02 August 2008

That's Amore

From Haley Mills when I was a lad to Asia Argento today with the likes of Cybill Shepard and Penelope Cruz in between, I have often left movie theaters having just fallen in love. I would imagine the same phenomenon affects virtually all movie goers regardless of gender, sexual preference or age. It is all perfectly innocent.

This experience is integral to what often makes cinema magical.

Usually it is not so shallow as merely seeing a beautiful face or body even if it is a partially clothed or naked one (though that can sure help). Beautiful people on the big screen are a dime a dozen. I believe it is actually quite similar to how we become attracted to people in the "real world." Yes, initially we are drawn to a pretty or handsome face but to sustain an infatuation there needs to be a connection. Perhaps, also, that figure on the screen reminds of someone, often a love we lost or squandered. This might not just be by virtue of their appearance. It could be they suggest this person in other ways. Or maybe the nature of their on screen romance or relation to another character reminds of someone. Perhaps more deadly is when the character connotes an ideal -- the perfect lover or mate. It may well be that the impossibility of this person in our lives is what entices us.

Amazingly, sometimes we are drawn to people who are in actuality long dead. Every time I watch Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve (1941) I feel its me, not Henry Fonda, who she's seducing. Stanwyck has this effect on me in other films as do the likes of Lana Turner, Ann Sheridan and...well the list goes on.

Today at the theater it was French actress Asia Argento in The Last Mistress (pictured above) who had me enthralled. It didn't hurt that she was often in a state of undress and usually trying to seduce her young lover (generally successfully). But she was not just a pretty face with a naked body. Argento was acting. She had me believing that she was Vellini, a Spanish born mistress in Paris circa 1835. It is in successfully embodying the character that Argento was able to beguile me -- and doubtless thousands of other men worldwide.

Good cinema has us rooting for heroes as if the outcome were in doubt. It has us angry at villains, saddened at tragedies and in love with characters. And with a good film those feelings are not temporal. They remain long after the closing credits. There is no better example than the desire we feel not just for an actress, but who she was. So it's really all about acting. A good screenplay helps, the right director is nice, make up and camera work and even costumes contribute. But the relationship (for that is what it is) must come from the actor's performance. The rest is merely up to our imaginations.

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