Friday, November 17, 2006

Acting through the ages

This was written at the height of a promise that seemed at the time so apparent, so believable. Who could have foretold the tragedy to follow, the anguish to come? Now, despite the blessing of hindsight, we are still left with questions that hang heavy in the sullen air.

Perhaps a nation wanted so much to believe? Perhaps we positioned the blinders on our own eyes? Perhaps we thought everything could be done for us and we didn't need to lift a finger? Perhaps we even really wanted to claim our own Lee Kuan Yew?

"Impressions," TV Times, 14-20 May 1978


The game, President Marcos has effectively shown, is oneupmanship. Not in all his local appearances, both personal and on television, has the president shown as much control of the situation, as much power and confidence, as in the series of presidential appearances covered by television in the three days of the Mondale visit. In the eloquence of his speeches, in the formality and dignity with which he carried out his ceremonial duties, in the controlled anger with which he palmed down the impertinence of foreign newsmen, there was always evident--as a friend said--every inch of a man to power born. Beside him, US Vice President Walter Mondale looked a pale American, devoid of the Marcos flair.

The president's expertise was never more evident than during the press conference he gave for foreign newsmen attached to the Mondale retinue. There was friction there, even outright conflict. And the president showed himself master of the situation and master of the tube. Here was no waffling, indecisive, cowering president. And here, we told ourselves, was a moment of high drama. It was awkward and forced in spots, electric, filled with the almost certain prospect of disaster.

Television fortunately caught the atmosphere with electronic sensitivity. As the cameras revealed glancing, oblique details in beautiful semi-extreme close-ups--a man's pursed lips, a woman's charmed smile, a meaningful exchange of looks, a technician's seeming unconcern, a swift pen recording everything, and through it all, the president's gravelly voice--one is left with a definite sense of having lived through a brief moment of glorious history. Which, perhaps, in our continuing search for a modus vivendi that would guide our relationship with the rest of the world, it really has been.


This seems to be the season of the old reliables, late-blooming though they may be, on local television.

There is dear old Ben Cartwright, formerly of the Ponderosa empire, hamming it up now and as seriously as ever, in the new crime/drama series, Griff. Those who still long for the pioneering roughness of Bonanza will find in Griff a brief palliative. Brief, because the show did not last long in the United States. And brief, too, because Griff is not made of the same stuff as Bonanza. It is, in fact, bound to get lost among all the other crime/drama series. Bonanza, if you remember, was an original. And not even Lorne Greene's nostalgic past as Ben Cartwright can make up for what Griff lacks in freshness.

If you prefer the medical dramas, there is Patrick McGoohan gruffing it up in the sick room and outside as Rafferty, supposedly the unconventional doctor. Now, we've got a soft spot for McGoohan. He reminds us of our old college professor, or at least, of how an old and venerable college professor should look. He also reminds us a little of David Janssen of Harry-O, another old reliable. And of Quincy, too, in Quincy, M.E.

A couple of decades after these men made racy copy and thrilled a considerable number of movie fans, how do they look? They probably make very little--much less the racy kind of--copy these days. But as heroes in a television series--white hair, bulging middles, stooped shoulders, florid skin--they give us a continuously renewed assurance that the world is fair and just and that aging men can also be heroes.

Sometimes, though, watching them go through stories that must have been written by much younger men, some collective memory whispers that all the motions, all the paces of their weekly grind, are too familiar, that we have experienced them and seen them before, and that the roles, or they themselves, have come a little too late.

By now, the gut feeling niggles and nibbles, whispering that these men should have reached other passages in their lives, should have graduated to other concerns. It grates a little, seeing aging men still frenziedly looking for clues to their inner selves in the sometimes warped and always wearying codes of television's egoistic subtribes.

But we are perhaps much too strict with them. Actors, the cliché goes, must remain actors, acting is in their blood, or some such stuff. And not all aging men can be a magnificently dramatic Sir Laurence Olivier, or even a permanently thirsty Richard Burton. Besides, Carol Burnett is aging a little, too. And we all love her, don't we?

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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