Theses Doctoral

The Stage on Screen: The Representation of Theatre in Film

Ordinaire, Mirabelle

This dissertation explores the various ways in which film uses theatre by representing it onscreen. Neither documentary recordings of theatre nor screen adaptations of plays, films that represent theatre constitute a distinct group among theatre-related films which, as a specific group, has been overlooked. It is my goal to show how these films, beyond providing examples of the function of theatricality in film, offer a unique approach to the relationship between the two art forms. By comparing the historical, social, political, and artistic contexts in which they were created and which they represent, I explore the roles in which European and American film directors have cast theatre since the 1940s, and how these roles rather serve a cinematic logic than a theatrical one. I distinguish three approaches with which to explore the representation of the stage on screen: historical, political, and intertextual. I do not provide an exhaustive survey of all the films in each category, but rather focus on a few significant examples.

On the other hand I do not limit my exploration of each film to one approach only. Indeed, far from being mutually exclusive, these three approaches are often valid for a same film, which participates in the complexity of the onscreen representations of theatre. I alternatively rely on Bourdieu's sociology of distinction, Morin's study of stars, Genette's definitions of literary transtextuality, Deleuze's philosophy of cinema, and Bazin's theories on theatre and film to elucidate the directors' various strategies of representing the stage onscreen. In the first part I analyze how cinematic representations of theatre history are informed by film directors' desire to legitimize film as art. Although this self-legitimizing tendency is not limited to representations of theatre history, I draw on Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Gance's Capitaine Fracasse and Carné's Les enfants du paradis to argue that such representations endow films with the cultural legitimacy that theatre possesses by simple virtue of its "age." In the second part I look at the ways in which directors use theatre and past political regimes to mirror their current cinematic and political situations.

The double distancing that Lubitsch, Truffaut, Szabó, Dresen, and Henckel von Donnersmarck operate in To Be or Not to Be, Le dernier métro, Mephisto, Stilles Land, and Das Leben der Anderen, respectively, exposes the ways in which theatre and film can be coopted by ideological discourse. The third part is centered on Almodóvar's Todo sobre mi madre and its intricate uses of play-within-a-film (invoking Tennessee Williams and Lorca), film-within-a-film (referring to Mankiewicz' All about Eve and Cassavetes' Opening Night), and play-within-a-film-within-a-film. I explore how Almodóvar grounds the psychological and social outlining of the female characters of mother and star in their transtextual dimension, which culminates in an exploration of mirrors as metonymy for film's representation of theatre.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Aronson, Arnold P.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 17, 2011