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Jean-Paul Sartre

Les Temps modernes is publishing here for the first time a film script written by Sartre during the winter of 1943-1944. We thank Daniel Accursi for generously passing it along and Michel Contat for preparing it for publication. Sartre’s article entitled “A film for the postwar period,” which appeared [unsigned] in L’Ecran français and was incorporated into the Lettres françaises [clandestine], no. 15, April 1944, clearly indicates the purpose of this project: “On screen—and only on screen—is there place for a panic-stricken, a furious or a serene crowd. The novelist can evoke the masses; if the dramatist wants to represent them on stage, he must symbolize them by using half a dozen characters who assume the name and function of the chorus; only films show them. And it is to the masses themselves that they do so: to fifteen million or twenty million spectators. It is in this manner that film can speak about the crowd to the crowd. That is what the great pioneers of film, such as Griffith, Cecil B. de Mille and King Vidor understood so well. This does not mean that films cannot show love stories or conflicts between individuals. Far from it. But they must reinsert them into their social setting. The speed with which the camera can move from place to place also permits it to situate a story in the whole universe. The wellknown rule of theatrical unity in French classical drama does not apply at all to film. One can even introduce several plots simultaneously, have them unfold in different settings and have their very diversity contribute to the creation of a complete social situation. The film’s unity therefore emanates from its profound meaning, from the epoch it restores, and not from the concatenation of the circumstances that make up a minuscule and unique anecdote.

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Jean-Paul Sartre

This is an extract from “Une défaite,” an unfinished novel which, according to Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre wrote in 1927. Apparently, Sartre was inspired by Charles Andler's biography of Nietzsche and the triangular relationship of Nietzsche, Wagner and Cosima Wagner. The latter, Franz Liszt's daughter, was initially married to Hans von Bülow with whom she had two daughters, and then she married Wagner with whom she had two more daughters. Nietzsche admired her greatly. Sartre became fascinated by this ambiguous, complex and conflictual triangle. Sartre also identified with Nietzsche and “the destiny of the solitary man.” The protagonist, Frédéric, who is one year older than Sartre, is also an ironic self-portrait of Sartre, while Cosima is a prototype for Anny in Nausea; both are modelled on Simone Jollivet. Cosima plays both mother and sister to Frédéric. The triangular relationship is often repeated in Sartre's affective existence. The fairy tale is the best written chapter in the novel.

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Jean-Paul Sartre

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Jean-Paul Sartre

Upon arriving in Paris, many Englishmen and Americans were surprised that we were not as thin as they had expected. They saw women wearing elegant dresses that appeared new and men in jackets that, from afar, still looked good; they rarely encountered that facial pallor, that physiological misery that is usually proof of starvation. Concern that is disappointed turns into rancor. I am afraid that they were a little annoyed with us because we didn’t conform completely to the pathetic image that they had previously formed of us. Perhaps some of them wondered in the depth of their heart if the occupation had been quite so terrible after all and if France shouldn’t consider the defeat as a lucky break that would allow her to regain its place as a great power without having deserved it through great sacrifices; perhaps they thought as did the Daily Express that, in comparison to the English, the French didn’t fare so badly during these four years.

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Jean-Paul Sartre and Ronald Aronson

In early 1945, with the war not yet over, Sartre travelled to the United States for the first time. He travelled with a group of correspondents who were invited in order to influence French public opinion favourably towards the United States.1 Sartre was sent by his friend Albert Camus to report back to Combat, the leading newspaper of the independent left. Once invited, he arranged also to report back to the conservative newspaper, Le Figaro. Simone de Beauvoir reports that learning of Camus’ invitation in late 1944 was one of the most exciting moments of Sartre’s life.