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10 - The screen actress from silence to sound

from Part II - Professional opportunities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2008

John Stokes
Affiliation:
King's College London
Maggie B. Gale
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
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Summary

“Who are these that come captivating us from the golden gates and cloudless skies of the Far West, this new generation of silent sirens, begotten by the swift magic of the camera, and who, though bereft of the old seductions of speech and song, do yet most potently enthral our multitudes in every town, ravishing and titillating the common imagination with allurements of dumb mimicry, and streaking the vast expanses of our drab modernity with ultra rainbow rays of romance?” Henry Arthur Jones, New York Times, 1921 / In the 1910s film acting was recognised in Britain and America as one among a range of new professional opportunities for the modern girl. At the same time players from legitimate theatre began to test cinema as an alternative career outlet, while the trade, fan and journalistic press debated the impact of filmmaking on the actor and the differences between the two forms. As a powerful star system evolved in America, arguments began to distinguish between stardom and acting. Much of this ferment turned on the pleasures and anxieties aroused by new forms of public visibility centred on the film actress. These debates are significant less for their outcomes - for there was no decisive separation of screen from stage acting - but for the issues and discursive constructions they put into play. Moreover, because cinema developed transnationally, these debates, albeit forced to engage with the dominant cinematic vernacular evolved by Hollywood, were crucially inflected by local conditions.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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