Dita Parker

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The great pretenders

So what do you say to this year's Oscar nominees? I say yes yes yes to Christoph Waltz, he owned every scene, and Avatar's Best Original Screenplay snub. I say nein nein nein to the consistently amazing Samantha Morton being overlooked in the Best Supporting Actress category and Avatar running abreast Hurt Locker for nine awards. Avatar may be an imposing movie, it's just not an exceptionally good one.

Great diversity in the Best Picture category, even if they only had one slot for a film where sports tackles racism. But Up is up there, and when was the last time an animated film qualified? (Goes check... In 1991. Beauty and the Beast.) Up in the Air made it, living proof romance (in American cinema) isn't (brain) dead. Precious, Inglorious Basterds, District 9...

Awkward transition, okay, nonexistent...

After reading a short story of mine, a friend asked: "Who are you in this story?" She wanted to know which one of the characters was based on me. She knows me well enough to try to search for me in my stories, to hear my voice, not only my writing voice or that of my characters. I'd also managed to create enough distance between these voices and personalities that in the end she wasn't sure what and who she heard. So she asked, and I answered: I'm none of them, for sure. I'm all of them, surely.

Like actors call upon everything they've ever had the pleasure or misfortune of learning about the human condition, and study the rest, so do writers dig up every joy, pain and sorrow they've lived through and imagine what they have not had the delight or horror of experiencing firsthand. It's the same with translators. We're not quite as mad as we seem, only impersonating, but since the best of us are doing such an outstanding job creating a multitude of fully developed selves, no wonder some people get confused about fact and fiction, author/actor and their art. 

The most talented of these mimes step not only into someone else's shoes but someone else's skin, and when they get into character we don't see role playing, we don't think "role"; we recognize life. Depicting monstrosities without passing judgment requires a great deal of empathy. You have to be able to digest much. Everything, actually. Not blindly idolizing people, for all their heroism, takes a hefty dose of cool detachment. You have to doubt what you're sure of, at least every now and then. 

All of the above entail imagination, being blessed (or cursed?) with a vivid mind. What is bigotry, what is hatred, but fear of the unknown and a severe lack of imagination? You can't portray, at least not convincingly, what you won't understand.

However you achieve an impassive approach to whatever you're impassioned about, you have to cover your tracks. Acting, writing, translating...you cannot be caught doing it. You can't let your technique show or what you tried to depict becomes an imitation of life or reads as Translationese making it that much harder for your audience to suspend disbelief. 

I have great respect and immense admiration for those who fool me into believing it is someone's life unfolding before my eyes or mind's eye as I read or watch, not merely a counterfeit one. That is no small talent, having such a powerful yet ethereal effect. It's a magnificent one.

No comments: