10.02.2020
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Theatricality in Cinema

What is the relationship between these two arts

Язык театра и кино
Reading time 4 minutes

What makes the languages of theater and cinema so different but at the same time so well complement each other?

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the cinema and theater is that the first one is fragmented. To achieve the desired effect, a director can use many takes – he has a few chances to «replay» the planned. But the viewer has no opportunity to «touch» the action. A film producing process and viewer’s consuming of a finished product process are separated in time.

«Stop! Cut!»

On the contrary, theatrical processes are continuous. The performance implies constant interaction with the viewer who acts as a «creator». The degree of influence of a play depends mainly on the audience involvement, its concentration on what is happening «here and now».

Theater is the art of reflecting (c) Konstantin Stanislavsky

The degree of the conventionality of both cinema and theater is closely connected with communication (mainly non-verbal) between actors and audience. The emotional involvement of the viewer is a necessary condition. The theater aims to unite actors and spectators in a single spiritual effort. But both cinema and theater strive to lead us to a state of “secondary belief” – appealing to our personal experiences, associations, and feelings. We empathize with characters, project the events and behavior of the characters on themselves, interpret meanings, and rethink what we have seen.

Another important feature is the illusion of reality, and in cinema, it is much stronger than in the theater. A director is able to recreate almost any historical epoch, and what is more, modern technology makes this task much easier. In the theater, all «special effects» are built-in, and the main mechanisms of influence are the actors’ mimicry and scenery. Spatial restrictions (stage frames) also have an effect.

Cinema should make the viewer forget that he is sitting in the movie (c) Roman Polanski

There are films that are on the verge of theater and cinema. «Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead»(1990, directed by Tom Stoppard) and «Anna Karenina» (2012, directed by Joe Wright) are interpretations of classics in which the artistic possibilities of theater and cinema complement each other.

In the first of them, the techniques of anachronism, demonstrative violations of sequence and visual citation (these resources are given by the cinema) are combined with the involvement of the heroes-observers in the course of action: the world for them at some point becomes theater, they move to the stage, in the heart of Shakespeare’s «Hamlet» – that is how an external consistency (theatrical feature) occurs.

There are two ways to become an artist. The first is to do what everyone thinks is art. Second: to make everyone think that what you are doing is art (c) Tom Stoppard

In the second one we meet the excessive body language and lively plasticity, striking with the splendor of scenery (the illusion of the site) with the «backstage» effect (in the design of the rear of the stage).

Shootings of the film “Anna Karenina” (2012, directed by Joe Wright)

Another interesting example is «The Hateful Eight» (2015). Quentin Tarantino borrows from the theater a method of narrative division into acts: the film consists of chapters, each of which becomes our «guide» in a confusing, dark, and bloody story. Interesting here are the mise-en-scenes transferred from theatricality, intended to reflect all the components of the inner life of the heroes, resulting in a struggle between them – as on the moral and ethical as on physical levels.

«They don’t come here without a good reason…»

The theater has something to offer to the film industry –its language possibilities if used correctly and appropriately by directors, which are really able to make a film more saturated visually and deeper in meaning.

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