Masculine Singular: French New Wave Cinema

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Duke University Press, Mar 25, 2008 - History - 269 pages
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Masculine Singular is an original interpretation of French New Wave cinema by one of France’s leading feminist film scholars. While most criticism of the New Wave has concentrated on the filmmakers and their films, Geneviève Sellier focuses on the social and cultural turbulence of the cinema’s formative years, from 1957 to 1962. The New Wave filmmakers were members of a young generation emerging on the French cultural scene, eager to acquire sexual and economic freedom. Almost all of them were men, and they “wrote” in the masculine first-person singular, often using male protagonists as stand-ins for themselves. In their films, they explored relations between men and women, and they expressed ambivalence about the new liberated woman. Sellier argues that gender relations and the construction of sexual identities were the primary subject of New Wave cinema.

Sellier draws on sociological surveys, box office data, and popular magazines of the period, as well as analyses of specific New Wave films. She examines the development of the New Wave movement, its sociocultural and economic context, and the popular and critical reception of such well-known films as Jules et Jim and Hiroshima mon amour. In light of the filmmakers’ focus on gender relations, Sellier reflects on the careers of New Wave’s iconic female stars, including Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot. Sellier’s thorough exploration of early New Wave cinema culminates in her contention that its principal legacy—the triumph of a certain kind of cinephilic discourse and of an “auteur theory” recognizing the director as artist—came at a steep price: creativity was reduced to a formalist game, and affirmation of New Wave cinema’s modernity was accompanied by an association of creativity with masculinity.

 

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Contents

The Aesthetic Doxa on the New Wave
1
A New Generation Marked by the Emergence of Women
11
Cinephilia in the 1950s
22
Auteur Cinema An Affair of State
34
Contrasting Receptions
41
The Precursors
70
Between Romanticism and Modernism
95
Chapter Seven Nostalgia for a Heroic Masculinity
128
Brigitte Bardot and the New Wave An Ambivalent Relationship
199
The Independent Filmmakers of the Left Bank A Feminist Alternative?
210
The New Waves Legacy Auteur Cinema
221
Box Office Results
225
The Press
227
Notes
231
Bibliography
Index

The Women of the New Wave Between Modern and Archaic
145
Jeanne Moreau Star of the New Wave and Icon of Modernity
184

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About the author (2008)

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Geneviève Sellier is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Caen. Her books include Jean Grémillon: Le cinéma est à; vous and La Drôle de guerre des sexes du cinéma français, 1930–1956 (with Noël Burch). Kristin Ross is Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. She is the author, most recently, of May ’68 and Its Afterlives and Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture.

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