The Return of the Theatrical
The fight against the theatrical influence had been one of art filmmakers' oldest campaigns in their drive to achieve artistic independence. The “genuine film artist” considered theatricality in the cinema to be the antithesis of cinema's own aesthetic qualities.1 There were, however, two main reasons why theater could not be entirely eliminated from the cinema, and why postwar modernism had to face theatricality again.
One obvious reason for the return of theatricality was the appearance of synchronic sound. The most obvious artistic reference for staging talking actors was theater. Many writers saw a big danger in the “return” of theater. We can read in Close Up in 1928 the concern of Jean Lenauer: “When, a few months ago, people began to battle over the talking film, I was frankly hostile and tried to combat it to the limit of my power I foresaw a horrible deformation, a mere degradation, with the added words returning to the worst theater.”2 Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Alexandrov predicted the same danger: “This first period of sensations will not prejudice the development of the new art, but there will be a terrible second
1. Theoretical reflections opposing theater and cinema and reclaiming the inde-
pendence of cinema go back as early as 1908, when the success of the filmed theater,
named Film d'art, with L'Assasinat du Duc de Guise, raised this question seriously for the
first time. The same year the daily newspaper Le Figaro conducted a poll asking critics
and writers whether they thought that with the filmed theater the cinema had come to
its apogee. Sacha Guitry's answer was, “I think that the cinema has already passed its
apogee.” Renée Jeanne and Charles Ford, Le cinéma et la presse, 1895–1960 (Paris: Armand
Colin, 1961), 37–41.
2. Cited in Close Up, 1927–1933: Cinema and Modernism, ed. James Donald, Anne
Friedberg, and Laura Marcus (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 87.