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Bernard Natan
Birthdate: July 14, 1886[1]
Birth location: Iaşi,[1] Romania
Birth name: Natan Tannenzaft or Natan Tanenzapf
Date of death: October[1] 1942, Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland
Ethnicity: Romanian; Jewish
Bernard Natan at IMDb

Bernard Natan (July 14, 1886[1] – October[1] 1942) (born Natan Tannenzaft) was a bisexual Franco-Romanian film director and actor of the 1920s and 1930s. He was one of the earliest (if not the earliest) pornographic film directors and porn stars whose name was known to the public.[2][3] After his adult film career, Natan moved into mainstream cinema. He eventually acquired the giant French motion picture studio Pathé in 1929. Pathé collapsed in 1935, and Natan was convicted of fraud. However, he laid the foundation for the modern film industry in France and helped revolutionize film technology around the world.[3]


Early life

Natan was born Natan Tannenzaft (possibly Tanenzapf) to Jewish parents in Iaşi,[1] Romania in 1886. He moved to France after World War I and became a French citizen in 1921, changing his name to the less Jewish-sounding "Bernard Natan."[2][3]

Adult film career

Natan directed at least one hardcore pornographic film in Romania.[2] But it was in France where he made his mark as a producer, writer, director and actor in adult film. Natan produced and acted in at least 20 hardcore heterosexual and bisexual hardcore pornographic films between 1920 and 1927, and established his own studio (Rapid Film) to develop and process the films he shot. Nearly all French pornographic films from this period which include bisexual and homosexual content were produced by Natan. Natan himself was bisexual,[2] and engaged in intercourse on screen in a number of films, notably Le Menage Moderne Du Madame Butterfly (1920) and La Maîtresse du Capitaine de Meydeux (1924). Natan is also known for having introduced masochism into French pornographic film.[3]

Mainstream film career

Over time, Bernard Natan moved out of pornographic film and into mainstream cinema. He worked as a publicity stringer for Paramount Pictures during the early 1920s. But by 1929, Natan's Rapid Film had become a major film producer and distributor. His reputation was such that in 1924 Natan became a member of the executive committee of the Cinematographic Employers' Federation. By 1926, his film laboratory was highly regarded, he had established a marketing firm, and he built two sound stages. Natan was also a film producer, helping finance and produce motion pictures at other studios.[4][5]

Takeover of Pathé

In late February 1929, Bernard Natan acquired the production and exhibition businesses of Pathé, then the largest French motion picture company. He agreed to merge his own studio, Rapid Film (then worth 25 million francs), with Pathé in exchange for 50 million francs in shares. The remaining shares were purchased with funding from a consortium of banks, bonds (to be paid with income from Pathé), and a 10 percent ownership in Pathé by the banks. After the merger, Natan renamed the company Pathé-Natan (sometimes also credited as Pathé-Cinéma).[5][6][7]

Pathé was already in substantial financial trouble when Natan took control. Studio founder Charles Pathé had been selling assets for several years to boost investor value and keep the studio's cash flow healthy. The company's founder had even sold Pathé's name and "rooster" trademark to other companies in return for a mere 2 percent of revenues generated by them. Natan had the bad luck to take charge of the studio just as the Great Depression convulsed the French economy.[8][6][7]

Natan attempted to steady Pathé's finances and implement modern film industry practices at the studio. Natan acquired another film studio, Sociètè des Cinéromans, from Arthur Bernède and Gaston Leroux, which enabled Pathé to expand into projector and electronics manufacturing. He also bought the Fornier chain of motion picture theaters and rapidly expanded the chain's nationwide presence.[5][8][6][7] The French press, however, attacked Natan mercilessly for his stewardship of Pathé. Many of these attacks were antisemitic and contained veiled homophobic references to Natan's sexuality.[3][5][8]

Pathé-Natan did well under Natan's guidance. Between 1930 and 1935, despite the world economic crisis, the company made 100 million francs in profits, and produced and released more than 60 feature films (just as many films as major American studios produced at the time). He resumed production of the newsreel Pathé News, which had not been produced since 1927.[8]

