Working with Keystone Theatre has taught me about specificity in acting. Â When working without words, Â if you are not as specific as possible with your intentions or actions, then the audience will never understand what you are trying to do. Â When we use words, we can cheat: we can say what we mean. Â Working in the silent genre challenges you to be specific, since you no longer have the ability to cheat with words.
A starting point: 3 Silent shorts that are worth your time
Buster Keaton’s was a great innovator in film. Â His Film Cops had the first use of a mobile camera (up to that point the camera was stationary and things moved around it). Â In The Playhouse, he comes up with one of the most spectacular special effects used to date: in the first part of the film, Keaton plays every part in the theatre, from all performers to audience members. Â There’s no CGI here, in order to come up with this effect, all parts of the camera lens, except where Keaton stood for this take were blocked, and the film shot, then the film was rolled back, and keaton moved to his new position (and if needed, new costume) and the film was re-exposed with the other spaces blocked. Â Time consuming, yes, but the gag is most definitely worth it.
The short, Cops contains theÂ aforeÂ mentioned use of the moving camera. Â It also displays Keaton’s acrobatic ability, which alone is worth the watch.
Chaplin’s The Pawnshop is an excellent example of the slapstick for which he was known. Also worth noting is how the Tramp goes from playful mischief to being ready to throw down in a flash, and how somehow the audience never loses the empathy they have with the character.
David Atkinson on Piano.
Working last night, I snapped this shot of David improvising during a scene. Its always impressive watching David work, as he creates new compositions on the fly, to go along with scenes that are being created as he plays.
Got caught up on a gag last night, and found myself thinking about how the same thing would happen to Chaplin at times, and how he would shut down a production for as long as it took for him to come to a conclusion about what would make the gag work. Hours and hours later, he would come up with something brilliant, and then shooting would resume. Last night, we were so close to funny that we could taste it, but we’re missing one small piece of the puzzle that will provide the payoff that we need.
We should have the piece of the puzzle shortly.