Retrospective 2023

Method Acting

Marlon Brando, Kim Stanley, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Montgomery Clift, Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Burstyn, Robert De Niro, Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio or Daniel Day-Lewis – the history of cinema has been shaped by the outstanding performances of actors who belong to the tradition of so-called Method acting. This art of performance is the focus of this year’s retrospective, which reveals how the Method transformed not only cinema, but also our idea of what constitutes good acting.

The roots of the Method stretch back to the Russian Empire. It’s there that Konstantin Stanislavski developed a methodology for training actors that focused on the “art of experiencing” (rather than the “art of representation”). Starting in the 1930s, some of his students brought his teachings to the USA. Together with a generation of young actors, they proceeded to fundamentally revolutionize the art form. Expressive theatricality gave way to naturalism, with authentic feelings as the primary objective. To this end, actors had to learn to draw from their own feelings and experiences; the inspiration for the role should derive from these lived experiences.

Starting with the boxing drama ›Body and Soul‹ (1947), this year’s retrospective features a selection of the most important works of Method acting. In one of his most moving roles, Marlon Brando plays a dockworker who stands up to corrupt union officials in ›On the Waterfront‹ (1954); Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe portray two broken people who drag themselves through John Huston’s ›The Misfits‹ (1960); and in ›The Pawnbroker‹ (1964), an unforgettable Rod Steiger stars as a Holocaust survivor who is suddenly confronted with his past in New York. A special focus of the retrospective is on women actors who were too often overshadowed by such male colleagues as Brando, Clift or Newman. This despite the fact that performances by Joanne Woodward, Sally Field, Kim Stanley and Barbara Loden, for the stage as well as cinema, were at least as influential as those of their male counterparts.

A second boxing drama, Martin Scorsese’s ›Raging Bull‹ (1980), provides the chronological bookend to the program. The golden age of the Method came to a close with Robert De Niro’s legendary performance (he gained 26kg for the role). Most crucially, however, the basic principles of the Method had by this point been adopted the world over. To this day, it’s impossible to think of an actor’s formation without them.

The films of the 2023 Retrospective at a glance:

›Body and Soul‹ Director: Robert Rossen, USA 1947
›A Place in the Sun‹ Director: George Stevens, USA 1951
›On the Waterfront‹ Director: Elia Kazan, USA 1954
›The Defiant Ones‹ Director: Stanley Kramer, USA 1958
›The Misfits‹ Director: John Huston, USA 1961
›The Pawnbroker‹ Director: Sidney Lumet, USA 1964
›Seance on a wet afternoon‹ Director: Bryan Forbes, UK 1964
›Rachel, Rachel‹ Director: Paul Newman, USA 1968
›Wanda‹ Director: Barbara Loden USA 1970
›The Godfather Part II‹ Director: Francis Ford Coppola, USA 1974
›Norma Rae‹ Director: Martin Ritt, USA 1979
›Raging Bull‹ Director: Martin Scorsese, USA 1980