Bibliography on Film Performance


Dave, Shilpa S. Indian Accents: Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

Shilpa S. Dave examines representations and stereotypes of South Asian Americans in American film and television culture. Dave tackles many issues, theorizing concepts such as the “accent,” “brown face,” “brown voice” and the racial hierarchies that are associated with them. Dave considers how the “accent” can both contribute to and challenge stereotypes. Her definition of “accent” is not simply limited to the voice; she also references the decorative and sartorial aspects of performance, examining the meanings associated with them.

 Del Rio, Elena. Deleuze & the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.

Elena Del Rio’s book considers performance from a Deleuzian perspective, focusing on the actor’s body and the corporeality of cinema to explore how the performing body makes invisible or incorporeal things within the film “concrete expression-events.” She utilizes Deleuze’s idea of the “affection image” and affect theory to examine how “moving images […] have an unlimited capacity to move us.” She considers a wide assortment of films, including Imitation of Life, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels, The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and Beau Travail.

Goffman, Erving.  The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  Garden City: Doubleday, 1959.

In this seminal sociological text, Goffman discusses the role of acting in social organizations and argues that all behavior is inherently performative. Interestingly, he relies mainly on observation for his writing; because of this, sociologists often critique this work for lacking proper research and evidence. However, his chapters on “Communication out of Character” and “The Art of Impression Management” offer interesting contrasts to texts on stars and star personas.

 Hollinger, Karen. The Actress: Hollywood Acting and the Female Star. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Karen Hollinger’s book focuses on issues of film performance and stardom as they pertain to the contemporary film actress. She separates the book into two sections:  In the first, she considers film acting and the different ways we study it, focusing in particular on the ways that writers have tended to denigrate the significant work of female performers, while aggrandizing their male counterparts. In the second half, she examines the careers of Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angela Bassett, and Jodie Foster to explain why their acting performances are downplayed when compared with their male peers. Hollinger argues that critics focus on actress’s personal lives rather than their professional achievements.

 Klevan, Andrew. Barbara Stanwyck. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Andrew Klevan offers a study of the acting career of Barbara Stanwyck, focusing on three of her films:  Stella Dallas (1937), The Lady Eve (1941), and Double Indemnity (1944). The book offers close analysis of each of these Stanwyck characters, pinpointing the different female roles she portrays (femme fatale and sacrificial mother), and making a case that a consideration of these roles is vital to the study of film acting.

Klevan, Andrew. Film Performance: From Achievement to Appreciation. London:  Wallflower, 2005.

Andrew Klevan explores the relationship between film performance and the body, considering specifically how posture and gestures alter and embody a performer’s meaning.  He engages with other scholars of film performance but offers what he considers alternative close readings of actors from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, including Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn, among others. Klevan focuses on how their bodies move and interact with both other actors and objects.

 Naremore, James. Acting in the Cinema. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.

Naremore’s book offers one of the first and most influential sources on film performance, with the key goal of “mak[ing] readers conscious of behavior they usually take for granted.”  Naremore combines theoretical, historical and critical approaches to illuminate the ideological importance of film acting and to help the viewer-scholar conceptualize various acting traditions and taxonomies.  The book includes analysis of seven classic stars’ performances in a specific film:  Lillian Gish in True Heart Susie (1919), Charles Chaplin in The Gold Rush (1925), Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930), James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Katharine Hepburn in Holiday (1938), Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954), and Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959).

 North, Dan. Performing Illusions: Cinema, Special Effects and the Virtual Actor. Wallflower Press, 2008.

In his book Performing Illusions, Dan North explores the realm of the “Sythespians”—the Virtual Actor. He argues that though CGI and other special effects appear to reign supreme, no virtual being can replace a flesh-and-blood performer. Furthermore, North frames his ideas about CGI with a critical lens, making the book one of the first scholarly works to deal specifically with modern special effects.

Peberdy, Donna. Masculinity and Film Performance: Male Angst in Contemporary American Cinema.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Donna Peberdy’s research considers the representation of “male angst” in films from the 1990s and 2000s. She charts the changing definitions of masculinity in American culture and discusses how this evolution has translated to the screen.  While much scholarship has focused on a masculine “crisis,” Peberdy refocuses the issue by claiming that there is instability inherent in the masculine image.  She examines Magnolia, Broken Flowers, Glengarry Glen Ross and other films to ascertain how performances portray this instability.



Baron, Cynthia, Diane Carson, and Frank Tomasulo. More than a Method: Trends and Traditions in Contemporary Film Performance. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004.

