Friday 9 September 2022 1-2 pm (Melbourne/Sydney time)
A trio of trailblazers in early cinema: Bernhardt, Gabrielle Réjane and Mistinguett
More than a century after the French actresses Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), Réjane (Gabrielle Charlotte Réju, 1856-1920) and Mistinguett (Jeanne Florentine Bourgeois, 1875-1956) consolidated their international fame on film, attention is newly focusing on their contributions to the silent film industry. These actresses were famous theatrical performers who were also businesswomen and entrepreneurs, growing mass audiences for the cinema through a pioneering engagement with film. Although Bernhardt and Mistinguett have been recently featured in specialized European film festivals, there is still little knowledge about the astonishing accomplishments of these women. My research explores the stage and screen careers of Bernhardt, Réjane and Mistinguett, revealing the importance of their shared (but very different) trajectories abroad. Focusing on their movement east, from Paris into England, and their subsequent appearance on stage and screen before audiences in North America, I consider their border crossings across geographical space, cultural spheres, as well as through the changing media landscapes of their time. As I demonstrate, in England and North America this trio were transnational stars, spearheading the changing relationships between the French stage, emerging film industries, and Anglo-American audiences abroad. While I argue that the Parisian actress of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century brings international renown to French film, my overarching contention is that the French actress was a powerful pioneer whose achievement has today been ‘lost in plain sight’.
Victoria Duckett is Associate Head of School, Partnerships and International, and Senior Lecturer in Film in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University, Melbourne. She is author of the award winning book, Seeing Sarah Bernhardt: Performance and Silent Film (Illinois, 2015), and co-editor of the collections Researching Women in Silent Cinema: New Findings and Perspectives (University of Bologna, 2013) and Guglielmo Giannini: Uomo di Spettacolo (Edizioni di Pagina, 2021). Victoria is a member of Women and Film History International, on the founding editorial board of the journal Feminist Media Histories (University of California Press), and on the editorial board of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film (Sage) and Media Peripheries (University of Otago). Her forthcoming monograph is entitled Transnational Trailblazers of Early Cinema: Sarah Bernhardt, Gabrielle Réjane and Mistinguett (University of California Press, 2023).