Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film

Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film

Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film

Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film


This is the first book-length study for nearly fifty years of the relations between early cinema and nineteenth-century theatre. Incorporating the results of recent reconsiderations of early cinema, Brewster explores what features of nineteenth-century theatre early film-makers borrowed or adapted, and the ways specific characteristics of cinema inflected these borrowings. Theatre to Cinema is a seminal work which will profoundly alter our understanding of early cinema.


I claim that every object, taken from a given viewpoint and shown on the screen to spectators, is a dead object, even though it has moved before the camera. The proper movement of an object before the camera is yet no movement on the screen, it is no more than raw material for the future building-up, by editing, of the movement that is conveyed by the assemblage of the various strips of film. Only if the object be placed together among a number of separate objects, only if it be presented as part of a synthesis of different separate visual images, is it endowed with filmic life. . . . Editing is the basic creative force, by power of which the soulless photographs (the separate shots) are engineered into living, cinematographic form.

FIRST published in 1928 in the introduction to the German edition of his book on film technique, this proclamation of the Soviet film director Vsevolod Pudovkin expresses an outlook on the nature of the cinema that still underlies most critical, historical, and theoretical considerations of cinema and films, despite the relative loss of prestige of the particular school of filmmaking, Soviet montage cinema, that Pudovkin wished to promote. Most discussion of films that goes beyond mere plot summary to describe and analyse the ways a film produces its effects starts from shots in their relations to other shots. Stylistic history of cinema discusses the origins of the close-up, of alternating editing, of shot-reverse-shot, of the point-of-view shot; stylistic analysis discusses average shot length, variation in shot scale, rhythms in the alternation of shots, or more broadly, schools of filmmaking based on differences in editing-- American 'invisible editing' versus Soviet montage cinema, for example; theory discusses the Kuleshov effect, the possible syntagmatic organization of shots in films, and 'suture', the relation between the film spectator and the kind of coherence he or she can find in a series of shots.

One reason for the success of this programme is convenience. Shots are (or appear to be) relatively unequivocal objects of investigation, found in almost all kinds of films (even animated ones), usually in a sufficiently large number in any one film to allow for all sorts of variation and hence subtle and detailed analysis. When they become more equivocal, as in montage sequences in American films, where multiple superimposition often makes it hard to say where one shot begins and another ends, those sequences can usually be isolated from the rest of a film so as to leave shot- by-shot analysis unimpeded, and those films that lack shots (such as some abstract films) or where the number of shots are so few as to tend to make such analysis banal, are rare enough or sufficiently off the beaten track of the film scholar to be ignored. On the other hand, the content of individual shots--staging, lighting, composition, blocking, acting--is much harder to analyse (except unsystematically, by an immediate correlation with plot, as when chiaroscuro lighting is described as 'sinister'). Hence a concentration on editing and the shot in Pudovkin's sense.

So self-evident has this centrality of the shot become, it is worth emphasizing that, before the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.