An introduction

The introduction sets out in part to locate The Clash in their own very specific historical context. It is argued that the band offer one of the most compelling cultural documents of that moment when the crisis of social democracy paved the way for what would in time be termed the ‘neoliberal revolution’. While The Clash may well have chronicled the political defeats of the past, the body of work that they bequeathed to us represents perhaps one of the resources that might facilitate a rather more progressive political future. There has been no time since the band parted company when their songbook has seemed more relevant. It is acknowledged that there are certain dangers in seeking to take radical artists like The Clash out of their own place and time. Not the least of these is the possibility that we might mimic the culture industries in canonising the band in ways that airbrush out their critical political perspective. The chapter concludes, however, that there are theoretical resources that allow us to avoid this pitfall and to embrace The Clash as though they were a contemporary band, documenting our own current period of global economic and political crisis.

in Working for the clampdown
The Clash, the dawn of neoliberalism and the political promise of punk
Editor: Colin Coulter

There are few bands that have enjoyed as much adoration or endured as much criticism as The Clash. Emerging originally as a principal voice in the burgeoning mid-1970s London punk scene, The Clash would soon cast off the fetters that restricted many of their peers, their musical tastes becoming ever more eclectic and their political field of vision ever more global. In the process, the band would widen the cultural and political horizons of their audience and would for many come to exemplify the power of popular music to change minds. While The Clash would attract a great deal of critical acclaim, this would always be less than universal. In the eyes of their many detractors, the radical political stance of the band was little more than self-mythologising posture, neatly serving the culture industries in their perennial goal of ‘turning rebellion into money’. In this collection, scholars working out of very different contexts and academic traditions set out to examine this most complex and controversial of bands. Across a dozen original essays, the authors provide fresh insights into the music and politics of The Clash in ways that are by turns both critical and celebratory. While the book seeks to locate the band in their own time and place, it also underlines their enduring and indeed very contemporary significance. A common thread running though the essays here is that the songs The Clash wrote four decades ago to document a previous, pivotal moment of geopolitical transformation have a remarkable resonance in our own current moment of prolonged global turbulence. Written in a style that is both scholarly and accessible, Working for the clampdown offers compelling and original takes on one of the most influential and incendiary acts ever to grace a stage.

Unusually for adaptations, the films examined in this chapter have not followed the familiar trajectory of novel-film, but rather film-novel-film; an adaptive journey which reflects Pagnol’s identity as a multimedia author. Responding to Pagnol’s original 1952 film, Andre Bazin wrote that Pagnol gave Provence its universal epic. Hence, even before the novels, Pagnol and this story were inextricably associated with Provence. Pagnol later novelized his own Manon into L’Eau des collines in 1962. Finally, in 1986 – eleven years after his death – the constituent stories of L’Eau des collines were adapted as the films Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. They achieved both critical and commercial success, nationally and internationally, though it was domestically that they achieved their greatest box-office success. Importantly, the films were also a notable example of a concerted effort on the part of the French government of the time to support and promote cinema that foregrounded French history and culture, especially in the face of competition from Anglophone filmmakers.

in French literature on screen

Even though Flaubert certainly lacked a reliable foreknowledge of the future, the suggestion of this chapter is that Madame Bovary contains a profound, pre-emptive reflection on the desire, adulteration and infidelity which constitute film adaptation. Madame Bovary, then, knows a great deal about fidelity and infidelity, betrayal, deception, disappointment, frustration, and the near-inevitability of misunderstanding and misrepresenting the reality of others. In this respect, the novel anticipates its own reception, including its adaptation into film. The question for filmmakers is: what would it mean to be faithful to this novel, when the work itself knows so much about infidelity, both as theme and aesthetic practice? This chapter refers to three films, all of which have the title Madame Bovary, all of which are distinguished works in their own ways, and all of which were made in different historical and cultural contexts: the version directed by Jean Renoir in 1934, in the first decade of sound cinema; Vincent Minnelli’s 1949 version, made in postwar Hollywood; and Claude Chabrol’s ‘heritage cinema’ version of 1991.

