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Germaine DulacA Cinema of Sensations$

Tami Williams

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780252038471

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252038471.001.0001

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The Great War and Dulac’s First Films

The Great War and Dulac’s First Films

(p.45) Chapter 2 The Great War and Dulac’s First Films
Germaine Dulac

Tami Williams

University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on Dulac's wartime activism and literary writings, as well as the debut of her film career—from her first activities as a film producer for Pathé (La Lumière du coeur, 1916) to her first directorial efforts (Soeurs ennemies to Le Bonheur des autres, 1917–18)—and evaluates the historical significance of her incursion into and negotiated course within the French film industry as a female artist and entrepreneur. A close examination of archival sources documenting Dulac's early professional activities provides insight into her humanist egalitarianism, universalism, and her strong belief in the emancipatory potential of art, as well as her early rhetorical strategies.

Keywords:   Germaine Dulac, wartime activism, Pathé, La Lumière du coeur, Soeurs ennemies, Le Bonheur des autres, French film industry, female artists, humanist egalitarianism, universalism

World War One was a “total war” that affected not just the life of combatants, volunteers, and conscripts, but also all aspects of the home front. In France, the war marked a fundamental rupture with the Belle Époque outlook of unchecked optimism about artistic creation, ever-expanding scientific and technological innovation, and universalist humanist progress.1 A “psychological turning point … for modernism as a whole,” it would have wide-ranging economic, political, and sociocultural repercussions, including a radical reorientation of the Women’s Progress movement, along with profound transformations across the visual and performing arts.2 With a preliminary separation from her husband, Albert, in 1913, and his successive mobilization to the front, the war also brought Dulac increased autonomy, exceptional access to a transitioning film industry, and the opportunity to refocus and refashion the means of her social and artistic intervention.3 An account of Dulac’s wartime experiences in this rapidly evolving environment helps us better understand the development of her oeuvre.4

Internationalist Pacifism and National Defense

When the Germans invaded France in early August 1914, the cataclysmic and irreversible impact of the Great War or “der(nière) des der(nière)s” (the war to end all wars) on soldiers and civilians alike became immediately apparent. Like a majority of feminists of her time, Dulac, faced with the reality and the magnitude of this cataclysm, found herself between two contradictory positions: her universalist, pacifist ideals, dating back to her early activities at La Française (notably her 1907 lecture on the international task of Frenchwomen), and the imminent concern for national defense, whose resonance (p.46) in the government’s call for l’union sacrée (sacred union, or a united front in the face of the aggressor) rekindled some of Dulac’s early socialist ties.5

In the period immediately following the German invasion, Dulac’s pacifist objections receded into the background as she devoted herself to a range of war-related activities from humanitarian assistance (medical care, food banks) to counterpropaganda (correspondence, articles, and films). From August 1914 through April 1915, she organized soup kitchens for war victims’ families (on rue Cauchois in the heart of Montmartre), alongside Georgette Sembat, wife of cultural activist and socialist minister Marcel Sembat (with whom she had remained close since the anticlerical legislation with her uncle Raymond in 1905).6 Yet, just one month after the hostilities began, Albert encouraged her to look beyond such efforts “You’re right. The life of each and all, the fate of individuals and nations, poses moral problems and conflicts at each moment in these difficult times. […] But seek out and listen to your instinct. You love Paris and the beautiful experience of its vibrating spirit. You feel a need to devote yourself and to be useful. But look further.”7 As the conflict raged, Dulac would turn toward more concrete intellectual and political activities, while also continuing to develop her creative projects. Her long-standing friendship with Sembat and several of his associates during this period (1912–19) also would intersect in auspicious ways with her new feminist and artistic orientations.

In the context of the call for a union sacrée (a patriotic prowar consensus), Marcel Sembat was one of only two socialist ministers (or state secretaries, along with Marxist Jules Guesde [1845–1922]) to serve in the national unity cabinet headed by rightwing prime ministers René Viviani (1914) and Aristide Briand (1915). An anticolonialist, as well as an arts education, and worker’s movement activist, Sembat appears to have been an important mentor for Dulac, energizing and reinforcing her early intermedial, sociopolitical and pedagogical approach to the cinema and ciné-club activism.8 Noteworthy are Sembat’s passionate talks on contemporary art and literature (from fauvist and cubist painting to symbolist poetry), as well as his dinners and soirées, which Germaine and Albert Dulac had attended since before the war in the company of other artists and intellectuals (from Henri Matisse and Gustav Kahn to Anatole France). Sembat, also known for making art accessible to the people, as well as for having famously defended artistic freedom before the Assemblée nationale in 1912, played an instrumental role in the Salon d’automne (founded in 1903 by architect Frantz Jourdain, with painters (p.47) Matisse, Vuillard, and others).9 Dulac remained in close contact with the Sembats after the war, personally inviting them to each of her film premieres, until the couple’s fatal auto accident in 1922.

In the Sembat circle and close to Dulac were a number of intellectuals and artists of note. A friend and correspondent, Nobel Prize–winning novelist and poet Anatole France (1844–1924) was one of the first to publicly defend the cinema. Also important was the private salon of Fauvist painter and women’s portraitist, Kees Van Dongen (1877–1968), frequented during the war by Dulac, actress Ève Francis, and dancer Djemil Anik, as well as esoteric novelist and poet Irène Hillel-Erlanger, all of whom would be early collaborators of the future filmmaker. Another figure, a lifelong friend of Albert, was poet and editor of the Revue socialiste (Socialist review), André Lebey (1877–1935).10 Similarly, Yvon Delbos (1885–1956), future socialist deputy (1924), minister of education (1939–40), and editor of Le Radical (which superseded La Fronde), later accompanied Dulac to the Congrès du cinéma éducateur at the Cinémathèque de la ville de Paris (1926–28), and supported her 1920–30s film pedagogy efforts for the Fédération française des ciné-clubs, and the League of Nations’ International Educational Cinematographic Institute (IECI, Rome, 1928–37). In 1927, Dulac dedicated one of her most important theoretical articles, “Les Esthétiques, les entraves, la cinégraphie intégrale” (1927), to Delbos, calling him an “ami du cinéma.”11 Finally, it was through this group that Dulac met and worked closely with the prolific feminist author, poet and dramaturge Jeanne Lapauze (née Loiseau, 1860–1921), a former Frondiste, whose novel Justice de femme (Women’s justice), published under the pseudonym Daniel Lesueur, was adapted to film in 1917, and a brief partner in the creation of Dulac’s film production company (fleetingly named La Parisienne) in April 1916.12 Dulac also wrote an editorial for the prominent journal La Renaissance Politique, Littéraire et Artistique, created in 1913 by the author’s husband, art curator Henry Lapauze. Founding director of the 1902 Palais des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris, an art museum housed in the Petit Palais, Henry Lapauze was also an early organizer of the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (a descendant of the Salon d’automne), where Dulac would lecture, screen films, and exhibit production innovations (e.g. La Folie des vaillants).13 Dulac’s early engagement with this entourage of politically progressive artists and intellectuals galvanized her activism both during and after the war.

(p.48) Sisters in Arms: Citoyennes and the union sacrée

Dulac’s proximity to this creative and politically engaged milieu went hand in hand with the reorientation of her feminist activism in support of the national cause. During the early stages of the war, Dulac contributed to the Belgian refugee program Aide aux femmes des combattants (Aid to Soldier’s Wives) and to Daniel Lesueur’s Office d’utilisation des femmes (Women’s Use Office), an outgrowth of the Union française pour le suffrage des femmes (French women’s suffrage union).14 While historians have often evoked a “sacred union” of political parties and classes and rarely that of the sexes, at the height of the women’s suffrage movement, as Françoise Thébaud notes, a majority of feminists opted to set aside their call for civil equality, along with pacifism, in order to support the imperiled nation.15

In the spring of 1915, as the war escalated, Dulac’s efforts turned more overtly political, even militant, when she became secretary-general of the all-women’s organization La Croisade des femmes françaises (CFF, Frenchwomen’s crusade). According to an interview published in the Gazette de Lausanne (March 14, 1915), the group formed to counter the propaganda that Austrian and German aggressors were producing for neutral countries. For moderate feminists like Dulac and the CFF members, this participation in the war effort, in defense of the nation, appeared as a necessary step in gaining state recognition as citoyennes, just as the women’s progress movement had been seen as essential to improving humanity. The organization’s manifesto expounded upon what they saw as the importance of asserting the female political voice:

The hour has come for the Frenchwoman to show everyone that she is not what jealousy abroad has published about her: “a doll without courage, without moral standards and without a heart.” Unrestrainedly defamed, she must silence the libelers in showing herself to be worthy of our heroes. Her voice will rise to save this country from all of the trickery directed against it. For if cloaking oneself in proud silence has its greatness, tracking down all of the perfidious inventions of our enemies is even more opportune; it is the best way to preserve that which we hold as essential: the esteem and friendship of the neutral countries.16

For Dulac, the CFF would serve as both a vital counterweight to Austrian and German propaganda, as well as a powerful instrument for women’s assertiveness in the war effort. In an interview with the Gazette de Lausanne, Dulac highlighted the organization’s principal strategies: to distribute letters (p.49) and to publish accounts of war events that would be as “objective” as possible, an idea that anticipates her proto cinema direct approach to newsreel filmmaking, as well as her 1935 pacifist, compilation documentary Le Cinéma au service de l’histoire (Cinema in the service of history). She declared,

First of all […], there will simply be correspondence. As you are aware the Austro-Germans have worked wonders in this area. They have flooded all of the neutral countries with a stream of tendentious letters. In the guise of commercial relations, they sent their correspondents pleas for the Kultur. The Louvain fires, the Belgian massacres, and the upheavals of Reims were represented as benign measures, rendered necessary by the viciousness of those invaded. We shall reestablish the proportions a bit while awaiting the judgment of history […] we shall send summaries that are as objective and as impartial as possible of the real events to addresses our members identify as useful.

