Theater



In its mystery, blends different beauties, sang Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini's opera, Tosca . Indeed, the saga of stage and film interaction over the course of a century has resulted in what historian Robert Hamilton Ball has called "a strange and eventful history." The two media, one the inheritor of centuries of dramatic tradition and the other, an upstart technology bereft of dramatic antecedents, have been linked from the days of the very first moving picture experiments by Thomas Edison and W. K. L. Dickson late in the nineteenth century. Initially, the film medium was presumed to be merely a vehicle for the dissemination of theatrical events. As early as 1894, a writer in The Critic predicted that Thomas Edison's kinetoscope peepshow device could enable the viewer to "witness and hear shadow plays in which the only real performer will be the electromagnetic motor behind the scenes" (p. 330). That same year Edison himself boasted that in the near future a phonograph and kinetoscope could be linked together to bring plays and players from distant stages to the comfort of the parlor. But before the film medium would prove itself to be much more than a mere recording device for theatrical events, there would be subsequent decades of uncertain and tentative interaction and experimentation.

The first thirty years of theater-film interaction may be conveniently divided into three periods. In the first, roughly 1896–1907, pioneering filmmakers in America and Europe borrowed liberally from vaudeville acts, operas, dramas, and magic shows for their peep show and nickelodeon shorts. In the second, 1908–1915, filmmakers and theatrical entrepreneurs collaborated in translating famous plays and their players into feature-length theatrical films, commonly called "photoplays." (A "theatrical film" designates a motion picture that utilizes the subjects, processes, forms, personnel, and effects of the stage in a visible and prominent way.) Third, after a decade or so, during which the cinema developed as a commercial enterprise relatively independent of the theatrical establishment, the introduction of talking-picture technology in 1926–1930 saw a resurgence of extensive theatre-film interaction involving a new influx of stage stars and a new spate of photoplays.



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