Beginning shortly after the turn of the century and continuing sporadically for the next ten years or so, Lumie and Pathèré studios in France, Edison and Biograph and Vitagraph studios in America, the Nordisk Film Kompagni in Denmark, Svenska Bopgrafteaterm in Sweden, were among the many production entities around the world that released film recordings of vaudeville turns, dramas (including Shakespeare), operas, and magic acts. Stage magician Georges Méliès' (1861–1938) made fantasy films that bore the stamp of the French "feerie drama" tradition, which in turn influenced theatrical adaptations in America by Edwin S. Porter (1870–1941), notably, Jack and the Beanstalk (1902). Charles Magnusson (1878–1948) was empowered by August Strindberg (1849–1912) to bring his plays to the Swedish screen. Popular, operatic, and "legitimate" performers like Victor Maurel (1848–1923) and Coquelin (1841–1909) in France and John Bunny (1863–1915), Florence Turner (1885–1946), and Mr. (1863–1919) and Mrs. Sidney Drew (1890–1925) in America—products of a star system the moviemakers would soon appropriate as their own—brought their signature roles, opera performances, and stage routines to film (many of them via proto synchronized-sound technologies with curious names like "Synchroscope," "Vivaphone," "Chronophone" and "Kinetophone"). Shakespeare came to the screen, courtesy of D. W. Griffith (1875–1948) and other filmmakers, in a flood of one and two-reel abridged versions.
As demonstrated by the Edison studio's eight-minute photoplay Jack and the Beanstalk , which condensed the length of the original play into fourteen single-shot scenes, the screen itself was transformed into a proscenium stage, a shallow playing space bounded by the "wings" of the frame borders. A fixed camera position in medium distance simulated the spectator's third-row center auditorium seat. An uncut shot approximated a scene, and intertitles served as program cues. The action was blocked laterally in a plane parallel to the camera and consisted primarily of tableaux vivants . And theatrical performance techniques carried over to the screen an exaggerated, declamatory style more appropriate to a large theater house.
In their operations, some movie studios began to resemble theater houses. Of course, the use of artificial light in a theater house was insufficient for the cameras, so stages had to be built in accordance with the model of the standard theater house, but with the roofs left open and side walls constructed of glass to permit sufficient sunlight. Examples include Méliès' "théâtre de prises de vues," a glass-walled studio at Montreuil, France; Robert Paul's studio in England; and Edison's "Black Maria," which had a stage that revolved on a pivot 360 degrees to follow the course of the sun. According to one contemporary account published in 1907, some film studios were equipped with painted scenic flats, a property room, dressing rooms, and a completely equipped stage. "The studio manager orders rehearsals continued until his people have their parts 'face-perfect,' then he gives the word, the lens is focused, the cast works rapidly for twenty minutes while the long strip of celluloid whirls through the camera, and performance is preserved in living, dynamic embalmment (if the phrase may be permitted) for decades to come" ( Saturday Evening Post , 1907, pp. 10–11).
In America alone, of the thousands of titles listed and described in the compendiums Motion Pictures from the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection, 1894–1912 and the American Film Institute Catalogue: Film Beginnings, 1893–1910 almost one-third prove either to be derived from specific theatrical events or to in some way simulate a theatrical mode. Typical entry descriptions include, "This was photographed as if from the audience at a theater"; or, "all activity parallels the camera plane"; or, "the set is a backdrop painted as an ocean scene"; or, "the action consists of participants being introduced to the audience." One such film, The Critic (Biograph, 1906), went to extraordinary lengths in its imitative method: "The camera, placed as though in the audience, shows several seats with spectators in the immediate foreground and a box to the right. The stage acts are burlesques of regular vaudeville acts." However, it would be a mistake to assume these effects were the result of ignorance of the more "cinematic" potentials of the film medium.
Active collaboration between theatrical and film entrepreneurs began in earnest around 1908. The naturalism of André Antoine's (1858–1943) celebrated́âtre Libre was transferred to the screen via the Pathé company. The most influential studio operation was the Film d'Art company, formed in France in 1908. Actors from the Comédie Francaise appeared before the cameras in a number of plays, beginning with L'Assassinat du duc de Guise (1908) and continuing with productions based on plays by Victorien Sardou, Eugene Brieux, and Henri Lavedan. Film d'Art's prestige, opulent production values, and theater-house distribution created a sensation and led to the establishment of similar collaborative production companies in America and abroad in the next few years. Famous Players came first in 1912, a collaboration between the eminent Broadway producer Daniel Frohman (1851–1940) and film exhibitor Adolph Zukor (1873–1976). The New York Dramatic Mirror reported in July 1912: "The men back of this movement have become fully convinced that the time for the amalgamation of the legitimate stage and the motion picture has come.…" (p. 34). Frohman wielded his prestige to bring Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923) in Film d'Art's photoplay of Queen Elizabeth (1912) to his Lyceum Theatre in New York City, the initial critical enthusiasm of which led to subsequent Famous Players productions, such as Minnie Maddern Fiske (1865–1932) duplicating her stage role in Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1913) and James O'Neill (1847–1920) reprising his signature role in The Count of Monte Cristo (1913). Other collaborative theater-film production companies included the Protective Amusement Company, which allied the New York theatrical syndicate producers Marc Klaw (1858–1936) and Abraham L. Erlanger (1860–1930) with the forces of the Biograph studio for the purpose of filming, among other properties, plays by Henry C. De Mille (1853–1893) and David Belasco (1853–1931); the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, which brought together theater promoter Jesse L. Lasky (1880–1958) with filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959) to adapt stage plays by David Belasco (1853–1931); the World Film Corporation, formed by stage entrepreneurs the Shubert brothers and William A. Brady (1863–1950) and filmmaker Lewis J. Selznick (1870–1933) to adapt plays by Edward Sheldon The (1886–1946) and Clyde Fitch (1865–1909); and the Triangle Film Corporation, which imported dozens of prominent stage performers from New York to the Los Angeles film studios of D. W. Griffith.