Natan also invested heavily into research and development to expand Pathe's film business. In 1929, he pushed Pathé into sound film. In September, the studio produced its first sound feature film, and its first sound newsreel a month later. Natan also launched two new cinema-related magazines, Pathé-Revue and Actualités Féminines, to help market Pathé's films and build consumer demand for cinema. Under Natan, Pathé also funded the research of Henri Chrétien, who developed the anamorphic lens (a technology which later led to the creation of CinemaScope and other widescreen film formats common today).[5][8][6][7]

Natan expanded Pathé's business interests into communications industries other than film. In November 1929, Natan established France's first television company, Télévision-Baird-Natan. A year later, he purchased a radio station in Paris and formed a holding company (Radio-Natan-Vitus) to run what would become a burgeoning radio empire. [5][8][6][7]

Collapse of Pathé and imprisonment

Bernard Natan on trial (filmed against his wishes)

But in 1935, Pathé went bankrupt. In order to finance the company's continued expansion, Pathé's board of directors (which still included Charles Pathé) voted in 1930 to issue shares worth 105 million francs. But with the depression deepening, only 50 percent of the shares were purchased. One of the investor banks collapsed due to financial difficulties unrelated to Pathé's problems, and Pathé was forced to follow through with the purchase of several movie theater chains it no longer could afford to buy. Although the company continued to make a profit (as noted above) for a time, it soon began to lose more money than it could bring it.[5][8][6][7]

The collapse of Pathé led French authorities to indict Bernard Natan on charges of fraud. Natan was accused of financing the purchase of the company without any collateral, of bilking investors by establishing fictitious shell corporations, and negligent financial mismanagement. Natan was even accused of hiding his Romanian and Jewish heritage by changing his name. Natan was indicted and imprisoned in 1939. A second indictment was brought in 1941, and he was convicted shortly thereafter. He was freed in September 1942.[5][8][6][7]


World War II broke out while Natan was in prison awaiting trial, and Nazi Germany conquered France. After Natan's release from prison, the French government handed him over to the occupying German authorities. Natan was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp on September 25, 1942,[1] where he died several weeks later.[3]

Importance to the film industry

Bernard Natan's importance to the French film industry should not be underestimated. He pioneered the vertical integration of the French film industry, and adopted the "American model" of film-making and distribution. This model provides the underpinning of the French film industry even in the 21st century. Indeed, Pathé survived into the 1980s almost solely on revenues generated by the companies purchased and integration instituted by Bernard Natan.[4][5]

Natan also brought television to France, and established the first French radio holding and television companies.[5][8][6][7]

Under Natan's leadership, the anamorphic film camera lens was developed. The anamorphic lens was not only a major advance in film technology, but helped Hollywood survive during the early years of television.[9][10]

Natan also revolutionized pornographic film in France. He was one of the first, and certainly the most prominent, film-maker to include bisexuality and homosexuality in his films, and introduced masochism to French adult film as well.[2][3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Rossel-Kirschen, André. "Bernard Natan." Les independents due premier siecle. No date.
  2. ^ a b c d e Waugh, Thomas. Hard To Imagine. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. ISBN 0231099983
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Slade, Joseph. "Bernard Natan: France's Legendary Pornographer." Journal of Film and Video. 45:2-3 (Summer-Fall 1993).
  4. ^ a b Willems, Gilles. "Rapid-Film et ses Branches Production." Pathé, Premier Empire du Cinéma. Jacques Kermabon, ed. Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1994. ISBN 2858507937
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Willems, Gilles. "Les Origines du Groupe Pathé-Natan et le Modele Americain." Vingtième Siècle. 46 (April-June 1995).
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Abel, Richard. The Red Rooster Scare: Making Cinema American, 1900–1910. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0520214781
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Abel, Richard. French Cinema: The First Wave 1915–1929. Paperback ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987. ISBN 0691008132
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Willems, Gilles. "Les origines de Pathé-Natan." In Une Histoire Économique du Cinéma Français (1895–1995), Regards Croisés Franco-Américains. Pierre-Jean Benghozi and Christian Delage, eds. Paris: Harmattan, Collection Champs Visuels, 1997. English translation available at
  9. ^ Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristin. Film Art. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993. ISBN 0070064466
  10. ^ Monaco, James. How to Read A Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History and Theory of Film and Media. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. ISBN 0195038066

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