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Marc Allégret
© Danièle Allégret-Rosch

Emile COHL
Georges GLASS
Alice GUY
Jacques HAIK
Jacqueline JACOUPY
Bernard NATAN
Adolphe OSSO
Jean-Paul PAULIN
Michel SAFRA
Jacques TATI
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Answering Dr Joseph W. Slade fantasies and slander on Bernard Natan " France 's legendary Pornographer".

This article is a response to Dr Slade's paper which appeared in The Journal of Film and Video in the summer-Fall issue (Volume 45, Numbers 2-3) in 1993.

It aims at countering the tall tales put forward by Dr Slade whose research we show to be deeply flawed. Taken at face value by several authors, the allegations put forward by Dr Slade have been freely reproduced, especially on the internet. We therefore felt it necessary to publish our comments on what we consider highly questionable research.

Dr Slade's article covers two aspects of Natan's story: it provides in-depth analysis of the content of several "vintage erotic films" we neither have the desire nor the competence to challenge. But Dr Slade goes much further: he poses as a historian of French cinema and of Bernard Natan, a major producer of the years between the two World Wars.

Had such paper appeared in a tabloid, no one would have paid attention. French producer Bernard Natan has been the object of so much slander… Published in a respectable magazine, it is bound to be quoted regularly in other publications and countries, based on Dr Slade' authority. A recent book by Thomas Waugh, "Hard to imagine" [1] has recently reprinted some of Dr Slade's allegations, referring to Dr Slade's article in The Journal of Film and Video.

Bernard Natan during his life was the object of much slander, mainly of fraud and having lead to the bankruptcy of the Pathé company, once the star of French cinema. But never as vicious as what is put forward by Dr Slade who goes as far as pretending that Bernard Natan was the producer, scriptwriter and actor of several stag films, even when he was a successful producer of legitimate films. For those who may find this difficult to believe, Dr Slade will resort to cheap psychoanalysis and invoke a kind of exhibitionist drive, and for those who may find it difficult to believe that such a conduct had not been discovered, he will hint at some secret but powerful Government protection.

If no reaction is expressed, such information will eventually turn into a new "gospel".

This is our reason for writing the following statement.

The editors of The Journal of Film and Video have refused to publish our comments. This article, thus, appears only on our website.

Bernard Natan who played a capital role in film production was the target of many slanderous campaigns ending in his arrest in December 1938, and his death in Auschwitz in 1942. Bernard Natan's entire life was scrutinized. In the police archives it was discovered that he had been sentenced in 1911 when he was 26 to four month in jail for "outrage against good mores". He was blamed for having produced pornographic films, and, to boot, for having at that time, played a part in some of these. Did he really produce pornographic films, films in which sexual activity was actually performed, and not only suggested, or "salacious" films, common around 1911, nobody knows. Bernard Natan was sentenced to four months in prison, a rather lenient penalty. The law allowed for sentences to as much as two years, and more severe sanctions were not uncommon. This seems to confirm the second hypothesis. [2]

During the numerous press campaigns that were conducted against him, especially during the German occupation, every piece of information that could serve his indictment was thoroughly searched. Many times attention was drawn to the sentence of his early years as a producer of pornographic films. However, nowhere is there any reference to any such activity in the years that followed. Dr Slade opens new roads, he even adds to the slander which was published in the far right or Nazi press which portraits Bernard Natan as a porn industry magnate and as a gangster.

Dr Slade goes as far as crediting 15 stag films to Bernard Natan, as actor and producer supposedly shot between 1920 and 1936.

In “Les Filles de Loth”, a white-bearded, biblically robed Natan plays Lot with enthusiastic slap-stick" . [3]

In “Madame Butterfly”: “ Enter Natan dressed as a houseboy, "Pink-hop"… Pink-hop fellates the officer (Pinkerton) , he (Natan) smiles toward the camera again to underline the voyeurism that would become the trademark of Natan's best work.” [4]

"Le Moine (The Monk) featured Natan as a randy monk, complete with robes and tonsure… the nun fellates him, while the monk (Natan) whose eyes roll at the camera to communicate his excitement” [5]

“The year 1926 seems to have been a turn ing point for Natan. In any case, he made the most scabrous of ail his films that year. This was Le Canard (The Duck; variant American title: Fuck a Duck). The most grossly realized of all his films, …… A vagabond (Natan) steals a duck and begins to sodomize it.” [6]

