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What's "old style acting"?


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as opposed to "method" style acting?

 

Slayton mentioned this in his nice post about Melvyn Douglas when he drew a comparison to Gene Hackman's method style and Douglas' "old time acting" style in I Never Sang for My Father (1970).

 

The Method (as i understand it) requires an actor to immerse him/herself in the character being portrayed, which means creating their own background/story of the person and "living" the part.

 

so how is this different from "old style" or any other style (for example, "classic British" training for the stage: say, Olivier or O'Toole for instance)?

 

i guess the "old acting" style is best exemplified by Spencer Tracy, who is probably the best and highest regarded actor of the "old school".

 

the preparation and delivery has got to be more than Katherine Hepburn's advice to Anthony Hopkins in the oft shown TCM Extra to "just say the words."

 

in Sydney Pollack's interview with Elvis Mitchell, Pollack talks about old style attitudes being centered in elocution and emphasis. was this from the old school? that seems like an amateur's idea of acting and leads to histrionics on stage/screen. Tracy, Hepburn, Douglas and others from the "old school" could act without the histrionics and did it with sincerity and effectiveness without Method techniques. where did they learn that style and what were the principles? or did they just pick it up as they went along?

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"Old school" can mean several things: the theatricality of George Arliss, the proto-method of Paul Muni, the over-the-top-and-into-the-stratosphere of Tod Slaughter.

 

The "Method" (there are actually several methods) essentially means using aspects of one's own personality to interpret a character. The "Method" was basically acting's version of Freud and and analysis, although the personal approach had existed before. Stanislavsky admitted he was really bringing together and codifying approaches that actors had used on their own for centuries.

 

Some actors, who used aspects of the new style themselves, saw "The Method" as self-indulgent.

 

Watch these and see what you think the stylistic differences are in the two performances:

 

Raymond Massey and James Dean in East Of Eden

 

John Gielgud (or if you prefer, James Mason) and Marlon Brando in Julius Caesar

 

Robert Taylor and John Cassavetes in Saddle The Wind

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i guess the "old acting" style is best exemplified by Spencer Tracy, who is probably the best and highest regarded actor of the "old school".

 

 

I don't think I agree with this statement. Usually, when they say 'old acting style' or 'old school style of acting,' it's meant as a put-down. Namely, that the performer is a bit histrionic and unable to give a subtle or natural sort of performance. Spencer Tracy was considered a very natural actor, and many of the Method actors of the 50s and 60s preferred working with him over his contemporaries whose approach may have seemed wooden by comparison. 

 

And certainly, when you compare Tracy to the silent movie stars who could not transition well in the early sound era, he was very, very natural-- and sort of 'new school' at that time.

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as opposed to "method" style acting?

 

Slayton mentioned this in his nice post about Melvyn Douglas when he drew a comparison to Gene Hackman's method style and Douglas' "old time acting" style in I Never Sang for My Father (1970).

 

The Method (as i understand it) requires an actor to immerse him/herself in the character being portrayed, which means creating their own background/story of the person and "living" the part.

 

so how is this different from "old style" or any other style (for example, "classic British" training for the stage: say, Olivier or O'Toole for instance)?

 

i guess the "old acting" style is best exemplified by Spencer Tracy, who is probably the best and highest regarded actor of the "old school".

 

the preparation and delivery has got to be more than Katherine Hepburn's advice to Anthony Hopkins in the oft shown TCM Extra to "just say the words."

 

in Sydney Pollack's interview with Elvis Mitchell, Pollack talks about old style attitudes being centered in elocution and emphasis. was this from the old school? that seems like an amateur's idea of acting and leads to histrionics on stage/screen. Tracy, Hepburn, Douglas and others from the "old school" could act without the histrionics and did it with sincerity and effectiveness without Method techniques. where did they learn that style and what were the principles? or did they just pick it up as they went along?

When I think of old-style acting, I think of over-emoting in terms of facial, arm, and hand gestures, which was necessary in silent films, and carried over to the early years of talkies. 

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Two things come to mind.....

 

One, in high school I took a class called "DRAMA", which was, I suppose, to teach us the rudimentary basics of "acting".  In that class, the teacher mentioned an old, what SHE called "outdated" belief that actors should NEVER turn their backs to the audience.  And I got it.  When we practiced this old school "rule", it required a lot of awkward, silly looking walking BACKWARDS and such.

