What Is Cinema?

What Is Cinema?: Volume I

ANDRÉ BAZIN
foreword by JEAN RENOIR
new foreword by DUDLEY ANDREW
essays selected and translated by HUGH GRAY
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 207
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt5hjhmc
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  • Book Info
    What Is Cinema?
    Book Description:

    André Bazin'sWhat Is Cinema?(volumes I and II) have been classics of film studies for as long as they've been available and are considered the gold standard in the field of film criticism. Although Bazin made no films, his name has been one of the most important in French cinema since World War II. He was co-founder of the influentialCahiers du Cinéma,which under his leadership became one of the world's most distinguished publications. Championing the films of Jean Renoir (who contributed a short foreword to Volume I), Orson Welles, and Roberto Rossellini, he became the protégé of François Truffaut, who honors him touchingly in his forword to Volume II. This new edition includes graceful forewords to each volume by Bazin scholar and biographer Dudley Andrew, who reconsiders Bazin and his place in contemporary film study. The essays themselves are erudite but always accessible, intellectual, and stimulating. As Renoir puts it, the essays of Bazin "will survive even if the cinema does not."

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93125-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. v-vi)
    Jean Renoir

    In the days when kings were kings, when they washed the feet of the poor and, by the simple act of passing by, healed those afflicted with scrofula, there were poets to confirm their belief in their greatness. Not infrequently the singer was greater than the object of his singing. This is where Bazin stands vis-à-vis the cinema. But that part of the story has to do only with what lies ahead. What is going on now is simply the assembling of materials. Civilization is but a sieve through the holes of which there passes the discard. The good remains....

  2. (pp. ix-xxiv)
    Dudley Andrew

    In the touching foreword with which Jean Renoir graced this translation ofWhat is Cinema?thirty-five years ago, he conjures up civilization’s murky past and its murkier future. When history has had its devastating way, he writes—when noisy people, problems, and events have eroded and passed through the “sieve” of memory into oblivion—there will still remain those rock-hard formulations of great poets, which outlast even the subjects that occasioned their verse. Bazin’s essays are such gems.

    Bazin is indeed cinema’s poet laureate, or better, its griot. Full of praise poems and aphorisms, his essays emblazon cinema’s history and...

  3. (pp. 1-8)
    Hugh Gray

    It is nearly nine years since André Bazin died, but the critical insight that illuminates his writings has not grown dim with the years. It continues to shine forth in its very personal way, and the arguments through which he diffused it offer a brilliant example of a combination of the critical spirit and the spirit of synthesis, each operating with equal force. Bazin’s thought, while rooted in a rich cultural tradition, produces conclusions that at times are forcefully expressed in terms drawn from contemporary science—an ambivalence which contributes markedly to his style and as markedly to the problems...

  4. (pp. 9-16)

    If the plastic arts were put under psychoanalysis, the practice of embalming the dead might turn out to be a fundamental factor in their creation. The process might reveal that at the origin of painting and sculpture there lies a mummy complex. The religion of ancient Egypt, aimed against death, saw survival as depending on the continued existence of the corporeal body. Thus, by providing a defense against the passage of time it satisfied a basic psychological need in man, for death is but the victory of time. To preserve, artificially, his bodily appearance is to snatch it from the...

  5. (pp. 17-22)

    Paradoxically enough, the impression left on the reader by Georges Sadoul’s admirable book on the origins of the cinema is of a reversal, in spite of the author’s Marxist views, of the relations between an economic and technical evolution and the imagination of those carrying on the search. The way things happened seems to call for a reversal of the historical order of causality, which goes from the economic infrastructure to the ideological superstructure, and for us to consider the basic technical discoveries as fortunate accidents but essentially second in importance to the preconceived ideas of the inventors. The cinema...

  6. (pp. 23-40)

    By 1928 the silent film had reached its artistic peak. The despair of its elite as they witnessed the dismantling of this ideal city, while it may not have been justified, is at least understandable. As they followed their chosen aesthetic path it seemed to them that the cinema had developed into an art most perfectiy accommodated to the “exquisite embarrassment” of silence and that the realism that sound would bring could only mean a surrender to chaos.

