Contemporary French Civilization

Spatial verisimilitude and René Clair's 1930s studio Paris

Contemporary French Civilization (2012), 37, (2-3), 217–235.

Abstract

This article examines studio Paris films made by René Clair in the early 1930s in collaboration with set designer Lazare Meerson and cameraman Georges Périnal. In these films, Clair develops a strain of realism articulated in constant tension with fantasy. The article begins by considering the theoretical stakes of cinematographic realism (particularly in comparison with literary realism as studied by our late colleague Larry Schehr), then advances to analysis of criticism and reception, and finally to close reading of the films themselves (especially Sous les Toits de Paris, 1930; Le Million, 1931; Quatorze Juillet, 1932). In these films, set design and camera work interact to establish a unified, verisimilar world. While Clair is most often categorized as a fantasist, this article makes the case for the way in which his representations of Paris support reading Clair as a realist filmmaker, and as an important precursor to poetic realism.

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Abel, Richard. French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology, 1907-1939. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988. French Film Theory and Criticism: A History/Anthology, 1907-1939 2 Google Scholar

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Altman, Georges. "Quatorze Juillet ou le rěve d'un Paris qui meurt." Le Monde 21 Jan 1933. n.p. Quatorze Juillet ou le rěve d'un Paris qui meurt Le Monde Google Scholar

Amengual, Barthélemy. René Clair. Paris: Seghers, 1969. René Clair Google Scholar

Andrew, Dudley. "Le Fabuleux Destin du Cinéma Français." Film Quarterly 57.3 (2004): 34-56. Le Fabuleux Destin du Cinéma Français Film Quarterly 57 34 56 Google Scholar

Andrew, Dudley., Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995. Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film Google Scholar

Arnoux, Alexandre. "Quatorze Juillet." Pour vous 19 January 1933. n.p. Quatorze Juillet Pour vous Google Scholar

"Authentic." Webster's New World Dictionary. 3rd College Edition. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. 92. Google Scholar

Bardèche, Maurice, and Robert Brasillach. Histoire du Cinéma. 2 vols. Givors: A. Martel, 1953-1954. Histoire du Cinéma 2 Google Scholar

Barrot, Olivier. René Clair, ou le temps mesuré. Paris: Hatier, 1985. René Clair, ou le temps mesuré Google Scholar

Bergfelder, Tim, Sue Harris, and Sarah Street. Film Architecture and the Transnational Imagination: Set Design in 1930s European Cinema. Amsterdam University Press, 2007. Film Architecture and the Transnational Imagination: Set Design in 1930s European Cinema Google Scholar

Billard, Pierre. Le Mystère René Clair. Paris: Plon, 1998. Le Mystère René Clair Google Scholar

Charensol, Georges and Roger Régent. 50 ans de cinéma avec René Clair. Paris: Table Ronde, 1979. 50 ans de cinéma avec René Clair Google Scholar

Charensol, Georges and Roger Régent., Un maître du cinéma: René Clair. Paris: Table Ronde, 1952. Un maître du cinéma: René Clair Google Scholar

Clair, René. Cinéma d'hier, cinéma d'aujourd'hui. Paris: Gallimard, 1970. Cinéma d'hier, cinéma d'aujourd'hui Google Scholar

Clair, René., Cinema Yesterday and Today. Trans. Stanley Appelbaum. New York: Dover, 1972. Cinema Yesterday and Today Google Scholar

Clair, René., "Préface." In Léon Barsacq, Le Décor de Film. Paris: Seghers, 1970. Le Décor de Film Google Scholar

Clair, René., Réflexion faite: Notes pour servir à l'histoire de l'art cinématographique de 1920 à 1950. Paris: Gallimard, 1951. Réflexion faite: Notes pour servir à l'histoire de l'art cinématographique de 1920 à 1950 Google Scholar

Croisset, Francis de. "Quatorze Juillet." Journal des débats 21. n.d. n.p. Quatorze Juillet Journal des débats 21 Google Scholar

Dale, R. C. The Films of René Clair. 2 vols. Netuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1986. The Films of René Clair 2 Google Scholar

Duvernois, Henri. n.t. L'Intransigeant 14 January 1933. n.p. Google Scholar

Fischer, Lucy. "René Clair, Le Million and the Coming of Sound." Cinema Journal 16.2 (Spring 1977): 35-50. René Clair, Le Million and the Coming of Sound Cinema Journal 16 35 50 Google Scholar

Gauthier, Christophe. "Une gloire ambivalente: les paradoxes de la fortune critique de René Clair (1924-1935)." In Noël Herpe and Emmanuelle Toulet, eds. René Clair, ou le Cinéma à la lettre. Paris: AFRHC, 2000. 55-70. René Clair, ou le Cinéma à la lettre 55 70 Google Scholar

Higonnet, Patrice. Paris, Capital of the World. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003. Paris, Capital of the World Google Scholar

Jeanne, René. "Sous les toits de Paris." Petit Journal 2 May 1930. n.p. Sous les toits de Paris Petit Journal Google Scholar

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 2004. Google Scholar

Mitry, Jean. Histoire du Cinéma. 5 vols. Paris: Jean-Pierre Delarge, 1967-1980. Histoire du Cinéma 5 Google Scholar

Mitry, Jean., René Clair. Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1960. René Clair Google Scholar

Moussinac, Léon. "A nous la liberté." Humanité 25 December 1931. n.p. A nous la liberté Humanité Google Scholar

Neumann, Dietrich, ed. Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner. New York and Munich: Prestel, 1996. Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner Google Scholar

Schehr, Lawrence. Subversions of Verisimilitude: Reading Narrative from Balzac to Sartre. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009. Subversions of Verisimilitude: Reading Narrative from Balzac to Sartre Google Scholar

Vinneuil, François. n.t. Action Française 10 April 1931. n.p. Action Française Google Scholar

Wahl, Lucien. "Un coin de faubourg." L'Œuvre 20 January 1933. n.p. Un coin de faubourg L'Œuvre Google Scholar

Williams, Christopher. "After the Classic, the Classical and Ideology: The Differences of Realism." In Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams, eds. Reinventing Film Studies. London: Arnold, 2000. 206-220. Reinventing Film Studies 206 220 Google Scholar

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Author details

Flinn, Margaret

Flinn, Margaret