DVD: “Hello Actors Studio”, a look back at an intellectual and collective epic

DVD: “Hello Actors Studio”, a look back at an intellectual and collective epic


It is difficult, even today, to evoke a great performance by an American actor without invoking the “method” and the Actors Studio: two terms which, since the 1960s, have been like the alpha and omega of American drama. It’s Charlize Theron, unrecognizable in Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003); Leonardo DiCaprio grimacing like Marlon Brando from The Godfather in Scorsese’s latest, Killers of the Flower Moon ; Christian Bale losing twenty kilos or gaining thirty for his next shoot; and the countless legends surrounding Daniel Day-Lewis preparing for a role as one prepares for a priest. Actors Studio performance has dissolved in a bath of excess, inaccuracies and mystifications, transforming every actor into an athlete of his discipline, obliged to outbid each new role – sometimes for the better, often for the worse.

But before being a breeding ground for prowess subscribed to the Oscars, the Actors Studio was a fascinating intellectual and collective epic: this is what a documentary dated 1987 is responsible for reminding us. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the drama school, French documentary filmmaker Annie Tresgot was able to enter the venerable institution founded in 1947 in New York by the Group Theater, an avant-garde movement headed by guru Lee Strasberg. Their mission was to disseminate the dramatic art as taught by their master, the Russian director and theoretician Constantin Stanislavski.

Annie Tresgot will draw from her Hello Actors Studio visit, three hours divided into three episodes which have the merit of avoiding major theories to film in the present, moving from administration to classrooms, collecting testimonies from its greatest figures: its artistic director and pillar Ellen Burstyn, one of its founders, Elia Kazan, as well as actors and directors such as Paul Newman, Sydney Pollack, Eli Wallach, Shelley Winters… So many stars who once again become, for the occasion, the workers of an ideal of collective work and transmission.

“Have the right to be bad”

Annie Tresgot circulates between the deans and the newcomers, slips into the heart of the reactor, on stage, where students rehearse before the scrutinizing eye of their teacher. If we are sometimes struck by the mediocrity of performance, it is another feeling that quickly takes over: the impression of being in front of a laboratory where failures turn out to be an obligatory step in the process. “The Studio is this place where I was allowed to be bad, otherwise it would have taken me eight or ten more years to become the actor that I am,” says actor Rod Steiger; Eli Wallach adds: “A visitor would find the repetitions lamentable, you should not see that. »

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