Jean Pierre Melville's Bibliography

Paper Type:  Biography
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1962 Words
Date:  2022-05-12


Jean Pierre Melville was a French film maker known for his gangster films, wartime dramas, and studies regarding psycho sexual characters. His early films and directorial methods were the motivation behind the new wave, an innovative film movement in France in the 1950s. His films were primarily influenced by the experiences of the French resistance during the Second World War and the Hollywood cinema in the 1940s. He adopted the name Melville from his favorite American author and kept it as his stage name. Consequently, he influenced and mentors several new generation film producers in Asia and America.

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Early Life

Jean was born on 20th October 1917 in Paris, France. Initially his name was Jean-Pierre Grumbach but later adopted Melville to pay tribute to an American author. "The name "Melville" is not immediately associated with the film. It conjures up images of white whales and crackbrained captains, of naysaying notaries and soup-spilling sailors. It is the countersign to a realm of men and their deeds, both heroic and villainous" (Cohn, 2014). His family was made of Alsatian Jews. He studied in France for most of his young life where he got exposed to great films such as White Shadows in the South Seas silent documentary produced in 1928. He was highly influenced by the film and started visiting the cinema more frequently. Consequently, he used a camera given to him by his father to make 16mm home movies. In 1937, as an obligatory responsibility, he joined the French army, which led to the stalling of his career in film production (Grozdanovic, 2011). In 1940 when the German Nazis invaded France, he was still in uniform and joined the resistance. Eventually, he was forced to exile in England and adopted the nom de guerre of Melville. In England, he joined the Free French forces and helped in the liberation of continental Europe. After the war ended, he tried to revert to his old name but found that people had been used to calling him, Melville.

The Career in the Film Industry

After the French Resistance, Jean was determined to continue with his dream to become a film producer. Accordingly, he applied a license to become an assistant director of the French Technicians Union but did not succeed. According to Travers (2013), he believed that the denial was driven by party politics and grew more determination to succeed in the sector even without the support. Consequently, he embarked on directing his films independently. He started his production company in 1946 and continued with his stage name Melville. The first film that he released was a low-budget piece titled 24 Heures de la vie d'un clown in the same year (Cohn, 2014). It was inspired by his love to circus during his days as a boy and was a success. The short film was followed by a longer one known as Le Silence de la Mer, which was highly innovative. It featured the awful experiences of the Second World War and featured unknown actors filmed by a skeleton crew. Its schedule consisted of a shoot in twenty-seven days within the year and integrated on-location sites, which were very rare at the time, and without the required permits (Thomasine, 2011). The origin was also unusual as it had been adopted from a book without the consent of the author. Also, the style was different from what was acceptable at the time. "It's dark, claustrophobic sets and bottom-lit close-ups signalled a departure from the highly cultured cinema of Rene Clair, Marcel Pagnol, Abel Gance and Jacques Feyder" (Cohn, 2014). It could not be classified as a comedy, avant-garde, or costume drama and its roots were being traced to the Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion of 1937. Such kind of film was new in the region.

Through the following decade, Melville continued to make independent films that became a motivation to the auteurs of La Nouvelle, which later came to be known as the French New Wave. In 1950, in collaboration with Jean Cocteau, they made a peculiar version of Les Enfants Terribles whose plot consisted of siblings who were practising incest. Consequently, he started getting gigs and was integrated into the film production industry fully. His first commercial project was titled When You Read This Letter, which was supported by both the French and Italian film experts (Lane, 2016). Although it did not give him any profits, he used the proceeds to start his studio outside Paris.

His next film was known as Bob le Flambeur in 1956 and featured a popular actor known as Roger Duchesne. Roger had gone into the underworld during the war but was popular in the 1930s. In this regard, he was the best choice for acting as the self-immolating and fashionable character in the movie. The supporting cast included Isabelle Corey as the temptress Anne and Daniel Cauchy as toadying sidekick Paolo. Although it did not become a hit, the work it became the best for the aficionados and would always be shown in the Henri Langlois' Cinematheque Francais (Grozdanovic, 2011). They included Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Consequently, Francois released The 400 Blows in 1959 in which Guy Decomble of "Bob le flambeur" featured and made way for the new wave era. "They adored the hip, new rendering of a tired scenario, much of it shot in the streets with hidden cameras" (Cohn, 2014). It was seen as a new technique of freeing up by rejecting the literary adaptations and accepting the pop culture. Ideally, Melville decided to go out of the set rules in France, and the other players in the industry followed suit.

Bob le flambeur entailed a reformed mobster who became a gambler after retirement, which was synonymous with the Americans. Jean Melville was known for admiring the American culture and would drive around Paris in a Cadillac, in aviator sunglasses and a Stetson hat. He liked drinking Coca-Cola and would always listen to American radio (Cohn, 2014). His primary motivation was the works by American directors such as Howard Hawks and John Ford, which entailed stories of heroes and villains and consisted of endless sagas. He was also determined to establish a personal pantheon by combining the American ethos with his sensibilities after his experiences in the French Resistance.

