La Parisienne: iconographical variations in the cinema

2017-05-17T01:39:51Z (GMT) by Chaplin, Felicity Jane
This thesis is a detailed study of the type la Parisienne in cinema. It seeks to expand on existing scholarship on the figure in other fields, as well as on existing scholarship on the particular films which it discusses. While there have been significant contributions on la Parisienne in the fields of art history, fashion theory and culture, and cultural history, little is written on its (re)appearance and function in cinema. I speculate that, in part, this is because her presence in cinema is not always immediately discernible and in fact frequently forms or creates a subtext to the films. This study draws on a number of sources: film; nineteenth-century art, literature, mass culture and physiologies; popular texts (fashion magazines and style guides); cultural histories of Paris. Whilst the approach is always threefold – textual (the films), contextual (the history of the representations of the Parisienne type), and intertextual (the relationship between the films and other texts such as novels and paintings, extending to the star persona of the actress) – the overarching theory and methodology of this thesis lies in iconography, derived primarily from the work of Erwin Panofsky. Other methodologies (mise en scène analysis and star theories) help establish an iconography of la Parisienne in cinema, and develop a cycle of Parisienne films. The iconographical concept of a cycle of films not only demonstrates the way films can be grouped non-traditionally – that is, not only according to genre, director, nation, or film movement (Poetic Realism, New Wave) –, but also the way future scholarship on the type can add to a cycle by considering other films in different combinations. The findings of this thesis are at once general (findings on la Parisienne as a type) and specific (to the type in cinema and in particular films). Overall, la Parisienne can be defined as a figure of French modernity, understood both in its technical sense (the transformation of Paris into the capital of the modern world), and in its cultural sense (insofar as the type became a feature of the visual arts, literature, and popular culture of nineteenth-century France). The Parisienne type can be recognised according to six primary categories or figures: art or muse, cosmopolitanism or cosmopolite, fashion or icon of fashion, danger or femme fatale, prostitution or the courtesan, and celebrity or the star. Focussing on such figures helps demonstrate that la Parisienne is a constantly evolving type in cinema with an iconography consisting of recognisable motifs; furthermore, it shows that connecting films to a cultural tradition to which they may not initially appear to belong, not only enriches our understanding of these films, but also offers new analytical and interpretative perspectives.