Henri Jeanson
Spectacular dialogue
in Screenwriters in French cinema
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With over eighty films to his credit, Jeanson is one of the foremost writers of classic French cinema. His fame is largely attributed to his talent for the mot d’auteur, the scene-stealing line which leaps off the screen and threatens to undermine the narrative illusion. Indeed, Jeanson is responsible for hundreds of the best known lines in French film history. He vigorously defended the idea that dialogue should not pass unnoticed, reacting violently against critics who complained of dialogue that was ‘too brilliant, too witty, too written’, and showing contempt for the idea that lines should ‘discreetly cross the screen on tiptoe so as not to excite the spectator in his boredom’ (Jeanson 2000: 9). This chapter considers Jeanson’s career, sketching out his unique position among French dialogue writers, his preferred themes and screenwriting style, and the connections between his journalism and his film writing. It also explores Jeanson’s collaborations with the actors who performed his ‘spectacular dialogue’, analysing the pleasures of cinematic dialogue via the connection it establishes between writer, performer and audience.

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