Keynote: Silent Film Actresses and their Versatile Capacities

by Annette Förster, with introduction by Asli Ozgen-Tuncer (University of Amsterdam)

Abstract: While studying women film directors and producers in the silent cinema, I found myself more and more considering actresses in their versatile capacities. In the context of the field of women and film history, moreover, feminist scholars have analysed the agency and practices of actresses in and beyond their acting. Salient is the intertextual and intermedial approach prompted by archival materials. My presentation aims at highlighting the historiographic fruitfulness of this strand of investigation, asking what film historians might learn from silent film actresses about the historical moments and (inter)national contexts of their activities. Among the issues to be addressed are kinships of popular stage and screen, a revaluation of film historically marginalized genres, spectatorial address and bodily performance, the distribution of creative control among actress, cinematographer and director, as well as contemporary and retrospect contributions by individual actresses to the creation and the memory of their public personae. 

Annette Förster (PhD) is an independent Scholar and Film Curator and a specialist in histories of women's filmmaking and acting in the silent cinema and the popular stage. Her book Women in the Silent Cinema. Histories of Fame and Fate (Amsterdam University Press/Eye, 2017) on the careers of Adriënne Solser, Musidora and Nell Shipman, was included in the Choice List of Outstanding Academic Titles 2017. In 1999 she co-initiated the bi-annual Women and the Silent Screen conferences. Her recent research focusses on the stage and screen careers of Asta Nielsen and Rosa Porten.