Presentational And Representational Acting

Acting styles also exist on a continuum, with extreme presentational styles at one end and extreme representational styles at the other. The distinction between the two is not clear-cut. Viewers' knowledge, experience, and expectations help to determine whether or not a particular performance will be seen as presentational or representational. Moreover, the two styles appear in different films made during the same period, and are often found in the same film. Gradations of presentational and representational styles exist even in the earliest years of film performance. While a presentational style marks performances in single-scene novelty pieces such as The May Irwin Kiss (1896) and Fatima's Coochee-Coochee Dance (1901) and single-scene trick films such as The Lady Vanishes (1896) and How It Feels to Be Run Over (1901), other types of single-scene films seem to capture the "natural" behavior of individual human beings. For example, many slice-of-life actualités produced by the Lumière Company are staged to suggest scenes of individuals engaged in familiar activities and are crafted so that the actions of selected individuals disclose discernible personality traits. In actualités such as La Sortie des usines Lumière (Leaving the Lumière Factory, 1895) and Bataille de boules de neige (Snowball Fight, 1896), the men singled out riding a bicycle through the crowd in each film seem to enjoy the opportunity to clown around. In Enfants péchant des crevettes (Children Digging for Clams, 1896) a young woman in the foreground seems to be a bit anxious about being photographed. While these individuals reveal their awareness of the camera, in contrast to the novelty pieces or trick films, the individuals are not presented as if they are onstage but instead as if they are reenacting scenes from daily life and inadvertently revealing aspects of their individual personalities.

The acting style or styles featured in a film reflect the conception of character and the conception of cinema at the heart of that specific film. Put in the simplest terms, presentational acting styles are used to present character types or social types, while representational acting styles are used to represent characters with ostensibly unique personality traits. For example, the presentational acting style found in Making of an American Citizen (Alice Guy Blaché, 1912) illuminates identifiable social types, while the representational style of Lillian Gish's (1893-1993) performance in The Mothering Heart (1913) suggests a character with certain individual qualities. Presentational acting styles can also be found in modernist films that are designed according to pictorial or graphic principles. In a film such as Oktyabr (Ten Days that Shook the World and October, 1927), Eisenstein uses the evocative power of the stage picture and the polemical power of the social tableau to make his directorial statement. By comparison, representational acting styles are often found in mainstream films that are designed according to novelistic principles. In Wuthering Heights (1939), William Wyler uses the cinematic frame to create a window on a verisimilar world that invites audiences to locate occasions for emotional resonance.

Studies of acting in early cinema often discuss the presentational performance styles in American and European films produced before 1913. Scholars agree


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  • fabrizia
    What is performance style in cinema?
    9 years ago
  • sebastian
    Is film representationalal acting?
    9 years ago

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