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The Godfather: Part Ii (#110 of 4)

Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

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Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor
Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

Art-making is too often discussed in terms that implicitly liken it to magic, thusly neglecting the truth that it involves work that resembles the day-by-day toils of many other ostensibly plainer occupations. With Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor, film critic Glenn Kenny quietly pushes against that mythology. A compassionate, pragmatic anti-sentimentality, or an attempt at one, serves as the through line for his examination of one the most mythologized of all screen actors. In his introduction, Kenny writes of “De Niro’s reluctance to do interviews, and his seeming stumbling while doing them, his famous taciturnity in contrast to his preternaturally vivid presence on screen, created a mythology that itself spawned a counter-mythology. It made De Niro as famous for being an enigma, a code that a journalist or critic with just the right amount of persistence and perspicacity could crack. But what if the answer is right in front of our faces, and always has been?” The author follows that with a quote in which director Elia Kazan (who worked with De Niro on The Last Tycoon) claims that the actor is among the hardest working that he’s collaborated with, and the only one who asked to rehearse on Sundays.

In other words, Kenny brings De Niro down to earth as a working artist, which serves to somewhat ironically reawaken your awe for the actor and the profound emotional nakedness that he once achieved reliably in one performance after another. Reading this, one wonders, not why De Niro drifted toward less immersive a-job’s-a-job roles, but how he plumbed himself as deeply as long as he did. The author emphasizes detail, connecting physical gestures from one role, sometimes mercilessly, to their repetition in another film (such as the reappearance of a “shoo” motion from Goodfellas in Awakenings.) He paints De Niro unsurprisingly as a master craftsman who’s intensely devoted to analysis and rehearsal, which he, somewhat, ineffably fuses with his personality and his soul. (I’m indulging my own mythology.) Following the familiar Cahiers du Cinéma “Anatomy of an Actor” template, Kenny discusses 10 “iconic roles” in De Niro’s canon that serve to shape the actor’s career as he evolved from galvanic acting titan to controversial “sell-out” to an inevitably mellower character actor who’s still capable, nevertheless, of imbuing a questionable project or under-respected performer with a bit of prestige by association.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Tony Dayoub’s Top 10 Films of All Time

When The House Next Door invited its writers to submit their Top 10 films of all time, I was faced with the usual conundrum: What does “Top 10” signify – best or favorite? After much consideration, I’m happy to say that the list I came up with could easily represent either. These are definitely personal favorites, but, in my not-so-humble opinion, they are also unassailable in their perfection, and could easily fall at the top of any all-time best list arrived at by consensus.

Sopranos Week: I Believe in America

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<em>Sopranos</em> Week: I Believe in America
<em>Sopranos</em> Week: I Believe in America

With the final episodes of The Sopranos soon to air on HBO, it’s worth considering where the show fits in the pantheon of great mob stories that have been committed to film. Yes, The Sopranos is a TV show, but as such it is sui generis and can only be compared to films.

In one self-referential scene, Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) and her family are eating dinner while her ex-husband laments how Italian-Americans are portrayed in movies about the Mafia. Her son, Jason, counters that mob movies have replaced westerns as the dominant narrative of the American experience. A self-serving viewpoint, perhaps, from a show like The Sopranos, but it’s also an observation that is hard to dispute.

Deadweek: From Caesar to Corleone—The Dramatic Evolution of Deadwood

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Deadweek: From Caesar to Corleone—The Dramatic Evolution of <em>Deadwood</em>
Deadweek: From Caesar to Corleone—The Dramatic Evolution of <em>Deadwood</em>

In fighting off waves of melancholy over Deadwood’s premature demise (HBO and creator David Milch will wrap things up with a couple of TV movies), it’s helpful to reflect on the improbability of the show’s existence. Poised to enter its third season as a modest hit, and riding a wave of critical admiration, the series has flourished amidst inhospitable conditions. A densely plotted serial belonging to the least popular of genres, the western, Deadwood owes as large a debt to high school civics class as it does to the shoot-out at the OK Corral. With its pug-face character actors, horseshit-speckled costumes, convoluted dialogue and the foulest disposition you’re likely to find outside of the local drunk tank, the show is what you’d charitably call “an acquired taste.”

What’s so remarkable about the show is not just way it’s forced an audience accustomed to spoon-feeding to surmount its own prejudices, but the fact that it continues to do so in astoundingly break-neck, Byzantine ways. While network mates (both deceased and soon to be) Carnivàle and The Sopranos leisurely genuflect over the comings and goings which shape the world around them, Deadwood lays down track scarcely before it rolls over it, leaving the flat footed choking on its dust. Like the mayfly, a season of Deadwood has a very short lifespan—typically a matter of weeks. But oh, the things it accomplishes in that time.