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ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May$
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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Dean Brandum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474440189

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440189.001.0001

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In/Significant Gestures— Elaine May, Screen Performance, and Embodied Collaboration

In/Significant Gestures— Elaine May, Screen Performance, and Embodied Collaboration

(p.165) Chapter 8 In/Significant Gestures— Elaine May, Screen Performance, and Embodied Collaboration
ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Edinburgh University Press

In Elaine May’s professional biography, her role as actor tends to traditionally fall somewhere in line after the fields for which she is most immediately recognized – comic, screenwriter, director. Yet across a range of feature films in particular, May demonstrated a clearly highly developed skill for performing a range of different roles to camera. For a figure whose achievements are associated so readily with language, what becomes apparent when watching May act on film is how much she relies on the unspoken for lasting effect: gestures, facial expressions and movement inform her characterizations often just as much as dialogue and script. This chapter considers not only May’s performance in perhaps her most well-known screen role as Henrietta in her directorial debut A New Leaf, but more also in her numerous collaborations with a range of acclaimed directors where her role was solely as actor.

Keywords:   Elaine May, Women’s Filmmaking, Women Directors, Performance, Comedy, Improvisation

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