Hilary Hart


Delsarte’s influence over American oratory, theatrical training, and dance has long been established. Should cinema be added to this list of fields shaped by American Delsartism? Those who received Delsartean training, either professionally or in public school oratory classes, most certainly found their way into filmmaking, as actors and directors. An examination of the context into which Americans enthusiastically embraced Delsarte’s ideas reveals that Americans shared the following precepts regarding the experience and representation of human emotions: emotions have universal expression; the job of the artist is to study these universal expressions; hitting upon a universal emotional expression is the quickest route to exciting an audience’s emotions; and finally, the primary role of art is the stirring of emotions. As long as these ideas flourish, so do the performance practices that aim to meet these goals. A review of Griffith’s feature films demonstrates a persistence of gestures, pantomime, and postures common to acting and oratory manuals and handbooks that profess to help the student discover universal human expressions. These findings demonstrate a greater endurance of conventional acting styles than is currently represented in film scholarship and recommend further research into Delsarte’s influence upon cinematic acting practices of the silent era.

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