Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Marie Epstein as a Scenarist: A Case Study
Chiara Tognolotti

Last modified: 2010-05-12


The figure of Marie Epstein is slowly coming to light. Despite the fact that her work has been shadowed by the three male figures that dominated her life – her brother Jean, the director Jean Benoît-Lévy and Henri Langlois – she is now regaining the place that she deserves in the history of French cinema, mostly thanks to the seminal work written by Sally Flitterman-Lewis. My research aims at deepening the exploration of the whole range of Marie’s activity on film as scriptwriter, director and archivist, through the archival sources available at the Cinémathèque Française.

The first step of this exploration – which will be the core of this intervention - consists in closely examining Marie’s work as a scenarist. It is known that she wrote three scripts for her brother’s films: L’Affiche (1924),Le Double Amour (1925) and Six et Demi Onze (1927). If in the first one, according to the archival sources as well as to what Marie herself recalls – but the accountability of her declarations has to be put into discussion, as she was always trying to diminish her role and the importance of her contribution – she worked on the script only, in the third one she also contributed to the découpage, writing notes about the visual aspect of every single shot as well about the final editing.

Therefore, my question is: is it possible to detect the contribution Marie gave to her brother’s work, and trace the elements of her poetics and filmic style? In particular, my goal is turning the usual perspective upside down: not looking for what Jean taught Marie, but vice-versa: what did Marie give to her brother? Which are the elements appearing in the three films examined that come directly from her and that eventually can be found in her own films as a director? In this respect I will examine the themes (e.g., the feminine figure, the role of maternity, the circular structure of the plot, the centrality of image) and the stylistic elements Marie introduces in those scripts (most of all, the construction of a feminine point of view inside the images), and I’ll confront them with her subsequent work, in order to highlight not only the major role she had in Jean Epstein’s first silent films, but the continuity of her poetics and stylistc patterns, and the complexity and the richness of her work since her first achievements.


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