While several critical works on Spanish cinema have centred on the cultural, social and industrial significance of stars, there has been relatively little critical scholarship on what stars are paid to do: act. Bringing together a range of scholars that attend carefully to the performances, acting styles, and historical influences of Spanish film, Performance and Spanish Film is the first book to place the process of Spanish acting centre stage. Comprising fifteen original essays, the book casts light on the manifold meanings, methods and influences of Spanish screen performance, from the silent era to the present day. It situates the development of Spanish screen acting in both its national and global contexts, tracing acting techniques that are largely indigenous to Spain, as well as unpicking the ways in which Spanish performance has frequently been shaped by international influences and forces. As the volume ultimately demonstrates, acting can serve as a powerful site of meaning through which broader questions around Spanish film practices, culture and society can be explored.
The volume encompasses seventeen chapters, each devoted to an individual actor
who represents a diverse aspect of post-war British cinematic stardom. The
approach is one of a cinephile academic and although the time frame ranges from
the 1940s to the 1980s, the focal point is the 1950s. It was in this decade that
the film industry faced increasing competition from television and the
involvement of Hollywood monies in UK-based pictures. By the end of that period,
the ‘star system’ maintained by the Rank Organisation and Associated British
Picture Corporation (ABPC) was being succeeded by independent productions using
Pinewood and Elstree Studios and censorship was being relaxed. Many actors took
the opportunity to escape, or even transcend, their previous casting limitations
or stereotyping. Of the subject matter, Jack Hawkins, John Mills, Kenneth
More are ‘senior leads’, Laurence Harvey and Stanley Baker are ‘younger leads’
and the ‘leading ladies’ section contains chapters on Sylvia Syms and Diana
Dors. ‘The comics’ details the work of Norman Wisdom, Terry-Thomas and Leslie
Phillips. The careers of Sidney James, James Robertson Justice, Margaret
Rutherford and Hattie Jacques are considered in terms of the art of the leading
character actor and the work concludes with tributes to Peter Finch and Peter
Dean Allbritton, Alejandro Melero, and Tom Whittaker
Introduction: approaching performance
in Spanish film
Dean Allbritton, Alejandro Melero and Tom Whittaker
The importance of screenacting has often been overlooked in studies on
Spanish film. While several critical works on Spanish cinema have centred
on the cultural, social and industrial significance of stars, there has been
relatively little critical scholarship on what stars are paid to do: act. This
is perhaps surprising, given the central role that acting occupies within a
film. In his essay ‘Why Study Film Acting?’, Paul McDonald argues that
acting is not
established, small screenacting notably distinguished itself from
stage-derived practice via a reduction in vocal projection (though
this was still greater than that which would be employed in everyday life), and a gradual eschewal of broad gestural signifiers, aided
by the fact that pre-recording meant actors now had the opportunity to assess their own performances after the event.
By the mid-1970s the studio realist style had been refined into a
form that was accepted and understood by the majority of actors; in
the words of Shaun Sutton: ‘Today’s actor is television
The politics of performance in the Spanish sophisticated comedy of the 1940s
predominance of ideological approaches to cinema (Krämer and Lovell
1999: 3–4) –actually enables us to answer Triana-Toribio’s question.
By exploring ways in which sophisticated comedies and discourses of
nation in the post-war decade intertwine vis-à-vis the performance of
their stars and supporting actors,7 and in the media discourse surrounding screenacting, I shed new light on the politics of Spanish cinema
during the post-war decade. To this end, I problematise and elaborate
upon those references to comic performance hidden away in the handful of academic
Vocal performance, gesture and technology in Spanish film
attention it deserves. Hart
(2007), Gubern and Vernon (2013), Wright (2013), as well as myself
(Whittaker 2012), have each addressed the importance of the voice in
Spanish cinema, thereby providing a reassessment of the commonly held
relationship between sound and image in film. This chapter contributes
to this growing field of scholarship by specifically exploring the relationship between various stages of sound technology in Spanish film, and
The sounds of José Luis López Vázquez
their subsequent impact in the development of screenacting, a crucial
performing the role of
a non-human, or interacting with CGI imagery or special effects.
However, such specific cases do not provide this book’s central
focus, and by identifying the key elements outlined above I believe
it is possible to provide a useful starting point to consider at least
the significant trends of change in acting style.
Until comparatively recently, few works existed to focus specifically on small screenacting in Britain. From 2015, Gary Cassidy
and Simone Knox’s series of blogs for CST online examining ‘What
Actors Do’ evinced a growing interest in
Studios in the summer of 1935. Lee Thompson had
landed a small (uncredited) part in the film through his friendship with its
16–year-old star Hughie Green. 2 It was a significant moment, not because it was Lee
Thompson’s only sortie into screenacting, but because it gave him a
chance to observe the directorial technique of a film-maker who was to
become one of his prime inspirations, Carol Reed.
At Elstree, Lee Thompson began to
chronic illness or flares
into disability, and even when it means death –imbues sickness with a
performative aspect which is even further underscored in film and screenacting. There are myriad signals and movements of illness, within screenacting and without: tears that show suffering, a crinkled face and movement to block a sneeze, a hand stifling a hacking cough, or the gestures
and grimaces that accompany stabbing pain.
If there is something performative about our relationships to illness and
disability, what emerges in film acting, then, is a doubly wrought
Lee , Laurie ( 1957 ), ‘ A Letter from Cannes ’, Encounter , July, 15 – 20 .
Lejeune , C. A. ( 1947 ), ‘ At the Films: Taking the Plunge ’, The Observer , 14 September, 2 .
Lewis , Roger ( 1994 ), The Life & Death of Peter Sellers , London : Century .
Lockhart , Freda Bruce ( 1950 ), ‘ At the Pictures ’, The Tatler , 20 September, 12 .
Macnab , Geoffrey ( 2000 ), Searching for Stars: Stardom and ScreenActing in British Cinema , London : Continuum .
Manvell , Roger ( 1955 ), The Film and The