“Playing to the Balcony: Screen Acting, Distance and Cavellian Theatricality”. In: Stages of Reality: Theatricality in Cinema. Toronto: University of Toronto Press; 2012. WebsiteAbstract.
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.