(emphasis added)17

Dulac’s statement affirmed her belief regarding German aggression and dishonesty toward the French and her conviction that women’s authentic accounts of the war could serve truth and history. Significantly, along with lectures and conferences, the publication of pamphlets and illustrated post cards (a popular medium at the time), the group also turned to the cinema: “We even plan to have films that will reestablish the truth,” thus illustrating the filmmaker’s early investment in the medium’s status and potential as visual and historical evidence. Appropriating the political term of union sacrée Dulac sought to extend its meaning to a new, women-initiated form of activism: “We have only one watchword, that which the head of state gave to parliament: sacred union” (emphasis added).18

Enemy Sisters: the International Culture of War

During the spring of 1915, Dulac also extended her efforts abroad. While maintaining her solidarity with the French national cause, and staying true to the internationalist and pacifist activism of her early days at La Française, she published two articles on Italian women’s opinions that testify to her commitment to international feminism. In the first of these (published in Lapauze’s Renaissance Politique, Littéraire et Artistique), Dulac interviewed the celebrated Neapolitan novelist Matilde Serao (1856–1927). Editor of the royalist daily Il Giorno, screenwriter of La mia vita per la tua! (My life for yours, Ghione, 1915), and one of first Italian intellectuals to write about cinema’s impact on life and politics, Serao hoped to “dissipat[e] a misunderstanding” (p.50) regarding the journal’s “anti-French campaign.”19 In April 1915, less than two weeks before Italy secretly joined the Triple Entente (United Kingdom, France, and Russia) in alliance against Germany and its former allies, Dulac published a second related article, “L’Opinion féminine en Italie sur l’intervention italienne” (The opinion of Italian women on the Italian intervention), chronicling the diverse, but largely interventionist viewpoints of prominent Italian women, including that of Le Conseil nationale des femmes italiennes (Rome) president Dora Melegari.20

These articles affirm the complexity of an internationalist feminism that goes back to Dulac’s early days at La Française. For example, Serao’s Germanophile pronouncements notwithstanding, Dulac ended her first article with the author’s equivocal, yet pacifist declaration: “Just tell my ex-friends the French … if you speak about me, that I am an enemy of the war, a friend of peace, and that I ardently hope for the end of this atrocious struggle” (original emphasis).21

However, Dulac’s unconditional rejection of German aggression and her stalwart defense of the national position, would eventually come head to head with her internationalism, as evidenced by her attitude towards the International Women’s Peace Conference in The Hague (Netherlands). In an article she published on May 1, 1915, as secretary-general of La Croisade, she promoted a national boycott of the peace conference to protest its inclusion of a German delegation and its decision to “prohibit a discussion of the responsibility of belligerent nations.”22 The ubiquity of the French boycott was emblematic of the temporary breakdown of the international women’s movement (like the workers’ movement) during the war. As Jane Misme had declared in La Française (November 19, 1914), “As long as the war continues, the wives of the enemy also will be enemies,” a statement echoed in the title of Dulac’s first film, Les Sœurs ennemies (The enemy sisters, 1917).23

At first glance, then, Dulac’s solidarity with the union sacrée seems to contradict her pacifism, but it gains coherence when considered in context. If Dulac and her contemporaries became so invested in this devastating conflict, it was because they saw it as a matter of moral responsibility and obligation. Once hostilities erupted in August 1914, there was practically no alternate identity available for artists and intellectuals, except that of a radical pacifist or antidefensive position. The felt obligation to win the war, or to maintain French sovereignty, gave rise to an unprecedented and unconditional investment (p.51) in the national cause, and it explains why a majority of artists and intellectuals, mobilized or not, were prepared to see the conflict through to its bitter end. Dulac’s actions also were inscribed in this “culture of war,” a phenomenon understood by modern French historians as the way in which contemporaries imagined and depicted the war through an ensemble of attitudes, practices, symbolic productions, and representations, both cause and consequence of this total investment in the national defense.24

Le Jardin magnifique: Romantic Pursuits and Creative Liberties

While the war brought moral obligations, it also created a momentary rupture from traditional social roles and offered an unprecedented experience of liberty and self-affirmation for many women. Female employment and professionalization, which had long been the object of public criticism, were now viewed as a manifestation of patriotism.25 While at the height of the women’s suffrage movement in 1914 feminists had felt obligated to put aside their egalitarian demands for the national cause, many began to see the war as a chance to access civil equality more quickly.26 For Dulac, who belonged to a relatively privileged milieu, the war period provided a greater sense of self-reliance. In her husband’s absence, and with a depleted labor pool in the film industry, she also was able to seize opportunities for the realization of her creative projects.

One of the most important influences on Dulac’s subsequent creative activities was her liaison with the spirited and sultry twenty-one-year-old Franco-Polish actress and dancer, Stasia de Napierkowska (b. Renée Claire Angèle Élisabeth Napierkowski, stage name Stacia Napierkowska, 1891–1945). According to archival correspondence, the two first met on April 17, 1912, the day of a rare (almost total) “diamond necklace” solar eclipse, which interrupted the ordinary lives of 2 million admiring Parisians, just two days after the Titanic disappeared under the darkness of a new moon.27 This chance meeting, and the newfound liberties that came with the war, would bring about a similarly spectacular eclipse for Dulac, who plunged more deeply into her creative activities, as well as a thrilling romantic relationship with someone who, having worked with leading directors Albert Capellani, Max Linder, and Ferdinand Zecca, would become her lead actress in several feature films. (p.52)

The Great War and Dulac’s First Films

Figure 3. Stacia Napierkowska, ca. 1910–12.

George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

In the summer of 1913, shortly after Stasia’s April arrest for indecency while performing a dance in New York, and as the unchained choreography of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) for Diaghilev’s Ballets russes provoked riots at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Dulac who had been working on several scripts since L’Emprise (1907), began to look more seriously at theatrical mise-en-scène. Over the course of the year, Napierkowska had been sending her various sketches of curved and spiral-like poses and movements (laying down, knees up, floating), provocatively labeled “tendrils,” “trembling,” and “spinning.”28 In July 1913, Dulac sketched a set for a project based on Oscar Wilde’s provocative and lyrical French-language play, Salomé (dir. Maeterlinck), a role that she had seen Napierkowska perform in Strauss’s controversial one-act opera a season prior.29 In 1914, over the course of numerous stays with her at the Hotel Flora in Rome, from February to December, Dulac began attending the actress and dancer’s film shoots for Film d’arte Italiana director Ugo Falena.30 In the spring of 1914, Dulac announced her plans to produce her own stage plays in conjunction with her husband and Napierkowska.”31 During this period, Dulac had been developing several theatrical representations with Napierkowska set to play the lead, including her sixty-page three-act project, Le Jardin magnifique (The magnificent garden), (p.53) a comedy of manners portraying class roles, and particularly those of the aristocracy, as unmasked by the war.32 Drawing upon Dulac’s experience as a journalist and critic at La Française, Le Jardin magnifique brings together her interest in the tension between surface placidity and deeper conflict, which she would seek to reveal through the more acute observation of the everyday gesture in her films.

In the spring of 1915, following Le Jardin magnifique, and her project for a liberatory novel on the nun-turned-actress, “Denise Serpe,” Albert writing from the warfront, encouraged Dulac to set aside her associative and literary work, and to concentrate on her dramatic work: “I wanted to talk to you about your scripts, darling. I am happy to see you at last beginning a work. First, do not hesitate about the order: theater before the book.”33 However, owing to Napierkowska’s continued activities at Film d’arte, and the actress’s short-lived plans to create her own production company in Italy, Dulac’s theatrical work was postponed.34 Even as her theater projects stalled, her personal and professional relationship with Napierkowska and her exposure to the filmmaking milieu in Rome would prove decisive for the future cineaste. Years later Dulac declared, “It’s alongside this beautiful artist Napierkowska, and thanks to her, that I learned the secrets of the cinegraphic art.”35

Dulac’s homosexuality, like her romantic relationships within and beyond her marriage, provides a fertile context for understanding the subtleties of her feminist aesthetic, rendered through a symbolist approach. Several letters from Napierkowska and Albert during this period suggest an openness in Dulac’s marriage that would accommodate her on-and-off romance with Napierkowska from spring 1912 through early 1915, and her subsequent affairs with other women. Napierkowska writes to Dulac in April 1913, while on tour in Europe “The most beautiful day of my life is the one upon which I knew you, February 27, 1913. I am coming back!!!! I am crazy with joy.”36 After a dinner party at the Dulacs’ home (24, rue Chaptal) in September 1913, Marcel Sembat refers similarly to “that little agile dancer, la Napierkowska, that Germaine is crazy about.”37

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Dulac’s marriage to Albert becomes increasingly strained during the prewar years, leading to a break-up in 1913. Several of Albert’s letters reference a long, ambiguous, and even fraught romance while also testifying to a deeply sustaining friendship. Following a reference in 1906 to her “fear at opening her heart” and in 1910 to their amicable separation, a break-up letter from June 1913 seems more definitive:


Germaine, I write this after three hours of reflection, in full consciousness of my thoughts and of my act. I want there to no longer be a question of love between us: there is no longer any love. I do not want to further damage the beautiful memory of our past. I want my freedom back and I want to give you back yours. I will do everything so that this separation gives you the greatest number of possibilities. I hope that you will allow me to show you for a long time still the great esteem that I have for your intelligence and your character and to stay very faithfully your best friend.—Albert38

In the period leading up to their legal separation in 1922, the two would maintain a strong amicable and professional bond and an enduring correspondence. In subsequent letters, Albert mentions the couple’s unconventional conjugal situation and characterizes their encounter with Napierkowska as a source of liberation, making affectionate references to the latter and to the “trio” they now form, playfully signing these letters “Tim.” (The nickname is perhaps a reference to Louis Feuillade’s popular sixty-plus 1912–16 film serial featuring the character, and enfant terrible Bout-de-Zan, translated as Tiny Tim.) Barring further evidence, an additional March 29, 1915, letter referring to their marriage as a source of liberation raises the question of whether or not Albert himself was gay, and whether or not theirs might have been a marriage of convenience. He writes: “April is for us that of realizations. Ten years ago, the sixth liberated us [marriage April 6, 1905]. Three years ago, the seventeenth [April 17, 1912] we met Stasia. Two years ago her return from the U.S. [April 1914].” In fact, further correspondence suggests that he accepted and at times encouraged Dulac’s romance not only with “Stasou,” as he sometimes called her, but also with other women in the open relationship they maintained until their eventual separation after the war.39 Of these women, seemingly of Jewish ethnicity, and around the time Dulac met her next partner Irène Hillel-Erlanger (as well as actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein), he queried, in a letter dated April 3, 1915, “Since we’ve been apart, how many haven’t you known? When you feel inspired, I’d be curious to know what about them pleases you.”40 Her subsequent cohabitation with film programmer, realist songwriter and future documentary filmmaker Marie-Anne Colson-Malleville from 1922 (the year of her final separation from Albert) to 1942 further supports this.41 Turning to Dulac’s filmmaking, it seems reasonable to infer that her homosexuality (and perhaps that of Albert) contributed to the arguably subversive and queer aesthetics or the aesthetics of potentiality that her 1920s films display.

