Imagining the Method
Reception, Identity, and American Screen Performance
272 Pages, x 1.10 in, 27 b&w photos
Sales Date: January 16, 2024
A revisionist history of Method acting that connects the popular reception of “methodness” to entrenched understandings of screen performance still dominating American film discourse today.
Only one performance style has dominated the lexicon of the casual moviegoer: “Method acting.” The first reception-based analysis of film acting, Imagining the Method investigates how popular understandings of the so-called Method—what its author Justin Rawlins calls "methodness"—created an exclusive brand for white, male actors while associating such actors with rebellion and marginalization. Drawing on extensive archival research, the book maps the forces giving shape to methodness and policing its boundaries.
Imagining the Method traces the primordial conditions under which the Method was conceived. It explores John Garfield's tenuous relationship with methodness due to his identity. It considers the links between John Wayne's reliance on "anti-Method" stardom and Marlon Brando and James Dean's ascribed embodiment of Method features. It dissects contemporary emphases on transformation and considers the implications of methodness in the encoding of AI performers. Altogether, Justin Rawlins offers a revisionist history of the Method that shines a light on the cultural politics of methodness and the still-dominant assumptions about race, gender, and screen actors and acting that inform how we talk about performance and performers.
Imagining the Method is an impressively original, carefully researched, and consistently persuasive demystification of America’s most celebrated acting “school.” The book is valuable not only for its informative history of theater and movies but also for its recognition that the best way to understand “methodness” is to study the discourse surrounding it. Every chapter brims with insights and well-written commentary, especially regarding the implicit social and identity politics behind popular ideas of Method acting. There are also surprises: Who knew, for example, that John Wayne could be so interesting to discuss in this context? Highly recommended. ~James Naremore, author of Acting in the Cinema
If it is true that “acting is the art of the private made public,” then it is also true that we tend to focus on the privateaspects of the definition to the exclusion of all else. Thank goodness, then, that we have Justin Rawlins, whose Imagining the Method looks squarely at that “public,” examining how the landscape of response to Method acting shapes acting itself. By limning sources as disparate as gossip columns, studio memos, fan magazines, and celebrity profiles, Rawlins carves out a space for the ever-evolving public interpretations and mythologies that surround Method acting and argues conclusively that this discourse is as important to the history of acting as any work of art of performance. If you care about the evolution of twentieth-century screen performance, you should read this book. ~Isaac Butler, author of The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act
This is an exciting and highly innovative analysis and historicization of Method acting and "methodness" in American cinema. Drawing on wider discourses, paratexts, biography, and contextual setting, Imagining the Method powerfully demonstrates the ways in which Method acting was produced and circulated outside or beyond the screen texts themselves. ~Sean Redmond, author of Liquid Space: Science Fiction Film and Television in the Digital Age
- Introduction. What We Talk about When We Talk about the Method
- Chapter 1. Methodists and Method-ists: Primordial Ideas of Methodness
- Chapter 2. Acting a Foil: John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and the Othering of Methodness
- Chapter 3. James Dean’s Story: Posthumous Reception and Methodness Memorialized
- Chapter 4. History in Hysteria: John Garfield and the Limits of Methodness
- Chapter 5. Illogical Tomatoes to Inscrutable Feats: Methodness to the Present
- Conclusion. Facing a Future Methodness
- Selected Bibliography