Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film

By Ben Brewster; Lea Jacobs | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Pictorial Staging in the Theatre

PICTORIAL staging can be thought of as a historically restricted theatrical style. Nevertheless, no more than cinematic pictorialism can it be considered independently of the machinery that allowed it to be realized. At the heart of this machinery is the stage in the literal sense. This stage is very different in construction from that in most modern theatres, and, despite important national differences that will be discussed below, remarkably uniform from the late baroque period to the beginning of the twentieth century. 1

The most basic feature of this stage was its floor. This was almost always made of wood, and sloped gently down from the back wall of the theatre to the footlights at the division between stage and orchestra pit, usually extending a little beyond the proscenium arch in a short forestage that sometimes carried forward the rake. This floor had between two and four stories of substage space beneath it, and was divided in very complex ways by openings running across the stage, perpendicular to the axis of stage and auditorium. Indeed, so few were the axial structural elements of these stages, especially those in the French style, as to constitute a serious structural weakness, so that they tended to creep forward under their own weight. 2 The basic transverse units were numbered from front to rear and called 'entrances' in England, 'plans' in France; the number varies according to the size of the theatre and the depth of each entrance, but that depth had to be large enough to allow characters and stage furniture to come and go.

In French and most other continental-European stages (see Figures 4.1-4.3, Clément Contant's illustrations of the plan, transverse, and longitudinal sections of a 'French-system' stage containing a closed décor), 3 the plans were divided into two zones, the 'rue', a relatively wide band of the stage, with a floor made up of 'trappes' that could be slid aside to allow characters and three-dimensional furniture or properties to enter from below stage; and between each rue, a number of much narrower 'fausses rues', made up of 'trapillons' or little traps, that could also be slid aside so that a flat piece of scenery could be raised through the slot thus created. The two or three fausses rues between each rue were separated by 'costières', narrow slots running right across the stage. In the first substage storey below, there was a corresponding iron rail on which ran two-wheeled 'chariots' support-

-145-

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Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Molly's Book v
  • Preface vi
  • Contents ix
  • Technical Note xi
  • 1: Introductory 1
  • Chapter 1: Pictures 3
  • Chapter 2: Situations 18
  • 2: The Tableau 33
  • Chapter 3 the Stage Tableau in Uncle Tom's Cabin 37
  • Chapter 4: The Fate of the Tableau in the Cinema 48
  • 3: Acting 79
  • Chapter 5: Pictorial Acting in the Theatre 85
  • Chapter 6: Pictorial Styles and Film Acting 99
  • Chapter 7 the Pictorial Style in European Cinema 111
  • 4: Staging 139
  • Chapter 8: Pictorial Staging in the Theatre 145
  • Chapter 9: The Cinematic Stage 164
  • Chapter 10: Staging and Editing 188
  • Conclusion 212
  • Appendix: Plot Summary of Uncle Tom's Cabin 217
  • Bibliography 219
  • Filmography 229
  • Index 233
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