(p.55) Voyages en kaléidoscope: New Ventures, Preparing the Course

In the spring of 1915, her projects with Napierkowska on hold, Dulac met Irène Hillel-Erlanger (née Berthe Rebecca Alice Irène Hillel-Manoach, 1878–1920), an unsparing observer and critic, with whom she developed an intense and impassioned affair, eclipsing her romance with Napierkowska, and with whom she would cofound her first film production company a year later.42 Daughter of a prominent banker, and recently divorced from Opéra comique composer Camille Erlanger, Hillel-Erlanger had made a name of her own among creative circles as a regular contributor to Paris’s most prestigious literary journals, including Paul Fort’s Vers et Prose and André Gide’s Nouvelle Revue Française. This was before publishing her fascinating esoteric dispositif novel, Voyages en kaléidoscope (1919), a work that evokes Bergson’s 1908 proto-cinematic use of the phantasmagoric device to characterize the human experience in time, as a duration periodically shaken to provide new perspectives.43 Hillel-Erlanger extends this motif, “think perhaps of Kaleido: Our Characters (it says) are the very same Structure and Substance of our condition.”44 As Richard Armin has pointed out, the poetess’s dispositif, evoked by its Dada-inspired cover illustration, records, codes, compresses and stores our visions for posterity, and projects them back as “animated metaphors” or “kaleidosopic voyages,” a vision that patently coincides with Dulac’s view of newsreel cinema in particular (before digital media); as an archive of the unconscious gestures of our daily lives that makes us see anew.45 Hillel-Erlanger’s dispositif also accords with that of Dulac’s contemporary, pacifist, banker, and founder of the Archives de la Planète and micro-cinematography lab Albert Kahn, as demonstrated by Paula Amad’s groundbreaking study, Counter-Archive.46 Aside from its Dadaist character that no doubt dislodged bourgeois sensibilities, Hillel-Erlanger’s novel accords on several fronts with Dulac’s humanistic vision of the new modern medium: not only as an apparatus for radical technological intervention into the human experience of space and time, one that links the individual and the collective, the subjective and the objective, the animate and the inanimate, but also as epitomized by Dulac’s approach to the newsreel as a tool for greater human understanding. As Hillel-Erlanger writes, “individual and collective merge in a kind of transcendental and humorous physical chemistry,” and, prefiguring Dulac’s later position on the international newsreel, “HARMONY [IS] BORN THROUGH AN EXCHANGE OF IDEAS!”47

(p.56) Hillel-Erlanger also frequented the city’s most distinguished literary, artistic and political circles, and organized several important literary salons in the late teens, guest hosted by figures such as Jean Cocteau, Anna de Noailles, and founder of the Dada literary and art movement Tristan Tzara. It is in this context that Dulac came into contact with Louis Aragon, who founded and coedited with the poet Phillipe Soupault and André Breton the Dadaist journal Littérature, financed in large part by Hillel-Erlanger.48 This early connection may help explain Dulac’s future engagement as director of La Coquille et le clergyman, based on Antonin Artaud’s script and financed by the Noailles family.

In the fall of that year, Dulac explored the economic feasibility of creating a film company that would draw on Hillel-Erlanger’s talents as a writer, her own interest in mise-en-scène or directing, and Albert’s literary and financial background.49 As the Napoleonic code still restricted the financial transactions of married women (including opening a bank account), Albert’s role as financial administrator of the film company was also a practical one. Yet he seemed to envision the enterprise as something to be carried out only after his liberation at war’s end. In his war-worn words, Dulac’s immediate task was simply to prepare the venture:

Your role, which you understand perfectly, is to take care of everything currently within your power. Maintain your connections, and keep a circle of friends that is stimulating, understanding and reassuring; prepare the path that we must follow so that each of us, full of strength and youth [. …], will only have to rise when peace makes us free again; that is the great work. They are only preparations, momentary arrangements. Achievements will come later, all the better because of the path you have laid out, and the steps you have prepared. That role is yours.50

Despite Albert’s tentativeness, in less than six months, by the spring of 1916 (with no end of the war in sight), Dulac was preparing to put her plans into action. Albert, who had hoped to play a more creative role, still gave his full support, while assuming the more symbolic position of chairman of the board and general manager.51 Her choice to move ahead without his presence is in keeping with the profound shift in the social landscape for women during the war and with a more radical gendering of attitudes that would persist afterward.

Indeed, in 1916, the contrast between life on the battlefront and the home front was striking. In French, as in English, the literal terms that designate (p.57) these two fronts—l’avant (the front), where men were, and l’arrière (the rear) or l’intérieur (inside), where women were—reminded the respective genders of their places in society. Yet the daily reality of the war was drastically different. It gave women increased liberty and mobility, and confined men to their trenches or outposts on the then-stabilized front. The hero of Henri Barbusse’s celebrated naturalist novel Le Feu (which received the Prix Goncourt in 1916) expresses the general uneasiness that this contrast created: “There are two countries. I say, we are split into two foreign countries: notably, the [war front] out there where too many are miserable, and the home front here, where too many are happy.”52

As the Great War continued, women were increasingly exercising their new independence, and taking advantage of the accompanying professional opportunities, in the absence of men, a realization that did not go unnoticed on the front. On April 18, 1916, Albert wrote, “You say that life is returning to normal at home. That is certainly the impression we have on the front, and increasingly so. Socially a situation that endures eventually finds a balance. One has to live and, inevitably, life adapts to its circumstances. The poilus [French soldiers, 1914–18] are adapting to the war; and little by little, civilians are learning to live without the poilus. Work, pleasure, everyone’s social relations are organized without them.”53

While Albert agreeably evoked the resumption of activity on the home front, he also pointed to the crisis that this was creating for the soldiers. He continued: “They feel it. Some already ask what will become of them upon their return. At first one kept a place for them. Then came the forgetting. More months will pass. Except in some hearts, their memory will be erased. They’ll return. Will they not be intruders? […] How will this multitude separated from the nation be assimilated again?”54 This sense of detachment and extrication, which contributed to an emerging male identity crisis, did not go unacknowledged by Dulac, and it would later be reflected in her postwar films through the recurring tropes of male anguish, desolation and suicide (e.g., La Cigarette, 1919; La Belle Dame sans merci, 1921; La Souriante Madame Beudet, 1923; Antoinette Sabrier, 1927).

The prolonged absence of men from the home front and the workforce brought new job opportunities for women, even beyond the dominant wartime domains of agriculture and arms manufacturing (in which the Schneider family, marchands de canons, played a key role).55 With most of its filmmakers, technicians, and actors mobilized, the French film industry (already in retreat (p.58) after Pathé’s departure from the MPPC Trust) slowed.56 With the drop in national production, and the flood of films from the United States, Italy, and Scandinavia, the French motion-picture industry welcomed investors and was more open to engaging women as directors and, more particularly, as producers. While the work of female producer-directors during this period remains underdocumented, numerous women—including actresses Napierkowska and her 1915 costar in Feuillade’s Fantômas, Musidora, with whom Dulac would work in 1922—established their own small production companies (as did Lois Weber and Alla Nazimova in the United States), however short-lived. The lack of documentation on the directorial careers of early women pioneers (excepting more recent efforts, notably by the projects of Women and Film History International) reflects the anxieties regarding shifting gender roles at the time.

In Dulac’s case, in the spring of 1916, Albert endorsed her creation of a production company, not yet named but referring to it, even, as a contribution to national productivity, as the director herself would later. Within days of his legal authorization, Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger (whose privileged social situations rendered it possible) traveled to Marseille to discuss the details of the company’s first venture.57

In April 1916, when the company’s name was still La Parisienne, and before having settled on a script, Dulac decided that the first film would feature Ibsenian actress Suzanne Desprès, a choice that Albert considered “a masterstroke for the company.”58 She envisioned several possible projects, including Jules Renard’s Poil de carotte (Carrot-top), in which Desprès had starred at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre, as well as Tolstoy’s five-act play Resurrection. She also considered an untitled story that Albert described as “very cinematic” by Russian symbolist Maxim Gorky, whose story “Makar Chudra” she would later adapt with her “visual symphony,” La Folie des vaillants, in 1925.59 Yet, owing in part to copyright considerations, Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger almost exclusively directed their own scripts during the first few years of their company’s existence.60 Somewhat ironically, with the expansion of the postwar industry, Dulac would be forced to work for larger corporations, and to turn more frequently to film adaptations, broadly considered to be more reliable investments.

In May 1916, with the necessary authorizations from Albert to create a company, Dulac drew up a contract for the new enterprise, in association with Hillel-Erlanger and a third unnamed female collaborator (that appears to have been Mme Henry Lapauze, pseud. Daniel Lesueur), who did not stay with the company.61 Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger’s shared interests in astrology, (p.59)

The Great War and Dulac’s First Films

Figure 4. Les Films DH logo for Dulac Hillel-Erlanger films (1917).

Rights reserved. Collection Cinémathèque française.

chiromancy, and Hinduism seem to have inspired the new establishment’s numerous prospective names, and some of its most creative productions. As a letter from the Établissement Henri Lapauze indicates, the production outfit was initially to be named La Parisienne (April 1916). For this, Kees Van Dongen designed an art nouveau logo showing the heads of the three women, with their hair let down, mixing with and encircling the company’s name. The name La Parisienne was followed by Astra Films (May 1916), Films Samothrace (June 1916), and the Hindu name, Krishna Films (June 1916), after which Albert joked, “I hope we shall soon celebrate the company’s 100th name!” Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger then tried out Films Psyché (August 1916), and DELIA Films (October 1916), before joining their initials in the arabescally designed equanimic logo: Les Films DH.62

La Lumière du cœur: Dulac’s First Wartime Production

Dulac’s debut as a producer allowed her a certain degree of autonomy. In July 1916, before directing her first film projects, she financed a short film titled La Lumière du cœur (The light of the heart), directed by and starring Edmond Van Daële (produced under the company name Krishna Films and distributed by Pathé Consortium) as a means of increasing the nascent company’s capital.63 This wartime project, set in an arms manufacturing plant, also shows her determination to promote socially relevant works. During the first two years of the conflict, the industry was largely geared toward producing propagandistic films with patriotic themes connected to the war.64 La Lumière du cœur (October 1916) is exceptional both in its pacifist topic of wartime mutilation and in its representation of the associated gender implications.

