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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: August ::
Re: Barrymore
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0860.  Tuesday, 19 August 1997.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Aug 1997 17:52:16 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 8.0855  Re: Barrymore

[2]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Aug 1997 20:10:20 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Tremolo and Vibrato


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Aug 1997 17:52:16 +0100
Subject: Re: Barrymore
Comment:        SHK 8.0855  Re: Barrymore

I am entirely sympathetic to (what is becoming) the two sides of the
vintage audio performance debate.  Without really meaning to be overly
Hegelian, both have a point.

Performance style changes.  Each generation of actors believes it is
holding the mirror up to nature.  Subsequent generations, looking back,
usually find vintage performances hammy.  John Owen's most recent
comments show a lot of sensitivity, cutting through current expectations
to find what worked in performances by both Meredith and Booth.

I am quite sympathetic to those who want to view Barrymore's
performances in context and give him all the breaks.  I find his filmed
scene from Henry VI, 3 hammy, but nonetheless stunning.  The set is
amazing.  His Hamlet screen tests are another matter.  One speech works,
kind of, and his is completely lost in the other.  By this year in his
life, he was wrong for Hamlet, on film at any rate.  He was too old, too
boozy, and lacked that unjaded quality.  Imagine him objecting to
Claudius' drinking?  It should have brought gales of laughter.

After a certain point in his career, Barrymore was so full of alcohol
and self loathing that he seldom gave a decent performance, coasting on
his reputation.  Eventually even that didn't help.  It is sad.  To my
ear, his LPs sound like Barrymore being a self-consciously great
ACT-TOR.  I don't hear Shakespeare, I hear Barrymore leaving the
speeches in tatters.

Yes, one should be fair to older styles of acting, but if John Barrymore
gives a performance that is self-absorbed, hammy, and slurred because he
was under the influence, it is fair to call him on it.  If that same
performance works for you, I won't understand it, but I would never
argue that it doesn't.  You are in the best position to know what works
for you, just as I am in the best position to know what doesn't work for
me.

Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Aug 1997 20:10:20 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Tremolo and Vibrato

With regard to Booth, there is an old cylinder recording of him as
Othello which indicates that he didn't use vibrato and tremolo, it's my
understanding that his was a more natural, self-effacing delivery in
some of the more heroic roles, to the degree that some couldn't hear him
well.

This is based on what I could gather from the "Great Shakespearians"
recording which is now available, featuring many of those named by Harry
Hill.

Andy White
 

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