Monday, February 14, 2011

Parsing the Pandering: PR As Performance Art

Yo! So how's it going for you Mr Armitage?  Are you any further away from having to please your fans? Well, maybe now not your fans, per se, but fans nevertheless? A rather rich irony, indeed.

Exhibit A: "The Hobbit" press conference, designed to please. I confess I haven't watched the entire conference, only the bits with the Armitage.  And those bits, I understand, slayed some of the doubting and passionate Tolkien admirers.  To wit:
Richard Armitage (Thorin) spoke surprisingly little, but when he did he had a notably deep voice, exactly right for Thorin, and real gravitas. He walked into the conference with a kind of testosterone charged lope. I don’t think he’ll have any trouble holding the audience’s attention.
Some savage breasts have been soothed a little.  Respective upholders breathed a sigh of relief.  Who ever knew that simply getting a film realised takes so much outreach and needs so much approbation in its process these days?  I surely didn't.

I felt quite alienated by the Armitage's performance at the conference, because it hit every perfect note and point.  It was a revelation in its canniness and intelligence.  It was not so much a manipulation as an attempt to allay the fears of the Lord of the Rings/Tolkien fans out there.

If the Armitage strode in with a "testosterone charged lope", it certainly wasn't RA's but it does feed into the film stereotype.  Dare I say then, it was acTing?

And what about his answers at that press conclave (provided by the wonderful and exceptionally generous bccmee in her video and transcription of the Armitage's replies)?  I think a lot of it is self-explanatory.
Reporter: Can you tell us about yourself?
Richard Armitage: Me as a person? Would you like to be a little more specific? I’ve got 40 years to talk about. (Yeah, I'm older and more mature than I look.)

Reporter: Why do you want to play this role?
Richard Armitage: I just think it’s just a really amazing opportunity to take a character from a book that I was brought to as a child. I mean my first experience onstage was in a production of The Hobbit. (Sentimentality, nostalgia, he grew up with the book in a visceral way, just like the fans; he is a fan and he "gets" it, just like the rest of us).

....Richard Armitage: ....So it’s kind of been in my childhood very prominently so to come to it as an adult, a middle-aged man, and have another look at it is a brilliant opportunity. (I can act 'old'.  Really!)
Various reports from fans of all stripes mention his regal quietness, his dignity, his  "gravitas", his presence.  He was an unassuming presence far different from the chattering masses. And most importantly, fans were blown away by The Voice- a deep, gravelly voice.  As if this mellifluous meister speaks like this all the time.  No, he doesn't.

He also wore a youngish and trendy cool G Star black shirt whose short sleeves just happened to cut across his rather mountainous biceps, and his beard emphasised the chubby cheeked broadness and stockiness of the dwarvian race, I imagine. Even the haircut was rather butch, its colour and the beard's warm and sympathetic.

And he seems to have passed that audition.

I rest my case.

Still, in a round about way he did save the day for the organic, for the actor's craft, beyond artifice and I love him for it:

Reporter: Richard, you mentioned about papier mache Gollum. Are you looking forward to acting against green screens?
Richard Armitage: .... But also I think with this film in particular there’s enough creative genius in terms of the art department and the technological department but at the same time I think we’re going to get out there in nature and really experience this possibly more so than a purely technical film which is really exciting. It’s a good marriage of both I think. (I'm not crazy about the green screen but I can live with it.)

The Armitage 'loped' en scène, found his mark, and basically projected what Tolkien fans needed to see and hear.  Kudos to him.  I'm not really thrilled about it because I had hoped to still see and hear his old endearing and stimulating self but I am not sure when that, if ever, is going to happen.  Well, it's a whole new ball game and I am not surprised he is up to the challenge.  It's still a scrabble for him, though, isn't it?

In stark contrast, Martin Freeman, simply by virtue of his Hobbit-like look, in my opinion, can unleash a million "f" words into the mix, all the while being himself, and walk away with a stamp of tacit approval which was there even before he took the stage. 

Irony of ironies: the Armitage's desire was to not get trapped into pleasing his fans, because there lies futility.  He is not wrong.  Yet, he steps upon the stage, pandering to the Tolkien crowd, aiming to please.

Or perhaps, more importantly, to win the Tolkien crowd over with his pleasing.  Perhaps that is the difference, between his approach to his very own fans, and other fans out there.  Where is the challenge now, perhaps, in love that is not hard won?


