French film director and screenwriter René Clair (1898–1981) was an avant–garde filmmaker known for injecting his art with satiric and surrealist touches. A former journalist and actor, Clair discovered a passion for filmmaking and directed 28 films between 1928 and 1965 that were known for their wit, style, charm, and imaginative use of the tools of cinematic art. A leader in the emerging French cinema in the 1920s and 1930s, Clair also made films in England and the United States. In 1962, he became the first film director to be elected to the French Academy.
In a career that lasted 40 years, René Clair gained international acclaim for the films he directed. Frequently employing genteel comedy to advance social commentary, he made films in France, England, and the United States. However, his best–known and most highly regarded works are those he made in France early in his career, and in particular those that took place in his native city of Paris. These "Paris" films, as they came to be called, provide the best demonstration of his trademark style, wit, charm, and whimsy. Despite a progressive decline in his career, which began in the mid–1930s, Clair is now universally regarded as one of the most significant figures in French cinema history.
René Clair was born René Lucien Chomette on November 11, 1898, in Paris, France. He received his education at Lycéee Montaigne and Lycéee Louis–le–Grand in Paris, between 1913 and 1917. During World War I, he served in the Ambulance Corps for one year (1917). Following the war, he retired to a Dominican monastery for a short period. After that, he worked as a journalist.
His active career in film began in 1920, when he acted in the serial films (L'Orpheline and Parisette) made by Louis Feuillade. In working with Feuillade, Clair learned the art of cinematic storytelling, or how to tell a story with visual tools. He acted in silent films until 1923, when he realized he had a passion for filmmaking and wanted to step behind the camera.
Clair learned practical cinematic technique through an apprenticeship with director Jacques de Barnocelli. After working as the film editor on Le Théâtre et comoedia illustré in France in 1922, he made his first film, Paris qui dort (Paris is Sleeping), also known as The Crazy Ray, in 1923.
Early Work Gained Notice
Paris qui dort was a social satire with science–fiction elements. The film involves a mad scientist who invents a ray gun that freezes the French city and its inhabitants. The few people who escape the effects of the ray explore the streets of Paris unhindered, performing unflattering and derisive imitations of the gestures and apparent attitudes of citizens frozen in place. Viewed today, the film appears somewhat simplistic and crudely made, with its primitive special–effect techniques, obvious characterizations, and use of flat, painted sets. In many ways, it resembled the slapstick comedy films produced in America during the period, and it recalled the work of George Melies, the cinema pioneer who made short fantasy films (e.g. A Trip to the Moon ) around the turn of the century by employing crude cinematic tricks. But Melies merely wanted to dazzle audiences with his cinematic trickery; Clair used the camera tricks to make social commentary. French audiences in particular were delighted with how Clair manipulated time, motion, and images to satiric effect. Paris qui dort was an experimental film that played with these elements to affect the plot and characters of the film. Essentially, as director, Clair was assuming the role of the film's mad scientist to manipulate, in particular, the flow of time, and as a film experimentalist, he was using this ability to liberate Parisians from the constraints of time and social stratification.
It was his second film, however, the avant–garde short Entr'acte, that really caused people to take notice. Entr'acte was one of the first major examples of surrealist cinema. It was based on notes by French Dadaist and surrealistic painter Francis Picabia, and it was scored with music by avant–garde composer Erik Satie. The film is virtually without plot, and one of its dominant images is a hearse pulled by a camel pursued by mourners through the streets of Paris.
Subsequently, Clair would employ surrealistic touches, typically in the form of a sight gag, in the much more conventional format of his early comedy films, which demonstrated a contempt for bourgeois sensibility. These touches were evident in the 1927 comedy Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie (The Italian Straw Hat), the acknowledged masterpiece of his silent–era output. With those three films, Clair's standing as a leader in the avant–garde movement was firmly established. Even more, Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie established Clair as a filmmaker of international renown.
During this early period of his career, Clair also made a series of fantasy films: Le Fantôme du Moulin Rouge (1924), Le Voyage imaginaire (1925), and La Proie du vent (1926). Again, these recalled the works of Melies with their camera trickery. With the exception of Entr'acte, Clair also wrote the screenplays for all of his films during this period. He would, in fact, either write or co–write all of the screenplays for every one of his subsequent films.
