Although it was only published from 1928 to 1940, the French film weekly Pour Vous was remarkably modern in its international perspective. Curators and consumers of contemporary culture are familiar with increasingly transnational modes of artistic production, but looking back at the last century, we are accustomed to the more discrete categories of national cinema. The golden era of Hollywood can live independently in our minds from French cinema between the wars, and from the Weimar era in Germany (the emigration of Weimar filmmakers to Hollywood is, of course, another story).
While cataloging the Pour Vous holdings in the Film Department Study Collection in preparation for the Glamour Vérité—Paris/Hollywood: Cinema’s Pour Vous Magazine, 1928–1940 exhibition, I was struck by how international the periodical was during a time when information and trends were much slower to cross the Atlantic. The magazine covers on display in the Titus Theater Galleries feature 42 American stars and another 40 from France, with German, Italian, Czech, British, and other actors added to the mix. Parity is also noticeable along gender lines, with Hollywood stars Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Jeanette MacDonald, and Claudette Colbert joined by leading men of every flavor, from comic icons like Fernandel, Raimu, and Laurel & Hardy (does humor correlating with one-word monikers?) to the broodingly handsome likes of Jean Gabin, Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Maurice Chevalier. From the dramatic Anabella and Marlene Dietrich to Clara Bow, Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, and many more, the readers of Pour Vous were privy to the latest projects by—and recent gossip about—an impressive cross-section of actors.
Two unusual covers provide insight into the representation of cultures beyond the Franco-American axis. Valéry Inkijinoff was a Russian actor of Mongolian extraction who ran in the same Moscow circles as Sergei Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov—he made his film acting debut in Kuleshov’s The Happy Canary—before emigrating to Paris in 1930, disillusioned with communism. There and later in Hollywood, he had a long career portraying mysterious villains, as directors favored his accent and oriental features. Another example is Rama-Tahé, an all-but-unknown actress of Antillean origins, who plays the exotic object of desire in a Léon Poirier film known in the U.S. as Cain, Savage Bride, Rama, the Cannibal Girl. The casual racism and broad strokes with which non-Western “Others” are depicted are not surprising in the decades between orientalism and decolonization. Yet the fact that these non-Western actors are given the limelight of a cover feature is unusual, and gives us a sense of a depth and complexity in the magazine’s editorial vision—even if it arose only from publisher Léon Bailby and editor Alexandre Arnoux’s personal interests and idiosyncrasies.Lastly, going through our issues of Pour Vous, the translations of titles also caught my eye. Why did It Happened One Night become New York–Miami? Who changed the focus from Carole Lombard to Clark Gable in translating No Man of Her Own to Un mauvais garçon (A Naughty Boy)? Who decided Simone Simon needed a sidekick and translated Josette to Josette et companie (Jostte and Co.)? What about Our Dancing Daughters becoming Les Nouvelles Vierges (The New Virgins)? Splitting hairs over banalities? Perhaps. But some of these puzzling title changes are undeniably funny. (Head-scratching translations persist today. My favorite: French multiplexes advertised The Hangover as Very Bad Trip, a title that contains as many French words as the original.
Glamour Vérité—Paris/Hollywood: Cinema’s Pour Vous Magazine, 1928–1940 closes on August 12. Be sure to catch the exhibition in its final weeks, and please tell us: who is your favorite silver screen star in the show?