Clair, René


Clair, René
(1898-1981)
   Actor, director, and screenwriter. René Clair was born René-Lucien Chomette in the Halles quartier of Paris. A lively, vibrant neighborhood of the city that housed the main market, this area was also a center of the modern renovation of the city and was decidedly working class in its flavor. Many of these influences from childhood would shape Clair's filmmaking later in life.
   Clair was a very bright, studious, scholarly child with a passion for literature. He attended the prestigious lycée Louis-le-Grand, and the school gave him genuine literary ambitions. Clair might have gone on to pursue those ambitions, but World War I intervened. Clair served in an ambulance brigade during the war and saw firsthand many of its horrors, and this too had a profound effect on him.
   After the war, Clair went to work as a journalist, but also began dabbling in cinema, initially as an actor. He would later state that cinema recalled to him the puppet shows he loved as a child. It was as an actor that he first used the name René Clair. He worked in films principally for Gaumont, mostly those directed by Louis Feuillade. Feuillade's filmmaking style, which was highly individualized and recognizable, may have had some influence on Clair, whose own films share some of Feuillade's filmmaking characteristics.
   In fact, it was while he was working with Feuillade that Clair decided that acting was not really his forte, and that perhaps his interest in cinema might lie behind the camera. Clair got his start directing films as assistant to director Jacques de Baroncelli through a connection made by his brother, director Henri Chomette. At the same time, he began writing film criticism for Paris-Journal and other publications.
   In 1924, Clair started two projects that launched his solo directing career. Francis Picabia, the famed dadaiste, contacted Clair and asked him to film the dadaiste ballet Relâche, which would become the film Entre'acte (1924), and at about the same time, Clair was named as director of Henri Diamant-Berger's production of Paris qui dort (1924). Entre'acte established Clair as a member of the avant-garde, a reputation consolidated with his 1926 film Le Voyage imaginaire. These two early films were clearly influenced by avant-garde movements such as Dada and surrealism, and Clair's film criticism also shows (in fact before such movements existed) an interest in the same ideas and theories as these two avant-garde movements. Even Clair's later, neorealist films have a surrealist touch to them. Elements like asynchronous sound, fantastic happenings, and distortions of reality all occur in order to present through this seemingly "unreal" an often bitingly critical, but undeniably accurate vision of the real world. Films such as Sous les toits de Paris (1930), À nous la liberté (1931), and Le Million (1931), for which Clair was awarded the Prix Louis-Delluc, are examples.
   From 1925 on, Clair made films at a regular pace, working exclusively for Albatros films, and writing the screenplays for every film he directed. His films were enormously popular, and he had a tremendous influence on other filmmakers of the time, including Charlie Chaplin, whose classic Modern Times (1936) was said to have been inspired by Clair's À nous la liberté. Clair was able to make the transition from silent to sound film without much difficulty, and in fact, his early sound films are considered some of his best. Clair was also a popular filmmaker in a second sense. His films were focused on common people (the influence of the milieu of his childhood, no doubt). This continued the tradition of filmmakers like Feuillade, with whom he had worked, and prepared the way for those like Marcel Carné and Jean Renoir who would follow. Clair is seen as a central filmmaker in this respect. He carried forward certain trends in early film and served as the bridge that established these trends as cinema evolved. Among these trends are not only a populist focus, a critical dynamic, an avant-garde aesthetics (all of which are present to some measure in Feuillade, although Feuillade's films are much more colored by the spirit of their age than Clair's), but also the strongly individual style and vision in his filmmaking that would come to be the signature of an auteur (also evident in Feuillade, if less developed).
   After ten years of success, Clair encountered the first real setback in his career. His 1934 film, Le Dernier milliardaire, was an absolute failure. Clair, quite taken aback by the film's bad reception, left France for England, where he made two films, The Ghost Goes West (1934) and Break the News (1938). He then went to Hollywood. By this time, France was under occupation, and Clair would remain in Hollywood until the end of the war. While in Hollywood, Clair made a number of films, most of them rather conventional Hollywood films, with actors like Veronica Lake and Charles Laughton. The best known of these Hollywood films are Forever and a Day (1943), an epic historical drama of war and peace, and And Then There Were None (1945), a rather faithful adaptation of the eponymous Agatha Christie novel.
   After the war, Clair returned to France and resumed making films in French. His first film, Le Silence est d'or (1947), was a success, and Clair would see it crowned with his nomination to the Académie française. But this would be the only great success of Clair's late career. His style seemed to change upon his elevation to classical status, and his films became too intellectual, too stuffy, or simply unappealing to the popular audiences who had once flocked to see them. Clair would have two other major critical successes. The first was the film Les Grandes manoeuvres (1955), which won the Prix Louis-Delluc, and the second was his 1957 film Porte des Lilas, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. His other films were unremarkable. He made his last film, Fêtes galantes, in 1965.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Clair, René — Clair (klâr), René. Originally René Chomette. 1898 1981. French filmmaker. An early exponent of productions with sound, he directed the classics Sous les Toits de Paris (1929) and Le Million (1931). * * * orig. René Lucien Chomette born Nov. 11,… …   Universalium

  • Clair, René — (René Chomette / November II, 1898, Paris, France March 15, 1981, Neuilly sur Seine, Hauts de Seine, France)    The son of a soap merchant, he grew up in the Les Halles area. In 1917, he took part in World War I as an ambulance driver. He… …   Encyclopedia of French film directors

  • Clair, René — (1898 1981)    Actor, director, and screenwriter. René Clair was born René Lucien Chomette in the Halles quartier of Paris. A lively, vibrant neighborhood of the city that housed the main market, this area was also a center of the modern… …   Guide to cinema

  • Clair, René — • КЛЕР (Clair) Рене (наст. фам. Шомет, Chomette) (11.11.1898 15.3.1981)    франц. режиссёр. Чл. Ин та Франции (1960). Участвовал в 1 й мировой войне, был журналистом и кинокритиком. В кино дебютировал как актёр в ф. балете Л. Фуллер Лилия жизни… …   Кино: Энциклопедический словарь

  • Clair, René — (1898 1981)    film director    Born René Chomette in Paris, René Clair, as he is known, demonstrated even in his early films a sense of inventive rhythm and insolent humor that became his trademark (Paris qui dort, 1924; Entr acte, 1924; Un… …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

  • Clair, René — ► (1898 1981) Seudónimo de René Lucien Chomette, director cinematográfico y escritor francés. Películas: Bajo los techos de París y El silencio es oro, entre otras. * * * orig. René Lucien Chomette (11 nov. 1898, París, Francia–15 mar. 1981,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Clair, René — pseud. di Chomette, René Lucien …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • Rene Clair — René Clair Pour les articles homonymes, voir Clair. René Clair Nom de naissance René Lucien Chomette Naissance 11 novembre 1898 Paris, France Nationalité(s) …   Wikipédia en Français

  • René Clair — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda René Clair (René Chomette) (11 de noviembre de 1898, París 15 de marzo de 1981) fue un cineasta y escritor francés. Biografía Se crió en el barrio parisino de Les Halles. Estudió en el Lycée Montaigne y en el Lycée… …   Wikipedia Español

  • CLAIR (R.) — CLAIR RENÉ CHOMETTE dit RENÉ (1898 1981) Auteur de films et, accessoirement, critique, essayiste et romancier. Après des débuts comme journaliste (L’Intransigeant ), comme parolier (pour Damia), comme comédien (notamment pour Feuillade), comme… …   Encyclopédie Universelle


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