It's been told that Marilyn Monroe could go unnoticed a party but put her in front of a camera and something happened. You couldn't take your eyes off her.
Presence is one of those things that you can't really define, either it's there or it's not Cary Grant had it both on and off the screen, when he walked into a room, everyone turned around.
Last night I watched an old western with Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin and a load of character actors that filled the screen. Stewart and Martin had presence, but so did the supporting cast including George Kennedy and regulars like Dub Taylor, Andrew Prine, Will Geer and Denver Pyle. Did I mention Raquel Welch? Even she had my attention. Forget Reese Witherspoon, give me a real woman like Raquel.
The story was a classic chase plot, but shot on great locations and with a cast like that, I didn't speed my TiVo at all. Which I do with a lot of movies now. But it wasn't the story that kept me interested. It was the actors.
You watched them.
They had presence, they looked like they had lived life, not growing up in the suburbs and hanging out at the mall.
I also watched the new Hawaii 5-0 finally, or at least 10 minutes of it. The lead actor is completely devoid of any presence at all, given that the original actor Jack Lord, just oozed presence. And he looked like a tough guy. The new version has Scott Caan, son of James Caan, who's left to offer some presence. He's not as good as his old man, but he tries his best and manages a bit of presence.
There's a lot of complaints about actors under 40, mostly that they don't seem to have much presence. One of the reasons is that the studio system has been gone for over 40 years. Studios carefully picked who would be a star, and it wasn't always because of talent. They would shoot tests of every kind until they found that actor who stood out on film.
Consider that today many actors have very little training and often none, given these reality shows. There are exceptions; Matt Damon has it, Ben Affleck doesn't. I don't get Ryan Gosling at all, and Edward Norton and a dozen others. They all look the same, "the little lesbians" as a feminist quoted a few years ago.
Now consider this; the studios are re-doing every movie older than 10 years ago in the hopes that lightning can strike again. The Fog came and went, so did Captain America and the Green Hornet, and I still didn't understand The Green Lantern with another actor, Ryan Reynolds who has the presence of a wall.
George Clooney has presence on screen and off, I saw him once briefly and you can't help but look at him. But he's 50. Johnny Depp is one of those inbetween guys, but he still looks like a kid. And I still think Leonardo looks like he's dressed in his dad's clothes.
So let's assume that there aren't any great actors anymore, just mediocre ones. The studios are redoing old movies so what is next?
What about putting an old face on a new body?
If you remember Brad Pitt in the movie Benjamin Button, you'd remember how he aged from baby to old man. It worked well.
So what if you could create Jimmy Stewart again, or Cary Grant or even Bogart. After all they were "stars" in the true description. What if you just added Bogart's face. Or Marilyn's?
Al Pacino starred in a movie called Simone, about a digitally created woman who rebels against her creator.
A week ago a friend of mine said that he knew an actor who was called to a studio for some tests. They were "tests" being made by two of the biggest directors in Hollywood. That's all he would say. Sort of. He couldn't say anymore except that it could change the business.
What if they created the old actors again with the amazing technology from Avatar, we could have movies again featuring a young Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Joan Crawford and of course... Marilyn. Maybe she gets to finish her last movie after all. Imagine Sean Connery's young face on the next James Bond film.
Think it's crazy?
Those avatars looked pretty damn good. And that was almost 3 years ago. Imagine what they can do now. Or tomorrow?
Why do you think the Screen Actor's Guild wasn't happy with Avatar?
At least they can't create a software that can write screenplays.
Or can they?