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Discussion of Films

Discussion of Silent Films
Topic: using two of the following �Required Viewing� films from the silent film era through the 1950s,
choose an actor or actress with a major role from each film and discuss their use of the tools of the craft

of Acting discussed in the first five class sessions

Address at least three (3) of the following in your analysis: presentational vs. representational acting,
objectives, obstacles, actions (both verbal and physical), motivation, beats, personalization, substitution,

the �Magic If�, imagery, given circumstances, specificity, relationships (both objective and subjective),
ongoing physical activities, secondary activities, sending and receiving, emotional life, status, discovery in
the moment, extreme physical and environmental conditions, scenes of exposition, physical character
work, subtext, the arc of a scene, moment-to-moment acting, concentration and focus, soliloquies, the

character�s center of pain, importance of casting, etc.

These are the films: The Passion of Joan of Arc, Make Way for Tomorrow, Drums Along the Mohawk,

Sullivan�s Travels, Sweet Smell of Success

Discussion of Films

The Passion of Joan of Arc

The type of acting that was used in the 1928 film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is presentational
acting. While the actors do not at any point in the film engage the audience deliberately, it is
assumed that the people viewing the film are aware of France’s historical war with the English
and how Joan of Arc heroically led her people in several battles against the English before she
was eventually captured and burnt at the stake. Another reason that justifies this film’s acting to
fall under presentational acting is the fact that the director paid careful attention to the record of
events that took place during Joan of Arc’s feats and also the records of her trial and execution in
England (Hagen, 2009).
One of the techniques that this film is best known for is the director’s manipulation of the camera
to convey various aspects of the film and narrative. In an effort to capture the moods at her trial,
the director makes use of lenses that focused really close to the faces of the actors and actresses
to personalize the narrative and also capture the mood. The focusing on their faces also serves to
emphasize the gloominess of the situation at the trial of Joan.
Other than focusing, another technique that the director of “The Passion of Joan of Arc” used in
the filming of the play was unconventionally low angle for the scenes with the prosecutors. This
was meant to exaggerate their size and thus communicate a suggestion of how powerful they
were relative to the defendant.

Make Way for Tomorrow

This film was set in a period of time when the world and specifically America, was just
recovering from the great depression which saw many people lose their homes among other
investments they had. The plot of the film on the other hand is more focused on the life of one
family. The fact that the audience would have related with the subliminal reference to the impact
of the Great Depression and the film’s being based on a work of fiction means that the director
employed both presentational and representational acting. The presentational acting is seen in the
opening scene when the elderly couple loses their home in a foreclosure, something some
members of the audience would have related with.
The film also features objective and subjective relationships. The family that is made up of
Barkley and Lucy together with their children Nell, Cora and George. The fact that they came
together at a time of need was objective since it is a norm for members of a family to support one
another at such times. However, there is also some subjective relationships and this is seen in the
childrens’ unwillingness to accommodate their parents at their hour of need(Hagen, 2009).
The film has a scene of exposition. This takes place when the true colors of the children come
out. When it dawns on them that their parents were not going to come, they also refrain from
going to the train station to see them off. As they sit pensively, Robert, one of the sons voices out
his thoughts and somewhat of an admission about their unkindness towards their parents. His
statement about them being “the most good for nothing bunch” clears out any doubts that the
audience had about the attitude the children had towards their parents.

Drums along the Mohawk

The film is loosely based on a true story, this is the American Revolutionary War that saw
settlers face off with British troops who had partnered with collaborating Indian tribes to drive
settlers off the lands in the Hudson Valley. The audience’s familiarity with this narrative would
make this fall into the category of a presentational film but the fact that their view and opinions
have no impact whatsoever on the way the movie rolls out, it will have to be categorized as
representational. The main protagonist of the film faces various perils and life threatening
situations such as the miscarriage by his wife, Lana and also Gil’s wounding. The target
audience was American and this would make them inclined to side with the main character.
To place the film in its appropriate historical context, the director makes use of extreme physical
and environmental conditions. This includes the dangerous scenario when his wife miscarried as
they made their escape on horse-back. The harsh environment is made worse by the fact that they
are rendered homeless at a time when winter was nearing. Other than the environmental
harshness, the realities of the war are seen in the massive casualties on both sides during the
The film “Drums along the Mohawk” also features the use of secondary activities which helped
contribute to the sub-plots. The main secondary activity here was the farming activity on Mrs.
McKlennar’s farm. This employment enables them to get back on their feet following the
devastating loss in the opening scene (Hagen, 2009).

Sullivan’s Travels

The form of acting used in the film was representational as the plot is entirely based on a work of
fiction. This means that the order of events in the movie take place in a way that the audiences
could not predict or relate to. The viewers of this film have somewhat of a vantage point and this
gives them a feeling of familiarity with the film as a whole. The film is set such that they almost
over-hear everything that Sullivan is planning and they follow him like silent guests throughout
his adventure as a homeless man moving around cities by hitch-hiking freight trains.
Sullivan’s adoption of life as a ‘hobo’ brings out another filming technique that the director uses
to convey this story. This is the use of extreme physical and environmental conditions to
elaborate on the protagonist’s adventure. While it was all make-up, having to dress up as a
homeless person, look the part and also ride on freight trains are all forms of discomfort. He lives
on charity and has several violent run-ins with other people. The extreme conditions make the
story more interesting and give significance to his desire to go on the ‘adventure.’
To give the adventure Sullivan undertakes some life and credibility, there are several secondary
activities that take place along the story (Hagen, 2009). At the studio he is seen engaging in the
normal work a film-maker does which is plan his next work. When he lives as a hobo, he goes to
different places frequented by the homeless such as the shelter where they sleep and the soup
kitchens where they can eat something. When he gets sentenced to the labor camp there is a
multitude of men who regularly engage in manual labor in strenuous conditions.

Sweet Smell of Success

Unlike most films, the main character of the film “Sweet Smell of Success” also doubles up as a
villain as opposed to the conventional hero. The style of acting depicted by his character,
Hunsecker fits in well under representational acting. Most of his plans are done in secret and the
manner in which he carries himself is suggestive of his confidence that his secrets are safe with
Falco. This means that there are scenes where the audience is privy to information that other
characters do not know. This makes the film interesting in that it enhances the suspense. With the
viewer eager to see what will happen next based on the evil plans that have been hatched.
The director of this film also used the scene of exposition to set the mood of the entire story. The
main character Hunsecker is on terrible terms with his sister’s lover, Dallas. This hatred coupled
with Falco’s desperation creates an opportunity for Hunsecker to manipulate Falco as the
resultant public relations nightmare for the musician would have created for him a financial
opportunity. As a result of this exposition, the rest of the events that unravel have some basis
since the audience can tie it to the initial plan of the protagonist. Without this initial scene, the
rest of the scenes, be it the arrests, the violence or the planting of drugs would all be baseless and
the film will be hard to understand as all scenes and ideas are merely ‘floating (Hagen, 2009).’

Hagen, U. (2009). Respect for acting. John Wiley & Sons.

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