Pierre Batcheff and Stardom in 1920s French Cinema

Pierre Batcheff and Stardom in 1920s French Cinema

Phil Powrie
Éric Rebillard
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r29xh
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  • Book Info
    Pierre Batcheff and Stardom in 1920s French Cinema
    Book Description:

    This book is the first major study of a French silent cinema star. It focuses on Pierre Batcheff, a prominent popular cinema star in the 1920s, the French Valentino, best-known to modern audiences for his role as the protagonist of the avant-garde film classic Un chien andalou. Unlike other stars, he was linked to intellectual circles, especially the Surrealists. The book places Batcheff in the context of 1920s popular cinema, with specific reference to male stars of the period. It analyses the tensions he exemplifies between the ‘popular’ and the ‘intellectual’ during the 1920s, as cinema - the subject of intense intellectual interest across Europe - was racked between commercialism and ‘art’. A number of the major films are studied in detail: Le Double amour (Epstein, 1925), Feu Mathias Pascal (L'Herbier, 1925), Éducation de prince (Diamant-Berger, 1927), Le Joueur d'échecs (Bernard, 1927), La Sirène des tropiques (Etiévant and Nalpas, 1927), Les Deux timides (Clair, 1928), Un chien andalou (Buñuel, 1929), Monte-Cristo (Fescourt, 1929), and Baroud (Ingram, 1932)._x000B_Key features:_x000B_*The first major study of a French silent cinema star._x000B_*Provides an in-depth analysis of star performance._x000B_*Includes extensive appendices of documents from popular cinema magazines of the period.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-2960-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Phil Powrie and Éric Rebillard
  5. CHAPTER 1 A short life
    (pp. 1-26)

    Pierre Batcheff was labelled the best French actor of the period 1925–9 by Georges Sadoul in 1975 (Sadoul 1975: 106). He was one of the foremost jeunes premiers of the 1920s, a term normally taken to refer to handsome young actors who played young lover roles. His biography is striking for his rapid rise to stardom and the fact that he was, unlike many of his peers, an unwilling star. He considered the majority of the films he acted in to be no more than hack work, and longed to become a director. This was no doubt partly because...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Stardom in the 1920s
    (pp. 27-50)

    The star system in France emerged around 1910 as theatre and music-hall stars crossed over into film (Vincendeau 2000: 5), but only really took off in the 1920s with the establishment of a wide-ranging film press,and the sharp rise in cinema attendance in the mid-1920s (see Abel 1984: 49). The press that interests us here is less the dailies which began to run film reviews in the early 1920s (such as Le Figaro, L’Humanité, L’Intransigeant, Le Journal, Le Matin, L’Œuvre, Paris-Soir, Le Petit Journal and Le Quotidien), or the up-market literary journals (such as L’Esprit nouveau, Mercure de France and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Beginnings
    (pp. 51-72)

    In this chapter, we consider Batcheff’s very first films. Extraordinarily, his first film in a role other than that of an extra is a starring role, as the virginal young lover. In his second film, he plays a major role opposite one of the major actresses of the early 1920s, Natalie Lissenko, although his part is that of the dissolute youth, contrasting markedly with his first film. In the third film we consider in this chapter, Feu Mathias Pascal, he has a small part, the starring role being taken by one of the major actors of the 1920s, and Natalie...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Historical reconstructions
    (pp. 73-93)

    The four films we shall be exploring in this chapter fall into the historical reconstruction genre as defined by Richard Abel (Abel 1984: 160–205). In none of them does Batcheff play a major role, but the roles he plays articulate a persona that is very clear in his starring roles, predicated on a static and often masochistic masculinity. We might argue that the historical epic is more than likely to lead to a more static performance, given the decorative value of sets and more particularly costumes that constrain action. But this does not seem to affect the leading men...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The lover
    (pp. 94-114)

    In this chapter, we will present seven films in which Batcheff starred during a very busy three-year period (1926–8) when ten films appeared. In these seven films he is always the Lover (as he is in all his films), often a foreigner (Russian, Corsican, ‘Silistrian’) or placed in a foreign location (the ‘tropics’, Africa), usually from the upper class (aristocrat, baron, prince) or highly successful in his career (an engineer, an aviator, a famous artist). He discovers that he is an illegitimate son in three of these films, subsequently rejecting his family; in two of them he even falls...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Comedy: Les Deux Timides (December 1928)
    (pp. 115-134)

    Batcheff had been the lead in two films before 1927: Claudine et le poussin in 1924 and Le Secret d’une mère in 1926. He was the lead in no fewer than six films in the two years running from June 1927 through to June 1929: Éducation de prince, Le Bonheur du jour, La Sirène des tropiques, L’Île d’amour, Les Deux Timides, Un Chien andalou. These consolidated his status as one of the leading jeunes premiers of the decade. The last two of these are not just the best of them; they are also closely linked, in a number of ways....

  11. CHAPTER 7 Parody and the avant-garde: Un Chien andalou (June 1929)
    (pp. 135-151)

    Un Chien andalou is probably the best-known film of the European avantgarde. As so many accounts of it point out, it as shocking now as it was some eighty years ago, principally due to the apparent slitting of a woman’s eye in its first minutes. In this chapter we will review contemporary and later reactions to the film, the former rather more than has been the case in previous accounts, and we will then focus on Batcheff’s role within the film. Our emphasis will be on an issue previously highlighted by Phillip Drummond and Richard Abel: the film is a...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Un Chien andalou: Parodying Stardom
    (pp. 152-170)

    In this chapter we will begin by exploring the functionality of the slit eye, arguing that it establishes a principle of fracture. We will then explore the ways in which that fracture is related to hysteria, leading to an analysis of the disarticulation of Batcheff’s star image in terms of the ethnicity of his roles and the costumes he wears. This will return us to issues of femininity, which we will analyse by focusing on masochism. Finally, we will use an image that is often mentioned but little talked about, that of the death’s-head moth, to show how anamorphosis, a...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Looking back
    (pp. 171-190)

    We are at a disadvantage in this chapter in that many of the films following Un Chien andalou are either not extant or extant only in part, giving us a partial view of Batcheff’s work in this period. They are not extant partly, we suspect, because they are, according to contemporary accounts, uninspiring films. We have none the less presented an analysis of them based on archive material, because they serve to confirm, as we shall see, many of the elements of Batcheff’s star image. We present a more sustained analysis of Batcheff’s final film, Baroud, whose two language versions...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Conclusion: uncanny bodies
    (pp. 191-198)

    There is a sense in which the last films Batcheff made were an unwelcome return to the star persona that he had worked hard to shift with Les Deux Timides and Un Chien andalou. In that respect, his persona came back to haunt him. This notion of haunting is fundamental to surrealist aesthetics at the end of the 1920s, and clearly articulated in Nadja in 1928, as we mentioned earlier in this volume, with Breton’s claim that his rhetorical question, ‘who am I?’, should be rephrased as ‘whom do I haunt?’ It is also fundamental to one of the more...

  15. Appendices
    (pp. 199-210)
  16. Filmography
    (pp. 211-236)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-248)
  18. Index
    (pp. 249-254)