Researching in the BnF, Richelieu


As a graduate student at UCLA in the 1990s, I won 2 years of PhD research in the BnF to undertake research on Sarah Bernhardt and early film. At that time (1997-1999), there were few people (well, no one) researching silent film in the libraries of Paris. I recall being allowed to photocopy just 10 pages a day at the Bibliothèque de Arsenal. I remember reading microfilm for days on end, and having to write every entry down, as my 10 pages were used. I vividly recall going to the new library at the François-Mitterand Library in 1997, and the surprise and humour that my research elicited. Film? You can do a PhD in that??!

This time around, returning over 20 yers later, with my research published and another project focusing on French stage stars and early film, I was supported, encouraged, and given access to more information than I could consume. I scoured journals, photographs, paintings, prints, and, of course, film archives. The outcome? A forthcoming book with the University of California Press provisionally entitled 

Media matriarchs: the French stage celebrity and the development of transnational film

This book joins Sarah Bernhardt, Réjane, and Mistinguett together as actresses who were central to the first iteration of media celebrity. I argue that although these three actresses were different in performance style, the venues they performed within, and often attracted different audiences, they collectively represent the spread, power and importance of the French actress in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Particularly in Britain and North America, these women were transnational celebrity figures, consolidating an existing relationship between France and AngloAmerican audiences. Through film, they gave visibility to French film production in a period in which France dominated what we would today call the 'cultural industries'.