In Inasmuch , birth and death scenes comprise familiar cinematic terrain, but there is no dialogue, actions diverge from expectations, and emotional journeys are rerouted. A woman is in the throes of childbirth and her husband, children, and a mid-wife are at hand. Anxious glances and sweaty brows are all in order, but when the newborn boy is taken out to the waiting family in the arms of his father, the family have gone.
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The baby then quickly morphs through the male family members, from toddler to old man, with varying reactions from the father struggling under their weight. Later, the old man lies dying and, once more, family members gather around. Gestures of grief and concern give way to amazement as the old man stands up and attempts to dress before abruptly passing away.
I will refer to this as the transitional period in early silent cinema, a period characterized by a gestural mediality that draws attention to the performing body. Delsarte, a French singer and actor who developed an original training system for voice and gesture applicable to singing, oratory, and acting referred to as a system of expression , opened his school in Paris in The latter has unfortunately distorted the revolutionary contributions he made to the former.
Delsarte believed in a natural correspondence between mind and body and had faith in corporeal knowledge and the expressive potential of the body beyond the spoken word. For Delsarte, the body is always producing some kind of meaning. At the same time, dance was developing new modes of corporeal expression and the work of Ruth St.
This also made her the natural choice to collaborate with D. A gestural crisis occurred and its symptoms were manifested in physical maladies such as neurasthenia and hysteria.
Gesture-Dance 67 corporeal performance and gestural processes that resonates with the contemporary ideas of Hubert Godard. Godard writes: The body mythologies circulating in a social group write themselves in the postural system and reciprocally, the corporeal attitude of individuals makes itself the medium of this mythology. Sally Gardner, Writings on Dance 22 Summer — : The patterns of corporeal behavior in this world are broken when Pennell has a gang of young girls bark like dogs at the camera, or she choreographs a spiralling string of skaters. For the rendering of human gesture, nothing beats cinema for its ability to provide focus, access, revision, quotation, manipulation, framing, and exploration.
Yet, surprisingly little analytical work has been done on gesture in cinema, let alone the exceptional gestures of silent cinema. It was this crisis of the corporeal sphere and its gestures that opened up possibilities for the moving body beyond coded or prescribed action and created, in screen performance, a transitional period of gestural mediality.
The earlier writings of Georg Simmel, Siegfried Kracauer, and Walter Benjamin among others provide the basis for a large body of social, aesthetic, and cultural theory produced in the s and s on this subject. Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Shwartz Berkeley: University of California Press, , 1.
Harry Zohn London: Fontana Press, , Beard, along with Dr.
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Achille-Adrien Proust, believed neurasthenia directly resulted from the conditions of modernity. The growth rate of fatigue and nervous disorders seemed to be directly proportional to the intensity of energy necessary to contend with modern society.
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Agamben thus sets the scene for a gestural revolution involving body cultures, new dance forms, and actor training and performance techniques. Achille-Adrien Proust. For what art form suffers more through the isolation of one image from the continuity to which that image belongs? Cinema would become the natural home for gestural expression. But, given the crisis of the body outlined above, what condition were those gestures in? And when the age realised this, it then began but it was too late!
Running quickly between attempts and throwing himself in again and again, he does appear to have lost control of an apparently agile body and be at the mercy of an oddly powerful force of gravity.
Gesture-Dance 73 but, rather than still poses, each family member is moving about in unaccountable ways. Dam sneezes uncontrollably and Mrs.
Hellen Dam is nagging so violently she loses her words as well as her breath. Jimmy Dam smiles, blows off large amounts of smoke, and wipes his face in manic succession. Miss U. Dam fusses quickly with her hair and pins on a hat while smiling, laughing, and chatting nervously. Miss I. Dam swings violently from side to side in a dance, also frantically donning a hat, and even Baby Dam, The Dam Cook, and The Dam Dog busy themselves with grimaces and rapid actions, the dog actually having to get up and leave frame.
The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such. Schwartz , To return to the Pennell and Vandekeybus examples, in Magnetic North narrative is replaced with an observational mode that expresses the world of the Finnish teenagers through their corporeal activities and the dramatic, snow-bound environment.
What kinds of research and practices were supporting this period of experimentation?
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Here, he set about developing a new training system for his music students to compensate for the lack of harmony he found in the 36 Ibid, Harold F. Rubenstein London: The Dalcroze Society, , viii. Those ideas include recognition of a correspondence between mind and body, the development of methodologies to regain control over this relation, unswerving faith in corporeal knowledge, and his passionate promotion of gesture over spoken word in relation to expression.
Manifesting in teachings at Denishawn and informing performance techniques across the board, the intense corporeal research undertaken by Delsarte and others would encourage an exchange between performance disciplines, resulting in a gestural revolution on stage and screen. Nina Lara Rosenblatt and Michael Cowan draw a direct line from neurasthenia to the physical regime of Eurythmics.
Werner, , — Delsarte did not document his theories so accounts of his work come primarily from a draft manuscript for a book that is mostly anecdotal, and from the writings of his students and disciples. The proliferation of incomplete and secondary literature reduced his methodologies to a documented system, but it was also this very reduction that ensured the dissemination, application, and popularity of Delsartism. Not a discord in his diatonic scale.
The ideas of Sigmund Freud — gained currency in America after he lectured there in In this anecdote he reveals his trust in the intelligence, knowledge, and authority of the body and its gestures in relation to authentic expression. The life and the mind being subordinate to the heart, to the soul, gesture is the chief organic agent. It prepares the way, in fact, for language and thought; it goes before them and foretells their coming; it accentuates them.
By its silent eloquence it predisposes, it guides the listener. It makes him a witness to the secret labor performed by the immanences which are about to burst forth. Gesture is the direct agent of the heart. It is the revealer of thought and the commentator upon speech. It is merely that they refer to words as yet unborn.
In Broken Blossoms , d.
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She expresses a range from timidity to blind terror, saying much more with her body than the minimal intertitles. When her father accuses her of returning home late she turns 49 Delsarte , Ibid, — When she locks herself in a cupboard in fear of her life, she claws at the wall opposite the door as her father takes to it with an axe, slouches against it in defeat, shakes her head from side to side with glazed eyes, and turns around and around in futile panic. In the latter example she seems beyond thought, and the variety and detail in her gestures go well beyond the limitations of language.
Mackaye studied and worked with Delsarte from to and brought the system to America in , the year in which Delsarte died. That school would become the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Here he refers to Dietrich in Morocco d. Josef von Sternberg, Gesture-Dance 79 widely disseminated through her publications and the teachers she produced at her New York School of Expression, established in In the previous section, the recovery from the gestural crisis and the ensuing gestural revolution that would manifest on the silent screen and in early modern dance training and performance in America in the s and s was traced to popular body cultures such as American Delsartism and Eurhythmics, along with the new technology of the cinema.
The following considers the cinematic in the choreography of Ruth St. Denis and the choreographic in silent cinema. In , St. Modern theater dance and silent cinema share the same nonnarrative, variety hall origins and professional reference points circus, slapstick, spectacle, acrobatics, melodrama, social dance. Denis who, like D. For both forms this involved developing a mute, physical language that was distinguishable from vaudeville and classicism and in line with a new realism in popular stage melodrama and physical training regimes.
Peter Wollen and Vicky Allen point out that many of the early modern dance artists appeared at one time or another on the vaudeville and music hall stage. Of the modern dance pioneers, St.