The twelve essays included in this book analyze screen performance in post-1950s films.  The volume begins by providing an overview of film performance theory and argues that in order to fully engage with a film’s meaning and importance, the actor’s performance style must be examined. The writers not only examine performances from specific actors (Jim Carrey, Janet Leigh, Anne Heche), but also consider how various film directors (Robert Bresson, John Sayles, Neil Jordan) differ in their approach to acting performance.  Other contributors study acting performances within specific films, including Blow-up, Nashville, Opening Night, and Strawberry and Chocolate.

Butler, Jeremy G., ed. Star Texts: Image and Performance in Film and Television. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

Jeremy G. Butler’s compilation of articles by various scholars focuses on both film and television acting.  Together, the chapters thoroughly examine the history and the study of acting as well as how stardom informs performance. The anthology is separated into four sections: “Creating Performance: An Ongoing Debate,” “Reading Performance, Reading Star Images,” “Studies of Individual Stars,” and “Stardom and Television: Tentative Beginnings.”

Stern, Lesley and George Kouvaros, eds. Falling for You. Sydney: Power Publications, 2011.

This book includes a range of essays that discuss cinematic performance. Lesley Stern’s introduction raises questions about “the verbal representation of visual representation,” considering, more specifically, the difficulty of describing a filmic moment in a manner that effectively conveys its performative affect.  The essays range from examinations of a single director’s oeuvre (“Improvisation and the Operatic: Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence” and “Crisis and the Everyday: Some Thoughts on Gesture and Crisis in Cassavetes and Benjamin”) to the way actors perform various emotions (“Acting and Breathing,” “A Star is Born Again or, How Streisand Recycles Garland,” and “Fool’s Gold: Metamorphosis in Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr.”).

Sternagel, Jörg, Deborah Levitt, Dieter Mersch, eds.  Acting and Performance in Moving Image Culture. Bodies, Screens, Renderings. With a Foreword by Lesley Stern. Bielefeld: transcript Metabasis, New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Utilizing trans-disciplinary approaches to discuss the changing form of acting and performance in moving image culture, this anthology emphasizes the need to craft new theoretical approaches to screen performance. Ranging in approach from continental and analytical philosophy to new media theory, these essays interrogate the “fundamental conceptions of ‘act’ and ‘actor’ that underwrite both popular and academic notions of performance in moving image culture.”  The volume is divided into five sections: “Presentations and Representations,” “Appearances and Encounters,” “Affects and Affections,” “Actions and Animations,” and finally “Reflections and Perspectives.”

Taylor, Aaron, ed. Theorizing Film Acting. London: Routledge, 2012.

This collection of essays provides a theoretical framework to study film acting. Section 1, “Aesthetics: Understanding and Interpreting Film Acting,” addresses the intricacies of examining film performance on screen and translating the description to the page. Section 2, “Reception: Film Acting, Audiences and Communities,” involves audience reception of film performance and the relationship between acting and natural “being.” “Culture: Film History, Industry and the Vicissitudes” problematizes film performance by relating it to star persona and attitude. Finally, “Apparatus: Technology, Film Form and the Actor” studies the actual physical apparatus of filmmaking and the relationship between film acting and the camera.

Wojcik, Pamela Robertson, ed. Movie Acting: The Film Reader. New York: Routledge,

This volume investigates film acting as a critical facet of successful filmmaking. Rather than focus on actors as solely star personas, the essays examine how acting performances shape a film in its entirety. Wojcik argues that film criticism too often assigns a “good” or “bad” label rather than examine the specific details that constitute an actor’s performance.  The volume begins by dissecting the definition of acting and progresses to the creation of film acting. Equally important are essays that consider acting techniques, exploring how particular styles have crafted character types and genres.


Articles/Book Chapters:

Bandelj, Nina. “How Method Actors Create Character Roles.” Sociological Forum v.18, no. 3 (Sep. 2003): 387-416.

Nina Bandelj’s article is a sociological examination of Method acting and its correlation to cultural creation.  She asserts that performances focused on human identity shape the audience’s view of society and that Method actors reflect a collective sense of understanding concerning the social world. By conducting interviews with professionally established actors, graduate level actors, and members of a Basic Method Acting class at the Actors Studio, Bandelj observes the relationship between an actor’s agency and cultural structures. Her ultimate conclusion is that Method actors rely on a catalogue of character-role creation strategies to represent “truth” in acting.

