Invited Annual Keynote Lecture, Society for Theatre Research (STR), Swedenborg Hall, London
"I never thought...that I would ever be a film, but now that I am two whole reels of pictures I rely for my immortality upon these records."
"Bernhardt Conquers New World," Moving Picture World, March 9, 1912.
For my invited keynote lecture in London for the Society for Theatre Research at Swedenborg Hall, I focused on the joining of the greatest actress of the nineteenth century to early film.
As I explained to particiants, Sarah Bernhardt, the great nineteenth-century theatrical actress, was also the first major international film star. Appearing cross-dressed in a short Hamlet film before international audiences at the Paris Exposition of 1900, this 56-year-old French actress most famously went on to make Camille (La Dame aux Camélias, 1911) and Queen Elizabeth (Les Amours de la Reine Elisabeth, 1912). Later appearing in one of the first celebrity home movies (Sarah Bernhardt at Home, 1915), she also made a WWI propaganda film, Mothers of France (Mères Françaises, 1917). This presentation explores these films as evidence of a productive exchange between the stage and the early film industry.
Rather than see Bernhardt's acting as evidence of the theatre's incommensurability with film, I demonstrate the legacy of her stage acting as she adapted it to early film. The talk included screenings of the films accompanied by live music. Thank you David and Helen Mayer for facilitating this accompaniment, which meant I had the wonderful John Sweeney on piano!