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Seeing Sarah BernhardtPerformance and Silent Film$
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Victoria Duckett

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039669

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039669.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Seeing Sarah Bernhardt

Victoria Duckett

University of Illinois Press

This book interrogates Sarah Bernhardt's crossover from theater into film and what her films can reveal to us today. It contextualizes and explains Bernhardt's popular success on film, asking why audiences in the early twentieth century celebrated an actress on film who they might never have seen on the live stage. It also looks at the role that feminism plays in enabling us to make sense of Bernhardt's films. The book argues that Bernhardt's films do not offer proof of her theatrical stage action, and that their excessive theatricality are not evidence of her incommensurability with film but an unaccounted theatrical practice that reveals a different way of thinking about and relating to the cinema. It contends that Bernhardt's films challenge and change received ideas about what is and is not “cinematic”. Finally, it describes Bernhardt's film, with her as a protagonist, as a fluid and transformative art form. Bernhardt's association with art nouveau relates to her acting style—and beyond that to her lifestyle and to her very life itself.

Keywords:   cinema, Sarah Bernhardt, theater, film, art nouveau, acting, audiences, excessive theatricality, art form, feminism

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