Georges Franju (1912 – 87)

Georges Franju was a French film director who made two documentaries that are of importance to students of industrial history. He had an individualistic style that fits into no particular school of film-making.

 

Born at Fougeres, he did several unremarkable jobs before his military service, which concluded in 1932, after which he sought work as a set designer. Franju played an important role in establishing institutions for collecting and conserving films. In 1937, with Henri Langlois, he founded Cinematheque Francaise, the first dedicated film archive, where he worked until 1949, and in 1938 was amongst the founders of the Federation Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF).

 

His career as a director effectively began in 1949 with Le Sang des Betes (Blood of Beasts), a documentary about the principal slaughterhouse in Paris, which shows, in a subtly deadpan manner, scenes of disturbing cruelty to animals, carried out as part of the workers’ everyday jobs. His ironic style owed something to the Surrealist movement and something to German Expressionism, but was highly personal. In 1950 he made En Passant par la Lorraine (While passing through Lorraine), an enthralling 32-minute film about a large steelworks (on the scale of the preserved works at Völklingen), in the Saar. It was intended as a celebration of Guy Monnet’s plan for the modernisation of French industry as part of the European Coal and Steel Community, but Franju showed the steelworks as an ugly intrusion into the pastoral landscape, and the screenplay, in an unsensational manner like that employed in Le Sang des Betes, details the pollution caused by the furnaces, and some of the accidents that from time to time kill or disable the workers.

 

The following year Franju made Hotel des Invalides, an ironic critique of France’s principal military museum. He directed his first feature, La Tete contre les Murs (The Keepers) in 1958, followed by the horror film Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes without a Face) in 1959-60, Judex in 1963, Therese Desqueyroux in 1964 and other films. After directing Les Nuits-Rouge (Shadowman) in 1973 he retired from film-making to preside over the Cinematheque Francaise.