September 10, 2009

psychological Russian acting

Yuri Tsivian, on the topic of early Russian cinema, writes [13-18]:
The most paradoxical of the many strange features of Russian cinema in the 1910s is the immobility of its figures. The static Russian mise-en-scene, which to the uninitiated might appear to be a sign of hopeless direction, in actual fact bore all the characteristics of a conscious aesthetic programme.
He goes on to cite several sources concerning this trend. As a general description:
The film story breaks decisively with all the established views on the essence of the cinematographic picture: it repudiates movement.
A Russian critique of an American film:
As far as the whole pace of the action is concerned, neither the director nor the cast have managed to capture that slow tempo that is so common in the Russian feature-film play. The actors are still too fidgety, as the Americans are wont to be; their acting still derives largely from the superficial, from objects and facts rather than from experiences and emotions.
And a manifesto of the Russian style:
In the world of the screen, where everything is counted in terms of metres, the actor's struggle for the freedom to act has led to a battle for long (in terms of metres) scenes or, more accurately, for 'full' scenes, to use Olga Gzovskaya's marvellous expression. A 'full' scene is one in which the actor is given the opportunity to depict in stage terms a specific spiritual experience, no matter how many metres it takes. The 'full' scene involves a complete rejection of the usual hurried tempo of the film drama. Instead of a rapidly changing kaleidoscope of images, it aspire to rivet the attention of the audience on a single image.... This may sound like a paradox for the art of cinema (which derives its name from the Greek work for 'movement') but the involvement of our best actors in cinema will lead to the slowest possible tempo.... Each and every one of our best film actors has his or her own style of mime: Mosjoukine has his steely hypnotised look; Gzovskaya has a gentle, endlessly varying lyrical 'face'; Maximov has his nervous tension and Polonsky his refined grace. But with all of them, given their unusual economy of gesture, their entire acting process is subjugated to a rhythm that rises and falls particularly slowly.... It is true that this kind of portrayal is conventional, but convention is the sign of any true art.
An amusing debate. "Psychological" acting has become normal now (in art cinema -- commercial cinema remains fidgety); which begs an odd (misleading) question. Were the Russians ahead of their time or behind it?

(Also important to note, acting played an important part in the development of montage theories (though this connection is mostly forgotten now). How inter-related are methods of acting and film rhythm? Are today's long-take, interior filmmakers closer to this past than we realize? (Because it amuses me,) I'd like to think they are...)