The awakening of the body: “Film as Sensation” in the first French avant-garde

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This article examines the notion of “Film as Sensation” in the first French avant-garde. It begins by exploring the meaning of this notion in a series of key films and aesthetic statements by Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein, Pierre Porte, Henri Chomette, Jean Tedesco, and Réne Clair. Contrary to Gilles Deleuze’s account of the work of this school as Cartesian in spirit, this article seeks to demonstrate that it operates a fusion between the senses, disruption, and criticism: the three elements coming together to produce a new, integral art form. Walter Benjamin’s views on the tactile and the absent minded public of film, and Henri Bergson’s critique of time and movement in cinema are also discussed, with the latter being shown to be a key philosophical influence. The essay ends with an analysis of some films by Abel Gance, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Léger. It is concluded that the idea of “Film as Sensation” entrained a significant development in thinking about the mediation of perception that, once recovered from the oblivion to which it has been consigned, can help bring film theory to a reconsideration of the senses and a new attention to the aesthetics of filmic sensation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-138
Number of pages14
JournalSenses and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2020


  • Cinema
  • Embodiment
  • Film
  • French avant-garde
  • Sensation


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