Sunday, September 28, 2008

Death - The Final Role

Like most people around the world, I read about the death of Paul Newman yesterday with a degree of sadness. In an age when 'personalities' with only a fraction of his talent can get hours of air time on tv and thousands of words in newspapers and magazines, Paul Newman was different class.

The tributes from those who knew him best are coming in thick and fast and as I didn't know him at all, I can only add that I feel the same way I do when any legend of stage and screen passes away. If they've played strong memorable roles that made an impression on me, I feel worse.  I remember the roles and how I felt at the time and somehow feel that I knew the person a little, but of course I don't.  A great actor does that to you.  You sometimes feel you know them when all you know is the character they played, and even then, only for a few fleeting moments. But what they did, their acting, can affect the way we feel about them, and our own lives.

           ***************** ER SPOILER ALERT *********************

Then last night I watched the first episode of the new series of ER.  The cliffhanger storyline from last season was that an ambulance had blown up and as well as not knowing which of the cast was inside it, another cast member had been walking past it at the time.  So several main cast members could have been seriously injured or killed - or none at all.  It was a great cliffhanger and must've helped with the process of contract negotiations during the summer break.  

"Oh you want more money, do you ?  Well it seems you WERE in the ambulance after all.  Go figure"

I won't name names but as the show developed, it became clear that one of the lead actors HAD been seriously injured in the blast (what caused the explosion was never explained and was obviously of no importance) and in time honoured fashion, his eventual death was still a surprise as it had initially seemed that his injuries hadn't been life threatening.  

ER does that very well.  Better than any other drama series in fact.  With a combination of great acting, strong storylines and fantastically emotive music, it often takes the viewer on a journey. The journey I went on yesterday had me in tears.  I admit it.  As the group of characters I felt I knew so well collected around the death bed, I was a mess.  Suddenly I was standing in a hospital ward beside my fathers body. Then, more recently, I was holding my mothers hand as she passed away. The tears hurt. The memories hurt.

I told myself it wasn't real.  It was acting.  No one was dying.  But as often happens, it was too late.  I'd given myself to the story.  The music had got to me again.  

And so an actor playing a role that I was watching on a laptop screen had reduced me to tears and brought back memories that I'd not recalled for some time. Yet the death of a real actor had barely affected me at all.  A decent, humanitarian man who will be missed by his many friends and family.

The famous monologue from Shakespeare's As You Like It sums it up best......................

All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.

I'd never rate an actor in ER over Paul Newman but as can happen, we can all be affected by people and events depending on our situation at the time. Hearing about a real person dying is always sad but the acted death of a tv drama cast member can affect us much more if the scenes trigger personal memories that will remain powerful and emotive as long as we live.

Rest In Peace, Paul.


rhymeswithplague said...

I wonder if the reason a drama can affect us so much isn't that we know deep down in our subconscious that it's only acting and so we can suspend disbelief and get caught up in something that, however sad or depressing or horrible, is "just a story." We then give in easier to emotions that we often try to suppress in real life when we attempt to stay stoic, keep a stiff upper lip, control ourselves, and so forth.

Good post. Mrs. Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, grew up in Marietta, Georgia, where I lived for 28 years before moving to Cherokee County five years ago. The Newmans made a large contribution this past year to a fund to restore the old Strand Theater in Marietta.

Daphne said...

All good drama should "take you there" and this clearly was, and did. Your post did the same thing - made me laugh, made me cry: thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Daphne that your post caught my tears as well. One of your better posts.

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