Legitimate Cinema: Theatre Stars in Silent British Films, by Jon Burrows

By Jon Burrows

This is the 1st new book-length research of British cinema of the 1910s to be released for over fifty years, and it makes a speciality of the shut dating among the British movie and the Edwardian theatre. Why have been such a lot of West finish legends equivalent to Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Ellen Terry again and again tempted to dabble in silent movie paintings? Why have been movie manufacturers so willing to hire them? Jon Burrows stories their monitor performances and considers how effectively they made the transition from one medium to the opposite, and provides a few arguable conclusions in regards to the strangely large social diversity of filmgoers to whom their movies appealed.

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This he does by absolute self-abandonment in his scenes of emotion . . he appeals irresistibly to those eternal primitive sympathies which may be obscured by affectation, but which exist in every theatrical audience . . 30 Some lecturers in the arts of acting and elocution still advocated and perpetuated a formalised course of instruction in gestural expression. In 1911 The Era reprinted a lecture on gesture given by one such figure, Miss Davies Webster, at the Conservatoire Theatre, London. 31 This reference to melodrama, along with the preceding comment from this same journal about the tastes of provincial audiences, is one 39 legitimate cinema of a number of clear hints and suggestions in the stage trade press that an older art of traditional vigorous gesture was still practised in many theatrical outposts immediately beyond the West End.

The effeminate and neurotic play and the cautious, self-restrained, half-indifferent actor and actress have, no doubt, their places in the artistic whole. The danger is that they may come to set the fashion. The Sicilians point a moral and indicate a danger. The effect they create is by giving themselves utterly and recklessly up to the passion they are imagining . . [Signor Grasso] raises his audience to a pitch of excitement which may fairly be described as furore. This he does by absolute self-abandonment in his scenes of emotion .

A hugely expanded mass market for the cinema was created in an amazingly short space of time by the proliferation of innumerable shop-sized venues converted to the exclusive presentation of film screenings and also the emergence of nation-wide chains of large, purpose-built and, in some cases, rather salubrious picture palaces. 1 Charlie Keil, who has done most to establish ‘transitional 43 legitimate cinema cinema’ as a valent category label for films made between 1907 and 1913, suggests that ‘the transitional years constitute a distinct and separable experiment in forming narratives .

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