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Germinal-1913

Page history last edited by Ben Brewster 12 years, 1 month ago

GERMINAL AND FILM ACTING

 

Ben Brewster

 

This paper was originally a talk (or rather a slide show with commentary) intended to be delivered in parallel with Lea Jacobs’s discussion of Francesca Bertini’s acting in non-naturalistic and naturalistic subjects. It is concerned with the acting in the 1913 adaptation of Zola’s 1885 novel Germinal by the French film company SCAGL, directed by Albert Capellani. The Société Cinématographique des Artistes et des Gens de Lettres (Artists’ and Writers’ Film Company), usually known as SCAGL, was a subsidiary—really, a production unit and a release label—established in 1908 by Pathé Frères, the main French film producing and distributing company (indeed the world’s largest film company), in anticipation of competition from the newly founded Film d’Art in the production of artistically respectable films. Albert Capellani, who had started his career as a theatrical actor and then progressed to stage manager at the Alhambra Music-Hall in Paris before becoming a director for Pathé in 1905, was appointed artistic director of SCAGL on its foundation, and as an individual director became its specialist in literary subjects, notably a series of Victor Hugo adaptations, including Notre Dame de Paris in 1911, Les Misérables in 1912, and Quatre-vingt-treize, which was shot in 1914, but only released, in a version completed by André Antoine, in 1921. Germinal was shot in the winter and spring of 1913, with exteriors in Auchel, near Béthune, Pas-de-Calais, and released in November of the same year. At 3,020 meters, or 165 minutes at 16 f.p.s., it was a super-feature, and was the first film screened in Pathé’s flagship house in Paris, the Omnia Pathé, as the sole item on the programme (Les Misérables, released late in 1912, was longer in total, but was issued in four three-quarter hour parts, each of which made up only part of a theatrical programme, rather than as a single subject).

 

     Michel Marie has claimed that the acting in Germinal is “astonishingly sober, [...] very internalized, ‘under dramatized’ [...]. Capellani is inventing as we watch the specifically cinematic direction of the actor; this relies more on the body as a whole, on gait, on movements in the frame and on interactions between the characters than on the expressivity of gestures and looks. (“Place de Germinal dans l’histoire du cinéma français,” 1895, numéro hors série: “L’année treize en France” (October 1993): 230). Although not directly a claim that the acting in Capellani’s film is “naturalistic” in the sense of the acting style promoted by the naturalist movement in the theatre (one variant of which was eventually codified as the Stanislavsky Method), Marie’s opposition between an acting based on the “expressivity of gestures and looks” (by the latter—“regards”—he might mean either “facial expressions” or “acts of looking”) and one that is “internalized” and “under-dramatized,” recalls Roberta Pearson’s opposition between “histrionic” and “verisimilar” acting styles (Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the Griffith Biograph Films (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992), especially chapters 2 and 3), and certainly suggests that some such claim is in the background.

 

     Indeed, an adaptation of Germinal has to deal in some way with the fact that the novel is one of the key texts of literary naturalism. Capellani had previously adapted Zola—notably a version of L’Assommoir in 1909 (it does not survive as far as I know)—but his most significant subjects had been by high-class melodramatic authors—Les Deux orphélines, 1909 (from the 1874 play by d’Ennery and Cormon); Le Courrier de Lyon, 1911 (from the 1850 play by Moreau, Siraudin and Delacourt); and Les Mystères de Paris, 1912 (from the 1842 novel by Eugène Sue)—and by romantics like Victor Hugo. Hugo’s plays can be considered the epitome of a pictorial and situational drama, and in Theatre to Cinema (Oxford: OUP, 1997, p.89), Lea Jacobs and I used a description by the Ibsenite William Archer of a scene in Hernani as an example of how changes in the dramatic situation during a scene could be conveyed by the actors posing together to form stage pictures, dissolving those poses and reposing to form other pictures. This kind of acting is also found in Capellani’s Hugo adaptations. My first two frame stills (both from shot 53 in the National Film and Television Archive viewing copy) show two moments in a climactic scene in Notre Dame de Paris—the moment when Claude Frollo finds Esmeralda hiding in the cathedral. Frollo attempts to rape her, whereupon Quasimodo attacks and threatens to kill him, but she pulls Quasimodo away from Frollo:

 

She then orders Frollo from the room:

 

Here the actors are moving from pose to pose, and grouping themselves to modulate the stage picture overall, in this case into tableaux, moments when all the actors are still.

