Sunday, February 17, 2008

Casting: 1 in 2 or 2 in 1?

Talking about casting, we are quite familiar with the situation of 1 in 2, that is, one actor playing two (or more) characters in a movie. However, the reverse situation 2 in 1 (two or more actors playing one character) seems rather unfamiliar to us. I think the reason lies in our approval of the unique identity of each individual. Thus any multi-representation of one individual can be confusing.

When watching Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (2007) three months ago, I thought to myself: wow, it’s so original by having six actors including a female to play Bob Dylan but all with different names. This unconventional story-telling technique is well justified by Dylan’s disconnected stages of life and constantly changing inner state. Compared with a literally realistic biography, this seemingly chaotic and f
ragmented portrait of Dylan is even more powerful and comprehensive.

Two days ago I watched Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) and realized this 2 in 1 casting was already exercised 30 years before Todd Haynes. In this Buñuel film, two actresses played the same character Conchita in alternate appearances. According to an interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere on Criterion DVD, Buñuel had this idea before shooting the movie, but gave it up when he really started. Yet the performance of one actress didn’t satisfy him, he finally went back to his original idea of using two actresses. As a result, Conchita’s capricious and obscure attitude and behavior is more effectively captured. I also get the sense that conceptually Conchita is not real, she only exists as a projection of the male character’s desire which is obscure in itself.

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