It's called acting

After watching Howl in March (which is amazing and totally underrated), I went scouting around for reviews on the film as there has been a weird and mediocre response to it. (Sorry Ultra Culture, I can't agree with you on this one). To me, most of the critiques of the film where unjustified: It didn't know whether it wanted to be a courtroom drama, a love story or a 'proper' biopic, the animation was misplaced and down-right-awful, etc. Everyone has their own right to an opinion, sure, but Howl was a film I really took to, and one of my favourite films of this year. I guess you can't agree with everyone, right?

Esteemed, and well-thought of freelance Guardian and Film 2011 critic, Danny Leigh, wrote a brief piece on Howl before the film was released back in December '09 entitled 'The view: The ugly truth about Allen Ginsberg biopic'.

Thinking that there would be a smidge of actual interesting discussion about the film that would be worth my reading-time, I embarked on the article in hope I would learn more about the film. Alas, no. Instead, it reinforced everything I dislike about the film industry today, and more so, the views that many of us still hold dear - that those born with what society deems as outer attractiveness can't possibly go through the same life experience as those who aren't looked at in this way.

For those of you who need a quick-run down of what Howl is about, I shall be as brief as I can.

In what should have been the performance James Franco was Oscar nominated for, here, the actor takes on the role of famous Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg, the man responsible for the then-controversial 50s poem, Howl.

Instead of your average run-of-the-mill biopic where the person in question is going against the odds of society and sticking it to the man, Howl explores the writing process Ginsberg underwent to create his masterpiece, and the aftermath on the literary world once the poem was published.

"There is one thing the gilded screen god or goddess will never know, and that's what it's like to be ugly."

This is the line that triggered off an immediate reaction in me when reading the article. There are so many things wrong with that statement, that I couldn't possibly get into them all. Really, the whole thing just makes me cringe for Danny Leigh's sake.

First off, ugliness is a very harsh word. If we are speaking about outward appearances, there are very few people that look 'ugly'. Most people just look, well, normal. We have our own little quirks that make us look like ourselves, but overall, you don't come across editorial model girls in day-to-day life, and if you do, most of the time, they don't necessarily look beautiful, they just photograph really well. And even if we do happen across someone who looks like John (Joseph in real life) Merrick, we know better than those living in the 1800's to gawp and stare.

But then, of course, there is the other side of ugly. Your outer appearance can be seen as being beautiful, but on the inside, it is possible to be ugly. We all have the potential, and we have all had ugly moments that we'd like to forget, and these things make us human.

The implication that not just the quoted line, but the whole article makes, is that people born with flattering faces and aligning features are incapable of feeling the emotions that who you'd perceive as your Average Joe can. They don't come across the same hurdles in life because of what they look like on the outside.

Following this philosophy, James Franco wouldn't be able to do his job and act, because he obviously has the inability to draw out the emotions of the Common Man thanks to his looks. If he is going to play someone in a biopic, it has to be a conventionally good-looking person because Franco has that look about him, right? That's why he was great as James Dean, because, as luck would have it, they are both good-looking.

Even trying to think on that wave length makes me want to bury my head into my hands at the ridiculous outlook some people have.

Describing Allen Ginsberg as being ordinary is again another pitfall, though, and one of the other things that annoyed me about this article. He was anything but ordinary.  He was a fantastic writer, and Howl still stands the test of time. It is a wonderful, rhythmic poem, brought even more to life by Franco's perfect delivery of the lines. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to read poetry, or even prose, aloud and Franco was the man for the job. He pulled it off spectacularly and I am sure Ginsberg would be impressed with Franco's performance had he been alive to see the film come to fruition.

Critics jumping on board this view of outer beauty being on a whole higher-being type of level makes me feel kind of let down by people who supposedly know a lot about cinema. In all honesty, why should this matter?

Rita Hayworth's transformation is a pretty good example of what being turned down based on looks can do to you. 

