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– Spring/Summer 2001

A Conflict at the Very Heart of the Identification

Andreas Spiegl

For his 'building blocks for a theory of film',1 Andre Bazin turns, remarkably enough, to a comparison between the stage and film.2 What does the theatre have that film doesn't, and vice versa. Is it nevertheless still possible to film a stage play?

Bazin writes: 'The true solution, revealed at last, consists in realising that it is not a matter of transferring to the screen the dramatic element - an element interchangeable between one art and another - of a theatrical work, but inversely the theatrical quality of the drama.'3 Thus, Bazin detaches the notion of theatricality from the theatre and puts it at the disposal of other media or genres. In this context 'theatricality' does not have its common associations of pathos or exaggeration but refers instead to the notion of 'theatrical' as a quality that is intrinsic to theatre. 'Theatricality', in this sense, arises in part from an awareness of the specific relationship between audience and actors which takes one form in a theatre and another in a cinema.

In the theatre the actors are physically present on the stage; this means that audience members do not identify with them to the same extent that they do with their idols on the big screen. 'The characters on the screen are quite naturally objects of identification, while those on the stage are, rather, objects of mental opposition because their real presence gives them an objective reality, and to transpose them into

Footnotes
  1. The title of this essay is taken from Andre Bazin, 'Theater and Cinema - Part   Two', in What is Cinema?, Berkeley and Los Angcles: University of   California Press, 1967, pp. 95-124 

  2. This quote is a translation of the subtitle of Andre Bazin's essay 'Theater   und Kino II', in Mise-en-scène. Theater und Kunst, Graz: Grazer   Kunstverein, Verlag der Kunst, 1998, pp.47-73

  3. A. Bazin, op. cit., p.115

  4. Rosenkrantz, in Esprit (1937), as cited in Bazin, Ibid., p.99

  5. Even although Deleuze, drawing on Bergson, repeatedly refers to 'virtual' and   'actual', he is in effect simply discussing the transformations that   Bazin attributes to the theatrical. In other words Deleuze is exploring the   extent to which Bazin's 'theatrical quality of drama' may be applied to the   history of film and its implicit theatricality. See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2;   The Time-Image, London: Athlone Press, 1989

  6. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,   New York and London: Routledge, 1990, pp.1-34

  7. The displacement of a political and discursive origin of gender identity onto   a psychological 'core' precludes an analysis of the political constitution of   the gendered subject and its fabricated notions about the ineffable interioriry   of its sex or of its true identity.' J. Butler, op. cit., p.136

  8. 'Or is "the body" itself shaped by political forces with strategic interests   in keeping that body bounded and constituted by the markers of sex?'   J. Butler, op. cit., p.129

  9. 'Sartre would perhaps have called this act "a style of being", Foucault, "a   stylistics of existence". And in my earlier reading of de Beauvoir,   I suggest that gendered bodies are so many "styles of the flesh".' J. Butler,   op. cit., p.139

  10. Bazin cites Henri Gouhier, in op. cit. note 1 above, p. 95. [Translators'    note: in the English translation of Bazin's article this is elaborated a few    lines later as 'the physical presence of the actor'.] Bazin then continues,    again citing Gouhier: 'What is specific to theatre ... is the    impossibility of separating off action and actor', Ibid. By way of an aside, it is    surely nor by chance that in German the word 'handlung', meaning 'action',    has the same etymological root as 'hand', clearly implying a physical presence    - as does the English word 'action'. But in view of the fact that audience    members have to consciously go along with a figure or a role, it might be more    appropriate to replace the term 'action' with 'thinktion'.

  11. A. Bazin, op. cit., p.112

  12. Ibid. What Bazin defines here in relatively general terms and somewhat    imprecisely as 'psychology' may in fact have more to do with psychologism.    Nevertheless, his thesis was later refined and confirmed on a soundly    psychoanalytic basis by theoreticians such as Laura Mulvey and Kaja Silverman.    See Laura Mulvey, Visual and other Pleasures, Indianapolis: Indiana University    Press, 1989; and Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World, New York    and London: Routledge, 1996

  13. Ibid. What Bazin defines here in relatively general terms and somewhat    imprecisely as 'psychology' may in fact have more to do with psychologism.    Nevertheless, his thesis was later refined and confirmed on a soundly    psychoanalytic basis by theoreticians such as Laura Mulvey and Kaja Silverman.    See Laura Mulvey, Visual and other Pleasures, Indianapolis: Indiana University    Press, 1989; and Kaja Silverman, The Threshold of the Visible World, New York    and London: Routledge, 1996

  14. 'Indeed, the parody is of the very notion of an original', Ibid., p.138

  15. Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity. Modern Architecture and Mass Media,    Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996, p.21

  16. See note 15

  17. B. Colomina, op. cit., p.244

  18. Anne Friedberg, Windowshopping; Cinema and the Postmodern, Berkeley and    Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993

  19. See above all the chapter 'From the Arcade to the Cinema', in Ibid., p.901.    Here Friedberg refers, amongst other things, to H.G. Wells's Time Machine    (1895) and the film presentation by the Lumière brothers at much the same    time.

  20. See the very informative book by Silke Koneffke, Theater Raum; Visionen und    Projekte von Theaterleuten und Architekten, 1900-1960, Berlin, 1999.    See in particular the chapter on 'total theatre' projects which considers the    work of Gropius, Piscator, Kiesler, Artaud, etc.

  21. J. Butler, op. cit., p.139

  22. See also the 'philosophical reader' with the significant title Body and    Flesh, edited by Donn Welton (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998). In places, Welton's    book reads like a Festschrift for Merleau-Ponty, but above all it attempts    to put the flesh back on the bones of the 'disembodied body', the body as    signifier postulated by feminists and post-structuralists. With the return of    the flesh, nature also re-enters the picture and certain contributions    read like reconciliation schemes, intended to ensure that nature and culture    alike receive what is due to them. See, for instance, Carol Kigwood,    'Renaturalizing the body', in Body and Flesh, op. cit., p.99

  23. ranslator's note: this rather colloquial term - and later on 'wayward' and    'strayed' - are used here to translate the German 'fremdgehen': this    literally means something like 'to go foreign', which in turn ties in with the    notion of the subject having to contend with a 'foreign body'. The German    'fremdgehen' is also, of course, not unrelated to the notion of 'Entfremdung',    which is always translated as 'alienation'.

  24. See the 'breath-taking' book by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, New York:    WW. Norton & Company, 1996

  25. A similarly perspicacious feature of the piece is the fact that the narrator    has no name and only appears as 'I', while the 'foreign body' has already    laid claim to the psychologically constitutive factor of the name. For more    on the relation between names and bodies, see, for example, Slavoj Zizek,    Hegel mit Lacan, Zürich, 1995, pp.96ff

  26. A. Bazin, op. cit., p.111

  27. Ibid., p.113

  28. See also Deleuze, who describes the neo-realistic figure as a character who    'does not act without seeing himself acting, complicit viewer of the role    he himself is playing', in op. cit., p.6

  29. A. Bazin, op. cit., p.114

  30. See J. Butler, op.cit, p.139

  31. Ibid., p.137

  32. See S. Koneffke, op. cit., pp.57ff