Oscars and Helen Mirren

The last couple of years have seen the eulogising of the impressionist, the mimic, the imitator to the detriment of the actor who creates a character. Capote, Amin and the Queen are part of the current cultural establishment’s fetishism with bringing out good copy. Actors can spend hours of research with videotapes and radio speeches to try to capture every last ounce of verisimilitude. Very good, but is it art?

I watched a clip of Helen Mirren’s acceptance speech and as she worked gooily up to her finale, the words began to stick together, so unctuous were they. She didn’t fluff her lines for that would be too light and ethereal a metaphor. She gagged them. It was when she was saying that she was only there because of one person – the Queen, herself. The words coagulated in her throat. How bloody marvellous! Helen Mirren had brought the Queen to Hollywood. Funny, I had never seen her as a lickspittle. For me great acting is creating character, not regurgitating it. One reason why Shakespeare is endlessly enticing is in discovering how an actor brings Lady MacBeth or Hamlet to life. It is why Robert De Niro’s burning creation in Taxi Driver far outstrips any bolt-on biography. (Bruno Ganz’s Hitler in Downfall seemed more creation than mimicry in that the reality of Hitler had become lost in a global, mythological symbolism. Somehow, the creation made him more obscenely real).

Meanwhile, another act of copying, The Departed, based on, arguably, the much better Infernal Affairs, won best film, demonstrating that we are clogging originality in the compulsion to create glittering reflections. In literature, these days novels blur the line with biography in their meticulously researched recreations of past times and environments, so that we have fewer and fewer acts of pure imagination and more and more worthy and realistic portrayals of bygone times and people. I believe William Golding admitted that he had read one book about the mariners’ world before writing his sea-going trilogy and that was so that he could imagine what it was like to be on board a ship at that time. All else was in his head.

Let’s have more outpourings from inside heads than faithful recreations of the outsides of them.

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