Her 'ethnic' look supposedly didn't land her any acting jobs, so under-the-knife Rita went. Turns out, she became a sex icon based on those surgical looks. Both Rita's are beautiful, but for someone to go through that much pain and agony to get an acting job, well, it just couldn't have been worth it that much, could it? Obviously it was for Rita.

Another example of this - but less extreme than surgery - is the whole skin-lightening of Gabby Sidibe a couple of years back on the cover of ELLE.

All these moments are just adding to this division we have in society where the Beautiful People have the better existence, (what with all that money and endless sex) while us Ordinaries are a separate breed. Frankly, I am quite bored by this mentality now. For fucks sake, we're all human no matter what the hell we look like, so can't we just get over it already?

Getting back to the topic at hand, here are a couple of examples of recent Hollywood actors who don't look like the counterparts they're playing and could be perceived by audiences as being better looking than the real life person they are portraying:

Leonardo Dicaprio as Howard Hughes

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles 

Russell Crowe as John Nash

Let's not forget the whole cast of I'm Not There as Bob Dylan:

And here are some upcoming biopics played by actors who, again, don't look like their real life counterparts:

Leonardo Dicaprio..again as J. Edgar Hoover
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
This isn't a hounding of Danny Leigh, though, as that would be wrong. I don't know him in real life, so I can only judge him on his writing or what he is written (and been paid to do so). The thing is, this article is just another contribution to the what I had spoken of earlier, and that is the invisible line that has been drawn between those who are born with conventionally attractive facial and body features, and those that haven't.

Saying that an actor who happens to be someone people find good-looking can't do his job because he doesn't know how it feels to not be anything but nice-looking is just stupid, really. We all have the same insecurities whether they are look based or not. Can't we just get accept that's the case and get over it?


  1. I loved this article, and completely agree. You are absolutely right, no matter how we look, no one feels perfect. Being handsome doesn't mean you don't have problems in your life either, and it certainly doesn't mean you can't act. It's interesting how they practically require that you are good looking to act, but then criticize you for having those good looks. And unfortunately, this is not just in the acting business. Some world we live in.

    As for all the critics - the ones who think their opinion is some kind of universal truth - they're just a bunch of hypocrites, because every single one of them knows that it's just what they think, and nothing else. And they are just lucky enough that someone actually pays to know what they think.

    So bottom line is, those people should do a little research about the topic, be more careful with their words, and certainly think before they even start.

  2. Thank you Maria! Glad someone else agrees with me on this one. I loved your comment to this post, too.

    You can't help the way you are born. Yes, unfortunately, the way of the world declares that 'better looking' people have an easier existence, but that is just one tiny detail in someone's life.

    People are people, no matter if they look like God's handmade creation or not. We still have the same feelings and hardships as everyone else emotionally.

    And critics are lucky that people will pay for their views. Because when it comes down to it, most things that relate to art are just opinion based, really.

    Absolutely agree with you 100% on your bottom line to the argument also.

    Again, thanks for your comment Maria!

  3. Well written post Cherokee! We all need to look beyond appearances and get past pre-conceived thoughts.

  4. Very nice article, and so true! It's one of those Hollywood things that originated from the real world. It's not just the movie world that makes these assumptions.
    On some fronts "beautiful" people may even have a disadvantage. Aw, who cares: we're all just human trying to make the best out of it, no matter what face we're born with!

  5. Castor Thank you, Castor! You summed it up in a nutshell: Pre-conceived thoughts is the perfect way to describe things like this.

    Unfortunately, it seems in our nature to judge (and lord knows I have done it, too), which kind of sucks.

    Chelsea Thank you, Chelsea. And it's great to know someone else agrees with me on this one!

    You are totally right - it definitely has stemmed from the real world, which makes it a whole lot sadder.

    Also, you make a really good point about the disadvantage of being 'beautiful'. Because of expectations for 'beautiful' people, it can be harder.

  6. Well written, its pretty intense, I really liked the comparsion pics from real person to actor, keep it up!


  7. Thanks Magixx/Daniel (for the comment and the follow!)

    Also, your icon is awesome - Kanye looking cool as hell, as usual.

