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Sarah Siddons, Movie Star

May 8, 2013


In my Tom Sheridan book I try to make the case that Sarah Siddons was the first movie star.

Here’s where you can get publication details if you’re moved to order this book for your library or even (heaven forfend) yourself…

Sarah Siddons was mentored by Tom Sheridan, and became the kind of player he’d always dreamed of.  (The 18th century was blessed with the gender neutral term ‘player’, while we are still stuck with the fairly stupid term ‘actress’ – I mean, whoever heard of a doctress or a lawyeress, I mean, honestly?!)

Thomas Sheridan had built (and then destroyed) his career based on his reputation for crowd control.  Having saved several of his cast from sexual assault, he managed to acquire more control over Dublin theatre than anyone before him.  “King Tommy”  as he was unaffectionately known believed that audiences should absorb theatre quietly and respectfully.

Sarah Siddons was enjoyed as no player had been before her.  The integrity of that force field known as the fourth wall was reinforced.  While famous for her portrayal of the most transgressive female character on the English stage, she was equally famous for her perfect domesticity off-stage.  She was supremely available to the eye and supremely unavailable in any other context.

Cinema is not an invention – or not any one invention. A variety of pre-existing inventions were assembled by the Lumiere brothers in 1895, and their achievement lay in imagining a kind of audience rather than hammering together a clever machine. Sarah Siddons prepared the way for this kind of cinematic spectacle, because she helped popularise a form of scopophile entertainment in which players are protected, immunised from audience intervention. So I’d say she was a movie star.


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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    It’s Sarah Siddons Birthday today. Hooray!

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