Biography of René Clair (1898-1981)

Director of French cinema, born in Paris on November 11, 1898 and died on March 15, 1981 in Paris, whose real name was René-Lucien Chomette.


Born in a family of medium-sized merchants, at the age of seven he/she began already to write small plays and poems, hobby that soon after would lead him to collaborate in several juvenile magazines before devoting himself entirely to journalism. The first world war came however to truncate as promising steps, as you were presented volunteer for health services on the battlefront, and the horrors that lived there made him to fall into an intense personal crisis.

After spending a season of rest in a convent in Belgium he/she would return to his hometown and how mere fun outside their occupations of journalist, I would write songs for Damia, a well-known cabaret performer and that felt at that time its possibilities as a film actress. Through this, René Clair failed to start as an actor, simple preliminary step for industry and craft from within before you make the leap to what really interested him: the address.

His debut behind the scenes, made possible thanks to the trust placed in its possibilities by the well-known producer Henri Diamant-Berger, came through the front door with sleep Paris (1923), a delicious blend of humor and fantasy with little money. This film, which describes the chaos of the French capital by staying asleep its inhabitants as result of a beam that emits a mad scientist, left sitting rather clearly the primary log where would move Clair throughout his career: the merger between dream and reality, the transcendent and everyday life.

The relative commercial success of this film did not however its Director to leave journalism, although it would begin to tip over in the cultural sections and in the implementation underway film supplement where will write several theoretical articles of draft collected years later in a landmark book: reflection faite. But the poison of the filmmaking would be tempting you and the insistence of the painter and avant-garde poet Picabia made the rest: thus arises the short film Entr'acte (1924), visual complement to a ballet show that will raise genuine fascination with its rhythmic put in scene and by the torrential set of choreographic images that would play as much influence years later Busby Berkeley. But nothing academic style and the scandal which resulted in its funders - alarmed by plans that was considered in bad taste - the participation of famous personalities of the avant-garde such as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, condemned the film true ostracized in their public displays.

Decided to go to the film industry as a director, then shot several titles next to the aesthetic ideology of the avant-garde (as the ghost of the Moulin Rouge, 1924, or the imaginary journey, 1925) to lead in vaudeville with his most successful silent film: A Hat straw from Italy (1927), set in the Belle Époque from the end of the 19th century, approached the comedy often slapstick from Buster Keaton, Mack Sennettor Harry Langdon, why René Clair said always such admiration, although somewhat soft in tone to bring it closer to more romantic humorous records.

La Tour (1928), a short documentary film in which he/she described the construction of the Eiffel Tower, came to point out his farewell from the silent film, which was soon erected in one of its main proponents against the arrival of the sound as it would also in United States Charles Chaplin. But after just a year, noting the possibilities offered by the new medium, he/she decided to take the final step rolling under the roofs of Paris (1930), which claims him as one of the top talent of the world cinema. The surprising expressive formulas used in this film would have a huge influence, from a camera in constant motion that describes the environment where the plot unfolds and even the occasional image absence so that the sound drive the action, as in one of the most justly praised sequences of the entire history of cinema: shot shut down the single Street lamp and screams are heard in the midst of the darknesssingle words, police whistles, or the noise of a train.

If something characterized René Clair cinema from the arrival of the sound, even if it is also present in several of his earlier films, will be the joy of living even in the worst conditions and after suffering painful tragedies. Shady or sleazy environments will give shelter to homeless Bohemian, couples without money but showing plainly his sentimental happiness, single mothers trying to survive with effort but not lose hope or travelling musicians who live in modest dormers, to set up a universe close to poetic realism where the reconstruction of streets and whole buildings in the studies would play a decisive role. To which we should add an extreme ability to carry out a social satire that is capable of moving in acceptable limits for an audience accommodated economically and fun for most popular viewers.

1 million, Viva freedom! (both 1931) or July 14 (1932) contribute accordingly to their settlement in the Olympus of the world filmmakers, by his ingenious mastery in the field of comedy and at the same time its capacity for approaching the avant-garde provocation and somewhat biased interpretations of anarchism, through plot patterns that exposed the need to abolish workleave the money as a mechanism of economic exchange or a defense of extravagant attitudes.