Made the Transition to "Talkies"
Clair finished out the 1920s with another short, La Tour (1928), and the feature films Les Deux Timides (1928), and Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris, 1929). The last film was his first non–silent work, and with it Clair made a smooth and successful career transition into "talking" or sound motion pictures. Indeed, he is now recognized as one of the handful of creative directors who immediately grasped how sound and picture could be creatively integrated to add a new dimension to the cinematic art form. At the time of the "talkie" revolution, many film directors became enslaved by the perceived technical restrictions imposed by the microphone, sacrificing visual fluidity to adopt a static pictorial quality and a stagy, expository method of storytelling. Whereas some directors advanced the plot and achieved characterization by having actors stand still (in close proximity of the overhead mike) and talk at each other, Clair kept the action free–flowing and underscored textual points with sound effects, dialogue, and music.
Ironically, before Clair broke cinematic ground with his use of sound, he opposed the development of sound film. He soon changed his mind, however, when he realized the new technical component would only increase his artistic freedom to explore, as he recognized the creative and non–realistic possibilities that sound offered.
Sous les toits de Paris was followed by Le Million (1931), A Nous La Liberté! (1932), and Quatorze Juillet (1933). For many, these four films represented Clair's most creative period. These films—in particular, A Nous La Libertié!—certainly solidified his reputation. They reflected Clair's increasingly distinctive style, one that reflected social commentary communicated through the modes of fantasy, romance, and music; and presented in a context that included elaborate sets and stock characterizations. His films contained real–world messages expressed in often unrealistic fashion, but conveyed with charm and wit. The actors he used were often described as "puppets" and Clair was called a "puppeteer." Story characters often broke out into song and dance or fell victim to cleverly designed sight gags. As such, Clair preferred to work within the confines of studio settings as opposed to real locations. This approach afforded him the total control and complete freedom of editing and camera movement. In developing his distinctive style, Clair continued writing his own scripts, and he always worked with cinematographer Georges Páerinal and designer Lazare Meerson.
There has been much discussion about Clair's best film of this period. Some argue that it is Le Million, but many prefer A Nous La Liberté! The general consensus is that the latter is his greatest work and the best example of his style, even though it contains a bit more pessimism than his other films. In the film, Clair satirizes life in the industrial age and he demonstrated a clever use of sound with music and sound effects effectively integrated through editing.
Despite an ironic and sometimes bitter message, the film is rather light and cheerful, and it is regarded as one of the great comedy films of the 1930s, a period that was particularly fertile for innovative comedy. The film satirizes the industrial revolution and the bourgeoisie pursuit of wealth. The story involves two bumbling prison inmates, Emile and Louis, who are forced into hard labor on a factory line. The freedom–loving inmates plan an escape, but as the pair are about to be caught, Louis gives himself up to save Emile. Later, Louis makes his own escape and soon realizes that life in France during the Industrial Revolution is just as restrictive as prison life. Under the tyranny of machines, true liberty does not exist. Ironically, Louis gets a job in a factory, doing exactly what he did on the prison factory line. Years later, he is reunited with Emile, who has become a hugely successful businessman, producing phonograph players in his factories and exploiting workers. Eventually, blackmailers discover the men's true identities and threaten to turn them in. In response, Emile and Louis leave everything behind and go out on the road, where they finally experience true freedom.
The theme of A Nous La Liberté! was that prosperity and happiness created by the Industrial revolution were merely illusions. The revolution, in fact, thwarted basic human desires and crushed individual spirit and liberty.
All of Clair's early sound films were successful outside of France, particularly in the United States, where French comedy was highly regarded. Clair became ranked with two other great French directors of the period, Jean Renoir and Marcel Carne. Later, Clair's themes regarding the physical and social constraints placed upon individual freedom by modern life and technology would influence the comedies of French filmmaker Jacque Tati in the 1950s and 1960s. More immediately, Clair's work proved to be highly influential to American filmmakers, and the same themes, elements, or techniques appeared in the works of Charlie Chaplin and the Mark Brothers. Chaplin was especially inspired by Clair. Observers noted distinct similarities in the assembly line sequences in A Nous La Liberté! and Chaplin's later film Modern Times (1936). The sequences were so similar that Clair's production company sued Chaplin for plagiarism. However, the legal move dismayed Clair, who was a great admirer of Chaplin. Still, the similarities were too significant to be passed off as mere coincidence.
