Posts Tagged ‘jerry lewis’
Yesterday, at Dance World Takeover, Rebecca Brightly posed a couple of great questions. “When does walking become dancing?” she asked. “What makes movement art?”
I don’t know that I have an actual answer, but I do have a response. Rebecca’s questions got me thinking about the difference between dancing and acting.
With some kinds of dancing, there isn’t much difference. Ballet and certain kinds of folk dancing are very close to being pantomime set to music. The dancers use their bodies to act out the stories they are telling. That’s exactly what pantomime artists do.
So did the stars of silent film. Get ahold of a new reissue of a silent classic, one that’s been cleaned up and slowed down to normal speed, and you can easily see that the Barrymores and Gishes and the residents of Pickfair were not just pretty celebrities. These first-generation film stars were highly skilled actors who could tell a story with every gesture of their bodies and faces.
Then there’s comedy. While many comics achieve their effects mostly through words and vocal delivery, certain comedians are able to use every part of themselves for humor. Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball and Jim Carrey totally blur the line between comedy and dancing. I’d say that the great Lindy Hoppers do the same thing.
Some actors just never stop dancing. Fred Astaire was dancing every moment the camera was on him; even if he was just sitting in a chair or leaning against a wall, his body was saying something coherent. Marilyn Monroe is another favorite of mine; think of her ascent of the staircase in The Seven-Year Itch after she got her “fan caught in the door,” or her “jello on springs” walk down the railway platform in Some Like it Hot. She wasn’t known as a dancer, the way Fred Astaire was, but you can’t tell me she wasn’t dancing.
My all-time favorite performer in this regard is the classic Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. He was intensely physical in all his films, but one example will serve.
At the very beginning of Yojimbo, while the credits are still rolling, Mifune does a gesture with his shoulders that tells you everything you need to know about his character and the nature of the film you’re about to watch. As he walks away from the camera, he does a rolling gesture of his shoulders that tells you at least three things:
1. He’s a tough guy. The shoulder roll is equivalent to a thug cracking his knuckles; he’s squaring his shoulders to prepare for whatever dirty business may lie ahead.
2. He’s not as young as he once was. There’s an element to the shoulder roll that looks like he’s getting the kinks out. He’s getting just a little too old for this shit.
3. He’s down on his luck. When he rolls his shoulders, he manages to shudder just a little. He’s cold. He probably slept outside last night.
And then he follows up this gesture, which he repeats at key points throughout the film, with another. He reaches his hand up through the back of his kimono and scratches his head. This tells you he’s just a little bit confused and just a little bit on the filthy side. It also tells you that the film you’re about to watch is going to be funny as hell.
When does walking become dancing? I don’t know. But I offer these examples as a way to explore the question.