1996


The wonderful machine that the Lumière brothers invented, was used initially to register the baby’s meal or for the innocent comedy of the garden watering hose watering the gardener. There were no actors in the strict sense, neither theatrical nor cinematic. The members of the Lumière family provided some histrionic gallivanting, which was naturally limited.

Georges Méliès opened new horizons, discovered special effects and was the interpreter in many of his films, but his actors were mere extras or, sometimes, show girls he had rescued to feature in his fanatical compositions, hiding their generous curves under light bathing costumes, occasionally taking their clothes off when the argument justified it and thus satisfying the moralistic voyeurism of a public that was corseted by strict moral codes.

                             Pormenor da capa do catálogo da exposição 'O cinema vai ao teatro'

Soon the cinema looked for and succeeded in featuring nobler themes and the theatrical milieu was the privileged vehicle for those. From the unknown showgirl, showing her nakedness for a few Francs, to the great actresses of the Comédie Française was but a step. In fact, Sarah Bernhardt herself would give in to the diabolic appeal of the filming machine and moving images, that were quickly becoming very popular. The same would happen with the great Eleonora Duse, d’Annunzio’s lover, and even with the famous courtesans of the beginning of the XX century, such as Cléo de Mérode, who were really the first "Femmes Fatales".

Nowadays, the style of theatrical representation of the beginning of the XX century seems extremely emphatic and artificial to us, with exaggerated facial mannerisms and attitudes, but these were perfectly adequate for the cinema of that time, that was still devoid of sound.
The stars of the silent cinema – Lya de Putti, for example -, enchanted the public at large, and António Ferro himself dedicated an enthusiastic essay to them. Heavily made up, with eyes emphasised by kohl, tight fitting dresses and plunging necklines, they had a dark and vampiresque quality that matched the luminous images and the desires that emerged in the twilight atmosphere of the cinemas – and Hollywood followed suit, with the fantastic success of actresses like Theda Bara.

                                      Fotografia de Vasco Santana no filme 'O pai tirano, 1941Pormenor de fotografia de Oliveira Martins no filme 'Maria do Mar', 1930Pormenor de fotografia de Beatriz Costa, 1923.  Autoria de De los Rios

The attitudes remained emphatic and apparently even the official propaganda of authoritarian Estates sought inspiration in silent movies – from the mannerisms of the female cinematic vampires to the poses that Mussolini or Hitler adopted when making their speeches, we see an effective continuity of the recipes taken from the theatrical performances that enchanted our grandmothers.
The ephemeral brilliance that the cinema had in Portugal during the transition from the 1920s to the 1930s was well served, naturally, by the theatrical milieu. Leitão de Barros’ Lisbon mixed actors from parque Mayer – Nascimento Fernandes or Costinha -, with types takes from the city’s street life, and the inevitable showgirls, made up and girdled and dressed up as Lisbon female street vendors with a swinging walk, contrasting with the real ones whose walk was determined by their work. The extraordinary Beatriz Costa who had featured in "Canção de Lisboa" was also an ex showgirl. Modern and full of energy she wore a fringe in the Louise Brooks style. A remarkable actress with talent and cinematic intuition, she went beyond the conventions of Portuguese vaudeville which Vasco Santana "aunts", imprisoned in that pattern, did not manage, although Teresa Gomes remains an unforgettable character. Beatriz Costa, António Silva and Vasco Santana were the best cinema actors that came from vaudeville. The rest were popular on stage, but not in films.