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26 May 2006

ArtSpeak: On Artists and Arti-types 2; The Bluestockings

Bluestocking, how cool is it that I finally have the opportunity to use that word in a sentence? Fabulous. Anyway.

As the word itself. Most of you probably know what it mean. But I love an excuse to do a little etymology spelunking. So here goes.

The word 'bluestocking' has it's origin in fifteenth century Venice. Della Calza, 'of the stocking', was an elite society of Venetian intellectuals (men and women) known by their elaborate leg coverings. The movement reappeared in France during the sixteenth century when Parisian women took the name Bas Bleu ( literally 'blue stocking') to describe the denizens of their literary and philosophical salons. The final and most well-known incarnation came in eighteenth century England. Lady Elizabeth Montagu took the French name for her salons. Later English men used the English translation of the name and transformed the word bluestocking pejorative to describe scholarly women, or very likely any woman that was smarter and better educated than the speaker. And that, unfortunately is the definition that stuck in public consciousness.

So. Anyway. There are these artists. I'm going to continue to use actors an to illustrate . . . it's easier. So. There are these artists. They are often very intelligent and it is by means of their intellect that they enter the world. Whether they are discussing politics, food or the latest fashions; everything is run through that supercomputer upstairs. I find it a delectable combination. Art is a subject that is so germane to our make up, to many the idea of intellectualizing it or viewing it through an analytical lens seems like sacrilege. There are many creative people who feel about art the way 85 percent of the world feels about God.

The Bluestocking has no choice. Everything is processed intellectually. Even emotion. Even creativity. Even Art. They are intensely curious and concerned with every detail of a character's story and environment. They will often take reams of notes getting obsessive about the what's and wherefore's of their characters actions and interior life. Their interest is often not limited to their character, but the screenplay, the directing; the overall production of the film. You will find a lot of these actors have taken on multitudinous roles within the film and performing arts communities, and often end up directing, composing and producing in addition to acting.

When watching a Bluestocking on screen, I'm always struck this sense, an awareness of . . . I don't know, like you can feel the brainpower. There's a movie I like and own. The Sum of All Fears is great fun and as get-it-done kind of thriller, it works like charm. But you don't really need to see it more than a couple of times. The story is pretty by-the-numbers, the films major selling point is the cast; actors like Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, and Ciarian Hinds are in it. Great actors who are criminally underutilized, especially when you consider what a time-waster is most of the third act. Or do I mean fourth? Anyway, the reason I bought the movie and continue to watch it from time to time can be summed up in two words: Liev Schreiber.

You may or may not know who Schreiber is, he's kind of on the periphery of fame, he's a decorated theater actor, a noted character actor and director of the film Everything Is Illuminated. If you don't know who he is, don't worry, you will. What he does in forty seconds of screen time most actors couldn't do with a full hour. Watch his character's introductory scene with Morgan Freeman on the tarmac and you'll see what I mean. There is an immediate sense that his is a fully inhabited character with depth and history. It's amazing. That type of habitation can only really be accomplished once the kind of exhaustive research and soul-searching and question-asking that a Bluestocking is only too thrilled to do, has been done. They are intensely prepared and enjoy the process of getting there. Bluestockings' innate curiosity make them inveterate puzzle lovers, so that each new acting assignment is 'candy store' to their 'kid'; presenting a cornucopia of new questions that need answers.

Bluestockings

Don Cheadle
Geena Davis
Vincent d'Onofrio
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Jodie Foster
Liev Schreiber


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