 

     There are reasons why the posing should be so emphatic in this example. First, the film is set in the middle ages, and everywhere period subjects were thought to require broader posing then contemporary ones (Roberta Pearson makes this point in discussing differences in the acting of different Griffith-directed Biograph films, see Eloquent Gestures, op.cit., p. 113). Second, Stacia Napierkowska, who plays Esmeralda, was a dancer before she was an actress, and always has broader gestures than other actors (not necessarily because dance typically had broader gestures, but rather, I suspect, because dancers could produce broad gestures and exaggerated poses without losing grace much more easily than non-dancers). Third, Quasimodo is a hunchback, which imposed a set of stereotyped grotesque postures and movements, largely absolving Henry Krauss, the actor, from the requirement of grace. (A naturalist actor who had to play a hunchback might  adopt a false hump and wear it in everyday life for several months to see what it feels like to be a hunchback, but an early 20th-century actor would look to poses and movements drawn from stage traditions and paintings, as Krauss is clearly doing here.) Finally, Claude Garry, playing Frollo, uses his tall stature and his monk’s long robe to create a sinister figure, which then dramatically contrasts with the bent hunchback, establishing the terms in which moral contrasts between the characters could be portrayed in pose and gesture.

 

     The acting in Germinal for much of the time is not like this, as Marie indicates. Moreover, as befits a naturalistic work, the film uses real settings in the industrial North of France—industrial exteriors:

 

 

 

 

 

 

street scenes in miners’ settlements:

 

 

 

many of which are panning shots—the beginning and end of shot 128:

 

 

and the beginning and end of shot 200:

 

 

 

Also industrial interiors:

 

 

 

The film goes to some length to match those industrial interiors which are sets to the exteriors, to the point that I am not sure whether this:

 

is a real pithead or a set, though I incline to the latter.

 

     Also the film has some naturalistic stereotypes—eating scenes, and in particular scenes where people eat standing up:

 

 

 

or indeed, as we shall see later, lying on the floor. However, I hope to be able to demonstrate that the actors and director in Germinal have not started out from naturalistic principles and carried them through the film consistently (as we argued in Theatre to Cinema, pp. 133-6, Sjöström did in 1919 in Ingmarssönerna) so much as they have reduced the scale of the pictorial posing and gesture that were thought appropriate to Hugo when the novel adapted is, instead, by Zola.

 

     To demonstrate this, I will present series of frame stills from different scenes in the film. However, the scenes are in the opposite order from their occurrence in the film. This is because, generally speaking, climactic scenes occur later and typically contain broader gesture, so they show the pictorial acting traditions more clearly than the earlier scenes. To help those who do not know the film, I will start with a plot summary (of the film; there are significant differences from the book).

 

