How to Stage People Around a Table

Dyrekøbt Ære (aka ‘Dearly Purchased Honour’, ‘Hard-Won Honor’)
R: William Augustinus. B: Alfred Kjerulf. D: Gerhard Jessen, Nina Millung, Frederik Jacobsen, Jacoba Jessen. P: Nordisk Films Kompagni. Dk 1911
Print: EYE film (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles

David Bordwell‘s precise analysis of a central scene of the film
(>>> 02:08 – 02:53)
“Carefully timed blocking and revealing can sustain an entire scene. Take the problem of staging people around a table. How do you assure that an actor is visible at a certain moment and unnoticed at other times? William Augustinus comes up with a virtuoso solution in a dinner scene of ‘Hard-Won Honor’ (Dyrekobt Aere, 1911). A doctor and his young wife are dining at the home of a cold-hearted seducer and his wife. The doctor is turned from us, directly across from the seducer, who reveals himself only when he moves his head.
The couples chat, with each man leaning toward the other’s spouse.
Augustinus finds a wonderful way to suggest that a telephone has rung. Everyone pauses, and then the householder’s hand comes up into the frame, waggling to instruct the maid to go answer it.
The maid returns to tell the doctor he’s wanted and he rises, shrugging as if to say, “What can I do?” This gives the actor a chance to act with his whole body, a common feature of 1910s European cinema.
As the doctor leaves, the lothario continues to press his attentions on the man’s wife.
In just a few years, the sort of casual camera-hogging we find in Pat Corner has become shaped and carefully timed to bend the scene in a dramatic arc.”

William Augustinus (1866-1925), actor, photographer, director, and author. He directed his last film for Nordisk Film in 1911. After being fired, he tried his luck in Germany, where he worked together with Oscar Messter. But soon he came back to Copenhagen only to set up shop as a portrait photographer.
IMDb / DanLitStummFilm

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