Labour History Review

The face on the cutting-room floor: women editors in the French cinema of the 1930s

Labour History Review (1998), 63, (1), 66–82.


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Suzanne de Troeye, interviewed in Cahiers du cinéma, No. 173, December 1965, p. 57. Her name is variously spelled, and may be a pseudonym; spelling here is as she signed it. All translations from the French are my own Google Scholar

On the history of the French cinema, especially in the early years, see Richard Abel, French Cinema, the First Wave 1915-29, Princeton, 1985; Jean-Pierre Jeancolas, 15 ans d'années trente, le cinéma francais 1929-1944, Paris, 1983; Susan Hayward, French National Cinema, 1993; Colin Crisp, The Classic French Cinema 1930-1960, 1993 French Cinema, the First Wave 1915-29 Google Scholar

Crisp, Classic French Cinema, includes a useful chapter on ‘Personnel’, in which he discusses the training (or not) of cinema workers, and describes some of the key trades. Contemporary accounts by practitioners, such as Nancy Naumburg (ed.), We Make the Movies, 1938, or Oswell Blakeston (ed.), Working for the Films, 1947, describe the jobs, but provide no overview. On editing in particular, see Roger Crittenden, Film Editing, 1981; David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: an Introduction, Reading, Mass., 1980, ch. 6; Gabriella Oldham (ed.), First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors, Berkeley, 1995; there are also several autobiographical accounts and technical handbooks, but so far there is little historical synthesis Google Scholar

On Alice Guy, see the entry on her by Ginette Vincendeau in Annelle Kuhn and Susannah Radstone (eds), The Women's Companion to International Film, 1990; Sharon Stone, Women Who Make the Movies, New York, 1975 Google Scholar

On feminist film theory, see several articles in Kuhn and Radstone, The Women's Companion, pp. 148-53; Constance Penley (ed.), Feminism and Film Theory, 1988; Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau, French Film, Texts and Contexts, 1989. On Dulac (1882-1942) and Epstein (1899-1995) see the excellent accounts in Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema, Urbana, 1990 Google Scholar

Documents on the film industry, Archives Nationales, Paris, F60 303, including Rapport Carmoy of June 1936 Google Scholar

On continuity, see the essays referred to in note 2; Francoise Giroud (b. 1916) has given several accounts of her experience as a ‘script-girl’ for Renoir and Allégret: Si je mens, serialised in L'Express, Sept.-Oct., 1972; Leçons particulières, Paris, 1990; interview Le Point, 3 September 1990 Google Scholar

‘Montage, mon beau souci’, text from 1956, in Jean-Luc-Godard par Jean-Luc Godard, Paris, 1986, p. 94 Google Scholar

Crisp, Classic French Cinema, suggests that even before the war, women were the majority of film editors, p. 165. Sampling of the filmography of the period does not bear this out, see note 14 below Google Scholar

Dai Vaughan, Portrait of an Invisible Man: the working life of Stewart McAllister, film editor, 1983. McAllister worked notably with Humphrey Jennings on documentaries. Cf. ‘By affecting to reject individualism […] the auteurists have created a criticism in which no one but the director may be discussed’, p. 13 Google Scholar

Ralph Rosenblum, When the Shooting Stops, the cutting begins: a film editor's story, New York, 1986, p. 65 When the Shooting Stops, the cutting begins: a film editor's story 65 Google Scholar

‘Françoise’ and ‘Bénédicte’, ‘Les femmes et la technique du cinéma’ in La Revue du Cinéma, Image et Son, no. 283, April 1974, pp. 23 ff Google Scholar

In recent years, documentary sources on French cinema history have become more accessible. There are some manuscript collections in the Bibliotheque de I'Arsenal, Paris. In December 1996, the Bibliothèque de l'image-filmothèque (BIFI) opened temporary offices at 100 rue du Faubourg S. Antoine, Paris, and is due to move to the Palais de Tokyo by 2000. The BIFI holds films, books, periodicals and archives. Some of the latter have been used in articles in the new journal Cinémathèque, first issue 1992, which concentrates on production history, e.g. the Gaut papers (JR022), used for Charles Tesson's three articles on the making and in particular the editing of Renoir's Toni (1934): ‘La Production de Toni, la règle et l'esprit’, Cinémathèque, no. 1, 1992, no. 2, 1992, no. 3, 1993 Google Scholar

