Exploring Character Psychology

The Little Girl Next Door
R: Lucius Henderson. B: Philip Lonergan. D: William Garwood, Marguerite Snow, Marion and Madeline Fairbanks, William Russell. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1912
Print: British Film Institute

In a Garden
D: Riley Chamberlin, Marie Eline, Leland Benham, Marguerite Snow, James Cruze, Harry Benham. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1912
Print: British Film Institute

Just a Shabby Doll
D: Mignon Anderson, Harry Benham, Lila Chester, Helen Badgley, Marie Eline, David H. Thompson. P: Thanhouser Film Company. USA 1912
Print: British Film Institute

“For the most part, the changes in style at Thanhouser bespeak a narrational trajectory not uncommon for many production companies during this period: shot counts increase over the period, indicating mounting cutting rates in keeping with industry norms (although they were far outstripped by rates at Biograph); the number of distinct spaces deployed for staging dramatic action proliferates; analysis of that space occurs more frequently through a broadened range of shot scales and angles, including cut-ins to close-ups, either for reaction shots or details of small-scale actions that might be misunderstood otherwise; there is a shift from a reliance on staging to ensure that dramatically important narrative action is in the foreground of the playing space to the adjustment of camera position to draw the viewer’s eye to the portion of the frame where that action occurs; and the number of expository titles decreases, with dialogue titles assuming a more prominent narrational role. (…)
While this overview confirms that the general narrational shifts at Thanhouser conform to those evident industry-wide, one can still point to certain distinctive stylistic features that indicate particularities of narration, and may constitute the foundation for identifying a house style. For one, Thanhouser seemed drawn to the possibilities that visions and flashbacks afforded for exploring character psychology, especially in 1912-13. Vision scenes often performed the crucial role of precipitating the moral conversion of characters tempted to pursue an ill-advised course of action in the plots of several films from this period, evident in such examples as Get Rich Quick (1911), The Voice of Conscience (1912), The Little Girl Next Door (1912), and Just a Shabby Doll (1913). For their part, flashbacks became a sufficiently privileged device for entire narratives to become structured around a central character’s recollections, as in In a Garden (1912) and Just a Shabby Doll (1913). While the vision and the flashback doubtless aided in promoting increased viewer understanding of character motivation, their relatively obtrusive representational status relegated them to the status of narrational novelty and they were not relied upon consistently.”
Charlie Keil: Narration in the Transitional Cinema: The Historiographical Claims of the Unauthored Text. In: Cinémas Volume 21, Numéro 2–3, Printemps, 2011, p. 107–130
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