French Film Culture and British Cinema



By the end of the 1950s it was a truth as widely acknowledged in Britain as in France that British cinema was moribund, and it was from that time onwards that film culture in Britain began to take its lead from France. The French influence was felt on film criticism, film theory and, to a degree, on film exhibition and production. It was partial at first but, thanks to the activities of the journals Movie and Screen, it had become widespread by the middle of the 1970s and was no longer confined to the cinema but embraced the fields of politics, literary criticism and education. However, the French influence was always felt selectively and usually used polemically: as frequently seems to have been the case in Britain,3 groups of intellectuals exploited France and the French tradition to point up what they most disliked about their own culture and what changes they wished to bring about. This means that the impact of French film culture in Britain cannot be properly understood without some knowledge of the British cinema in the immediate post-war years.4


Film Industry Free Cinema Film Criticism American Cinema Hollywood Cinema 
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  1. 3.
    Cf. Christophe Campos, The View of France from Arnold to Bloomsbury (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).Google Scholar
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    This account owes a great deal to Margaret Dickinson and Sarah Street, Cinema and State: The Film Industry and the Government 1927–84 (London: British Film Institute, 1985).Google Scholar
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    Cf. Charles Barr, Ealing Studios (London: Cameron and Tayleur, 1977); andGoogle Scholar
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    A fascinating article by Luc Boltanski, ‘America, America. Le Plan Marshall et l’importation du “management” en France’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 38 (May 1981) 19–41, documents the mistrust in which the United States was held in France in the early 1950s and serves to correct Jim Hillier’s view in his introduction to Cahiers du cinéma: the 1950s (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985) that America was almost universally well regarded. British intellectuals were more pro-American than the French were.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    This was the position of the Film Appreciation school, whose maître à penser was Roger Manvell, and it was reflected both in the programming of the National Film Theatre and in the work of the BFI Education Department. There were, of course, technical reasons why early sound cinema should have appeared naïve and clumsy. Cf. Jean-Pierre Jeancolas, 15 Ans d’Années Trente (Paris: Stock, 1982) pp. 52–5. André Breton’s opinion, shared by many artists, was that sound cinema represented ‘une régression désolante vers le théâtre’.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Ian Cameron, ‘Films, Directors and Critics’, Movie, 2 (Sep 1962) 4–7; andGoogle Scholar
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    Lindsay Anderson, ‘Angles of Approach’, Sequence, 2 (Winter 1947) 5–8; Gavin Lambert, ‘British Films: Survey and Prospect’, ibid., pp. 9–14;Google Scholar
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    Cf. François Truffaut, ‘Une certaine tendance du cinéma français’, Cahiers du cinéma, 31 (Jan 1954) 15–28, where an attack on the pre-eminence of screenwriters is launched. Other similarities between Sequence and Cahiers du cinéma might be observed in the close attention paid to how films are made. Cf.Google Scholar
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    This caused a furore which prompted Bazin to defend his young colleagues thus: ‘De ce que leur érudition n’est pas fondée sur les mêmes critères de valeur que celles des critiques chevronnés ou anglais n’enlève rien à leur efficacité’ (‘Their effectiveness is not impaired just because their erudition is not based on the same criteria of value as those of established or English critics’) — ‘Comment peut-on être Hitchcocko-Hawksien?’, Cahiers du cinéma, Feb 1955, p. 18. The Hitchcock interviews were also published in book form: Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, Hitchcock (Paris: Editions Universitaires, 1957).Google Scholar
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    ‘Défence et illustration du découpage classique’, Cahiers du cinéma, Sep 1952; repr. in Jean Narboni (ed.), Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard (Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1968) p. 29. The passage may be translated thus: ‘To quote Fénelon, I seek “a sublime so familiar that everybody might be tempted to think he could have achieved it without effort.”’Google Scholar
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    Cf. Allen Eyles, ‘Focus on Exhibition’, Motion, 2 (Winter 1961) 13–19 and 38. Artificial Eye, Cinegate and the Other Cinema are all distribution companies which came into being as a result of this shake-out in film distribution, and each specialises in one section of the art market (e.g. new German cinema, new American cinema, Latin American and Third World cinema).Google Scholar
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    June 1962 to July–Aug 1963 (monthly): Spring to Autumn 1965 (3 issues, quarterly); Spring 1968; Winter 1968; 1969 to present (annually). See also Ian Cameron (ed.), Movie Reader (London: November Books, 1972).Google Scholar
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    See I. and E. Cameron, The Heavies (1969);Google Scholar
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© Ceri Crossley and Ian Small 1988

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