     Étienne Lantier, a mechanic, loses his job in Lille one winter. He tramps the roads in search of work, and finally, through a chance encounter with Bonnemort, an old miner kept on as a surface worker, is taken on as a hercheur or haulage man in the team led by Bonnemort’s son Toussaint Maheu at one of the coal mines in Montsou in the département of the Nord, and is lodged in the Maheus’ house. Maheu’s daughter Catherine also works in the mine in Maheu’s team, as a hercheuse, a haulage woman. Lantier and Catherine are attracted to one another, but Catherine has another suitor, the coal cutter Chaval, and Chaval marries Catherine because Lantier fails to put forward his own suit. Chaval mistreats Catherine, in part through suspicion and jealousy of Lantier, resulting in fights between the two men. The company enforces changes in the way teams are paid which effectively lower their earnings. The miners, inspired by the vague knowledge of socialist ideas gained by Lantier during his earlier working experience, protest the changes, and receiving no response from the management, they strike. Chaval, mostly out of spite for Lantier and jealousy of his ascendancy with the miners, becomes a management spy. As the strike drags on, Chaval leads a group of miners to return to work, a group he forces Catherine to join. Learning of this treachery, the strikers cut the cables to the cages while the blacklegs are down the mine, forcing them to climb the emergency ladders to get out, and to run a gauntlet of the strikers when they emerge. Humiliated, Chaval denounces Lantier to the police, and Lantier has to go into hiding in a disused pit. Troops are called to quell the disorders, and during an attack by the miners on the mine director’s house, soldiers open fire on the strikers, killing Maheu among others. The strikers decide to return to work, led by Chaval. Reluctantly, Lantier joins them. The anarchist machinist Souvarine sabotages the waterproof cladding of the pit-shaft, and the mine is flooded while the miners are below. Many are drowned, but Lantier, Catherine and Chaval find themselves trapped by water in an old working. Led by the mine engineer Négrel and Maheu’s son Zacharie, a rescue attempt is made via the old pit. Zacharie is killed by a firedamp explosion in this attempt. Down in the mine, Lantier kills Chaval in a fight over food, and Catherine dies of starvation in Lantier’s arms, but Lantier is still alive when the rescuers break through. Once he has recovered from his ordeal, Lantier decides to leave to pursue a political career. He says goodbye to Maheu’s wife, who has herself become a haulage woman in the mine, and sets out for Paris.

 

     My first series of frame stills comes from the closing scene of the film (shots 309 to 314). (Shot numbers are those of the 1985 restoration by Renée Lichtig, counting intertitles as shots.) Lantier comes to the Maheus’ house to say a last goodbye. He finds no-one there but Bonnemort (played by Marc Gérard) and the Maheus’ baby, named Estelle in the novel. (Like many other characters, the baby is not named in the film’s intertitles; I will use the names in the novel without comment from now on.) Maheu’s wife, known as La Maheude (played by Jeanne Cheirel), comes in, and Lantier tells her he is leaving, then learns she is going down the mines as a haulage woman. As he approaches the house, Lantier pauses on the doorstep before entering:

 

(Lantier is played by Henry Krauss, the Quasimodo of Notre Dame de Paris and a regular SCAGL leading man since 1908—he plays Jean Valjean in Les Misérables.) This pause could be realistically motivated, since he has caused disaster to this household and so might hesitate to meet its survivors, but it is clearly part of “making an entrance” and the glance is fairly squarely to camera. There follows a title, translatable as “The past and the future”. Inside the house, Bonnemort, now senile, is sitting to the left, while the baby’s cradle is to the right:

 

Lantier enters and tries to get Bonnemort to respond to a greeting, but fails:

 

La Maheude comes in and they greet one another:

 

He tells her he is leaving Montsou. He asks why she is dressed for the mine, and she shows him the company’s letter giving her her job:

 

After an insert of the letter, she indicates her responsibilities—the senile Bonnemort and the helpless Estelle:

 

She asks what he will do, and he indicates vague hopes of advancement (a gesture to the skies):

 

She turns away and busies herself with her lunch things. So far, though I hope the posing is clear enough, it is not very marked. But then Lantier comes to the front, points to Bonnemort and waves his right hand, indicating that the old man is done for (this last gesture is not shown in the still):

 He turns and pats the baby:

 

He then raises his right arm to the skies, indicating a hopeful future:

 

La Maheude turns back toward him, and they shake hands in farewell:

 

Both stoop in grief:

 

He looks significantly to camera:

 

Then he re-exits.

 

     In the middle part of the scene, Krauss acts out the words of the intertitle as a mime. This kind of mime, generally frowned on by contemporary commentary, is found in less portentous contexts in the film. For example, one of the blacklegs running the gauntlet makes the child gesture—a hand held out palm down at waist level—to his assailants, miming “I have to support my children”. However, as well as this mime, the scene involves posing, in fact works by the two mobile actors moving from pose to pose. Posing is broad here not because it is a high point of the action, but because it is an epilogue in which the moral—the significance of the events we have witnessed—is being presented, and it leads naturally to the final scene:

 

This follows Zola in linking the season and the landscape to the—deliberately ambiguous—idea of fecundity via the revolutionary name of one of the spring months, "Germinal".

