Dr. Cynthia Baron
Art of film performance illuminated in new book
A new book by Dr. Cynthia Baron, theatre and film, brings readers face to face with the art of acting for the screen. Co-authored with Dr. Sharon Marie Carnicke of the University of Southern California School of Theatre, Reframing Screen Performance demonstrates that, while acting for the screen differs from acting on the stage, it has its own set of strategies that are as important to creating the total effect as the camera and lighting.
The cover of Reframing Screen Performance features Orson Welles in his film 'A Touch of Evil.'
Reframing Screen Performance features photos from more than 40 films to illustrate its points, such as the effect of key gestures in a sequence. “One of the unusual things about the book is that we used ‘film captures’ and case studies from recent movies,” Baron said. In addition, in-depth studies of performances by such actors as Anjelica Huston and Denzel Washington, and examples from the work of directors including Robert Altman, Baz Luhrman and Akira Kurosawa are used to address questions about acting in the cinema.
Dr. Frank P. Tomasulo, a professor and head of film studies at Florida State University, said of the book, “A significant contribution to the literature on screen performance studies, Reframing Screen Performance brings the study of film acting up to date. It should be of interest to those within cinema studies as well as general readers.”
Published by the University of Michigan Press, Reframing Screen Performance is designed to fill a void in the scholarship and teaching of acting for films. “An intervention was needed” in the discipline of screen acting, said Baron, who is one of the few people writing about the subject. “There has been no vocabulary to discuss it because practitioners and scholars do not generally intermingle. Theatre is different, where they are often one and the same,” she said.
The book uses terminology developed by actors, directors and scholars to demonstrate how acting choices work with framing, editing, lighting, sound and other elements of film to help shape the audience’s experience.
“We wanted to write it in such a way that it would be accessible to aspiring screen actors,” while also providing grounds for discussion among film scholars and historians, Baron said.
In contrast to conventional theories of film communication, Baron and Carnicke, a prominent scholar of the well-known acting teacher Stanislavsky, pose an alternative approach to understanding the language of film, one that takes all the elements of the performance—dialogue, gesture and expression—as a whole that conveys the underlying meaning of the work. Through the lens of the Prague School of semiotics, they draw upon the work of interdisciplinary scholars from theatre, movement and dance to describe a unified system of communication.
Award-winning writers and researchers, Baron and Carnicke both have chapters in Screen Acting (1999) and in Contemporary Hollywood Stardom (2003). Baron has contributed articles on acting to internationally distributed film journals, anthologies and the Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film. She is also co-editor of More Than a Method: Trends and Traditions in Contemporary Film Performance (2004).
Carnicke has also written extensively on Stanislavsky; her work has been published and translated internationally.
June 16, 2008