Jean-Pierre Léaud: star of the French cinema.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This study is intended to examine the star persona of French actor, Jean-Pierre Léaud. By inquiring into both the character on and off screen I have analysed the career and performances of an actor who has laid a significant mark on contemporary French cinema. Whilst Léaud’s nouvelle vague image has become an enduring symbol within French cinema, little is known about Léaud from written texts alone. Moreover, he has not been readily accepted as a star in the same way as many of his male contemporaries. Using star studies as a theoretical approach, I am exploring the various characters Léaud has incarnated on screen, his performances, and the strong relationships he has forged with various directors throughout his career in seeking to conceptualise his star image. Looking at Léaud the person and Léaud the actor I hope to establish wherein lies the mythology surrounding this unique actor.
By looking at stardom and spectatorship theory, I have explored the ways in which we can perceive Léaud as actor and star. The central question to this is: how do subjectivity and spectatorship shape our perceptions of what makes a star? Underlying this question are the various ambiguities and sites of contradiction that make up his star image. In examining such contradictions I have taken Richard Dyer’s Stars and Edgar Morin’s Les Stars as a starting point. This leads to a consideration of Dyer’s formulation of “alternative or subversive types” (Dyer 1979: 52) together with questions of gender representations and sexuality. The types embodied by Léaud’s characters are not idealised males as seen in the star personae of Jean Gabin, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, and Gérard Depardieu among other French stars. Yet even within these more conventional star images, sites of contradiction are present that help qualify the ambiguities presented by Léaud’s star status. What is important here is Dyer’s notion that stars hold the capacity to bring together the ‘ordinary’ within sites of contradiction. This is presented by Léaud’s androgynous figure, the unlikely occupations undertaken by many of his characters, their awkward attempt to seduce women and subsequent unsatisfactory relationships, the concept of the flâneur, and a certain quirky comic side to these characters.
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