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It’s So French!

Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture

The recent history of cultural exchange between France and the United States would appear to be defined by “freedom fries” and boycotts against Beaujolais—or, on the other side of the Atlantic, by enraged farmers toppling statues of Ronald McDonald. But this dismal state of affairs is a long way from the mutual admiration that followed World War II, epitomized in a 1958 cover of Look magazine that declared “Brigitte Bardot conquers America.” It’s So French! explores the close affinity between the French and American film industries that flourished in the postwar years, breaking down myths of American imperialism and French cultural protectionism while illuminating the vital role that cinema has played in the globalization of culture.

Hollywood was once enamored with everything French and this infatuation blossomed in a wildly popular series of films including An American in Paris, Gigi,and Funny Face. Schwartz here examines the visual appeal of such films, and then broadens her analysis to explore their production and distribution, probing the profitable influences that Hollywood and Paris exerted on each other. This exchange moved beyond individual films with the sensational spectacle of the Cannes Film Festival and the meteoric career of Brigitte Bardot. And in turn, their success led to a new kind of film that celebrated internationalism and cultural hybridity. Ultimately, Schwartz uncovers an intriguing paradox: that the road to globalization was paved with nationalist clichés, and thus, films beloved for being so French were in fact the first signs of a nascent cosmopolitan culture.

Packed with an array of colorful film stills, publicity photographs, paparazzi shots, ads, and never before seen archival images, It’s So French! is an incisive account of the fertile collaboration between France and the United States that expanded the geographic horizons of both filmmaking and filmgoing, forever changing what the world saw and dreamed of when they went to the movies.

272 pages | 62 color plates, 32 halftones | 7 x 9 | © 2007

Art: Art--General Studies

Film Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


“It is difficult to say whether Vanessa Schwartz’s work provides more brilliant analyses and stimulating perspectives to the history of culture or to the history of the cinema. Undoubtedly to both, since the connections she makes between filmmaking and the creation of urban imaginaires are original and convincing. Neither Hollywood, obviously, nor Paris, as well, would exist without films, at least in our thoughts and desires, and Vanessa Schwartz shows this masterfully. ‘So French!’—perhaps, but so well done—absolutely!”

Antoine de Baecque, coauthor of Truffaut: A Biography

“This is a must-read for anyone interested in movies, the irresistible appeal of things French, or the true history of globalization. Every page sparkles with surprising insights and wonderful stories about classic films, the Cannes film festival, and the making of a global market for cinema. Old Europe turns out to be the partner, not the enemy, of the brash moguls and dreamy-eyed starlets of Hollywood. Schwartz takes readers on her own dazzling tour around the world of making movies and in the process deeply enriches both our sense of cinema’s history and its contribution to modern culture.”

Lynn Hunt, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Inventing Human Rights and Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution

“In a scholarly tour de force, Vanessa Schwartz reveals how a series of Franco-American liaisons created the global film industry. This is one of the most perceptive histories ever written about the making of mass culture—and a pleasure to read.”

Michael Kazin, Georgetown University, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and coauthor of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s

“Hers is no sterile school-book approach. . . . Schwartz’s well-researched book expertly documents this profound event in the development of cosmopolitan film culture as we know it today. Recommended.”

Library Journal (starred review)

“Original in its argument as well as in its research, It’s So French! offers a compelling counterargument to the common claim that cinema was a major component in the Americanization of postwar culture worldwide, including France. Instead, Vanessa Schwartz argues that together French and American film culture played a significant role in globalizing a cosmopolitan culture in the 1950s and early 1960s.”

Richard Abel, general editor of Encyclopedia of Early Cinema

"Provocative and original. . . . It’s So French!, based on impressive scholarship and superbly illustrated, builds a solid case for France’s role in the growth of ’cosmopolitan film culture’. The book is a stimulating corrective to entrenched views of Franco-American cinematic relations as necessarily conflictual."—Times Higher Education Supplement

Times Higher Education Supplement

"I highly recommend this book to all who love ’Frenchness films’ and all who are interested in reading about a time in the history of film when France and America actively collaborated to create films that expanded our geographic consciousness as well as globalized our minds."

Irene Javors | Screening the Past

"Schwartz’s argument is truly remarkable in its scope and its ability to reconceptualize conventional narratives about Americanization, globalization, Franco-American relations, and the history of film. By reframing the relationship between art, commerce, and celebrity . . . she also challenges us to rethink the early Cold War years."

Jeffrey H. Jackson | American Historical Review

"Schwartz’s book is refreshing and stimulating. . . . The strengths of the book seem to me to lie in its welcome comparative approach, its range of fascinating detail, and its challenge to received wisdom. Schwartz has made an excellent case for film historians to rethink the period, to boldly go beyond their more usual national approach, and to pay more attention to the origins of cosmopolitan/Western filmmaking."

Sian Reynolds | H-France Review

"Thanks to precise analysis, painstaking research and a subtle pen, Vaness R. Schwartz makes cultural history a necessary element for the appreciation of international relations."

Stephen Whitfield | Vingtième Siècle

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



     Frenchness and the Can-Can Film of the 1950s



     From Around the World in Eighty Days to Making Movies Around the World





Society for French Historical Studies: Gilbert Chinard Prize

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