Acting in the movies has changed over the decades since they were invented. Acting was much simpler since the days of Lumiere, where the actors and actresses just had to make sure that they got the point across; that has evolved to much more nuanced performances. This isn’t only because acting has evolved, but because film technology has changed, and film techniques have evolved as well. All of this translates into creating a vastly different style of acting than what was present in film at the beginning.
Originally, film acting was the same as that seen on stage. The cast had gotten used to bigger-than-life actions on the theatrical stage, where such actions were necessary so that the entire audience could see the action; each audience deserved to see what was going on, from those just a few feet away to those hundreds of feet away. The way that films were produced, helped with the static camera in perpetual long shot. This no doubt ensured that both those in front of and behind the camera came from theatrical traditions where they gotten used to that school of acting.
This was to change as cameras were made more mobile and the lenses were able to focus on different kinds of shots. This meant that the director could film as closely as he wanted to without interfering with the actors; that closeness meant that the grandiose gestures that worked so well on the stage were no longer needed to make film work. Anther form of freedom that occurred was that the make-up and costumes didn’t to need be in broad strokes either; those personnel could concentrate on making the costumes and make-up as detailed as they wanted to. This meant that the cast could concentrate on acting itself rather than being as loud as necessary, which lead to more nuanced acting.
As the directors learned to appreciate the different kind of shots available to them, they also learned that they could edit the footage. This helped on two different levels. Not only did it allow the formation of a new visual language, but that they weren’t limited to one shot. The new language of close-up and medium shots allowed for a more realistic style of acting, as the cast could do small gestures on the screen that were more effective than the large stage gestures, making performances highly effective. Editing allowed the stars to concentrate fully on the scene or even shot, allowing them to put all of their energy into that rather than having to worry about the entire film; that made the shots much more intense.
When sound was added to features, it meant that some of the theatrical techniques were brought back. Actors and actresses could no longer afford to be mute, and had to actually speak. Some actors thus fell out of prominence as their voices didn’t fit their appearance; most famous of these was Rudolph Valentino, whose high-pitched voice did not match his handsome appearance, and so he was forced out of Hollywood. They needed to learn how to enunciate, as well as how to breath so that the microphones didn’t pick it up. Although they didn’t need the projection skills of a theatrical actor or actress, they did need some degree of mimicry to allow for accents and a wider range of characters. The old voice training combined with the new acting techniques made for some formidable performances.
Overall, the advances in technology have led to a number of advances in skill as well. The stars in Hollywood have had to familiarize themselves with the technology involved with filming as well as learning a slightly different set of skills; after all, they still need to be able to act, and a lot of the skills are highly relevant to film acting. However, they do need to learn some other skills as well, as acting in front of a camera is a far different endeavor than the theater. It should be interesting what other skills actors and actresses picks up as technology continues to advance and more options become available to the craft.