Charles Musser 1
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  • 1 Yale University
The Hidden and the Unspeakable
On Theatrical Culture, Oscar Wilde and Ernst Lubitsch‘s Lady Windermeres Fan
in Film Studies
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The cinema is as much a theatrical form of entertainment as performance on the stage, a fact that is crucial to a full appreciation of Ernst Lubitsch‘s Lady Windermere‘s Fan (Warner Brothers, 1925). Particularly in the cinemas silent era (1895-1925), when motion picture exhibition relied on numerous performance elements, theatrical performance and film exhibition interpenetrated. This underscores a basic conundrum: cinema has been integral to, and an extension of, theatrical culture, even though it has also been something quite different - a new art form. Indeed, the unity of stage and screen was so well established that critics, theorists, historians and artists expended large amounts of intellectual energy distinguishing the two forms while paying little attention to what they held in common. One fundamental feature of theatrical practice that carried over into many areas of filmmaking was adaptation. For Lubitsch, adaptation was a central fact of his artistic practice. This article looks at the history of adaptations of Lady Windermere‘s Fan on stage and screen making reference to textual comparisons, public reception, painting, symbolism and queer readings.

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