 

     My next example is the scene where Lantier comes out of hiding and goes to the Maheus’ house, which is in mourning for Toussaint Maheu (shots 240 to 243). Echoing his departure into hiding, when he escaped police at the front door by running out the back, he approaches the house via its back garden, pausing significantly on the threshold as he does in the final scene, just discussed:

 

Inside the house the surviving adult family members, Catherine, Chaval, Zacharie, La Maheude, and Bonnemort are grouped round the central table. The scene that follows is organized by movements of the characters round the table, blocking and unblocking one another, and assuming greater prominence when closer to camera than when further away (the film uses the standard low—waist-high—Pathé camera, giving a greater sense of depth than a higher camera would). French actors seem to have been particularly adept at this kind of ensemble work, perhaps because it was emphasized by formal training at the subsidized theatres, the Comédie française and the Odéon; actors with this training formed Film d’Art, some similarly trained actors were members of the Pathé and SCAGL stock companies, and their examples meant that this style prevailed in Pathé films more than in those of most Italian and American companies.

At the beginning of the scene, Zacharie (actor unknown) and Chaval (played by Jean Jacquinet) are standing rear centre. Catherine is sitting to the left of the table. (Catherine is played by Louise Sylvie, usually known by her surname alone), [Sylvie appeared in a small number of films, mostly made by SCAGL, in the early 1910s, but was principally a stage actress until the middle 1930s, when she had a renewed film career as a character actress, culminating in her starring role in René Allio’s La Vieille femme indigne/The Shameless Old Lady in 1965.] La Maheude is sitting to its right, her head buried in her arms. Bonnemort is sitting midground right in a daze:

 

The rear right door opens, and Lantier enters. Zacharie and Chaval turn to look at him, but the others do not react:

 

He comes to stand immediately behind the table between Catherine and La Maheude. He looks down at Catherine, who turns to look up at him:

 

She gets up and wearily retreats to rear left, joining Chaval who has crossed past Zacharie to the left. La Maheude raises her head as Lantier turns to look at her. She starts as she recognizes the man who has brought ruin on her family:

 

He makes a gentle gesture of condolence and apology. She reaches up and grabs him by the lapels. He grasps her hands:

 

He gently pushes them down. She collapses weeping on the table. Catherine weeps into her apron, Chaval rear left glares at Lantier:

 

Zacharie moves a little leftward, staring at Lantier. Chaval comes forward to stand between Lantier and Catherine. He looks Lantier up and down and laughs in a sinister way:

 

He then turns away, stopping as Catherine embraces Zacharie. Chaval goes to join them as the street door left opens and two miners enter and hand Chaval a paper:

 

There follows an insert of the leaflet announcing the meeting to discuss a return to work. Then the scene resumes. The miners, Zacharie and Chaval exit left through the door. Catherine watches Lantier from rear left:

 

She comes forward and opens the door, telling Lantier he must face the music:

 

He exits left. Catherine closes the door:

 

     Each actor runs through a series of poses representing their different, largely silent, responses to the situation: Lantier’s regret and embarrassment; Catherine’s resigned grief; Chaval’s Schadenfreude; La Maheude’s grief, anger at Lantier, then despairing resignation; Bonnemort’s mental absence. The whole scene forms a series of pictures as these poses are entered, then broken as the actors move, reposing when they stop. Indeed, Chaval is only present for pictorial reasons—to add his “voice” to the ensemble of attitudes—realistically (i.e., in terms of realistic motivation), he is still the despised blackleg and abuser of the daughter of the family, and would not be welcome at a scene of mourning for a leader of the strike. Yet, despite the extreme emotion of the scene, the gestures are mostly quite small, with the one exception of Cheirel as La Maheude angrily grasping Krauss’s lapels.

