Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Forest Whitaker

I saw The Last King of Scotland on Saturday, and as I expected to be, I was overwhelmed by Forest Whitaker's performance as Idi Amin. (As I just noticed in a New Yorker commentary on another film with James McAvoy in it, McAvoy was not bad either!)

But my love of Whitaker's acting comes from Ghost Dog, by Jim Jarmusch, a movie that provides the pleasure of watching Whitaker develop a character without any music-video-style editing. The editing in The Last King of Scotland reminded me of the editing of the key scene in Philadelphia. In that scene, Tom Hanks, wearing a bathrobe and hooked up to a walking IV, explains opera to a flabbergasted Denzel Washington. But instead of letting Hanks dance with his IV and blow the audience away with his acting, Jonathan Demme pretended it was a video and did all kinds of swooping and cutting and general messing around with the images.

At least in Philadelphia it was only the one scene that was almost ruined by such editing. In The Last King of Scotland, almost every scene with the brilliant Whitaker was cut to pieces, as if Whitaker's acting were not more than enough to communicate Amin's frightening blend of charisma and brutality.

I'll take Jarmusch (or Jacques Rivette, another director who lets his actors act) over Kevin Macdonald any day!

And something happened at the cinema that I have never experienced before: the movie was interrupted, during the climactic scene, by the house lights, because someone was having a medical emergency. We had to wait 10 or 15 minutes until an ambulance came and took the stricken person out. Then the movie started again!


SarahJane said...

I really want to see the movie, and now I want to see Philadelphia again, too. Andrew, I don't have enough time! Stick to books, honey.

Andrew Shields said...

It takes less time to see a movie than to read a novel! :-)

mrjumbo said...

There was an old story that at every concert B.B. King broke a guitar string at the same point in the same song. No matter how good the show was, it gave the audience something to remember, something that made their show a special one--the night he broke the guitar string. (I don't believe the story.)

I don't know if you remember Bill Murray's role in "Tootsie." Someone said he ad-libbed every scene he was in. He goes off on a lovely riff trying to impress a couple of women--he's a playwright--talking about how he'd love to have a theater that would only stage plays in the rain, never in good weather.

Even on the soundtrack of "Evita," the moment when the projector winds to a stop adds emphasis to a moment.

An artful director, along with editing fits and starts into a film, might also insist that every time the film plays, it gets interrupted for a medical emergency, or for an earthquake, or because a pickpocket runs into the theater and has to be flushed out. It breaks the proscenium.

I've always loved the way Jarmusch lets a moment play. "Stranger Than Paradise" has scenes with almost no words, where the whole story is told in the shifting light on the planes of John Lurie's face. I think of David Lynch in the same breath: He's not so eager to cut to the next scene; he's willing to let the moment play until the reveal is complete.

The most recent edit of "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" cut a lot of seconds from Peckinpah's original editing notes. The scene where Billy tells one of his shooting buddies that Pat Garrett's his friend, and the buddy says "Not anymore," gets cut right there. Peckinpah let the moment linger, watching Billy's face until he said, "I reckon." Subtle shading, but if you've got the patience, it deepens the film. (The line gets repeated later, always in that ambiguous mode--another reason not to trim the motif here.)

Andrew Shields said...

Fits and starts—okay. But constant cutting and camera movement and circling around the characters—yuck!

If Jarmusch reads your note, then I bet he'll arrange to hire people to interrupt all screenings of whatever his next movie is! :-)

Anonymous said...

Alright, I'll let Jim know.