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r rated, four moon iconHBO Films (DVD), ASIN B000067D0Y
In Greek theater, an actor wore masks shaped to amplify his voice in large amphitheaters. The best actors transformed the limitation into a strength. Every cell of their body became able to communicate the individual character they played. The masks frowned, smiled, snickered, leered but, of course, remained frozen in one singular expression. Actors compensated with body, gesture, intonation and -- with the best -- eventually a kind of co-ownership with the role. They owned the role, but the role, it seemed, also came to own them. You still see it today. Witness Robert Blake, who couldn't land a role for months after In Cold Blood; people saw him as his character.

DVD: the laramie projectThe Laramie Project centers around the true story of Matthew Shepard who was beaten, tied to a fence, beaten some more, robbed and left for dead in Laramie Wyo. He eventually died from the trauma inflicted on him by two of Laramie's lowest. Actors play the parts of Laramie townspeople, one of several factors separating The Laramie Project from the flood of desultory documentaries that followed the incident. The decision to allow actors to play real residents of Laramie reinforces the film's singular central theme. As one character puts it: "We need to own this story." Actors put their own stamps on the characters they play, but sometimes the part they play and the story of that character puts an indelible mark on the viewer.

Acting and other creative endeavors, at their best, put the audience into the moment and the event, and we experience those emotions. Joshua Jackson's Matt Galloway resonates strongly in a scene confessing to his culpability as the bartender who blames himself for turning away for the twenty seconds Shepard interacted in his bar with the other two who would eventually kill him. The scene stuns not only because of Jackson, but also because of the dampening non-reactions of the other's around him. As with much of the rest of this film, this brief look at grief curves away from the expected to give us something perhaps a little sadder but also beautiful.

Several scenes center on blocked communication. Angels' wings block television view of a virulently homophobic grandstanding preacher. A doctor announces a media blackout. Claire Duvall fumes over how she "just listened to what that preacher said and didn't say a word." Each of these scenes possess so much greater impact, leaving unsaid what should be said, unshown which could have been shown. Instead of answers, The Laramie Project stamps us with the frustrations and doubts -- the kind that opens debate in our own souls.

Michael Pacholski

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