Monday, September 29, 2008

A great loss - Paul Newman, 1925-2008

I was away this weekend at a Notre Dame football game, so forgive the tardiness of this post...

This blog is supposed to be for all things Boston (and sports-related), but I'd be remiss in not posting about the passing of one of the greatest American movie stars of the 20th century, and - arguably - the greatest actor of his (or any other) generation. I'm talking, of course, about the great Paul Newman, who died over the weekend at 83 years old.

I can remember my parents watching both "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting" with me at an early age and the way they reacted to Newman and Robert Redford in the title roles of these two films. It was the first lesson in a lifetime of understanding the true, transformative power of performance... in Newman's hands, the seemingly most stock roles (outlaw cowboy, con man, pool hustler, race car driver, etc.) became so much more layered and complex, so much more REAL, than they may have appeared.

As a kid who would grow up to be a part-time actor, it was an inspiration to watch an actor appear to shed the trappings of technique and artifice and just BE a character. As I grew older and discovered more of Newman's work - "The Hustler," "The Color of Money," "Cool Hand Luke," "Nobody's Fool," and many more - my appreciation for his work grew. I began to understand that the term "screen idol" is not one that is based on glamour or "heat," but on the performance. Today's "great actors" seem to be so focused on blowing us away with all their technique - facial tics, weight gain, etc. - and miss the very essence of acting: becoming the character. Newman understood that and never forgot it.

My most favorite performances of his were "Nobody's Fool," "Road to Perdition," and "The Color of Money." In those films, all wildly different in their story and style, you could see portraits of men who, for a variety of reasons - unfaithfulness, a criminal past, lifetime of loss - all come to realize the weight and price of their mistakes, and must reckon with the cost of those mistakes, with wildly different outcomes. The regret and sadness, never overplayed, always subtle, plays around and sometimes in the frames of Newman's portrayal, but is never the focus of the scene.

I could write more about his style, his charity work (over $200 million raised by his Newman's Own food products), his humility, and more, but to make such a fuss would miss the very basic essence of the man.

I'll simply say this: Watch his films, observe the ease in which he inhabits and becomes his characters, and marvel at how simple it all seems. Then realize what you're watching is the goal of every actor - to become the character. And realize that, with his passing, a great actor and good man has left us, leaving behind a lifetime of work that is a master class on how to become a legend.

Some clips:
"Road to Perdition" -
"Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid" -
"The Hustler" -

1 comment:

Brandeniro said...

Hey bud, great blog post. Your attention to post this and celebrate such a great actor and an even greater human being should be celebrated far more often with much more respect than is often given.