Criticism and Exile
By the mid–1930s, Clair's was not quite as highly praised in his own country. Despite Clair's themes, French critics complained that his films were becoming less socially relevant. In response to such criticism, Clair wrote and directed Le Dernier Milliardaire (1934), but the film turned out to be an utter failure. This disaster led to a self–imposed exile. Clair first moved the England where he made The Ghost Goes West (1936), about an American who purchases a castle and transports it to the United States, (only to discover that it is haunted), and Break the News (1937). Of the two films, the former was better received, but it is considered not to be the equal of his greatest works.
As prospects of a world war appeared increasingly inevitable, Clair moved to the United States, as did many other talented European directors. Hollywood was happy to have a director of such international renown. But the four films he directed—the fantasies The Flame of New Orleans (1941), I Married a Witch (1942), It Happened Tomorrow (1944), and the Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None (1945)—did not match the quality and impact of his French works. The fantasies, in particular I Married a Witch, were very popular, and the Christie adaptation is now regarded as one of the best film translations of the mystery writer's works, but the American films were a great deal more conventional than his early comedy masterpieces.
Returned to France
Clair returned to France after World War II, and his first film after his exile, Le Silence est d'or (1947), also known as Man About Town, seemed to sadly reflect the changes that had taken place in the world as well as within the artist. Europe had been greatly changed by the war, and Clair's previous type of comedy commingled with whimsical fantasy would have been an anachronism. Clair apparently sensed this, and his new film had a regretfully nostalgic tone, as it looked back on the silent film era while condemning totalitarianism and irresponsible science. The film did not mark an artistically triumphal return, but it proved to be very popular. His subsequent work, however, would become increasingly less well received.
In the films that followed, Clair confronted more challenging subject matter and delineated characters who endured great suffering without the relief of the trademark Clair gaiety. Works included La Beaute du diable (Beauty and the Devil), a 1950 translation of the Faust legend; Les Belles de nuit (Beauties of the Night, 1954); Les Grande Maneuvres (The Grand Maneuver, 1956), and Porte des Lilas (Gates of Paris, 1957). La Beauté du diable featured a vision of the atomic holocaust, while other films touched on the subject of suicide, an option that would have been completely foreign to Clair's previous, humorously resilient characters. These works were deemed to be well below his pre–war standard.
As the quality of his output deteriorated, Clair's standing with intellectual critics simultaneously suffered a considerable fall. No longer was he considered an equal of the great Renoir, as these critics even found fault with Clair's previous masterworks, as they cited the films' superficiality and emotional detachment.
Writers from the influential French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma led the attack. In particular, Françcois Truffaut, who would later become a great director himself, denounced Clair as part of the "old guard." Such attacks, coupled with the lack of success of his subsequent films, severely damaged Clair's artistic reputation. His final films—Tout l'or du monde (1961) and Les Fêtes galantes (1965)—only generated lukewarm receptions.
Reputation Received Rejuvenation
Today, Clair's name is rarely placed among the pantheon of the greatest international film directors, but in recent years, his artistic reputation has enjoyed rejuvenation, and he is at least regarded as one of the most influential directors in the history of the French cinema. His early comedies help his country attain a high ranking in world cinema. In 1962, Clair became the first film director to be voted a member of the Academie Française.
Clair died on March 15, 1981, in Neuilly–sur–Seine, France. He was survived by his wife, Bronya Perlmutter, who he married in 1926, and one son.
By the time he died, Clair had not directed a film for 16 years, but he was remembered as a director who demonstrated innovative and witty conceptions of sound, image and narrative techniques that he managed to commingle into fresh and liberating works.
Crowther, Bosley, The Great Films: Fifty Golden Years of Motion Pictures, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1967.
Monaco, James, et al, The Encyclopedia of Film, Putnam, 1991.
International Directory of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2. Directors, St. James Press, 2000.
Tyler, Parker, Classics of the Foreign Film, Citadel Press, 1968.
Herpe, Noel, "Rene Clair–Author–Legislator," Senses of Cinema, http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/01/16/clair.html (December 27, 2004).
Rene Clair (1898–1981), FilmsDeFrance.comhttp://frenchfilms.topcities.com/index3.html (December 27, 2004).
"Rene Clair, Britannica Concise Encylopedia, http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article?tocId=9360879 (December 27, 2004).