 

A fine and funny example of this can be seen in the hilarious movie ENTER LAUGHING, based on Carl Reiner's very funny book.  In it, JOSE FERRER does this, likely for comic effect and with tongue in cheek disdain.

 

Sepiatone

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When I think of old-style acting, I think of over-emoting in terms of facial, arm, and hand gestures, which was necessary in silent films, and carried over to the early years of talkies. 

Right-- that is exactly what I think. Mary Pickford (who somehow managed to scrape up an Oscar) demonstrates old school style acting in COQUETTE and in SECRETS. It is no surprise her motion picture career on screen did not last long after sound films began. 

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Right-- that is exactly what I think. Mary Pickford (who somehow managed to scrape up an Oscar) demonstrates old school style acting in COQUETTE and in SECRETS. It is no surprise her motion picture career on screen did not last long after sound films began. 

First of all, the acting of the silent era can't be put in a box - The Docks of New York for one doesn't at all resemble any of the nonsense anyone in this thread is talking about. This is true of American cinema alone but when you add in the films of the entire world it is that much more apparent. Seems they were a lot more sophisticated back then than we are today - we can only conceive of acting in terms of phony "realism" or "naturalism" but they could adapt, perform, and interpret in multiple modes without blinking an eye. It's simple, watch more silent films (or really watch some, don't just act like you have.)

 

Second, actresses like Mary Pickford were at the thrall of decisions she had no control over, chiefly the arrival of theatrical acting and vocal coaches in the first few years of talkies. These people were given a great deal of control over the performers, often over the directors, and it was they who were responsible for the way early talkie acting looked (at least up to 1931; after Hollywood ditched them and let actors act the way they always had everything improved.) That had absolutely nothing to do with silent film acting. The history of silent film acting is a continual development away from the theatrical acting inherited from the stage, not inherent to cinema, right from the earliest days.

 

Third, the silent-talkie transition killing the careers of stars due to performance is an enduring myth and bald faced lie. The vast majority of the change that occurred during this period had to do with studio politics (they used sound as an opportunity to bust contracts and save money or, barring that, get new people and save money,) changing audience tastes in the kinds of films and personas that were popular, the techincal regression of the majority of films in the early sound era (Hollywood films hit an all time low in quality in 29 and 30 - terrible films, films terrible in every way aside from acting, kill actors first and foremost,) and the unavoidable curse all celebrities face - aging. Lillian Gish did fine once she could fit into roles that suited her advancing age later in the 40s and 50s.

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First of all, the acting of the silent era can't be put in a box - The Docks of New York for one doesn't at all resemble any of the nonsense anyone in this thread is talking about. This is true of American cinema alone but when you add in the films of the entire world it is that much more apparent. Seems they were a lot more sophisticated back then than we are today - we can only conceive of acting in terms of phony "realism" or "naturalism" but they could adapt, perform, and interpret in multiple modes without blinking an eye. It's simple, watch more silent films (or really watch some, don't just act like you have.)

 

Second, actresses like Mary Pickford were at the thrall of decisions she had no control over, chiefly the arrival of theatrical acting and vocal coaches in the first few years of talkies. These people were given a great deal of control over the performers, often over the directors, and it was they who were responsible for the way early talkie acting looked (at least up to 1931; after Hollywood ditched them and let actors act the way they always had everything improved.) That had absolutely nothing to do with silent film acting. The history of silent film acting is a continual development away from the theatrical acting inherited from the stage, not inherent to cinema, right from the earliest days.

 

Third, the silent-talkie transition killing the careers of stars due to performance is an enduring myth and bald faced lie. The vast majority of the change that occurred during this period had to do with studio politics (they used sound as an opportunity to bust contracts and save money or, barring that, get new people and save money,) changing audience tastes in the kinds of films and personas that were popular, the techincal regression of the majority of films in the early sound era (Hollywood films hit an all time low in quality in 29 and 30 - terrible films, films terrible in every way aside from acting, kill actors first and foremost,) and the unavoidable curse all celebrities face - aging. Lillian Gish did fine once she could fit into roles that suited her advancing age later in the 40s and 50s.

