Film d'Art Movement and Film List
Most Active Years 1908 – 1972
Table of Contents
Introduction to Film d'Art
The Film d’Art movement first emerged in France at the beginning of the 20th century, with the systematic adaptation of theatrical production to the cinema. The Film d’Art movement ensured that the cinema, which reached large audiences with the Cinema of Attractions movement, was performed with a qualified story, technical team, actors and directors. Cinema attained the status of “art” for the first time with the Film d’Art movement.
What is Film d'Art
“Film d’Art” was the name of a company before it became known as the name of a movement. Paul Laffitte was a prominent personality in France as an investor in theatre, cinema, literature and art. Paul Laffitte made significant investments in the Compagnie des cinématographes Théophile Pathé and the Compagnie des Cinéma-Halls (Paris Cinema Network) in 1907. After these investments, he founded Film d’Art in 1908 to make theatre adaptations in cinema at the request of the Comédie-Française members. The Film d’Art movement would emerge with theatrical adaptation films produced by some French companies of the time, especially by Film d’Art.
Origin of the Term Film d'Art
In French, Film d’Art means art film. One of the starting points of the definition of “art film” encountered today is the Film d’Art movement.
Brief History of Film d'Art
Before the Film d’Art movement, cinema was far from the status of “art”. Despite this, cinema gained recognition and interest in the public thanks to the films of the Cinema of Attractions movement that impressed the audience. Such interest was an important sign for the cinema to become a sector on its own.
The profit margin of the films was much higher than the theatrical productions. The duration of the films was short and the cost of setting and acting was pretty low. Films shot with low initial investment costs were presented to the audience many times and revenue was generated repeatedly. The profit margin of a cinema that is widely accepted with more qualified films could have been a lot higher.
Pathé and Film d’Art aimed to make the film a medium for art (cinema) and to raise the cultural level of the French people with cinema that has attained a status of “art”.
Film d’Art was designed and used to shape the public before the concept of motion pictures in propaganda arose. Culturally lower classes of the public watched film adaptations of theatrical productions thanks to the Film d’Art movement. The public developed with the cultural background of the theatre. Simultaneously, cinema, which was culturally underestimated by theatre and opera audiences, became a medium of art by including adaptations of theatrical productions. Over time, those who produced for the theatres wanted to produce also for the cinema and those who watched theatrical productions started to watch also cinema productions. Therefore, together with cinema, which does not have any historical burdens, the cultural classes all moved to the upper echelon. The concept of “le grand éducateur du peuple” (the great educator of the people) used to describe the cinema in France emerged with the Film d’Art movement as a result of using cinema with the motivation of cultural development.
Film d’Art films weren’t just produced by the Film d’Art studio. A unit called Société Cinématographique des Auteurs et des Gens de Lettres was established within Pathé, which had the same purpose as the Film d’Art studio. There were also other studios in France that would produce “art films” like the Film d’Art studio. Although the name of the Film d’Art studio had been over-identified with the movement, the films produced were sometimes released from other studios in France and also from Pathé.
The concept of “the great educator of the people” was not the only reason behind Pathé’s shaping the Film d ‘Art business so much. Pathé had been in the industry since cinema appeared in France. The Pathé brothers (Charles, Émile, Théophile, Jacques) founded the Pathé in 1896. During the establishment period, the company focused on phonograph sales. Shortly after, it entered the cylinder records market. In 1896, shortly after its establishment, Pathé had the chance to open offices outside of Paris, namely in London, Milan and Saint Petersburg. Pathé decided to enter the film industry after such rapid growth. It would soon become one of the largest suppliers of cinema equipment in the world, after obtaining the patents held by the Lumiere brothers.
In the same year that Film d’Art was established, the first major Film d’Art production also met with the audience. L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise (1908) was regarded as the prelude to the Film d’Art movement. Directed by André Calmettes and Charles Le Bargy, the duration of this film was 15 minutes. The film depicts the incident in 1588 when King Henry III conspired to get his powerful rival, Duke Henri de Guise, killed in his room at the Château de Blois. The assassination planned at the beginning of the film begins when Duke Henri de Guise enters the frame after a short wait. After a few hesitations and setbacks experienced by the group that will commit the murder, the assassination comes true as planned. L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise is both one of the first examples of the movement and one of its most important films.
Pathé had an extensive international network and an unlimited amount of equipment. Its marketing strategies were aggressive. Improving the quality of the films and introducing the star system was a great opportunity for further growth of the film industry, in which its share was huge. Film d’Art films were an important ace in Pathé’s hand against its biggest rival, Gaumont, the world’s first film company. Gaumont responded to Pathé’s Film d’Art move with Théâtro-Film in 1909. Théâtro-Film was bringing cinema adaptations of theatre productions into being, just like Film d’Art. The films released by Théâtro-Film are also considered under the Film d’Art movement.
As a result of the competition between the two companies, high-cost films produced within the star system and to be presented to the audience in luxury movie theatres were produced. With the rapid rise of cinema, the theatre began to lag behind in a short span of time in every field against the cinema, whose development it contributed.
The theatre productions were not the only thing brought from theatre to cinema with the Film d’Art. Theatre directors, technical crew and theatre players were also transferred to the cinema. While the directors themselves and their close circle acted in the films shot before the Film d’Art, with the Film d’Art, theatre players became indispensable elements of the films. With the Film d’Art movement, the star system was introduced in European cinema.
With the Film d’Art movement, people who would go to see a film started to pay attention to what the film was about, the actors, director and scriptwriter. This caused the cinema to quickly sever all ties with movements such as the Cinema of Attractions, become more “qualified” and start to be mentioned as an “art”.