in French literature on screen
Darryl F. Zanuck’s Les Misérables (1935)

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables enjoys a staggering adaptation history like no other. Begun in 1845 when the author became a peer of France as a member of the French Upper House and completed in 1862 while in exile, Hugo’s sprawling, melodramatic indictment of the socio-economic system under the Bourbon restoration and the events leading up to the June insurrection in Paris in the summer of 1832 was voraciously anticipated and an instant sensation. Almost immediately after its publication in a multivolume series, the novel provided the source material that would catapult one of the lengthiest works of fiction ever written – replete with emotive digressions on the dangers of the cloistered religious, speculations on the argot, and a lengthy excursion in the Paris sewer system – from numerous nineteenth-century adaptations on stage into our own day; these would include radio, television, and film, together with international versions of the ubiquitous musical, Les Mis, that proliferate and continue to animate popular culture. As I have argued at length elsewhere, there are at least three useful coordinates when contemplating what used to be called ‘the novel into film’. The cultural politics of authorship, intertextual or collateral considerations, together with cultural value form a kind of blueprint for an investigation in adaptation. For the purposes of this essay, I propose interrogating Twentieth Century’s production of Les Misérables in 1935 with these three aspects in mind.

in French literature on screen

While the primary subject of Paul Verhoven’s Elle (2016) remains an examination of rape, the film places rape within a dark satire of contemporary French bourgeois life: the technological usurpation of emotions and sexuality; the uncertain future of a new generation of slacker male children; the shallowness of casual marital infidelity; and even the comically violent frustrations over the lack of parking in Paris. Elle especially addresses rape in contrast to a current culture of unquestioned feminist assumptions. Indeed, Elle provokes feminist paradigms that have foregrounded much of the discussion of gender and sexuality in both literary and film studies. Elle takes the subject of rape and radically alters conventional, popular, and academic assumptions about woman’s agency, undercutting as it critiques the several waves of feminism. In doing so, Elle eschews and at times mocks feminist grand narratives of oppressive patriarchy and pervasive misogyny with their repeated subtext of women trapped within a dominant rape culture. Instead, Elle formulates a satiric counter-narrative that affirms female agency and examines the ambiguities of feminine desire. Elle problematizes feminist polemics against the voyeurism and scopophilia of cinematic portrayals of rape and their reducing of woman to a victim status under the domination of the male gaze. In doing so, Elle does not dismiss feminism outrightly, but rather adapts a new text that does not need to be faithful to that original theoretical text. Based upon Philippe Djian’s novel ‘Oh …’, Elle also calls into question the process of adaptation, which for Elle involves movement not only between literary and cinematic forms, but also among transmedial forms of computers, video games, and messaging systems. The subject of these intertextual forms of adaptation always remains rape and its consequences. These provocations reveal how Elle admirably, if quite disturbingly, plays with conventions of contemporary femininity by taking the emotionally and politically fraught subject of violent sexual assault and rendering it graphically and satirically. Elle, then, serves an outré, contemporary model for the process of adaptation.

in French literature on screen
Madame Bovary and Les Misérables in 1934

In the winter of 1934 two highly anticipated titles premiered just weeks apart on Paris screens: Jean Renoir’s Madame Bovary (13 January) and Raymond Bernard’s Les Misérables (3 February). Evidently they were so different in style and tone that virtually no one remarked on this coincidence at the time. But from what did that difference stem? The styles of the directors or of the books they took on? My brief is to use these adaptations to examine style and tone, turning this actual coincidence into a potential encounter. When sound film had definitively saturated the country in the early 1930s, these novels imposed themselves as ripe for adaptation. At a moment when Hollywood was running roughshod over a particularly weak French industry, Jean Valjean and Emma Bovary appeared as heroes, and not just of their respective novels. What could be more appealing to a national audience than hearing exalted actors speak the language of Hugo or Flaubert and on actual French landscapes? To their presumably sure-fire domestic reception could be added educated viewers everywhere on the planet, ensuring sizeable export potential for French classics everyone had heard of.

in French literature on screen

French literature on screen is a multi-author volume whose eleven chapters plus an introduction offer case histories of the screen versions of major literary works by such authors as Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, Françoise Sagan, and George Simenon. Written by leading experts in the field, the various chapters in this volume offer insightful investigations of the artistic, cultural, and industrial processes that have made screen versions of French literary classics a central element of the national cinema.