(p.60) The film, currently considered lost, is summarized in a publicity brochure.65 It is the story of Jean de Guersaut, engineer and director of an important explosives factory, and his young and beautiful fiancé, Sabine de Villepré. On the eve of their engagement dinner, Jean is blinded in an explosion provoked by a foreign spy in quest of the company’s secret formula. He initially decides not to marry. Sabine, “wanting no other happiness than to be his light,” elects to “sacrifice” herself for his love, however, and the two go on to marry, have children, and to live what is considered a happy life. That is, until one day, Sabine, while working alone in the explosives laboratory, is attacked by two strangers seeking the formula; she is left disfigured. Initially, this injury is of no importance to her, since Jean is destined to “forever keep her adorable image in his heart.” The film reaches its turning point when a friend (who happens to be American) puts Jean in touch with an oculist who can restore his sight, and allow him to see his wife and children again. Of course, Jean is exalted by this prospect until, on the day of the operation, Sabine tells him of her injury, and her fear that he will be unable to bear the sight of her disfigurement. In a dramatic struggle of “two consciences,” Jean saved long ago “from despair and death” by “the beautiful soul of Sabine,” and given that “the beauty of her face will shine forever in his heart,” refuses the operation, “preferring, to the light of the eyes, the light of the heart.”66

Although sentimental heroics were prevalent in cultural representations during this period, the film’s theme of wartime mutilation, present in literature, photos, and newsreels, was not common in French fiction films until after the war.67 Abel Gance’s later film J’Accuse (1919), which addresses loss of memory, reason, and eyesight, if not physical mutilation, has been considered a precursor in this domain.68 La Lumière du cœur’s displacement of the theme onto a female character is more unusual. The heroine’s actions and participation in the war effort, through her work in an explosives factory, is shown to contain elements of risk generally associated with men. Moreover, the representation of female heroism is also relatively uncommon during this period. Léonce Perret’s war films (one of which shows a mother risking her life to neutralize a German spy) are one of very few exceptions.69

The treatment of blindness in La Lumière du cœur is also original. In the work of Perret and Gance, blindness functioned as a metaphor for the cataclysm of war, and the fact that things could never again be seen in the same way. Yet, in La Lumière du cœur, it also interrogates the notion that a woman’s physical beauty is the measure of her value, relevant at the time, if not still today.70 Notably, Dulac also employed the theme of mutilation in her (p.61) abstract for a novel titled Le Coup de feu (Gunfire), a play on words with the expression coup de foudre (love at first sight).71 This undated project, the story of a disabled ex-serviceman abandoned by his wife upon his return from the front, speaks to issues surrounding women’s newfound liberty, questions of fidelity, along with questions of postwar masculine identity and displacement, which would be central themes in her films of the late 1910s and 1920s.

According to Richard Abel, as well as Georges Sadoul and Jean Mitry, during the latter years of the conflict, audiences grew weary of war subjects, and the industry called for more entertainment films.72 Less categorical on this issue, film historian Laurent Véray argues that in 1917, production diversified, and the industry naturally turned to other subjects, including a new breed of films (e.g., Louis Feuillade’s Vendémiaire and Gance’s J’Accuse) that addressed war issues in a more sophisticated and realistic way, despite their attachment to certain simplistic, yet timeworn representational elements.73 While Dulac’s wartime films (1917–18) do not directly address the conflict, her two surviving postwar works written during this period, La Cigarette (script by Jacques de Baroncelli) and La Fête espagnole (script by Louis Delluc), contain themes that are strongly linked to its context. Both address masculinity, or male identity, seen to be in crisis by the culture at large. The latter film evoked wartime violence just as the notion of a crisis of masculinity was reaching its culmination point.74 Men had returned from the war victorious. However, their distressing combat experiences, and the fact that women had proven their capacity to take on traditionally masculine roles at home, raised questions about men’s place in a society that seemed to have gotten by without them. This crisis in male identity would become central to Dulac’s critique of gender roles in her postwar films, particularly in relation to institutionalized inequalities such as bourgeois conceptions of marriage that reinforced traditional gender roles. Until then, however, Dulac’s directorial projects centered on women and more immediately visible class divisions exacerbated by a relentless war.

Lost Films

All of Dulac’s first directorial efforts undertaken during the war, regrettably, are thought to be lost. However, Dulac’s scripts, production files, and correspondence tell us a great deal about the social issues and themes, narrative structures, and formal techniques she employed, and also provide a useful context for the study of her extant postwar films. These projects all appear to have been innovative, not only in their focus on women, often from diverse (p.62) social backgrounds (working class, bourgeois, aristocratic), but also in their progressive approach to issues such as marriage, courtship, female companionship, motherhood, and career choice.

Between the summer of 1916 and the fall of 1918 (and prior to La Cigarette and La Fête espagnole, shot after the November 1918 armistice), Dulac produced and directed a remarkable six feature-length films, four of which were authored or coauthored by Irène Hillel-Erlanger, as well as a series of journalistic shorts.75 These include the company’s first production, Les Sœurs ennemies (DELIA Films, 1917), written in the summer of 1916 under Irène Hillel-Erlanger’s nom de plume, Claude Lorrey, and Dulac’s playful pseudonym, Dominique Dix; these names are followed by the pseudonyms Irène Hillel and Germaine de Sessey, respectively.76 Dulac’s next two films, La Vraie Richesse (True wealth), released as Géo le mystérieux (Géo the mysterious, 1917),77 and Vénus Victrix, distributed as Dans l’Ouragan de la vie (In the hurricane of life, 1917), were written by Hillel-Erlanger.78 The coauthored Le Bonheur des autres (The happiness of others, 1919), one of their first films promoted in the United States, was their final collaboration before the writer’s untimely death from tuberculosis in 1920 at age forty-two.79

During this period, Dulac also wrote, directed, and produced a six-episode serial, Âmes de fous (Mad souls, 1918), starring Ève Francis, Paul Claudel’s theatrical muse, released with a weekly novelization of the film in Le Petit Journal.80 Then, for a series of popular divertissements cinématographiques (entertainment shorts), she also wrote, directed, and produced Trois Pantins pour une poupée (Three puppets for a doll, 1918), an intriguing commedia dell’arte–inspired “ballet-pantomime,” a mode popularized by L’Opéra de Paris that made extensive use of dance and mime. This project dialogues with a more modernist turn during this period: first with Dulac’s correspondent, pantomime innovator, and early cinema actor Georges Wague, and subsequently with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet russes (1909–29). This modernized pantomimic form, which falls between the cracks of customary periodizations of early cinema (1895–1914) and the 1920s avant-garde (1919–29), carried the more abstract forms and provocative representations of gender of the emerging Impressionist movement. Set at a cross-dressing masked ball at which “a woman chooses the most loyal of four men” and featuring the archetypal performative commedia dell’arte characters (the independent and outspoken chambermaid, Columbine; the naïve Pierrot; the cynic Arlequin; and the duplicitous chameleon, Polichinelle), Dulac’s Trois Pantins reversed gender expectations of the time (p.63) and anticipated the mobility of social roles in her later films. It also prefigured a spectacular masked ball sequence featuring the same commedia dell’arte characters, lavishly cross-dressed, in her 1925 international melodrama, Âme d’artiste (An artist’s soul, released in the UK as The Heart of an Actress).81 After the war and Hillel-Erlanger’s premature passing, Dulac would write, direct, and produce three additional films under the DH name, including Malencontre (Misfortune, 1920), based on a novel by Guy Chantepleure, La Belle Dame sans merci (The beautiful woman without mercy, 1921), from an original idea by Hillel-Erlanger, and Werther (1922), an unfinished short, shot in Berlin, and based on Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther). Of these three, only La Belle Dame survives.

The Dulac Hillel-Erlanger Collaborations

The early Hillel-Erlanger adaptations, like her novels, are highly autobiographical, and like certain of Dulac’s later films, they are also satirical in tone. Albert Dulac, after reading Hillel-Erlanger’s novel La Chasse au bonheur (The search for happiness, pseud. Claude Lorrey, 1913) remarked on this characteristic, as well as its mask of masculinity, giving perspective to Dulac’s use of caricature and irony in their surviving collaborations (e.g., Belle Dame):

I’ve finished reading the book I told you about yesterday. The subtlety of its deliberate sarcasm became clear to me in one or two chapters toward the end. It’s only there that the author opens up. And we see that the irony of the first three-quarters of the work is simply a mask behind which a very beautiful sensibility hides. I’m afraid that women’s literature is necessarily autobiographical. And I look forward to the book in which Claude Lorrey abandons her masculine disguise and unreservedly expresses her emotion. In fact, I expect a lot from that book, which, moreover, has perhaps [already] been written.”82

One of the most predominant autobiographical aspects of Hillel-Erlanger’s writings stems from her marriage to composer Camille Erlanger, who left her (and their son, Philippe Erlanger), for the famously beautiful cantatrice Marthe Chenal (see especially Erlanger’s Aphrodite, 1908). While Chenal had offered to share Erlanger’s favors in a “modern domestic arrangement,” their divorce was finalized in 1912, after a protracted public celebrity-style scandal.83 As Jacques Simonelli has noted, both of her novels (La Chasse au bonheur, 1913; and Voyages en kaléidoscope, 1919), and all of her film scripts (except Géo le mystérieux) feature a triangular relationship in which “a man hesitates (or is (p.64) caught in a conflict) between two women, one of whom is a mother, or linked to a child.”84 Simonelli’s description notwithstanding, the emphasis in these works, and in Dulac’s films, is on the self-definition and self-realization of one or both of the female characters, in spite of the male protagonist (e.g., Les Sœurs ennemies, Vénus Victrix, Géo le mystérieux). Subsequent to her collaboration with Hillel-Erlanger, however, Dulac would go further, either by shifting the configuration to one woman and two men (Antoinette Sabrier, 1927) or by shifting the balance so that it is the woman who chooses (Âme d’artiste, 1925; Princesse Mandane, 1928).

