If naturalistic acting serves the interests of diegetic absorption and functions as a metaphorical bridge between irredeemably separate subjects, then theatricality re-establishes an insurmountable barrier. Just as Stanley Cavell maintains that cinema cannot offer the mutuality and co-presence of actors and audience that is essential to live theatre, and that it must always screen the audience from a staged reality, theatrical screen acting similarly obstructs intersubjective connectivity between viewer and viewed. On film, ostentatious presentational acting reinforces the insurmountable separateness of individuals. Daniel Day-Lewis’ recent turn in There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) as a monstrous turn-of-the-century oil baron is a case in point. The critical reception of his performance is decidedly divided between rapturous accolades for its ferocity and the hostile belittlement of its apparently overripe histrionics. Indeed, the film’s infamous final sequence does more than present Day-Lewis at his most unhinged; for his detractors, his apparent theatrics bring about an unwarranted shift in the film’s tonal register that destroys the work’s stylistic and emotional continuity. Such criticism misses the point entirely. There Will Be Blood is a sustained exercise in theatrical alienation, and its subject is a fundamentally metaphysical one: the irredeemable separateness of an other.</p><p>By reconfiguring ostentatious performance from an alienating mode of expression to a rhetorical strategy that affects the self-consciousness of viewers, theatricality transcends its typical characterization as the antithesis of dramatic absorption. Theatrical screen actors do more than present us with a set of stylized gestures; they speak of an inescapable ontological dilemma. Hailing us as viewers rather than confederates, far removed from any possibility of proximity or shared subjectivity, their radical otherness does not permit intimacy, only helpless scrutiny.
This comprehensive collection provides theoretical accounts of the grounds and phenomenon of film acting. The volume features entries by some of the most prominent scholars on film acting who collectively represent the various theoretical traditions that constitute the discipline of film studies. Each section proposes novel ways of considering the recurring motifs in academic enquiries into film acting, including: (1) the mutually contingent problematic of description and interpretation, (2) the intricacies of bodily dynamics and their reception by audiences, (3) the significance of star performance, and (4) the impact of evolving technologies and film styles on acting traditions.
This paper describes how actors are able to articulate complex assertions via their performances, and argues that our seemingly instinctive inclination toward the evaluation of acting can be understood as a tacit acknowledgement and appreciation of these embodied suppositions. With star acting in particular, we can identify the creative mobilization of recurring elements that form a conceptual nucleus, which serves to organize various discursive clusters surrounding an actor’s work. These core principles can be referred to as performative indices, and our interest in their manifestation is twofold: we appreciate the particularities of how a performer enacts these performative indices creatively, and the more skilled performers use them to make assertions regarding the larger beliefs, conditions, desires, ethical tenets, ideologies, problems and tensions that their stardom dramatizes. To become cognizant of such underlying conceptual dimensions of screen acting, then, is to recognize that our interest in actors’ mimetic capacities and/or their cultural connotations as stars is neither axiomatic nor exclusive.