Saturday, February 23, 2008

Turn the page (Film - The Page Turner)

I am an enormous fan of French film and The Page Turner is crap, if you're in the mood to be generous it's a good idea gone wrong. Here's the gist. A young girl auditions for a conservatory in her youth. During that audition someone walks into the room to request an autograph of the famous pianist who is the head of the review board. The young pianist stumbles and loses confidence. She does not gain admittance. Years later as a young woman, she becomes an assistant in a law office, gains the trust of her boss, and is eventually hired to care for his child because the regular housekeeper is on vacation and his wife is preparing an important concert. Guess who his wife is? Revenge is sought. Revenge is taken. This could be a good idea but a film is more than a good story, and it is so predictably carried out there is no reason to be interested in what happens. Dialogue between the characters and indeed the human behavior that comprises their actions seems incidental to concept at every step of the game. The director is a musician and, according to the interview with him in the special features, he directed the film in terms of rhythm and tension. Now don't get me wrong, drama in any medium can be thought of in terms of rhythm and tension but that is not an exhaustive list of its contents, and if it's the only vocabulary you have you may run out of ways to communicate to your team what you mean to realize on film. Apparently this director did. One of the first things I learned as a director and teacher of acting is that having ideas or thinking that you know what is working in a performance or what is not, is not enough to direct successfully. The success of your job is the eventual success of people other than yourself. It's your job to help them get there through any combination of their own abilities and your's that you can muster. Almost always that means a balance of translating abstract ideas you may have into something that can affect the human beings collaborating you. It also means NOT messing them up by saying everything that comes into your head. A similar thing is true for the actor. Usually actors are drawn to the profession through transformative experiences they had as audience members. However, when they step into the rehearsal studio or onto the stage, that terminology is no longer sufficient. Being on stage is not the same is being in the audience, that may seem obvious, but many actors are surprised that what moved them as an audience member ceases to work when they get on stage. They may struggle for years to get beyond the viewpoint of an enthusiast. It means developing a whole new vocabulary. It requires a different way of thinking about everything - the character you are playing, the things that happen to and around him or her, the physical actions that may reveal it, and the intellectual or emotional life that lies beneath those actions - whether it is immediately apparent to the audience or not. The director of this film seems trapped it in the perspective of a listener. Despite lovely photography, straightforward and inoffensive performances, and some clever ideas he evidently had about tension and rhythm The Page Turner was empty of any sense of life or, frankly, even of music. I found it caught up in itself and completely vapid. As one character says, quel domage.


Anonymous said...

I thought you're talking about David Leavitt's novel when I saw the title. The boy who serves as a page-turner for his idol--a pianist who eventually involves in an affair with him.

Ted said...

I've read a good deal of David Leavitt's work, but not that one. Did you like it?