robin_d_laws (robin_d_laws) wrote,
robin_d_laws
robin_d_laws

Paul Newman

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One remarkable aspect of Paul Newman’s career was not only the unusual longevity of his stardom, but the way in which it straddled a stark divide in acting styles. His peak stardom begins in the early sixties, at the height of Actor’s Studio influence on the Hollywood studio style. The prevailing dramatic mode is histrionic, studio-bound, and heavily theatrical. Scripts are talky, politically charged, and rife with Freudian import. The reigning king of dramatic writing is Tennessee Williams, who is never loath to turn the melodrama up to eleven. In Williams adaptations Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth, or in iconic titles Hud and The Hustler, Newman plays this style brilliantly, keeping the angst simmering under a veneer of cool.

In the late sixties and early seventies, film acting changes, and Newman changes with it. The political edge has become more overt, locations trump studio sets, scenes have become shorter and less-dialogue driven. Characterization is less symbolic, more observational. Names like Pacino, De Niro, Hoffman and Hackman usher in the generation of actor as star: now it’s not about stunning good looks, it’s about chops. And those chops, still derived from Lee Strasberg’s very American take on Stanislavsky, are now toned down for the more naturalistic style of the American New Wave. Subtext displaces text. Expression of emotion drops the stylization and goes interior. Whether in a classic studio/art piece like Cool Hand Luke or deft blockbusters like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, Newman becomes even more assured in the new style. The arc between the expressive and the stoic completes itself when he ventures brilliantly into Mamet-land with The Verdict.

As if designed to be a control experiment, his Oscar-winning role in The Color Of Money is the same guy he played in The Hustler. Watch them back to back and see the contrast between the two styles he navigated his way through.

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