Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Philosopher Fool and his Tooth are Soon Parted

…Brother, men
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but, tasting it,
Their counsel turns to passion, which before
Would give preceptial medicine to rage,
Fetter strong madness in a silken thread,
Charm ache with air and agony with words:
No, no; 'tis all men's office to speak patience
To those that wring under the load of sorrow,
But no man's virtue nor sufficiency
To be so moral when he shall endure
The like himself. Therefore give me no counsel:
My griefs cry louder than advertisement.

Therein do men from children nothing differ.

I pray thee, peace. I will be flesh and blood;
For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently,
However they have writ the style of gods
And made a push at chance and sufferance.

Much Ado About Nothing, 5.1, 21-39

I've always loved that toothache line, and the preceding speech is so great it couldn't resist quoting at least a little. (And I've played or read both the characters above, actually!)

I haven't been blogging much recently, due to some dental issues and a dying computer. That's my excuse this time, anyway. The wisdom teeth are now out and a new computer is on the way, both of which are good, but insurance companies always find creative ways to charge ya for necessary procedures, so my bank account is far from happy.

Still, dental pain is just nastier than several other types, so I'm happy to move from fairly excruciating to soreness and dull aches with some happy pills (actually, I haven't needed many). But damn, you'd think I was in a nursing home for all my health whining the past month. I feel bad for those with no insurance, and I know that plenty of people have it far worse off than I. Gotta keep it in perspective.

Well, at least I provided some Shakespeare, and now continuing the dentistry theme, we'll go to film, specifically Marathon Man (1976). It's an odd, uneven film, but features a few memorable scenes, and a script by William Goldman, based on his own novel.

The late Roy Scheider is good as always, but the stars are Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, who had very different approaches to acting. There's a famous story most actors will have heard that Hoffman went "method," and stayed up all night on a bender to get into character, and came in looking bedraggled. When Oliver saw him and asked him what happened, Hoffman explained. Olivier responded, "My dear boy, you really should try acting," or something to that effect. According to IMDB, Hoffman has since denied this story, although he says he was indeed up late many nights because he was going through a divorce from his first wife and was depressed. As to the credibility of Hoffman versus Goldman, I've heard enough tales about both (and have heard Goldman speak three or four times), I have to trust Goldman much more, even if he might get details wrong here and there. Goldman sometimes does the cranky old man shtick, but entertainingly so, since he's not interested in sucking up to anybody. He's refreshingly candid, and frequently tells tales on himself.

In any case, on to the clips! In this first one, the sound goes out at one point, alas. But for sheer evil, it's hard to beat a Nazi dentist! Man! If you have severe dental anxiety, you won't want to watch these:

What makes this is a great scene for study for me is Olivier's vocal performance. He says "Is it safe?" several times, but each time he means something slightly different. My first director/acting teacher described this as saying a line with "intention," a tool for attacking the subtext. Using "neutral scripts" is also a neat acting exercise for highlighting this approach: playing the lines, but in specific circumstances, with specific dynamics (which may shift). There are many effective methods of acting, and I've found most good actors develop a grab-bag of techniques they find work for them. Still, I've always really appreciated good voice work, and most British training spends a great deal of time on developing one's voice and reading the text carefully. (Peter O'Toole was just on Charlie Rose, and was talking about this; O'Toole goes off to his study and memorizes the whole script, feeling the words aloud for a few weeks, as the first step of his process.)

The IMDB trivia page claims the filmmakers trimmed down the dentistry scenes because they were just too much for the test audiences. On that note, here's a slightly later scene:

Like Stephen King (and Goldman adapted Misery, actually), Goldman often puts things that scare him into his scripts. Hence the Nazi dentist. Goldman's told the tale that once he had some pain and reluctantly had to go the dentist. This was after Marathon Man had come out. The dentist asked Goldman if he wrote "that movie." Goldman had to admit he did. The dentist said he didn't want to treat Goldman, because then everyone would assume Olivier's character Christian Szell was based on him!

In any case, while smoke from a drill or seeing a fairly fit man yank with all his might as he struggles to pull a tooth from your mouth are both rather unsettling, dentistry is much less fearsome than it used to be. Well, other than the bill.


FranIAm said...

Oh dear Batocchio!

Sending good thoughts your way.

Ouch. And those clips... sheesh.

Brave Sir Robin said...

I hope you're doing better my friend.