Self Made Review

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A genuinely moving and interesting documentary intelligently realised.

In William Goldman’s classic 'Adventures in the Screen Trade', he recounts an anecdote from the filming of Marathon Man. In preparation for the infamous torture scene, Dustin Hoffman decided to stay up for 24 hours to achieve a suitably ragged and exhausted look. As they prepared to shoot, Laurence Olivier looked at his strung out co-star and said: "Why don’t you try acting dear boy?"

The above anecdote shows that whilst those who study ‘The Method’ have been responsible for some of the greatest cinematic performances of all time, method acting is often seen as a somewhat excessive and vaguely pretentious way in which to pretend to be somebody else. But Gillian Wearing’s fascinating documentary brings the technique away from the rarefied atmosphere of the theatre workshop and applies it to seven ordinary people.

After replying to an advert, seven members of the public find themselves under the tutelage of method acting teacher Sam Rumbelow. Their stories are varied: there’s Dave, the loner who’s decided upon the exact date of his death. There’s Lian, the bubbly girl who hides resentment at her father’s constant rejection. In a series of workshops, Rumbelow works to access the deep seated emotions of the volunteers and channel them into performance. As the group works towards to filming individual scenes they begin to discover new things about themselves and find that the method may be a lot more than acting.

In some ways this is a cousin to recent Britdoc The Arbor as it examines the cracks between fantasy and reality. As we follow the workshop sessions, we wonder just how much people are actually ‘acting’ and how much they are letting loose with their real emotions. It’s riveting yet sometimes disturbing as people access some of their darkest fears and are put through the emotional wringer.

There are times when you do wonder what all this is achieving (though some of the participants’ accounts made after their ‘scenes’ are filmed do speak of the process having an impact on their everyday lives) but this is still an intelligent and often affecting look at a misunderstood process.

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