Framing Ladies: From American Film Noir to French New Wave

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I shall explore the anachronistic relation of the filmic motif of the framed portrait of a woman to a strand of nineteenth-century aesthetics. I shall examine how the films in which the motif appears are engaged in a subtle and at times clandestine re-activation of nineteenth-century literary and visual culture, as well as pervaded by the fantasy of the woman as ghost and receding image. This re-appropriation of representative strategies familiar to us from literature and the visual arts is very often located at the site of the female body: women become idealized, fetishized, and not altogether paradoxically, dismembered.

Such mobile configurations of meanings and associations are observed in many examples of film noir (the Hollywood films of the 30s that adapt Poe’s stories for the screen; Preminger’s 1944 Laura), and in some of Hitchcock’s films such as Rebecca (1940) and Vertigo (1958). The French New Wave Cinema also draws on this cultural motif: it surfaces in the scene of the oval portrait in Godard’s 1962 Vivre sa vie, in the adaptation of short stories by Henry James in Truffaut’s La chambre verte (1978), in the highly stylised horror movie by Franju, Les Yeux sans visage (1959), and in Agnès Varda’s 1987 playful cinematic portrait of Jane Birkin Jane B par Agnès V.

My aim is not simplistically to link female film characters with literary and pictorial references. Rather, I want to identify recurring visual and diegetic motifs and examine their range of meanings, pulling together discussions of the various films. This transnational motif will function as an entry point into an examination of the translatability of media. Its diffusion across media is, indeed, a striking example of exchange between the instruments and procedures of separate domains, and as such, provides us with a model through which to understand the persistent recycling of images, themes and representational strategies. Concepts from the history of art such as empreinte, moving images and visual anthropology will provide the methodological framework for this investigation

Keywords: Films, Visual Arts, Cultural Motif, Representation of Women, Circulation
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Anne-Gaëlle Saliot

Lecturer, French Section, German and Romance Languages and Literatures Department, The Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Following a year as a Visiting Professor Assistant in French at the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York in England, I am currently a Lecturer in French at the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures at The Johns Hopkins University. I passed the viva voce for my PhD thesis at Oxford University in September 2007. As a French native, I completed the first part of my higher education in France at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. My recent thesis, which I wrote in English, is entitled L’Inconnue de la Seine. Between Early and Late Modernity (1898-2002): Text, Image, Crossings. I am currently revising this for publication as two books: an English edition, followed by a French one. I am the author of an article entitled ‘Interlude. L’Inconnue de la Seine’ which appeared in Jean-Louis Leutrat and Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues’s edited collection on Alain Resnais, Alain Resnais. Liaisons secrètes, accords vagabonds, published in 2006 by Les Cahiers du Cinéma Editions. I have written an article on Dany Laferrière’s exile writings for a collective book on Haiti, Écrire Haiti aujourd’hui (1986-2006). La rupture, to be published by Karthala in 2009. I have been asked to write an article on the presence of music in the novels of Virginia Woolf and Marguerite Duras for the Cambridge Quarterly Review, and an article on Maurice Blanchot’s approach to images for an issue of the review Paragraph in 2010.

Ref: A09P0373