This article traces methods and conventions of performing women’s mental distress before the camera circa 1900. It features an analysis of gestural performances in French, US, Italian, and British films, with special attention given to two pre-1916 Gaumont films that include mad scenes. The topos of the white madwoman presents a valuable lens through which to investigate intermedial relations across performance forms and visual media as early cinema emerged, and gestures signifying madness have been particularly resilient even as approaches to film acting have evolved. Drawing on scholarship from Giorgio Agamben and Rae Beth Gordon, this article questions how techniques of performing female madness intersected with ideologies of race, class, and nationality.
Strike a Pose: Performing Gestures of the Madwoman in Early Cinema
Elyse Singer is a PhD candidate in theatre and performance, with a film studies certificate, at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. This essay received the 2020 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Women’s Caucus Graduate Student Writing Prize. Singer’s work has been published in PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art and Studies in Musical Theatre, and she is the recipient of the 2020 Helen Krich Chinoy Dissertation Fellowship and a 2020–21 Huntington Fellowship. Singer holds an MA from Hunter College and BA from Yale University. She is an adjunct professor at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, City College of New York, and New York University’s Department of Dramatic Writing.
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Elyse Singer; Strike a Pose: Performing Gestures of the Madwoman in Early Cinema. Feminist Media Histories 1 January 2021; 7 (1): 147–171. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2021.7.1.147
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