From an interview with Joss Whedon on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, BBC Radio 5 Live, Friday 14 June 2013.

SIMON MAYO: We were talking about work ethic just before the news and sport, because everyone in comparison with your output Joss, and your work ethic, would appear to be slack and lazy, because, y’know, people work very hard in life and they get their pay but you seem to be working like a hundred times harder than anybody else.

JOSS WHEDON: Well, um, part of that is smoke and mirrors I think, but part of it is that I, I… do love the work and also I have a problem, serious mental problems, workaholism and it’s not fun.  I don’t do anything else.  Other people have lives and they’re nice to their friends and do all sorts of things that I forget to do in the morning.  Also basic hygiene but let’s not talk about that.

MARK KERMODE: Do you genuinely not switch off?  You’re not – you can’t stop?

JW: Um, every now and then I’ll take a few hours and go, ‘I’m not gonna have a purpose for what I’m gonna do next, maybe I’ll go for a walk; that was fun, and I had an idea for a new movie during it.’  Um, no I can’t, I really can’t turn it off.  I can’t sleep very well, not out of anxiety so much as just sort of anticipation of the next thing I want to do.

Neil Patrick Harris: details in performance

Details matter.  If I had to summarise the common thread running through my thinking and writing about popular culture to date, and if I had to paraphrase the bulk of my written feedback to students, that is the phrase I would use.

One of the many areas of filmed fiction in which details matter a great deal is performance.  But because it is harder to point to or quantify elements of performance with the same certainty that one can point to a camera movement, a cut, or even a musical score, performance does not always receive the central place it deserves in discussions of how meaning is made.

On my ‘Analysing Television Drama’ module, which takes Joss Whedon’s work as its case study, I often try in my seminars to put performance at the centre of the sequence analyses we undertake.  Sometimes, I encourage students to replicate the gestures of the actors onscreen in an attempt to ‘feel their way’ into a performance.  Or I encourage other forms of perspective-taking (‘If I were to speak to you in that way, or touch your shoulder in that way, what would it reveal about my attitude towards you?’).  The Buffy episode ‘Doppelgangland’ is a particularly useful tool for thinking about performance, as it involves the wonderful Alyson Hannigan giving sharply differentiated performances.  There is her ‘regular’ Willow, a high school teenager who is all hesitations and nervousness, and there is Willow’s vampire doppelganger from an alternative dimension, all self-possession and stillness.  Thinking about Hannigan’s two performances beside one another brings out more clearly the choices (of posture, eyeline, vocal inflections, movement) in each that create character.  (Fans of the Buffyverse will know that there are several other episodes in the series that could also be used in this way.  ‘Who Are You’, ‘Intervention’, ‘The Wish’…  And there is, of course, the whole of Dollhouse too.)  Alex Clayton has written a brilliant article, which emerged from his teaching, that compares performances in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the film’s remake, directed by Gus Van Sant.  Early in his article Clayton stresses that ‘details matter, … they make all the difference’.

I have not yet taught Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – a short film made on a slim budget during the 2007-8 Writers’ Guild of America strike and originally distributed for free via the internet – on ‘Analysing Television Drama’ (though it has made brief occasional guest appearances- and yes, I know it’s not strictly television ).  I am, though, a huge fan, so I thought I would mark Neil Patrick Harris’s fortieth birthday with a critical appreciation of his role as Billy/Dr Horrible.  Having watched and listened to Dr Horrible endlessly over the past several months, one of the main things I have come to appreciate is the level, and the depth, of detail in Neil Patrick Harris’s performance, which is at once consistent with the (admittedly few) other things I have seen him in (principally, How I Met Your Mother), and also of a piece with the broader achievements and sensibility of Joss Whedon, Dr Horrible‘s director and co-writer.  (The main body of my blog begins with a further brief digression, about the other Captain character Nathan Fillion has played for Whedon, but we get to Harris and Horrible soon enough!)

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Jean Renoir

Dear Ingrid, we had many amusing arguments together and I was the first one to defend, stupidly, the importance of “great subjects”.  I wasted a large part of my life by becoming uselessly busy with “the significance” of my pictures.  In Hollywood we also use the word “message”.  Today, I regret not having busied myself with the endless, ant-like work of small, cheap pictures of a definite style, like “westerns” or “murder” stories.
In a structure that is always the same, you are free to improve what alone is worthwhile, the detail in human expression.

Renoir in a letter to Ingrid Bergman, 29 August 1949, reprinted in Jean Renoir: Letters. ed. David Thompson and Lorraine LoBianco. Faber and Faber, 1994.

Thomas Vinterberg

No major US director has yet attempted a Dogme movie, though David Fincher, director of Seven and Fight Club, tells me that he has been having light-hearted discussions with Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Payne (Election) and Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) about the potential for a ‘purification process’. ‘You’re not supposed to use anything that you used in your last movie – none of the equipment, none of the elements. Steven said, “Look, David, you can’t have any rain, you can’t have any CGI…”‘ Vinterberg is visibly thrilled when I tell him this news: ‘It would be very interesting to see Fincher undressed, because he is always so well dressed.’

Ryan Gilbey. ‘Dogme is dead.  Long live Dogme.’ The Guardian, Friday 19 April 2002.