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Pierre Batcheff and Stardom in 1920s French Cinema

Phil Powrie, Eric Rebillard

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This book is the first major study of a French silent cinema star. It focuses on Pierre Batcheff, a prominent popular cinema star in the 1920s, the French Valentino, best-known to modern audiences for his role as the protagonist of the avant-garde film classic Un chien andalou. Unlike other stars, he was linked to intellectual circles, especially the Surrealists. The book places Batcheff in the context of 1920s popular cinema, with specific reference to male stars of the period. It analyses the tensions he exemplifies between the 'popular' and the 'intellectual' during the 1920s, as cinema - the subject of intense intellectual interest across Europe - was racked between commercialism and 'art'. A number of the major films are studied in detail: Le Double amour (Epstein, 1925), Feu Mathias Pascal (L'Herbier, 1925), Éducation de prince (Diamant-Berger, 1927), Le Joueur d'échecs (Bernard, 1927), La Sirène des tropiques (Etiévant and Nalpas, 1927), Les Deux timides (Clair, 1928), Un chien andalou (Buñuel, 1929), Monte-Cristo (Fescourt, 1929), and Baroud (Ingram, 1932).

Key Features

  • The first major study of a French silent cinema star.
  • Provides an in-depth analysis of star performance.
  • Includes extensive appendices of documents from popular cinema magazines of the period.


1. A short life
1.1 Origins and childhood (1907-1922)
1.2 The rise of the star (1923-1926)
1.3 From the mainstream to the avant-garde (1927-1929)
1.4 The lacoudems (1930-1932)
1.5 An early death (1932)
2. Stardom in the 1920s
2.1 Batcheff, the jeune premier, and the past
2.2 Batcheff and transitional masculinity
2.3 Batcheff and fan culture: the unwilling star
2.4 Batcheff, Valentino and 'otherness'
2.5 Batcheff as pin-up
2.6 Batcheff as a surrealist star
3. Beginnings
3.1 Claudine et le poussin, ou Le Temps d'aimer (January 1924)
3.2 Le Double amour (June 1925)
3.3 Feu Mathias Pascal (July 1925)
4. Historical reconstructions
4.1 Destinée (December 1925)
4.2 Napoléon vu par Abel Gance (April 1927)
4.3 Le Joueur d'échecs (July 1927)
4.4 Monte-Cristo (May 1929)
5. The Lover
5.1 Le Secret d'une mère (July 1926)
5.2 Éducation de prince (June 1927)
5.3 Le Bonheur du jour (July 1927)
5.4 La Sirène des tropiques (December 1927)
5.5 L'Île d'amour (February 1928)
5.6 Vivre (July 1928)
5.7 Le Perroquet vert (October 1928)
6. Comedy: Les Deux timides (December 1928)
6.1 Contemporary reception
6.2 Adaptation and structure
6.3 The trial
6.4 Courtship
6.5 The battle
7. The Avant-garde: Un chien andalou (June 1929)
7.1 Contemporary reception
7.2 Later academic commentary
7.3 Parody of previous films
7.4 Simonne Mareuil
8. Un chien andalou: Parodying stardom
8.1 The slit eye
8.2 Dismemberment of the star: seeing behind the surface
8.3 Hysteria, ethnicity, costume
8.4 The gaze of the woman and masochism
8.5 Anamorphosis
9. Looking back
9.1 Illusions (January 1930)
9.2 Le Roi de Paris (August 1930)
9.3 Les Amours de minuit (January 1931)/Mitternachtsliebe (September 1931)
9.4 Le Rebelle (August 1931)
9.5 Baroud (English version September 1932/French version February 1933)
10. Conclusion: uncanny bodies
10.1 The lost object
10.2 The automaton, the mannequin and the doll
10.3 'Explosante-fixe'
Summary biography
Interviews and star portraits
Filmscript (unfinished) from Knut Hamsun's Sult

About the Author

Phil Powrie is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences at the University of Surrey.

Éric Rebillard is a member of the Association Française de Recherche sur l'Histoire du Cinéma.


Phil Powrie and Eric Rebillard's examination of the actor Pierre Batcheff opens up unique pathways into terrains embracing both the woefully overlooked - stars in the silent and early sound era of French cinema - and the justifiably well worn - the surrealist cinematic landmark Un chien andalou (1929)… Powrie and Rebillard have done important groundwork in establishing key issues with regard to stars, performance, and masculinity in the silent/early sound era, and their efforts should serve to provoke further explorations in this area.
- Vicki Callahan, University Of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, French Studies