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Sensing film performance

posted on 2019-01-01, 00:00 authored by Sean RedmondSean Redmond
In this chapter, I want to explore the phenomenology of film perfor­mance through this idea of embodiment and affect and by defining performativity as happening across a number of co-relational and co­-synesthetic spaces. Film performance is not just found in the body of the actor but through the way the screen is itself a performative environment and the viewer a performative being.
I will explore performance, then, through three interrelated entanglements that exist between the screen, the actor, and the viewer who receives them in affecting and mov­ing ways.

Further, I will suggest that when there is a carnal alignment between these three actants, an incredibly powerful and transformative encounter happens-one that enlivens the flesh of the actor, ignites the senses of the viewer, and transforms the reception of the performance into an asemiotic or experiential one where feeling dominates and an affecting response is elicited.

One of the conceits of this chapter will be that these carnal alignments
are both culturally shared (recognised from viewer to viewer) and also deeply personal. And in being co-relational and intimate, they need to be understood as intersubjective encounters, requiring empirical meth­ods that draw on or out these personal responses. One of the methods that I employ, therefore, is an experiential-led auto-ethnography, sensing myself into the film performances that the chapter explores.

One final introductory point: I see performance as happening at not just the levels of character and story, but equally through the ideological and culturally contingent contexts in which they appear. That is to say ideology it a type of filmic performance, as I will demonstrate. I intend to explore film performance not as tightly framed around story, narrative or character but as an activity that moves out beyond the text into extra­ diegetic and ideological spaces.The three central performances I will sense-feel are: the performance of austere loneliness in Under the Skin (Glazer 2013), Mickey Rourke's Lazarus performance as Randy in The Wrestler (Aronofsky 2008), and Tony Leung's and Tang Wei's generative performance of desire and despair in Lust, Caution (Lee 2008).


Title of book

Performance phenomenology : to the thing itself


Performance philosophy

Chapter number



165 - 184


Palgrave Macmillan

Place of publication

Cham, Switzerland







Publication classification

B1 Book chapter

Copyright notice

2019, Palgrave Macmillan