Léonce-Henry Burel - Writer





Cinematographer and Director. Nationality: French. Born: Indret, 23 November 1892. Education: Studied art at the University of Nantes and the Institute of Fine Arts, Paris. Career: Photo-engraver and photo-typographer; 1913—directed films for Cosmographe, and photographed films for Henri Wulschleger, for Eclair, and for Le Somptier; 1916—first of many films for Abel Gance; 1918—official photographer of armistice celebrations in Paris and London. Award: Venice Festival prize for Diary of a Country Priest , 1950. Died: 21 March 1977.


Films as Cinematographer:

1915

Alsace (Pouctal); La Folie du Docteur Tube (Gance)

1916

La Fleur des ruines (Gance); L'Enigme de dix heures (Gance); L'Heroïsme de Paddy (Gance); Le Fou de la falaise (Gance); Ce que les flots racontent (Gance); Les Mouettes (Mariaud); Fioritures ( L a Source de beauté ) (Gance); Barberousse (Gance); Les Gaz mortels ( La Brouillard sur la ville ) (Gance)

1917

Le Droit à la vie (Gance); La Zone de la mort (Gance); Mater Dolorosa (Gance)

1918

La Dixième Symphonie (Gance)

1919

J'accuse (Gance)

1921

L'Hirondelle et la mésange (Antoine); Mademoiselle de la seiglière (Antoine)

1922

L'Arlésienne (Antoine)

1923

Visages d'enfants (Feyder); La Roue (Gance); La Femme inconnue (de Baroncelli)

1924

Salammbo ( Der Kampf um Karthago ) (Maradon)

1925

Michel Strogoff (Tourjansky); L'Image (Feyder); Feu Mathias Pascal ( The Late Mathias Pascal ; The Living Dead Man ) (L'Herbier)

1927

Napoléon (Gance) (co); Casanova (Wolkoff); Morgane la Sirène (Perret); La Danseuse orchidé (Perret); L'Equipage (Tourneur)

1928

Nuits de princes (D'Herbier); Vénus (Mercanton)

1929

The Three Passions (Ingram); Frivolités (Mazeline and Le Héneff); Le Requin (Chomettre); Le Secret de Delhia (Menessier)

1930

Le Mystère de la chambre jaune (L'Herbier); Die Fremde (Sauer)—also French version, L'Etrangère (Ravel); Die Königin einer Nacht (Wendhausen) (co)—also French version, La Femme d'une nuit (L'Herbier)

1931

Un Soir de rafle (Gallone); L'Aiglon (Tourjansky); Baroud ( Love and Morocco ) (Ingram)

1932

Danton (Roubaud); La Femme nue (Paulin); Il a été perdu une mariée (Joannon)

1933

On n'a pas besoin d'argent (Paulin); L'Abbé Constantin (Paulin); Les Deux "Monsieurs" de Madame (Jacquin); Le Fakir du Grand Hotel (Billon); Mariage à responsabilité limité (de Limur); Coralie et Cie. (Cavalcanti)

1934

L'Auberge du petit dragon (de Limur); Un Homme en or (Dréville); Le Petit Jacques (Roudes); Toboggan (Decoin)

1935

Son autre amour (Marchard and Remy); L'Homme à l'oreille cassée (Boudrioz); Touche-à-tout (Dréville)

1936

Hélène (Benoît-Levy and Epstein); Les Petites Alliées (Dréville); La Dernière Valse (Mitler); La Gondole delle chimera (Genina)

1937

Mirages (Ryder); Mademoiselle ma mère (Decoin); Abus de confiance (Decoin); La Mort du cygne (Benoît-Levy and Epstein)

1938

Les Filles du Rhone (Paulin); Retour à l'aube (Decoin); Carrefour (Bernhardt); Education de prince (Esway)

1939

L'Homme du Niger (de Baroncelli); Le Club des soupirants (Gleize); Pour le maillot jaune (Stelli) (co)

1941

La Vénus aveugle (Gance); Ne le criez pas sur les toits (Daniel-Norman)

1942

La Belle Aventure ( Twilight ) (M. Allégret); Feu sacré (Cloche and Choux)

1943

Les Mystères de Paris (de Baroncelli)

1945

Etrange destin (Cuny); La Route du bagne (Mathot)

1946

Rocambole (de Baroncelli); La Revanche de Baccarat (de Baroncelli); La Colère des dieux (Lamac); Dernier refuge (Maurette); La Fugitif (Bibel)

1947

Carrefour du crime (Sachs)

1948

Métier de fous (Hunebelle); Suzanne et ses brigands (Ciampi); Le Mystère Barton (Spaak); Tous les deux (Cuny); Les Casse-Pieds (Dréville)

1949

La Ronde des heures (Ryder); La Valse brillante (Boyer)

1950

Banco de prince (Dulud); Bille de clown (Wall); La Vie chantée (Noël-Noël); Le Journal d'un curé de campagne ( Diary of a Country Priest ) (Bresson)

1951

La Vérité sur Bébé Donge (Decoin); La Demoiselle et son revenant (M. Allégret)

1952

Mon gosse de Père (Mathot)

