Nationality: French. Born: Charlotte Elisabeth Germaine Saisset-Schneider in Amiens, 17 November 1882. Family: Married Marie-Louis Albert Dulac, 1905 (divorced 1920). Career: Writer and editor for feminist journal La Francaise, 1909–13; offered position as camerawoman on Caligula by actress friend Stacia de Napierkowska, 1914; formed production company with husband and scenarist Irène Hillel-Erlanger; directed first film, Les Soeurs enemies, 1915; travelled to United States to observe production techniques, 1921; general secretary of Ciné-Club de France, from 1922; directed newsreels for Gaumont, 1930s. Died: In Paris, July 1942.
Films as Director:
Les Soeurs enemies
Geo le mysterieux; Venus Victrix; Dans l'ouragan de la vie
Ames de fous (+ sc)
Le Bonheur des autres
La Fête espagnole; La Cigarette (+ co-sc)
Malencontre; La Belle Dame sans merci
La Mort du soleil
La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet); Gossette
Le Diable dans la ville
Ame d'artiste (+ co-sc); La Folie des vaillants
La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman); L'Invitation au voyage; Le Cinéma au service de l'histoire
La Princesse Mandane; Disque 927; Thèmes et variations; Germination d'un haricot
Etude cinégraphique sur une arabesque
Mon Paris (Guyot) (supervision)
Le Picador (Jacquelux) (supervision)
By DULAC: articles—
"Un Article? Mais que faut-il prouver?" in Le Film (Paris), 16 October 1919.
"Aux amis du cinéma," address in Cinémagazine (Paris), 19 December 1924.
"L'Art des nuances spirituelles," in Cinéa-Ciné pour tous (Paris), January 1925.
"Du sentiment à la ligne," in Schémas, no. 1, 1927.
"Les Esthètiques, les entraves, la cinégraphie intégrale," in L'Artcinématographique, Paris, 1927.
"Sur le cinéma visuel," in Le Rouge et le noir (Paris), July 1928.
"Jouer avec les bruits," in Cinéa-Ciné pour tous (Paris), 15 August 1929.
"Das Wesen des Films: Die visuelle idee," and "Das Kino der Avantgarde," in Frauen und Film (Berlin), October 1984.
On DULAC: books—
Heck-Rabi, Louise, Women Filmmakers: A Critical Reception, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.
Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy, To Desire Differently: Feminism and theFrench Cinema, Urbana, Illinois, 1990.
On DULAC: articles—
Ford, Charles, biography in Anthologie du cinéma (Paris), no. 31, January 1968.
Van Wert, W., "Germaine Dulac: First Feminist Filmmaker," in Women and Film (Santa Monica, California), vol. 1, nos. 5–6, 1974.
Dozoretz, Wendy, "Dulac versus Artaud," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 3, no. 1, 1979.
Dozoretz, W., "Madame Beudet's Smile: Feminine or Feminist?" in Film Reader, vol. 5, 1982.
Dozoretz, Wendy, and Sandy Flitterman, in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 5, no. 3, 1983.
Flitterman, Sandy, "Theorizing the Feminine: Women as the Figure of Desire in The Seashell and the Clergyman," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 6., no. 3, 1984.
Serra, R., "La prima scrittura femminile del cinema," in CinemaNuovo (Bari), August-October 1984.
Tol, I., "Films van Germaine Dulac," in Skrien (Amsterdam), Winter 1985–86.
Magny, J., "1896–1930. Premiers Écrits: Canudo, Delluc, Epstein, Dulac," in Cinémaction (Paris), no. 60, July 1991.
Borde, R., and P. Guibbert, "Le cinéma au service de l'histoire (1935): un film retrouve de Germaine Dulac," in Archives (Perpignan), no. 44–45, November-December 1991.
* * *
Before becoming a film director, Germaine Dulac had studied music, was interested in photography, and had written for two feminist journals—all of which played a role in her development as a filmmaker. There were three phases to her filmmaking career: in commercial production, in the avant-garde, and in newsreels. In addition, filmmaking was only one phase of her film career; she also was prominent as a theorist and promoter of the avant-garde film, and as an organizer of the French film unions and the ciné-club movement. The French historian Charles Ford wrote in Femmes Cinéastes that Dulac was the "heart" of the avant-garde in France, that without her there would have been no avant-garde. Her role in French film history has been compared to that of Maya Deren in the United States three decades later.
Dulac learned the rudiments of filmmaking by assisting a friend who was making a film in 1914. The following year she made her first film, Les Soeurs enemies, which was distributed by Pathé. It was the ideal time for a woman to enter commercial production, since many men had been called into the army. After directing several other conventional story films, Dulac became more and more drawn to the avant-garde cinema, which she defined in 1927 as "lines, surfaces, volumes, evolving directly without contrivance, in the logic of their forms, stripped of representational meaning, the better to aspire to abstraction and give more space to feelings and dreams—INTEGRAL CINEMA."
It is generally reported that Dulac was introduced to the French film avant-garde movement through her friendship with Louis Delluc; but Ester Carla de Miro claims that it was in fact through Dulac that he became involved in film. Delluc wrote that Dulac's first film was worth "more than a dozen of each of her colleagues. . . . But the cinema is full of people . . . who cannot forgive her for being an educated woman . . . or for being a woman at all."
Dulac's best known and most impressive film (of the few that have been seen outside France) is The Smiling Madame Beudet, based on a play by Andre Obey. It depicts the life and dreams of a small-town housewife married to a coarse, if not repulsive, businessman. The film created a sensation in its day. Dulac succeeded with what was, at the time, signal originality in expressing by pictorial means the atmosphere and implications of this study of domestic conflict.
Showings of The Seashell and the Clergyman, based on an original screenplay by Antonin Artaud, have generally been accompanied by program notes indicating Artaud's outrage at Dulac's "feminized" direction. Yet as P. Adams Sitney points out in his introduction to The Avant-Garde Film, Artaud praised the actors and thanked Dulac for her interest in his script in an essay titled "Cinema et l'abstraction." (Wendy Dozoretz has pointed out that the protest aimed against Dulac at the film's Paris opening in 1928 was based on a misunderstanding; at least one protester, Georges Sadoul, later said he had thought he was protesting against Artaud.)
At the other end of the cinema spectrum, Dulac began to use time-lapse cinematography to reveal the magical effects of tiny plants emerging from the soil with leaf after leaf unfolding and stretching to the sun. "Here comes Germaine Dulac and her lima bean," became a popular joke among film-club devotees, a joke that did not exclude admiration.
The last decade of Dulac's life was spent directing newsreels for Gaumont. She died in 1942, during the German occupation. Charles Ford, who has collected her articles, indicates that she expressed ideas in "clear and accessible language" which others often set forth "in hermetic formulas." One American writer, Stuart Liebman, sums up the opposing view: "Despite their undeniable importance for the film culture of the 1920s, the backward-looking character of Dulac's film theory, constituted by her nostalgia for the aesthetic discourse of the past, both defines and delimits our interest in her theoretical contributions today." The final assessment of Germaine Dulac's life and work as filmmaker and theorist may depend on the arrival of a well-documented biography, and greater access to all her writings (some short pieces are now available in English translations) and all her existing films.