By examining key sources Walter Benjamin uses in his essay “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” (“The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,”1935–39), I recover essential depictions of early cinema that Benjamin obscures. The representation of diva culture in Luigi Pirandello's 1916 film novel Si gira … (Shoot!) and the dynamics of the “test performance” in his play Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1921, 1925) enable us to revise our sense of how film interacts with older media such as literature and theater. I contend that Pirandello's plays and his vision of stage acting provide an alternative model of subversive performance that challenges Benjamin's assumptions about both the medium-specificity of film's effects and the nature of the new celebrity culture. This alternative further complicates our understanding of changes in aesthetic paradigms introduced by modernism.

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