Oh, Steven Soderbergh

Posted: September 8, 2009 in Action Movies, Braak, crotchety ranting
Tags: , ,

Holland has drawn my attention to this:

Gina Carano Set to Star in Steven Soderbergh’s “Knockout”

Obviously, he’s been listening to me and my famous rant in opposition to movies in which very tiny women are somehow capable of beating the crap out of very large Russian men.  Naturally, I applaud him for consulting me before he made his film.  However, I am afraid that he’s still kind of missed the point.

Okay, first off.  This is Gina Carano:


As you can see by this picture, she is an attractive woman who, apparently, spends a lot of time standing under very bright lights, and who is dismissive of the idea of “pants.”

She is also a professional MMA fighter, and was on American Gladiators as Smash, or Punch, or Nitro, or something, I don’t know.  Super Nitro, maybe.  The point is:  she’s not an actress.

Now, it’s time I explained something.  Not really to you guys, mostly to Steven Soderbergh.  Here it is:  acting is something that you actually do.  It’s not just the thing that we call it when someone films you so that you can be in a movie.  That’s “being in a movie.”  Anybody can be in a movie, and it doesn’t really take any more work to be in a movie well than it does to be in a movie poorly.

But “acting” is an actual thing that you do while the camera is pointed at you.  Like all activities, you can do it well or poorly.  And like all activities, you are likely to get better at it the more often you do it–i.e., with practice.  There are exceptions, of course:  Winona Ryder has been hovering just a little above mediocre for her entire career, and Nicholas Cage has actually gotten demonstrably worse.  But, you know.  By and large.

Anyway, because we live in a world bounded by three dimensions of space, and are stuck utilizing only a single vector of time, the more time you spend practicing one thing, the less time you can spend practicing other things.  This is why Mozart wasn’t also the world’s greatest fly fisherman, and Bo Jackson is the world’s only known Bo Jackson.

You’ve probably skipped ahead to the next part, right?  Mixed-Martial Arts is also a thing that you can do, and consequently if you’ve spent a lot of time doing it–the way Gina Carano has–you’ve probably NOT spent a lot of time doing other things.  Like, for instance, acting.

Oh-ho!  But a movie like this, it’s probably going to have both acting and fighting in it, right?  Why is a good actress who’s a lousy fighter a better choice than a good fighter who’s a lousy actress?  This is a good question, and I will answer it:  in even the most fight-heavy movies, fighting still represents a very small percentage of what the main characters actually do.

There are exceptions, as always:  Steven Seagal spends a lot of time fighting, and only a very small amount of time staring blankly.  Tom Yum Goong, I would estimate, is 70 to 80% flying elbows and horrible, horrible joint locks, compared to only 20% inquiring after the location and well-being of elephants.  These exceptions exist, but they have also never been afforded any kind of mainstream acceptance, or even anything more than cult or “guilty pleasure” status among their audiences.  This is because even masterful cinematic alchemists like Steven Seagal have yet to sustain a movie that is ONLY FIGHTING, meaning no one has yet figured out a way to obviate the need for people who are in movies to be able to act.

Now, there’s a little more to it than this.  See, to be a good MMA fighter, you’ve got to learn a whole bunch of things, most of which are of absolutely no use to you as an actor.  You need strong technique, yes, but also the ability to apply it instinctively.  You need a huge vocabulary of responses, to accommodate different opponents and styles.  You need to be able to expend vast amounts of energy for painfully long periods of time.

These are all useless in a movie, because the fight is choreographed and you can rest between takes.  An actress, therefore, needs only a very small amount of MMA knowledge to be able to seem like a competent MMA fighter on screen–while an MMA fighter needs an entire professional training program to seem like anything other than an MMA fighter cast in a movie in order to capitalize on some smidgen of celebrity.

The reverse is also true, of course–an actress who’s been in movies where she had to fight would probably get the crap kicked out of her in the MMA ring (though she would no doubt be able to evoke much pathos as it occurred).

My problem with skinny women being cast as fighters is the selection criteria we use for actresses:  assuming comparable acting ability, a muscular actress is going to look better in a role where she has to punch a guy.  And I was assuming that for every woman on the scrawny end of the spectrum who was a decent actress, probably there was one on the muscled end of the spectrum, too.

The point is that I have never, nor will I EVER advocate replacing all fo the “fighting women” in movies with actual women fighters; rather, that some consideration for realistic body type be made when those actress are cast.

And, I don’t know.  Here’s a picture of Gina Carano with her boobs.

Gina Carano Maxim Pic 3God, just LOOK at her talent.  It’s so…round.  And airbrushed.

