Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Writers sell words; actors sell a look -- and it's not unfair to mention this

Yahoo has a piece of commentary up with a cutesy-poo title "Jessica Alba Offends Screenwriters With Her Comments, General Attractiveness." Apparently, Ms. Alba, a female actor, made a remark about screenwriters that have offended some members of that particular profession.

The remark:
“Good actors, never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.”
Of course, the full interview has not yet been released. We have no idea of the context in which this statement was uttered. But it's difficult to imagine any context in which this statement makes any sense. Perhaps she is thinking of dialogue, and meant to say that good actors never the dialogue contained within a script, unless it's amazing writing. And if it's not "amazing" writing (which could mean anything -- perhaps the dialogue in a script feels "unnatural" to these actors; has Ms. Alba ever performed Shakespeare before?), then the actors substitute dialogue that feels more natural or comfortable to them.

Instead of "Why you gotta say something like that?," the actor might say, "Why did you just say that?" Because it feels more natural to them. "Why did you just say that?" would be considered "amazing" writing, in that case.

Anyway, Ms. Alba's comment caused some screenwriters to take notice. This is to be expected. The aforementioned Yahoo piece examines the controversy, and takes a subliterate stand in Ms. Alba's defense. As if the title wasn't enough to set your teeth on edge, the author gives some spastic reasoning in the very first paragraph:
Jessica Alba is pretty. Like many actors and actresses, her attractiveness has helped propel her stardom, but her pleasing physical features have brought with it a definite downside: People assume she's dumb.
First of all, the author states that "Jessica Alba is pretty," as if it's a fact, and not an opinion. She is a symmetrical, elegantly constructed young woman. But is she "pretty"? That is a matter of opinion.

The author then states that Ms. Alba has used her "attractiveness" (you will note that he did not say "prettiness," which means he is already backtracking) to propel her to stardom. (A person can be "attractive" without being "pretty." There are myriad reasons why someone might be "attracted" to another person, without their being "pretty." A person might have an attractive personality, or high spirits or attitude. Prettiness might have nothing to do with it, or it might have everything to do with it.)

But, the author is admitting, in the second sentence of his ridiculous piece, that actors use their "attractiveness" as a tool to achieve success -- and he implies that Ms. Alba's "attractiveness" is rooted in her "pleasing physical features."

Ms. Alba has used her "attractiveness," her "pleasing physical features" to achieve acting success movie stardom. To that I say, "Good for her. If you've got it, use it." But I also say if you use it, prepare to be criticized for it.

The author of the yahoo piece doesn't seem to think so. He seems to believe that mentioning that an actor who has used her looks to help her achieve success is pretty is wrong.
Listen, Alba's comment, if it is exactly what she meant, is really just silly. She makes disposable movies that aren't exactly known for their scintillating writing -- it's no great cinematic crime if all the actors in her films "say whatever they want to say." But to go after her for being pretty is just petty.
No, it is not "petty." It is perfectly reasonable to "go after" an actor for their "look." That is part of what an actor is selling. Check out the back of a headshot sometime. Talk to casting agent. An actor's "look" is among their most important, distinguishing features. There are thousands if not millions of people out there that can "act." What sets them apart is their look. Their "pleasing physical features."

The yahoo author cites a few examples of screenwriters going after Ms. Alba for being "pretty":
[I]t's funny how other writers, in defending their craft, enjoyed taking potshots at Alba -- specifically the fact that because she's attractive, she must be an idiot.

"I would love to see Jessica Alba join the improv workshop I attend," wrote veteran TV writer Ken Levine. "She might find that creating a character, moving a story forward, and holding her own with other gifted actors without a script requires more than nice $#@!." Following along in that line of thinking, married writers Michael Seitzman and Ellen Rapoport decided to mock her alleged stupidity by juxtaposing random quotes from Alba's interviews and tweets with classic lines from famous movies. The name of the article? "Jessica Alba: From the Mouths of Boobs."

It's no surprise why screenwriters would be offended: Theirs is a profession that's not much understood or respected by even those in the business, and having someone high-profile like Alba dis them sure doesn't help the cause. But it's worth noting that these writers' way of hitting back is to say, essentially, "You're pretty, you don't know anything, shut up."
No, "You're pretty, you don't know anything, shut up" is not their way of "hitting back." It is their way of pointing out something that the author of the yahoo piece acknowledged in the second sentence of this nonsense. The writers are merely pointing out that Ms. Alba has used her "pleasing physical features" as a tool to become a movie star. That tool says absolutely nothing about her as a person, nor does it say anything about her talent as an actor. But it is something she has used to achieve her success.

Being a movie star is more than just acting. One sells one's look. Check out the photo that accompanied the quote on the Elle website:

She is using those "pleasing physical features" to promote herself. How many other actresses get flattering Elle layouts? Not many. And this isn't the first time she's used her "pleasing physical features" as a tool in her quest for movie stardom.

For crying out loud, that was one of thousands of photos of Ms. Alba that I found on google images. And it's unfair to mention Ms Alba's looks?

She is the one who started the whole thing.

Moreover, you will note that the writers are uniformly complimentary in their mentioning of her looks. This must be of particular comfort to Ms. Alba because, as I've already mentioned in this post, they are an important part of her overall career success and, as she herself mentioned in reference to her CGI nude scene cheating,
'I think I was always very uncomfortable about the way my body developed, and I remember my grandmother would freak out and throw a towel over me if she saw me wearing just a bra and panties.

'I come from a very Catholic family so it wasn't seen as a good thing to flaunt yourself like that. I can handle being sexy with clothes on but not with them off.'
Ms. Alba has been uncomfortable with her looks. Here the writers are telling her, "Hey, you look pretty good. You've got that part covered. Concentrate on some other things."

As for the yahoo writer's assertion that the screenwriters are accusing Ms. Alba of "being an idiot" (that is the yahoo writer's word, by the way) because she's attractive -- it's difficult to take that seriously. She is being criticized for what she has said in interviews.

Is the yahoo writer saying that her words are off limits as well? That any criticism of a woman with "pleasing physical features" is automatically "attractiveist" (I'm not sure if that's even a word)?

In her Elle quote, Ms. Alba offered an implied criticism of  the screenwriters who have worked on her films. She criticized them for their not-so-amazing writing. Fine. She is perfectly within her rights to criticize them; their writing is what they sell. But the writers are perfectly within their rights to mention that Ms. Alba has used her looks to get ahead in a very difficult business -- like the words the writers sell, Ms. Alba's looks are just one of her tools.

Besides, the "criticisms" offered by the screenwriters are so tame as to be compliments, especially when compared to, say, critic John Simon's notorious criticism of Liza Minnelli:
"I always thought Miss Minnelli's face deserving—of first prize in the beagle category. It is a face going off in three directions simultaneously: the nose always en route to becoming a trunk, blubber lips unable to resist the pull of gravity, and a chin trying its damnedest to withdraw into the neck."

Jessica Alba posed nude on a bed pic source.