Baron, Cynthia and Diane Carson.  “Analyzing Performance and Meaning in Film,” Journal of Film and Video 58, no. 2 (2006): 3 – 6.

In this introductory article for volume 58 of Journal of Film and Video (a special issue on film performance), Baron and Carson state that the eight articles chosen for the volume “consistently consider the potential meaning-producing function of gestures, intonations, movements, inflections, poses… and in doing so they help to refute the view that screen performance is uniquely resistant to, or unworthy of, careful analysis.”

 Baron, Cynthia.  “Acting Choices/Filmic Choices: Rethinking Montage and Performance,” Journal of Film and Video 59, no. 2 (2007): 32 – 40.

Exploring the connection between performance and film aesthetics in relation to montage, Baron focuses on how gestures and other nuances of actors’ performances necessarily interact with the structuring of montage and the specifics of the sound design. She emphasizes that montage is, in a way, the “essence” of cinema, and to ignore that essence when analyzing acting is illogical.

Carnicke, Sharon Marie. “The Material Poetry of Acting: ‘Objects of Attention,’ Performance Style, and Gender in The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut.” Journal of Film and Video 58, No. 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2006): 21-30.

Carnicke focuses specifically on the actor’s voice and body as “objects” that should be considered within the larger scope of film analysis. With examples from Kubrick’s The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, Carnicke uses Kubrick’s tendency to juxtapose unrealistic male performance with realistic female performance as foundation for the article’s voice/body analysis.

Dyer, Richard. “Stars and Performance.” In Stars. London: British Film Institute, 2008. 132-150.

Dyer takes us through a unique analysis of stars and performance and emphasizes that most writing about performance is descriptive, not interpretive. Furthermore, he posits that the latter is fairly difficult given the “extreme complexity and ambiguity of performance signs” since “no kind of movement or gesture has meaning of itself but only by virtue of its cultural context.” In the rest of the chapter, he performs this sign-specific analysis on actors John Wayne and Bette Davis, detailing how small, “natural” movements are often heavily encoded.

Esch, Kevin.  “I Don’t See Any Method At All,” Journal of Film and Video 58, no. 2 (2006): 95 – 107.

Esch proposes a new from of acting that he labels “actorly transformation.” He describes this mode of performance as growing out of the “method” and as being separate from other popular forms of body or facial alteration that film actors have employed. Two key requirements are proposed: “the actor’s body itself must be transformed through concentrated, film-specific, self-imposed body alteration – especially weight gain or loss – not simply through prosthetic enhancement”; and secondly “the stated purpose of said transformation must be greater fidelity of performance, not merely screen idolatry and/or sexual appeal.” Tracing the history of this phenomenon, the author places Lon Chaney as one of the earliest actors known for this style of performance.

Marcello, Starr A. “Performance Design: An Analysis of Film Acting and Sound Design,” Journal of Film and Video 58, no. 2 (2006): 59 – 70.

Marcello examines the various ways in which sound design helps to create and alter the vocal qualities and therefore the overall performance of screen actors. Examining the interplay between sound technicians, actors, and audience perception, Marcello demonstrates how screen acting differs from theatrical acting. The first section, “Sound/Image Interplay” discusses how the interplay between sound and image affect an audience’s perception of a performance. The next section, “From Voice-over to Voice Acting,” focuses on differentiations between film voice acting and voice acting in other media such as radio and video games. The influence of previous “methods” of acting is shown to be important in the way these vocal performances are rendered. Finally “Technological Performance: ADR and the Sound Mix” focuses on the way that a persona is finalized and ultimately “crafted” in post-production via sound mixing and ADR.

Naremore, James. “Film Acting and the Arts of Imitation.” Film Quarterly 65, no. 4 (Summer 2012): 34-42.

In his article “Film Acting and Arts of Imitation,” James Naremore contrasts two traditions of film performance:  acting as imitation (governed by a sense of Aristotelian mimesis) or acting as expression (influenced by Strasberg’s U.S. application of Stanislavsky).  He suggests that acting-as-imitation continues to offer a viable explanation for the construction of star personas. His examples include discussions of Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, as well as a comparative analysis of Truman Capote’s depictions in Capote (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and in Infamous (Toby Jones).

Wojcik, Pamela Robertson.  “The Sound of Film Acting.”  Journal of Film and Video, 58, no. 2 (2006): 71 – 83.