As Simonelli has argued, the author also set up a “virgin-vamp” dichotomy, an opposition that would gain prevalence, particularly in cinema, with the emergence of the mythic figure of the newly liberated garçonne (flapper) in the 1920s. Simonelli defended this position by pointing out that, despite the obvious concern with women’s emancipation, maternal issues remain important in these scripts. Furthermore, as is the case in the films Vénus Victrix (1917) and La Belle Dame sans merci (1921), the second woman is often either an actress or a dancer, emblematic of a more libertine femininity. Although, as Simonelli suggests, this virgin-vamp opposition is present, it differs from the Jazz Age flowering of this image in the sense that the nonmaternal figure is not vilified. Moreover, there is a transformation of the traditional role of motherhood, foundational for Dulac’s later approaches to female emancipation.85

In the case of Dulac’s Les Sœurs ennemies, where only a maternal figure exists, the archetype is called into question, and reconfigured outside of the conventional family structure.86 Les Sœurs ennemies tells the story of two orphaned sisters (a theme related to the war): an elder sister (a typist), and the younger sister she raised, and whose sisterly bond is broken when the latter marries, ironically in order to care for her wealthy husband’s motherless child. Embittered by this rupture, the older sister (Suzanne Desprès) attempts to sabotage her brother-in-law’s business. Yet the narrative and visual design of the film compels the audience to identify and sympathize with her alienation, and the sisters’ mutual affection in the face of what is portrayed as an undesirable new family configuration. Indeed, this depiction of closeness or alliance and reconciliation between the two female characters will be important to all subsequent DH collaborations, including that of the allied betrayed maternal figure and vamp archetype in Dulac’s extant film La Belle Dame sans merci. (p.65)

The Great War and Dulac’s First Films

Figure 5. Suzanne Desprès as Lucile Aubry, and Marguerite Véry as Jeannine Aubry. Les Sœurs ennemies, 1917.

Rights reserved. Collection Cinémathèque française.

Characteristics of Style

Production files, correspondence, and photographs indicate the dominant formal and stylistic influences and elements of Dulac’s lost wartime films, particularly their realism and symbolism. While some early painterly, musical, and literary inspirations are evident, Dulac’s early directorial choices were predominantly influenced by her relationship to theater. By 1915, she had moved beyond simply drawing theatrical sets (e.g., her 1913 sketch of decor for Salomé) and began to concretize her conceptions.87 A June 1915 letter from Albert tells us that Dulac constructed a model theater set using a system of magnets.88 In keeping with her evolving pedagogical aims, Dulac later created and exhibited a large-scale model of a film set (along with camera lenses she designed) at the 1924 exposition “L’Art dans le cinéma français,” curated by Musée Galliera director Henri Clouzot. The vast retrospective and conference (featuring film luminaries Marcel L’Herbier, Jean Epstein, Dr. Jean Comandon, Léon Moussinac, Robert Mallet-Stevens, and Francis Jourdain) showcased the technical and artistic elements of cinema (cameras, objects, drawings, posters, and original manuscripts) alongside the fashion, furniture, (p.66) and architecture of the latest art deco set designers (prefiguring the activities of the Cinémathèque française as Musée du Cinéma).89

In addition, Dulac’s early works show an interest, not only in the theater as a representation of the world, but also in the world itself as a representation like theater. This self-reflexive notion of life as theater (popularized by the commedia dell’arte) anticipates Dulac’s 1920s filmic explorations of life and art as social representation (via parody, caricature, gossip, etc.). In his letters to her, Albert often describes the events on the war front via references to the work of painters (e.g., the orientalist Eugène Fromentin) and writers (e.g., Edgar Allan Poe) of the romantic and symbolist era.90 He also compared it to the violent spectacles of the Grand Guignol theater located on rue Chaptal, just across from their Paris home. In June 1915, after a nocturnal visit to a front-line battlefield, Albert compared the war’s reality to the naturalistic horror of the theater: “I am still stunned, as if I’d really been to the Grand Guignol, a Grand Guignol that is neither pretend, nor cheap terror, but real horror, death with the smell of it.” Of the “Dantean decor,” he continued, “We depart from this illuminated theater as from a fairground stall, where the right to live is defended by a few obscure nurses, and we penetrate into the night again with the impression of escaping a simulation. Life is theater. Only death, which spreads its great wings over this fine night, is real.”91

While Dulac’s few extant writings of the early war period do not refer to this confrontation between art and life, representation and reality, many of her early films and production files contain self-reflexive references to the theater as world, or as a place of social representation anticipating the sophisticated mise-en-abyme of later films (e.g., backstage theater in Âme d’Artiste, and unreliable narration in Diable dans la ville [Devil in the city]). For example, in Vénus Victrix (1917), Dulac employed the theater milieu not only as the setting in which the drama of her principal characters is played out, but also as the representation of a world in which people of different walks of life confront one another. According to a publicity description of the film, “A large crowd draws back to create a space for the artists’ exit at the Grand Theater. Men wearing tails and women in low-cut dresses mix with male and female workers in their Sunday best; it’s a mixture of all worlds.”92 Similarly, according to a description by a Ciné-Journal critic, Dulac’s sentimental comedy Le Bonheur des autres, starring Ethel Clayton, features “an unprecedented attraction—a night-time party in a Montmartre restaurant, shot with authentic personnel of a famous house, as well as a performance of Hamlet, seen from the wings of a grand theater.”93 Dulac would depict (p.67) dance or theater within a film (and later, film within a film) in a number of her works of the 1920s, to create parallels and oppositions between dramatic and social representation (e.g., La Belle Dame sans merci, 1921; La Souriante Madame Beudet, 1923; Gossette, 1923; Âme d’artiste, 1925; Antoinette Sabrier, 1927; Princesse Mandane, 1928).

The theater also constituted an important stylistic frame of reference for Dulac’s use of realist acting, outdoor settings, and authentic props and decor, traits that would later be associated with post–World War II film critic and theorist André Bazin (1918–1958). For instance, her first film, Les Sœurs ennemies, features two prominent naturalist and symbolist French theater actors. Suzanne Desprès, whom she knew from her associative and journalistic work at La Française, was distinguished for her realist acting in her husband Lugné-Poë’s symbolist productions of Ibsen’s work at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre. Dulac also hired Jacques Grétillat, a regular player at the Théâtre de l’Odéon under André Antoine, who had starred in Antoine’s naturalist film Les Frères corses (The Corsican brothers, 1916), before going on to direct his own.94 Dulac’s second film, Géo le mystérieux, starred Grétillat, as well as Jane Marken, also active in Antoine’s theater. In addition, Dulac used location shooting (Géo le mystérieux, Âmes de fous), as well as simple, authentic, yet symbolic settings and decors, drawn by hand, in order to indicate social status and relations.95 For example, set during the French Revolution, much of her serial Âmes de fous was shot outdoors. For scenes requiring historical decors, Dulac used real settings, such as the Château de Versailles and Paris’s Musée de Cluny (officially known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge).

Other realist tendencies were evident in Dulac’s early films. For example, in one of her earliest articles, “Où sont les interprètes?” (Where are the actors?), published in Le Film (1918), she promoted the use of nonprofessional actors in secondary roles to enhance the realistic portrayals of her characters.96 She also loved, owned (fish, dogs), and featured live animals (birds, fish, dogs, and a monkey) in her films. For example, in Les Sœurs ennemies, a child capers about with a greyhound. As the critic Louis Delluc noted, Dulac employed numerous “Asian cats and dogs” in Âmes de fous.97 This convention, which anticipates Bazin’s theories on the use of live animals as a realist device, is one of many proto-aesthetic realist techniques that characterizes her fiction films (e.g., Gossette, Âme d’artiste, Diable dans la ville, Folie des vaillants).98

Additionally, Dulac employed numerous techniques rooted in theatrical naturalism, with its penchant for authenticity and a diegetically motivated mise-en-scène, in order to communicate character psychology. For example, (p.68) in the first scene of Les Sœurs ennemies, Dulac has a character (played by Suzanne Desprès) carry a work lamp. She uses the light and shadow cast by the lamp to express visually the woman’s worry as she awaits the arrival of her younger sister for dinner.99 Later in the film, she uses narrative elements such as the light of a gas stove, as well as a pendulum, a mirror, and steaming soup (techniques present in the work of Zola, Antoine, and Lugné-Poë) to portray the protagonist’s evolving psychological state. This use of expressive diegetic lighting was contemporaneous with that of Cecil B. DeMille’s film The Cheat, which Louis Delluc upheld as a landmark work upon its 1916 French release. In Les Sœurs ennemies, Dulac also links figures and objects through juxtapositions, fades, and dissolves as a means of illustrating characters’ thoughts. The surviving script shows that Dulac was meticulous in her particularization of character placement and movement in relation to the elements of decor, lighting, and shot distance, as she would be in her later projects, which carefully specify effects, camera movement, and shot duration or rhythm.100

Dulac’s use of naturalist techniques, as a means of representing character psychology, gradually gave way to more specifically symbolist tendencies, as she employed cultural references to painting and music, for instance, as well as actors whose performance styles bolstered this approach. For example, again in Les Sœurs ennemies, Dulac’s choice to star her early muse Suzanne Desprès of Lugné-Poë’s Théâtre de l’Œuvre reverberated in the film’s symbolist style. In the magazine La Rampe (The footlights), François Crucy, called Desprès “the incomparable revealer of Ibsen’s genius … she who in this country was the first great interpreter of this Theater of Ideas.”101 Unlike the dramatic acting of classical theater, Desprès, known for her modern and realist style and her tendency toward subtlety and simplicity functioned as a single element within a larger symbolist framework.

This context sheds light on the aspects of theater that most influenced Dulac. As the La Rampe critic Claude Briault wrote of this approach to mise-en-scène: “When the action developed by an author has been carried out with the very clear intention of creating an abstract ensemble whose scenic development is really an illustration and live commentary, it appears clear that, above the dramatic art and the interpretation of life, there is something dominant revealed by this very art that is of the domain of philosophy and pure thought—in short, a concept.”102 While Dulac employed some classical elements in her first film, her use of Desprès attests to her highly modern conception of the actor as one of many components in a much larger and more complex system, one interweaving into the film’s open constellation of meanings.

