Comparing Different Mediums: "Not the Movies, but Real Theater" Response


This post is in response to an article that came out today in The New York Times by Neil Genzlinger. The article, titled "Not the Movies, but Real Theater," primarily covers Sunday's Tony awards, which I admittedly did not watch. Genzlinger opens with a sentiment about how many Americans simply don't care enough about the theatre. A good enough sentiment to be had if it weren't for his continued criticism of cinema to make his argument.

Early on in the article, he states:
But every so often — not often enough, frankly — the broadcast offered a subtext that was actually the opposite of, “Hey, we’re just like the movies.” From Mr. Jackman’s quad-straining opening number (weirdly, a homage to a scene from a film) viewers who were paying close enough attention could occasionally not help but acknowledge that live performance is hard work in a way that — sorry, Hollywood — movies aren’t.
Genzlinger doubles down on his condescending tone with:
Yeah, yeah, making a movie can be difficult-ish — long hours of hurry up and wait; call times at 4 a.m. But eight performances a week with no retakes beats that any day. It’s real, or as real as entertainment can get.
This second paragraph is the real irksome part of the article. Making a movie is not "difficult-ish" it is hard as fuck. His claim that live performance is hard in a way that movies aren't can easily be made inversely: a film is hard work in a way that theatre isn't. This is not to say that one is any more difficult than the other. These are two different artistic mediums and comparing them in such a way is an exercise in futility.

I donno, I bet Hugh Jackman finds it harder to act like the Wolverine than to sing and dance.

The language in this article basically states that the difficulty in film performance comes from having to wake up early and sit around a lot. The role of the film actor is one that is gravely misunderstood. Acting for film is the ability to understand a character so well, inside and out, that the performer is able to jump in at any moment and do a scene no matter where it lies in the story. Films are never shot in order. Theatre is told linearly, from beginning to end, each night. The actor's ability to depict a character's arc and know the proper emotions and actions at any given moment are what make a great film actor. Who's to say this is more or less difficult than a repeated, linear live performance? I suppose you'd have to ask the actor.

Suggesting that this type of performance can't be "real" is also a misrepresentation. Acting is the search for truth, regardless of the medium. The criticism here is weirdly targeted at the performers, but fails to mention the hundreds or even thousands of camera operators, production assistants, vfx artists, etc. working to make the unimaginable imaginable while maintaining these elements of truth. A certain excitement can only come from watching a live show, but a different excitement can come from watching a film. Both are fabricated to elicit certain emotional responses, but if it works it works. How real it actually is is almost irrelevant. These are different types of feelings created in different ways by many different people. Not to mention the fact that "Hollywood" is not synonymous with Cinema as "Broadway" is not synonymous with Theatre, but I won't get into that.

Cinema can sometimes be looked down upon as a lesser artistic venture. This is because it is arguably the people's medium. But just because movies are mass produced does not lessen their value. Not everyone can afford a ticket to see Bryan Cranston in All The Way, but they're more likely able to see him in Godzilla or Breaking Bad (man, Bryan Cranston is awesome).

Yes, more people should go to the theatre more often if they can, but they should also go to the movie theatre more often And they should also read more. And go to an art museum. And see a concert. Genzlinger states that the Tonys were best when they were true to themselves and not trying to be like the movies. I agree. An own art form is its own art form. So from an outside perspective looking in, I would advise Mr. Genzlinger to not build up one medium by tearing down another. I feel like many of the actors who attended last night's show who dabble in both the cinematic and theatrical arts, like Mr. Cranson, would likely agree. 

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