Are Love Scenes Sincere?
by Ivor Novello
the popular British film and stage star who receives between twelve and fifteen hundred letters from admirers every week with postmarks hailing from every country in the world
Strange though it may seem, there is an art in making love on the films! In order to create a passionate love scene, the kind that appears both sincere and beautiful without being, shall we say, "sloppy" (you admit that such a one does not occur with remarkable frequency), two things are vitally necessary--lack of self-consciousness on the part of the actors, together with an intimate knowledge of technique. I wonder if innocent picture-goers realise the unromantic part that technique plays in the most realistic moments of "film love"? Would it spoil their pleasure if they imagined the actors to be sometimes entirely insincere? If it occurred to them that the beautiful heroine might possibly be thinking, "Is my head at the most attractive angle?" or "How long must I bury my face on this wretched man's shoulder?" Such is not the always the case, butwell, quite often it is.
Love By Numbers
Love is obviously one of the most universal of human emotions. It has moved Chinamen into forgetting their chop-suey, it has moved bus conductors into punching the wrong tickets, it has moved the admirers of the current musical comedy idol into twenty-four hours of grim "queueing" for a first night! Yet, how often is Love properly portrayed on the screen? In American films we are so often the victims of "sob-stuff," glaring base sentiment adorned with "messy" sub-titles-- whereas British films are inclined to the opposite extreme of under-expression. The public must suffer untold pangs from the stiffness, the deliberate stifling of emotion, on the part of many British actors. Love-making is an art which must be studied.
It has been argued that British girls are incapable of deep feeling or brilliant acting owing to their lack of temperament. This, I am positive, is not true. British girls are as temperamental as Americans, but-- they must fight against self-consiousness! This is the evil genius who must be trampled down before the names of British stars will rise to the Rudolph Valentino-Gloria Swanson-Greta Garbo heights. In the case of the male lover, much of his "sincerity" depends on his leading lady, whether or not she gives him technical sympathy. Does that sound involved? I will endeavor to explain as clearly as I can. While making "The Constant Nymph," in which Mabel Poulton and myself played the leading parts, I could not have desired a more sympathetic partner. And yet much of our work was purely "technical." Our most important love scene was enacted when we were, noth of us, in a state of tired stupor--I might say irritation. We had ridden for four terrible hours on mule-back, jogging interminably over rough mountain paths until we reached out destination. There followed the usual harrowing business of preparation, long intervals of yawning, waiting, inventing topics of conversation, and at last our love scene. It must be repeated and repeated, with the camera and without, until our weary nerves were at breaking point!
It wa among the most cold-blooded ordeals in either of our two careers, but somehow it was accomplished. I have been told that i was one of the best and most sincere scenes in the picture! Again, in the case of "The White Rose," in which I played with Mae Marsh, the most effective moment was supposed to be a love scene on the river. And what a love scene! We arose from our beds at the hour of 2 a.m. By 3 a.m. we were sorrowfully esconced on board a small boat. Our teeth were chattering, our fingertips were like blocks of ice. We were informed by a merciless director that we must make love as we had never made love before (meant to be encouraging). Now, I ask you, in real life could the most determined optimist make love before sunrise, with unromantic shivers running down his or her spinal column? I doubt it! But in film love "technique" makes light of such things.
My Screen Lovers
Mae Marsh is perhaps one of the most sympathetic actresses I have had the fortune to play with. Like most Americans, she is blessed with an absolute lack of self-cosciousness. Her own personality is forgotten during the enaction of her part. Mabel Poulton and Annette Benson are among the British actresses for whom I hold the greatest admiration. The former, while playing Tessa in "The Constant Nymph," threw away all restraint and acquired a standard seldom achieved in British pictures. She gave me the sympathy that Annette Benson gave me in one of my favourite pictures, "Downhill." With a partner who can do this, it is possible, both on the stage and on the screen, to acquire a degree of real sincerity. Instead of that disconcerting knowledge that your heroine is absorbed with the condition of her lipstick, rather than yourself, it is inspiring to feel that she is carried away by her part! She has entered the spirit of the woman she is playingshe is, in fact, an artist! The secret of the popularity of such world-famous lvoers as Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky, John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, is, I think, a complete mastery of technique added to a sympathy that makes itself obvious to the eye.
It is a strange fact that actors who are lovers in real life are often incapable if playing the part of lovers to an audience. it is equally true that sympathy between actors who are not lovers may create a temporary emotion that is perfectly sincere. It is difficult to explain this relationship to one who is not an actor, but certain it is that technique is even more necessary on the film than on stage. Behind the footlights there is always the applause (or perhaps the lack of it) which stimulates the actors. It is something tangible for which they may work. On the screen it is a different matter. There is the inconvenience, the glaring lights, the long hours of waiting, and the repetition of every scene, all calculated to defeat anything more than a real mastery of "love technique." Horrible phrase, if you like, but truth. It is not always gold that glitters but in films everyting must glitter, particularly Love. The rebellious feelings of a lover, who is suffering from chilblains, or merely an over-abundance of kisses, are not published by publicity agents. Love--if truth be known, is almost always technique! And then more technique! And now FILM WEEKLY demands gently but firmly an article a trifle more personal. The public wants information about Ivor Novello, says the FILM WEEKLY. I protest that the public wants nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, I yield.
My mother Madame Novello Davies, the well-known vocalist and teacher of singing. I began my career with infantile dreams of becoming a composer. Perhaps I have never quite lost them, for music is indispensible to me. Before I was nineteen (and before I had reached the age of discretion) I somehow wrote and composed several muiscal comedies, including "Arlette." After the war, in which I served as a pilot in the Air Force, I took up films, my first attempt being "Call of the Blood." After this came my experience with Mae Marsh "The White Rose," and some time later a series of British pictures: "The Rat," "Downhill," "The Lodger," "The Vortex," "The Romany Prince," "The Constant Nymph," "The Gallant Hussar," and "Return of the Rat," with Isabel Jeans.
Let me conclude on a note of rejoicing by saying that the Art of Making Love loses most of its dubious "pros and cons" when playing with such an actress. In my opinion, she is almost perfect.