For Crying Out Loud
There is a scene in the movie where the wonderful Abigail Breslin is talking about being concerned about her mother. Abigail bawls her way through the scene; it is moving, this little girl’s concern for her mom.
But just kinda moving.
Donald Sutherland tells a great story about shooting ORDINARY PEOPLE.
There is a pivotal scene where Donald confronts his wife (played to icy perfection by Mary Tyler Moore). It is late at night; Mary has discovered that her hubby isn’t in bed, and has come downstairs to find him crying in the dining room.
Donald bawls his way through the scene, telling her that they are a family, and they have to make a choice – to struggle on as a family, or be doomed by remaining aloof individuals. Mary turns away from him, goes up the stairs, and packs her bags.
It is a powerful scene, and Donald – mustering all the tears he could – thought it moving.
But just kinda moving.
Months later he called his friend, the director Bobby (Robert Redford to you and me), and said he can’t sleep thinking about that scene and how they did it all wrong. Robert said he was thinking the same thing.
The got back together and re-shot the thing – this time with no tears.
The thinking was that Donald’s character had been crying all night, and had no tears left. That is why he needed his wife – he had nothing left on his own. The tearless cut is the one that made it into the movie.
And when Mary turns and goes up those stairs – devastating. Not a dry eye in the house.
Basic rule of acting/directing: if the character cries, the audience doesn’t need to. If the character can’t cry (or is struggling not to cry), the audience cries for them.
Think about it – a crying baby earns your pity. A baby that looks up at you with eyes welling up in tears, shaking in an attempt to hold them back – demolishing.
For example, in THE QUEEN; at that pivotal moment of breakdown, the director wisely moves the camera – we know she is crying, but he wasn’t about to let us intrude on it.
And that is how you get nominated for an Oscar.
Aristotle in his POETICS warned us against making the crying mistake millennia ago. He said it is the job of the storyteller to give the audience – NOT the character – a cathartic release.
Abigail was directed to bawl through her scene, giving the character, not the audience, a cathartic moment.
So we have an okay, competent scene.
But a lot of dry eyes in the house.
Just my thoughts,
PS I am referring, of course, to scenes where the crying is a way of conveying emotion, as opposed to showing vulnerability. So Glen Close curled up naked while crying in the shower in THE BIG CHILL is a whole other ball of wax.