While I see your points, unfortunately the truth is that the silent picture era became a graveyard of hambone actors who were laughed out of the movies when sound was ushered in...Gish is a rare exception as someone highly regarded for many years before and after the advent of sound in Hollywood. 

 

It surprises me that Nazimova had a slight resurgence in the 40s (as a character actress)-- but I don't consider those later turns as serious dramatic acting-- she was still over the top, and her old school style of acting played out more like high camp.

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First of all, the acting of the silent era can't be put in a box - The Docks of New York for one doesn't at all resemble any of the nonsense anyone in this thread is talking about. This is true of American cinema alone but when you add in the films of the entire world it is that much more apparent. Seems they were a lot more sophisticated back then than we are today - we can only conceive of acting in terms of phony "realism" or "naturalism" but they could adapt, perform, and interpret in multiple modes without blinking an eye. It's simple, watch more silent films (or really watch some, don't just act like you have.)

 

Second, actresses like Mary Pickford were at the thrall of decisions she had no control over, chiefly the arrival of theatrical acting and vocal coaches in the first few years of talkies. These people were given a great deal of control over the performers, often over the directors, and it was they who were responsible for the way early talkie acting looked (at least up to 1931; after Hollywood ditched them and let actors act the way they always had everything improved.) That had absolutely nothing to do with silent film acting. The history of silent film acting is a continual development away from the theatrical acting inherited from the stage, not inherent to cinema, right from the earliest days.

 

Third, the silent-talkie transition killing the careers of stars due to performance is an enduring myth and bald faced lie. The vast majority of the change that occurred during this period had to do with studio politics (they used sound as an opportunity to bust contracts and save money or, barring that, get new people and save money,) changing audience tastes in the kinds of films and personas that were popular, the techincal regression of the majority of films in the early sound era (Hollywood films hit an all time low in quality in 29 and 30 - terrible films, films terrible in every way aside from acting, kill actors first and foremost,) and the unavoidable curse all celebrities face - aging. Lillian Gish did fine once she could fit into roles that suited her advancing age later in the 40s and 50s.

You didn't mention the most obvious reason that many silent film actors were unable to make it in talkies------displeasing voices.

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From what I've learned, "old style acting" is more presentational, whereas Method acting and various schools similar are more representational. 

 

When it comes to classic movie stars, "old style acting" seems to come across as an insult because most of them are classically trained actors who were on stage as much as they were on film. 

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"Old style" acting is a very general term but most likely it refers to acting that is concerned with the outward presentation of emotion and behavior without any emotional connection by the actor. The famous example is the story of Laurence Olivier performing a highly emotional "scene of sorrow" and then immediately continuing his conversation about his dinner plans for the evening that he had begun before the scene.

This type of acting contrasts with acting influenced by various interpretations of Stanislavski's so-called "method" where actors are supposed to artistically use their own emotions and experiences in the service of a role, trusting that the inner work will lead to outward manifestations of behavior that an audience will respond to. 

The difference is working from the "outside in" versus working from the "inside out," and someimes you hear the terms "technical actor" versus "emotional actor." 

In actual practise actors today use both "technical" and "emotional" techniques. 

 

The film version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is an interesting example of contrasting acting techniques. Vivien Leigh was a representational actor. Each of her takes of a particular scene was always the same in terms of the behavior displayed. Elia Kazan even tested this by asking for multiple takes of a specific moment where he already had the take he needed. When Kim Hunter asked him later the reason for all the takes of that scene, he responded that he wanted to see if Vivien Leigh would produce a tear at the same syllable of the same word in every take. And she did just that along with the same vocal inflections.

Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden were trained by teachers whose techniques incorporated their interpretation of Stanislavski's system. (Stanislavski himself never used the term "method" to describe his techniques.) Therefore, Brando, Hunter and Malden often displayed different behavior in different takes of the same scene depending on what each of them were "feeling" during a particular take.

Ultimately, as long as an audience recognizes the behavior as authentic, it doesn't matter if the behavior was produced through "technical" or through "emotional" means.      

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"Old style" acting is a very general term but most likely it refers to acting that is concerned with the outward presentation of emotion and behavior without any emotional connection by the actor. The famous example is the story of Laurence Olivier performing a highly emotional "scene of sorrow" and then immediately continuing his conversation about his dinner plans for the evening that he had begun before the scene.

