Face-maker : the negotiation between screen performance, extra-filmic persona and conditions of employment within the career of Peter Lorre
Thomas, Sarah (2008) Face-maker : the negotiation between screen performance, extra-filmic persona and conditions of employment within the career of Peter Lorre. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.
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Peter Lorre often described his acting as merely "face-making". This disparaging attitude is
reflected within critiques which read the life of Peter Lorre as a tragic narrative of wasted
opportunities and his career as a screen performer as restricted by the nature of his
employment in studio-era Hollywood. Working in the United States, he was unable to escape
from the notoriety of his first major role in the German film, M (1931), or from the murderous
persona that evolved from his portrayal of a psychopathic serial killer. His status as an emigre
positioned him as a European "artist" whose talent was misused by American filmmaking
practices which typecast the actor in line with his nefarious public image.
This thesis proposes to investigate the accuracy of these perceptions which approach the actor
via a binary split between "person" and "persona". It will offer an alternative methodology for
analysing the career of the screen actor which recognises that persona-based analyses can
obscure complex negotiations between performance, image and the conditions of employment.
Rather than attempting to reveal the "real" Peter Lorre behind the image, the context of Lorre's
mutable position as an employee within the Hollywood industry and the misconstrued
association between his screen labour and his public persona will be examined. The creative
agency of the actor will also be examined in order to question Lorre's definition of himself as
"face-maker" whose work was reliant upon performative gimmicks.
This alternative approach to the screen actor will be pursued through a chronological
investigation of Lorre's professional labour. Also necessary are an exploration of the features of
Lorre's persona and an understanding of the role played by other media in the construction of
this public image. My methodology will combine close textual analysis of Lorre's screen
performances, archival research into the terms of his employment and extensive analysis of
promotional discourses pertaining to the actor throughout his career.
My historiography of Lorre will consider the relationship between the actor and a number of his
employers to suggest that conditions of employment help to shape screen performance. Lorre's
status as a "face-maker" will also be challenged through a demonstration of the actor's use of
complex performative techniques within his film work. This thesis will demonstrate the limitations
of interpreting Lorre's career as Hollywood's mismanagement of a problematic performer.
Instead, his career can be considered indicative of industrial strategies that exist between acting
labour, promotional personas and employers. One consequence of my research is the reevaluation
of Lorre's persona as "extra-filmic" and his career as "transmedial". As such, this
thesis highlights how the significant labour of a screen performer can potentially become
superseded by the personas used by employers to promote actors away from the cinema
|Item Type:||Thesis or Dissertation (PhD)|
|Subjects:||P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures|
|Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):||Lorre, Peter, Motion picture actors and actresses -- United States -- Biography, Motion picture studios -- United States -- History -- 20th century|
|Official Date:||February 2008|
|Institution:||University of Warwick|
|Theses Department:||Department of Film and Television Studies|
|Sponsors:||Arts & Humanities Research Council (Great Britain) (AHRC)|
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