Marcel L’Herbier: Fabricating Dreams is a special season dedicated to one of France’s most innovative but internationally overlooked directors whose career straddled the avant-garde and mainstream cinema. A rare showcase of L’Herbier’s cinematic vision, the programme is the first UK presentation of some of his most significant films from the silent and early sound eras.
From his obsession with innovative lighting and camera work and highly stylised mise–en–scènes complete with décor and costumes designed or adapted specifically for the screen effect, L’Herbier is best known for his interest in developing a language that would be cinematic in essence (which in France was at the time described by the elusive term photogénie).
The legacy of Marcel L’Herbier goes beyond his own achievements as a filmmaker of the ‘narrative avant-garde’. Throughout his life he mobilised other creative practitioners, helped shape film criticism and theory, actively promoted the work of others and acted in various roles as a guardian and spokesman for French cinema. His championing of film as a form of visual poetry paved the way for subsequent generations of filmmakers, including such greats as Alain Resnais and Louis Malle.
During the silent period, L’Herbier’s ambition for the cinema was to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, a cinéma total which would synthesise all the arts and draw together architects, artists, set designers, couturiers and costume designers. Among the many major cultural figures he collaborated with were the artists Fernand Léger, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, the composers Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger, the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, designers Alberto Cavalcanti and Claude Autant-Lara, and couturiers Paul Poiret, Lucien Lelong (L’Herbier’s cousin) and Louiseboulanger. Paired with his multi-disciplinary collaborative approach, it was L’Herbier’s desire to legitimise and ennoble cinema as the ‘seventh art’ that helped establish him as a seminal figure within Paris’s vibrant cultural milieu of the inter-war years.
Using art, fashion and design as the prisms through which to examine L’Herbier’s diverse body of work, Fashion in Film’s season highlights his lifelong interest in cinematic style and aesthetics. As the costume designer Jacques Manuel once observed, costume for L’Herbier was so often a way of ‘feeding’ the ‘mechanical eye’ with evocative surfaces and textures, a way of testing the formal elements of cinema itself such as movement, rhythm, light and shadow.
The festival runs across BFI Southbank, Barbican, The Horse Hospital, Ciné Lumière and Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design.
Fashion in Film is an exhibition, research and education project based at Central Saint Martins and also supported by London College of Fashion, both part of University of the Arts London.
Curated by Marketa Uhlirova, Caroline Evans and Dionne Griffith, with consultancy from Mireille Beaulieu and research by Inga Fraser.
Huge thanks to our partner venues BFI Southbank, Barbican, Ciné Lumière and the Horse Hospital, as well as numerous individuals without whom this project wouldn’t be possible: Caroline Beamish, Mireille Beaulieu, Birgitte Berg, Agnès Bertola, Blanka Brixová, Serge Bromberg and Maria Chiba (Lobster), Stuart Brown, Roger K. Burton, Marlène van de Casteele, Frances Corner, Sara Cozzarin, Caroline Ferreira, Steve Hill, Anna Kime, Jessica King, Liberty McAnena, Janet McDonnell, Ivan Mečl, Séan O’Mara, Marie-Françoise Osso-Fontaine, Caroline Patte, Julie Pierce, Jane Rapley, Charlotte Saluard, Sandra (Iconothèque de la Cinémathèque française), Tai Shani, Karolina Slade, Jillian W. Slonim, Anne Smith, Katrina Stokes, Caitlin Storrie, Mileva Stupar, Jeremy Till. We are extremely grateful for the kind cooperation and support of Marie-Ange L’Herbier.