    It's great to come across a Hip Hip/Rap blog, too! I love the genre (when it's done well, as I think we can all agree that it is a complete miss when it comes to Chart Music.)

  8. HI Cherokee,

    This is my first time over to your house and I apologise for that. I have seen you floating about other blogs but haven't made it here until now. Sorry!!

    Anyway I love this article.

    I have a very personal connection with the way society makes us feel about our appearance. I have been very large in my life and also very skinny (I am now just how I want to be in the middle and happy) but at both extremes I was not happy and felt forced to change by the way others made me feel.

    I also have 2 daughters and I really worry for them in this world. ~As the media/film makes them want to be skinny and beautiful. I just wish people could judge on inner beauty!!

    I am so sorry for the waffle. Great blog by the way!!

    Custard @

    (you haven't got name/url in the comment as section so I put my url up there by my name, sorry)

  9. Hi Custard,

    Don't worry about putting your url by your name, that's fine!

    I should look into changing up the comment section anyway as I was supposed to be doing anyway.

    And I am glad that you have popped round my blog! I only started up Feminising Film half way through May this year, so don't feel bad about having not visited here before, it's fine!

    There are definitely those pressures everywhere because it's so ingrained in society thanks to the portrayal the media does give out, and it just saddens me.

    And you're totally right - I wish that people would judge on inner beauty, too. As it's more about what is skin deep.

  10. I love this post - Though it came out early in the year I'd still say it's the best thing I've seen. Few months back I did a Life In Movies blogathon post and added the trailer for Howl in the hope more people might be interested but had no one mention it so I assume they didn't or didn't like it :p

    Regarding the Guardian, this is exactly the sort of thing that stopped me reading it unless someone actively sends me a link... I found myself tearing my hair out and seething for a good few hours after reading some stupid opinion or another. It's nice you didn't get petty about the writer despite that :)


  11. Thank you Hels!

    It's great to speak to someone else who liked - or I can see in your case -, loved Howl. I really don't understand the slack it has gotten, but hey, we can't agree with everyone!

    I just read your Life in Movies post, and very good choices! Except, I hate to say, I am not a Finding Nemo lover...shoot me now!

    I thought it would have been nit-picking if I had a go at Danny Leigh. I mean, after all, he is paid to write, and usually it would be editors that tell him what to write, so I can't really have a go at him for that, only based on what he is writing about per se. The Guardian can definitely have the after affect of Hair-pulling, but sometimes, there are some good articles on there. And clearly, all the writers can write!

  12. Ummmm - I have to admit, I've a horrible habit of taking it out on journalists precisely BECAUSE it's their jobs :P I know it's probably unreasonable, but the very fact that they get paid to do a creative job, if they do it badly or seem to forget how to say more than just their random opinion I do get the hair pully anger. I even sent a complaint letter to Guardian once about Bradshaw writing in a review that he was very impressed Geraldine Chaplin spoke in a foreign language in (as you can imagine) a foreign film, and thought her accent was very good (I think the review was for The Orphanage but it's so long ago). It doesn't matter whether you read about her in depth or just go to a couple of bio sites, it's easy to figure out she's spoken several languages fluenty since she was a child. I was infuriated that he clearly didn't even check the most obvious sites like Wiki, and my letter wasn't shy about saying so; I think I might have called him a pretentious, self important idiot who should pay them to let him get his words in print...

    Seems silly now :/ You're a classier person than me :)

    p.s. I get where you're coming from on Pixar - I'm just a proper sap at heart...

  13. There are some pretty bad journalists out there, but they're not all terrible. I mean, I can't name a few, but there has got to be some out there!

    The Bradshaw thing is pretty ridiculous actually. So many people who's first language isn't English have done a damn good job at learning it.

    You're a classy person, too! I can totally understand where you are coming from as my dad has similar views to journalists.

    I love Pixar! Wall-E and UP are two of my favourite films (cried relentlessly in both), and man, the Toy Story trilogy is amazing!! It's just Finding Nemo which I never really got.




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