The life of Georges Franju belonged to the cinema. Although he was recognised as an important director as soon as his first significant short, Le Sang des bêtes, was shown in Paris in 1948, his reputation as a film-maker has often been and remains eclipsed by the place accorded him in cinema history. In the 1930s, and Franju became the Executive Secretary of the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF), an organisation founded on French initiative. Early in 1940, two years after his appointment as Executive Secretary of FIAF, Franju also co-founded another organisation devoted to the promotion of cinema, the Circuit Cinématographique des Arts et des Sciences. Franju's place in French film history is inseparable from the shape of his career, a long 'apprenticeship' in short films that preceded the eight features he made between 1958 and 1973. This book examines the production context of Franju's courts métrages and offers readings of thirteen of these shorts that group them by theme, rather than chronologically. It comprises preliminary readings of all the longs métrages through the prism of the issue of genre, an approach that has never been applied to most of them. The book tackles the area to which the bulk of existing studies of Franju are limited, his cinematic aesthetics, although it attempts both a new synthesis and an expansion of this field of study. Finally, it investigates gender identities, the structure of the family, and sexualities in Franju's cinema.
There have been vigorous debates about the condition and prospects of auteur cinema in France over the last decade, debates that seem mostly to have gone unreported in anglophone criticism of francophone cinema. But these have been paralleled by a revival of international debate about the status of the auteur: in their extended chapter on auteur cinema added to the second edition of Cook's The Cinema Book, Pam Cook and Mieke Bernink observe that this was definitely underway by 1995. This book summarises the development of auteurism as a field up to the 1990s, drawing particularly on Wright Wexman's historical overview. Georges Méliès was the first auteur. Following the advent of structuralism and structuralist approaches to narrative and communication in the mid 1960s, a type of auteurism was born that preserved a focus on authorship. The book presents an account of the development of Olivier Assayas' career, and explores this idea of what one might call 'catastrophe cinema'. Jacques Audiard's work reflects several dominant preoccupations of contemporary French cinema, such as an engagement with realism (the phenomenon of the 'new new wave') and the interrogation of the construction of (cultural) memory. The book then discusses the films of the Dardenne brothers and their documentaries. Michael Haneke's films can be read as a series of polemical correctives to the morally questionable viewing practices. An introduction to Ozon's films that revolve around the centrality of queer desire to his cinema, and the continual performative transformations of identity worked within it, is presented.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the production context of Georges Franju's courts métrages and offers readings of thirteen of these shorts that group them by theme, rather than chronologically. It provides preliminary readings of all the longs métrages through the prism of the issue of genre, an approach that has never been applied to most of them. The book tackles the area to which the bulk of existing studies of Franju are limited, his cinematic aesthetics, although it attempts both a new synthesis and an expansion of this field of study. It investigates gender identities, the structure of the family, and sexualities in Franju's cinema, an area of film criticism that hardly existed when the first books on him were written in the late 1960s.
This chapter outlines how the 1950s were a decade in which cinema's dual identity as art and industry was particularly hotly debated. It traces how court métrage production worked during 1946 to 1958. In Georges Franju's work, the 'cinema of memory', a category of documentary initially derived in part from Hôtel des Invalides, applies also to Notre Dame, cathédrale de Paris, a document of architectural and human history, and to another film that takes the sites and institutions of Paris as its subject, Le Sang des bêtes. It is noted that examination of the editing of Le Métro reveals a rhetoric quite distinct from the rest of Franju's courts métrages, an urgent rhythm dependent on insistent repetition, and this makes it relevant to discussion of the representation of modernity in Franju's courts métrages.
This chapter argues that genre is central to Georges Franju's longs métrages, and that his relationship to genre film-making is just as strong as that of his contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol, whose reputations in the 1960s were built partly on the successful incorporation of elements of film noir and the suspense thriller into their early work. It relies on the idea of genre as a 'mark' made influential in contemporary genre theory by Jacques Derrida's essay 'The law of genre'. The chapter looks at the three of Franju's films planned and approached as full-scale adaptations: Thérèse Desqueyroux, Thomas l'Imposteur, and La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret. Les Yeuxsans visage and Judex remain Franju's best-known films, internationally as well as in France, and this is almost certainly because of their strongly marked relationship to cinéma fantastique.
This chapter explores the aesthetics of Georges Franju's cinema, both courts métrages and feature films and summarises and combines the insights of the critics to construct a new synthesis of thinking about Franju's aesthetics. It explores recurrent features in Franju's homo cinematographicus: his tendency to frame the head and face separately from the body; his interest in the topos of facelessness and the mask; his extensive use of isolating shots and close-ups of faces, and his 'facialising' of animals and non-human entities. In Franju's three adaptations of novels, décor is also often instrumental in creating atmosphere: Franju films the rooms of Bernard Desqueyroux's house as austere and even drab, in keeping with the stolid unimaginativeness of his character. However, décor is perhaps less important than other aspects of mise-en-scène and cinematography, in particular the use made of black and white and of colour respectively.
This chapter examines the female characters in Georges Franju's cinema, their relationships with male characters, and the structure of the family in his films. It discusses the relationships of which the family is forged, and the eroticism to be found in Franju's film narratives and in his aesthetic syntax. The chapter argues that the prevalent tendency in his representation of gender and male-female relationships is established in his courts métrages. Franju's vision of women's place in society and his tendency to focus on women as the objects and subjects of representation can be directly related to the political inclinations that mark many of his films. Like the prominence of the heterosexual family in Franju's features, the undercurrents and moments of perverse and lesbian sexuality in his films indicate a heightened sensitivity to human sexuality and gender.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the key concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book suggests that the contribution made to French and international cinema by Georges Franju's idiomatic voice has usually been badly understood and insufficiently appreciated, although for reasons that are comprehensible and traceable. It demonstrates that Franju's most powerful work lies in court métrage, always cinema's 'minor' format. The book discusses critical framework in order to show that Franju's feature films have a questioning, uncertain and plural relationship to cinematic genre: cinéma fantastique is an inadequate and misleading single label to apply to them. It suggests that while psychoanalytic insights about subjectivity and sexuality are definitely of value to Franju criticism, his films resist the hermetic, predictable and phallocentric frameworks on which psychoanalytic criticism has often relied, Freud's Oedipalism and Lacan's concept of the Symbolic order.
This chapter presents the pre-history of auteurism and shows that there have been vigorous debates about the condition and prospects of auteur cinema in France over the last decade. It summarises the development of auteurism as a field up to the 1990s, drawing particularly on Wright Wexman's historical overview. Following the advent of structuralism and structuralist approaches to narrative and communication in the mid 1960s, a type of auteurism was born that preserved a focus on authorship at the very moment when Roland Barthes was polemically declaring the author dead, in his famous essay 'The death of the author'. The chapter also summarises the legal advances achieved by struggles for legislation aiming to afford better protection for directors. It assesses how auteur cinema is still one vital pole of francophone film production, albeit in a very different form from that envisaged by the politique des auteurs in the 1950s.