The theater, the cinema and ourselves (1947)

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CHANGES 1. EXIT THE ACTOR There have always been people who have refused to act, perhaps on principle, perhaps because they couldn't even if they had wished to. Queen Victoria refused to act, though she liked watching Disraeli; and she made a great success at being herself. Ellen Terry never acted, she always got inside her parts though for years she occupied the stage with Henry Irving. I like to think of both Ellen Terry and Queen Victoria smiling sweetly whilst Irving and Disraeli performed. Hollywood did us a great service, it reduced acting to such an absurdity—even the scenery acted—that we inevitably grew tired of it. More sensitive in some ways than the stage, the cinema saw what was happening. A new public was growing that wanted to probe deeper into life instead of seeing a magnified distortion of stereotyped emotions or else empty banalities. Who was going to help them? You cannot order the unknown, however much capital you have at your disposal. With surprising agility of mind they thought of Ann Todd and Angela Lansbury, there had been quite enough descriptive acting, they wanted someone who could be something, someone who could get inside the thoughts and feelings of a particular human being. So the change is coming even more from the cinema than the theatre. Perhaps a gesture, perhaps the inflection of a voice gives us something that belongs, not only to no other actor or actress but to no other human being, he or she is the character, that particular old man, that particular schoolgirl, not our general conception of what an old man or a schoolgirl is like. Of course we still have our big impersonal shows, our sensual delights, we are most of us still in the same condition as the schoolboy who, when asked what he liked best, answered (i) sneezing, (2) my mother, and financiers will always be eager to give us mass productions to gratify our senses. It is so easy. They provide the snuff. We sneeze. But even in these shows there lurks some element of intimacy. The smaller shows, at the Windmill, are of course more intimate and are not concerned with mere nudity, mere stereotyped singing and dancing. Who among the audience does not pick out a particular singer or dancer who possesses something that is essentially herself, the qualities that a manager looks out for in a budding star? Even in the colourful symbolic ballet there is emerging something very personal, hamlet has appeared as a very personal ballet, and in undertow there is a very personal victim of a mother complex. Owing to the commercial necessity of creating so many films the mass-produced film is still in the vast majority but the percentage of films that have a life of their own is increasing with astonishing rapidity. Almost every month we go to some play or film and realize with rather a shock that a new person has been conceived, very human without being a type, of the stuff of which we ourselves are made, yet quite different. Producers are at last realizing that a constructed type, on or ofT the stage, will always be dull and lifeless while a fresh human being, spontaneously conceived, will always be a surprise and a delight.