Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The art of suffering, or suffering for one's art.

Mariana looks up at her lover in torment.
I was looking at a series of vidcaps from the movie Maleficarum today and it hit me how much I suffer in that film. Yeah, yeah, it's not like I didn't realize it before, but I really cry a lot in that movie. And it made me think about suffering as an actor and the suffering of artists in general and whether we really have to suffer for our art or if it makes us suffer inherently.

Those are real tears people.
In my case, it is my choice, not only do I write and direct films with a dark slant to them, but I act in them as well. This means that I have to delve deep into my inner darkness rather frequently.

Some may ask why I would want to do that at all, ever. People don't want to feel bad? Right? We want to feel happy, like, all the time, and I'm no different. Feeling bad is not the goal of most, at least consciously.

But suffering in art is so different from suffering in real life.

When we were shooting Le Marquis de la Croix, I found out that my father had been diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia, that he was having hallucinations about a man upstairs in his house, whom he claimed was trying to kill him, he couldn't articulate very well, and he could no longer do various things for himself.  It was difficult maintaining my concentration during the remainder of the production, I felt like I was holding myself together with my own arms. When we wrapped on Le Marquis de la Croix, I went to Maine and spent 6 weeks assessing the situation, putting my dad in assisted living, dealing with his estate and living the horror that is having a parent with such a disease.

That looks like some dirt there too.
Before all that happened, I played the part of Jane in my second movie, Barbazul, who does not exactly have a happy ending. And I played Mariana de Castro in Maleficarum, who has it decidedly hard.
This is a sad scene.

Francisca doesn't seem to be waking up.
Suffering for a part in a movie is something that requires an actor to reach deep inside themselves and pull out the most horrifying moment they ever experienced.

For Mariana in Maleficarum, I had to summon up those moments, it was difficult, I had to think about the moments in my life when I've suffered, the moments when I've felt real fear (there were some moments in the shooting when I was actually afraid, like the roasting scene). In the end, I went deep into fear itself, the one that lives in our primitive brain, for my motivation.

For Jane in Barbazul, I had to imagine what it would be like to be murdered by a serial killer. When I was directing the other actresses, I actually cried silently while we were shooting one of the scenes. If you don't believe me, you can ask Miguel, the cinematographer, he saw me.

A day of shooting scenes like that left me with the impression that the world was falling apart at the seams. When you go so far into an emotion, it stays with you, it's like a thin invisible cloth that covers you, enveloping you in sadness. Hot showers and chocolate were mandatory after those days.

And now, now that I've experienced real suffering, and I'm on the verge of playing another very tragic role, I feel... not reluctant, but like I have more to work with.

Acting is about transmuting feelings into a performance. So, now that I have the opportunity again, I'm glad to be able to do that. Who, in the passage of normal, everyday life has the chance to transmute, or transform their feelings into something else? As strange as it may seem in the context of having to suffer, I feel lucky to be able to do that.
Mariana questions all this.

Realization,  hopelessness.
For me, it's like a kind of art therapy. I'm not sure how I would deal with those feelings otherwise.

In transforming suffering into art, I free myself from suffering, I can look at my performance from a place of strength. I feel proud of what I have done, and when it touches others, I feel even more proud to have given a strong performance.

I'm always writing about transformation, it seems, but as an actor, a writer, a director, I transform myself or others into something else on a constant basis. I think this is one of the more important roles of artists in society; we can speak for the soul.

Mariana is pretty convinced this is her fault.
At this point, you might be nodding your head, or thinking I'm a nut, but either way, art has made its way into most peoples' lives in one way or another. Art can also help us escape, like in a potboiler novel. Or it can entertain, or make us think, or feel something, or come to a greater understanding of beauty, or darkness. Art can help us find beauty or humor in that very darkness.

So, am I looking forward to suffering next year? Sure am. Pain has a place in the life of an artist as does its opposite happiness, because we can give it back in a different form, give it over to others. Artists should be givers, even if what we give is not pleasant to look at, it has a purpose.


  1. Just beautiful Amy. Both your words and the pics. -jeff

  2. Great Amy. I loved Maleficarum I find you suffering so sexy...when you get tormented and expecially whipped, you're one of the best actress I've ever seen...Love

  3. Very interesting. You are a fascinating mix of though provoking comment and woman of endearing beauty. It's interesting to read how an artist motivates herself, so eloquently put as well. Did you approach being Jane Von Detlefson any differently, with all her crucifixions?

  4. Great text, Amy. You were excellent in maleficarum, especially kneeling in front of the court (before the torture), then being whipped, riding on the "Spanish donkey", and finally being slowly roasted on the stake. Please make a second inquisition movie, soon!

  5. Love you and Mila in Maleficarum. Especially appreciate your dedication to your artistic craft, where you want to experience and film, within sane reason, what it actually feels like to be tortured like the characters you portray. You even chose your own tortures and built the instruments with your own talented hands, including that authentic stretching rack!

    So if you don't mind a suggestion for a future movie, here's a classic torture either you or another of your lovely actresses (but preferably you!) can actually experience and authentically portray without fear of physical damage. I'm referring to the notorious and diabolically clever torture known as "The Goat's Tongue." Full disclosure -- yes, I have a major foot fetish. That said, I've noted with especial pleasure your bastinado scenes in Green Inferno and Fantom and so I'm wondering if prolonged foot-tickling torture might appeal to you as well -- if you think you or your actresses can take it, of course! In this torture, the victim is ankle-stocked so that her bare soles are immovable and then are well coated with salty brine, perhaps combined with olive oil or some other tasty grease, and then exposed to a hungry goat. Goats love salt, and the goat will then naturally employ his/her seriously rough tongue against your brine-coated soles for a long time, especially if the brine coating is occasionaly renewed. Supposedly, the resulting tickling sensations are unbearable, a real torture, but the physical damage is easily controlled. So what do you say, Amy -- would you like to undergo and portray this torture in a future movie, or have one of your actresses do so? I'm sure there are lots of hungry goats in Bolivia who would really enjoy licking your soft soles! Please reply.