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Palgrave Macmillan

The Modernist Screenplay

Experimental Writing for Silent Film

  • Book
  • © 2020


  • Winner of the 2021 SRN Best Monograph Award
  • offers a comprehensive history of silent screenwriting in France, Germany, and Russia
  • includes multiple case studies of screenplays by major modernist authors
  • introduces the concept of “experimental screenwriting”
  • proposes a pluralistic approach to screenplays as both functional and literary works.

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Screenwriting (PSIS)

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About this book

The Modernist Screenplay explores the film screenplay as a genre of modernist literature. It connects the history of screenwriting for silent film to the history of literary modernism in France, Germany, and Russia. At the same time, the book considers how the screenplay responded to the modernist crisis of reason, confronted mimetic representation, and sought to overcome the modernist mistrust of language with the help of rhythm. From the silent film projects of Bertolt Brecht, to the screenwriting of Sergei Eisenstein and the poetic scripts of the surrealists, The Modernist Screenplay offers a new angle on the relationship between film and literature. Based on the example of modernist screenwriting, the book proposes a pluralistic approach to screenplays, an approach that sees film scripts both as texts embedded in film production and as literary works in their own right. As a result, the sheer variety of different and experimental ways to tell stories in screenplayscomes to light. The Modernist Screenplay explores how the earliest kind of experimental screenplays—the modernist screenplays—challenged normative ideas about the nature of filmmaking, the nature of literary writing, and the borders between the two. 



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Table of contents (10 chapters)


“Alexandra Ksenofontova’s study of the early film screenplay as a genre of modernist literature at the crossroads of literature and film is a valuable, necessary, and timely contribution to modernist studies, but also to the rapidly expanding body of scholarship dedicated to the academic study of screenwriting. … To be sure, the project is commendably ambitious. … Ksenofontova reminds us to appreciate, beyond the overlooked complexity of their craft, the literary creativity of screenwriters. This pioneering monograph will surely inspire a range of future work.” (Anna Torres-Cacoullos, Modernist Cultures, Vol. 17 (2), 2022)

“It’s an excellent next step for anyone who has studied international film history and wants to dive deeper. … While the book is overall accessible for an educatedcinephile or history nerd, it is still academic … . For those researchers it’ll be invaluable. And if the average reader has the means to purchase the book or access it in a library, it’ll provide many evenings of critical thinking around screenplays, their function, and how we read them.” (LeeAnne Lowry, Journal of Screenwriting, Vol. 12 (2), 2021)

“Ksenofontova’s The Modernist Screenplay explores the complex relationship between literature and screenwriting. By examining the classical literary avant-garde of the 1920s and looking at how it changed the approach to both film and literature, she is able to revise established notions and deliver new insights into the topic. Ksenofontova’s arguments are based on her meticulous research. This monograph has the potential to inspire significant discussions in screenwriting studies and comparative literature and will pave the way for a very welcome new voice and position in the field.” (Claus Tieber, Principle Investigator of several research projects at the University of Vienna and former chair of the Screenwriting Research Network) 

Authors and Affiliations

  • Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    Alexandra Ksenofontova

About the author

Alexandra Ksenofontova completed her PhD in comparative literature at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. She is the co-founder of the German screenwriting research network Drehbuchforschung, member of the editorial board of the Journal of Screenwriting, and the Early Career Representative on the Executive Council of the international Screenwriting Research Network.     


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