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‘Best Betrayal’: the Documentation of performance on Video and Film, Part 1

  • Annabelle Melzer


Whether described as adaptations, documentations, translations, or transcriptions, the video cassettes which allow us to see performances on video are proliferating. Not always easily available for begging, borrowing, or buying, not always willingly turned over by the theatre companies who hold them for in-house use, often lost or erased by television channels, and always beleaguered with copyright problems, these electronic arts ‘documents’ are none the less causing a revolution in teaching, rehearsal methods, and research. In what constitutes a first detailed mapping of the territory, Annabelle Melzer's two-part article deals with the theoretical and aesthetic questions surrounding performance documentation, with some of the hands-on issues of such filming – and with her own journey to seek out the documents themselves. Annabelle Melzer, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Tel Aviv, is completing ten years of research on the adaptation and documentation of theatre through moving image documents. Shakespeare on Screen, the first volume of her multi-volume filmography, Theatre on Screen, appeared in 1991, receiving the Choice and American Library Association awards as outstanding reference book of 1991. Her articles on avant-garde performance have appeared in Artforum, Theatre Research International, and Comparative Drama, and her Hazan Prize-winning book Dada and Surrealist Performance has just been reissued by Johns Hopkins University Press. She is at present writing a book on the theatricality of war.



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Notes and References

1. Peter, Brook, ‘A Talk with Peter Brook,’ American Theater, III (19691970), p. 1623.

2. Jean, Genet, quoted in Richard, Kalisz, ‘Televised Theatricality or Televised Theatre?’ in Robert, L. Erenstein, ed., Theatre and Television (Amsterdam: International Theatre Bookshop, 1988), p. 79.

3. Richard, Kalisz, op. cit., p. 80.

4. Ritsaert ten Cate, in Erenstein, op. cit., p. 56.

5. Patrice, Pavis, ‘Reflections on the Notation of the Theatrical Performance,’ in Languages of the Stage: Essays in the Semiology of the Theatre. (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), P. 129.

6. Peter, Brook, ‘Filmer le ThéâreCahiers Thédãtre Louvain, XLVI (1981), p. 41.

7. Ritsaert ten Cate, in Erenstein, op. cit., p. 51–2.

8. Merce, Cunningham, in Peter, Z. Grossman, ‘Talking with Merce Cunningham About Video,’ Dance Scope, XIII, Nos. 2–3 (1979), p. 57

9. Peter van Stapele, in Erenstein, op. cit., P. 235.

10. Jeffrey, Bush and Peter, Z. Grossman, ‘Video-dance,’ Dance Scope, IX, No.3 (Spring–Summer 1975), p. 11.

11. Marvin, Carlson, ‘The Theatre Event and Filmic Documentation,’ Degres Cahiers Théätre Louvain, XL, No. 48 (Winter 1986).

12. Ronald, Argelander, ‘Photo-Documentation’, The Drama Review, Fall 1974.

13. Richard Kalisz, op. cit., P. 80.

14. Pavis, op. cit., p. 112.

15. Hackett, James K., ‘Hackett's Strong Arguments for Pictures’, Moving Picture World, 07 1914, quoted in John, Tibbits, The American Theatrical Film (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1985), P. 68–9.

16. ‘Reinhardt's Mystery Play in Pictures’, New York Dramatic Mirror, 26 06 1912, p. 22, quoted in Tibbits, op. cit., p. 55.

17. Susan, Sontag, ‘Film and Theatre,’ Tulane Drama Review, XI, No. 1 (Fall 1966), p. 25.

18. Jonathan, Miller. Subsequent Performances (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), p. 52.

19. Ibid.

20. Much of the little work published on performance documentation has been hidden from the English reading public. In 1981 a single issue of Cahiers Théâtre Louvain (No. 46), devoted to ‘Filmer le Théâter’, transcribed in French the CNRS round-table talks on filming theatre, held at lvry-sur-Seine (1977), with contributors including Denis Bablet, Peter Brook, Antoine Vitez, Ariane Mnouchkine, and other theatre and film professionals and scholars. In 1985 Marco de Marinis' ‘A Faithful Batrayal of Performance: Notes on the Use of Video in Theater’, in New Theeatre Quarterly, 1, No. 4 (11 1985), p. 383–9. introducecd the English reader to the ‘Italian school’, which has done some of the most fertile work in the field of performance documentation, notably Ferruccio Marottis's ‘Per ritarre il grido che ho sognato: 100 film alle adici del teatro’, and his ‘Intervista’, in Nicola Savarese, Film didattici sul teatro. In 1988 Robert L. Erenstein published the anthology Theatre and Television, the proceedings of the International FIRT/NOS conference on the subject, held in Hilversum, the Netherlands, a year earlier. Marvin Carlson's ‘The Theare Event and Filmic Documentation’ appeared in Degres, XL, No. 48 (Winter 1986), a French journal devoted to studies in semiotics which has also published such pieces as Paul Bouissac's essay on filmed circus performance, ‘Espace performatif et espace mediatisé: Ia déconstruction du spectacle de cirque dans les representations televisées’ (XVI, No. 57, 1989), and its single issue (No. 49, 1986) devoted to ‘La Captation’. Modern Drama also published a special issue in 1985 (XXVIII, No. 1), ‘Modern Drama and the Media’. Patrice Pavis has published regularly on the subject in such essays as ‘Reflections on the Notation of the Theatrical Performance’, in Languages of the Sta1ge (New York:PAJ Publications, 1982), and ‘Le Théâtre et les médias: specificité et interferences’, in Helbo, A. et al., eds., Théâtre: modes d'approches (Bruxelles, 1987). Performance documentation is also referred to in Egil Tornqvist's Transposing Drama: Studies in Representation (New York: St. Martin's, 1991), and in Jonathan, Miller'sSubsequent Performances (London: Faber and Faber, 1986).

21. Peter, Brook, Cahiers Théâtre Louvain, op. cit., p.41.

22. Antoine, Vitez, Cahiers Théâtre Louvain, op. cit., p. 41.

23. Denis, Bablet, Cahiers Théâtre Louvain, op. cit., p. 58

24. Margot, Lewitin, in SLW, ‘Transforming Theatre: the Women's Interart Center’, Theatre Crafts, XVII, No. 8 (10 1983).

25. Sonja, de Leeuw, ‘Television in the Grip of Theatre: Is There a Way Out? Introductory Notes on a Television-Specific Approach to the Theatre-Television Relationship’, in Erenstein, op. cit., p. 210.

26. Marcelle, Imhauser, ‘Are the Dice Loaded?’ in Erenstein, op. cit., p. 100.

27. A joint initiative of ‘L’Aile francophone du centre belge de l'institut international du théâtre' (ITI) and ‘La Direction de l'audiovisuel de Ia communauté francaise’, with the collaboration of le centre culturel ‘Le Botanique’, the T.T.B.F., the S.A.C.D., the C.G.R.I., and the ‘Centre d'aide technique et de formation théâtrale’.

28. Editorial’, Cinéaste, XCI, No. 3 (1988).

29. Peter, Brook, Cahiers Théâtre Louvain, op. cit., p. 28.

30. Tests Start at Paramount's New LI. Sound Studios – First Full Length in November’, Variety, 25 07 1928, p. 7, quoted in Tibbits, op. cit., p. 116.

31. Francois, Luxereau, Cahiers Théâtre Louvain, op. cit., p. 86.

32. Marcelle, Imhauser, in Erenstein, op. cit., p. 100.

33. Ritsaert, ten Cate, ‘Making Theatre beyond Television’, in Erenstein, op. cit., p. 50.


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