This type of acting contrasts with acting influenced by various interpretations of Stanislavski's so-called "method" where actors are supposed to artisically use their own emotions and experiences in the service of a role, trusting that the inner work will lead to outward manifestations of behavior that an audience will respond to. 

The difference is working from the "outside in" versus working from the "inside out," and someimes you hear the terms "technical actor" versus "emotional actor." 

In actual practise actors today use both "technical" and "emotional" techniques. 

 

The film version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is an interesting example of contrasting acting techniques. Vivien Leigh was a representational actor. Each of her takes of a particular scene was always the same in terms of the behavior displayed. Elia Kazan even tested this by asking for multiple takes of a specific moment where he already had the take he needed. When Kim Hunter asked him later the reason for all the takes of that scene, he responded that he wanted to see if Vivien Leigh would produce a tear at the same syllable of the same word in every take. And she did just that along with the same vocal inflections.

Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden were trained by teachers whose techniques incorporated their interpretation of Stanislavski's system. (Stanislavski himself never used the term "method" to describe his techniques.) Therefore, Brando, Hunter and Malden often displayed different behavior in different takes of the same scene depending on what each of them were "feeling" during a particular take.

Ultimately, as long as an audience recognizes the behavior as authentic, it doesn't matter if the behavior was produced through "technical" or through "emotional" means.      

 

Interesting info.    Since James Dean was a 'method' actor,  and he was using his own emotions and experiences in the service of a role,   Dean must have had a very emotional,  over the top childhood.    ;)

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Since James Dean was a 'method' actor,  and he was using his own emotions and experiences in the service of a role,   Dean must have had a very emotional,  over the top childhood.    

It could be argued that Dean was still acting (out) in an extended childhood when he died.

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"Old style" acting is a very general term but most likely it refers to acting that is concerned with the outward presentation of emotion and behavior without any emotional connection by the actor. The famous example is the story of Laurence Olivier performing a highly emotional "scene of sorrow" and then immediately continuing his conversation about his dinner plans for the evening that he had begun before the scene.

This type of acting contrasts with acting influenced by various interpretations of Stanislavski's so-called "method" where actors are supposed to artisically use their own emotions and experiences in the service of a role, trusting that the inner work will lead to outward manifestations of behavior that an audience will respond to. 

The difference is working from the "outside in" versus working from the "inside out," and someimes you hear the terms "technical actor" versus "emotional actor." 

In actual practise actors today use both "technical" and "emotional" techniques. 

 

The film version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is an interesting example of contrasting acting techniques. Vivien Leigh was a representational actor. Each of her takes of a particular scene was always the same in terms of the behavior displayed. Elia Kazan even tested this by asking for multiple takes of a specific moment where he already had the take he needed. When Kim Hunter asked him later the reason for all the takes of that scene, he responded that he wanted to see if Vivien Leigh would produce a tear at the same syllable of the same word in every take. And she did just that along with the same vocal inflections.

Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden were trained by teachers whose techniques incorporated their interpretation of Stanislavski's system. (Stanislavski himself never used the term "method" to describe his techniques.) Therefore, Brando, Hunter and Malden often displayed different behavior in different takes of the same scene depending on what each of them were "feeling" during a particular take.

Ultimately, as long as an audience recognizes the behavior as authentic, it doesn't matter if the behavior was produced through "technical" or through "emotional" means.      

Interesting points. I was under the impression that Method acting was about the "technical" whereas classically trained was more emotion centered. 

 

Certainly one can understand why so many Method actors today down classic movie actors for those reasons, and vice versa when they were alive. Katharine Hepburn's main criticism of Meryl Streep, for example, was that in the performances she watched of Meryl's, she stated that she could see the wheels turning. 

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When I think of old-style acting, I think of over-emoting in terms of facial, arm, and hand gestures, which was necessary in silent films, and carried over to the early years of talkies. 

 

That's not acting, that's histrionics.  The commonly understood distinction between 'old-style' acting and 'Method' or other modern styles is that the old-style approaches acting as a craft, the actor employing techniques much as another craftsman would employ tools.  The internal psychology or emotions of the actor being of little importance.  This can be carried to an extreme, ending up in scenery-chewing and emoting.  With more modern styles, the actor is encouraged to look inside themselves for the psychological or emotional motivation required by the role.  The ridiculous extreme of this I think was most hilariously parodied in Tootsie, with Dustin Hoffman trying to find the motivation of a tomato in a TV commercial.  I believe it was a tomato.

