American Beauty and French Impressionism

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorUniversity, Bachelor's February 2008

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In August 1914 France was going to war. When general mobilization orders for WWI were announced, the French film industry was already retreating from the American cinematic establishment. Large companies were no longer able to produce films in the number or scale that had previously been achieved. A vacuum of sorts opened up which was filled by smaller, independent companies that were often more willing to experiment artistically and risk innovative methods and tactics. Unlike traditional big budget productions, which often incorporated several reels and focused on heroic, historic, or comedic subjects, these films were shorter and had a strong psychological focus. Out of this focus on inner life came many of the most advanced strategies of representation and narration yet seen in French film, including extraordinary lighting, framing, and editing techniques. These films continued to evolve through the 1910s and into the '20s, when the experiments of such avant-garde filmmakers as Marcel L'Herbier, Jean Epstein, and Germaine Dulac created Impressionist film.

( 01/03/03) Between 1918 and 1928, in a series of extraordinary films, the younger directors more common to this new style, experimented with cinema in ways that posed an alternative to the dominant Hollywood formal principles. These directors used emotion as the heart of their work and 'intimate psychological narrative dominated their filmmaking practice' (Bordwell, David. "Film Art" p.453). The difference between French Impressionism and Hollywood cinema, where psychological causes were also paramount, was the style's interest in giving narration considerable psychological depth, revealing the workings of a character's consciousness. Also unique to Impressionist films was its manipulation of plot time and subjectivity. Flashbacks were a common feature; sometimes the bulk of a film would be one flashback or a series of them. The film style also insisted on depicting character's dreams, fantasies and mental states, tying back...