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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Introducing Emma Thompson's Sternocleidomastoid Muscles


4:04: The exact time Miss Thompson’s SCM twitched.



At present, this is my most
popular post of all time. Thanks
Miss Thompson for being
my lucky charm.
Bear with me as I attempt to scientifically discuss Emma Thompson’s precise timing in the control of her sternocleidomastoid muscles in one scene from Howards End.  First, I do not claim to be well-versed in anatomical science, so pardon for any inaccuracy, but I suggest just look at this article as a quirky analysis of an actress uncanny talent.  Let’s just amuse ourselves as students of the art and science of acting.  Now that is out of the way, let’s proceed.

Wikipedia online encyclopaedia defines “the sternocleidomastoid muscles, also known as sternomastoid and commonly abbreviated as SCM, is a paired muscle in the superficial layers of the anterior portion of the neck. It acts to flex and rotate the head. It also acts as an accessory muscle of inspiration, along with the scalene muscles of the neck.” (1)   

In one of the most powerful scenes in Howards End, Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) futilely tried to convince his wife Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) in revealing the name of her sister’s supposed seducer.  Margaret insisted that her sister’s awkward yet personal predicament was a private matter that should not involve other individuals outside the Schlegel immediate family. Margaret pleaded to her husband Henry to allow her sister to stay for just one night in his vacant house Howards Ends before heading to Germany.  Henry vehemently, but civilly, refused thus forcing Margaret to remind him of his own infidelity. Unfortunately, Henry became more agitated and retorted Margaret. 

The most striking part of Miss Thompson’s calculated slow progression of releasing and controlling vent up emotions was that exact moment when Henry yelled the words “Now do you understand?”  Miss Thompson’s sternocleidomastoid muscles twitched on cue, a potent visual sign of her character’s internal turmoil that must remain under control and below the surface. Why? Because that was who Margaret Schlegel was.  It takes a brilliant thespian to fully grasp the complexities and motivations of his character that even in his character’s most silent scenes, the great actor can still communicate something profound to the audience. No words, and if necessary, employ even the most mundane of anatomical muscles.  Whoa! That’s a mouthful.


Taken from Wikipedia (Part of Public Domain)
I tried ladies and gents to control my SCM on cue.  I instructed my friend, a fellow student of acting, to yell profanities and derogatory words at me.  As hard as I tried, I could not seem to get my SCM to twitch on cue at a particular phrase.  My SCM either twitched too soon or too late, making our mock scene less powerful. And every failed attempt I make, I reveal how much of a mediocre actor I really am.  I should have paid more attention during anatomy class if I had known how crucial that would be in the art of acting.





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Notes: (1) Taken from Wikipedia.

Disclaimer: The video was taken from YouTube.  I do not own the video right. No copyright infringement intended. The video here may be too small to have a clear view of Thompson's SCM twitch.  You can go to YouTube for a bigger view or purchase the film. Howards Ends is available on DVD for a more detailed analysis.  :-)

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