Splendor in the Grass
seen online via YouTube
I want to be angry at the way Splendor in the Grass ends. Even though it tries to turn what should be a negative ending into something halfway positive, I didn't buy it, and I want to be angry about it. But in thinking about it a little more, I'm beginning to realize how useless that would be. This takes place in freakin' Kansas in the 1920s, not New York City in 2010. It is next to impossible to expect people of that time and place to act any other way - at least the adults. It's remarkable that Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty's characters act the way they do - for all the good it does them in the end. This ties in partly with what Raquelle said about this movie - that she couldn't imagine it taking place anyplace else but in a small, rural town (despite what the original poster at left would have you believe), and I agree.
Hard to believe Beatty was ever this young. In his performance, I clearly see traces of Brando and Dean. It's hard to imagine, being of a younger generation, how influential Marlon Brando was until you see the actors that followed him, in the 50s and 60s, and suddenly it becomes obvious. I had talked recently about my brief training in the Meisner technique. Before that, I used to think that acting was just a matter of simulating emotions and guessing at what the proper actions should be in a given scene.
When I did Hamlet in college, before I learned Meisner, I decided I should throw a chair in anger, because it seemed like the right thing to do in the scene, so I did. It was a very calculated action and had nothing to do with what I was feeling in the moment. The Meisner technique, by contrast, teaches that every reaction has to be the result of a proportionate action: you can't say "ouch" until you get a pinch. That pinch may not come right away, but when it does, you have to be ready and to react to it truthfully.
Elia Kazan co-founded the Actors' Studio, in which Sanford Meisner taught at, so it's not surprising that actors in his movies embraced this technique. Having used it, I think it's a good way to reach for the emotional truth within a given scene, but it requires a great deal of trust - trust in your director, in your partner, and in yourself, and that's not easy. You have to be willing to go out on a limb. The results, however, can be spectacular.