(p.69) Many of the symbolist features that would characterize Dulac’s 1910s and 1920s work, and that drew inspiration from literature, painting, music, and opera (e.g., Baudelaire, pre-Raphaelite painting, and Debussy), also had links to the theater. In 1915, Dulac attended a representation of Debussy’s revolutionary symbolist opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, based on Maeterlinck’s play.103 Inspired in part by the “oriental theater” of the poet and writer Pierre Louÿs, Debussy’s original and audacious conception of harmony and rhythm, and his dramatic use of sound, silence, and interweaving themes and motifs created an impression of improvisation or instability within continuity, and a new auditory sensuality, whose visual equivalent can be found in Dulac’s narrative and abstract films (e.g., Invitation au voyage, 1927; Thèmes et variations, 1929; Arabesque, 1929). Dulac also attended Diaghilev’s Ballets russes, which had transformed the domain of ballet by making it a veritable synthesis of the arts (painting, music, dance). She was particularly inspired by the sumptuous decor and exotic fantasy atmosphere created by Diaghilev’s scenic designer Léon Bakst for Les Femmes de bonne humeur (The good-humored ladies) at its Paris premiere (Théâtre du Chatelet, May 11, 1917).104 Bakst’s elaborate designs and vibrant colors find echoes in the intricate patterns of the costumes and decor of Dulac’s exotic and erotic third film, Vénus Victrix (1917), which stars Stasia Napierkowska, and her fourth film, Âmes de fous (1918), with Ève Francis. As a letter to Albert attests, Dulac was also influenced in her use of gesture and movement by the Russian dancer, actress, and pantomime artist Ida Rubinstein, another major figure of the Ballets russes (and heir of modern dancer Isadora Duncan).105

Celebrated for the audacity of her spellbinding Mikhail Fokine-directed private debut performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (1908, censored for erotic indecency; an additional performance in 1912) and Shéhérezade (1911), Rubinstein’s keen sense of expressive movement allowed her to convey an intense sensuality and deep mysticism on the stage. Correspondence with Albert, as well as film stills reveal that Dulac used Rubinstein as a model for Napierkowska’s gestures and poses in the theater play in Vénus Victrix.106

Other creative tendencies in 1910s theater and literature influenced the artistic sensibility of Dulac’s films. For instance, an orientalist tendency that gained popularity in the 1910s due in part to the success of Diaghilev’s ballet, helped shape the Eastern mysticism prominent in many of her films, and central to Vénus Victrix.

In this film, a wealthy theater proprietor plans to leave his wife for the entrancing Hindu dancer, Djali (Napierkowska). At first glance, the orientalism (p.70) incarnated by Djali and her potions and dances might be seen as a simple exoticization of the mysterious and unfamiliar world of the East. Indeed, Napierkowska’s character states, “I come from the Indies [Indonesia], where I danced dances yet unknown.”107 Yet, as Gaylyn Studlar has argued with regard to early Hollywood cinema, such an interpretation can be reductive and limiting. On the one hand, as Studlar has noted, the use of “oriental,” particularly East, Southeast, and Central Asian, themes and settings associated with the Ballets russes was used to add artistic value and status to the motion picture medium, still considered by many to be little more than a frivolous attraction.108 On the other, and within the context of Dulac’s work, this orientalism also had feminist implications. It was often associated with themes of travel and imagination, and could be seen to represent women’s physical and spiritual emancipation from a fixed social category bounded by the stasis of tradition (Âme d’artiste, La Folie des vaillants, Antoinette Sabrier, Princesse Mandane). For Dulac, the allure of Hinduism, which inspired the early name for her company, Krishna Films, is also tied to her interest in the doctrines of reincarnation and multiple identities. As Albert affirms in a March 1917 letter: “The idea of diverse incarnations of Djali and the Flame are perfect.”109 A connection is apparent between Dulac’s interest in both Eastern mysticism and feminism, with many of her films addressing the rebirth and transformation of women. Additionally, experimentation with East Asian and Central Asian themes permitted Dulac to push back social boundaries through her work. For example, her films Âmes de fous (1918) and Malencontre (1920), featuring the French Javanese dancer Djemil Anik, are among the earliest uses of an actor of color in a prominent role in France. She would later employ Anik as a figure of maritime fantasy in her 1927 L’Invitation au voyage (Invitation to a voyage).110

Though Dulac sought early on to delineate the cinema as a modern art free from the established conventions of classical literature and theater, she would continue to be inspired by the more innovative and liberating tendencies within modern and particularly symbolist literature and theater, inasmuch as they could help her to create a universe with new representational possibilities that would respect her conception of cinematic specificity.111 In the early twentieth century, cinema and other arts were integrally linked through their common relation to modernity and shared vision of a “new man,” as Jacques Rancière has pointed out, and Dulac’s films no less dramatically depict a “new woman.” In the fall of 1917, just one year after directing Les Sœurs ennemies, and just as she had started working on the serial Amês de fous, Dulac began (p.71) to concretize this new vision of a cinema that she would develop during the 1920s and 1930s: that is, of a new medium capable of representing modern life and of providing a vision of a new world.

On November 12, 1917, Dulac published her first article on cinema, “Miseen-scène,” in the weekly journal Le Film, published by Henri Diamant-Berger and edited by pioneering literary and film critic Louis Delluc, Ève Francis’s soon-to-be husband (January 1918). This early article attests to her already expansive approach to the cinema and announces the major concerns that would come to define her career, namely, cinema’s potential as an art, its relation to industry and to the public, as well as, in this wartime context, its role in the propagation of French culture.112

In the introduction to her article, Delluc praised the innovation of this new artist who, based on her directorial debut, he asserted, “already ranks among the best.” Significantly, Dulac’s first film article adopted a militant tone as she defended, with strong symbolist echoes, cinema as “a new means of expression […]. A new form. Perhaps a new form of art.” Dulac announced her interest in creating a subtle, yet sophisticated technique that would allow her to ally realism and symbolism with the concrete and the spiritual, asking: “Isn’t there a lot to be said when one can exploit the most subtle nuances of light, make gestures speak, animate forms, evoke all that which, through our eyes, address our spirit, from reality to dream?”113 By exploiting the expressivity of light, gesture and movement, Dulac’s approach would allow her to consider, often subtly and obliquely, the increasing disparity between the “new woman’s” aspirations for liberty and her social reality after the war.

Yet, the article addressed a major obstacle to the cinema’s development as an art and social tool: the incomprehension of the public. In the coming years, this would become the primary impetus for her development of a broad pedagogical approach to the cinema via filmmaking and activism. Dulac described this problem as twofold. She noted the passivity of popular audiences: “the unthinking mass who, like children in front of the magic lantern not so long ago, seek a simple pleasure of imagination.” She also pointed to the disinterest of the elite: “people of taste, intellectuals and artists [who] flee in response to a spectacle that they are not always wrong to disdain as vulgar.” Dulac took on the complex challenge of establishing the legitimacy of cinema as an art and its popularization, while in turn nurturing a struggling industry. She not only endeavored to contribute to the aesthetic evolution of cinema through her films, writings, and conferences. She also argued for (p.72) the necessity of defending French cinema, and thus the French film industry, internationally as a means of protecting it from the infiltration of U.S. films; and as a means of promoting the French spirit, its social habits, and tastes.114 Finally, she supported and defended the cinema through her ciné-club activism and her involvement in numerous national and international, social and educational organizations.

At the time of the famous grève des midinettes (seamstresses’ strike, 1917–18), which in 1920 won Frenchwomen the legal right to belong to a labor union without their husbands’ permission, Dulac took an active role in union issues.115 She became a member (1917) and treasurer (1919) of the Société des auteurs de films (SAF, Society of Film Authors), holding the latter position until her death in 1942. During this period Dulac became one of the major defenders of the status and rights of the filmmaker in relation to screenwriters, producers, distributors, and censors. Finally, in 1921, Dulac served as vice president, alongside Abel Gance, of what is considered to be the first official ciné-club, le Club des amis du septième art (CASA, Club of Friends of the Seventh Art), founded by longtime film critic and activist Ricciotto Canudo. In Dulac’s mission to elevate public appreciation for cinema and to legitimize film as an art, she helped found numerous other ciné-clubs, before becoming the founding president of the Fédération française des ciné-clubs (FFCC) in 1929. Following these efforts, Dulac would play a key role in the League of Nations’ International Educational Cinematographic Institute (IECI), as well as in the founding of the Cinémathèque française (1936) and the Fédération internationale des archives du film (1938, International Federation of Film Archives).116

By the end of World War I, the defining elements of Dulac’s career were in place. However, with the end of the war, women were called upon to return home and relinquish jobs to the demobilized male workforce, and a pronatalist movement sprang up.117 During the postwar era, the feminist movement, already subverted by the popular sentiments of national unity and economic crisis, became less visible than it had been prior to the war. Françoise Thébaud has aptly called the interwar years a period “entre-deux-feminismes” (between-two-feminisms).118 This shift would have a direct impact on women in the film industry, including Dulac.

While a small number of influential women, including actresses Musidora and Napierkowska, had managed to create their own production companies during the war, few continued afterwards, as women’s presence in non-essential (p.73) spheres of activity began to lose support. Although Dulac was one of the few women filmmakers to survive this crisis, and to continue an active career well into the 1920s and 1930s, she was not unaffected. In February 1918, just before the war’s end, Louis Delluc evoked the discrimination that Dulac faced as a woman filmmaker, writing the following:

Unmaliciously, solely by reason of her existence, she has provoked sharp debates; for Mme Dulac has energetically made herself known with three films, the first of which was much better than her confrères’ second [films]. Who would dare to deny it? But the cinema is full of people, no doubt very decent people [de très braves gens]—who may not all be very brave people [des gens très braves]—who won’t forgive her for being a cultivated woman. The few men of the world among us [on the home front] are perhaps humiliated simply because she is a woman, but that is jealousy more than rivalry.119

Within the contexts of a temporarily diminished feminist movement, a resurgent postwar conservatism, and the steep challenge of promoting cinema as a new, entirely legitimate form of art, Dulac’s success was remarkable. Embracing both realism and a symbolist impressionism, she would promote the evolution of commercial and avant-garde cinema via several innovative tendencies: first in the realm of fiction, from figuration to abstraction, and later in the documentary and newsreel domain, and this not only in France, but also internationally. (p.74)


(3.) Albert was a corporal in the 6th infantry division. Le Bulletin des Écrivains, March 1915. For more on this source and on writers in the army, see Nicolas Beaupré, “Bulletin des Écrivains de 1914 à l’Association des Ecrivains Combattants (AEC).”

(5.) With few exceptions, politicians, intellectuals, and feminists all set aside their differences and their struggles, and rallied to the cry of the “union sacrée” to serve the nation. Members of the radical left, like Socialist ministers Marcel Sembat and Jules Guesde, joined the conservative right and its cabinet under President Raymond Poincaré and Prime Minister René Viviani in the common goal of defending the nation. French intellectuals, who saw themselves as the international guardians of universalism, also rallied to the national cause. Prochasson and Rasmussen, Au Nom de la patrie, 9.