 

     The next scene I want to illustrate is the confrontation between the strikers and the blacklegs at the pithead (shots 172 to 177). After scenes of the blacklegs desperately climbing the ladders out of the pit, an alternation is established between the pithead area (with the cages and the main shaft to the left) and the adjacent entrance to the emergency shaft (off right in the pithead scenes). When the blacklegs begin to emerge from the top of the emergency shaft, Zacharie, Maheu (played by Mévisto, Sr.), and Lantier leave the pithead for the emergency shaft entrance. Zacharie, Maheu and Lantier run on left.  Lantier starts grabbing blacklegs as they emerge from the shaft and hauling them off left. Chaval enters from the shaft, hiding his face in his hands. Maheu grabs him, pushes him to the right and begins to punch him, but Lantier intervenes, holding back the strikers, telling them “This man is mine!” He grabs a short pickaxe from one of the strikers, throws it at Chaval’s feet, takes another for himself, and rolls up his sleeves for the combat. Chaval slowly bends down and picks up the axe:

 

Catherine enters from behind the blacklegs now crowding the entrance to the shaft. She runs between Lantier and Chaval, facing Lantier and shielding Chaval with outstretched arms. Lantier gestures for her to get out of the way:

 

Instead, she leans forward and slaps him hard in the face:

 

He staggers, then sobers up, throws down the axe, and covers his face with his right hand, as Catherine leans back, stretching out her arms to protect Chaval. Tableau:

 

Lantier tells the strikers, “That’s enough!” They protest and he shouts them down. Maheu crosses to stand between Lantier and Catherine, and goes to hit them. Zacharie exits left. Lantier drags Maheu away and off left.

 

     Matched cut to the pithead as Lantier drags Maheu on right. Lantier shouts for quiet to the strikers and looks off right. Catherine enters right, hands on hips, defying the strikers. They subside:

 

She shrugs, and walks slowly through them to midground centre. She stops and looks around. They are afraid to touch her. Lantier looks ashamed, takes his scarf from his pocket and ties it round his neck:

 

Chaval enters right slowly, his head bowed, dragging his feet (in contrast to Catherine):

 

The strikers shake their fists at him but move no nearer. He glares at Lantier:

 

Then he follows Catherine through the crowd (one striker spits him in the face, he wipes off the spittle but does not stop) and off rear centre. The strikers close the gap, leaving Zacharie, Maheu, Souvarine and Lantier across the front. They discuss what to do. Lantier says let’s go, and leads the strikers in a march off front left, leaving Souvarine standing alone.

 

     Once again, the scene, though a highly mobile one, is organized around a series of moments of relative stasis: when Lantier confronts Chaval with the pick; when Catherine prevents the fight by standing between the two men; when she sobers Lantier up by slapping him, then shields her husband with her arms; when she faces the wall of angry miners without flinching; when she turns as she moves through them, refusing to run; when Chaval stops to glare at Lantier (an action foreshadowing his perfidious denunciation of Lantier in the next scene). Sylvie’s last turn before exiting is, indeed, a classic example of “making an exit”, even though the actual disappearance of the actress is postponed until Chaval has already entered, so diverting attention from it. Nevertheless, with the exception of the slap, the gestures are not large in scale, hands are not raised above shoulders. Moreover, the full scene is an edited sequence, with the two sides of an alternation linked by precise action matching on movements of members of the crowds of miners and blacklegs from the pithead to the top of the emergency shaft and back.

 

     The final sequence—three shots (68 to 70)—I want to look at is the moment when Lantier first realises that Catherine, whom he met in her work clothes and assumed was a boy, is in fact a young woman. He has been taken on as a hercheur, working with Catherine shoveling the coal hacked from the face by the cutters into trams (herches or berlines) which are then pushed to the pit bottom by child workers (galibots). Catherine has been much better at this work than Lantier throughout the morning. Then the team breaks for lunch. Catherine has brought her lunch from home, but Lantier, who had been walking all night, has none. The shot is preceded by a title translatable as “In which Lantier realises why Chaval was so eager to keep him away.” Chaval, jealous of Catherine, was unhappy that Maheu took on the outsider, and especially that Catherine was particularly welcoming of him; Chaval’s hostility has mystified Lantier hitherto.

