Drama and Film


Stage of a Theater in Serbia (photo by By Струјајое (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons)

Drama is a type of literature whose basic medium is spoken language acted. The word comes from the Greek for “to act.” A script is designed for performance, and the director must come up with a synthesis of related resources. Drama is a complete work of art in the production, and its success depends on the interpretation between the dramatist and audience.

Aristotle in the 4th century BCE called drama an imitation of nature in his Poetics and tragedy an imitation of human action. This can be by allusion. Drama is often only realistic enough to allow meaningful revelation of the subject matter. Restraint is the capacity of the audience for sustained concentration. Drama must unfold rapidly and be interesting. The alternate theory of drama was put forth by Hegel who said that the issue was not the tragic flaw of the protagonist, but that all of us inhabit a world where one’s good intentions inevitably collide with the good intentions of someone else. Being finite, we cannot avoid collisions. The tragic is our fate, and tragedy reveals the sorrows and sufferings as inevitable.

The basic elements of drama are plot, character, setting, theme, genre, and audience.. Plot is the action and activities of the characters. The plot is a series of events, the incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. The climax is the recognition. If there is reversal, doom follows. Fate + a flaw in character. Catharsis is the purge of feelings.The character is the personality and morality of those in the play. The setting are the places of action, the setting. The theme explains the motivations and actions of the characters, and gives the moral. The genre is the type, and, of course, the audience are the people watching.

There are structural principles that govern the shape of the dramatic narrative. Drama originated from ancient rituals, and maintains references to them. It is archetypal in that there are psychological patterns that people apparently react to on a more or less subconscious level. These have been repeated by humans throughout history. One of these is the means by which the characters tell their stories and motivations to the audience. In ancient Greek theater, it was the chorus who acted as narrator, singing the motivations of the characters, and moving the story along. By Shakespeare’s time, the soliloquy takes over function of chorus aside, giving reflective discourse. He was also known for using monologues, which are 1 character speaking at great length. Soliloquy is the interruption of dialogue or extensive discussion.

There are a number of genres of drama. The oldest is tragedy, which is characterized by carefully structured plots; probable or plausible drama; and can have an ordinary protagonist with the plot more the center of interest. The tragic plot was similar in both ancient Greece and Renaissance England. There was a sense of immutable fate, considerable societal wealth and public power, and an awareness of sudden reversals of fate in both societies. They also had similar ideas about stage construction, and generally men were the actors. By the Elizabethan period (late 16th-early 17th centuries), the orchestra had become a space for the audience, as there was no longer a chorus incorporated into the play.

Labeled diagrams of the Greek and Elizabethan stages

In ancient times, comedies were performed for festivals honoring Bacchus, the god of wine. The comedies of the 5th century BCE in Greece always had a political and moral theme, such as those of Aristophanes. The new comedy of Menander had common situations, and was a comedy of manner, which satirizes society as a basic part of the subject matter. The type characters allowed the audience to focus upon the foibles of social behavior, and were often stereotypes. These comedies can also use archetypal patterns. Shakespearean comedies follow many of the same patters of earlier ones, as do many comedies produced today. Tragicomedy is created by mixing genres, and often leaves the audience with unanswered questions or reveals ambiguities.

Experimental drama began to be produced in the mid-20th century. Many of the dramatists were allied with or influenced by artistic movements like Dada, or philosophical ideas such as Existentialism. Even without traditional dramatic elements, it can still evoke intense participative experience. Works like Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera or Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot are examples of this style.

Some theater combines a variety of genres or types of Humanities, such as opera, where the drama or comedy is sung. It was also as part of the operas where the first ballets were performed outside of the courts of Europe. Musical theater also combines drama, comedy, dance, and music to create a more hybrid experience.

Film, or motion pictures, would not be possible without photography. By the end of the 19th century, photographers like Muybridge were experimenting with ways to bring motion to the early photographs using devices like his zoopraxiscope. This led to other devices, and eventually to the motion picture camera, and early films. These early films were silent, the technology for capturing sound at the same time as motion would not exist until the 1920s, and Al Jolson’s 1927 film The Jazz Singer was the first talkie, so the first film to incorporate sound and motion. In the history of these early films, we can also track the history of racism in the US, through D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) through The Jazz Singer and to the first color film, Gone with the Wind (1939). Griffith, though, was the first to really take advantage of new ways to compose a shot in different locations, using tracking shots, close-ups, and other means to tell his stories. Early filmmakers also experimented with editing films to create more interesting and dramatic stories. As film making technology improved throughout the 20th century, directors also began to experiment with special effects, which would lead to the CGI of early 21st century films.These advances, especially in animation were also foreshadowed by some of the early experiments with animation, including Gertie the Dinosaur by Winsor McKay (1914) and Walt Disney’s early works.

Artists have also long exploited the possibilities of film for their purposes, beginning with Dalí and Buñel’s Un Chien Andalou, through Andy Warhol’s Sleep and Empire, and up to the Cremaster Series of Matthew Barney. Nam June Paik realized the potential of video art in the 1960s, and created a number of pioneering works in that genre, which has been furthered by the work of artists such as Bill Viola and Tony Oursler. Contemporary artists like Shirin Neshat and Ai Weiwei are realizing the power of film to make powerful artistic and political statements about themselves, their cultures, and their work.



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