(6.) Albert Dulac to GD, August 16, 1914, FGD 2164; ibid., April 6, 1915, FGD 2500. See also “Marcel Sembat ‘Les Cahiers noirs’ 4éme partie,” 12.

(7.) Albert Dulac to GD, September 9, 1914, FGD 2507.

(8.) See Léon Jouhaux’s speech for the Conféderation générale du travail (CGT, general workers union): “Cérémonie [1922]. ‘A la mémoire de Marcel et Georgette Sembat’ (Gaumont Palace), Fonds André Lebey, OURS.” Marcel Sembat, 14 lettres et ‘cérémonie,’” 50 APO 21, Fonds André Lebey, OURS. See also Braud, “Le Mouvement ouvrier et socialiste, et les arts.”

(9.) Sembat notes several encounters and dinners with Germaine. “Marcel Sembat ‘Les Cahiers noirs’ 4éme partie.” Journal entries dated November 26, 1912, 27, and September 22, 1913, 31. In November 1913, having given a lecture on symbolist poetry chez Antoine (or at the Théâtre Antoine), Sembat noted in his diary the presence of “a few friends,” who included “[Albert] Dulac, [Gustav] Kahn, [Henri] Matisse.” “Marcel Sembat ‘Les Cahiers noirs’ 4éme partie,” 38, 220. Francis Jourdain (1876–1958), the son of architect Franz Jourdain, and a pioneer of the mouvement moderne of functionalist design also active in the Salon d’automne, would supply furniture for the films of Dulac and many of her contemporaries of the 1920s avant-garde.

(10.) See Albert Dulac to André Lebey, 50 APO 47 (1910, 1934), and GD to André Lebey, 50 APO 13 (1914, ca. 1925), Fonds André Lebey, OURS.

(11.) The dedication reads “À Yvon Delbos, ami du cinéma.” GD, “Les Esthétiques,” 29. See B. Lachaise, Yvon Delbos (Périgueux: Éditions Fanlac, 1993). Cited by G. Delluc, Louis Delluc, 334.

(12.) Several documents, including a 1934 letter from Albert Dulac to André Lebey, using masonic coding, and held at OURS, suggest that, like André Lebey, Anatole France, Yvon Delbos, and Henri Lapauze, Albert was also a Freemason. The Dulacs’ association with this secret society merits further research with the lifting of privacy restrictions following the seventieth anniversary of Germaine Dulac’s death. See the (p.241) masonic coding in the letter from Albert Dulac to André Lebey, 50 APO 1-52, Fonds André Lebey, OURS.

(13.) Henry Lapauze to GD, April 26, 1916, FGD 3981. See “Notre Avant-Garde aux arts décoratifs.” Dulac exhibited a model studio and a boat containing prisms.

(14.) Albert Dulac to GD, October 1, 1914, FGD 2244; “Office d’utilisation des femmes,” Le Petit Comtois, February 17, 1915. The Offices d’utilisation des femmes launched its rescue efforts on the fourth day of the war with the opening of an atélier-cantine, which provided food, clothing, first aid, and financial assistance to war victims. Thébaud, La Femme au temps de la guerre de 14, 115; Thébaud, “La Grande Guerre,” 91.

(15.) The Offices d’utilisation des femmes, created by l’Union française pour le suffrage des femmes and l’Association des étudiantes de Paris, was just one of many moderate feminist organizations that set aside its struggle (at the height of the Frenchwomen’s suffrage movement in early 1914) in order to contribute to the war effort. Jane Misme, director of La Française, wrote, “As long as the adversity our country suffers endures, no one is permitted to speak of his or her rights; towards it, we only have responsibilities.” Cited by Thébaud, “La Grande Guerre,” 91. Similarly, Marguerite Durand wrote in the brief reappearance of La Fronde in August 1914, “Women, your country needs you, be worthy citizens, whether our goal [the right to vote] is recognized or not.” Cited by Bard, Les Filles de Marianne, 53.

(18.) Ibid. The prestigious members of its organizational committee, which vowed to disregard “all political and religious divisions,” included Ms. Raymond Poincaré and Ms. René Viviani (wives of the conservative French president and Socialist Republican prime minister, respectively), literary figures Juliette Adam, Ms. Alphonse Daudet, and Ms. Camille Flammarion, as well as aristocrats Les Duchesses d’Uzès and de Rohan.

(19.) GD, “Madame Serao germanophile.” See also “Mme Matilde Serao est germanophile.” Her script La Mia vita per la tua starred and was directed by Emilio Ghione in 1914. Special thanks to Luigia Annunziata (Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane–University of Siena) for sharing her biographical findings on Matilde Serao.

(22.) Dulac transmitted two letters to La Française illustrating the opposing positions of British and moderate French feminists. The first letter from British feminist Ellinor Fell incited the French to send a delegate representing the French position. The second, from Juliette Adam of La Croisade’s Comité pour la propagande à l’étranger (Committee for propaganda abroad), explained the organization’s position in support of the French boycott. “Nouvelles Protestations contre le Congrès pacifiste de la Haye,” La Française, May 1, 1915.

(23.) Jane Misme, in La Française, November 19, 1914. Cited by Thébaud, “La Grande Guerre,” 125.

(27.) Albert Dulac to GD, September 24, 1912, FGD 2108; ibid., March 29, 1915, FGD 2490. For more on the actress, see also Napierkowska, “Mes Souvenirs”; Henry, “Les Étoiles d’aujourd’hui.”

(28.) “Paris Dancer Dislikes U.S.” Stasia Napierkowska to GD, “41 lettres” and “Croquis au crayon et à l’encre,” FGD 4142–50.

(29.) Albert Dulac to GD, September 4, 1912, FGD 2110. “Projet de décor pour Salomé, pré Catalan,” July 6, 1913, FGD 4456, 1. Stasia Napierkowska to GD, October 11, 1912, FGD 4096. See also Bousquet and Martinelli, “La Bella Stasia.” Also in 1912, a Parisian production of Salomé starred modern pantomime artist Georges Wague and dancer Ida Rubinstein, likewise important for Dulac. For more on the influence of Wague and Rubinstein, see T. Williams, “The ‘Silent’ Arts.”

(30.) While Dulac claimed to accompany Napierkowska to the shooting of Ugo Falena’s 1917 film, La Tragica Fine di Caligola (alternative title: Caligula), her accounts of this experience are somewhat incongruous. In a 1922 interview, she noted: “When in 1914, Napierkowska—who was acting for Film d’Art, and with whom I’d become amicably linked—offered to take me to Italy, to have me attend the making of Caligula in Rome, I seized the opportunity enthusiastically.” Bencey, “Une Femme ‘Compositeur cinégraphique,’” 233. In another interview, conducted by modern dancer Jeanne Ronsay (a student of Djemil Anik), Dulac emphasized her initially adverse reaction when first visiting a film set on which the “distressed director, running notes in hand, curses at his entourage: ‘What a trade! It is certainly not one I’d choose to do for a living!’” Ronsay, “Germaine Dulac.” Considering the multiple films of this genre featuring Napierkowska (1915–17), the late date of the film’s release raises questions about whether or not this was the same film shoot that Dulac attended.

(31.) Albert Dulac to GD, May 9, 1914, FGD 2132. Stasia Napierkowska to GD, January 15, 1915, FGD 4140.

(32.) Albert Dulac to GD, March–September 1914, FGD 2121–207.

(33.) Ibid., February 20, 1915, FGD 2427; ibid., March 7, 1915, FGD 2441; ibid., March 27, 1915, FGD 2794.

(34.) Ibid., May 22, 1915, FGD 2570; ibid., June 3, 1915, FGD 2592. Napierkowska would direct at least one film: L’Héritière de la manade (1917).

(36.) Multiple letters, including one referring to their initial 1912 meeting, suggest that the actress is referring to their first romantic encounter. Stasia Napierkowska to GD, April 1914, FGD 4127. Napierkowska’s letters to Dulac date from July 1912 through December 1914 (FGD 4090–139).

(38.) Albert Dulac to GD, June 8, 1913, FGD 2114.

(39.) Ibid.; ibid., May 9, 1914, FGD 2132; ibid., March 29, 1915, FGD 2490; ibid., August 28, 1915, FGD 2719.

(p.243) (40.) Of these women, Albert quips: “A great agility of mind, no doubt, a marvelous ability to adapt to new conditions after a tough existence, with brilliant wit and spirit.” Albert Dulac to GD, April 3, 1915, FGD 2498.

(41.) See “Marie-Anne Malleville,” FGD 4012.

(42.) From their first meeting to the poet’s illness and their separation in 1918–20, Hillel-Erlanger wrote numerous letters, dating from August 1915 to September 1918 (FGD 3881–921), and ranging in tone from romantic affection and passion to a desperate, almost suicidal love.

(43.) Bergson, L’Évolution créatrice, 306; Bergson notes, “In this sense we may say, if we are not abusing this kind of illustration, that the cinematographical character of our knowledge of things is due to the kaleidoscopic character of our adaptation to them” (306).

(44.) Hillel-Erlanger, Voyages en kaléidoscope, 77. For Hillel-Erlanger, like the letters of symbolist poetry, the elements of language, font, and type take the form of human bodies lent to them by what she calls the “Kaléido-machine.” On Hillel-Erlanger’s symbolist poetry, see Christophe Wall-Romana, Cinepoetry: Imaginary Cinemas in French Poetry.

(45.) I am indebted to Richard Armin, an inspiring and generous interlocutor on the life and work of Hillel-Erlanger, who is working on an English translation of her novel. As Armin has pointed out in our correspondence, the cover for the original edition resembles the visual style of the “rebellious and raucous Dadaists” (cf. Picabia), appropriating “artless mechanical diagrams as dynamic metaphors spawning generations of critical art, literature and film that dislodged bourgeois sensibilities” (Armin to author, February 2013). After the artist’s untimely death on March 20, 1920, the original edition of this fascinating esoteric novel was withdrawn from publication, and according to her friend Eugene Canseliet, also removed from bookstores by her immediate family (her uncle Salomon Hillel-Manoach and her brother Robert Halfon/Camondo), possibly in an effort to protect the aristocratic family’s sensibilities and reputation. Moreover, as Armin, has noted, her manuscripts and personal papers, which must have been voluminous, remain tragically undiscovered, if not destroyed.

