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Henri-Georges Clouzot

Henri-Georges Clouzot

Christopher Lloyd
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Henri-Georges Clouzot
    Book Description:

    Despite his controversial reputation and international notoriety as a film-maker, no full-length study of Clouzot has ever been published in English. This book offers a significant revaluation of Clouzot’s achievement, situating his career in the wider context of French cinema and society, and providing detailed and clear analysis of his major films (Le Corbeau, Quai des Orfèvres, Le Salaire de la peur, Les Diaboliques, Le Mystère Picasso). Clouzot’s films combine meticulous technical control with sardonic social commentary and the ability to engage and entertain a broad public. Although his films are characterised by an all-controlling perfectionism, allied to documentary veracity and a disturbing bleakness of vision, Clouzot is well aware that his is an art of illusion. His fondness for anatomising social pretence, the deception, violence and cruelty practised by individuals and institutions, drew him repeatedly to the thriller as a convenient and compelling model for plots and characters, but his source texts and the usual conventions of the genre receive distinctly unconventional treatment.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-177-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of plates
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Series editors’ foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    To an anglophone audience, the combination of the words ‘French’ and ‘cinema’ evokes a particular kind of film: elegant and wordy, sexy but serious – an image as dependent on national stereotypes as is that of the crudely commercial Hollywood blockbuster, which is not to say that either image is without foundation. Over the past two decades, this generalised sense of a significant relationship between French identity and film has been explored in scholarly books and articles, and has entered the curriculum at university level and, in Britain, at A-level. The study of film as an art-form and (to a lesser...

  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. 1 Clouzot and the cinema
    (pp. 1-28)

    Before studying Clouzot’s films in detail, we need to situate him in the wider context of French history and cinema in the mid-twentieth century. Issues such as the following will be addressed in this introductory chapter. What forces, personal, political and social, shaped his career as a film-maker? To what extent do his films propose a consistent, personal vision, and how do they reflect the important social and aesthetic changes of his time? Does Clouzot qualify as anauteur, as an original and innovative creator, or was he essentially a technically brilliant craftsman, a skilled manipulator of audiences, who produced...

  7. 2 Occupation and its discontents
    (pp. 29-62)

    The military defeat and subsequent occupation of France in 1940 by the Germans represent the greatest national disaster to affect the country in modern times. The devastation, chaos and loss of life caused as the French armies were ignominiously routed by the invading German forces in May and June, and the government abandoned the capital and took refuge in Bordeaux, were followed by the signing of an armistice which effectively left the Germans in control of two-thirds of the country and fully able to exploit its economic resources. The parliamentary democracy of the Third Republic was abolished and replaced by...

  8. 3 Reconstruction and retribution: Clouzot’s post-war films
    (pp. 63-86)

    Despite the ultimate recognition ofLe Corbeauas one of the most significant films made in France during the occupation, its caustic satire of authority and production by the German company Continental Films led to Clouzot and his associates being branded as collaborators and banned from working in the film industry after France was liberated in 1944. This chapter examines the four films with which Clouzot relaunched his career on his return to film-making in 1947 (having effectively been excluded from the profession for four years). Judith Mayne (2004: 41) has suggested that while Clouzot’s first post-war film,Quai des...

  9. 4 Beyond genre: Le Salaire de la peur
    (pp. 87-110)

    Following Rick Altman’s argument (1999: 20) that genre is not merely ‘a hollow commercial formula’ but ‘a culturally functional category’, the main purpose of this discussion is to study Henri-Georges Clouzot’sLe Salaire de la peurand ‘the particular ratio it exhibits between convention and invention, between the requirements of genre and the ingenuity and world view of an auteur working with that genre’ (Andrew 1984: 116). Although there may be some initial hesitation about what genreLe Salairebelongs to (for example, Hayward (1993: 170) calls it ‘a newly styled buddy-and-road movie’), in practice the film shares many of...

  10. 5 Suspence and surveillance: Les Diaboliques and Les Espions
    (pp. 111-136)

    Les Diaboliqueswas released in January 1955 and proved to be Clouzot’s most commercially successful film. Although it was awarded the prestigious Prix Delluc and the New York critics’ prize, the film’s critical reception was mixed. While its combination of ingenious plot twists, moments of horror and black humour captivated cinema audiences, for many reviewers such features were taken as evidence that Clouzot’s aspirations were cynically limited to meretricious manipulation of spectators’ emotions in the cause of low-brow entertainment, as were his requests that latecomers be barred from entering the cinema and that viewers did not betray the conclusion to...

  11. 6 Filming Picasso and Karajan
    (pp. 137-149)

    This chapter deviates from the chronological sequence followed hitherto in order to consider the documentary films which Clouzot made with Pablo Picasso and Herbert von Karajan.Le Mystère Picassowas filmed at La Victorine studios in Nice from June to September 1955 and first shown at the Cannes festival in 1956, where it was awarded a special jury prize. Following the popular success ofLe Salaire de la peurandLes Diaboliques(and the critical reservations which the second film had attracted), Clouzot was able to afford to undertake a project that was quite different from such commercial feature films...

  12. 7 The final films
    (pp. 150-171)

    Le Mystère PicassoandLes Espionsboth showed Clouzot attempting to renew himself, with an experimental documentary and an absurdist thriller. Though critics noted these innovations with varying degrees of approval, neither film drew the large audiences to which he had become accustomed over the previous decade.La Vérité, released in November 1960, returns to a more familiar, conventional manner. This well-crafted courtroom melodrama, starring Brigitte Bardot, ably supported by the director’s stalwarts Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel and Louis Seigner, proved to be the second most popular French film of the year, attracting 5.6 million spectators. It was awarded the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 172-177)

    Summing up Clouzot’s achievement in the year of his death, Roland Lacourbe wrote that his films reveal ‘le souci permanent du détail vrai, la volonté obstinée d’ancrer son oeuvre dans le réel le plus concret’, but also ‘une certaine forme de cinéma “à l’ancienne mode”’ (Lacourbe 1977: 95).¹ This is Clouzot as meticulous realist and author of well-made films; though ostensibly complimentary, the appraisal is subtly dismissive, recalling Truffaut’s attacks on Clouzot’s outmoded literary manner, his obsession with sordid detail and futile perfectionism (Truffaut 2000). It is certainly true that all Clouzot’s feature films offer us painstaking reconstructions of a...

  14. Filmography
    (pp. 178-183)
  15. Select bibliography
    (pp. 184-185)
  16. Index
    (pp. 186-190)