Trying to Bring a Character to Life

         We have seen examples of many different types of characters in film. They range from the joyful Eliza in My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion, and directed by George Cukor in 1964, to the repugnant Torvald in A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play (filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively). These characters are very important to each story; in fact, without a good depiction of characters, films are useless. If an actor cannot bring a character to life, one would be better off reading a book. I heard it once said, "That was a waste of film." It is true that, with good characters, some of the set can be overlooked.

         In our journey through film and literature this year, we have had the opportunity to see examples of good actors, as well as bad. At first glance, one may be turned off by a character, such as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, filmed in 1939 by William Wyler) Torvald of A Doll's House, or Morris in The Heiress (William Wyler's 1949 film adaptation of Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square). We have also been fortunate to see good characters, such as Eliza Doolittle of My Fair Lady, Stella and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as Higgins in My Fair Lady.

         This is an extraordinary list, some good and some bad; but all are characters caught on film. They are there for us to enjoy and to watch, but what makes them special?

         Several actors come to mind as great; and we have seen a few in film this year, such as Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Torvald in Patrick Garland's film version of A Doll's House. Hopkins brings Torvald to life with sincerity and warmth. He makes the character dynamic and yet is able to draw back into his sincerity for the last scene with Nora (Claire Bloom). As Nora makes known her heartfelt desire to grow as a person, we see Torvald try to understand. We can see it in his eyes, we can hear it in his voice, and we know he can feel pain. Anthony Hopkins brings Torvald to life and will leave an everlasting memory of his youth.

         Conversely, Jane Fonda, as Nora in Joseph Losey's film version, took the part and said the words; but it seems that her goal is to get to the end of the movie, and simply bash Torvald (David Warner). The last scene is her goal; nothing else matters to her; and her sincerity is thrown out the window.

         Claire Bloom is a good example of the way Nora should have been portrayed. She takes the time to develop the character. One sees her heart in her decisions, and one feels her pain. This is a far more revealing portrayal of a person who finds her life lacking and realizes she wants more.

         Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison are good examples of actors that bring characters to life onscreen. Their work together on My Fair Lady has left an image that I do not think can ever be topped. I have had the pleasure to see My Fair Lady live, and I still prefer Hepburn to any Doolittle I have ever seen.

         Now we come to my favorite: Marlon Brando. His portrayal of Stanley in Elia Kazan's 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, was the best performance we saw all year. Who cares that he stole the show? Did it really matter? His acting brought to life a Pole, Stanley, that one cannot believe.

         All in all, we have seen many examples of acting. They all have their place in film. Someone will always be better than someone else, and besides, without the bad, how does one judge what is good?

Ron Wakins

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