Htheory

Why devote a chapter of this book to the specific ways in which film has been theorised in France? The importance of theory in writing about film has been long and widely recognised, as the number of books devoted to the topic will attest (among the best introductions are Tudor, 1974; Lapsley and Westlake, 1988). The reasons for this were at first largely polemical. Andrew Sarris - a critic who developed into a kind of theorist - wrote some 40 years ago: 'Since it has not been firmly established that the cinema is an art at all, it requires cultural audacity to establish a pantheon for film directors. Without such audacity, I see little point in being a film critic' (quoted in Wollen, 1969: 166).

The establishment of such a pantheon, or even rival pantheons - in which Sarris and, even more as we shall see, the writers associated with Cahiers du cinéma and Positif played crucial roles - was an important step along the road to getting the cinema accepted as a 'legitimate' art form on a par with literature. Nowadays, when Renoir and Hitchcock are almost as widely recognised and studied as Balzac or Faulkner, it is easy to forget that it was still possible for the prominent literary theoretician I .A. Richards to write of 'bad literature, bad art and the cinema' (Richards, 1948: 202-3). The selection of a pantheon required, in the broadest sense, some theoretical criteria. As Terry Eagleton says of literature, 'without some kind of theory, however unreflective and implicit, we would not know what a "literary work" was in the first place, or how we were to read it' (Eagleton, 1983: viii).

The expansion of Film Studies that began in the 1970s, and which has continued virtually unabated since, contributed significantly to the importance of film theory. This is largely because it coincided with a broader upsurge of interest in literary and cultural theories, often (and abusively) lumped together under the label of 'structuralism'. The cultural analyses of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault's pioneering rewriting of the history of ideas, Louis Althusser's re-reading of Marx and Jacques Lacan's of Freud, and Jacques Derrida's linguistic philosophy, were immensely influential and the sources of much controversy, initially in English departments, but soon spreading to the rest of the humanities. What texts could and should be read, and how it was necessary or possible to read them, appeared

as burningly important questions to which theory - as the above list of names makes clear, often coming from France - suggested a wide range of answers. The 'curricular revolution' to which this gave rise had the study of film as one of its most significant components. The importance of what was variously called the look or the gaze in cinema drew upon, as it contributed to, Lacanian and post-Lacanian readings of Freud, and contributions to gender studies, at the same time as mining a rich new seam of ways to read, for example, the western genre or the performances of Marilyn Monroe. The burgeoning of theory converged symbiotically with the growing importance of popular cultural studies, and film was a - perhaps the - key meeting place of the two.

The Frenchness of the key writers listed above is not entirely coincidental. The Paris of the years around 1968 was uniquely well placed to foster the radical intellectual tumult their names evoke. Intellectually and culturally dominant over the rest of the country to an extent unparallelled by any other European capital - the only city, indeed, that could lay any kind of meaningful claim to the title of intellectual capital of Europe - it was the epicentre of the 'May events' that had shaken French society to its foundations and suggested new approaches to Left-wing politics in which the cultural sphere assumed a crucial, possibly even a determinant, role. Even after the revolutionary political hopes had faded from view, the cultural and intellectual legacy of this period remained of vital importance.

This theoretical ferment took place in the country that had invented cinema, which has ever since held a place of particular importance as 'the seventh art' in its cultural affections. As we mentioned in our introduction, there is almost certainly no city anywhere in the world where it is possible to see a wider range of films than in Paris, a fact of which, as we have seen, the New Wave directors, largely but not solely through the Cinematheque, took full advantage. Those directors began life as critics, and one major strand in French theorisation of film has been the writings of those who are themselves film-makers, from the beginnings of film theory in the silent period, through the Surrealists at the end of that period, to Bresson and Godard.

France's thriving film-making culture has earned her cinema its now unchallenged place on college and university French syllabuses; her theoretical volubility has ensured that there can be no literary or cultural studies course on which the contributions of French theory are not taken into account. The convergence of the two is what we shall be attempting to trace, in its historical and institutional specificity, in the pages that follow.

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