Jean Vigo

Jean Vigo

Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death 5 Oct 1934 (aged 29)
Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
Burial Bagneux, Departement des Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France
Plot Division 29
Memorial ID 6797036 · View Source
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Motion Picture Director. One of the true originals of World Cinema. He completed only three short films and one feature before his death at 29, but his influence has greatly exceeded his slender output. Vigo was born in Paris. His father, Miguel Almereyda, was a well-known French anarchist and newspaper editor who died in prison under mysterious circumstances in 1917. Abandoned by his mother, he was raised in second-rate boarding schools and contracted the tuberculosis that would plague his adult years. From 1928 to 1932 poor health obliged him to live in Nice, where he ran a private film society and gained practical experience as a camera assistant at a local studio. Vigo's hostility towards this resort city manifested itself in his first film, "A propos de Nice" (1930), a savage satirical documentary he shot independently with cinematographer Boris Kaufman. After making "Taris" (1931), a one-reeler about champion swimmer Jean Taris, he settled in Paris. By luck he was introduced to Jacques-Louis Nounez, an industrialist who wanted to become a movie producer and was on the lookout for eager young directors; he gave Vigo complete freedom (within a small budget) to make a 45-minute comedy. The subject suggested itself immediately. In "Zero for Conduct" (1933) Vigo drew on his unhappy childhood to create an exuberant celebration of rebellion at a boys school, and it polarized critics on both aesthetic and political grounds. Its anarchistic tone and unforgettable climax - the students revolt against their dwarf headmaster and an establishment depicted as straw dummies - were deemed too provocative by the French government, and the film was banned until 1945. Despite this setback Nounez went ahead with his plans to back Vigo in a feature, though this time he took the precaution of assigning him an existing script. The story for what became "L'Atalante" (1934), about a newlywed couple starting their life together on a river barge, was banal in the extreme; but Vigo made it into a lyrical masterpiece all his own, highlighted by tender observations of naive young love and a brilliant performance by Michel Simon as the eccentric old first mate. Vigo was stricken with leukemia near the end of production and was too ill to do anything when the studio demanded major changes to make the film more commercial. "L'Atalante" was subsequently mutilated and retitled "The Passing Barge" in an unsuccessful attempt to capitalize on a current hit song of that name. Vigo died soon afterwards, with much promise left unfulfilled. "Poetic realism" is the term most often used to describe Vigo's unique style, which combined elements of surrealism, fantasy, satire, documentary-like use of real locations and people, and a sturdy humanism tinged with his own anarchistic sympathies. In "Zero for Conduct" and "L'Atalante" plot is subservient to thematic substance and style; contemporary critics found this baffling and more than one accused the director of being an amateur. It was not until after World War II that Vigo began to take his place among filmdom's major figures. His work was a revelation in Italy, where it was viewed as a forerunner of their Neo-Realist movement; in post-war America he had an insightful early champion in critic James Agee. The French "New Wave" directors of the late 50s and early 60s deified him (especially Truffaut). British director Lindsay Anderson used "Zero for Conduct" as the inspiration for his classic "If..." (1968), and "L'Atalante" regularly turns up on international lists of all-time great films. Efforts to restore the original director's cut of the latter were made in 1940, 1950, and 1990, though some footage remains lost. Since 1951 the Prix Jean Vigo has been awarded in France to directors of "independent spirit". There is also a Premio Jean Vigo in Spain for documentaries. The critical biography "Jean Vigo" (1957) by Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes is still an invaluable text on the subject.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Cedric Fry
  • Added: 22 Sep 2002
  • Find a Grave Memorial 6797036
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Jean Vigo (26 Apr 1905–5 Oct 1934), Find a Grave Memorial no. 6797036, citing Cimetière de Bagneux, Bagneux, Departement des Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France ; Maintained by Find A Grave .