French literature on screen breaks new scholarly ground by offering the first trans-national account of this important cultural development. These film adaptations have been important in both the American and British cinemas as well. English language screen adaptations of French literature evince the complexity of the relationship between the two texts, the two media, as well as opening up new avenues to explore studio decisions to contract and distribute this particular type of ‘foreign’ cinema to American and British audiences. In many respects, the ‘foreign’ quality of master works of the French literary canon remain their appeal over the decades from the silent era to the present.

The essays in this volume also address theoretical concerns about the interdependent relationship between literary and film texts; the status of the ‘author’, and the process of interpretation will be addressed in these essays, as will dialogical, intertextual, and transtextual approaches to adaptation.

Staging Carmen’s death

There have been some eighty film adaptations of the Carmen story since 1895 (excluding over thirty TV films), based either on Prosper Mérimée’s novella (1845) or on Georges Bizet’s opera (1875), or on a combination of both. It is one of the most adapted stories in cinema history, and the most adapted classical literature in French cinema. Those adaptations range across national cinemas: the USA is the most prominent (27), followed by France (10), Spain (9), UK (8), Italy (6), Germany (4), Brazil (2), Russia (2), and there are Argentinian, Austrian, Czech, Dutch, Mexican, Senegalese, Slovenian, South African, Swedish, and Venezuelan versions. The Carmen story has unsurprisingly then been the focus of considerable academic attention. In this chapter I will focus on the climax of the story, the ritualistic murder of the threatening femme fatale represented by Carmen in her irreducible difference. In most cases, Carmen’s death takes place either in the wild countryside of Mérimée’s novella, or in the urbanized bullring of Bizet’s opera. A majority of film versions construct the death scene as a ritual performance where the location is an enclosed and generally non-realist stage, especially when the rest of the film has been relatively realist in its use of locations. Using Foucault’s theory of heterotopia as ‘other’ contested place, I argue that the reason for this staging is to provide a segregated ritual space which retrospectively legitimizes the narrative as a performance of excessive sexualities, at the same time as, paradoxically, it contains that excess by staging it as a performance.

in French literature on screen

This essay reconsiders efforts to adapt the Recherche to the screen, exploring they contribute to a critical understanding of relations between prose fiction and film. Adaptation draws on memory and reading transposed from written word to the audiovisual medium of cinema. In conjunction with the possibility of a Proustian cinema that might draw on formal as well as narrative elements of the Recherche, I conclude with remarks on Chantal Akerman’s 2000 feature film, La Captive, inspired by the section of Proust’s novel known as La Prisonnière. Full disclosure, I state from the start that I consider efforts to film the Recherche less in terms of failure or success in conjunction with fidelity to the Proustian source text than as experiments or exercises worthy of exploration on their own. Critical accounts since 2000 by Martine Beugnet, Marion Schmid, and Pascal Ifri have renewed debate surrounding cinematic adaptations of the Recherche. For Ifri, a major challenge faced by filmmakers is how to contend with resistance among readers for whom the Recherche is an extreme demonstration of the degree to which representations of time are less malleable on the movie screen than on paper. This is the case, Ifri argues, less in conjunction with linear duration than with the singular complexity of the novel’s depiction of psychology, affect, and emotion. Adapting the Recherche to film is also complicated by the novel’s length, the absence of a traditional plot, its verbal style, and descriptions of painting and music, some of which Ifri describes as un-cinematic. Because Proust’s novel explores what lies behind visible reality and because that reality is reputedly the only one cinema can show, adapting the Recherche to the screen is extremely problematic.

in French literature on screen