Staging and Performance in Sidney Lumet's Deathtrap

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Gary Bettinson Senior Lecturer, Film Studies, Lancaster University, UK

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This article provides a stylistic examination of Sidney Lumet's thriller Deathtrap (1982), analyzing how its strategies of staging and performance generate narrational effects of suspense and surprise. It argues that Lumet anchors these performative strategies to a broad authorial program grounded in expressive subtlety; as such, Lumet's film reminds us of a waning tradition of US filmmaking in which stylistic ingenuity resides at the denotative and expressive (rather than the decorative or parametric) levels of stylistic discourse. The article treats Lumet's stylistic choices as creative solutions to a distinctive set of aesthetic problems. It canvasses—and identifies the functions of—the motivic staging schemas patterned throughout Deathtrap; and it illuminates how these schemas, actuated by star players, shape the viewer's cognitive uptake in substantive ways.

Contributor Notes

Gary Bettinson is senior lecturer in Film Studies at Lancaster University. He is the author of The Sensuous Cinema of Wong Kar-wai: Film Poetics and the Aesthetic of Disturbance (Hong Kong UP, 2015), co-author (with Richard Rushton) of What is Film Theory? An Introduction to Contemporary Debates (McGraw-Hill, 2010), co-editor (with James Udden) of The Poetics of Chinese Cinema (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), and editor of the bi-annual journal Asian Cinema. His work has been published in New Review of Film and Television Studies, Film Quarterly, Post Script, Jump Cut, and Screen. E-mail:

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