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Interesting points. I was under the impression that Method acting was about the "technical" whereas classically trained was more emotion centered. 

 

 

 

It's actually the opposite. The term "method" is confusing because the word implies "technical" to many people.

"Method" acting stresses emotional truth using the actor's emotions and experiences in contrast to classical training that focused on the representation of emotion without necessarily any emotional connection to the actor. Although the behavior itself can trigger a genuine emotional response, classical acting works from the "outside in" compared to the "inside out" techniques of "method' actors.    

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It's actually the opposite. The term "method" is confusing because the word implies "technical" to many people.

"Method" acting stresses emotional truth using the actor's emotions and experienes in contrast to classical training that focused on the representation of emotion without necessarily any emotional connection to the actor. Although the behavior itself can trigger a genuine emotional response, classical acting works from the "outside in" compared to the "inside out" techniques of "method' actors.    

 

In a simplistic way would it be correct to say;

 

An old school actor doesn't need to feel sad,  to portray a chacacter that is sad. 

 

Isn't that why Laurence Olivier told Hoffman something along the lines of 'try acting'? 

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In a simplistic way would it be correct to say;

 

An old school actor doesn't need to feel sad,  to portray a chacacter that is sad. 

 

Isn't that why Laurence Olivier told Hoffman something along the lines of 'try acting'? 

 Exactly. That is a good way to contrast the two approaches.

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This is a very interesting discussion.

 

In my opinion,

 

Old Style acting is when the actors merely are given a script and learn their lines and deliver them with the emotion that they feel the lines require or with the emotion that they're told to deliver in the script.  If the script says to act angry, they do their best angry impression while delivering the accompanying lines.  Good actors who use this technique are able to accurately gauge the right amount of emotion to deliver in order to make their lines sound sincere.

 

Method actors often times will undergo extensive research for their character.  For example, in From Here to Eternity, Montgomery Clift actually learned how to play the bugle and how to box for his role-- he wanted to add a level of authenticity to his role.  I know that other actors who are playing a character in a particular lifestyle, social status, etc. will actually seek out and live with real people who share those characteristics in order to gain a real understanding of their lives.  With this understanding, the actor is able to take that back to the studio and use it to enrich their performance with real emotion and experience.

 

I don't have a preference over either style of acting; I think that old style actors and method actors can be just as effective or over act (or under act) just as much as anyone else.  It just depends on the level of talent that that particular actor has.  There are even actors with no actual training who end up being very successful-- just because they have a natural instinct and ability that makes them believable in most roles.

 

I read in Lucille Ball's autobiography, Love, Lucy, that she attended the John Murray Anderson acting school with Bette Davis.  Davis, of course, was the star pupil and Ball remembered that she was told that she'd never make it as an actor.  The school even went as far as to write her mother that Lucy was wasting her time and money by attending this school.  Obviously, we know that both Davis and Ball ended up being wildly successful. 

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Whether "old style" or "method", is it believable?

 

Mervyn LeRoy spoke about Greer Garson and Ronald Colman with regard to "Random Harvest" (I am quoting from memory about what I think I heard on TCM) . . . "you have the two best speakers of the English language in this one film . . . how can you go wrong?"

 

I would offer "Random Harvest" as an example of "old style acting" and I would add that it is not just the actors that deliver the "old style acting" but the director, producers and writers that were able to create the framework in which the actors could put over such an incredibly romantic story - a story that would just pull you along, notwithstanding opinions of some of the critics at the time . . . the whole idea is to put the story over, to make it believable.  "It Happened One Night" is another great example of every element being pulled together to make you want to see what happens, whether things will pan out.

 

One of the stumbling blocks I have with watching some of the newer movies is that I can't understand what in the heck people are saying, they do not articulate, they are mush mouths - or, if it is some kind of historical saga, the gals galumph like stevedores, they do not float across the room like Merle Oberon or Loretta Young . . . so, after changing the channel a few times, I remember that I could instead, go online and read about old movies or look up the TCM schedule to find when something I can enjoy will be aired.  :)

 

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