The Société Film d'Art:
French Highbrow Film

        In Le Société Film d'Art was a sweep across the film industry as early as 1908 by and eventually into the States. This was a French highbrow progression, which was begun by Frères Lafitte to transfer stage stars to movie stars and to promote the middle class to go to the cinema. Instead, he is responsible for the birth of a genre, which never necessarily disappeared whilst appealing to the public and delivered a respect to the industry.

        In the beginning, nearly every piece written, sung, or danced from the Renaissance period up to 1900 became open season for conversion into a film version through the unique medium of film. Using some of the best actors and performers available, they basically photographed plays. Film d'Art created a novel and unique vision while cinematically regressing to the point of films such as the A Trip to the Moon (Mèliès, 1902) filmed from fixed positions. Kenneth Magowan said, "[It was] the first highbrow motion picture movement" in reference to the content but more importantly the style it was filmed.

        The filming of prestigious plays and novels created a socially respected and unique medium. Heightening respect of the industry, Le Société Film d'Art provided the middle class that intellect it needed in order for them to spend their hard earned fortune visiting the cinema. It was a lucrative business where profit was of the utmost importance. Negating the problem associated with Le Société Film d'Art, audiences were willing to spend the extra $1, as in America. The cost was higher and the film was longer. It was solely responsible for the lengthening on an average film. Features became three or four reels as compared to the previous single reel. Films such as Les Amours de la Reinè Èlisabeth released in 1912, shadowed great works, such as the one reel The Massacre from D.W. Griffith when Griffith released it in 1913, merely because the film and others quite similar were a part of the "feature fever."

        In feature films such as Nosferatu (1922), Bronenosets Potyomkin (1924), or Greed (1924) were produced with techniques and ideas innovated from aspects which came out of Le Société Film d'Art. The most important idea sprung forth from this movement involved looking at relationship between the audience, the camera, and the action taking place. The camera could give a close-up view of what was going on on-screen in a particular situation. Therefore acting in these later productions had been developed through conventions to recognize the reality within the shot. This also forced directors and producers, like D.W. Griffith, to make a cinematic experience closer to reality by designing new ideas and innovations to help frame and capture the action in front of the camera. Movies like The Battleship Potyomkin, made great use of the camera angle. Film d'art made the angles at which the shots were filmed more important and not just a single person's monocular view of the scene. There were in fact thousands of position the camera could be placed. From the same fixed point is not what to be expected.

        The films of art were merely people on a stage reciting their lines as if in a packed theatre in downtown Paris then projected for a packed theatre in downtown Paris. The cinema grew exponentially at understanding their audiences. They slowly needed to be implicated in the action and the filmmakers delivered. The fixed position of the camera with the filmed stage plays created a fixed separation of the audience and action. Broad gestures and facial grimaces were a necessity to be seen in the back of the stage and then projected onto the big-screens. These characteristics boiled over into a few of the early films, until camera positioning and the coming of sound forced acting to become more realistic and natural. Cinema tried to capture the reality of life in many different ways, but the art film was nowhere near that philosophy.

        In There were a few critiques libeling Le Société Film d'Art as nothing more than "uncinematic" and thought to be a doubtful use of the medium. Recently though, imaginative and innovative cinematic techniques have been employed to record operas, ballets, and stage plays (Genre). Through many specific uses of the "art film," cinema has progressed to concern itself with a variety of genres mainly due to the complete combination of thought at the first inkling of the film industry. Film d'Art led to the juxtaposed Autorenfilm (German movement where the director and author are one in the same) through association and helped create the great German expressionistic art film, which eventually helped root a classic modern-day genre with film noir, the only Western "dark cinema."

        In Le Société Film d'Art helped sculpt the future for movie-goers. Through inauguration of the Western feature-length film and helping to carry on the tradition of intellectual cinema, it has revolutionized the industry. Even though the idea has slowly changed, the "artsy" film has remained a staple within the industry. Initially creating respectable content and opinions for film, it truly was the first developmental genre, which helped create a whole separate division. This division eventually allowed for many stories to be told in just as many techniques. Le Société Film d'Art was an idea which never phased out, merely leading to bigger and greater significance.

Works Cited

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.


Eric Morris

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