UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

'We're all coming through fine' : the observed self of the screen actor in the multi-role performances of Peter Sellers and Buster Keaton Gartner, Matthew


In Stars, Richard Dyer writes that star actors “seem to be of a different order of being, a different ‘ontological category’” than other people (49). It is here, in the core question of studies on screen acting, that this thesis places itself. Building on Dyer’s claim, this work documents a unique category of existence for film actors: beings that are legitimately understood as one of three separate types of individuals (a character, a persona, or a private self), while also regarded as an accumulation of all those three (many characters, the many roles that create a persona, and the visible and invisible parts of one’s personal life). Another part of the screen actor that facilitates this existence—something not yet encountered in film studies discourse—is referred to here as the observed self, which allows for the many disparate pieces of an actor to be corralled into one body. As part of this analysis, Michel Foucault’s notion of the care of the self is employed, allowing for the identification of an observed self in films such as The Mouse that Roared (Jack Arnold, 1959), Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964), and The Play House (Buster Keaton, 1921). After one chapter that surveys trends in screen acting academia, and another on the relevant Foucauldian concepts, this thesis examines performances from Peter Sellers and Buster Keaton to identify the observed self on screen. This piece of identity is found in films that house all three of the different components of an actor’s constitution. Once the components of the observed self are identified within these films, the thesis identifies moments in which audiences must rely on this to place themselves within a familiar viewing experience. I argue that these moments are broadcast at a high frequency in films where actors play multiple roles, and that actors employ Foucault’s notion of transgression, with this inherent quality allowing the viewer to see them as beings that are both unified and disintegrated.

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