The Fading Movie Star
THE STRANGE evolution of movies in the last ten years-with the remaining studios ever more desperate, ever more coordinated -has brought about the disappearance of something that reviewers and film theorists have never seemed to miss: those tiny, mysterious interactions between the actor and the scene that make up the memorable moments in any good film. These have nothing to do with the plot, “superb performance,” or even the character being portrayed. They are moments of peripheral distraction, bemusement, fretfulness, mere flickerings of skeptical interest: Margaret Sheridan’s congested whinny as a career woman sparring with Kenneth Tobey (Christian Nyby’s The Thing); Bogart’s prissy sign language to the bespectacled glamor girl through the bookstore window (Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep); or Richard Barthelmess’s tiredly defiant dissolute slouch when he enters the cabana in Only Angels Have Wings (also by Hawks). Such tingling moments liberate the imagination of both actors and audience: they are simply curiosity flexing itself, spoofing, making connections to a new situation.
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