Jean Epstein and Photogénie: Narrative avant­ garde film theory and practice in late silent ­era French cinema

Research output: Types of ThesisMaster's Thesis


In 1921 Editions de la Sirène published Jean Epstein’s first book, Bonjour Cinema, a collection of writings which included the articles Magnification, and The Senses I (b). In both of these articles Epstein refers to photogénie, a term which he also used in many of his later writings on film, and which he made the central topic of two articles, one in 1924, On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie, and one in 1935, Photogénie and the Imponderable. Photogénie was an important concept for Epstein, although it was not only he that wrote about it. The term also appears in articles by Louis Delluc, Léon Moussinac, Ricciotto Canudo, Henri Fescourt and Jean‐Louis Bouquet, all published in France between 1920 and 1925. However, as silent cinema gave way to sound cinema the term faded from use, with only Epstein retaining his commitment to the term. When photogénie is written about today it is generally referred to as a mysterious, elusive, enigmatic, ineffable or indefinable term that refers to the magic of cinema, the essence or nature of cinema, and the power that cinema has to transform the everyday into something special. Photogénie is seen today as something vague, obscure, even mystical; something that was part of a more primitive attitude towards cinema. In this dissertation, Epstein’s writings about photogénie and two of this films are analysed in order that more light may be shed on this term, and photogénie is shown to be a rich and complex term that functioned on a variety of levels; cultural, theoretical and aesthetic. These various aspects of the term are considered in detail, as is the general context in which the term was used, and photogénie is shown not to be vague and obscure, but to be an argument for a new and distinctly modern way of thinking about cinema.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationMaster of Arts
Awarding Institution
  • University of Exeter
  • Higbee, Will, Supervisor, External person
Award date22 Nov 2010
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2010


  • jean epstein
  • photogenie
  • silent cinema
  • french impressionist cinema
  • french cinema
  • narrative avant garde
  • avant garde


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