‘There is an expression in filmland which is genuinely tragic. It is "the face on the cutting-room floor". It refers to those actors and actresses who are cut right out of pictures. For one reason or another, it is found, after a picture has been completed, that their part is unnecessary. Thus are dreams and hopes felled with one snip of the scissors’, Otto Ludwig in The World Film Encyclopedia, epigraph to the famous detective story, The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor, by ‘Cameron McCabe’ (Ernest Borneman), 1937 Google Scholar

Rosenblum, When the Cutting Stops, p. 69 Google Scholar

Raymond Chirat, Catalogue des films français de long métrage: films sonores de fiction 1929-1939, Brussels, 1975 Catalogue des films français de long métrage: films sonores de fiction 1929-1939 Google Scholar

Keith Reader and Ginette Vincendeau, La Vie est à Nous, 1986, pp. 73-102 for names of films; editors cross-checked with Chirat, Catalogue. Google Scholar

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Jean Dréville, ‘Casser du marbre’ in feature ‘Les Monteurs’, Cinématographe, No. 108, March 1985, p. 16 ‘Casser du marbre’ in feature ‘Les Monteurs’ Cinématographe 16 Google Scholar

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Marguerite Renoir gave some details about her career in ‘Actualité du montage’ (interview with Marguerite Renoir and others), Technicien du film, 15 January 1960, pp. 4-5. Despite her close association with Jean Renoir throughout the period when he made his most celebrated films, she has been rather written out of the literature on Renoir, perhaps because in 1939 he left France (and Marguerite) for the US and Dido Freyre (whom he subsequently married). Marguerite had been allowed by him to take his name, but they had never married. She continued to work as editor with Renoir's disciple, Jacques Becker, despite a somewhat traumatic private life after 1939, but retired when Becker died in 1960, saying ‘I have no more customers now’. It has been suggested that Marguerite's working-class origins and left-wing views influenced Renoir in the Popular Front period Google Scholar

On Denise Tual, formerly Batcheff, née Piazza, see her memoirs Le Temps dévoré, Paris, 1980, esp. p. 58 on her early work as editor. She gives her version of the battle over Renoir's La Chienne on pp. 132-3. For Renoir's version see ‘Mes années d'apprentissage’ in Ecrits 1926-71, Paris, 1972 Google Scholar

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On the creation of IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Etudes du Cinéma), see Crisp, Classic French Cinema, pp. 202 ff. He argues that the setting up of proper career structures resulted in ‘the progressive elimination of women’ from editing, but the statistics do not really bear this out. Cf. Dominique Villain, Le Montage au cinéma, Paris, 1991 Google Scholar

Giroud, extract from ‘Si je mens’, L'Express 25 Sept-1 Oct., 1972 Google Scholar

Tual, Le Temps dévoré, p. 80 Google Scholar

Yvonne Martin, née Beaugé, ‘Chef monteuse de mere en fille’, Cinématographe, no. 104, November 1984, p. 62 Google Scholar

Françoise Bonnot, interview, Cinéma-France, No. 38, October 1980, pp. 39-40, (bilingual text) Google Scholar

On early editing see Rosenblum, When the Shooting Stops, pp. 62 ff; Villain, Le Montage; Martin, ‘Chef monteuse’; Dréville, ‘Casser du marbre’, etc Google Scholar

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Ibid., and cf. Tual, Le Temps dévoré, p. 58 Google Scholar

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Villain, Le Montage, p. 55 Google Scholar

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Renoir interviewed in Mary Lea Bandy (ed.), Rediscovering French Film, New York, 1987, p. 112 Rediscovering French Film 112 Google Scholar

On the editing of Partie de Campagne and La Règle du Jeu, see various accounts in Celia Bertin, Jean Renoir, Paris, 1986; Alexandre Sesonske, Jean Renoir, the French Films 1924-1939, Cambridge, Mass., 1980; Crisp, Classical French Cinema, pp. 401 ff; cf. also note 13 above; on Partie de Campagne, see Joel Magny, ‘Partie de Campagne deuxième!’, in Cahiers du Cinéma, no. 479-80, May 1994, p. 120 ff, and the Fonds Brunius in the BIFI for documents relating to the shoot, and original découpage. NB that editing was often a matter of cutting the length. Suzanne de Troeye was quoted saying that Pagnol often shot a film of 6,000 or 7,000 metres which had to be reduced to 4,500 (and today would have been reduced further), see note 1 above Google Scholar

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Interview with Jurgenson in film journal, exact reference mislaid, but cf. Albert Jurgenson/Sophie Brunet, Pratique du montage, Paris, 1990) Google Scholar

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Quoted from French edition of Stephen Watts (ed.), La Technique du Film, Paris 1939 La Technique du Film Google Scholar

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Author details

Reynolds, Siân

Reynolds, Siân