Although the transformation that cinema went through with the Film d’Art movement gave it an artistic value, there was less “cinema” compared to the past. While the studios producing for the Film d’Art were trying to turn cinema into an art; by feeding it with theatre, they actually created a new version of the old theatre rather than a new cinema. What was reflected on the screen in the Film d’Art films was the filmed version of the theatre with all its components. The proscenium arch between the audience and the theatre play became more prominent in cinema with the Film d’Art movement.
End of Film d'Art
During and after the Film d’Art movement, many other cinema movements were on the rise in Europe. The number of avant-garde movements was very high in Europe and especially in France. The rise of avant-garde movements reduced the space of Film d’Art, which was a theatre-based cinema movement. Although Film d’Art would continue its existence as a company until 1972, the movement it created was soon going to lose its effect.
The fact that the Film d’Art did not technically serve the cinema and it put the cinema under the guidance of the theatre soon started to draw the reaction of directors, who especially produced/wanted to produce avant-garde productions. These directors pushed the limits and wended their way to avant-garde movement films, which were very difficult to finance. Following the rise of avant-garde movements and the widespread acceptance of one of these, French Impressionism, the number of Film d’Art films dropped significantly.
Another cinema that rose beside the avant-garde movements was Hollywood. The effects of American cinema and the fact that it was gaining a seat in the French cinema market narrowed down the production volume of Film d’Art films.
With the spreading and acceptance of cinema’s own techniques, Film d’Art films became very difficult to gain acceptance. Over time, even films adapted from theatrical productions began to be shot using the cinema techniques, not the techniques of the Film d’Art movement.
Paul Laffitte managed the Film d’Art studio for a very short time (1908-1909). After that, Paul Gavault (1909-1911), Charles Delac (1911-1936), and Marcel Vandal (1911-1936) took office in the management of Film d’Art. The last manager of the Film d’Art, which was to be closed in 1972, was Henri Diamant-Berger (1936-1972).
Characteristics of Film d'Art
- Professional theatre players appeared in the films.
- The films were adapted from theatrical productions.
- Films were much more qualified than in previous movements in terms of story, acting, setting, costumes and so on.
- The cost of the films was high.
- The films were generally shown in theatres that were made more qualified specifically for these films.
- Films were not good enough to reveal the real qualities of cinema. They looked more like filmed versions of theatrical productions.
The Influences of Film d'Art
Film d’Art played a significant role in cinema being mentioned as the seventh art. When doing so, it partially transformed the cinema into the recording instrument of the theatre by not allowing enough for the techniques and talents of the cinema.
It pioneered the production of better quality films by bringing cinema theatre chains, distribution networks and the star system into the cinema in Europe. It helped cinema transform into an “art” and paved the way for it to become an industry.
Apart from all these, Film d’Art achieved its goals in line with its original establishment purpose. It left behind a France that comes to mind when it comes to cinema.
Although Film d’Art is considered to be the first period in which cinema first met stories in some sources, there are many short story films that were shot long before the Film d’Art movement emerged. These are The Haunted Castle (1896), Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902), Personal (1904) and several others.
Film d'Art Film List
*Films sorted by release year, from newest to oldest.
- Manon Lescaut (1926) Arthur Robison
- Camille (1912) André Calmettes, Louis Mercanton, Henri Pouctal
- The Life and Death of King Richard III (1912) André Calmettes, James Keane
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1911) Albert Capellani
- Camille Desmoulins (1911) André Calmettes, Henri Pouctal
- The Duchess of Langeais (1910) André Calmettes
- Carmen: Air du toréador (1910)
- The Return of Ulysses (1909) André Calmettes, Charles Le Bargy
- Joan of Arc (1909) Albert Capellani
- Macbeth (1909) André Calmettes
- Oliver Twist (1909) J. Stuart Blackton
- The Assassination of the Duke de Guise (1908) André Calmettes, Charles Le Bargy
- Incriminating Evidence (1908) Henri Burguet
- Drink (1908) Albert Capellani
A tragic love story between a French nobleman and a young seducer.
Marguerite is a courtesan in Paris. She falls deeply in love with a young man of promise, Armand Duval. When Armand’s father begs her not to ruin his hope of a career and position by marrying Armand, she acquiesces and leaves her lover.
Richard of Gloucester uses manipulation and murder to gain the English throne.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a 1911 silent film, produced in France, where it was released under the name Notre-Dame de Paris. The film was based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name.
Fully staged rendition of the Toreador’s Song from Bizet’s Carmen.
A 1909 French language short film directed by Charles Le Bargy and André Calmettes, starring Paul Mounet, Madame Bartet and Albert Lambert.
The abbreviated life of the 15th Century French heroine.
Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.
An orphan named Oliver Twist meets a pickpocket on the streets of London. From there, he joins a household of boys who are trained to steal for their master.
The film portrays the events on the day King Henri III of France arranged for Duke Henri de Guise to be murdered.
Who killed this man to rob him of his money in this notorious neighborhood of Paris? The usual local scoundrel such as the one that has almost been lynched by the mob and arrested by the police? Not at all. In fact the poor man is innocent, even though appearances are deceiving.
At the time of its release, L’Assommoir was hugely successful. Based on Zola’s novel, this movie is about the free fall of human beings, deals with degradation, alcoholism and it is, in short, a very pessimistic story.
Best Film d'Art Directors
- André Calmettes
- Charles Le Barg
- Louis Mercanton
- Henri Pouctal
- Albert Capellani