Weeping Margots: Rethinking Photogénie and Affect in French Silent Film Culture

by Annie Fee (University of Oslo)

Abstract: The recognition of cinema by the Parisian cultural elite following the Great War was accompanied by a discursive hierarchy of cinema publics. At the top was the enlightened male cinephile; at the bottom was the female film fan, whose affective attachment to stars became a cultural stigma. From the early 1920s, cinephiles used the concept of photogénie to make the distinction between those who had the intellectual faculties to appreciate cinema art – ‘the cultivated man’ – and those who did not – the ‘Margot’. In this paper, I track the emergence of a critical community in women’s magazines to reveal how the pre-existing vernacular concept of photogénie empowered women to bond with other women and with film stars. Readers’ letter columns reveal how women harnessed photogénie as a focal point for discussing their affective responses to film, allowing their curiosity about actors to intersect with the hope of becoming one.

Annie Fee is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. Her work has appeared in Early Popular Visual Culture, Feminist Media Histories, Framework, Oxford Bibliographies Online and The Blackwell Companion to D.W. Griffith.