Nationality: French. Born: René Chomette in Paris, 11 November 1898. Education: Lycée Montaigne, and Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris, 1913–17. Military Service: Served in Ambulance Corps, 1917. Family: Married Bronya Perlmutter, 1926, one son. Career: Retired to Dominican monastery, 1918; began acting at Gaumont studios, 1920; as René Clair, became film editor of Le Théâtre et comoedia illustré, Paris, 1922; directed first film, Paris qui dort, 1923; directed for Alexander Korda in Britain, 1935–38; immigrated to United States and signed to Universal, 1940; returned to Paris, 1946. Awards: Honorary doctorate, Cambridge University, 1956; elected to Academie Française, 1960; Doctor Honoris Causa, Royal College of Arts, London, 1967; Commander of the Legion of Honour; Commander of Arts and Letters; Commander of the Italian Order of Merit. Died: In Neuilly, France, 15 March 1981.
Films as Director:
Paris qui dort (+ sc, ed)
Entr'acte ; Le Fantôme du Moulin Rouge (+ sc)
Le Voyage imaginaire (+ sc)
La Proie du vent (+ sc)
Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie (+ sc)
La Tour (+ sc); Les Deux Timides (+ sc)
Sous les toits de Paris (+ sc)
Le Million (+ sc); A Nous la liberté (+ sc)
Quatorze Juillet (+ sc)
Le Dernier Milliardaire (+ sc)
The Ghost Goes West (+ co-sc)
Break the News (+ co-sc)
Air pur (+ sc) (uncompleted)
The Flame of New Orleans (+ co-sc)
Sketch featuring Ida Lupino in Forever and a Day (Lloyd) (+ sc); I Married a Witch (+ co-sc, pr)
It Happened Tomorrow (+ co-sc)
And Then There Were None (+ co-sc, pr)
Le Silence est d'or (+ pr, sc)
La Beauté du diable (+ co-sc, pr)
Les Belles-de-nuit (+ sc, pr)
Les Grandes Manoeuvres (+ co-sc, pr)
Porte des Lilas (+ co-sc, pr)
"Le Mariage" episode of La Française et l'amour (+ sc)
Tout l'or du monde (+ co-sc, pr)
"Les Deux Pigeons" episode of Les Quatres vérités (+ sc)
Les Fêtes galantes (+ pr, sc)
Le Lys de la Vie (Fuller) (role); Les Deux Gamines (Feuillade—serial) (role)
Le Sens de la mort (Protozanoff) (role); L'Orpheline (Feuillade) (role); Parisette (Feuillade—serial) (role)
Parisette (Feuillade) (role)
Prix de beauté (Miss Europe) (Genina) (sc contribution)
Un Village dans Paris (co-pr)
La Grande Époque (French version of Robert Youngson's The Golden Age of Comedy) (narrator)
By CLAIR: books—
De fil en aiguille, Paris, 1951.
La Princesse de Chine, Paris, 1951.
Réflexion faite, Paris, 1951.
Reflections on the Cinema, London, 1953.
Comédies et commentaires, Paris, 1959.
Tout l'or du monde, Paris, 1962.
"À nous la liberté" and "Entr'acte," New York, 1970.
Four Screenplays, New York, 1970.
Cinema Yesterday and Today, New York, 1972.
Jeux d'hasard, Paris, 1976.
By CLAIR: articles—
"A Conversation with René Clair," with Bernard Causton, in Sightand Sound (London), Winter 1933.
"It Happened Tomorrow," with Dudley Nichols, in Theatre Arts (New York), June 1944.
"Television and Cinema," in Sight and Sound (London), January 1951.
"René Clair in Moscow," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1955/56.
"Nothing Is More Artificial than Neo-realism," in Films and Filming (London), June 1957.
"Picabia, Satie et la première d'Entr'acte," in L'Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), November 1968.
"René Clair in Hollywood," an interview with R.C. Dale, in FilmQuarterly (Berkeley, California), Winter 1970/71. Interview in Encountering Directors by Charles Samuels, New York, 1972.
"A Conversation with René Clair," with John Baxter and John Gillett, in Focus on Film (London), Winter 1972.
"René Clair," interviews with Patrick McGilligan and Debra Weiner, in Take One (Montreal), January/February 1973 and May 1974.
"René Clair at 80," an interview with G. Mason, in Literature/FilmQuarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 10, no. 2, 1982.
Interview in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), March 1988.
On CLAIR: books—
Viazzi, G., René Clair, Milan, 1946.
Bourgeois, J., René Clair, Geneva, 1949.
Charensol, Georges, and Roger Régent, Un Maître du cinéma: RenéClair, Paris, 1952.
