Germaine Dulac

About artist / group: 

Feminist, socialist, and pioneer filmmaker of the French avant-garde during the 1920s and 30s, Germaine Dulac (1882-1942), played a seminal role in the evolution of cinema as both art form and protagonist of social practice. Beyond her theoretical writings and passionate struggle for the legitimisation of the cinema, she directed more than thirty films, many developing new tendencies, from impressionism to abstraction. She also made an equivalent number of newsreels and documentaries, which greatly enriched the cinematic corpus.

Germaine Dulac’s earliest films express the influences of 19th century symbolism, pre-Raphaelite painting, Ibsen's theatre, the music of Debussy and Chopin, as well as the dances of Loïe Fuller. Early on, Dulac forged a conviction that the cinema, by relying on its own expressive means (life with its lines and forms, movement and rhythm), could visualize spiritual states, and transmit – via “sensation” – certain notions of emancipation. In a society traumatized by the Great War, and marked by a striking contrast between a conservative official moral discourse and the new liberties of les années folles (the Roaring Twenties), Dulac believed that the modern instrument of cinema could express – better than any other art – the “inner life” and social reality of the New Man, as well as the New Woman. To this end, she pioneered innovative strategies and techniques, ranging from reflexive narrative structures and performance styles to abstract visual associations and technical effects, which allowed her to communicate her own progressive social ideals through an elaborate representational system based on “suggestion”. Thus, it is in her most commercial, as well as her most avant-garde films, that we discover the beauty, complexity, and boldness of her oeuvre, and the delights of what she herself termed Pure Cinema.

Until recently, however, and despite Germaine Dulac’s vast contributions to early 20th century cinema, acquaintance with her opus has been limited to a few films, most notably La Fête Espagnole (1919), based on a libretto by Louis Delluc, La Souriante Madame Beudet (1923) and La Coquille et le Clergyman (1927), with its screenplay by Antonin Artaud, are respectively considered the first impressionist, feminist and surrealist films. Over the years, more than 25 of her films have been rediscovered, and these works not only modify commonly held perceptions regarding Dulac's position in the history of film and art, but also expand our perception of cinema history.
Tami Williams

“The films of Germaine Dulac are real treasures that need to be rediscovered by a growing public around the world. Germaine Dulac was a very good musician and pianist, and for this reason her films can be seen as "visual symphonies". As a composer, arranger and pianist the films provide me with opportunity to vary the music-styles necessary for each film. Sometimes I use music of the period, sometimes I make my own compositions, but my main goal is to make each film-score for Dulac’s films "breathing". Then Dulac's visual symphonies come to life the most!” (Maud Nelissen)