A brief moment. The way the actor moves his head. The beauty of a face. A flicker of an expression that seems to contain all the meaning in a scene. Photogénie as a cinematic concept originates with early French film theory. We often use it to try to capture the enigmatic qualities of a film star, but photogénie means so much more.
In this essay, I examine the meanings of the concept, drawing examples from my favorite moments of photogénie in films from 1921-2016.
The IU Cinema has previously screened some of the films in this essay:
- Drive (2011, Nicolas Winding Refn) in 2013 as part of the International Arthouse Series
- The Faithful Heart (1923, Jean Epstein) in 2014 as part of the City Lights Film Series
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, Howard Hawks) in 2016 as part of the Monday Matinee Classics series
- Killer of Sheep (1978, Charles Burnett) in 2011 in conjunction with IU’s Black Film Center/Archive’s efforts to spotlight director Charles Burnett
Laura Ivins loves stop motion, home movies, imperfect films, nature hikes, and Stephen Crane’s poetry. She has a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from Boston University. In addition to watching and writing about movies, sometimes she also makes them.