Friday, April 20, 2012

Helene Weigel in Mother Courage (Mutter Courage): Screen photographs of her acting and gestures.

Rehearsal of Mutter Courage (Berlin, Deutsche Theater. 1949. photo by Willi Saeger)
From left to right: Erich Engel, Bertold Brecht, Paul Dessau and Helene Weigel.

Helene Weigel is one of the greatest actresses of the theatre of the twentieth century and she more than anyone was the living proof of Brechtian  theories on acting.

We could read dozens of books on Brecht's performances and how he taught his theories, even more, we could read dozens of biographies of actors who worked with him, but none of this would be compared with direct observation and watching performances given by actors and actresses who assimilated such theories. Helene Weigel is gone but, luckily for us, some documents were recorded and filmed with her work, documents that not only identify her artistic greatness but become a kind of acting teachers, transmitting her form (or style) of acting that otherwise would have dissolved over time in the memory of her spectators and the death itself of its representatives.
I explain this again in this blog (I did previously with Meyerhold's The Inspector General): thanks to certain developments within everyone's reach we can see in a more effective way these film-documents: screen shots made with the computer.  Viewing a video of a performance itself is very interesting, but the possibility of holding postures and gestures of that performance is phenomenal; theatrical photography, which is is an interesting document in itself, of course, is not taken at the moment of the movement itself, but is often taken at moment where the motion stops, while the images that we capture directly from the computer screen where we're watching the film or video is a forced stopping of the image.  It is not the beauty of the position or of the image but the functionality of the image for the observer what I value in it.
I found, in a BBC documentary on Brechtian theater, some shots of the filming of a performance of the play Mutter Courage directed by Bertold Brecht himself and played by none other than Helene Weigel; although it is a very short video,  I decided to segment the video into stills of her movement and gesture, and I think it's definitely of great value for anyone interested in the history of acting and in the dissection of living documents dissection of stage creators.

Enjoy it.

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