Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Character


Eighteenth Century Americans had a conception of character very different from our own. Today, we generally regard character as an innate property; but back then, character was something that a person developed. That is, he determined what kind of man he wanted to be, and he played that man as if he were an actor. Eventually, the kind of man he was merged with the man he aspired to be, and he no longer needed to act contrary to nature. That's how Cary Grant viewed character, too. As Benjamin Schwarz writes in the January/February 2007 Atlantic Monthly:
"I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.” That meeting—when Archie Leach, the Bristol-born son of a part-Jewish suit presser, came to be fully assimilated by his creation, Cary Grant—amounts to one of the great events in the annals of twentieth-century culture. It created what the critic David Thomson (in A Biographical Dictionary of Film, the finest reference book on the movies) flatly declares to be “the best and most important actor in the history of the cinema.” And it’s a joy to watch: although the meeting was years in the making, you can actually see it come to fruition in a single movie, Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937). Grant’s performance in that film was, in every sense, transformative.

All of us want to become Cary Grant. Even Cary Grant did.

(The rest of the article, which is a nice review of Grant's movie career and of his talent as an actor, is well worth reading, not least for this sentence of pure gold:

He thus transformed his leading ladies “into comic goddesses,” as Kael nicely put it—a feat that was something of a miracle in the case of the cute-’n’-toothy Irene Dunne, or the self-important, inherently humorless Katharine Hepburn.

I don't think that I've ever seen Hepburn so accurately summarized as Schwarz does in just four words. Via Instapundit.)

1 comment:

Will said...

Grant is everything you say, but oh, that picture. Black tie and penny loafers. The horror!