Dr Slade concludes with a personal speculation: "It is possible to read Le Canard as a political statement about economics and social class, as an assertion of the animal nature of human sexuality…"

It is in fact highly unlikely that Natan, who had already been caught red-handed with the prosecution of 1911, and who was already at this time managing a sizeable production company would have taken the risk of producing illegal films and moreover playing in them, actions that would have been very likely to unmask him. It is surprising that Natan' s accusers, especially under the German occupation, where the meanest blows were permitted would systematically refer to the films and the sentence in 1911 and never ever allude to films supposedly produced in the twenties.

Dr Slade states that people sentenced for making pornographic films would only end up with a fine of 50 francs, which is obviously false. Convicts for "outrage aux bonnes moeurs" were severely sentenced, and any scabrous book or film was quickly reported by "les bien pensants". In 1925, authors like Paul and Victor Marguerite were prosecuted for the book "La Garçonne" in which they mentioned Lesbos . Authors were stripped of the "Legion d'Honneur" decoration.

These stag films are stored and can be screened in various cinematheques. We have been able to see some of them and verify that the actor supposed by Slade to be Natan did not look at all like him. He is much younger (between 18 and 25) whereas Natan was 34 in 1920 and 40 in 1920.

Dr Slade also bases his assertions on references which are wrong. He quotes the Ado Kirou's remarkable work, notably “ D'un certain cinema", an article published in the journal Positif. [7] When we reported to this article we found that that Kyrou makes no mention of Natan, and same applies to his excellent book " Amour, érotisme au cinema " published in 1966.

However, in the above mentioned Positif journal, following the article by Kyrou, there is a catalog of about 30 stag films produced by a so-called Paul Caron. This catalogue mentions “Nathan” for several films. The spelling of the name is different, it is not impossible that this was a pseudonym used by a producer of stag films. There is no other indication. It is obvious that Dr Slade uses this catalogue, which he wrongly attributes to Kyrou in order to, as a matter of consequence, attribute the films to Bernard Natan.

Dr Slade quotes many references which lend his article an academic look, such as :

" I am grateful to the Kinsey Institute; the French Embassy in New York; Raymond Borde, conservateur of the Cinematheque of Toulouse, for sending me materials on Natan; and the staff of I.D.H.E.C,. Fiches Filmographiques, in Paris , for making its archives available.” [8]

However, when we asked the Kinsey Institute about their collection they mentioned that they had several of the illegal films mentioned by Dr Slade, but they had no information regarding an attribution of these films to Bernard Natan. The same applies to the Cinemathèque of Toulouse. Dr Slade ought to have mentioned that The Kinsey Institute and The Cinemathèque de Toulouse provided materials on films that he , i.e. Slade, attributes to Bernard Natan. As for IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques), Dr Slade does not seem to be aware that it closed its doors in 1986, seven years before the publication of Dr Slade's paper.


Bernard Natan, an illiterate and a gangster

Dr Slade does not consider making stag films to be a questionable activity per se. However, his paper contains many indications of his poor knowledge of both the man Bernard Natan and of French cinema in general, this coupled with a rich imagination. Slade mentions references generously, but every time we have checked his sources we have noticed a strong tendency to extrapolate. For example, Dr Slade states that Natan and the famous crook Stavisky " knew each other well enough for the latter to be invited to premieres after Natan took over Pathé-Cinema (Lapierre 119). " [9]

He goes on: " Stavisky's forte was financial legerdemain and his specialty the Ponzi scheme: he floated dummy companies, paying off the debts of one with the stock of a succession of others. Natan hardly needed Stavisky to teach him how to create holding com­ panies and financial shells ". [10]

This extremely serious accusation of complicity with the famous crook is accompanied by the reference “Lapierre 119”. If one goes to page 119 of the book" De Pathé Freres à Pathé Cinema", there is in effect an article by Lapierre. However, it reads " He (Natan) organized presentations of films just like American previews. These were big Parisian events with political and upper crust attendance that Stavisky must have envied him”. [11]

And Dr Slade to add : " and at least one of Stavisky's associates, a man named Cerf, from the Frolic Club on rue de Gaumont, was later one of Natan's partners". The truth is that Jean Simon Cerf was Natan's lawyer, and was indicted with him. However Cerf had never associated with Stavisky. Charles Pathé himself would bear witness of his honorability; page 151 of the uncensored edition of his book, "De Pathé Frères à Pathé Cinema". Chares Pathé writes: “ Jean-Simon Cerf, known to all businessmen in Paris as an extremely shrewd and audacious lawyer”.[12]

The rest of the article is much in line with this.

