Film, Media and Music

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Douglas Morrey

The autumn of 1998 saw the release in France of Jean-Luc Godard's long-awaited Histoires du cinema project. The work, which was begun in 1988 and had been subject to a variety of advance reports, sneak previews and private viewings, was finally made available to the public as a set of four videotapes with a total running time of 265 minutes, accompanied by four art books, featuring images and text from the films, published by Gallimard. Histoires du cinema, then, is a history of cinema that is made of cinema, that is constructed from the images and sounds of cinema itself. Eloge de l'amour marked Godard's return to international prominence after a decade and a half of working on projects that rarely received significant distribution outside France. The film can be, and has been interpreted as the continuation of Godard's 1990s work in its preoccupation with history and memory.

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Necessity or contingency

Godard as film critic, 1950–59

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Douglas Morrey

Little is known about Jean-Luc Godard's early life and, although the first authoritative biography of the director was published very recently, the details of his youth remain somewhat sketchy. Godard began to study anthropology at the Sorbonne, but dropped out, and the subsequent decade of his life was spent drifting between various occupations. Along with other critics at Cahiers du cinéma, Godard's writing on film in the 1950s played an important role in shaping the canon of great film directors that would influence the development of both French and anglophone film studies. The questionable nature of some of the tales surrounding the director's youth is reflected in Godard's own admission that he amused himself by making up stories which would subsequently be reported as true in the press. Godard was a particularly sensitive commentator on the new American cinema, two of his finest articles being devoted to Hitchcock.

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Brett Bowles

One of the first commentators to attempt a balanced reassessment of Pagnol was Cahiers du cinéma founder André Bazin, who in his 1959 classic Qu'est-ce que le cinema? devoted a chapter to the filmmaker as part of an extended reflection on the links between theatre and cinema. Bazin broke new ground by rejecting the longstanding tendency to dismiss Pagnol's work as the cinematic recycling of theatrical convention and by recognising the value of subordinating image to speech. This book offers the first comprehensive, scrupulously documented, and unapologetically critical reading of Pagnol's cinema. It highlights his singular contribution to classic French film as an auteur and businessman while at the same time evaluating the larger cultural and aesthetic stakes of his movies. Rather than adopting a strictly chronological approach, the book traces the emergence of Pagnol's signature style in theatre and presents an epilogue that surveys the afterlife of his work in France since the mid-1970s. It discusses the definitive opening up of Pagnol's theatrically inspired cinema and his maturation from dramatic author into bona fide screen director. While Pagnol battled to defend and perfect his signature brand of cinématurgie, he simultaneously pursued an alternative production model that rejected both theatrical convention and contemporary film industry practice by shooting feature-length pictures on site in the Provençal countryside. The success of Pagnol's business model was unmatched in 1930s French cinema, offering industry insiders and the general public welcome proof that their nation could not only defend its unique cultural identity against Americanisation.

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Hugo Frey

Lacombe Lucien has sharply divided audiences in their views of Louis Malle. The film had to be unmasked for what it was: a bourgeois manipulation of the historical record that normalised the banality of fascism and concealed the heroism and complexity of the class struggle. However, for fellow director Joseph Losey, Malle's work was a masterpiece of the cinematic arts. This chapter analyses how Lacombe Lucien works as a film, and discusses its core rhetorical devices and what they mean today. Important comparisons are made with the equivalently ambiguous rhetorical strategies deployed by Malle in Pretty Baby. The aesthetic patterns in Lacombe Lucien fall squarely into the wider mode rétro fashion in literature, art and cinema that developed in western Europe during the late 1960s. The chapter discusses Malle's second American film, Atlantic City USA, which is a film that subtly re-enforces Malle's status as a memorial activist.

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Douglas Morrey

This chapter demonstrates the validity of Alain Bergala's assertion regarding the thematic and aesthetic parallels between Jean-Luc Godard's four films: Sauve qui peut, Passion, Prénom Carmen, and Je vous salue Marie which were made between 1979 and 1984. In the films of the early eighties, Godard is seeking nothing less than a new way of seeing, a way of looking afresh at those things (bodies, nature) and those activities (love, work) that are at once most familiar and most profoundly unknown. If love and work are connected, as Godard repeatedly insists, it is perhaps because love - whether physical or spiritual love - involves renouncing possession, which ultimately amounts to renouncing the self. By the same token, the work of art - which is a labour of love - if it is truly to become art, must involve a similar renunciation, a dispossession.