1953

"Riviera-Express" ep. of Secrets d'alcove (Habib); L'Envers du paradis (Gréville); La Route Napoléon (Delannoy); L'Etrange Désir de Monsieur Bard (Radvanyi)

1955

Marianne de ma jeunesse (Duvivier); La Madone des sleepings (Diamant-Berger); Tant qu'il y aura des femmes (Gréville); Vous pigez? (Chevalier); Toute la ville accuse ( Les Mille et un millions ) (Boissol); Bonjour sourire ( Sourire aux lèvres ) (Sautet)

1956

Mon curé chez les pauvres (Diamant-Berger); Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé ( Le Vent souffle où il veut ; A Condemned Man Escapes ) (Bresson)

1957

Les Fanatiques (Joffe); Quand sonnera midi (Gréville)

1958

Cette nuit-là (Cazeneuve)

1959

Pickpocket (Bresson)

1961

Un Soir sur la plage (Boisrond)

1962

Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc ( The Trial of Joan of Arc ) (Bresson)

1963

Un Drole de paroissien (Mocky); Chair de poule (Duvivier)

1964

Dernier tiercé (Pottier)

1966

Les Compagnons de la marguerite (Mocky)


Films as Director:

1913

Les Rapaces diurnes et nocturnes (short); L'Industrie du verre (short); La Pousse des plantes (short); La Floraison (short)

1922

La Conquête des Gaules (co)

1929

L'Evadée (co)

1932

Le Fada



Publications

By BUREL: articles—

Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1972.

Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1974.

Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1976–77.


On BUREL: articles—

Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1977.

Cinéma (Paris), May 1977.


* * *


A cinematographer is like a chameleon, in that his job is to capture whatever diverse moods and images are required by his director. Abel Gance and Robert Bresson are a pair of directors with profoundly different aesthetics. So, if these two are among the most revered French filmmakers of the pre- Nouvelle Vague , then Léonce-Henry Burel (who photographed several of Gance and Bresson's most representative images) must not only be a master of versatility, but one of the greatest of all French cinematographers.

This could be the case if only for longevity: Burel's career spans seven decades, with credits that include a healthy share of French cinema classics from Gance's Mater Dolorosa in 1917 and his first version of J'accuse in 1919 through Bresson's Les Procès de Jeanne d'Arc ( The Trial of Joan of Arc ) in 1962. Indeed, in The Parade's Gone By . . . , Kevin Brownlow calls the cinematographer "brilliant;" in his book on the reconstruction of Gance's 1927 epic, Napoléon (on which Burel served as a chief cameraman), Brownlow refers to him as "one of the finest cinematographers Europe has ever known."

Burel established his reputation as the photographer of Gance's most important early films, culminating with his work on Napoléon as part of a team of cinematographers. Much of Burel's initial collaboration with Gance predates the German Expressionism of the 1920s: in La Folie du Docteur Tube , he uses mirrors to create images that are fragmented, abstracted; in close-ups in Barberousse , the camera is set below the actor's face, resulting in stark, expressive imagery; in Mater Dolorosa , light and shade are utilized to vividly emphasize facial expressions.

J'accuse features images which depict the devastation of war in grand, panoramic terms. It is highlighted by the famous, allegorical "Return of the Dead" sequence, in which thousands of deceased First World War soldiers collectively rise from the battlefields and march off to see if their sacrifices were in vain. Burel's camera captures Gance's vision in vividly eerie detail. And later, in La Roue , he stunningly photographs the various objects relating to the film's grimy railroad and snowy mountain settings. They become key elements within each sequence, not simply backgrounds.

Whatever Burel's specific contribution to Napoléon , the film remains a landmark of cinematographic innovation. It is crammed with majestic images, including detailed battle sequences, and is a startling example of the creative use of the camera. There is camera movement to imitate a ship in a storm at sea; spectacular lighting; handheld cameras attached to horses, pendulums, even a toboggan; and, finally, color sequences (the latter, according to Georges Sadoul, was Burel's major contribution to Napoléon ).

As the Gance films feature images that portray reality in expressive, panoramic terms, and that are intended to stir the senses, Burel's films with Robert Bresson (including Le Journal d'un curé de campagne , Un Condamné à mort s'est échappé , Pickpocket and Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc ) offer visuals that explore their characters' inner workings. His dusky blacks and glaring greys are perfect accompaniments to Bresson's highly personal vision: pastoral and intimate depictions of reality as a still-life, with the resulting emotion deriving from images that are austere, that evolve from the filmmaker's particular world view.

Burel's work with Bresson is interior and philosophical; here, dialogue and other interaction between the characters, along with the shots of faces and objects that are necessary to Bresson's art, take precedence over compositions that are overtly dramatic. Contrasted with J'accuse or Napoléon , there is a visual monotony, but that is precisely Bresson's scheme. His concern is the characters and their sensitivities, how they look when they ask questions and give answers.

Burel's own career as a director—he made a trio of features between 1922 and 1932—remains minor. But his work with Gance and Bresson—he also collaborated with a gallery of other filmmakers, including Feyder, Renoir, L'Herbier, Benoit-Levy and Maurice Tourneur—is indicative of his outstanding ability to capture images that fit each filmmakers' diversely varying cinematic vision.

—Rob Edelman



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