By Jon Burrows
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Additional resources for Legitimate Cinema: Theatre Stars in Silent British Films, 1908-1918
N]o matter how we choose to define the achievements post-1913 . . ’2 Although Keil’s work takes American cinema as its sole reference point, many of the economic and cultural developments which underpinned the transitional era in the United States were experienced in Britain as well. During 1908 twelve new cinema exhibition concerns had been registered as limited companies in Britain, with a combined capital of £167,000. 3 The scale of this transformation and upheaval is unequalled in any other period of film history.
And] the extraordinary success of the Sicilian players who appeared at the Shaftesbury last February. It is not too much to say that Signor Grasso and Signora Aguglia were the rage of the town. The wildness of their acting . . the frantic recklessness of their gestures, the unbridled passion, combined with real dramatic intensity, which made some of their scenes at once subtly fascinating and frankly detestable, produced so violent an effect in London that we were gravely told that here at last was genuine acting, of which hitherto we had been ignorant.
Previously, recruitment to the stage was monopolised to a large degree by applicants with a family background in the theatre—and these would often be working- or lower-middle-class in status. This ‘dynastic’ tradition helped to maintain the craft basis of acting as an art, and also the continuance of a consistent system of meaningful gestural ‘business’ which was bequeathed from generation to generation. 11 In many cases this meant that actors came from exactly the same milieu that was represented in the Robertsonian style of play.