No Lies is that odd film that has almost as much going on outside the frame as it does inside it. And although this certainly makes Mr. Block’s film unique, especially for its time, it concerns me that focusing on the “trick” this film seems to pull off with the audience, takes attention away from discovering just how exceptional a performance this is by Shelby Leverington.
Because I am so absolutely obsessed with her performance, I feared having access to the rehearsal tapes might change my views on the work. It did in a way, but, oddly enough, for the better.
I found it very curious to see that the basic change in beats (to use an acting term), which sort of change with each room they enter, were established from at least the first filmed rehearsal. I guess that is not a big surprise; even the loosest improve still has to have some structure to follow. But, now I can appreciate how smooth and flowing Shelby and Alec followed each other (from room to room and emotion to emotion) all the while adhering to “the woman’s” motivation to get to her movie, despite the rough and rugged emotional terrain they travel through before she exits the door.
This flow and adherence to her character’s objective (simply to leave and go to the movie) is really what helps make …no lies seem real. In real life, isn’t it so true that these little things like keeping a date with friends, seems to be of so much more importance than finishing an insanely emotional and impacting conversation with someone, one that can literally change your very psyche. Shelby’s character HAS TO go to the movie. (As an almost related aside, one of my earliest memories of television is of Three’s Company. I couldn’t get past the fact that characters would come into the apartment and NOT close the door. It bothered me to no end and completely shattered my suspension of disbelief.)
In the first filmed rehearsal, she recounts the rape incident, at times, with something just short of delight, at one point calling herself an “exposed rape-ee” with a smile and a laugh. It’s really not until “the cameraman” asks point blank “It didn’t turn you on to be raped?” that she lets the joking go completely. Alec wouldn’t dare ask this question in the final version (although he comes close) because Shelby’s tone is not nearly as light at any moment in the final film. She makes light of things, but there is a deep pain present, even in these moments; her smiles are a defense mechanism then, a way that allows her to reveal this stuff with the camera on her. To me it is so interesting to see this actress get to that point, step by step.
Mr. Block tells us that Shelby viewed something called The Rape Tape, which comprised of woman telling the stories of their victimizations, both by rapists and sometimes by the people that were supposed to help them following the rape. With these various details, she was able to develop a composite and apply it to her character. And through her training in “method” work, she was able to link herself to these details and find the emotional connection that made it so powerful and real and create, as Glenn said, “something harrowing we can't quite put our fingers on”. One of these details, which she implements in the filmed rehearsals, but not in the final version, is about her condition just following the rape, attempting to walk up the stairs and being “reduced to the physicality of an old woman, I couldn’t walk more than one step at a time”; a powerful image, and perhaps one that would have added more power to the final piece, but, for whatever reason, was left out.
The most interesting difference between the second taped rehearsal and the final film (which are much closer to each other than the first and second taped rehearsals), is the choice Leverington makes to tell most of her rape story from the bed rather than, in the filmed version, from the chair. The difference is, in my thinking, astronomical. The movement she makes to the bed seems deliberate and does not work in her character’s underling objective, which is to leave and go to the movie. If Shelby thought this movement to the bed was needed in order for the viewer to realize that her character was in a different “place” than when she was putting the makeup on, it is such a relief to see that all the reveal of change that is needed is accomplished, in the film version, simply by her turning around and looking directly at Alec (and us) for the first time in the film. It would be interesting to find out if this was an adjustment made by Mr. Block or if Leverington herself had the instinct to make that choice. I really feel like it would be a much less successful film if this seemingly tiny choice was different.
Glenn calls this performance a “master class of method acting”. Obviously I agree. But I would go even further to say that, just because its viewership is not on par with other great film works, it doesn’t mean that this performance shouldn’t be appreciated as one of the most successful ever put on film. Not simply because this woman happens to pull off something that seems real, and not even simply because she achieves a certain undeniable emotional power in this work, but because a phenomenal truth is reached. Marc asks “Is this the truth of simply never taking cinema verite for granted? Or, more radically, any notion of any single truth?” I can’t put my finger on it. But maybe the answer lies in what weepingsam said: “It retains its power even after you know all the facts - but it makes you think about what it means to talk about fiction telling the truth...” Or maybe it’s the voices of the unheard, speaking through Ms. Leverington; the composite - alive…forever.