Sunday, February 14, 2010

When only bad is good enough

Have you ever seen a movie where a bad actor is right for a part because of the very traits that make him or her bad? My favorite example is Andie MacDowell in Sex, Lies and Videotape. MacDowell's performances have a tendency to be stiff, affected and self-conscious, all of which happened to be perfect for the role in Soderbergh's film.

Is being bad at just the right time really the same as being good?

I'm not talking about an actor affecting something that would normally be considered bad acting (such as Brando's mumble) or a limited actor skillfully working around that limitation (Harrison "singing" in My Fair Lady). I'm talking about a bad actor giving a bad performance that through some combination of luck and inspired casting makes for a better movie.

In comics, the best example of appropriately awful would probably be an artist named Ogden Whitney. In a medium that requires art to be fluid, expressive and individual, Whitney's was stiff, bland and generic. He could draw scenes of the most violent action without conveying any sense of motion. His characters were often posed at such odd angles that they seemed more like action figures than people.

But Whitney was able to co-create an Eisner award winning masterpiece (the funny and surreal Herbie) because he was such a terrible artist. The stiffness, the odd body language, the lack of expression, the generic faces. all beautifully complemented the story of an ugly, round, inarticulate boy with powers somewhere between those of Superman and God. When John Byrne (one of the most respected comic book artists of the past few decades) tried to revamp the character he failed to recapture either the humor or the surrealism.

Sometimes you just have to be bad to be good.

The heads of Whitney's figures often seemed to float in the general vicinities of their bodies.

Proportions were also a bit of a challenge.

Notice how the style remains the same but the effect is transformed.

Here's Byrne's take.

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