Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Reframing Television Performance

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Reframing Television Performance

Article excerpt

a decade ago, i wrote an article titled "Reconceptualizing Screen Performance" for a 2006 special edition of this journal. A number of writers have gratifyingly engaged with a range of the points I made there; however, it seems to me that the arguments I presented neither changed doxa nor have had an adequate refutation in the rethinking of screen performance. My central argument was that performance is fundamentally different from representation and that all media texts are essentially performative, constructing particular relationships between performer and audience. Further, I suggested that an emphasis on discerning intentionality "in" performance (and by an actor) is, for me, a less productive approach than analyzing how performances deploy a particular repertoire of techniques and skills to structure meaning and inference, regardless of whether the actor may intend this or not. In my earlier article, I also noted that there had been a relative lack of attention given to critical analysis of screen performance relative to the plethora of acting manuals and studies of individual stars and the considerable focus on acting in journalistic interviews (the latter usually conducted in press junkets, carefully stage-managed by the actor's publicist). A decade later, although there has been more sustained exploration of film performance, there is-and this was missing in my own article-an even greater lack of analysis of television performance. This absence is especially odd considering the significant attention given to what has become termed "quality TV" in the past decade or so, applied to TV shows in which, ironically, television performances are quite clearly central to the shows' achievements and audience engagement. 1 The distinctiveness of such quality television as The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards, it seems to me, is at least in part due to their screen performances.

My starting point in thinking about performance in my earlier article was to place emphasis on framing, arguing that "conceptualizing performance involves not just reading actors' performances, important though this is, but also a wider consideration of the ontology of film, and the epistemological frames through which screen performance makes sense" (Drake, "Reconceptualizing" 84). Only by opening up questions of ontology and epistemology, I suggested, can we understand the particularity of screen performance, how it is different from everyday performance, and how it is meaningful. In making this point, I was drawing on a range of work from symbolic interactionism, phenomenological sociology, ordinary language philosophy, and media and performance studies, rather than the limited theoretical work on performance in film and television studies. Part of my article was focused on star performers who bring extratextual celebrity signification to their roles, offering audiences a multiply coded performance, where the actor is recognized both as a star performing himself or herself and as a character within a narrative. However, I was also interested in the performance of the nonrecognizable supporting actors and the work they perform, anchoring those stars to dramatic realism and verisimilitude through performances using indirect address. This services narrative and works with rather than against mise-en-scène, reinforcing fourth-wall staging, and uses effaced camera, synchronous sound, and other conventions of realist drama. My analysis of Marlon Brando's screen performance in the opening scene of The Godfather (1972), for instance, considered the performance of the star, Brando, playing Don Corleone against the anchoring function offered by the Italian actor playing Bonasera, Salvatore Corsitto (Drake, "Reconceptualizing" 90-92). Brando, I suggested, is positioned in order to be presented as an ostended sign, mediated through his star image. Brando's performance draws upon the other actor in the scene, who performs according to a different, realist economy of acting. …

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