Monday, January 25, 2010

Robert DeNiro, voice and touching center

I was watching the Kennedy Center Honors for about the 80th time the other day (Springsteen was honored and oh! the speech by Jon Stewart! oh! the singing by Ben Harper oh! The close ups of Bruce's misty eyes and strange underbite.) But alongside Bruce they were honoring DeNiro. I'm a DeNiro fan, though his movies of late have been disappointing.

But I am totally aware of what he means to film acting - as Meryl Streep said - he took the lessons from Brando one step further. DeNiro is a trailblazer and the clips from all those early movies are simply reminders that this man created characters that are part of not only pop culture, but our collective consciousness. One after another - Raging Bull, Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino - seminal movies, seminal characters.

So, I was watching these clips, thinking - Bobby? Where have you gone?

And then Scorsese got up and talked, saying how - in their minds, at that time - there was nothing more dangerous than making those movies. And it dawned on me. Obviously, what was so amazing about those characters and DeNiro's portrayal of them was that he touched center. He got the danger and the fear and the violence. Something in his life connected to something in those lives. His art was dangerous so he got right under the skin of the dangerous characters.

Now, I'm guessing there's not much danger or fear in DeNiro's life these days - which is why his more recent characters seem cookie cutter. Except for those characters in which he makes fun of the old characters - Analyze This, The Fockers. Those are just good fun.

Which reminded me of something Eileen said about voice. That part of what makes up our voice are the characters and stories that we create time and time again. The themes that we always return to. Those things, on which, we touch center. And I think it's why some books we write are better than others - because some aspect of it our subconscious fully understands what we're trying to convey.

Sinead has this thing about really understanding what we're good at and trying to capitalize on that - and so far we talk about things like plot and characters and emotion. But I think we need to go one step further - what are the things we "get." Those books or scenes or ideas that come together like a boulder rolling downhill - why? And if we can distill the magic of why something works - can't we apply it to things that aren't working?

Or maybe, like DeNiro, somethings work and somethings don't. Be grateful when they do.


Maureen McGowan said...

Awesome post, Molly. I've been looking at CJ Lyons' handouts again. And she has this thing about Passion and Vision. **Maureen goes to look it up**

Quoting C.J. Lyons (who we should totally have as a guest some time on DWT):

Vision: Know what you're writing (genre, story)
Passion: Know why you're writing it (theme, characters)
Commitment: Know how to make it work (mechanics, writer expectations)

I think you've hit on her "Passion" one. If you know why you are writing a particular story and the reasons speak to you... those are the places where we touch center.

Sinead M said...

ooohh... this could take more than one DWT session to really figure out. Great topic, Molly.

Eileen said...

Ooh. I really liked C.J. Lyons' Lifelines. Fun book.

I think this is very hard. I always feel passionately about my story, but I don't think I always touch center. I'd love to figure out how to take that passion that worked in that one story and apply it to everything I write.

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