CFP: postwar American films in Europe conference

Call for Papers

International Conference -
The return of American films to Europe: economics, politics, aesthetics
Film History and Aesthetics Section, University of Lausanne
and Department of Film Studies, University of Haute Bretagne/Rennes 2

During WWII, the free circulation of films - commercial and cultural - from one continent to another and from one country to another was interrupted, as we know, in most nations. The phenomenon had already occurred during the First World War with profound implications for the places that the various national film industries occupied thereafter.

In 1945, the national cinemas of Europe are all on the threshold of major changes, although the situation varies from country to country. Thus it is necessary to distinguish between those who were defeated and occupied by Germany (Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, France, etc.), those who were Germany’s allies (Italy, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria), those who remained benevolently “neutral” (Spain) or who kept a neutral distance (Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, Ireland), and those who were Germany’s opponents (Great Britain, USSR). In the countries that it occupied or which were more or less neutral, Germany had developed and begun implementing a “European cinema” project, whose beginnings can be traced back to the 1920-1930s and to the German ambition to oppose American economic domination of the European market. This “European cinema” project was part of the German plan for a “United Europe” which assigned specific functions to different countries. The effects of this German policy were therefore diversified, increasing local production in some cases (France, Czechoslovakia).

Since in most European countries the distribution of American films had been interrupted by the conflict, while in others - Britain, Switzerland - it had continued, there exists in 1945 a significant and highly variable differential between the quantity of American films produced between 1939 and 1945 (about 2000 films) and the very limited presence of these films on European screens. The best known example is Gone with the Wind, released in December 1939 in the United States and yet only seen in France in May 1950.

The postwar political situations of different countries – whether defeated and dominated militarily like Germany, or liberated by the western Allied troops (Italy, France) or by the Soviet army (Eastern Europe, including East Germany) – partly explain why the Hollywood film industry adopted different strategies (already conceived during the war) to sell its films on the best commercial terms possible. The US political and military authorities played an important part in this matter, since film policy was included in the wider political strategy regarding economic aid for the reconstruction of Europe known as the Marshall Plan. The Secretary of State James F. Byrnes presented the draft Plan of aid in 1946, but it came into force two years later. In France, meanwhile, agreements negotiated in Washington by Leon Blum and Jean Monnet with James F. Byrnes included decisions regarding a French quota limiting the import of American films, the repeal of which the Hollywood industry wanted to link to French debt relief and new loans. This “compensation”, granted by the French representatives, met with the hostility of a large part of the cinema profession who saw this as a massive danger for the survival of French cinema. One of the responses was promoting a French “quality cinema” that might itself be exported.

This episode in the history of French cinema is well-known, and has been the subject of diverse hypotheses. Far less common is the discussion of how other countries reacted to the arrival on their screens of American films. Under what conditions did this take place and with what consequences? Was the reaction of French professionals – via unions and other organisations, including political parties (especially the Communist Party) – a unique case? What other reactions did the return of American cinema induce in different regional and national situations?

Factors such as the arrival of American films as innovative as Citizen Kane or Grapes of Wrath and the emergence of “film noir” – some of which renewed narrative and enunciative codes (using voiceover, flashbacks, rapid editing, lighting, etc.) – had a significant impact on the ongoing debates about issues of narrative or realism in France, Italy, and elsewhere, and American cinema thus occupied an important place in the reviews and discussions of specialists and moviegoers.

The phenomenon is obviously different in the Soviet sphere of influence and the USSR itself, where the film industry imported a number of American films in the period when the two countries were allies, at least up to the “Cold War”, and also distributed foreign films seized in Germany (“trophies”) and dubbed into Russian.

These – and many other – questions need to be reconsidered in the light of new historical sources and approached from different analytical angles. A number of special case studies of particuar situations and contexts are worth close scrutiny.

“The return of American films to Europe” is therefore a particularly rich subject to discuss a broad spectrum of problems ranging from film economics to national film policy in different countries; issues relating to spectatorship and film audiences; the reception of American films and their effects on the development of national “schools” born in the postwar years; the emergence of a demand for “quality” as a means to cope with American competition; the singularity of a number of French or foreign filmmakers emigrated to Hollywood whose films translate the ambiguity of the notions of “national cinema”, etc.

This international conference,  organized by the Film History and Aesthetics Section, University of Lausanne, and the and the Department of Film Studies, University of Haute Bretagne/Rennes 2, and to be held 7-9 March 2013, proposes to address this set of questions with a particular concern to make comparative studies between different countries in Europe.

Proposals for papers, which will be reviewed by a scientific committee with the aim of providing maximum coverage of the respective national situations and the diversity of the questions raised, should be addressed to any of the three conference directors: Fran├ž;;


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