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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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Nullius in Verba

Nullius in Verba

Acting on Silent Film

(p.27) 1. Nullius in Verba
Seeing Sarah Bernhardt

Victoria Duckett

University of Illinois Press

This chapter challenges the notion that Sarah Bernhardt mouthed her lines on film due to her inability to act in a fittingly naturalistic way for film, and that her famous “golden voice” is brutally denied in a media that gives us the spectacle of an actress mouthing lines that we cannot hear. The chapter explains why an actress who was famous for her voice and gesture acts on silent film in terms of art nouveau acting, changes in visual literature, and the ongoing use of musical accompaniment—all of which allow us to reinterpret Bernhardt's relationship to the silent screen. It argues that Bernhardt's films record her gestural fame on the live stage, and that this fame was associated with her use of the spiral as a structuring device for action. It shows that the music that accompanied Bernhardt's films served the same purpose as it did on the live stage—to develop and expand the emotional resonance of her performance.

Keywords:   silent film, Sarah Bernhardt, art nouveau, acting, visual literature, music, gesture, live stage, spiral, performance

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