- La Séduction du cinéma: Artaud, Pirandello et Brecht entre cinéma, littérature et théâtre (1914–1941)par Mireille Brangé
While readers may already know that Antonin Artaud acted in some of France’s most notable, late silent films (Abel Gance’s Napoléon(1926) and Carl Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc(1927)), that Luigi Pirandello spent fifteen fruitless years seeking to turn his groundbreaking Six Characters in Search of an Author(1921) into a film, and that Bertolt Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper(1928) was successfully adapted into the film L’Opéra de quat’sous(1931), Mireille Brangé’s important new book charts in meticulous detail how these three monstres sacrésof early twentieth-century European theatre were gradually ‘seduced’ by new opportunities for experimentation in both silent and early sound cinema. Aware of the technical and dramatic possibilities of film, these cinephile writers ‘oscillèrent pareillement entre l’enthousiasme et le dégoût, entre une sincère volonté de révolutionner ce medium et l’acceptation [. . .] de travaux dont le seul intérêt était alimentaire’ (p. 73). It is this ambivalence towards the medium that Brangé seeks to explore and explain. The forays into film were often tortuous: Artaud feverishly wrote commercial screenplays (‘comme on jette des bouteilles à la mer’ (p. 94)) to fund his more avant-garde theatre projects. Pirandello had the most stable experience, working constantly on film adaptations of his work between 1911 and 1936. All three were deeply committed to film, and saw themselves as auteurs in the cinematic sense of the word — the dominant personality in creative process, ‘à la fois: écrivain, scénariste, réalisateur et acteur’ (p. 248). One of the book’s great strengths is to reinforce this ongoing tension between the individual and the collective approach to artistic endeavour and to illustrate how Artaud, Pirandello, and Brecht each sought to put their stamp on their work. The second half of the book recounts how learned filmic practices were incorporated back into their subsequent theatrical works ‘pour ébranler le vieux drame, ou l’abolir’ (p. 477); a perpetual to-and-fro between two mediums, one informing the other, both practically and theoretically. With the book’s confident three-decade sweep of European cultural history, there is much here to admire: we learn about pan-European adaptation and translation practices, as well as the various German expressionist, French impressionist, and burlesque tendencies that informed the trio’s approach to film. There are revealing sections on the relationship between the writers and their respective public de masseand [End Page 286]how radical messages were smuggled into their work at a time of political upheaval. Brangé also looks in detail at the censorship of Brecht’s Kuhle Wampe, and the disappointing reception of the trio’s work in America. The book also poses a familiar question: how can artists remain true to their (often highly politicized) personal vision of the world while at the same time negotiating the economic demands of the film industry and its audiences? The central theme of this fine work is thus as much about adaption as adaptation — how three individuals were obliged to adjust to a new set of artistic and financial imperatives, giving to and taking from cinema, in order to rekindle the revolutionary potential of theatre.