Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema, 1950-1980

By András Bálint Kovács | Go to book overview

10
Theatrical Styles

Theater was one of the main inspirations of late modern cinema, and it served as a characteristic stylistic background in many modern films, which is why we have to consider it a separate stylistic category.

Historically, the close interaction between modern theater and cinema is also explained by the parallel activities of many modernist directors. Andrzej Wajda, Ingmar Bergman, R. W. Fassbinder, Peter Brook, Tony Richardson, Vilgot Sjöman, Jean-Marie Straub, H.-J. Syberberg, Daniel Schmid, Marguerite Duras, and Armand Gatti are some of the best-known examples, but also Jacques Rivette of the French new wave constantly referred to theater, and Agnès Varda1 and especially Alain Resnais introduced a certain theatricality into modernist art cinema already in the early period. Even Godard approached theater in some of his most politically motivated films, like The Joy of Learning (1968) and All's Well (1972).

There are two general characteristics of theatrical style in modern cinema. One is the excessively unnatural, exaggerated, abstract way of acting that emphasized artificiality rather than psychological realism. The other is the artificial look of the sets as well as artificial, expressive lighting.

Artificiality may appear in various ways in modern theatrical styles depending on what kind of theatrical or spectacle background the film wants to evoke. In one of the first theatrical stylized films, Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad, all the characters talk and move as they were depicting a seventeenth-century French classical drama where gestures are overdrama

1. She was the longtime official photographer of the Théatre Populaire. That experi-
ence is clearly felt in her first film, La pointe-courte (1957).

-192-

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