Fashioning movement

While perusing my library for blog material, I picked up Charlie Chaplin’s One Man Show, by Dan Kamin.   For studying Chaplin’s physical performance, you can’t find a better book.  But the passage that caught my eye isn’t specifically about Charlie.  It’s about studying performance in general:

One of the difficulties of watching films from a past era is in distinguishing what is intended to be stylized playing and parody from the mannerisms and movements characteristic of “real” people of the period.  From century to century, and even from decade to decade, fashions in movement change as do fashions in clothing.

I like the word “fashion” being used here.  The word “style” doesn’t quite suggest the passing nature of what’s being discussed.  And it also brings to mind how human movement differs not only over time, but from place to place.

Humans learn to move in the same way we learn to speak.  We pick up motion the way we pick up our local accents.  It’s subconscious.  We do it to fit in, to be like others.   If a construction worker suddenly started swinging his hips like a streetwalker, his coworkers would notice.  A punk rocker moves differently from a classical pianist.  Each sub-culture will have it’s characteristic movement.

The actor Sacha Baron Cohen understands this.  His characters involve transforming every part of his appearance, voice and even his movement. Borat moves in a rigid, angular manner.

Bruno is much more loose and swishy

…while Ali G. strikes all the common hip-hop poses.

Most actors don’t do this.  Jack Black always moves like Jack Black.  Jim Carrey has varying degrees of his signature wackiness, from Ace Ventura on down to his serious roles.   If they have found success with it, they wouldn’ want to change.  Animators need to think like Cohen, and look for great styles of movement to give characters.

3 thoughts on “Fashioning movement”

  1. Another interesting comedian for the same sort of reasons is Phil Hendrie. He does on radio what Cohen does on film. His voice is very limited when it comes to the actual physical aspects of creating a different voice from his own, but his ability to incorporate personality traits and apply them in real time makes his characters totally believable. He can explain the joke on the air, and within seconds someone who just heard the explanation will call in, completely sucked in by the personality of the character. Hendrie has found some sort of mental equivalent of Alice’s rabbit hole, and he sucks his listeners into it every single night. It’s hard to believe anyone could walk the tightrope night after night for so many years. He is a genius.

  2. I had to leave a comment, as I was amazed to find that you’re analyzing everything I’m analyzing. I’m a comic strip cartoonist who studies gesture and physical gags. My Dan Kamin book is well-used, my Chaplin, Keaton, and Tex Avery DVDs well-worn, and I was led to your site because I just watched the same Commedia dell’arte videos you posted.

    I’m glad to have found your blog. Good luck!


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