Interpreting Acting in Cinema

Stage and Screen Acting

  • Language as the major source of meaning, thus the nuances of the dialogue must be conveyed through vocal expressiveness.
    • An actor’s voice must be capable of much variety. An actor must know which words to stress and how to stress them.
    • Acting in cinema is almost totally dependant on the filmmaker’s approach to the story materials. Generally, the more realistic a director’s techniques, the more necessary it is to rely on the abilities of the players. Such directors tend to favour long shots, which keep the performer’s entire body within the frame. This is the camera distance that corresponds to the proscenium arch of live theatre. The realist also tends to favour lengthy takes – thus permitting the actors to sustain performances for relatively long periods without interruption. From the audience’s point of view, it is easier to evaluate acting in a realistic movie because we are permitted to see sustained scenes without any apparent directorial interference. The camera remains essentially a recording device.
    • Before 1910, actor’s names were almost never included in a movie credits because producers feared the players would then demand higher salaries.
    • Through the silent era, stars grew giddy with their wealth and power. Intoxicated by the opulence of Hollywood’s royalty, the public was eager to learn more about its favourites. Fan (short for fanatic) magazines sprang up by the dozens and the burgeoning studios churned out a steady stream of publicity to feed the insatiable curiosity.
    • To this day, stars are referred to as “bankable” commodities – that is, insurance for large profits to investors.
    • Although there were a few important exceptions, movies without stars generally failed at the box office
    • Though the studios often exploited stars, there were some compensations. As a player’s box-office power increased, so did his/her demands. Top stars had their names above the title of the film, and they often had script approval stipulated in their contracts. Some of them also insisted on director, producer, and co-star approval. Glamorous stars boasted their own camera operators who knew how to conceal physical defects and enhance virtues. Many of them demanded their own clothes designers, hair stylists, and lavish dressing rooms. The biggest stars had movies especially tailored for them, thus guaranteeing maximum camera exposure.
    • Sophisticated filmmakers exploit the public’s affection for its stars by creating ambiguous tensions among the role as written, acted, and as directed. “Whenever the hero isn’t portrayed by a star, the whole picture suffers,” Hitchcock observed. “Audiences are far less concerned about the predicament of a character who’s played by someone they don’t know.”

    Styles of Acting

    Emotional recall – (developed by Stanislavsky) where an actor delves into his/her own past to discover feelings that are analogous to those of the character. Julie Harris (a critic) says: “In every part you do, there is some connection you can make with your own background or with some feeling you’ve had at one time or another.” Stanislavksy’s techniques were strongly psychoanalytical: By exploring their own subconscious, actors could trigger real emotions, which are recalled in every performance and transferred to the characters they are playing.


    Typage – (Eisenstein’s concept) depended on the actor’s appearance rather than his/her “real life” background, whereas realist directors ask nonprofessional actors to “play themselves”: If the character is a factory worker then the actor should also be a factory worker.

    In analyzing the acting in a movie, we should consider what types of actors are featured and why: amateurs, professionals, or popular stars? How are the actors treated by the director, as camera material or artistic collaborators? Is the editing manipulative or are the actors allowed to perform without a lot of cuts? Does the film highlight the stars or does the director encourage ensemble playing? What about the star’s iconography? Does he or she embody certain cultural values? What style of acting predominates? How realistic or stylized are the acting style and the costumes? Why were these actors cast? What do they bring with them to enhance their characters?

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