Dr Slade's biography of Bernard Natan is also a product of his imagination, like when he writes:

" The rare accounts to mention Natan's background say that it included parts in forgettable Rumanian light comedies, but also a short prison sentence for making pornography movies in his native coun try…. None of the Rumanian films has come to light….

Just when Natan emigrated to France is unknown… After the war, he found work in a movie theatre in Paris . He also resumed his clandestine habits , probably near the Porte St. Denis , a gathering place for pimps, narcotics salesmen, and mar­ ginal music hall performers (Werth 81-82). [13]

This paragraph reveals the degree of incompetence of its author. Because he does not know that Natan emigrated to France in 1906, when he was 20, Dr Slade supposes that his prison term (constantly recalled) took place in Romania ! It is hardly likely that in 1906, 10 years only after the first projection of Lumière films, there would be many people in Romania to possess a projector to allow them to see such films. Needless to say that penalties in France , far from being a fine of 50 F , could lead to up to two years in prison.

Natan did not "find work" when he returned from the 1914 war, because he was already at this time managing a rather important company. It is unlikely that he would mix with gangsters. Even authors of vicious press campaigns against him were forced to admit that , in contrast with many in the film business he was leading a very quite life with his wife whom he married in 1909!

After having attributed to Bernard Natan a rich activity as a producer and actor in stag films, Dr Slade goes on to develop, in his own style, the "legal" path followed by Natan.

After creation of Ciné Actualités, we know that Natan created Rapid Film, a company devoted to technical work (printing, development, titles). In 1913, this company produced the weekly newsreel Ciné Gazette, shown in movie theatres. Later, Rapid Film would produce many documentary films. In 1924, Natan obtained the exclusive rights for the Paris and Chamonix Olympic games. In 1924, he created Rapid Publicité, which as its name indicates, would produce commercials, short films to be screened in movie theatres during the breaks. He was elected Chairman of the technical section of the Film Union of which he would later become vice-president. In this capacity, Natan, on behalf of two competitors Eclair and Kodak, was in charge of negotiations leading to the conclusion of agreements on prices for laboratory (technical) work.

End 1926, he built two film studios, considered the state of the art in France . At the same time, he started producing feature films. As of 1920, he had transferred his offices to a location previously occupied by "Les Grands Bazars du Batiment", 6 rue Francoeur in the 18 th arrondissement of Paris . The capital of his company was raised to seven million francs. To finance his activities, Bernard Natan was backed by two eminent British figures, Maxwell who owned a large network of movie theatres, and Thorpe of Wardour Film. [14]

What can be observed is a steady and reasonable progression. For Dr Slade it becomes:

"In 1921, Natan … went to work for Paramount Pictures as a publicity stringer. … Paramount 's new studio at Joinville was a beachhead for the American assault on the European market… Natan signed on as a promoter and founded his agency, Rapid-Publicité, on the strength of the business the American corporation threw his way (Abel 34)  [15]. " To support his allegations Dr Slade will refer to the historian, Abel and his book "The First Wave". We have had a look at this book and found, once again, that it does not represent a source for what Dr Slade pretends.

As a matter of fact, Rapid Film's existence dates back to 1912, and Rapid Publicité to 1924; One can hardly see what the American firm could have " thrown his way ". The introduction of Paramount in France lead to the construction of the St Maurice Studios (which Slade confuses with the Joinville Studios). It dates back to 1930 and was destined to produce American talkies in European languages. Natan could not have been its "promoter", because at this time he had already started up the Pathé Natan productions, thus producing competing French films in the Joinville Studios which he had acquired from Cinéromans, and those of the rue Fracoeur, which he had built himself.

Several parts of Dr Slade's text refer to a "groupe Natan". This common expression stimulates Dr Slade's imagination, and allows him more fantasies. He mentions for example :"

Increased contacts with both the legiti mate industry and with less savory inves tors [16],

The government squelched investigations of prominent politicians implicated in the swindles [17].

