10 January 2017

"Then you didn't make an apple pie, Viola": Davis and Streep, Scanning

She is an observer and a thief. 
Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone.

If you didn't see Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes this year, or Viola Davis' introduction, the whole thing is interesting.

I actually enjoyed Davis' intro more—not for lack of worth with respect to what Streep had to say, which was very important—but for the respect of artistry: artist to artist, talking.

Streep nods as Davis talks, but she knows the camera is on her, so... is she acting, or agreeing? Or both? Or neither? I don't worry about these things too much, because I am certain all the answers are correct. Even "neither, " as that non-singular answer.

As a writer—as a person who writes things down—I am fascinated by the conversation of professional actors about their art, because I am always searching for others' insight into character. 

And the best of actors are circumspect—I'm talking to you Colleen Dewhurst—and even though they are always "lying," they are always telling the truth. They are always, the best of them, telling the truth, but someone else's truth. As Lacan said, in the context of the unconscious, "I always tell the truth, I just can't tell all of it"—one of the things he was saying was that even when we are lying—because we are hiding the truth under the lie—we are always telling the truth. As Streep said to James Lipton, she believes her job is "to make a soul" come into being—I didn't believe her then, but now I think she probably does try to do that. Listen to Davis' speech. The best of actors are circumspect, but when you catch them, they can teach you shit. A lot.

She stares. That's the first thing you notice about her. She tilts her head back with that sly, suspicious smile and she stares for a long time. And you think, "Do I have something in my teeth, or does she want to kick my ass?" Which is not going to happen. 
And then she'll ask questions.
"What did you do last night, Viola?" 
Oh, I cooked an apple pie. 
"Did you use Pippin apples?" 
No, I didn't use Pippin apples. What the hell are Pippin apples? I used Granny Smith apples!
"Ohh. Did you make your own crust?" 
No, I used store bought crust, that's what I did. 
"Then you didn't make an apple pie, Viola." 
Well, that's because I spent all my time making my collard greens. I make the best collard greens. I use smoked turkey, chicken broth, and my special barbecue sauce. Silence. I shut her down. 
"Well. They don't taste right, unless you use ham hocks. If you don't use ham hocks. it doesn't taste the same. So! How's the family?"
And as she continues to stare, you realize that she sees you. And that, like a high-powered scanning machine, she is recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She reveals what she has stolen, on that sacred place, which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep.
Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone. I can only imagine where you go, Meryl, when you disappear into a character. 
I imagine that you are in them, patiently waiting. Using yourself as a conduit. Encouraging them. Coaxing them. To release all their mess. Confess. Expose. To live. You are a Muse. Your impact encouraged me to stay in the line, Dame Streep. I see you. I see you.
And you know, all those rainy days we spent on the set of Doubt, every day my husband would call me at night and say, "Did you tell her how much she means to you?" and I would say, Nah, I can't say anything, Julius. I'm just nervous, All I do is stare at her, all the time. And he said "Well you need to say something, you been waiting all your life to work with this woman, say something." I said Julius, I'll do it tomorrow. "OK, well you better do it tomorrow because when I get there, I'm gonna say something." 
Never said anything. But I'mma say it, now. 
You make me proud to be an artist. You make me feel. That what I have in me: My body. My face. My age. Is enough. 
You encapsulate that great, Emile Zola quote that, if you ask me, as an artist, what I came into this world to do, I, as an artist, would say: "I came to live out loud."

And now for the video.

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