Opening in 1897, Metenier bought and established the ethos and style of the Grand-Guignol and remained its most important writer & director until 1898. The venue itself (the smallest in Paris at the time) was a former chapel and its ominous elements of interior design not only helped the company in terms of marketing but also in terms of the writing for not just a particular show, but also the 'experience' of attending the Grand-Guignol itself. And it was this theatrical 'experience' that the theatre gained its infamy.
Metenier's plays were inhabited by figures of crime and solicitation: prostitutes, criminals and urchins etc. A bill on any given night consisted of five or six plays adhering to Metenier's designs for naturalistic brutality. The shows of the Grand-Guignol also allowed special effects & gore to be introduced to the theatre where 'naturalistic beauty' would reach such a sense of 'realism' that the audience would react by fainting and leaving during performances. The dialogue of his plays emulated the life of lowly Paris (which by this time Metenier had become scientifically obsessed with), notably “Mademoiselle Fifi”, the first French play to include a prostitute and to be temporarily banned by the police. The shows were based on the real life of real people in an arena where “realism” was largely never seen and certainly not appreciated. Through the protocol of Naturalism, an extravagance of emotion lead to representational forms and overall aesthetic. Through the 'language of the lowly', political/social commentary was able to meet with the representational clarity of Punch & Judy.
The Grand-Guignol drew the final curtain in 1962. It's soon to be iconic style of representing horror and insanity was incapable of matching the horrors of World War II, also it was considered in extremely poor taste to portray a climatic period of history that they would rather forget and remain desensitized to.
It's name, Grand-Guignol, came to be used as a general term for graphic and amoral entertainment. It's memory and its influence remains with us to this day and with the contemporary love and artistry of contemporary Horror, I can see it's influence remaining for some time still.
by Gene Von Banyard
Le Theatre du Grand Guignol or The Theatre of the Great Puppet (1897-1962), commonly called the Grand-Guignol, specialised in 'naturalistic' horror shows. Its founder, Oscar Metenier (1859-1913), a French playwright & novelist, wanted a space for naturalist performances to achieve a sense of realism, but no one knew just how 'real' that sense would come to be.
As a follower of Emille Zola (1840-1902), (who was a renowned practitioner of the literary school of naturalism and a major contributor to the development of theatrical naturalism) Metenier became interested, to a near scientific degree, with the amoral, street urchins of Paris' lower socio-economic areas. This line of social inquiry began when he shadowed his father (who was Police Commissioner at the time) through the dirty streets of low life Paris and continued into the foundation and artistic directing of Grand-Guignol.