Thursday, March 4, 2010

Listening vs. talking

Sidibe's reticence -- her recognition that Precious may never feel comfortable with all-out happiness -- is part of what makes the performance so touching. Monologues are often the thing that net awards for actors, even though they're never the best test of an actor's skill, chiefly because they involve talking rather than listening. And in "Precious," Mo'Nique is the one who gets the movie's big, show-stopping monologue. But Sidibe, who is far less experienced as a performer, holds her own in "Precious." She's a receptive presence but not a passive one, playing a character who can't hide from the horrors swirling around her, but who also has to fight to keep from getting swept away by them. The cautious hope that steals across Sidibe's face is the best thing about "Precious." Her performance is more about listening than it is about talking, a part of the job that more experienced actors often forget. (Stephanie Zacharek, “Gabourey Sidibe: Playing the victim,” Salon, 23 Feb. 2010)

Listening vs. talking

We should draw attention to good listeners, to the virtue in being a good listener -- especially if what it is to be a good actor, an impressive personage, has been made to seem all about crowding projection/dominance rather than empathic allowance/entrance. Since we've gone from Bush-dumb to Obama-aware, I'm betting most people are now in mind to agree with you, and appreciate your efforts to highlight actors/performances who/that are less "forced," in your face, and more generous to and appreciative of the full weight of the environment an actor/person is involved in. Has me thinking of a recent debate here at Salon on the virtues of Cdns and Americans, where one respondent suggested that what Americans need to appreciate about Cdns is they are better listeners, and therefore -- I believe he was arguing -- the better people.

But he was responding to my claim that what Cdns need to learn from AMERICANS is that they actually SAY THINGS, that sensitivity/awareness/attendance to others' sensitivities doesn't work as well as it does on Cdns to keep them from saying something controversial, potentially upsetting -- or just plain new. Your sense of a good listener may be a Spock, and your sense of a self-absorbed talker, a Kirk, but so many of the good listeners I have known are good listeners because they learned early on that their primary role was to attend to and satisfy someone else's needs. It is the result, not of having been well-supplied, and therefore not in need to constantly demand "gimme!," but of having been bullied, of having been deprived -- of NEEDING to know how to placate, for reprieve, to survive. And what these people primarily need is not to learn how to better listen to other people, but how to listen and become better acquainted with their own needs -- to speak up more, louder, and less (in a way) respectfully. Being present and less pliable, is just a necessary step towards learning to impress themselves more on the environment they are in.

John Dewey once criticized stimulus-response theory by saying it essentially lied in setting up animals/humans as primarily response-driven. The environment acts; the animal/human attends/listens, and then reacts. He argued that, instead, they are primarily ACTIVE, PURPOSEFUL -- that THEIR actions determine the particular response of the world around them. Whatever the truth of it, the empathy and love, in this instance, was clearly in Dewey's quintessentially American declaration/understanding of human beings.

I would prefer we be careful to not create an environment where Chris Matthews'/Joan Walsh's/Barbara Kingsolver's/Piers Anthony's/Ralph Nader's confident and loud sort of self-expression, and sometimes Other-obliviousness, could end up seeming fundamentally ungenerous ego rather than well-fueled soul.

Kirk out.

Link: Gabourey Sidibe: Playing the victim (Salon)

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