Or “ Natan's legitimate business was becoming more substantial. Either his own profits or money borrowed from sources impossible to determine [18]".

And " Moreover, nearly every account of Natan hints at sinister links to Parisian gangsters." [19]

However, even if the vicious campaigns launched by the far right that constantly hinted at fanciful means of protection from political circles [20], Bernard Natan's sources of financing are well known, they are, the Banque Bauer and Marchal, the Banque Conti-Gancel the Banque Générale du Nord, and later, an important loan from Kodak Pathé. [21]

The fall of Bernard Natan is also described in the same fanciful way : Pathé-Natan declared bank ruptcy in December 1935. Neither Gaston Doumergue's government, which took over when the Stavisky riots toppled Da ladier in October 1934, nor Gaston (sic) Blum's subsequent administration could sweep the Natan scandal under the rug, especially when strikers occupied the Pathé- Natan production [22]

Natan was arrested for fraud on 3 September 1936. In and out of prison on bail, he fought through the courts for 27 months, [23]

Natan's trial ended in 1939, and he was sentenced to an indefinite term in the Sainte, Paris 's maximum security prison.[24]

Dr Slade even ignores Léon Blum's first name! It is hard to see what the employee's strike at the Joinville Studios, which was part of the tide of strikes that hit France in May-June 1936 following the Front Populaire victory, has to do with the situation of Bernard Natan who at that time no longer controlled the company.

Natan was not arrested on September 3rd 1936, but end of December 1938. The trial took place in May 1939, and took four weekly sessions. He was not sentenced to an "indefinite" prison term (unknown in French law, unless Dr Slade means life sentence) but to four years in prison, which became five years on appeal. The Prison de la Santé in Paris is not a maximum security prison but an ordinary prison which also served to keep indicted persons waiting for their trial. [25]

Dr Slade not only misrepresent Bernard Natan but despises French cinema altogether :

“The mainstream French industry blundered through the twenties and thirties, never quite coping with cor rupt financing, inadequate technology, pedestrian management…” [26] 

For Dr Slade the presentation of the first sound film by Bernard Natan is eclipsed according to Dr Slade by "Mickey Mouse " which Natan bought from Disney and which was shown as a complement of the program.

“None of France 's movie lots were equipped for sound, a circumstance that pushed smaller companies into bank ruptcy, and the two giants, Gaumont and Pathé, were teetering.” [27]

True enough the European cinema was lagging one year behind Americans regarding sound equipment.

If the French film industry was lagging behind, it was not so much owing to “corrupt financing and inadequate technology” as Dr Slade maintains, but rather because French government policy and French industry, both in thrall to the whims of individual interests and ad hoc decisions had been unable to counter the offensive American trade policy. The French market had been flooded with American films since the end of WWI. Unlike the American State Department, a staunch ally of Hollywood , none of the succeeding French Governments had shown themselves capable of providing the industry with the assistance required to counter the ruthless trade practices used by Hollywood . [28]

It is one of Bernard Natan's merits to have known and been able to accelerate the birth of sound cinema in France . But this did not drive small companies into bankruptcy. To the contrary, as the introduction of sound would profit French speaking films compared to American, at least until dubbing was introduced. The wave of bankruptcies of film companies starting around 1932 were linked to the general crisis. Let us mention however that French Paramount , and their studios in Saint-Maurice faced losses evaluated at two hundred million francs, and were closed.

Dr Slade's paper contains several instances of slander in respect to Natan, leftovers from the slanderous campaigns of the thirties and the German occupation. He has excuses because they still appear in many serious books, but because he does not master his subject, he tends to commit rather funny blunders. For instance, he mentions that Natan bought “ the 166 theaters owned by Pathé Consortium [29], whereas in fact that company only possessed four! He also, like many authors, refers to debts which Natan contracted for his company Rapid Film, although this company was in rather good shape, and that the 22 million liabilities were offset by important assets. Dr Slade writes : “ He had Pathé-Cinema pur chase the debt-ridden Rapid Film for 62 million francs, at a profit of 40 million to his backers.' [30] In reality the merger with Rapid Film, which was not debt-ridden but propsperous was offset for Natan by providing 57000 Pathé shares of 100 francs which at the stock exchange were valued at 23 million francs. [31]

Dr Slade states that Bernard Natan was nitwit: “ Natan did not appreciate writ ers and directors such as Jacques Prevert and his brother Pierre, who made excep tional films [32]. However as mentionned by Dr Slade, it is for Pathé Natan that the Prevert brothers, totally unknown at the time, made their first film “L'Affaire est dans le sac.”

