From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Marcel L'Herbier, Légion d'honneur (April 23 1888 or 1890 – November 26 1979) was a French writer, producer and director. He was the founder and the first President of the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques. He is remembered for such films as The Inhuman Woman and his adaptation of Pirandello's The Late Mattia Pascal.
L'Herbier was born in Paris, he attended the Collège Stanislas de Paris and later the University of Paris where he studied Law. L'Herbier started out as a writer, he wrote plays, poetry and essays but it wasn't until he became interested in the medium of film that he found his true vocation. During World War I, after having been in the Service Auxiliaire from 1914-1917, L'Herbier was put into cinematography section of the French army from 1917-1918. It was during the time spent here, that he came to realise the power of the film medium and its potential.
After the War L'Herbier's career in film really started to take off, in 1918 he directed his first feature length film Rose-France. He gained early prominence from 1919 to 1922 with a number of films for Gaumont's Série Pax, most notably L'Homme du large and El Dorado. In 1922 he set up his own production company, Cinégraphic. Résurrection and L'Inhumaine followed. These films and the earlier ones, helped to put L'Herbier right amongst the leaders of French Avant-garde cinema. Inspired by Abel Gance's Napoléon, L'Herbier directed his 1928 silent epic L'Argent an updating of Émile Zola's novel L'Argent. The film starred Brigitte Helm, Marie Glory and Yvette Guilbert. L'Herbier's and his Cinégraphic company influenced and helped many other film makers such as Alberto Cavalcanti and Claude Autant-Lara.
In 1930 L'Herbier directed his first talkie L'Enfant de l'amour, it wasn't particularly well received and marked the start of L'Herbier's transition into a more mainstream film maker. In 1937 L'Herbier co-founded the film technicians union CGT, he was General Secretary and later President. 1943 brought about L'Herbier's greatest contribution to film, he founded the film school the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC). The French Government helped fund the school and the IDHEC taught all manner of technical courses in film production, film history, film theory and film criticism. Notable alumni from the IDHEC include; Louis Malle, Alain Resnais, Volker Schlöndorff, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Claude Sautet, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Patrice Leconte and Costa Gavras. L'Herbier was President of the IDHEC for 25 years. In 1986 the IDHEC became the Fondation Européene des Métiers de l'Image et du son, better known as La Fémis.
From 1952 to 1962 L'Herbier moved to television production, he was a pioneer of cultural programmes for French TV, he also worked for Luxembourg and Swiss TV. L'Herbier continued to write for Newspapers and in 1953 he helped establish Le Monde's cinema section. He wrote his memoirs in 1978 La tête qui tourne (The head that shoots/turns).