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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Caine’

Michael Caine on Film Acting

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

“I’ll always be there because I’m a skilled professional actor. Whether or not I’ve any talent is beside the point.”

In this 1989 video tutorial, actor Michael Caine talks in a very direct, simple, practical way about the craft of acting specifically for films — it’s all about the eyes, the camera, and ignoring everything else. Caine, of course, is a superb actor who somehow has never really gotten his due in the history books — he runs the gamut from pop films to absolutely personal works, and manages to excel in every role he tackles. In sharp contract to lots of theoretical approaches to working in film, Caine demonstrates here a whole arsenal of methods, techniques, and strategies that make him such an effective screen presence.

As he told Sean O’Neal in 2011, “I’m forever testing myself. As a person and as an actor, I have no sense of competition. I am a great admirer of other actors, but I never compete with other actors. I always compete with what I did last, and I’m my own most vicious critic. So I’m always trying to do it better. Let me put it this way: If you’re sitting in a movie and you’re watching me, and you say, ‘Isn’t that Michael Caine a wonderful actor?’ then I’ve failed. If I’m a really wonderful actor, you’ll forget [I'm acting] because you’re going ‘What’s going to happen to [my character] now?’ That’s a movie actor, and that’s what I try to be.”

“I’m looking for me to disappear, and the acting to disappear, and all you see is a real person.”

Philip Noyce’s The Quiet American (2002)

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer for this film.

I was just watching Philip Noyce’s 2002 version Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American again, and was struck not only by the brilliance of Michael Caine’s performance — for which he was nominated, but did not win, an Academy Award for Best Actor, or a BAFTA, also for Best Actor, though he should have won both, I think — but also by Christopher Doyle’s delicate cinematography — Doyle most famously worked as the mesmeric, color-drenched DP for director Wong Kar-wai — and Brendan Fraser’s unusually nuanced performance.

It’s a film that succeeds on every level, from a deeply uneven director — and as Caine noted in interviews at the time, the first time the actor had to play a part younger than he actually was, which served as a sobering wake up call for him during the shoot. I’m also saddened to note that the film’s two executive producers, both excellent directors as well — Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella — are no longer with us, when clearly each had so much work left to do.

The Quiet American is a film about the loss of innocence, the ravages of age, the persistence of memory, and the fact that the present is continually becoming the past — we live only in this moment, and we are given no more. We have no certainty that what is in the present will extend into the future, and we have no assurance that what is in the past will help us in the present.

Michael Caine is deeply underappreciated; he gives so much in this performance, and with such economy and assurance that the screen seems to disappear, and we’re simply with him, in Vietnam in the 1950s, at the beginning of what would turn into the Vietnam war.

The Quiet American is also a film that really challenges the viewer, and in much more faithful to Graham Greene’s novel than the 1958 version directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, which starred Audie Murphy and Sir Michael Redgrave, but which excised the anti-war theme of Greene’s book almost entirely, as a result of the climate of fear that ruled American cinema during the era, the last days of the lingering HUAC Blacklist.

The 2002 version is in every way superior — fidelity to the source material, the performances, the cinematography and the direction — and brings back to life a vanished colonialist era in which no one could really see what was coming next, or if they could, were either powerless to stop it.

Film is so absolute ephemeral; as Val Lewton often observed, it’s like writing on water. The images remain as talismans of the cinematographic process, but the milieu in which they were created is completely evanescent, and vanishes as soon as the last shot is in the can. The film was made relatively recently — only about a decade ago — but can one imagine a film of such depth and ambition being made today, in the midst of the endless onslaught of one comic book movie after another?

I don’t think so, and it’s sad that both the BAFTAs and the Oscars missed the chance to reward Michael Caine for the performance of his career; this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment where all the creative elements of the film clicked, to create a work of resonance, depth and terrible beauty.

If you haven’t seen it, please do so at once.

The Ipcress File

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

One of the most stylish thrillers ever produced, and also one of the most neglected, The Ipcress File (1965) was directed by the extremely talented and underused Sidney J. Furie, and was the film that really shot Michael Caine to international stardom. As down at the heels undercover agent Harry Palmer, based on Len Deighton’s novels, Caine is thoughtful, circumspect, intelligent but not brilliant, has an eye for the ladies, but isn’t the fantasy figure that James Bond was, and remains, to this day.

The tragic thing is that although there are several more films in the Harry Palmer series, none of them is anywhere near as good as this one, even though Michael Caine starred in them all. The DVD is, believe it or not, superior to the Blu-ray in image quality and definition, to say nothing of image brightness and contrast, and this is a film that simply must be seen in its original Techniscope format. Seldom have the full capabilities of the scope frame been used as they are here; pop, outrageous, and very in-your-face.

Furie’s startling compositions have never been equalled in the cinema, and indeed, he took a lot of flak for his outré sense of framing as the filming unfolded, and the producer, Harry Saltzman, tried to fire him, but was overruled by Caine, and the film’s editor, future director Peter Hunt, who so admired the film that he actually sneaked out with a second unit when he was supposed to be in the cutting room and picked up some shots that were needed for continuity to speed things along.

Saltzman, of course, was producing the Bond films with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli at this point, and Broccoli couldn’t understand why Saltzman would fool around with another secret agent, who was so obviously in competition with the Bond franchise. But then again, Harry Palmer was never really a threat to Bond. He was too downmarket, too much a thinking man’s espionage figure, and the film is much more thoughtful that the usual gadget-filled Bond outing. And, of course, John Barry’s score is absolutely perfect. It’s perhaps the best of all the 60s spy thrillers; do check it out before too long.

Click on the picture above for video clips from the film, with Barry’s superb theme music.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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