The Faber Book of French Cinema (Empire review)

FrenchCinemaBookSquareFaber and Faber was the world’s most prolific publisher of film-related books, until the arrival of DVD, with all its ‘making of’s and retrospective documentaries, severely curbed its output. It makes sense, therefore, for Faber to turn to more expansive volumes such as this scholarly, authoritative and accessible exploration of French filmmakers and their films.
Although Americans George Eastman and Thomas Edison were responsible for two critical components of cinema, namely cellular film and perforated edges, it was two Frenchmen, Auguste and Antoine Lumiere, who turned Edison’s novelty Kinetoscope into a mobile recording and public projection system, making possible the cinema we know today. America repaid the debt by taking France’s nascent artistic enterprise and turning it into a full-blown industrial cash cow, and has dominated the global movie market ever since, leaving the French largely to festivals and art houses. Drazin’s overview of the country’s output, from 1895 to 2010, is at its most vivid during the formative years, his enthusiasm making the work of its early pioneers seem as fresh and exciting as that of the impressionists and surrealists – arguably more so, given that they were present at the birth not merely of a new art form, but an entirely new medium.
Over 400 pages, Drazin proves to be a peerless guide through French cinema’s development, through futile efforts to compete with Hollywood in the interwar years, to the even greater struggle through the German occupation, and the emergent critics-turned-filmmakers of the nouvelle vague. Only when his story approaches the modern age does his interest seem to wane: the period spanning Bresson to Besson lasts just 10 pages, while a single chapter covers the past 25 years. In retrospect, it might have been preferable to let Drazin cover the first half century, leaving the country’s contemporary output to a more sympathetic guide. That aside, this is a superb primer for anyone interested in the origin and development French film, an evening class in book form which could perhaps only be bettered – commissioning editors, take note – by a six-part BBC4 series with Drazin himself as host.


About David Hughes: Published Work

Empire and Time Out film critic, screenwriter of award-winning drama "Where the Road Runs Out", and MD of movie marketing agency Synchronicity, and author of books about Kubrick, Lynch and films that were never made.

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