Taking into account the new influx of technologies involved in aspects of film acting such as motion capture and voice acting performances brought to life by the likes of Andy Serkis, Wojcik suggests a re-assessment of the importance of the voice in film acting. Arguing that traditional theory and criticism favor the “real body,” she discusses how the voice can transform a performance. In the case of Andy Serkis’s performance of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, she argues that the unique circumstances of motion capture actually render the creation of the physical Gollum more “actor-led” than technology-led.


Selected Bibliography on Acting Technique:

In the process of studying film performance, talk of “the Method” inevitably enters the discourse but few scholars seem to agree on what exactly the term actually means. Although the consensus agrees that so-called “Method acting” began with Constantin Stanislavsky’s three-part acting primer An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role, not all texts account for the variety of approaches to acting.  The Lee Strasberg approach to Method shares little with the techniques of Sanford Meisner, yet both are considered to be “Method.”  These techniques use Stanislavsky’s terminology, yet differ so greatly from his original intention that proponents of Stanislavsky differentiate between “the Method” and “the Stanislavskian Method.” For this purpose, we have chosen to provide the “greatest hits” of acting technique texts, and have focused our annotations on how the texts relate to one another.

Adler, Stella, and Howard Kissel. The Art of Acting. New York: Applause Books, 2000.

Adler represents an approach to acting that emphasizes rigorous analysis and development of character.  Although exceedingly anecdotal, Adler’s chapter on imagination and imbuing objects with meaning provides an actor’s perspective on Naremore’s “expressive objects.” The book contains an introduction in which Adler attempts to differentiate herself from Strasberg, insisting she is not Method despite basing her approach on Stanislavskian techniques.

Brecht, Bertolt and John Willett.  Brecht on Theatre:  the Development of an Aesthetic.  1st edition. New York:  Hill and Wang, 1964.

Brecht rejected psychological realism, and argues in this book that all narratives are inherently constructed. For this reason, Brecht champions a departure from Stanislavsky and praises approaches that use physical actions to generate the character’s emotional life. More theorist than acting teacher, Brecht focuses on expressionistic techniques such as the use of “psychological gestures” to communicate a character’s emotional life, the idea of “distancing” the audience from the narrative through shock and the grotesque, and the notion of illuminating the construct of theatrical performance.

Butler, Jeremy, ed. “Part One: Creating Performance: An Ongoing Debate.” Star Texts. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

In the first section of Star Texts, Butler presents the historical and theoretical context of acting technique. He includes essays by “naturalist” acting scholars (Stanislavsky, Pudovkin, and Strasberg) who argue that an actor must “become” the part and be intimately close with the character. They emphasize the need to hide the work behind the acting. The “anti-naturalists” (Kuleshov, Brecht, and Bresson) reject the Method, finding it ultimately disingenuous. To them, actors must separate themselves from roles in order to really act the part.

Hagen, Uta, and Haskel Frankel. Respect for Acting. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

A student of Adler, Hagen takes Adler’s emphasis on imagination and applies it to Stanislavsky’s “substitution” technique, where an actor uses imagination to replace aspects of the script with emotional memories in order to make the events more relatable. This is distinct from Strasberg’s “affective memory” as Hagen emphasizes the sensory facts of the remembered events, while Strasberg emphasizes the emotional experience and/or trauma. In Chapter 3, Hagen addresses questions of performance by non-actors and the use of acting techniques in everyday life, contrasting but not opposing Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

Meisner, Sanford, and Dennis Longwell. Sanford Meisner on Acting. New York: Vintage Books, 1987.

Meisner’s work expands on Stanislavsky’s ideas about the “sense of truth” and “communion” between actors. To Meisner, acting is not performative, but rather presentational, and a good performer is an actor who simply exists in front of an audience. For this reason, the book offers a definition of acting as “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” and introduces techniques for avoiding “actor-ish” behavior and inspiring spontaneous “truthful” behavior.

Moore, Sonia. The Stanislavski System: the Professional Training of an Actor.  New York: Pocket Books, 1967.

Self-described as “the digested teachings of Stanislavsky,” Moore’s book offers condensed but thorough explanations of the key techniques and theories contained in Stanislavsky’s An Actor Prepares.  Drawing directly from the foundational text of the Method, it functions well as a dictionary of terms for the study of Method acting as well as a point of comparison between differing schools of Method technique. Notable techniques described include the role of imagination in acting, identifying character objectives through script analysis, the “sense of truth” that guides an actor’s portrayal, the use of emotional memory, the “through line of action” or “super objective” that dictates the character’s entire emotional arc, and the concept of “communion” or “being present” with other actors in a scene.


Collection of open access articles on film acting/performance, via Film Studies For Free: