Originally the phrase "cameo role" referred to a famous person who was playing no character, but him or herself. Like a cameo brooch—a low-relief carving of a person's head or bust—the actor or celebrity is instantly recognizable. More recently, "cameo" has come to refer to any short appearances, whether as a character or as oneself.
Cameos are generally not credited because of their brevity, or a perceived mismatch between the celebrity's stature and the film or TV show in which he or she is appearing. Many are publicity stunts. Others are acknowledgments of an actor's contribution to an earlier work, as in the case of many film adaptations of TV series, or of remakes of earlier films. Others honour artists or celebrities known for work in a particular field.
A cameo can establish a character as being important without having much screen time. Examples of such cameos are Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Ted Danson in Saving Private Ryan, Hugh Jackman in X-Men: First Class, Anthony Hopkins in Mission: Impossible II, George Clooney in The Thin Red Line, and Sigourney Weaver in The Cabin in the Woods. Jason Robards' uncredited appearance at the opening of Enemy of the State was brief but a key element of the plot.
Possibly the best-known series of cameos was by the director Alfred Hitchcock, who made very brief appearances in most of his films.
Cameos are also common in novels and other literary works. “Literary cameos” usually involve an established character from another work who makes a brief appearance to establish a shared universe setting, to make a point, or to offer homage. Balzac often employed this practice, such as in his Comédie humaine. Sometimes a cameo features a historical person who "drops in" on fictional characters in a historical novel, as when Benjamin Franklin shares a beer with Phillipe Charboneau in The Bastard by John Jakes.
A cameo appearance can be made by the author of a work to put a sort of personal "signature" on a story. An example from the thriller genre includes Clive Cussler, who made appearances in his own novels as a "rough old man" who advised action hero Dirk Pitt. An example in the comic book genre is John Byrne's resplendent use of cameos in Marvel Comics’ Iron Fist #8, which features appearances by Byrne himself, Howard the Duck (on a poster), Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, Sam McCloud, Fu Manchu, and Wolverine.
At the apex of the technique stands Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. This acclaimed novel is, among many other things, a "tour de force" of literary cameos.
Early appearances are often mistakenly considered as cameos. Sylvester Stallone appears in Woody Allen's Bananas credited only as "Subway Thug #1," five years before his breakout role in 1976's Rocky. Other examples would be Elijah Wood in Back to the Future Part II and Samuel L. Jackson in The Exorcist III. These are early appearances of non-established actors.
Quentin Tarantino provides cameos or small roles on some of his movies.
Likewise, Peter Jackson has made brief cameos in all of his movies, except for his first feature length movie Bad Taste in which he plays a main character. For example, he plays a peasant eating a carrot in The Fellowship of the Ring; a Rohan warrior in The Two Towers and a pirate boatswain in The Return of the King. All three were non-speaking "blink and you miss him" appearances, although in the Extended Release of The Return of the King, his character was given more screen time. He also appears in his 2005 remake of King Kong as the gunner on a biplane in the finale.
Director Martin Scorsese appears in the background of his films as a bystander or an unseen character. In Who's That Knocking at My Door, he appears as one of the gangsters, a passenger in Taxi Driver. He opens up his 1986 film The Color of Money with a monologue on the art of playing pool. In addition, he appears with his wife and daughter as wealthy New Yorkers in Gangs of New York, and he appears as a theatre-goer and is heard as a movie projectionist in The Aviator.
Denys Arcand portrays a judge in his film Jesus of Montreal.
Yet, some directors, even among the most celebrated, never appeared in any of their films. This is, for example, the case of Stanley Kubrick, from whom there is only a shadowy figure in Lolita and unconfirmed rumors exist about his voice (in 2001 or The Shining).
Read more about this topic: Cameo Appearance
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