Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Stanislavsky's Terms for Script Analysis: Vocabulary for Analyzing Screen Performances

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Stanislavsky's Terms for Script Analysis: Vocabulary for Analyzing Screen Performances

Article excerpt

Alongside the field's increasing inter- est in research that uses "primary materials other than films themselves" (Smoodin 2) to investigate factors related to audience recep- tion, regulatory systems (censorship), and the material aspects of film and media production, other studies continue to show the value of analyzing films' representational strategies. In the work that explores the rhetoric of cinematic representations, scholars consistently draw on production terms such as "close-ups," "jump cuts," and "point-of-view shots" to identify and describe the meanings and ideological impli- cations about race, gender, class, sexuality, and so on that are conveyed by filmic choices.1 Stanislavsky's terms for script analysis can con- tribute to those studies. Script analysis terms not only are used by actors and directors to cre- ate performances; they also provide vocabulary for discussing character dynamics in completed films.2 As a look at scenes from the Coen broth- ers' black comedy Fargo (1996) and Kevin Mac- donald's epic biopic The Last King of Scotland (2006) should suggest, Stanislavsky's terms for script analysis are well suited to ideological studies of film because they facilitate analysis of individual and social power relations. Built as they are on established conventions of dra- matic structure, scenes from these two films show that characters with waning power might resist succumbing to the desires of stronger characters but that they are overtaken, in some- times humorous, sometimes frightening ways, by more dominant characters.3

The vocabulary actors consistently use to ascertain and embody characters' desires, dilemmas, and interactions were established by Konstantin Alekseev (1863-1938), who in 1884 began using the name he would come to be known by, Stanislavsky. Synthesizing the innovative acting approaches of his time, Stanislavsky proposed that actors, working in collaboration with directors, should build their performances through a methodical pro- cess of script analysis that reckoned with four fundamental elements: the characters' given circumstances in each scene and at the outset of the story; the objectives the characters seek to achieve in each scene and by the end of the story; the actions they will use to try to obtain their objectives; and the "beats" or units of action in each scene that reveal the series of actions the characters employ to reach their respective objectives.

Vocabulary for Analyzing Performances Action-by-Action

When Stanislavsky's terms for script analysis are used in studies of completed films, perfor- mances can thus be considered in light of the following questions:

1. What are the g iven circumstances for each character in the scene (or story)?

2. What is each character's objective in the scene (or story)?

3. What are the actions each character/actor uses to achieve that objective?

4. What physical/vocal changes convey shifts from one unit of action to another?

In any scene, each character has one primary objective, and it is often directly opposed to the objective that the other character has set out to achieve. Characters/actors then use a series of actions in an attempt to reach their respective objectives. In theater and film, ac- tors use playable, goal-directed actions that are designed to create a change in the other character/actor. An abbreviated list of action verbs offered by acting-directing teacher Ju- dith Weston includes accuse, cajole, charm, complain, compliment, dazzle, demand, flat- ter, incite, knife, nail, persuade, pry, punish, ridicule, scrutinize, seduce, soothe, stalk, and warn (302-03). Acting-directing teacher Wil- liam Ball emphasizes that "actable" verbs are entirely distinct from intellectual, conditional, existential, or adjectival verbs, such as atone, fear, hope, and adore (85-88). His list of play- able verbs includes hurt, inspire, suppress, enlighten, crush, lambast, organize, destroy, prepare, build, ensnare, reassure, justify, mock, bombard, devastate, fascinate, sur- round, overwhelm, conquer, possess, praise, strengthen, fortify, exalt, lionize, and deify (85-90). …

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