Anatole Dauman: Argos films : souvenir-écran (1989) – Anatole Dauman, Jacques Gerber
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One aspect of the history of the art of filmmaking remains largely unwritten. The financial aspects of filmmaking, namely the history of producers and distributors of films. Compared to the book industry, the film industry is infinite times more capital intensive. So while it is easy, almost risk-free and relatively cheap to write a novel that satisfies minority tastes, to produce a film that caters to minority audiences requires much more money and is a much riskier undertaking. Tyler Cowen was the first to point out this rather obvious but often overlooked aspect of filmmaking in his book In Praise of Commercial Culture which deals with the economics of culture production and consumption.
But what is a film producer? A film producer’s job is analogous to that of a publisher in the book industry: he finances the final product, a cultural artifact. But what is a film distributor? A film distributor is someone who buys the rights to a certain film in order to distribute it in his own country or region. Typically, he will have to market the film, provide subtitles for it and find screening opportunities. The analogy in book publishing is the role of a foreign publishing house that translates a book and distributes/markets it in its own territory.
Both a producer and a distributor try to reconcile the art of commerce and taste. In matters of taste I always embrace the heady nobrow cocktail of high art, eroticism, horror, philosophy, experimentalism, counterculture, subversion and avant-garde. This mix is a minority taste, I am well aware of that but some people have tried to cater to people of my (but more importantly their) taste. In publishing, this person is best exemplified by French publisher Eric Losfeld.
So I wonder: who is the Eric Losfeld of cinema?
In search of Losfeld’s cinematic alter ego I want to highlight the careers of film producers and/or distributors such as Anatole Dauman in France; Antony Balch and Richard Gordon in the U. K.; Roger Corman, Ben Barenholtz and Radley Metzger in North America. These entrepreneurs ran businesses that have provided us with films that mix high and low culture or have financed their high art productions with the proceeds of their more commercial and exploitative ventures.
Consider then the entrepeneurs listed above as the beginning of an ongoing quest for the cinematic Losfeld which I hope to continue over the coming months. One name that comes to mind is Germany’s Bernd Eichinger, who has produced cinematical adaptations of literary fiction by well regarded authors such as Süskind, Umberto Eco, Ian Mc Ewan and Houellebecq as well as more exploitative films such as Christiane F. and Resident Evil. Eichinger has also announced he would be making a film about the left-wing terrorist group Red Army Faction (RAF).
Please feel free to comment if you know of distributors/producers who fit the ‘cinematic Losfeld’ description.
very interesting and tricky. Here are some additions:
Pierre Braunberger (Marker, Resnais, Borowczyk and you name it)
Serge Silberman (Bunuel, Kurosawa and…Jess Franco)
Oscar Dancigers (Most of the films from Bunuel’s mexican era, Viva Maria, Orson Welles’ Don Quijote).
I once read an article about the Grove Press film distribution (It was in one of the Shock Xpress books). They were distributing for instance the William Klein films, some titles that were related to their books (Miller’s Quiet days in Clichy, Duras, Beckett) and I think their biggest success was I am curious…yellow.
Here something about Losfeld’s own contribution to film: “Mon physique du play-boy fatigué a éte utilisé par Claude Berry dans Sex shop.” He also had a cameo in Kyrou’s La Chevelure. And he should have played a role in an, alas unfinished, adaptation of Gombrowycz’s Ferdydurke.
The same for Eichinger as for Taschen: I don’t see him anywhere in the same league as the others. Isn’t he producing most of the time superficial (-fluous) literary adaptations?
Thanks so much, you are far more knowledgeable on this subject than I am, I just ask the questions — you provide the answers. Lots of food for thought, to be continued.
For curious readers, here is a link to that ‘sex shop’ film Andrej mentions.
While searching for information about “Some call it loving” – a film, that you certainly would like to see, too, because it sounds pretty “nobrow” –
I stumbled on the name of it’s director – James B. Harris – the producer of some of Kubrick’s finest films.
You’ll find a very good summary at:
But look for yourself.
This is the link at neumu.
IMDb has this:
Yes, sounds like a film for me. Wikipedia has this on Harris. He also directed two films with one of my favorite actors James Woods.
On the subject of Kubrick I wrote a short post why I am not his biggest fan. The exception being of course Clockwork Orange. Re-reading my post I was maybe to harsh on Kubrick, because Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut are also great.
I very much share your feelings about Kubrick. But for me it’s divided between the Kubrick before Dr. Strangelove and after (I prefer the earlier films).
There is some controversy about Kubrick’s collaboration with Jim Thompson on the screenplays of “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory” (both produced by Harris). It seems that he gave Thompson not the credit for “The Killing” he deserved. The credit reads as follows: “Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, with additional dialogue by Jim Thompson.” But c’mon what a leap in storytelling between “The Killer’s Kiss” and “The Killing”. Kubrick was at one time also interested in filming “The Killer inside me”, but I guess this would have been too much “killing” in a row. Why not do a list of the best films never made?
Interesting for fans of The Olympia Press is not only Kubrick’s adaptation of Lolita, but also Terry Southern’s involvement in Dr. Strangelove. I think it was him, who was responsible for the – what I feel – Burroughsian touch of the film.