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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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A Short Film, 1900

(p.50) 2. Hamlet
Seeing Sarah Bernhardt

Victoria Duckett

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines Sarah Bernhardt's appearance in the 1900 short film Hamlet. Part of Paul Decauville's program for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre at the Paris Exposition, Bernhardt's film featured the fencing scene of Hamlet. She had played (and toured) Hamlet successfully on the live stage the previous year. In this way, the film pointed backward just as it pointed forward, to a known theatrical show and to invention, to mechanical mediations that brought with them new ways of presenting and promoting theater. This chapter considers how live musicians, the phonograph, and hand-colored film contributed to Decauville's initiative and hence to Hamlet. It argues that Bernhardt's short film was a calculated response to the new media and to its possible future. Bernhardt did not just adapt her stage work for the screen; she was a savvy businesswoman aware that cinematized theater could attract new audiences to her.

Keywords:   short film, Sarah Bernhardt, Hamlet, Paul Decauville, Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, live stage, theater, live musicians, phonograph, fencing

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