  1. You need to be more direct and tell how you really feel. ;-)

    Okay, seriously, I don't think all of his speaking at the press conference was acting, but I have to hand it to him for basically doing an end run on the Tolkien fans who've complained about him. Not sure I would call it pandering, and c'mon, pi, you weren't affected positively by any of that? Well, I guess I was. LOL! He played a sexy beast, and I saw a sexy beast. Head's still spinning from that.

    I've said this more than once, but I don't mind manipulation when it feels good. :D

  2. @Frenz,

    I guess your notion of a sexy beast and mine differ. Fair enough. Maybe its that Alpha male draw. I don't think most people would disagree with you. But I do, in the sense, I do believe a sexy beast in the eye of the beholder.

    Yeah, it was an end run! And a great one!

    I was just pointing out the artifice and wondering about intent. As for pandering, I guess it depends on what constitutes weakness in the target. I admit it may not be the most appropriate word, Maybe. Frankly,that is the way I operate, too, giving the people what they want in the concrete world. But it doesn't mean it's even a molecule of myself.

    And no, I wasn't really affected positively by any of it other than A) he appeared; B) he said what he thought in a round about way about the nature of film- how the natural was important. Oh, and yay again for being there! :)

    It was, all told, a performance, though.

  3. @Frenz,

    I got so distracted by your distractions that I forgot to ask you about the last paragraph, especially the last sentence, which to me, is way more interesting than whether he was a sexy beast or not. Ha!

  4. Aren't all actors, to a greater or lesser extent, whores and mountebanks? Discuss.

  5. @pi, Oh, I have lots of thoughts on that last paragraph. Not sure I'll post all of them, but let me think of how best to respond, i.e., take the high road. LOL!

  6. I sent you a note, as you probably know by now, but I also said something in my latest post near the end. I'll write more about this later, but then that was always the plan. :D

  7. Mr. Armitage is rather a canny lad, do you think? He's learned a bit about interviews and presentation over the years. It is only my impression (not likely to become acquainted personally), however he seems perfectly intelligent and intuitive. He seems to know how to "suss out" the audience. No bad thing. Helps toward career development.


  8. @fitzg,

    I can't disagree. Because the Tolkien fans matter.

    @Anonymous, 12.32 am

    Well, that' s not much of an opinion. William Holden thought actors were whores. I don't know what the answer is. Perhaps it not the right question to ask (although I imagine you were being flippant.)


    The battle of the beards and beasts may continue during FanstRAvaganza ;).

  9. Pi, great entry! Definitely thought provoking!

    I am irritated that Mr. A needs to win over Tolkien fans...isn't the audition over already? You did a great comparison between Mr. A and MF. Why is it that MF can say anything and it's okay? Didn't JN say to MF "you've got the part already" when MF started complimenting PJ? Well, the same should be thought of for Mr. A, or anyone else sitting on that stage for that matter.

    And what's up with him calling himself middle-aged? He's been calling himself 40 since before his last birthday, when he only turned 39 last year if I'm not mistaken. And he's still only 39, right? He's like a little kid who can't wait to grow up, LOL!

  10. No doubt the Tolkies have significance as a big part of the viewing audience. It's a big-budget film. Everyone involved in production is a major stakeholder. Peter Jackson and all the cast, in particular. If the Tolkies say Bah Humbug to the casting and decide to stay away, quite a bit of cash will be unrealised. That cash success can fuel future productions/casting/diverse employment.

    "Art" has always required support. Van Gogh represents the "starving in a garret" artist opposite. (and he hadn't the happiest of lives).

    Performance art is somewhat ephemeral. This is, more than ever, an age of publicity. Great films will live on, thanks to technology.

    However, for one, I'd like to see that very good producers, directors, actors and talented crews continue to produce that of which they are capable. Not that some struggle and roadblocks aren't fuel too.

    btw, the above is purely personal opinion, and the point of these blogs is the different perspectives brought to the discourse. Above opinions are neither didacticly intended, nor cast in stone. There's always room for modification and a broader perspective.

    Yeesh, hope I've properly proof-read my comments...