Jean believed that it was America that had helped France to concur the German Nazis who wanted to occupy the country forcefully. Given that he was originally Alsatian, he had outgrown the virtues valued by the community. The disillusionment became more evident from 1949 when he released Silence de la Mer and afterwards. Accordingly, Jean was trying to forge his own apocryphal brand in the film industry while borrowing from the American noir's revolt against the acceptable terms in Hollywood before the Second World War (Lanes, 2016). In his works, he would portray a criminal as a kind of hero so long as he was committed to his course till the end and stuck by his allegiances. His personal style was emulated by several other film directors in the region.

Some of the most popular works by Jean Melville include the minimalist crime movies such as Le Samourai in 1967, Le Doulos in 1962, and Le Doulos in 1970. His movies featured popular actors of the time such as Alain Delon, Lino Ventura., and Jean-Paul Belmondo. He was inspired by the American gangster films in the 1930s and would, therefore, use items such as trench coats, weapons, and fedora hats as a trademark for his personality (Travers, 2013). He became popular with his style and became an inspiration to several other players in the industry. Consequently, he was used by Jean Godard as a minor character in his new wave movie Breathless. During the edition of the film, Godard was experiencing difficulties, but Melville introduced the art of jump cuts, which is part pf the innovation associated with him to date (Thomasine, 2011). Although he had friends such as Yves Montand who were leftists, Jean would always insist that he was right-wing anarchist and extreme individualist.

Contributions of Jean to the Film Industry

Jean Pierre has been attributed as the primary motivation behind Nouvelle Vague. Due to his passion and belief in the American films, he produced his own style that came to be emulated by his predecessors. Initially, Bob le flambeur was described as a "hard-boiled gangster flick about the step-by-step plotting of a heist" (Cohn, 2014). Jean decided to come up with different narrative after watching The Asphalt Jungle produced in 1950 by John Huston. Consequently, he turned the film into a comedy show that became very popular among the cinephiles of the time. Accordingly, he, later on, produced the Two Men in Manhattan in 1959. The film was blended in a way that it expressed recognition and gratitude to New York and America that inspired him. However, the following occurrences made him remove himself from the New Wave Movement. Later on, he was quoted to say that, "If . . . I have consented to pass for their adopted father for a while, I do not wish it anymore, and I have put some distance in between us" (Cohn, 2014). Therefore, although he led to the creation of the movement, disagreements led him to break away.

The disagreement with other film makers in the movement started when dramas such as Leon Morin, Priest in 1961. The piece entailed a pastor's desire to bring redemption to the people of a small town were produced. The producer of this film was known as Carlo Ponti and featured popular characters such as Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Consequently, it had a huge budget and the participants expected huge returns (Thomasine, 2011). Due to the favorable reception of this film, Jean Pierre also released four more movies consecutively. They had a gangster theme and involved run offs between robbers and cops. They included Le Doulos in 1963 and Le Samourai in 1967. In this case, Belmondo became famous for his role in Le Doulous this time as a finger man silien rather than a clergy man like he used to be (Travers, 2013). In the film, his allegiance to his old mob friends leads him into a web of disaster and other intrigues. At the time Le Samourai was being filmed, Jean-Pierre's studio caught fire on the ground floor, and the rest of the scenes were shot in rented space. Despite these tribulations, the movie was a success, and the sales surpassed the expectations. It was considered the most meticulously-crafted film in the history of film making and cinema.

Despite the successes associated with this man in the film industry, he also had weaknesses, according to Cohn (2014), "despite a round belly and an unattractive face, he was a notorious womanizer, and his chauvinism is painfully obvious in his movies." His films depict a patriarchal society in which women do not get any noble responsibilities and are presented as beautiful pieces of chess. The men are also not spiritual enough and are always playing out their roles diligently. As a result of such depictions and lack of character motivations, Melville was later accused of being stiff and only focusing on troops, robbers, and the subject of crime. However, an analysis of the films he directed shows well-structured plots, attention to time and place, and a perfect blending of tone and style. By the time he died, Jean had directed fourteen movies, six of which have continued to be traded as classics (Travers, 2013). He has also influenced and acted as a mentor for several players in the industry, most of whom are still alive. Notable characters that have attributed their success to Jean-Pierre include Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, John Woo, and Volker Schlondorff. Therefore, the contribution of this great man in the film industry continues to be enjoyed and his legacy lives on.

Some of the Greatest Films Directed

La Silence de la Mer (1949)

This was the debut film that relied on narration and was produced w...

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Jean Pierre Melville's Bibliography. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from

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