BREAKING THE NEW PROSCENIUM
It is a mistake to regard this thirty-year period as primarily a series of misguided intentions and artistic and commercial failures for both the theater and cinema establishments. Quite the contrary. Not only did thousands of plays and players reach a public to which they would otherwise have been unavailable, but the consequences of these collaborations resulted in a reassessment of each medium's artistic and commercial priorities and an exploration of alternative modes of expression. The appearance of Queen Elizabeth in France and Cecil B. DeMille's The Squaw Man (adapted from the play by Edwin Milton Royle, 1914) in America spearheaded the acceptance of feature-length films and attracted the attention of important dramatic critics. Moreover, these attempts at close theatrical imitation, lamentable as they might have seemed, served to throw into even higher relief the unique effects and propensities of the film medium. When the otherwise stagebound The Count of Monte Cristo displayed a few scenes in natural locales, audiences applauded. Likewise, the Belasco plays adapted by DeMille and the Lasky Feature Play Company held out possibilities for exterior filming that could not be realized on stage but which could be fully exploited on
Conversely, the theater's confrontation with the photographic realism of the cinema presented it with several alternatives. On the one hand, turn-of-century playwrights such as David Belasco and Eugene Walter (1874–1941) produced plays that attempted to rival the film spectacle ( The Girl of the Golden West , 1905; film version 1915) and the intimate drama ( The Easiest Way , 1909; film version 1917). On the other hand, as if in recognition of the folly of this sort of rivalry, the anti-realist movement, which had already begun in Europe in the 1880s with the symbolist theater of Stéphané (1842–1898) and Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949) at the Théâtre d'Art and the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, gained headway in the new century in Paris with the experiments of Jacques Copeau's Theatre du Vieux Colombier, in Russia with Nikolai Evreinov Mallarme (1879–1953) and Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1942) at the Moscow Art Theatre, and in Germany with the expressionist theater of Ernst Toller (1893–1939) ( Man and the Masses ) and Georg Kaiser (1878–1945) (the "Gas" Trilogy), in Italy with the Futurist "synthetic drama" of Filippo Marinetti (1876–1944) ( Feet and They Are Coming , 1915) and in America with the expressionist-influenced works by Elmer Rice (1892–1967) ( The Adding Machine , 1923), John Howard Lawson (1895–1977) ( Processional , 1924), and Eugene O'Neill (1888–1953) ( The Emperor Jones , 1920 and The Hairy Ape , 1922). O'Neill was only one of many playwrights and producers who were outspoken in their rejection of cinema, referring to it as "holding the family Kodak up to ill-nature." He wrote, "We have taken too many snapshots of each other in every gracious position; we have endured too much the banality of surfaces" (Cargill, p. 525).
b. Cecil Antonio Richardson, Shipley, Yorkshire, England, 5 June
d. 14 November 1991
Stage and screen director Tony Richardson was a major shaping influence in British theater and film during the 1950s and 1960s. Born the only child of a pharmacist in the West Riding region of Yorkshire, he was educated at Ashville College, Harrogate, and Wadham College, Oxford. After earning a B.A. in English Literature in 1951, he enrolled in the Director Training Program at the British Broadcasting Corporation. During the next four years he not only directed several notable television productions, including Shakespeare's Othello (1955), but completed his first film, a short independent documentary called Momma Don't Allow (1955), which helped inaugurate the iconoclastic Free Cinema movement.
Richardson brought this rebellious attitude to the stage when he and George Devine co-founded the English Stage Company and its performing arm, the Royal Court Theatre, in 1956 and promptly discovered British playwright John Osborne, whose bitterly sardonic attacks on social and political mores in Look Back in Anger (film 1956, 1958) and The Entertainer (film 1957, 1960) revolutionized virtually overnight the face of contemporary British theater. Richardson adapted both plays to the screen for his own production company, Woodfall Films.
For the rest of his career, Richardson continued to divide his energies between the stage and screen in both Europe and Hollywood. His theatrical projects included Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey (film 1960, 1961) and a groundbreaking version of Hamlet at the Roundhouse Theater in Camden Town (both of whom he later adapted to the screen). But it is his screen work upon which Richardson's reputation primarily rests today. His movies may be divided into three groups—his literary adaptations ( Tom Jones , 1963; A Delicate Balance , 1973; The Hotel New Hampshire , 1984); his original films ( The Charge of the Light Brigade , 1968; The Border , 1982; and Blue Sky , 1994); and his television projects ( A Subject of Scandal and Concern , 1960; Beryl Markham: A Shadow on the Sun , 1988).
"Perfection is not an aim," proclaimed Richardson about his work in Free Cinema and in the theater. "We reserve the right to fail." For awhile, those brave words fueled the brilliant experiments of his early career. However, his stubborn and unpredictable individuality, coupled with a penchant for spontaneity and a zest for bizarre humor, led to the erratic achievements of his later years. Critics savaged the caricatured humor of The Loved One (1965), the alleged pompousness of A Delicate Balance and the grotesquerie of Hotel New Hampshire .
Richardson's last film, Blue Sky , anindictmentof American nuclear testing, was well received. However, the accolades came too late. Completed in 1990, the film was shelved for almost five years before its release. Richardson, in the meantime, had died from complications of AIDS in 1991.
Mama Don't Allow (1955), Look Back in Anger (1958), The Entertainer (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Tom Jones (1963)
Osborne, John. Almost a Gentleman: An Autobiography, Vol. II, 1955–1966 . London: Faber & Faber, 1991.
Radovich, Don. Tony Richardson: A Bio-Bibliography . Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Richardson, Tony. The Long-Distance Runner: A Memoir . New York: Morrow, 1993.
Walker, Alexander. Hollywood, UK : The British Film Industry in the Sixities . New York: Stein and Day, 1974.
Welsh, James M., and John C. Tibbetts, eds. The Cinema of Tony Richardson: Essays and Interviews . Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
John C. Tibbetts
Ironically, many of these antirealistic or anti-naturalistic alternatives found their roots, or at least their parallels, in cinematic precedents. Pudovkin compared Meyerhold's experiments in fractured scenes with the montage practices of film. Munsterberg related the non-linear sequencing in several plays to cinematic flashback techniques. O'Neill confessed that a viewing of Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari ( The Cabinet of
Dr. Caligari , 1920)—itself a cinematic record of German expressionist theater—"sure opened my eyes to wonderful possibilities I had never dreamed of before." Motion pictures as much as antirealist theater directly influenced the stage work of other American playwrights, like Rice and Lawson.
Meanwhile, motion pictures were being incorporated into stage presentations as early as 1896 when, according to the North American Review , projected films were utilized as scenic "backdrops." Writing in the September 1896 issue, George Parsons Lathrop speculated that the movies could render "painted scenery unnecessary in plays performed by flesh-and-blood actors" and "heighten theatrical verisimilitude" (p. 377). Before turning exclusively to film production, stage magician Mélièsincorporated film footage into his platform performances at the Theatre Municipal du Chatelet and the Olympia Theatre. This practice was carried forward by German entrepreneur Erwin Piscator (1893–1966), who not only incorporated newsreels into his plays, notably Hurrah, We Live! (1927), but boldly called upon producers and writers to use films to provide atmosphere, such as lighting effects and moving back-drops, that would help to over come the staticillusion of the stage.