    Cheers all,and feel free to take me to task :)


  11. @twinklingmoon,

    YES, isn't his audition over already?? Martin Freeman got to be himself, so why not the Armitage? I also do find it ironic that the guy who fears falling into the trap of trying to please his fans, is now needing to please other fans.


    Thanks for your thought provoking comments!

    I wish i could agree with you, fitzg. As I understand it, in the olden days an artist might have a patron or patrons, a sponsor, if you like, but not because that artist might make buckets of money for them.

    The rich patronised an artist because they liked their work and might also bring prestige or elevation. (Even Van Gogh had his brother to keep him going, who believed in him, otherwise we wouldn't have all those glorious paintings to swoon over.)

    Who is the Armitage's patron? Is it the film company, the producer, the director, or the fans? Are any of them doing it out of support for the Armitage and his gifts? Rilke had his supporters who let him live in their castles and gave him his daily bread, so he could write. Others , like composers, were commissioned by some high muckity muck; none of these artists, I believe had to go out and fake it. All they needed to do is show off their talent and art . To whom of the above does the artist answer to in contemporary times, and specifically the Armitage?

    What mattered was their art. Not to say that there wasn't something political sometimes for some of them, but overall, art and artists were not commodified as they are today

    Actually, upon reflection, I don't think that conference was performance art. I think it was performance artifice- which makes it all the more alienating and sad, to me.

    I really appreciate hearing your POV.

  12. @pi,good stuff! Thinking hard; Not quite in agreement, but. Slow and ponderous mind here. Back to the art history/history readings/thinking to counter your perspectives. Or not.

    Just here to enjoy the stimulation of a really interesting blog. I don't "argue" to win, but to think further. Nice blog. Please keep it up,back to you :)


  13. Hello, Pi aka 3.142(sorry if that bordered on geekiness)! I decided to be slightly adventurous today and wander off to other RA blogs and came across yours. I quite like less frequented blogs, I may visit more often if I have the time. ;)

    I like how you honestly discussed the situation as you see it even if I do not fully agree with everything you've said. I did notice he wasn't exactly his usual self. But, I don't think he was putting up a performance to please the Tolkien fans.

    I felt he was responding to the situation on the spot when he got asked rather unfairly to talk about who he is and which role he was playing. And top of that, she even asked him to why he was suited to play Thorin. Wouldn't anyone respond in a way to try and prove themselves if questioned in such a manner? I personally thought he responded beautifully, two thumbs up from me, lol.

    I think if he attended the conference with real intentions to please the Tolkien fans, he probably would have spoken up a little more and a lot earlier. I truly believe that if that reporter didn't ask him those questions, he would have kept quiet the whole time thereby not having a chance to put up said performance.

    There were definitely elements of him in there, the part where he took up the place card to see what it was. You would hardly call that being regal or Thorin-like, would you? I don't know much about Thorin but I doubt a dwarf king would want to hide at the back of the group and blend in with surrounding foliage. ;)

    But ultimately, I do not know what he is really thinking, so this is just as how I see it.

  14. I think sometimes you are awfully hard on RA. This was a publicity event and everyone there was performing on some level; that comes with the territory. I think RA was just keeping his head down as a new kid on the block contendning with a bit of resistance from the Tolkien fans. It's certainly what I would have done. There's plenty of time to show your true self once you are better acqainted with your fellow cast members and have shown your chops. I don't think he was trying to please anyone; I think he was trying to avoid offending.

  15. Great article! I think to a great extent you are correct. He always comes across as thoughtful and intelligent in interviews but the lightness of touch was missing from this, perhaps because he had so much to prove - sad but true. The Tolkien trolls had shown their displeasure of his casting so much that PJ had to defend wonder he went out there being as manly and commanding as possible. Also 'middle-aged' was definitely making a point. He knocked it out of the park on this one. I think he did a great job.

  16. I think the word "alienated" was apropos. At first I'd thought, "whoa, what's with the voice change?!?" I'm still debating whether or not his demeanor, body language and voice was done purposely in a cunning way (I'd hate to think that RA was a manipulative man when most of his other interviews shows him to be modest, humble and sweet). Perhaps like the previous commentors, he felt the need to prove that PJ correctly chose him to play Thorin, so it was more of a rebuttal to all those criticisms. I have to say you have chutzpah for writing your honest thoughts and feelings about this conference and for that I really appreciated this particular post.

    Busy Bee