In 1940, fearful of the atmosphere they breathed in Europe with the rise to power of Hitler, Mussolini or Francototalitarian regimes, it would undertake journey bound for Hollywood to finish being hired by Universal. The flame of New Orleans (1941), a film strongly influenced by the personal style of Frank Capra, you would I married a witch (1942), which managed to return to one of his favorite places: the fusion of reality with fantasy. However, once finished the second world war, and although its position within the North American industry was consolidated, he/she decided to return to France and set up a very personal project: silence is golden (1947), satirical film that aspired to honor the lost magic of the film pioneers and the charms of a city like Paris that both should be.

However, this return would only harm their former privileged position: away from the United States, where many European colleagues were succeeding, a European industry plunged into a deep crisis, increasingly encountered more difficulties to launch their films and these are movers in the proper conditions. For this reason, the decades of the 1950s and 1960s attended a prolonged agony creative who for many years had been spearhead of European cinema.

The extensive film path of René Clair, started in the silent period and whose purpose in the mid-1960s coincided with the onset of movements breaking as the "Nouvelle vague", has historically enjoyed a high artistic estimate. However, in modern times his name begins to be buried in oblivion and their movies just be broadcast due perhaps to the fact that throughout his career maintained a difficult compromise in defence of a film halfway between the most radical proposals of vanguard and the pursuit of broad sectors of the popular public, not enjoying now therefore consideration of incontestable author to certain intellectuals nor eternal fame that gives work with mythic celluloid star shaped by their hands. Ultimately, his name begins to be a complete unknown to current generations - despite the crucial influence that had about directors as Luis Buñuel-, in addition to its importance within the genre of comedy, the fascinating vision offered with decorations on the city of Paris or the Visual findings present in his feature films and that marked, above all, the time of transition from the dumb to the sound.


(Clair was scriptwriter or co-writer of almost all of his films)

1923: Paris asleep. 1924: Intermission (film); The ghost of the Moulin Rouge. 1925: The imaginary journey. 1926: The dam of wind. 1927: A hat of straw from Italy. 1928: Les deux timides; La Tour (short film). 1930: under the roofs of Paris. 1931: The million; Viva freedom! 1932: July 14. 1934: The last millionaire. 1935: The phantom goes to the West. 1937: Great news. 1938: Air pur (unfinished) 1941: the flame of New Orleans. 1942: Always and one day (Co-Director); I married a witch. 1943: It happened tomorrow. 1945: And Then There Were None. 1947: Silence is golden. 1949: The beauty of the devil. 1952: Dream women. 1955: The intrigues of love. 1957: Gate of lilacs. 1960: Marriage (episode of the French and the love, co-director). 1961: all the gold in the world. 1963: The two pigeons (episode of the four truths; Co-Director). 1965: gallant festivals.

As an actor:

1920: Two girls in Paris. 1921: Le lys of the vie. Le sens of the mort. Annie. Parisette. 1922: Pour une nuit d'amour; Vers la Lumière.

Other collaborations:

1922: Le carillon de minuit (ay. address). 1923: the legend of sister Beatrix (ay. address). 1930: award of beauty (scriptwriter). 1939: A village dans Paris (short film; supervisor).


BOURGEOIS, Jacques. René Clair. (Paris: Roulet, 1949).

CHARENSOL, GEORGES and REGENT, Roger. A Maître du Cinéma: René Clair. (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1953).

Carlos FERNÁNDEZ CUENCA. René Clair. (Madrid: Cuadernos de film documentation, 1951).

VV. AA. homage to René Clair. (San Sebastián: International Film Festival, 1959).

LANDLORD, Juan Carlos to the. Dictionary of Directors (Madrid: Ediciones JC, 1992).

PASSEK, Jean-Luc et to the. Dictionary of cinema (Librairie Larousse, 1986). Version Española de URABAYEN CASCANTE, Miguel (Rialp, 1991).