Film Performance

  • Stephen Heath
Part of the Communications and Culture book series (COMMCU)


A story by Apollinaire from 1907 (subsequently included in the 1910 volume L’Hérésiarque et Cie, the original title for which had been Phantasmes): ‘Un beau film’.1 The narrator, the Baron d’Ormesan, tells how he and a group of friends founded the Cinematographic International Company —‘which for short we called the CIC’! — and sought to obtain films ‘of great interest’ for exhibition in the principal towns of Europe and America. A number of such films were procured but the Company ‘lacked the representation of a crime’. The Baron and his friends thus decide to remedy that lack by organizing their own crime for the screen: a courting couple is captured in the streets of Paris one night, then a gentleman on his way to a gambling club; preparations are made in a specially rented house — ‘our photographer set us his apparatus, saw to the appropriate lighting, and stood ready to record the crime’ — and the gentleman is forced, under threat of himself being killed, to murder the young lovers. The crime is sensational (the victims prove to have been minor foreign nobility), the film a spectacular box-office draw: ‘You can imagine our success. The police did not for a moment suppose that we were offering the reality of the murder of the day, though we took great pains to announce that that was indeed just what we were doing. The public made no mistake. It gave us an enthusiastic reception…. ’ Later, an innocent person is arrested and executed for the killing, the Company duly recording the execution to be added as a conclusion to its film. The Baron simply ends his narrative with an estimate of the amount of money he gained from his excursion into the commerce of cinematography.


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  1. 1.
    Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘Un beau film’, in M. Décaudin (ed.), Oeuvres complètes de Guillaume Apollinaire vol. 1 (Paris: A. Balland et J. Lecat, 1965) pp. 206–8.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A phrase cited and developed by Straub; ‘Entretien avec Jean-Marie Straub et Daniéle Huillet’, Cahiers du cinéma no. 223 (August 1970) pp. 53–5.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Christian Metz, ‘Le signifiant imaginaire’, Communications no. 23 (1975) p. 31; translation, ‘The Imaginary Signifier’, Screen vol. 16 no. 2 (Summer 1975) p. 47.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Jacques Lacan, ‘Faire mouche’, Nouvel Observateur no. 594 (29 March–4 April 1976) p. 64.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    J. Lacan, Écrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966) p. 835.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    André Bazin, ‘Théâtre et cinéma’, Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? vol. II (Paris: Cerf, 1959) p. 87.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Jean-Luc Godard, ‘Premiers sons anglais’, Cinéthique no. 5 (1969) p. 14.Google Scholar

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© Stephen Heath 1981

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  • Stephen Heath

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