Curated by Émilie Cauquy, Hiroshi Komatsu and Mariann Lewinsky

“Even when trying to imitate the ancient world, nature, or theatre, cinema produced phantoms. Copying the Earth, it revealed the sun”

Paul Éluard, foreword in Nicole Vedrès, Images du cinéma français, 1945

“We sense him more than we know him”, said Henri Langlois, while Francis Lacassin described it as “the genie of the lamp” and for George Sadoul he was “a half-erased trace”. Much of Jasset’s work remains unseeable, an ill-fated destiny linked to the dire state of conservation of Éclair Studio’s early production in the period 1908 to 1918. In 1937 Langlois, on behalf of the then one-year-old Cinémathèque française, gained access to a consignment of the studio’s negatives following its bankruptcy in April 1920. Almost 1.000 prints and 1.700 negatives were salvaged in extremis, and despite masterful negotiation, the materials were unfortunately delivered piecemeal in loose packages, seriously hampering identification and acquisition, leaving less time for selection. Lacking the funds for the 30,000-franc price tag, Langlois was unable to acquire the whole consignment. He often cited this tragic episode to depict the perpetual quest of the archivist’s mission to rescue endangered artwork.
For Langlois, Éclair was Victorin Jasset, the mythical filmmaker, who died prematurely in 1913. His dazzling career revealed multiple talents and clearly represents the fragile and fascinating frontier between the theatrical arts and early cinema. Jasset was a painter, a designer, a poster lithographer, a creator of costumes and sets (he was Landolf’s first designer), a pantomime director, an extras manager, a scriptwriter, a film director (for Gaumont with Alice Guy from 1905 to 1906, then for Pathé, Eclipse and Lux), and finally, an artistic production director for Éclair. He was a pioneer with excellent people around him, a slick creator of quirky, unorthodox work, inventor of the female adventure film with the glorious Josette Andriot, and more generally of the codified urban action movie, the police genre and the serial format, which migrated from newspaper to film, a fidelity ring for a still-fickle audience. Readers became spectators. As Nicole Vedrès wrote in her critique of Balaoo (Images du cinéma français, 1945), thus inscribing Jasset in the roll call of the unforgettable: “Everything that the theatre missed – authentic theatre, at least – everything that the novel missed, and even painting, the public would demand of cinema. It had had the absurd and it had had the burlesque. Blood, horror and real death had to follow in short order… The crimes were hardly spectacular, almost quotidian in fact: credible corpses, convincing misfortunes, death sentences, executions. They satisfied the kind of man who stops to observe an accident in the street.”

Émilie Cauquy