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Kino on Video presents
Casting About (2004)

"You're not supposed to be this beautiful."
- One in a cascade of anonymous actresses, performing an audition monologue

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: January 07, 2008

Director: Barry J. Hershey

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:26m:10s
Release Date: January 08, 2008
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BBC+ B

DVD Review

Careers in the arts are rough all the way around, but being an actor has to be particularly heavy sledding—an out-of-work (or on-strike) writer can always hole up and create something new, as can a painter or a sculptor or a composer, but actors are uniquely completely at the mercy of the aesthetic marketplace. And we all know that the unemployment figures for actors or staggering—ask your waiter—and that the likelihood of a sustaining career is very low. It's that sort of sympathy that the filmmakers bring to Casting About, a pastiche of a documentary of many women auditioning for a couple of roles in a project only partially described; you've got to have empathy for these actresses, but also wonder if the documentarians may not be, despite their professed intentions, only the latest in the long line trying to take advantage of them.

We see bits and pieces of a couple of dozen women going up for parts, and you can see that the audition process can be excruciating—you've got to be yourself, but on purpose; you've got to demonstrate your talent in the least inviting of circumstances; you understand that you're being watched and assessed relentlessly as a physical specimen. We get all the aspects of the audition: the polite handshakes, the glances at the headshots, the monologues; the women necessarily professing their love for the piece being cast; the scene reading, with a stilted producer or stagehand, frequently of the wrong gender; the hopeful goodbyes and the call for the next girl. You realize watching this what an elusive, unquantifiable commodity good acting is—a manuscript or a sculpture or a photograph has to stand on its own merits, but how do we assess what makes for a truthful presentation, of someone else's words, in an uncomfortable folding chair in a room full of strangers?

Many of the women here seem quite talented, and others less so; many are quite strikingly beautiful, while others lack what we might think of as conventional movie-star good looks. But you come to feel for all of them, especially when you consider that they're paraded around like this all the time. You can't help, too, to reach some uncharitable conclusions about the people on the other side of the camera. The piece that they're allegedly casting doesn't seem very good, for one thing. And one of the principal characters is an artist's model, so whoever gets the part is going to be working principally in the nude—there's talk of the artistic integrity of the piece requiring this, but you're likely to think that a bunch of guys are taking advantage of their situation so they can get a bunch of hot chicks to get naked. And that suspicion is confirmed by the way in which much of the documentary is shot: the camera tends to linger over these women's torsos, and at times it starts to feel like the broadcast of a college football game, with the cameramen trying to get as many bouncy cutaways to the perky chests of cheerleaders as they possibly can.

And when you find out that the project being cast never got made, you wonder why this exercise got underway in the first place. But some of the emotions of the interactions are weirdly moving—one actress comes in and apologizes for her emotional state, because she just came from the sentencing of the man who kidnapped and raped her three years before. She must really want or need this job, you think, to show up and not take some time to recover from what was obviously traumatic; and you wonder if she's brave or crazy, or both, to spill out that kind of emotional rawness to a roomful of strangers, and you wish that some sort of more professional boundaries existed for these obviously vulnerable people. But baring your soul to strangers is ultimately the real work of acting, and the very best at the craft are always deserving of our respect.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: A perfectly reasonable transfer of a high-end video shoot; contrast can be high, but the image quality is serviceable.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The shoot seems to have been poorly recorded; some of the actresses wear lavaliere mikes, while others seem not to, and crucial exchanges with those offscreen frequently cannot be understood.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. additional interviews and monologues (see below)
  2. text on piece being cast
Extras Review: The extras package features extended footage of many of the women auditioning, with footage from 15 interviews (27m:00s), giving a sense of how the raw material was shaped for the feature; and 14 audition monologues (37m:09), giving you a chance to assess the acting talent with a bit more material. (The verdict: quite varied, from the extremely gifted to the less so.) Four deleted scenes (11m:12s) give us a few more montages, a device the feature uses for transitional purposes. And along with an original trailer, there are a few panels of text on the film being cast, called Moving Still—this documentary was a spinoff of that still unmade project, which on paper doesn't really sound very promising.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Overcut and perhaps a tad exploitative, this is still a sharp reminder as to how many talented actors there are out there, how vulnerable they have to make themselves, and how some of the very best are probably asking people if they want fries with that.

 


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