Magazine article Metro Magazine

C.A. Lejeune: In the Conclusion to Her Final Column, the Critic C.A. Lejeune Wrote: 'As We Were Taught to Say at the End of Children's Parties, "Thank You for Having Me".'

Magazine article Metro Magazine

C.A. Lejeune: In the Conclusion to Her Final Column, the Critic C.A. Lejeune Wrote: 'As We Were Taught to Say at the End of Children's Parties, "Thank You for Having Me".'

Article excerpt

THE AIR OF GENTILITY was a hallmark of the writings of C.A. Lejeune, making her eminently fitted to bring the pleasures of the cinema to a middle-class English readership in the time of Empire and the Lyon's corner cafe. She was a film critic for almost forty years. From 1922 to 1928 she wrote for the Manchester Guardian. From 1927 until her retirement in 1960 she wrote for the Observer. She brought a keen but commonsensical eye to movies from the silents to Psycho, from monochrome to the anamorphic lens. Critic Alexander Walker claimed Lejeune's direct address as a formative influence. There were even some who never went to 'the pictures', but who always read Lejeune's column. Amongst the screening invites and publicity handouts, her memorabilia consisted of that menu on which Hitchcock famously doodled his self-portrait. Lejeune knew 'Hitch' well enough to applaud and to chastize in equal measure. She and her family were 'in' with the industry's first family, the Kordas, and often had Rene Clair to tea.

Caroline Alice Lejeune was born in 1897 into 'a God-fearing, King-honouring' Manchester family descended from French Huguenot stock. Achieving a first in English at Manchester University, she decided to become a film critic after seeing Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro (1920). Lejeune poured her enthusiasm for the film's pyrotechnic vigour into an article entitled 'The Undiscovered Aesthetic', which she then pitched to the Manchester Guardian. By December 1921 she had her own column, 'The Week on the Screen by C.A.L.'

The seasoned journalist later criticized the 'shockingly priggish and precocious language' of her earlier piece. What now embarrassed Lejeune was too redolent of an intellectual attitude against which she often railed. British film writing during the interwar period fell roughly into two camps. For the popular press, films were novelties that very occasionally rose to the level of art. Conversely, coterie publications such as Close-Up and the Edinburgh Film Guild's Cinema Quarterly saw film as a great art fallen into the hands of businessmen. Whilst Lejeune could display fluency when confronted with the odd foreign language film, she was at her best when dealing with the popular hit. She had little time for art cinema, although she was level-headed enough in a review of Rashomon in 1952 to realize that Western critics will be hard-pushed to do justice to the world cinema then emerging without proper contextual understanding. By 1963, she had little time for the gratuitous visual flourish of the arthouse, writing: 'Directors are inclined to tilt their shots to draw attention to them when they haven't the wit to think of anything more sensible to do.' If Lejeune had in 1921 revelled in the new aesthetic, the highbrow pronouncements of later generations seemed too much for the easy mesh of mainstream craftsmanship at the Odeon or the Criterion. In the late 1940s, the Oxford undergraduate magazine Sequence, which itself spawned a modernist British cinema in the 1950s, had fun mocking Lejeune's consensual values.

READING her now, C.A. Lejeune was most convincing when following the careers of crowd-pleasing figures like Hitchcock, Carol Reed, Spencer Tracy and Preston Sturges. Close-Up may have appreciated Hitchcock for his modernist aesthetics in The Lodger in 1927, but Lejeune enjoyed his rapport with the audience and assiduously followed English Hitchcock through the 1930s. She was at her best when paying homage to that commercial economy that drew equally on entertainment and experiment. In 1944, she wrote of Sturges' Hail the Conquering Hero:

... it is film, film, film all the way. It is cut to a miracle, like the great Russian directors, like the great Chaplin, this fellow with a small, comic story to tell shaves his celluloid to a frame to keep the picture moving. Tricky little tunes twist through the film; the camera clings like doom to the figures it wants to emphasize . …

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