No one knows why Dr Slade attributes to Natan the production of Jean Cocteau's “Le Sang d'un Poete” (The Blood of a Poet, 1930) , an avant garde film which was financed at total loss by the Vicomte de Noailles. However, Dr Slade could have credited several masterpieces produced by Natan such as “ les Misérables ” or “ Les Croix de bois”.

Spotting and analysing all the numerous errors and confusions made by Dr Slade, is a mundane exercice both for the author and the reader.

Readers interested in the French cinema of the thirties and the legend of Bernard Natan will find more information in our book “ Pathé Natan, the true story (contribution to a history of the introduction of sound films in France published in 2004 by les indépendants du 1er siècle/ pilote 24 Editions. They can also report to Bernard Natan biography on internet or . Let us mention also the article by Gilles Willems and André Rossel-Kirchen pulished in n° 21 Dec 1996 of the review 1895 published by AFRHC (Association Française pour l'Histoire du Cinéma)

For any comments on this paper, you may contact Brigitte Berg

[1]Columbia University Press

[2] For Instance, Dr Elosu was sentenced at the same period and by the same Court of Law to three months in jail for birth control propaganda ( Gazette des Tribunaux 19 January 1911)

[3] page 76

[4] page 76

[5] page 77

[6] page 81

[7]July 1964, page 213

[8] page 87

[9] page 79

[10] page 80

[11] Il (Natan)organisa des présentations de films à la manière des previews américaines. Ce furent de grandes soirées parisiennes avec une figuration officielle et mondaine que Stavisky devait lui envier). Marcel Lapierre's article, which is both polemic and full of errors, was published in the paper Messidor on January 8 th , 1939 shortly after Bernard Natan's arrest. It is often quoted as reference because it was re-edited in 1970 by publishers of the new edition of Charles Pathé's, "De Pathé Frères à Pathé Cinema", replacing the original chapters dealing with the Pathé-Natan adventure which were abandoned. Because of this, one might suppose that this article corresponds to a sort of abstract of chapters written by Charles Pathé. This not the case.

[12] ( Jean-Simon Cerf, connu de tous les hommes d'affaires de Paris comme un avocat extrêmement habile et audacieux .)

[13] Page 73. Dr Slade refers to a book by Alexander Werth, " France in ferment" published in London in 1934. Werth does mention the red light districts in Paris , but contrary to what one would expect from Dr Slade's rhetoric, Werth makes no reference at all to Bernard Natan being there. At that period, Natan's enemies would on the contrary accuse him of leading a high life, with a town house, a manor in Brittany , a villa on the Riviera , a big American car…

[14] These various steps are all mentioned in many article in the French professional journals such as : " Ciné-Journal" "Cineopse" and "La Ciinématographie Française".

[15] Page 77

[16] page 79

[17] page 73

[18] page 78

[19] page 80

[20] For instance, the Nazi press under the German occupation reproduced the picture of Edouard Herriot seated at a table in the Joinville Studio. As a matter of fact, Herriot once minister of “Education Nationale” and in this capacity head of the French cinema industry, had successively visited all movie studios in the Paris surroundings, including the German studios in Epinay sur Seine . It can hardly be said that to have had lunch with Natan after this official visit is a proof of an illegal collusion.

[21]We have checked the private archives of large French banks, accessible today : la Banque de France, La Société Générale, Le Credit Lyonnais, Le Credit du Nord (which took over the Banque Générale du Nord) etc. The Pathé Natan associates are all reported and their relative influence analyzed. Nowhere are there hints at "unsavory or unidentified investors".

[22] page 85

[23] page 85

[24] page 85

[25] There would be two other trials against Natan, one in June 1941, which was a opportunity for the collaborationist press to break loose against the "apatrid Jew", and a trial that took place after he had died.

[26] Page 86

[27] page 82

[28] See “ Hollywood 's Film Wars with France ”, Jens Ulff-Møller, University of Rochester Press , 2001

[29] page 83

[30] page 83

[31] see report from Pathé General Assembly in “La Vie Financière” Sept 11 1929

[32]page 84

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