Academic journal article Framework

"The Last Amateurs of Pure Cinema": Ciné-Clubs and French Film Culture, 1930-1945

Academic journal article Framework

"The Last Amateurs of Pure Cinema": Ciné-Clubs and French Film Culture, 1930-1945

Article excerpt

During the 1930s, André de Fouquieres wrote a column as the resident bon vivant and man about town for La Semaine a Paris, a weekly listing and description of all of the cultural events going on in Paris from Friday to the following Thursday. He arranged possible activities-going to concerts, museums, lectures-day by day, and as much as possible he staggered events by time, indicating that those so inclined might go from one to the other. He rarely included anything about the movies playing at regular cinemas, but he paid careful attention to the ciné-clubs. In the edition of 12 April 1935, de Fouquieres wrote that on Friday, one might take in the opening of the Goya Exposition at the Bibliotheque nationale and then, at 3:00, move to the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro for a display of photographs of Indo-China and Siam. Following this afternoon of visual pleasures, one might then go to the Club George Sand to hear travel writer Marion Senones explain "how she became a nomad" and then move on to the Théátre des Ambassadeurs for a 5:00 conference on "that distressing problem: 'Will there be war?'" That evening, after the conference, there were a number of choices. The pianist Artur Schnabel would be playing at 9:00, but at about the same time there also would be a meeting of the Ciné-Club de la Femme at the Marignan Cinema on the Champs-Élysées. De Fouquieres did not note the program at the club that night. For him, the gathering of the members of the club was significant enough.1

De Fouquieres had been born in 1874, virtually the beginning of France's decidedly pre-cinematic Belle Époque, and he had grown up wealthy enough to be the consummate dilettante, writing some plays as well as many essays. Perhaps because of his upbringing and his artistic inclinations, the cinema itself-in its regular, daily, popular form-would not appear in his La Semaine column. And so, we can get the sense of a difference, at least for de Fouquieres and those like him, between the cinema and the ciné-club, with the latter fully on the level of Goya or Schnabel and just as important as a conference about the prospects for world peace. As much as it belonged to what we might call the broad film culture of Paris and the rest of France, the ciné-club was also marginal to it, given the dominance of the commercial cinema. But the clubs had affiliations that the commercial cinema typically did not have, affiliations with a highbrow Parisian culture of the museum and the concert hall.

In both French and English-language film histories, scholars have paid little attention to the ciné-clubs from around 1930 to 1945. Richard Abel, of course, has chronicled the club scene before that, and there has been some significant work on the postwar movement, particularly around André Bazin and those acolytes who would become so central to French filmmaking in the 1950s.2 But perhaps because the evidence of the clubs in the 1930s is so ephemeral-mostly in newspapers and magazines-we have little sense of how they worked or what they showed. As a result, the history of the ciné-club from the period tends to follow a simplified, heroic narrative. With the coming of sound, the clubs devoted themselves to preserving the art of silent cinema or, as in the cases of Le Ciné-Club de France or Les Amis de Spartacus, to show those films censored by French authorities, with the formation of the Cinématheque française in 1936 standing as the only logical evolutionary step in the clubs' developmental history. After the catastrophe of World War Two, according to this narrative, the clubs reestablished themselves as the place for the nurturing and growth of the brilliant young men who would lead the French New Wave in the next decade.3

The recent availability of so many online materials-newspapers, film tabloids, and magazines-housed in the Bibliotheque nationale in Paris has helped us uncover much more of this history, so much of it obscure for so many years.4 There remains a great deal we can probably never know, such as the prevalence of smaller clubs that met perhaps in private homes or small commercial spaces and that newspapers never noticed. …

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