 

     The scene is the mine gallery with the face worked by Maheu’s team just off left. To the right is one of the trams used by the team. Catherine is midground centre with a shovel. She puts a shovelful of coal onto the tram:

 

She says it is lunchtime, and throws down the shovel. Lantier, behind her, comes forward as she sits down on a rock front right:

 

He picks up his scarf and puts it round his neck, and puts on his coat.  Without getting up, Catherine gets her lunch bag from where it is hanging front right and opens it. She takes off the headscarf covering her hair and shakes it loose. Lantier sits down front left facing forward, his eyes still averted from Catherine:

 

He takes off his helmet and headscarf and rubs his head ruefully. He turns and looks towards Catherine, then freezes:

 

She opens a sandwich, lifts her head to eat it, and sees him staring at her:

 

She lowers the sandwich to ask what is the matter:

 

He laughs sheepishly and indicates her hair:

 She laughs incredulously and pulls a hank of her hair forward to show it to him:

 

He expresses his bemusement. She ties her hair up in a bun and puts her headscarf on again. She takes a bite from her sandwich. He sits arms on knees (he has no lunch). She notices, stops eating and asks does he not have anything to eat? He lowers his head and mutters that he will be all right. She holds the bitten sandwich out to him:

 

He shakes his head and looks away. She looks at the bite, gestures that he naturally doesn’t want to eat where she has bitten, and turns the sandwich round, holding the unbitten side out to him, laughing. He finally takes the sandwich, grinning. He bites into it ravenously:

 

She gets down her bottle from where it was hanging front right and drinks from it. She offers it to him, he says thank you, she wipes the mouth of the bottle and hands it to him. He is still chewing. She gets up and sits closer to him by the tram. He drinks:

 

He wipes the bottle mouth, then hands it back to her. She drinks, then offers it to him again. He says no, she recorks the bottle, then lies full length on her front, head to camera, and eats more of her sandwich. She asks him how he lost his former job:

 

He gestures striking the supervisor. She expresses understanding. She gets to her knees and they talk:

 

 

    Cut to the nearby coal face. Maheu, Zacharie and Chaval are eating their lunch. Chaval listens, then turns, half rises, and looks off right:

 

Maheu asks what is the matter. Chaval says “Oh nothing,” and sits down again. He listens again, puts down his sandwich, and shuts up Maheu’s protestations. Pan right as he starts to the rear, hesitates a moment while a tram is pushed from rear right and off front right, then sets off to rear right.

 

     Cut back to the setting of the previous scene. Lantier and Catherine are talking as at the end of that shot. Chaval enters rear left and comes to stand behind and between them, bent nearly double because of the low roof. He listens a moment:

 

He comes forward, grabs Catherine and kisses her brutally on the mouth:

 

She gets up and  pushes him away, then stands looking sadly off front right:

 

Chaval glares at Lantier: [070d]

 

Chaval re-exits rear left. Lantier looks at Catherine, asking, is he your man?

 

She puts her hand to her mouth and turns away without replying. He looks wryly sorry, then looks down at his feet. She retreats slightly with no response:

 

 

    Posing is much less evident in this scene, presumably one of the ones Marie was thinking of when he talked about “internalization”. An important issue of character motivation is at stake. The novel depends for one of its main lines of action—its “romance plot”, though the phrase seems odd in connection with a novel by Zola—on Lantier and Catherine’s mutual attraction, and yet on its lack of consummation until Catherine is in her death throes during the mine disaster. The long delay in the consummation, in particular, is weakly motivated in the novel, but the authorial commentary in a novel can explain and hence motivate almost any behaviour on the part of its characters. Drama and film have fewer means to provide character motivation, so the problem is more acute. This is partly solved by a plot change: the film makes Chaval Catherine’s established sweetheart before the story starts; the acting of Jacquinet as Chaval and Sylvie as Catherine in the first scene in which they appear together makes it clear that the initiative comes from Chaval and Catherine is reluctant, but the suit is favoured by her father. In the book, by contrast, the parents do not wish to lose a breadwinner in the family and are therefore strongly opposed to any match for Catherine, and the moment he kisses her in this scene is the first time that Chaval has more than hinted at an attraction to Catherine. Nevertheless, it is the scene I have just illustrated that most strongly motivates both Lantier’s attraction and his diffidence (again, a plot compression in the film brings Lantier’s realization that Catherine is a woman and Chaval’s claim to sexual ownership of her into the same scene).

