Welcome back to another installment of the Chapter x Chapter series, a column where I take a deep dive into horror reading with a new review for each chapter of the book. The first book of this series is Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity by Alexandra West. If you're looking to start from the beginning, I recommend you check out my introduction from January 14th.
When we last left Films of New French Extremity, Alexandra West had given us the dime tour of the France's history, with special attention given to the internal conflict that would play a large role in the New French Extremity. But when they weren't fighting, the French did manage to produce some art now and then, particularly in the medium of film.
In fact, as West points out, France is the birthplace of film. Auguste and Louis Lumiere acquired technology developed by Leon Brouly to create some of the first movies that would be shown not only in France but all over the world. And it wouldn't be long before France would give the world its first horror film in Georges Melies' The Haunted Castle (Le Manoir du diable).
Something I noticed while delving into West's overview of film in France is that I need to get off my ass and start watching some of it. I don't think I've seen a French film from before the mid nineties (and that's only if you count The Professional) and if the movies are as interesting as their history then I'm doing myself a disservice by not giving them a chance.
Film is often a reflection or a reaction of historical and cultural climate, and as West explains French film is no exception. What struck me as particularly interesting is that during and after World War II, French film was divided between those who used fantastical themes to escape the horrors of the real world (often at the direction of French government) and those who chose to address them head on such as Actualities Frances, the first film to depict footage from concentration camps.
Oddly enough, even though France would produce the world's first horror film, and of course this entire book focuses on a significant wave in French horror, as a whole horror the nation hasn't traditionally embraced horror. The traditional argument is that it's too low brow, which I'm sure is a tune any of us horror fans can name in one note.
Still, there have been some significant contributions to the genre, as you'll see in the To-Watch that I'll update cumulatively at the end of each segment with films that catch my eye from West's analysis. My list won't be comprehensive, as West discusses an abundance of other movies to come out of France in this chapter alone, and she finds a way to be thorough without getting bogged down in minutiae.
With that, we step up to the precipice of New French Extremity proper, as Chapter 3 will dive into the films of Gaspar Noe. So take a deep breath, a swig of cognac, and brace yourself for whatever darkness lay ahead.
Bryan's To-Watch List:
- Le Manoir du diable (The Haunted Castle)
- Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon)
- Les Diabolique
- Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face)
- Le Viol du vampire (Rape of the Vampire) or really anything from Jean Rollin