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Germaine Dulac

A Cinema of Sensations

Tami Williams

Publication Year: 2014

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, Dulac'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. This vivid portrait will be of interest to general readers, as well as to scholars of cinema and visual culture, performance, French history, women's studies, queer cinema, in addition to studies of narrative avant-garde, experimental, and documentary film history and theory.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Women and Film History International

TItle Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. ix-xiv

Many film scholars, teachers, archivists, editors, and research institutions made this project possible. My first thanks go to Dulac scholars Sandy Flitterman- Lewis, and Prosper Hillairet, who led me to discover the filmmaker and her rich oeuvre, and to Rodolphe Lussiana of the Cinémathèque française and...

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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...

Part I

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1. "How I Became a Film Director": Dulac's Early Life and Pre-Filmmaking Career

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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...

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2. The Great War and Dulac's First Films

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pp. 45-74

World War One was a “total war” 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...

Part II

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3. Negotiating Art and Industry in the Postwar Context

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pp. 77-123

In the wake of World War I, the “war to end all wars,” and amid large-scale economic and humanitarian recovery efforts, peace did not usher in a blithe and tranquil return to France’s Belle Époque. In a postwar climate of shifting social and aesthetic hierarchies, Dulac played a founding role in the creation...

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4. Dulac's Aesthetic Matures

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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 Dulac’s part. In the wake of her separation from Albert, her new romantic and professional partnership with Marie-Anne...

Part III

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5. Fiction, Newsreels, and Social Documentary in the Sound Era

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pp. 163-194

Germaine Dulac’s 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...

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6. Popular Front Activism and Vichy

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pp. 195-208

During the Popular Front era, from 1936 to 1938, Dulac’s 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...

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pp. 209-212

Once used to write her out of history, Dulac’s 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...


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pp. 213-218

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pp. 219-230

“Source” indicates the location of the best available print consulted. Data are assembled from film credits, archival records, and Dulac’s own production files. Film lengths and release dates are from extant prints, and production files, supplemented by trade press listings and the following catalog sources...


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pp. 231-276


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pp. 277-294


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pp. 295-314

About the Author, Series Page, Publisher Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252096365
E-ISBN-10: 0252096363
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038471

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Women and Film History International