 

     A “naturalist” cast to the scene is given by its reliance on business: the work Catherine and Lantier do before the section I illustrated, the preparations for lunch, including adjustments of dress, and the eating and drinking. This is emphasized by Catherine’s “unladylike” and hence ungraceful behaviour, with the actress rolling on the floor and eating lying on her belly. Most of these resources fall to Sylvie, as Catherine is the one with the lunch, the hair, and the sexual naivety to treat Lantier’s mistake about her gender as a childish joke, and hence to romp uninhibitedly in his presence until the situation is brutally sexualized by Chaval, when she retreats into embarrassment, literally moving back in the frame away from Krauss. Krauss, by contrast, has to convey Lantier’s two changes of attitude to Catherine—from the assumption that he is with a boy to his recognition of Catherine’s gender and his aroused sexual interest in her to his disappointment and inhibition when he thinks she is already taken—while sitting on the ground with no possibilities of substantial movement and nothing to do except for his much briefer moments of eating the sandwich and drinking from the flask. Although there is some quasi-business, such as the mimed explanation of how he came to be tramping the roads, most of what has to be done is done by quite small changes in head and body position, a quite narrow range of smiles, frowns, and blank looks, and makings and breakings of eye contact—looking at Catherine and looking away from her. This acting does indeed, in Marie’s words, depend “on the body as a whole, [...] movements in the frame and [...] interactions between the characters,” and on stance if not on gait (Marie’s word, “démarche,” can mean both). Nevertheless, in making stills to illustrate the scene, it was not difficult to find the moments of stasis when Krauss was in effect posing (the moments for Sylvie were more difficult, because business like eating a sandwich is not stationary in the same way). This can be contrasted with an impressive scene which I cannot illustrate, because there are no poses in it. The fight between Chaval and Lantier in the streets of Montsou is a tour de force. In a single shot, Krauss and Jacquinet apparently hit each other, fall, turn over and over wrestling in the dust, reach for and grab fallen knives, until Catherine intervenes to prevent Lantier from killing Chaval. The only thing in it that could be called a pose is a moment when Jacquinet jumps up with both feet off the ground, challenging Lantier (Jacquinet’s posing is always more marked than Krauss’s, because he has the villain’s part). [Perhaps it should also be mentioned that Jacquinet was a mime before he started to act in films.] Otherwise, the fight is all business, and executing it is more a matter of choreography or acrobatics than of expression. [Contrast the mess of the fight between Glenister and McNamara in the 1914 Selig The Spoilers, which the filmmakers clearly had no idea what to do with, despite the fact that it is the key moment of the film, and was known to be the key moment from its significance in the 1907 stage adaptation of Beach’s novel—this despite the fact that William Farnum was accustomed to playing he-man parts on the stage and must have known how to do a stage fight. Perhaps the techniques of stage fighting had not yet been adapted to an edited scene such as was required in The Spoilers, which has the standard découpage of an American film of its date.] But the scene in which Lantier recognizes that Catherine is a woman is still orchestrated by movements from pose to pose, although the poses have become very unmarked, and their expressive intent much less clear. If this is, as Marie suggests, the “invention as we watch of a specifically cinematic direction of actors,” then such a specifically cinematic acting style arises, not from the adaptation of naturalistic acting techniques into the cinema but from a reduction in scale and emphasis of the pictorial styles of acting that the early cinema had taken over from the live theatre.

 

 

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