Hitchcock hated actors. He called actors “cows” and “stupid children” and thought Walt Disney was smart for making his actors made of paper, since he had the luxury to “tear them up” when he didn’t like them.1
So, yeah… Hitchcock hated actors.
When a film has been properly staged, it isn’t necessary to rely upon the player’s virtuosity or personality for tension and dramatic effects. In my opinion, the chief requisite for an actor is the ability to do nothing well, which is by no means as easy as it sounds. He should be willing to be utilized and wholly integrated into the picture by the director and the camera. He must allow the camera to determine the proper emphasis and the most effective dramatic highlights.2
Basically, Hitchcock thinks an actor needs to be as manipulable and as much of a blank slate as a mannequin.
But wait a second. Don’t we give major awards to actors for their performances? Actors pour their hearts out. Actors are artists who can save or sink a film. So what’s going on here?
Hitchcock is talking about a phenomena in which viewers infer meaning, expression, and emotion based on intercuts. It’s called the Kuleshov effect. The basic idea of the Kuleshov effect is that it’s possible to derive multiple performances out of the same shot of an actor simply by introducing shots of different objects either before or after the actor’s appearance. For example, put a shot of a naked woman before your actor appears, and suddenly the actor might look like he’s sexually aroused. But don’t take my word for the existence of the Kuleshov effect. Let Hitchcock show it to you himself:
What the Kuleshov effect demonstrates is that the camera and editing affects the actor’s performance just as much as the actor him or herself. Some actors even know this, so they demand to be inside the cutting room when their performances are being edited.
I’ll leave you with one final point: it’s called FaceDirector. FaceDirector is a new technology that now allows filmmakers to literally orchestrate an actor’s performance in postproduction—maybe adding anger in a scene that originally didn’t have it. Check it out. It’s truly a case of treating actors as mannequins:
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What do you think about this “mannequin” concept of acting? Leave your opinion in the comments.
2: http://amzn.to/1K9tFB7 — Page 111 from the classic book Hitchcock/Truffaut
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