brooks.jpgDavid Thomson's been thinking about chemistry. Today's reliable male stars - Jude Law, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon - "are ... comfortable holding the screen on their own", but can't quite slap together any palpable sense of chemistry when tossed opposite a simmering starlet. Thomson's got a theory as to why that might be - and no, it's not because they're all three are practicing homosexuals (although there's clearly evidence to support some rumors more than others). No, Thomson places the problem in their lack of "training in playing extensive, witty dialogue scenes," which, he says, "history suggests ... are vital to chemistry." And then he goes on to fetishize Bogey and Bacall, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. Even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Thomson says, only had "alleged chemistry" until Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? allowed them to bounce off the walls of banter and verbal abuse. Blah blah blah.

No one loves and responds to chemistry produced by conversation more than me - but c'mon, Dave - this is a little shortsighted. What about silent film - what about the scenes in Underworld, between Evelyn Brent and Clive Brook? What about the resolutely wordless but undeniably powerful chemistry between Fay Wray and King Kong? Jumping ahead about 70 years, what about the films of Wong Kar Wai, which seem more and more about a kind of chemistry that words simply don't work well enough to express? Thomson goes on to talk about the kind of performer that seems to have a private chemistry with the camera -  Nicole Kidman, Marilyn Monroe - and I think it's right to say that nobody gets in between certain actors and the lens (I'd add Louise Brooks to that list). But chemistry is such an untouchable, unmathematical thing ... it seems necessarily reductive to try to talk about it.
categories Cinematical