An aside on acting

It is an old saw among actors, that those who star in films are not actors.

The point is easily proved. An actor performs on a stage before an audience. The audience varies from night to night. So, in the course of nature, must the performance of the actor.

If, for instance, the audience throw tomatoes, his performance will be adjusted. Not, “is likely to be,” but, will be adjusted — on that and subsequent evenings. And this will also happen if the audience is entirely docile. Weirdly, it will happen in response to wild applause, for actors are strange fish and crooked timber. They might even try to render exactly the same performance, but they are human and will certainly fail.

And let me specify that what I have just said of actors, applies to actresses, too. Maybe double.

Not so film stars; and this regardless of their sex, or these days, their “gender.” Go to a movie on two consecutive nights, and you will not see the slightest variation. And this, even if the audience threw rocks at the screen, the first night. The screen itself might be the worse for wear, or old celluloid a bit choppy from attacks on the projectionist, but the acting doesn’t change. It will be as flat as the scenery behind it. The whole thing is anyway just a smear of moving patches, plus a soundtrack of loud noise.

Do not doubt what I am telling you, gentle reader. I have mixed with actors, even backstage. I have written lines for them, and watched the variations. I may not hang out with actors, very often, but only because they are crazy people, less stable than musicians. And because, like Doctor Johnson, I find the actresses too attractive.

(As a stagehand in England, many years ago, I found myself surrounded by naked ones. They were members of a chorus line, quickly changing costumes between “vaudeville” scenes, at the old Victoria Palace. I for my part was stretched on a psychiatrist’s chaise longue: the prop from a previous skit. I was reading an ancient folio of The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living (1650), with its companion, Holy Dying (1651), from the London Library, gallantly pretending to be otherwise-gendered. But one of these nude snuck stealthily up behind, seized the book from my hands, then read most of its long title out to the other girls, in an exaggerated Oxonian accent. They almost missed their next cue in consequence, and their mocking laughter must have passed through the curtains. Yes, backstage in a theatre can be a dangerous place.)

Now, in a film, the scenes are shot a few seconds at a time. The “actor” who cannot remember his five-word line may have a placard held to help him. He may have thirty goes until he gets it right. There is no art to this. The actresses are as likely to undress before the cameras as behind them. Their make-up is quite odd. They must endure close-ups and other perturbations of their spiritual poise. Verily, none of this resembles acting.

Too, they are paid excessive amounts, for playing the same part in movie after movie.