Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Germaine Dulac

Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations

Tami Williams
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Germaine Dulac
    Book Description:

    Best known for directing the Impressionist classic The Smiling Madame Beudet and the first Surrealist film The Seashell and the Clergyman, Germaine Dulac, feminist and pioneer of 1920s French avant-garde cinema, made close to thirty fiction films as well as numerous documentaries and newsreels. Through her filmmaking, writing, and cine-club activism, Dulacâ's passionate defense of the cinema as a lyrical art and social practice had a major influence on twentieth century film history and theory. In Germaine Dulac: A Cinema of Sensations, Tami Williams makes unprecedented use of the filmmaker's personal papers, production files, and archival film prints to produce the first full-length historical study and critical biography of Dulac. Williams's analysis explores the artistic and sociopolitical currents that shaped Dulac's approach to cinema while interrogating the ground breaking techniques and strategies she used to critique conservative notions of gender and sexuality. Moving beyond the director's work of the 1920s, Williams examines Dulac's largely ignored 1930s documentaries and newsreels establishing clear links with the more experimental impressionist and abstract works of her early period.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09636-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Germaine Dulac (1882–1942) played a founding role in the evolution of the cinema both as art and social practice. History has overlooked her importance as a pioneer of the 1920s French avant-garde, and as an innovator of a modern cinema. Over the course of her film career (1915–42), Dulac directed more than thirty fiction films, many marking new cinematic tendencies, from impressionist to abstract. She made an equivalent number of newsreels and several documentaries, whose discreet, unobtrusive approach to filming daily life had an important impact on the evolution of nonfiction filmmaking in France. Moreover, she developed and...

  5. PART I

    • Chapter 1 ʺHow I Became a Film Directorʺ: Dulacʹs Early Life and Pre-Filmmaking Career
      (pp. 9-44)

      Belle Époque Paris (1890–1914), where Dulac came of age, was the epicenter of all that was modern in art, science, and social politics. These developments ranged from the renovation of the literary, plastic, and performance arts (poetry, novel, theater, painting, haute-couture, pantomime, and dance), to the elaboration of grand scientific theories (Marie Curie on radioactivity, De Vries on genetic mutation, Rutherford on atomic structure) and revolutionary technological advances (electric lights, phonographs, horseless carriages, airplanes, and moving pictures). They also entailed a fundamental modernization of social attitudes, and research disciplines (political science, sociology), including a positivist (and counter-positivist) turn in...

    • Chapter 2 The Great War and Dulacʹs First Films
      (pp. 45-74)

      World War One was a ʺtotal warʺ that affected not just the life of combatants, volunteers, and conscripts, but also all aspects of the home front. In France, the war marked a fundamental rupture with the Belle Époque outlook of unchecked optimism about artistic creation, ever-expanding scientific and technological innovation, and universalist humanist progress.¹ A ʺpsychological turning point … for modernism as a whole,ʺ it would have wide-ranging economic, political, and sociocultural repercussions, including a radical reorientation of the Womenʹs Progress movement, along with profound transformations across the visual and performing arts.² With a preliminary separation from her husband, Albert,...

  6. PART II

    • Chapter 3 Negotiating Art and Industry in the Postwar Context
      (pp. 77-123)

      In the wake of World War I, the ʺwar to end all wars,ʺ and amid large-scale economic and humanitarian recovery efforts, peace did not usher in a blithe and tranquil return to Franceʹs Belle Époque. In a postwar climate of shifting social and aesthetic hierarchies, Dulac played a founding role in the creation of a new, aesthetically groundbreaking, and socially engaged cinema. The 1920s—known mythically asles années folles(the crazy years)—were marked by major social fissures. There was a tremendous gap between womenʹs desires to maintain their wartime experience of liberty and the official postwar moral discourse...

    • Chapter 4 Dulacʹs Aesthetic Matures
      (pp. 124-160)

      In mid-1920s France, a consolidated production environment and a persistent pronatalist conservatism called for yet greater entrepreneurship and more inventive rhetorical strategies on Dulacʹs part. In the wake of her separation from Albert, her new romantic and professional partnership with Marie-Anne Colson-Malleville brought with it new liberties, while bolstering her productivity, and the creative complexity of her collaborations during this period. Her films of the mid- to late-1920s, while containing echoes of her own life experiences, offer a new approach to the politics of film form through a highly critical vision of traditional gender roles and hetero-normativity, associated with bourgeois...


    • Chapter 5 Fiction, Newsreels, and Social Documentary in the Sound Era
      (pp. 163-194)

      Germaine Dulacʹs work of the 1930s has long been dismissed as a radical departure from her earlier days as an avant-garde filmmaker. Most studies of her work assume that the Dulac of the 1930s is not the same as the avantgarde filmmaker of the 1920s, or at least, not one deserving the same kind of attention she had received earlier.¹ Yet this is far from the case. In fact, during the 1930s, Dulac made a number of important contributions to the evolution of cinema. These innovations are not only an integral part of her film career but are also crucial...

    • Chapter 6 Popular Front Activism and Vichy
      (pp. 195-208)

      During the Popular Front era, from 1936 to 1938, Dulacʹs activism for the cinema and by way of the cinema blossomed. She undertook several Socialist film projects, and through her involvement in numerous local and international organizations, played a major role in restructuring the French film industry and in cultivating a propitious environment for the future of the medium. Her role was central on several fronts, from the nationalization of the industry to the creation of a French cinematheque and a film directorsʹ union.

      In May and June 1936, a turbulent period marked by a rising fascist threat, an unprecedented...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 209-212)

    Once used to write her out of history, Dulacʹs cinema, in its aesthetic and sociopolitical complexity, is only beginning to be recognized and understood.¹ Due to the belated release of her personal archives to the public in 1996, and limited access to her extensive body of films, Dulac studies until recent years had been limited to a few films, and predominantly to a feminist theoretical approach that launched a heroic recovery of this great filmmaker in the Anglophone context. In contrast, in the French context, Dulacʹs work has long been subject to a depoliticized formalism, where identity politics and gender...

  9. Chronology
    (pp. 213-218)
  10. Filmography
    (pp. 219-230)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 231-276)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-294)
  13. Index
    (pp. 295-314)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-322)