(46.) See Paula Amad, Counter-Archive. Amad incisively explores the links between Bergson’s ontology of duration, scientific filmmaking, and early French film theory and criticism in the work of Colette, Epstein, as well as Dulac.

(48.) The journal features Hillel-Erlanger’s poem “Par Amour.” Littérature (Paris), no. 1 (March 1919).

(49.) Albert Dulac to GD, October 17, 1915, FGD 2802.

(50.) Ibid., October 22, 1915, FGD 2812.

(51.) On April 8, 1916, Albert wrote, “It’s with pleasure that I watch this film effort take form and create a clear goal for your activities. But are you sure this is the appropriate moment to create a business of this type? Once you’ve begun, you must maintain it. And will the first elements keep their passion? How I regret not being able to do these interesting things with you!” Albert Dulac to GD, April 8, (p.244) 1916, FGD 3071; Albert Dulac’s business card (Président du conseil d’administration et Directeur Général. Les Films DH. 188, boulevard Haussman [company address as of 1919]), FGD 3781.

(52.) Henri Barbusse, Le Feu, journal d’une escouade (Paris: E. Flammarion, 1916). Cited by Thébaud, La Femme, 104. See also the English translation, Under Fire: the Story of a Squad, transl. Fitzwater Wray (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1917). Barbusse’s popular indictment of the war, initially understood as a “naturalist reportage of a combatant familiar with death,” would later be seen as a proto-pacifist work. Ferro, “Cultural Life in France,” 298.

(53.) Albert Dulac to GD, April 18, 1916, FGD 3092.

(56.) While, as Richard Abel argues, this crisis was already under way prior to 1914, following the departure of the French production giant, Pathé Films, from the Motion Pictures Patents Company or Trust, the war compounded this situation. Abel, French Cinema, 9.

(57.) Albert Dulac to GD, April 19, 1916, FGD 3095; ibid., April 23, 1916, FGD 3098.

(58.) Ibid., April 13, 1916, FGD 3082.

(59.) Ibid., April 27, 1916, FGD 3102.

(61.) Ibid., April 27, 1916, FGD 3102; ibid., May 9, 1916, FGD 3119. Henry Lapauze to GD, April 26, 1916, FGD 3981.

(62.) Établissements Henry Lapauze to GD, April 26, 1916, FGD 3981; Albert Dulac to GD, June 8, 1916, FGD 3151. While Dulac retained neither the name, “La Parisienne,” nor the “art nouveau” design, the letter suggests that Van Dongen may have designed the final title (so that it was less “éternel féminin”). The final design connected the two letters DH with a more simple swirling form, associated with the Taoist symbol for the yin and the yang, and the masculine and feminine. However, unlike the Taoist symbol, its design remained open. Dulac illustrated the company’s early name Krishna Film (under which Les Sœurs enemies [1917] was released), with a Hindu cross, also known as an Indian cross. Handwritten notes for Vénus Victrix (Les Films DH [letterhead “Films Krishna”]), 1916, FGD 355. Van Dongen later designed the modernist cover of Hillel-Erlanger’s esoteric novel, Voyages en kaléidoscope (1920). The name DH is also the name of one of the first mixed-gender masonic lodges, Droit humain (Human Rights), founded in Belle Époque Paris.

(63.) Edmond Van Daële would appear in several impressionist films, including Louis Delluc’s La Fièvre (1921), Epstein’s Coeur fidèle (1923) and Six et demi onze (1927), and Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927).

(65.) “Notices explicatives. La Lumière du cœur [1916],” BNF-ASP, Coll. Auguste Rondel, RK 5873.

(70.) From a feminist standpoint, the choice to have the hero choose blindness so as not to see the heroine’s damaged physical appearance is quite complex, and could be read as both progressive in its disregard and reactionary in its avoidance. However, broadly speaking, the man’s refusal of the power linked to vision could be read positively.

(71.) GD, “Coup de Feu,” n.d., FGD 4463.

(75.) Hillel-Erlanger and Dulac originally signed these scripts with the pseudonyms “Claude Lorrey et Dominique Dix” (August 1916, Psyché Films) and “Irène Hillel et Germaine de Sessey,” respectively. However, the final versions of the script and film were signed with their married names. Germaine Albert-Dulac and Irène Hillel-Erlanger, Les Sœurs ennemies, August 1916, FGD 302.

(76.) Albert Dulac to GD, June 28, 1916, FGD 3181; ibid., September 13, 1916, FGD 3220.

(77.) Géo le mystérieux was released after Vénus Victrix, owing to distribution problems.

(79.) This film, distributed in France by Cinématographes Harry, was released in the United States by World Made Brady (Dulac’s New York distributor). See chapter 3.

(80.) The film was originally titled Les Mystères du château maudit (The mysteries of the cursed castle). A roman-cinéma (film-novel), or novelization of the film written by Guy de Téramond, was published simultaneously in Le Petit Journal: Âmes de fous, Scénario et mise-en-scène de Germaine Dulac, Adapté de Guy de Téramond,” special issue of Le Petit Journal (Paris: Cinématographes Harry, 1918), FGD 17. See also de Téramond, “Comment on écrit un roman-cinéma.”

(81.) GD, Trois Pantins pour une poupée (1918), shooting script, FGD 349, 17. See T. Williams, “‘Silent’ Arts.”

(82.) Albert Dulac to GD, June 12, 1915, FGD 2609.

(83.) The couple’s son, Philippe Erlanger (1903–1987), was a prominent twentieth-century historian, art critic, journalist, and cofounder of the Cannes International Film Festival. One of his most renowned works is La France sans étoile. In 1918, Irène sent a 1910 photo of herself and Philippe to Dulac and, using the symbol of a heart, signs it “with affectionate love.”

(85.) While not a Dulac-Hillel-Erlanger collaboration, La Mort du soleil (1921), made just after the latter’s death from tuberculosis, is remarkable in its focus on the choice between motherhood and a career battling this disease. The film, produced by André Legrand, was financed in part by the American Society against Tuberculosis. It should (p.246) be noted that while motherhood is present in these early collaborations (from Les Sœurs ennemies to La Belle Dame sans merci, 1916–21), it disappears entirely after the latter.

(86.) Germaine Albert-Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger, Les Sœurs ennemies, Découpage, August 1916, FGD 302.

(87.) GD, “Projet de décor,” July 6, 1913, FGD 4456. Perhaps inspired by Napierkowska’s 1912 portrayal of Salomé, this appears to be a conceptual sketch for a future project.

(88.) Albert Dulac to GD, June 12, 1915, FGD 2609; ibid., June 1, 1915, FGD 2617.

(89.) See Exposition de l’art dans le cinéma française. Section rétrospective de l’enseignement. Paris: Prieur et Dubois imprimeurs, 1924, BNF-ASP, BNF-ASP, fonds Auguste Rondel, RK 585. See also “Notre Avant-Garde aux arts Décoratifs.” For more on the exposition, see also “L’Art dans le cinéma français” (1924), VR 247, Expositions au Musée Galliera, Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Archives de Paris; and H. Clouzot, “Paris aura-t-il un musée du geste?,” L’Europe Nouvelle, August 9, 1924, BiFi, fonds Victor Perrot, VP 046, cited by Christophe Gauthier. See also Gauthier, La Passion du cinéma, 74–79 and 313. See also Laurent Mannoni, Histoire de la cinémathèque française.

(90.) Albert compared the image of the troops in the sun to a painting of Fromentin, and associated his “funambulist impression” of the nearby June 17–18 attack resulting in thousands of deaths, to an Edgar Allan Poe tale. Albert Dulac to GD, June 21, 1915, FGD 2621.

(91.) Albert Dulac to GD, June 21, 1915, FGD 2621. In this letter, Albert also referred to an illustrated account of this attack, appearing in the June 19, 1915, issue of L’Ilustration, which he asked Dulac to keep for them.

(92.) Dans l’Ouragan de la vie (Vénus Victrix), publicity brochure, BNF-ASP, Coll. Auguste Rondel, 4ºRK 3406, 1.

(93.) Ciné-Journal, January 25, 1919, FGD 4342, 56.

(95.) Dulac employed concise shots to represent exteriors: “Facade of the Ritz, Facade of an important maison de couture: Facade of the Palais de Justice. An avenue. Hotel Garden. Grand terrace.” Germaine Albert-Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger, Les Sœurs ennemies, 1. All of the floor plans and decor for the film were designed and hand drawn by Dulac. GD, “Facade of the Ritz,” 2–4.

(99.) Germaine Albert-Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger, Les Sœurs ennemies, August 1916, FGD 302, 2. Dulac detailed the lighting in the script: “Head bottom lit; light encompassing the head and clock face. Light effect expanding while lamp is being lit [ … ] She turns toward the window holding the lamp in hand. Silhouette, shadow, lit head. [ … ] Increased anxiety [ … ] She puts the lamp down [ … ] face lit from below.”

(100.) For example, the script reads: “Paulette jumps on her father’s lap, affectionately placing her little head on his shoulder. Both think of Jeannine … Dissolve (p.247) head of Jeannine giving lessons.” Germaine Albert-Dulac and Hillel-Erlanger, Les Sœurs ennemies, 6.

(101.) François Crucy, “Suzanne Desprès,” La Rampe, no. 94 (1908), BNF-ASP, Coll. Auguste Rondel, Rt. 7052, 1.

(102.) Claude Briault, “Suzanne Desprès et le Théâtre d’Idées,” La Rampe, no. 94 (1908), BNF-ASP, Coll. Auguste Rondel, Rt. 7052, 6.

(103.) Albert Dulac to GD, June 12, 1915, FGD 2609.

(105.) Ibid., June 29, 1917, FGD 3534.

(107.) Publicity brochure, Dans l’Ouragan de la vie [Vénus Victrix], 1916, BNF-ASP, Coll. Auguste Rondel, 4ºRK 3406.

(109.) Albert Dulac to GD, March 28, 1917, FGD 3428.

(110.) One of Djemil Anik’s earliest appearances was in Henri Fescourt’s Fleur d’exil (1914). She later appeared in Fescourt’s Mathias Pascal (1921).

(113.) Ibid., 7.

(114.) Ibid., 7–8.

(115.) Midinette is now a pejorative term meaning “starry-eyed girl.” Larousse Unabridged: French-English English-French Dictionary, vers. 1.01 (Paris: Larousse/Inso Corporation, 1996).