This article aims to canvass the uses and functions of the key concept of purity as it is used in the 1920s by writers and critics to isolate the essence of poetry in particular and literature in general. It is argued that the notion of literary purity needs to be considered against the backdrop of considerable changes in the media system, such as the rise of film. If writers like André Gide are developing the concept of ‘le roman pur’ (the pure novel) partly as a reaction to cinema, early cineastes, in turn, use the concept of ‘cinéma pur’ to delineate their art from literature. An analysis of the complex interaction between these notions reveals the different positions from which, in 1920, film makers and writers speak. In a similar vein, even labels such as ‘literature’ and ‘poetry’ themselves are used strategically to conceptualize differences in artistic and aesthetical practices and ideas.