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No More Enemies
By Babak Ebrahimian


Theater and Film: A Comparative Anthology
Edited by Robert Knopf
Yale University Press






Creating an anthology isn't easy. Where do you begin, where do you end, and what selections do you include? An anthology can be used as a reference book for both theorists and practitioners, as an introductory text or as a specialized resource for experts. It is a challenge for any anthology to meet the expectations of all its audiences.

Containing thirty selections and close to 400 pages, Theater and Film: A Comparative Anthology, edited by Robert Knopf, compiles a series of essays, statements, "conversations" and interviews with and by theater and film historians, critics, theoreticians, and practitioners. Contributors include influential and iconic figures in both theater and film, such as Andre Bazin, Susan Sontag, Stanley Kauffmann, D.W. Griffith, Antonin Artaud, Ingmar Bergman, Bertolt Brecht, Sergei Eisenstein, Milos Forman, Elia Kazan, and Orson Welles. The book has been categorized into five sections: "Historical Influences," "Comparisons and Contrasts," "Writing," "Directing," and "Acting." A "Prelude" by Vsevolod Meyerhold starts the book, which also includes three "Interludes," an "Entr'act," and an "Afterword" by Artaud.

Knopf's anthology--the first of its kind--is ambitious and deserves much applause. It covers significant ground in all its five areas. The list of areas, however, leaves out several other important categories. Where, for instance, is the section on design? Or on theater architecture and space? Or on the audience? An essay on a film like Metropolis, or an interview with a designer like Ming Cho Lee, could have served as a good starting point for a design section. A segment from Marvin Carlson's Places of Performance might have anchored an "Architecture and Spaces" section. And some writings on the audience by Richard Schechner or Herbert Blau could have formed the foundation of an "Audience" section.

Given the book's title, the main question is how a "comparative" anthology ought to be conceived and catalogued. In an essay in the third section, Peter Handke addresses this point, writing: "Pascal said, approximately: all misery comes from man's constantly believing that he must compare himself with the infinite. And another misery--Pascal did not say this--comes from man's believing that he must, in general, compare." How, then, can two forms of art--so close, yet so far apart--be discussed and compared? What is there to compare, exactly? Method? Forms? Theories? Genesis? Ideas? Warnings? The present? The past? The future? The hows? The whys? Is the writer who directs, and the auteur who creates, a writer, or a director, or both? Then what happens when he or she acts? Where does such a versatile figure fit into the five sections? The strict division and categorization, I feel, is a weakness of the anthology. Orson Welles cannot be squeezed into one category: he embodies them all. The same is true of other giants such as Chaplin, who gets far too little attention in this book.

The truth is, the two art forms have so much in common that beyond the first, nominal separation--theater/film--all categories rapidly become fuzzy. Roger Blin is in the "Writing" section but he could easily be in "Acting" or "Directing." The same is true of Kazan, who is under "Acting" but could have very well been in "Directing." In his autobiography Kurosawa writes: "Cinema resembles so many other arts. If cinema has very literary characteristics, it also has theatrical qualities, a philosophical side, attributes of painting and sculpture and musical elements. But cinema is, in the final analysis, cinema." Yes, theater is theater and film is film. But where they intersect is a vast, gray territory.

A second issue is the anthology's selections. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, which arguably covers a smaller field than theater and cinema combined, is well over 1400 pages. Knopf's selections are limited to one piece per writer and many important innovators are left out all together: directors such as Kurosawa and Mnouchkine, for instance, and crossover actors such as Bruno Ganz and Kenneth Branagh. Further, while all those selected are significant, not all of the essays are a good representation of the writer's work or its potential contribution to the theater/film comparison. Brecht's essay, "The Playwright as Film Critic," for example, is not the best piece by Brecht on theater/cinema (though Knopf's supplementary notes to the piece make its inclusion worthwhile).

The most glaring gap in the anthology is that it never examines the importance of space. The theater and cinema are two modes of storytelling, and their immediate differences are both temporal and spatial. The theater has the stage and three-dimensional space whereas the cinema has the screen and is to that extent two-dimensional, but regardless of 2-D or 3-D both forms utilize scenic design and décor. It is impossible to talk about the two theoretical notions that Eisenstein refers to in his essay--mise-en-scene (set, blocking, props, costumes, lights onstage) and mise-en-cadre (the pictorial composition of a film shot)--without talking about space, architecture, and design. Every production, no matter how minimal (Beckett) or complex (The Wooster Group), involves a visual sculpting of its space, where the narrative can be represented, enacted, and inhabited. Reading carefully within the anthology's interviews with directors, one can find discussion of their visual approaches, but the subject is always occasional or peripheral. Welles, for example, in discussing his adaptation of Kafka's The Trial, explains that he wanted to make the film with no set but was forced to shoot it in an abandoned railroad station.

Despite the unnecessary and confusing chapter divisions, Knopf's anthology does offer a first round of basic and quintessential texts necessary for any comparative study in theater and cinema. Among these are: Meyerhold's "The Director as the Superstar"; Tom Gunning's "The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde"; Robert Knopf's "Buster Keaton in the Context of Stage Vaudeville and Silent Film Comedy"; Griffith's " The Filmmaker as Creator"; Eric Bentley's "Realism and the Cinema"; Bazin's "Theater and Cinema"; Sontag's "Film and Theatre"; Kauffmann's "Notes on Theater-and-Film"; Bergman's "The Screenwriter as Auteur"; Eisenstein's "Through Theater to Cinema," a conversation with Wole Soyinka, and interviews with Blin, Welles, and Kazan. The critical essays in part two ("Comparisons and Contrasts") are well selected; Bazin's, Sontag's and Kauffmann's are classics, and the interviews and conversations are all very enlightening and entertaining.

At the very heart of the anthology lies a rare gem--a transcribed conversation with Peter Brook, Sir Peter Hall, Richard Loncraine, Baz Luhrmann, Trevor Nunn, Oliver Parker, Roman Polanski, and Franco Zeffirelli entitled "Shakespeare in the Cinema: A Film Director's Symposium." This piece is a source of great wisdom, knowledge and insight, brilliantly capturing the ideas and opinions of some of the greatest theatre and film directors on acting, adapting, and cutting Shakespeare. These directors speak their thoughts with surprising honestly, offering many remarks that reach to the heart of the theater/film comparison. Hall: "The best Shakespeare films to me--such as Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Ran and the Solzhenitsyn Hamlet--are those that take his themes and characters and ignore his text." Loncraine: "We can communicate with pictures an awful lot of what Shakespeare expressed with words." Luhrmann: "if the intention behind the word is clear then the meaning will be too." Zeffirelli: "I cannot think of one novel or play that has been transposed entirely--apart from an exception like Branagh's Hamlet--because otherwise your film would last five hours. Adaptation is therefore inevitable, a necessity that no one can escape." Brook: "Too much information clogs the brain. Too rich food creates indigestion. Simplicity is not a style, nor virtue--simply a necessity."

Over all, Knopf has done a remarkable job. It was about time for someone to break the ice and proclaim that theater and film are not enemies--they have much in common, despite their obvious differences. I wish this book had more pages, more photos, and more pieces, but it is a fine first step. Now we need the sequel.


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