    In point of fact, now that sound has given proof that it came not to destroy but to fulfill the Old Testament...

  7. (pp. 41-52)

    The creative originality of A. Lamorisse was already apparent inBim, le petit âne. Bimand perhapsCrin Blancare the only two real children’s films ever made. Of course there are others—although not as many as one would expect—that are suited to a variety of young age groups. The Soviet Union has made special efforts in this field but it is my feeling that films likeLone White Sailsare already aimed at young adolescents. The attempts of J. Arthur Rank at specialized production in this area have failed both aesthetically and commercially. In fact, anyone wishing...

  8. (pp. 53-75)

    A backward glance over the films of the past 10 or 15 years quickly reveals that one of the dominant features of their evolution is the increasingly significant extent to which they have gone for their material to the heritage of literature and the stage.

    Certainly it is not only just now that the cinema is beginning to look to the novel and the play for its material. But its present approach is different. The adaptation ofMonte Cristo, Les Misérables,orLes Trois Mousquetairesis not in the same category as that ofSymphonie pastorale, Jacques le fataliste, Les...

  9. (pp. 76-94)

    While critics often draw attention to the resemblances between the cinema and the novel, “filmed theater” still frequently passes for heresy. So long as its advocates and its prime examples were the statements and the plays of Marcel Pagnol it was reasonable enough to explain his one or two successes as flukes resulting from an unusual combination of circumstances. “Filmed theater” was bound up with recollections, in retrospect so farcical, of thefilm d’artor the boulevard hits in the “style” of Berthomieu. (Note: Unique, an incomprehensible exception at the threshold of the talking film, stands the unforgettableJean de...

  10. (pp. 95-124)

    The leitmotiv of those who despise filmed theater, their final and apparently insuperable argument, continues to be the unparalleled pleasure that accompanies the presence of the actor. “What is specific to theater,” writes Henri Gouhier, inThe Essence of Theater,“is the impossibility of separating off action and actor.” Elsewhere he says “the stage welcomes every illusion except that of presence; the actor is there in disguise, with the soul and voice of another, but he is nevertheless there and by the same token space calls out for him and for the solidity of his presence. On the other hand...

  11. (pp. 125-143)

    IfThe Diary of a Country Priestimpresses us as a masterpiece, and this with an almost physical impact, if it moves the critic and the uncritical alike, it is primarily because of its power to stir the emotions, rather than the intelligence, at their highest level of sensitivity. The temporary eclipse ofLes Dames du Bois de Boulognewas for precisely the opposite reason. This film could not stir us unless we had, if not exactly analyzed, at least tested its intellectual structure and, so to speak, understood the rules of the game.

    While the instantaneous success ofLe...

  12. (pp. 144-153)

    Charlie is a mythical figure who rises above every adventure in which he becomes involved. For the general public, Charlie exists as a person before and afterEasy StreetandThe Pilgrim. For hundreds of millions of people on this planet he is a hero like Ulysses or Roland in other civilizations—but with the difference that we know the heroes of old through literary works that are complete and have defined once and for all, their adventures and their various manifestations. Charlie, on the other hand, is always free to appear in another film. The living Charlie remains the...

  13. (pp. 154-163)

    In his little bookLe Cinéma au long cours(Filming in Far-Off Lands), Jean Thévenot has traced the development of the film of exploration from its successful beginnings, around 1928, through the period of its decline, between 1930 and 1940, to its rebirth following World War II. The implications of this evolution are worth studying.

    It was after World War I, that is to say in 1920, some ten years after it was filmed by Ponting during the heroic expedition of Scott to the South Pole, thatWith Scott to the South Polerevealed to the film-going public those polar...

  14. (pp. 164-170)

    Films about paintings, at least those that use them to create something the structure of which is cinematic, meet with an identical objection from painters and art critics alike. Of such are the short films of Emmer;Van Goghby Alain Resnais, R. Hessens, and Gaston Diehl; Pierre Kast’sGoya;andGuernicaby Resnais and Hessens. Their objection, and I myself have heard it from the very lips of an Inspector General of Drawing of the Department of Education, is that however you look at it the film is not true to the painting. Its dramatic and logical unity establishes...