American films of the past couple of decades have focused too much on the appearance of their stars and much too little on their acting chops. Character actors have all but vanished from the screen. Same with older women. Sometimes I literally can't tell the difference between actors, they look so much alike. It's as if there is limited number of molds the studios use to press out stars these days. This wasn't always the case. I enjoy old films in addition to new ones. During my '70s research, I re-watched a lot of older films. The disparity became instantly obvious. The people we see on American TV have as much in common with the average American as Martians. They're thin and perfect and overwhelmingly white. In the '30s-'70s, actors came in all sorts of body shapes and sizes. I've always thought that this was fundamentally a bad thing--this modern homogenization of actors. Not too long ago, I stumbled upon a made for HBO documentary about Marion Dougherty called Casting By (even an article supposedly about Dougherty can't seem to focus on Dougherty) and it confirmed my hunch that the quality of our films suffer for this demand for physical perfection over acting skill.
Still, I didn't think anyone with the power to do anything about it would notice for a couple more decades. (Hollywood goes through fad cycles like everything else.) The truth is, great film doesn't happen due to a single factor. It's a collaborative effort. It takes great script-writing, great acting, great directing, great editing, a producer that recognizes these skills...are you getting the picture? All these great people need to be able to work together as a whole. One puffed up Napoleon will destroy the whole balance. That's why great films are so much more rare than okay ones.
For the record, casting is vital. It damned well needs an Oscar category and they damned well should call themselves Casting Directors. Period. The only reason casting doesn't have an Oscar category is because it's a role normally performed by women and film directors (who are overwhelmingly male and white) are too insecure to share the credit. Interestingly enough, Dougherty's career took a bad turn with the introduction of the sitcom Three's Company. She didn't want to cast Suzanne Somers because...well...she can't act. The director wanted her because she was hot. Dougherty took a stand against the decision and plowed directly into a painful career-limiting wall as a result. From that point forward, the 'sexy star' became the primary casting trend.
Yeah, yeah. I've said a lot of this before. What's new? Well, this is what is new:
If you've seen the show, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, read this article: The secret ingredient of Stranger Things is brilliant casting. The kids look like kids, not super models. Thirty year olds aren't playing High School students. The main cast is diverse. You believe that they're being picked upon because they actually look like awkward fledgelings stuck in between grace periods. One kid is being picked on for being too sensitive and is possibly gay. Another has a disability. One is super thin and bookish. One is black in a white school. (Although the rest of the cast is much less diverse. Where are Lucas's parents? His siblings? Surely he has siblings who attend school and his parents are freaking out for his safety too. Yes?) I love Wynona Rider. Always have. (I've even met her. She's really nice.) She's brilliant in this series. She's not focused on being pretty. She's a middle aged, lower class mother who is stressed out of her mind with grief--or so everyone thinks. She's amazing. And Millie Bobby Brown as 11? She's incredible. The casting director is Carmen Cuba, and she seems to be from the Dougherty school/philosophy of casting. [crosses fingers]
Maybe this is a sign of a new trend in casting? I certainly hope so.