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This chapter, which describes the popular dimension of French literary culture, presents a short history of the popular novel since mass literacy and how new technologies have democratised reading in the mid-nineteenth century. It shows how popular reading tastes have been depicted, judged and shaped by public discourses, from parliamentary debates to state and Church policies, marketing pitches, theoretical interventions and readers' own commentaries. The chapter underlines the diversity of novels classified as ‘popular’. It also argues for the cognitive and affective complexity of ‘mimetic’ readings and for the need, in any account of French literature, to pay proper attention to the stories read by the majority.
This book, which is about what ‘popular culture’ means in France, and how the term's shifting meanings have been negotiated and contested, represents a theoretically informed study of the way that popular culture is lived, imagined, fought over and negotiated in modern and contemporary France. It covers a wide range of overarching concerns: the roles of state policy, the market, political ideologies, changing social contexts and new technologies in the construction of the popular. But the book also provides a set of specific case studies showing how popular songs, stories, films, TV programmes and language styles have become indispensable elements of ‘culture’ in France. Deploying yet also rethinking a ‘Cultural Studies’ approach to the popular, it therefore challenges dominant views of what French culture really means today.
This book presents a study on François Truffaut's films. It reviews the body of work which foregrounds the main themes and discusses Truffaut's working practices as a director, drawing on his own writing about his film-making. The book commences with an introduction on his first film, Les Mistons. The energy and resilience of children act as vital counters to a morbid preoccupation with death, visible here in the fatal ending to the couple's romantic idyll. By choosing as subject for his film an exploration of the young male's sexual awakening, by situating it in a French provincial town and by adopting the realist mode, Truffaut was making an important statement. The book seeks to situate Truffaut both historically and culturally and the second aiming to give a broad overview of his films and their critical reception. It then provides a closer analysis of one film, Jules et Jim (1961), both as a means to discuss more precisely Truffaut's style of film-making and to provide an example of how a film may be 'read'. The book discusses the 'auteur-genre' tension, the representation of gender, the relationship between paternity and authorship and, finally, the conflict at the heart of the films between the 'absolute' and the 'provisional'. Truffaut's films display mistrust of the institutions that impose social order: school (Les 400 Coups), army (Baisers volés), paternal authority (Adèle H.) and the written language.
This chapter introduces the main themes of this book, exploring how the French in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have come to imagine the popular in particular and distinctive ways: how popular-cultural texts or forms have, variously, been produced and received, theorised and judged. It suggests that the notion of popular culture is essentially ideological and ethical in that it is bound up with cultural democracy. The analytical methods used in the book combine elements of sociology, sociolinguistics, Cultural and Media Studies, literary and film studies, and public-policy studies. The chapter concludes that analysis of any contemporary culture and of its relationships with the complex realities of national identities in the twenty-first century is seriously incomplete and hence distorted without the dimension of the popular.
Whereas domestic and external accounts of French culture have spontaneously identified it with elite culture, this chapter argues that any rigorous analysis of it must integrate and engage with majority cultural practices. Popular culture itself and the discourses that have constructed and fought over it have been vital elements in the process of making and re-making national, as well as social and personal, identities. Popular culture has meant highbrow culture disseminated to the people, or lowbrow culture sold to the people. A third meaning, discernible at particular moments in both state and oppositional discourses, has been that of a culture arising authentically from the people. This chapter concludes that the study of popular culture needs to be central to any understanding of contemporary French society, and thus to French Studies as an ongoing academic project.
François Truffaut's attitude to genre and the questions it posed for French film-makers is neatly summed up at a very early point of his career in the juxtapositioning of two short sequences in Les Mistons. Truffaut's exploitation of genre is not as straightforward as it at first appears. If his genre films are, with one exception, films noirs or thrillers, this is attributable in large part to the influence of the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The first two films, Les Mistons and Les 400 Coups, although they contain references to genre, are resistant to classification by genre. Tirezis the first of his genre films, it is equally one of his most artistically successful and one of his most innovative. The last of the three genre films which Truffaut produced between 1964 and 1967 was another film noir, La Marìée était en noir (the second film in the group, Fahrenheit 451).
This chapter provides the reader with an overview of François Truffaut's films from a number of perspectives. An initial discussion of critical evaluations of his work is followed by an examination of some of the ways in which the films can be grouped and categorised. This leads into a chronological review of the body of work which foregrounds the main themes and discusses Truffaut's working practices as a director, drawing on his own writing about his film-making. From a relatively early point in his career, Truffaut had found his way to America: to see Helen Scott and Hitchcock in order to work on what he often referred to as the Hitchbook; to attend the New York Film Festival; and for English lessons in Los Angeles. As his reputation grew and particularly after he won the Oscar, he received invitations, from those 'nice Americans', to make a film in the USA.
François Truffaut's work invites biographical readings. This chapter provides a brief account of Truffaut's early life in post-war France. At the time of the Liberation in 1944 Truffaut was twelve-years old, a precociously literate and knowledgeable filmgoer, intellectually and emotionally committed to cinema, thus far primarily French cinema. The end of the Occupation left the French film industry divided, disorganised and lacking in resources. The work done by Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s was central to the development of film theory and criticism not only in France but also in the USA, Britain and the rest of Europe. The Cahiers team were united in their Bazinian respect for a particular kind of realism, their enthusiasm for Hollywood genre films and their dislike of the kind of cinema that was dominant in France.
Jules et Jim, François Truffaut's third full-length film, is generally agreed to be one of his greatest. This chapter traces the film's genesis from little-known literary source to film classic by 'reading' the film in terms of narrative structure, and signifying techniques and themes. It demonstrates more closely the specificity of Truffaut's method and style, and outlines the film in the chronological survey of his career. Like Les 400 Coups and many subsequent Truffaut films, Jules et Jim is also about the significance and the joy of telling stories. The film ends on a stark reminder of the material reality of death and the fragility of life; though what remains with the spectator is also the film's exhilarating creativity, celebrated in the closing, orchestral rendition of Le Tourbillon de la vie.
When challenged by Anne Gillain to explain his motives in making Les Mistons François Truffaut was somewhat vague and unhelpful, deflecting the critic's attention to the short story on which the film is based. An interesting aspect of Les Mistons is that of gender representation. The construction of masculinity is nevertheless a feature of Les Mistons and is articulated mainly in terms of the contrast between Gérard and the five kids. Frame composition makes a significant contribution to Les Mistons, reinforcing one of the main features of the film: the age gap separating the couple from the boys. The chapter also presents some of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book provides a closer analysis of one film, Jules et Jim, both as a means to discuss more precisely Truffaut's style of film-making and to provide an example of how a film may be 'read'.