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.
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.
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).
The (dys)functional relationship of Gainsbourg and von Trier
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.
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.
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).
The conclusion offers a brief reflection on two recent films, Criando ratas/Raising Rats (Carlos Salado, 2016) and Quinqui Stars (Juan Vicente Córdoba, 2018), which explore the parallels between the material and economic conditions of the delinquents in cine quinqui and those of young people in Spain today who face record unemployment. It concludes by considering the diverse ways in which the films analysed in the book reflected the acoustic experience of urban youth subcultures during the transition to democracy.
This introduction provides an overview of cine quinqui within its broader historical, social, political and cinematic contexts. It explores how the quinqui film reflected public fears and moral panic around delinquency and social disorder during the early years of Spain’s democracy in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Through a consideration of the role of popular music, the delinquent voice, and the ambient sounds of peripheral barrios and prisons in the films, the introduction shows how sound not only gave expression to the geographical dislocation of youth subcultures but also established a close and affective bond between the films and their teenage audiences, the delinquent stars and their fans. It concludes by highlighting how the book makes an original contribution to studies on Spanish film and cultural studies, as well as providing an overview of its five chapters.