Sunday, March 13, 2005

Popular Front Paris

I've received an advance copy of Popular Front Paris and the Poetics of Culture, by Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar. I've only skimmed the book so-far, but this interesting academic work (published by Harvard University Press) seems quite promising. From the publisher . . . .

"The story of Paris in the 1930's seems straightforward enough, with the Popular Front movement leading toward the inspiring 1936 election of a leftist coalition government. The socialist victory, which resulted in fundamental improvements in the lives of workers, was then derailed in a precipitous descent that culminated in France's capitulation before the Nazis in June 1940. In this book, Dudley Andrew and Steven Ungar apply an evocative 'poetics of culture' to capture the complex atmospherics of Paris in the 1930's. They highlight the new symbolic forces put in play by technologies of the illustrated press and the sound film - technologies that converged with efforts among writers (Gide, Malraux, Celine), artists (Renoir, Dali), and other intellectuals (Mounier, de Rougemont, Leiris) to respond to the decade's crises. Their analysis takes them to expositions and music halls, to upscale architecture and fashion sites, to traditional neighborhoods, and to overseas territories, the latter portrayed in metropolitan exhibits and colonial cinema. Rather than a straight story of the Popular Front, they have produced something closer to the format of an illustrated newspaper whose multiple columns represent the breadth of urban life during this critical decade at the end of the Third French Republic."

Film in general, and Prix de Beaute (1930) in particular, are discussed. Louise Brooks is pictured (page 268), and is described as "the sensational Art Deco film idol who changed styles of hair, couture, and behavior in France and around the world." Anyone interested in the cultural history of this time and place might want to check out this new book.

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