, that is essentially in line with Stanislavski but adapted to screen and contemporary story telling. The living practitioners that I've found a kinship with have changed and it well may just be Stanislavski's sense of an eternal search for truth and for character within and without, is generally what I connect with so strongly. But when it came to the tradition of our craft as actors, I found that I often gravitated towards the performers who like contemporary dancers first went through the rigors of classical training and then found their way to the present today, like a cultural self-evolution. It seemed that taking on Modernism, Modern Man and the Modern story was confused and dispensable without a connection to a tradition that evolved with generations of masters. An underlying feeling that the findings of these practitioners could serve as the basis for something totally new and original.
In art this is for instance taking the consciousness, a heightened sensual experience within nature or with another person, sleeping on it, dreaming about it in sleep and in waking reforming that experience over time to take a manifested shape. This is much the same with acting, though what is manifested is an expression of self which then informs the inner life further and the experience of the piece in symbiosis with our dreaming creates an organic life that is created by the performer and exists for a time on the stage or captured on celluloid.
There has been different conversations about the actors ability to 'shake the role' once filming is over, Jared Leto's process for the Joker for instance was very contentious, some people saying that he was being pretentious about it. But I don't really understand that argument. Something about it appearing pretentious, pragmatic types may have it easier with more certainty to the language of profession, an object with a name or number that is moved or analyzed and dependably produces a quantifiable result. I love this interview with Time Magazine where Ethan Hawke encourages artists to not worry about seeming pretentious, in favor of following your passions.
Without this element of searching the esoteric, that may or may not produce the appearances of pretension, the other option is merely contrivances strung together in the vaguest meanderings of what a character might be like if it were done properly, but we wouldn't want to be so pretentious as to do something. When comparing stylized performances, made up of tricks and forced facial expressions, Stanislavski described the kind of acting he was searching for as;
"In sharp contrast, real, artistic forms that are meant to convey the inner life of a role, are difficult to find and are created slowly, and never become wearisome. They are self-renewing, they grow continually, and invariably thrill both actor and audience. That is why a role based on natural forms flourishes, while one based on play acting and amateur ham-acting soon becomes lifeless and mechanical." - Stanislavsky, An Actor Prepares
The after affects of this kind of process can stick around, some have said that the role stuck with them for a matter on months, I would say it was hard for me to shake Road To The Well for about a year after filming I still wrestled with Frank. This was possibly in large part because I chose to take a break from acting after filming to focus on the Peter Fuller Project, though I still had my hand in with auditions and film festivals, my mind and spirit was immersed in the prospect of fulfilling a praxis of philosophy, a kind of structured sequential framework of method acting, existentialism, art world politics and artistic movements, that would result in some kind of becoming, in the form of a project or new revelation of the craft.
Hunter Lee Hughes at Story Atlas recently asked me to be a guest at his acting studio, we met after we saw eachother's films at Dances With Films. Hunter came to Road To The Well and then I saw his elegantly made film Guys Reading Poems, which is truly a great festival feature that I would suggest running to get a ticket if you get the chance to see it on the big screen at a local festival or art house cinema, it will be an experience that you remember.
He gave me a scene which on the surface seems like a very well placed seduction. Mostly initiated by my character who is a young and relatively poor intellectual crashing at his friends loft apartment in New York and he struggles to sell his books, he bumps into a petite bourgeois mother on the street who is on her way home to her kids birthday party baring party hats and gifts, as the wind blows her goodies away and she trips in recollecting them, he comes to the rescue scooping up her party favors and taking her to his apartment to ice up her knee. What was underlying the scene which I had not placed as an obstacle, to my character getting what he wants and connecting with this woman, was that though he had this intellectual ability and status, he was lacking stability, a family, the prospect of a stable home. She represented all these things that my character had sacrificed to pursue his art, he had come to a point where he had this facility with books that he was clearly seeking, a rich imaginative inner life, though the practicalities of my life manifested were those of the struggling romantic artist, who pursues his dreams and struggles in silence and the world thunders on without care for the emotional and imaginative rifts of the artist in his loft.
The thing that makes film so unique amongst artistic mediums which was not an issue in the past with paintings and sculpture, is the modes of production and distribution that govern film require such large amounts of capital, these in turn influence artistic descisions often to the detriment of the final product as filmmakers are encouraged to stay within the parameters of what has worked in the past, the medium, the average of structure of convention. Though things are drastically changing with the advent of streaming platforms, more independent films are being made with greater artistic license. The Festival circuit, may be a strong force in these changing times when faced with an impossibly large amount of content a viewer may gravitate towards the legitimacy and prestige festival acknowledgement provides having gone through its filtering process.
There is not the safety net which a studio provides with their marketing machine, but this machine is proving to be far less reliable than even they had hoped. What this compromise ultimately offers is total artistic license, the end product is the film that Jon Cvack wants audiences to see.
Other films playing at the festival include Shortwave, an esoteric and disturbing journey into memories and the nature of human perception directed by Ryan Gregory Phillips. Venezuelan thriller Give Me Back My Life directed by Alain Maiki. Beautifully shot, paradise lost, thriller set in Trinidad Trafficked by Sean Hodgkinson. Argentinian political drama Happy Those Who Cry directed by Marcelo Torcida. As well as Michael David Lynch's anti-hero comedy Dependent's Day, it's great to have another opportunity to see this film after it screened at Dances With Films alongside Road To The Well.
ROAD TO THE WELL is currently available on: