Cynthia Baron

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:

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Perceptions about screen acting have been remarkably polarized: when people give priority to the now-mythical experiment by Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov that is supposed to have shown that editing creates film and other mediated performances, it appears there is no real acting in film; when they reckon with the importance of stars and the star system, it seems clear that understanding films necessarily involves an appreciation of screen performances. In the era before cinema was superseded to some degree by television and electronic entertainment, distinctions between acting on stage and acting in film seemed paramount. In fact, the film actor’s absence from the physical space occupied by the spectators led theorists to believe that responses to the connotatively rich details of screen performances must be related to other factors. Cine-semiotics proposed, for example, that audience responses to shot-reverse-shot sequences featuring over-the-shoulder medium close-ups of the changing, evocative expressions on actors’ faces were not related to the legible human expressions but rather were grounded instead in films’ correspondence to psychic experience––specifically, the way seamless continuity editing mirrors the process by which subjectivity arises as an effect of being sutured into language and culture. However, as happenings, installation art, and other unscripted performance art pieces increasingly challenged the logic and legitimacy of traditional theatrical productions, and film acting became one of many types of mediated performance, the parallels between stage and screen acting grew more visible. Observers could see that, in the same way stage performances reflect the diversity of theater practice over time and across the globe, film performances are best understood when considered in light of conventions specific to different time periods, genres, aesthetic movements, production regimes, and national cinemas. Scholars attentive to acting manuals and interviews recognized that performance details in film acquire dramatic significance the same way they do on stage: through their interrelationships with other formal elements in the production, the dramatic facts established by previous scenes, and audiences’ extra-textual associations. Taking the lead from early theorists like Sergei Eisenstein, film scholars have long understood that audience interpretations are based in part on the selection and combination of filmic elements. Today, it is more widely recognized that performance details are elements in that selection and combination process, and that audiences encounter filmic details and the connotatively rich gestures that belong to an actor’s “performance montage” as interrelated components of sign–complexes.

Article.  11973 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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