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Hugo Frey

This book introduces readers to the cinema of Louis Malle. Malle needs little further preliminary discussion here. His is a body of work that most film critics around the world recognise as being one of the most productive in post-war international cinema, including as it does triumphs such as Ascenseur pour l'échafaud; Le Feu follet; Lacombe Lucien; Atlantic City USA, and Au revoir les enfants . Malle's work attracted intense public controversy, with a new Malle film being just as likely to find itself debated on the front page of Le Monde or Libération as reviewed in the film section of those newspapers. Malle's four major films of the 1970s represent a fusion of the youthful bravado and confidence of the 1950s combined with the new political questioning adopted in the late 1960s. Le Souffle au cœur, Lacombe Lucien, Black Moon, and Pretty Baby were made in relatively quick succession and each engaged in controversial and divisive themes. The book analyses Malle's political journey from the cultural right-wing to the libertarian left, to explain how Le Souffle au cœur marked a radical break with the 1950s by speaking of that era through a comic mode. It explores how Lacombe Lucien works as a film, to discuss its core rhetorical devices and what they mean today. The book also demonstrates that Malle is too complex to be explained by one theory or interpretation, however tempting its conclusions.

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Losey in exile

The Sleeping Tiger (1954), A Man on the Beach (1955) and The Intimate Stranger (1956)

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Colin Gardner

The 1950s proved to be a difficult decade for Joseph Losey, a period marked by prolonged exile, the ever-lengthening reach of the blacklist and the constant fear of betrayal. This chapter discusses Losey's three films during his period of exile in the 1950s. While it is clear that the films of this period represent a scattered potpourri of projects undertaken by a director simply trying to survive, both economically and artistically, it would be a mistake to dismiss them as anomalous or peripheral to the central themes and narrative continuities of Losey's seemingly more mainstream, 'signature' productions. The Sleeping Tiger, The Intimate Stranger and A Man on the Beach mark the beginning of a certain stylistic excess, as a means both to explore and mitigate the realities of historical rupture and to draw a concrete analogy between exile and the cultural estrangement of class and gender division.

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

This chapter deals with Jean Renoir's late films after his return to France in 1951, after an absence of more than ten years. The later films are more consistent in tone than the disparate body of work that had gone before. The later films generally see the world and its failings with mocking irony, preferring a dispassionate moral vision to a tragic or political one. The first three (Le Carosse d'or, French Cancan, Eléna et les hommes), are all historically set costume dramas and form a natural group. The next two (Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe) are contemporary fantasies and were shot in the same innovative way. Le Caporal épinglé moves away from cultural definitions of nation and back towards a more 'political' Frenchness, centred on the need to fight for freedom.

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Colin Gardner

More English than the Brits' proclaims one of the chapter headings in Michel Ciment's seminal series of interviews with Joseph Losey. Losey's life embraces a major crisis in political commitment and public tolerance (the blacklist); his career, his oeuvre, spans the most fundamental cultural confrontation of the century, between Marxism and Modernism, between progressive "realism" and the avant-garde subversion of optimism. Losey began his directorial career in the leftist political theatre of the 1930s. For Losey, as for many leftists of the period, Communism meant allegiance to the Soviet ideological model, and by extension, to Stalin's policies. The 1950s proved to be a difficult decade for Joseph Losey, a period marked by prolonged exile, the ever-lengthening reach of the blacklist and the constant fear of betrayal. The Sleeping Tiger, The Intimate Stranger and A Man on the Beach were made during his period of exile in the 1950s. There was an experimental, writer-oriented focus in Joseph Losey's later work, opening the way for collaborations on a more equal footing. Losey collaborated three films with Harold Pinter: The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between. His involvement in Secret Ceremony, Boom! and Figures in a Landscape was a case of blatant economic necessity. Most of his work directly explores and addresses the ideological interpellation of women by analysing the cultural assumptions that both construct and perpetuate it. Losey officially became a tax exile after relocating himself from Chelsea to Paris because of tax problems.

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Martin O’Shaughnessy

Jean Renoir is widely seen as the greatest French director and one of the major figures of world cinema. This book introduces Renoir's life and his highly uneven career. It demarcates his vision of his films, craft and ideological evolution and draws substantially on his writings and interviews. As he made films addressing different audiences with varying degrees of freedom in shifting production and socio-historical contexts, the book identifies the periods when the contextual factors remained relatively stable. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, mon père is the text most frequently drawn upon to fill in his early years. The book deals with Renoir and his leftist critics and the auterists. He is a challenge to auteurists because of his commitment and his many changes of direction. Cahiers was a polemical journal, and the Cahiers critics were far from uniform in their general outlook or their specific response to Renoir. It then considers the films that Renoir directed during his first decade as a film-maker. They are considered in two groups: the silent films and those that followed the introduction of sound. Critics seem to assume a dehistoricised and homogenised America that is somehow the antithesis of France. Perhaps this is because 'Renoir américain' was seen on European screens when the cold war was raging and the world seemed polarised between two monolithic blocs. The book also deals with Renoir's late films after his return to France in 1951, after an absence of more than ten years.