Chanteuse in the City: The Realist Singer in French Film by Kelley Conway

By Kelley Conway

Lengthy ahead of Edith Piaf sang ''La vie en rose,'' her predecessors took to the level of the belle epoque song corridor, making a song of girl hope, the treachery of guys, the harshness of working-class lifestyles, and the tough neighborhoods of Paris. Icon of working-class femininity and the underworld, the realist singer signaled the emergence of recent cultural roles for ladies in addition to shifts within the nature of well known leisure. Chanteuse within the urban presents a family tree of realist functionality via research of the track corridor careers and picture roles of Mistinguett, Josephine Baker, Fréhel, and Damia. notably, Conway bargains a clean interpretation of Thirties French cinema, emphasizing its love affair with well known music and its shut connections to the song corridor and the café-concert. Illustrations: 31 b/w pictures

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More essential still, how are we to relate this particular mode of spectacle to performances in 1930s French cinema? It would be helpful, then, to begin with a rudimentary sketch of the popular culture from which this cinematic persona emerged, before embarking on a more thorough history of performance modes and performers. The Café-Concert Long before Damia and Fréhel functioned as emissaries of the Paris gutter in 1930s cinema, Thérésa embodied le peuple and Paris itself in the midnineteenth-century café-concert.

True, like the flâneur (in his incarnation as “artist” celebrated by Baudelaire), the realist singer was seen by her contemporaries as emblematic of a certain urban “type” symbolizing Paris itself and capable of recounting something important about the contemporary urban landscape. qxd 20 5/3/2004 / 9:37 AM Page 20 Introduction the modern cityscape from an apolitical vantage point. The realist singer narrated the lives of prostitutes, pimps, sailors, and the poor: figures barred from the luxury of aimless wandering, distanced observation, and the excitement of shopping.

54 Likewise, her description of her lack of education and “natural” instincts would echo in Fréhel’s memoirs.

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