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Title: Face-maker : the negotiation between screen performance, extra-filmic persona and conditions of employment within the career of Peter Lorre
Author: Thomas, Sarah
ISNI:       0000 0001 1829 7859
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2008
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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 screen.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts & Humanities Research Council (Great Britain) (AHRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PN1993 Motion Pictures