Tuesday, December 22, 2009

They Might Have Mimed

I argue for the timelessness of silent films, and the eternal power of great acting. So who, among the bright lights of modern stardom, could have made it in the Silent Days? They Might Have Mimed will be a continuing feature in which I try to answer this question. Also, it’s fun; so I’ll be updating this list as often as I’m inspired to do it. I love movies of all periods, including the current one, and today’s actors, I believe, are as good as any. Nevertheless, my first choice may surprise you.

#1: Hayden Panettiere

Hayden Panettiere (born 1989) is building a successful career for herself, including a recent starring role in I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009). She’s been an actor for most of her life, beginning with a multi-year run on the soap opera, One Life to Live. She’s appeared on several other television shows, voiced a video game character, and produced some pretty good Internet clips on funnyordie.com. What she hasn’t done (yet) is deliver a breakout, mature performance in a major, mainstream comedy or drama. But she’s awfully young, and her best years are very likely ahead of her.

Panettiere might have done just as well if born 89 years earlier. Why could she have succeeded in silent films? Her beauty, for one thing. The actress is fresh-faced and gorgeous, and can strike a pose. More than that, though, is her ability to project not only different moods with her poses, but almost different identities.

Girlish, sexy, wicked, sweet, powerful, vulnerable, etc. It’s not so easy to do this; like many silent actresses, Panettiere seems capable of embodying several different values or archetypes, and can look convincingly older and younger than her twenty years; she doesn't always let her looks dictate what she can be. While her roles have, thus far, traded on those looks, the photography suggests greater potential. Consider the silent director’s willingness to shoot long takes, focusing on the actors’ faces and allowing their screen presences alone to dictate the action. Panetierre can say a lot without words; without, it seems, doing much more than standing still. She’d have made it big in 1919, just as easily as 2009.

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