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This book is a detailed study of the transnational and transmedia stardom/celebrity of Charlotte Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg is one of the most interesting and important actresses working in cinema today, both in her native France and abroad. Her film career, spanning five decades, has seen her work with many significant French and international directors, as well as forging a remarkable collaboration with international auteur Lars von Trier. Her status as musician, style icon, muse to fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière and the daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg has cemented her celebrity both in France and internationally. Gainsbourg’s transnational and transmedia stardom, predicated in part on her bilingualism and bicultural background, makes her a fascinating case study in contemporary stardom and celebrity in a global context. The book has two main aims: to provide a comprehensive account of Gainsbourg’s career, to chart its trajectory and pathways, to describe her star persona and to introduce readers to a range of her films as well as extra-filmic material on the actress, singer and style icon; and to position Gainsbourg in contemporary film history. It combines textual analysis of performance, costume, space, characterisation and narrative with archival research and extra-cinematic materials to interrogate the construction of Gainsbourg’s persona.

Between art and life

The term la Parisienne denotes a figure of French modernity. There is significant scholarship on la Parisienne in the fields of art history, fashion theory and culture and cultural histories of Paris However, there is little written on the (re)appearance and function of the type in cinema. This book is intended as an introduction to la Parisienne and her iconography in cinema, and deals predominantly with visual and narrative conventions, derived primarily from nineteenth-century art, literature and visual culture. The iconography of la Parisienne can be categorised according to the following concepts: visibility and mobility; style and fashionability, including self-fashioning; artist and muse; cosmopolitanism; prostitution; danger; consumption; and transformation. The book argues that la Parisienne is a type which exists between art and life, and the figure that emerges from this blurring of art and life is la Parisienne as muse. It considers the cosmopolitanism of the Parisienne type, in the sense of 'anyone' and 'anywhere', and argues that la Parisienne was conceived as feminity as such. The book explores the relationship between la Parisienne, fashion and film, and looks at la Parisienne as femme fatale within the context of French film noir. It traces her development in nineteenth-century art and literature, and examines the way the Parisienne as courtesan is (re)presented in cinema. The book also investigates the contribution star personae of Brigitte Bardot, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Anna Karina, and Jeanne Moreau have made to the Parisienne type in cinema.

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Felicity Chaplin
in Charlotte Gainsbourg
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Felicity Chaplin

Chapter 1 covers the first phase of Gainsbourg’s stardom and examines her status as fille de, as well as her early film roles in France and the United Kingdom. This chapter examines how Gainsbourg’s persona developed filmically through her strong early performances, and extra-filmically through her appearance in magazines, on television and through her singing career. This phase is vital for understanding how Gainsbourg’s association with her parents in the popular and critical press helped to construct, and become an ongoing element in, her star persona. This period of Gainsbourg’s film career demonstrates an early foray into transnational productions, an ability to make films in French and English and an interconnection between her film roles and her famous family. This early phase also established Gainsbourg as a figure of both ‘troubled girlhood’ and androgyny, which would follow her into adult life. The films discussed include Claude Miller’s L’Effrontée (1986) and La Petite voleuse (1988), Serge Gainsbourg’s Charlotte for Ever (1986), Andrew Birkin’s The Cement Garden (1993) and Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre (1993).

in Charlotte Gainsbourg
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My wife is an actress (and a star)
Felicity Chaplin

Chapter 2 looks at Gainsbourg’s transition from an actress to a star with a recognisable star persona, facilitated largely by her role in Attal’s directorial debut Ma femme est une actrice (2001). This chapter considers the way Attal’s film blurs actress and character – a necessary step in the creation of a star – and the way this film cemented her position as the quintessential ‘bobo’ Parisienne. Finally, this chapter also explores Gainsbourg’s work in the twenty-first century in both French and transnational contexts and her establishment as a transnational star, an ‘indie’ icon and a cult star, with reference to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams (2003); Claude Berri’s L’un reste, l’autre part (2005); Dominik Moll’s Lemming (2006); Eric Lartigau’s Prête-moi ta main (2006); and Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There (2007).

in Charlotte Gainsbourg
The (dys)functional relationship of Gainsbourg and von Trier
Felicity Chaplin

Chapter 3 looks at the next phase in Gainsbourg’s career: her collaboration with Lars von Trier in Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011) and Nymphomaniac Volumes I & II (2013). This chapters considers this cycle in terms of both controversy and identity. It investigates both the media construction of their artistic relationship (through interviews, articles and press coverage) as well as how this relationship manifests itself on-screen in the roles themselves. This chapter argues that von Trier exploits three key aspects of Gainsbourg’s star person – her cosmopolitan femininity and transnational style, her predilection for provocation and her self-proclaimed masochism – and concludes that Gainsbourg’s masochism and willingness to be exploited sits uneasily with von Trier’s alleged sadism, constituting a dysfunctional relationship that is at the same time productive.

in Charlotte Gainsbourg
The (un)homeliness of Gainsbourg’s persona
Felicity Chaplin

Chapter 4 considers the way Gainsbourg continues to work in French and transnational contexts and how the recurring motifs of her star persona manifest themselves in three films: Julie Bertuccelli’s Australian-set drama The Tree (2010), Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s French blockbuster Samba (2014) and her Hollywood debut in Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich, 2016). This chapter argues that part of what makes Gainsbourg such a fascinating case study is her ability to shift between different genres, languages and filming locations. Her ability to do so is due, in part, to her bilingual background and transnational star persona while at the same time her film choices reinforce her status as a transnational and cosmopolitan celebrity. This radical and constant shifting gives an unhomely aspect to Gainsbourg’s persona which is explored with reference to Freud’s concept of the unheimlich.

in Charlotte Gainsbourg
Felicity Chaplin

Chapter 5 focuses on the extra-cinematic aspects of Gainsbourg’s star persona and positions her as a transmedia star. It considers her status as a global style icon, a musician and a muse for fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière. The chapter explores her appearance in music video clips, magazine fashion shoots, the fashion press, online and print celebrity magazines and advertisements alongside her appearance at award ceremonies, red-carpet events and film festivals, most notably Cannes. This chapter also examines what Pam Cook calls ‘commodity stardom’. Gainsbourg’s is a complex star persona, possessing both artistic and commercial aspects. It builds on scholarship in the newly emerging field of transmedia celebrity studies. It also considers her recent venture into directing: to date she has directed six music video clips to accompany songs taken from her latest critically acclaimed album Rest released in November 2017.

in Charlotte Gainsbourg
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Felicity Chaplin
in Charlotte Gainsbourg
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‘What’s she like?’
Felicity Chaplin

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book describes that la Parisienne is a type which exists between art and life, and who exists on the boundary between representation and reality. The figure that emerges from this blurring of art and life is la Parisienne as muse. The book considers the cosmopolitanism of the Parisienne type, in the sense of 'anyone' and 'anywhere', and argues that la Parisienne was conceived not only as a figure of French femininity but of femininity as such. It explores the relationship between la Parisienne, fashion and film. The book shows at la Parisienne as femme fatale within the context of French film noir. Tracing her development in nineteenth-century art and literature, the book examines the way the Parisienne as courtesan is (re)presented in cinema.

in La Parisienne in cinema