ABSTRACT

Acting has long been confi gured as a problem for fi lm studies. A commonplace concern, articulated in nearly every scholarly monograph or anthology on the subject, is that acting has been either overlooked or misrepresented by the discipline.2 The problem with acting is also articulated in a diff erent way via the correlative of this concern: the occasional antitheoretical screed in which theory is characterized as being “too abstract” and unconcerned with the “concrete and practical dimensions” of acting.3 Such a scholarly disinclination to concentrate on acting is, however, decidedly not shared by non-specialist viewers. That is, in spite of the relative paucity of writing that gives an account of what performers are actually doing onscreen and why their creative eff orts excite our interest, non-academic viewers frequently extemporize confi dently about acting. Indeed, assessments of performance elements are often the fi rst critical observations made during casual conversations about fi lm. My question, then, is this: if so little is (or can be) understood theoretically about fi lm acting, why are so many viewers prepared to pontifi cate with self-assured authority on the merits or demerits of a given performer?