Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Screen Actresses and the Stanislavskij System of Acting in Russian Cinema of the 1910s
Lauri Piispa

Last modified: 2010-03-01


The discourse on cinema in prerevolutionary Russia revolved around the nature of screen performance. During the first decade of Russian cinema (1908–18), there was a general consensus among filmmakers, critics and the audience, that acting was the most important aspect of film art. Since most film performers came from a stage background, the nature of film acting was defined in relation to acting in the theater. Art of the film actor was considered to consist of adapting one’s theatrical technique to suit the requirements of the new silent medium.

The most fashionable acting philosophy of the period, the "system" developed by Konstantin Stanislavskij at the Moscow Art Theater in the 1900s, was soon adapted to the screen. This happened in the early 1910s, around the same time that the first screen appearances of MAT actors took place. Over the following years Stanislavsky’s ideal of theatrical acting as art of "experiencing" (perezhivanie) became the ideal of film performance as well. The requirement of acting as psychological truth found its way from realist theater to cinema and was especially placed on the actresses. ‘Coldness’ and ‘empty’ posing were the worst thing that an actress could do on the screen.

This high ideal of acting was hard to fulfill in practice. Besides the always apparent differences of theater and film work – such as shooting scenes out of sequence – there were the everyday realities of film production: films were shot with a tight schedule, rehearsals were few and often the screenplay was concealed from the performers. The difficulty of "experiencing’"in such conditions is a recurrent theme in the actresses’ interviews and memoirs. Yet descriptions of the actual filming situations reveal, that the ideal of acting as psychological truth prevailed. Both actresses and directors sought and found ways to go around the obstacles, although the psychological techniques used often differed from those of the stage.


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