Charensol, George, René Clair et Les Belles de nuit, Paris, 1953.
De La Roche, Catherine, René Clair, an Index, London, 1958.
Mitry, Jean, René Clair, Paris, 1960.
Amengual, Barthélemy, René Clair, Paris, 1969.
Barrot, Olivier, René Clair; ou, Le Temps mesuré, Renens, 1985.
Greene, Naomi, René Clair: A Guide to References and Resources, Boston, 1985.
Dale, R.C., The Films of René Clair, 2 vols, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1986.
On CLAIR: articles—
Potamkin, Harry, "René Clair and Film Humor," in Hound and Horn (New York), October/December 1932.
Jacobs, Louis, "The Films of René Clair," in New Theatre (New York), February 1936.
Lambert, Gavin, "The Films of René Clair," in Sequence (London), no. 6, 1949.
"Clair Issue" of Bianco e Nero (Rome), August/September 1951.
Gauteur, Claude, "René Clair, hélas. . . !" in Image et Son (Paris), June 1963.
Beylie, Claude, "Entr'acte, le film sans maître," in Cinéma (Paris), February 1969.
Fraenkel, Helene, "It Happened Tomorrow," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1974.
Fischer, Lucy, "René Clair, Le Million, and the Coming of Sound," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1977.
Carroll, Noel, "Entr'acte, Paris and Dada," in Millenium FilmJournal (New York), Winter 1977/78.
Grignaffini, Giovanna, "René Clair" (special issue), Castoro Cinema (Firenze), no. 69, 1979.
Haustrate, Gaston, "René Clair: était-il un grand cinéaste?," in Cinéma (Paris), April 1981.
Adair, Gilbert, "Utopia Ltd., the Cinema of René Clair," in Sight andSound (London), Summer 1981.
"Sous les toits de Paris Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 February 1982.
Oms, M., and J. Baldizzone, "Entretien avec Rene Clair," in in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 35–36, Autumn 1982.
Kramer, S.P., "René Clair: Situation and Sensibility in A nous laliberté," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), April 1984.
Vittorini, E., "Nella poetica di Clair una lezione di linguaggio," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), March-April 1986.
Faulkner, Christopher, "René Clair, Marcel Pagnol, and the Social Dimension of Speech," Filmfax (Evanston, Illinois), no. 36, December-January 1992–93.
Renard, P., "Louis Delluc, Rene Clair," in Positif (Paris), no. 383, January 1993.
Herpe, N., "Rene Clair," in Positif (Paris), no. 384, February 1993.
Cremonini, G., "Aweune domani di Rene Clair," in Cineforum (Bergamo), vol. 33, May 1993.
Trémois, C.-M., "La belle époque de Rene Clair," in Télérama (Paris), 8 September 1993.
Alion, Yves, "Rene Clair," in Mensuel du Cinema (Paris), no. 10, October 1993.
On CLAIR: film—
Knapp, Hubert, and Igor Barrère, Le Rouge est mis (documentary on making of Les Belles de nuit), 1952.* * *
During the 1930s, when the French cinema reigned intellectually preeminent, René Clair ranked with Renoir and Carné as one of its greatest directors—perhaps the most archetypally French of them all. His reputation has since fallen (as has Carné's), and comparison with Renoir may suggest why. Clair's work, though witty, stylish, charming, and technically accomplished, seems to lack a dimension when compared with the work of Renoir; there is a certain oversimplification, a fastidious turning away from the messier, more complex aspects of life. (Throughout nearly the whole of his career, Clair rejected location shooting, preferring the controllable artifice of the studio.) Critics have alleged that his films are superficial and emotionally detached. Yet, at their best, Clair's films have much of the quality of champagne—given so much sparkle and exhilaration, it would seem churlish to demand nourishment as well.
At the outset of his career, Clair directed one of the classic documents of surrealist cinema, Entr'acte, and this grounding in surrealism underlies much of his comedy work. The surrealists' love of sight gags (Magritte's cloud-baguettes, Duchamp's urinal) and mocking contempt for bourgeois respectability can be detected in the satiric farce of Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie, Clair's masterpiece of the silent era. Dream imagery, another surrealist preoccupation, recurs constantly throughout his career, from Le Voyage imaginaire to Les Belles-de-nuit, often transmuted into fantasy—touchingly poetic at its best, though in weaker moments declining into fey whimsicality.