Harold Pinter has said that his works begin with an image, rather than a theme, and that he is a visual writer. It is not surprising, then, that he has found success working in film. Although Pinter—winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature—is primarily known as a playwright, with many of his plays regarded as masterpieces of the English stage, he has also had a long and celebrated career writing for both film and television.
Pinter's screenplays are all adaptations of other works: his own plays, including The Birthday Party (1968) and The Homecoming (1969); other people's plays ( Butley , 1974); and novels written by others, including F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon (1976), John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers (1990), and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1990). His screenplays have won numerous awards and critical praise. They have also increasingly been the focus of his professional attention, and since the 1980s he has written more film and television screenplays than he has plays.
Pinter's interest in film began at an early age. At fourteen, he joined a local film club, and later he argued the merits of motion pictures as a member of his school's debating society. In the early 1960s he was commissioned by the BBC to write several radio and television scripts, and a number of his early plays appeared on television as well as on stage. His first screenplay, an adaptation of his play The Caretaker , was filmed in 1963. Pinter was immediately drawn to the technical opportunities afforded by motion pictures, especially the ability to use and manipulate time and space for dramatic effect. He also found the close-up to be an effective way of conveying conflict and drama without unnecessary dialogue, and has commented on the usefulness of editing as a way of creating meaning visually. The subtle complexities of his plays, in which a pause carries as much meaningas spoken dialogue, translate well to the screen. Just as the themes and structures of Pinter's plays have affected his screenplays, he has also used filmic techniques on stage, including the use of a voice-over in Mountain Language (1988), and lighting that simulates cutting between shots in Party Time (1991).
Pinter's films tend to be driven by character rather than plot, focusing on human relationships. They deal with many of the same themes that his plays do, including struggles for power and domination, the complex workings of time and memory, and the fear of a menacing unknown. These themes are present in the films he has adapted from other people's work as well as those he has adapted from his own plays.
The Caretaker (1963), The Servant (1963), The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Go-Between (1970), The Homecoming (1973), The Last Tycoon (1976), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Betrayal (1983), The Comfort of Strangers (1990), The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
Gale, Steven H. Sharp Cut: Harold Pinter's Screenplays and the Artistic Process . Lexington: University Press of Kentucky,2003.
——, ed. The Films of Harold Pinter . Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.
Pinter, Harold. Collected Screenplays , 3 vols. London: Faber & Faber, 2000.
Raby, Peter, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Harold Pinter . Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Kristen Anderson Wagner
The enthusiasm that greeted these photoplays and starring vehicles was short-lived. Voices that hailed them as priceless artifacts, documentations of the history of theatrical forms and performances, soon grew silent, replaced by complaints that they were hybrid monstrosities that were neither theatrical nor cinematic. As early as 1914 prominent American critics like Louis Reeves Harrison were complaining that these filmmakers were ignoring the creative possibilities of their own medium, "for screen visualization is an entirely different art, at its best when freed from the artificial limitations imposed by dramatic construction for stage performance" (p. 185).
That same year several filmmakers published a series of critical attacks on photoplays in the New York Dramatic Mirror . Two years later, in 1916, appeared two pioneering works on film theory and aesthetics, Vachel Lindsay's The Art of the Moving Picture and Hugo Munsterberg's The Photoplay: A Psychological Study . Lindsay and Munsterberg were not denying the validity of theatrical adaptation in theory; rather, they objected to a translation process that was so closely imitative it denied any cinematic intervention or enhancement of the theatrical material. For example, Lindsay savaged Queen Elizabeth , saying it "might be compared to watching [a play] from the top gallery through smoked glass, with one's ears stopped with cotton" (p. 185). By contrast, he praised Griffith's Biblical epic, Judith of Bethulia (1914) as an example of a theatrical entertainment that had been "overhauled" by the "explosive power" of close-ups and editing and the narrative displacement of the continuities of time and space. "The photoplays of the future will be written from the foundations for the films," Lindsay predicted. "The soundest actors, photographers, and producers will be those who emphasize the points wherein the photoplay is unique" (p. 197).
The ticket-buying consumers seemed to agree. Most of the photoplays of 1912 to 1915 ultimately failed at the box office. The posturing of most of the stage-trained actors before the cameras had proven inferior to the greater subtlety of players who had begun their training before the cameras. For every Douglas Fairbanks and William S. Hart, who found greater success in the movies than on the stage, there were dozens of others, such as Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, William Gillette, and the comedy team Joe Weber and Lew Fields, who hastily retreated back to the stage they had forsaken.