  1. Sam says:

    Yeah, Soderbergh has sorta stopped caring about the whole “actor” thing. His recent “The Girlfriend Experience” is headed up by Sasha Grey, who is a prominent porn actress.

    An excerpt from an interview (http://www.collider.com/entertainment/interviews/article.asp/aid/11944/tcid/1):

    “Why did you choose to work with non-actors, and what were some of the challenges of that?

    Steven: I’m really interested in it. I’ve been playing around with it for awhile. All of the six films that I’m supposed to do for 2929 Entertainment, under this deal, are planned to be done in this way, where you write a story and detail the outline, and then cast real people and use these controlled improvisations. It’s interesting because they don’t act like actors. And, that’s not a slam on actors, but they’re not trying to do anything. They don’t have goals, the way actors have goals. You need to give them a goal. You need to tell them what the scene is about.”

    Also, I must serve up a correction. It was in Tom Yum Goong that Tony Jaa was so notably focused on elephants.

  2. Sam says:

    Whoops, erase the last parentheses to actually go to the link.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    I have a lot of faith in Soderbergh – just generally, since I’ve never seen a movie of his where an actor’s delivered a bad performance (note: I have never seen ‘Full Frontal,’ or ‘Bubble,’ two movies that would likely contradict this statement); and also Sasha Grey was roundly praised for her performance, so let us not forget that just because someone has no acting experience, it is not impossible that they may be able to act – at the very least, to the specifications of a director who seems to know how to get good work from his performers.

    Also note that the script will be written by Lem Dobbs, who also wrote ‘The Limey,’ a script that was pared down to bare bones by Soderbergh. Dobbs was…well, a little irritable about the loss of all his explicitly-written themes and emotional subplots, if I understand the tone of the DVD commentary correctly.

    (Which Soderbergh was absolutely right to chop, since the sparseness of “The Limey” is part of what makes it Totally Fricking Awesome.)

  4. braak says:

    @Sam: Correction noted.

    Steven Soderbergh is undoubtedly unaware of the fact that we’ve tried this before (in the early 19th century and again in the early 20th) and it never really took.

    It turns out that people who are just onstage (or screen) who are just sort of hanging out are actually pretty boring to watch.

  5. Moff says:

    This whole post is tremendously reducing the chance of your scoring with Gina Carano, dude. Also, she’s probably gonna beat the shit out of you.

  6. DemonMeister says:

    I’d say that Winona Ryder is way more than mediocre… and you say her entire career- NO WAY!!! She was been nominated twice for an Academy Award has won a Golden Globe. Not to mention she is by far a much better performer than most of the so called actors around these days! I for one miss seeing her on the big screen and wish she’d make a comeback. I think Cinema has been lacking the Winona charm lately. But hell let’s get rid of the talent and someone who actually cares about the art and filmmaking and replace her with people like Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Miley Cirus, Paris Hilton, and the rest of the trash around nowadays… sounds good to me!

  7. braak says:

    @Moff: Yeah, I realized that after I posted it. But what am I supposed to do? I’ve got journalistic integrity, you know?

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    “But hell let’s get rid of the talent and someone who actually cares about the art and filmmaking and replace her with people like Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Miley Cirus, Paris Hilton, and the rest of the trash around nowadays… sounds good to me!”

    I love a good rant that ends screaming about something nobody was talking about.

  9. braak says:

    I think that Brett Ratner should do a remake of Heathers with Gina Carano instead of Winona Ryder, only Gina Carano should be played by Miley Cyrus.

    Also, the whole thing should be written by David S. Goyer.

  10. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Brilliant! Just when I thought “Heathers” couldn’t get any more evil, you mention “Miley Cyrus” in the same breath as a remake.

    This is what culture gets for deciding Greta Garbo, Laurence Olivier and Bette Davis overacted. It was a downward spiral from there; less was more until less became none. Even some of the stage and film stars of better times, once mocked for being too naturalistic, would now be considered “hams” by today’s audiences. If a scene can be reduced to a couple of supposedly meaningful grunts and nods, viewers are happy. I agree: It’s safe to say that audiences don’t really understand what acting is anymore; people don’t see enough work performed live to get a feel for the actual physical–let alone brainy, ahem, cerebral–work that’s involved in producing it. If Soderberg would like nothing more than to have expressionless marionettes bending to his whims, why not go into animation, where you can manipulate each character with only minimal reflection and perspective from live actors (but then, you’d have to deal with those damned animation artists–maybe Soderberg just doesn’t like people and begrudges having to work with other humans in order to materialize his visions?)

    (and all the best rants end with screaming “…people like Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Miley Cirus, Paris Hilton, and the rest of the trash around nowadays…” that’s wild fly, guy! Keep rolling.)

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