The key films in Clair's early career, and those which made him internationally famous, were his first four sound pictures: Sous les toits de Paris, Le Million, A Nous la liberté, and Quatorze Juillet. Initially sceptical of the value of sound—"an unnatural creation"—he rapidly changed his opinion when he recognized the creative, nonrealistic possibilities which the soundtrack offered. Sound effects, music, even dialogue could be used imaginatively to counterpoint and comment on the image, or to suggest a new perspective on the action. Words and pictures, Clair showed, need not, and in fact should not, be tied together in a manner that clumsily duplicates information. Dialogue need not always be audible; and even in a sound picture, silence could claim a validity of its own.
In these four films, Clair created a wholly individual cinematic world, a distinctive blend of fantasy, romance, social satire, and operetta. Song and dance are introduced into the action with no pretence at literal realism, characters are drawn largely from stock, and the elaborate sets are explored with an effortless fluidity of camera movement which would be impossible in real locations. These qualities, together with the pioneering use of sound and Clair's knack for effective pacing and brilliant visual gags, resulted in films of exceptional appeal, full of charm, gaiety, and an ironic wit which at times—notably in the satire on mechanised greed in A Nous la liberté—darkened towards an underlying pessimism.
As always, Clair wrote his own scripts, working closely on all four films with designer Lazare Meerson and cinematographer Georges Périnal. Of the four, Le Million most effectively integrated its various elements, and is generally rated Clair's finest film. But all were successful, especially outside France, and highly influential: both Chaplin (Modern Times) and the Marx Brothers (A Night at the Opera) borrowed from them.
In some quarters, though, Clair was criticized for lack of social relevance. Ill-advisedly, he attempted to respond to such criticisms; Le Dernier Milliardaire proved a resounding flop. This led to Clair's long exile. For thirteen years he made no films in France other than the abortive Air pur, and his six English-language pictures—two in Britain, four in America—have an uneasy feel about them, the fantasy strained and unconvincing. By the time Clair finally returned to France in 1946, both he and the world had changed.
The films that Clair made after World War II rarely recapture the lighthearted gaiety of his early work. In its place, the best of them display a new-found maturity and emotional depth, while preserving the characteristic elegance and wit of his previous films. The prevailing mood is an autumnal melancholy that at times, as in the elegiac close of Les Grandes Manoeuvres, comes near to tragedy. Characters are no longer the stock puppets of the pre-war satires, but rounded individuals, capable of feeling and suffering. More serious subjects are confronted, their edges only slightly softened by their context: Porte des Lilas ends with a murder, La Beauté du diable with a vision of the atomic holocaust. Nearest in mood to the earlier films is the erotic fantasy of Les Belles-de-nuit, but even this is darkly underscored with intimations of suicide.
In the late 1950s Clair came under attack from the writers of Cahiers du Cinéma, François Truffaut in particular, who regarded him as the embodiment of the "Old Guard," the ossified cinéma de papa against which they were in revolt. To what he saw as Clair's emotionless, studio-bound artifice, Truffaut proposed an alternative, more "truly French" cinematic tradition, the lyrical freedom of Renoir and Jean Vigo. Clair's reputation never fully recovered from these onslaughts, nor from the lukewarm reception which met his last two films, Tout l'or du monde and Les Fêtes galantes. Although Clair no longer commands a place among the very first rank of directors, he remains undoubtedly one of the most original and distinctive stylists of the cinema. His explorations of sound, movement, and narrative technique, liberating at the time, still appear fresh and inventive. For all his limitations, which he readily acknowledged—"a director's intelligence," he once wrote, "can be judged partly by his renunciations"—Clair succeeded in creating a uniquely personal vision of the world, which in his best films still retains the power to exhilarate and delight.
René Clair (rənā´ klâr), 1898–1981, French film director, writer, and producer. Beginning as a film critic, Clair first received international attention in the 1930s with his early sound films, notable for their satirical content and lovely photographic treatment. His Under the Roofs of Paris (1929) helped to suggest that the new medium could be freed from its static
quality and use sound creatively. It was followed by the equally imaginative Le Million (1931) and À Nous la liberté (1932). His other films include The Ghost Goes West, (1935), Beauties of the Night (1952), and Les Fêtes Galantes (1965). In 1962 he was elected to the French Academy, the first film director to be so honored.
See his Reflections on the Cinema (tr. 1953) and Cinema Yesterday and Today, ed. by R. C. Dale (1972).