Theory of Film Practice

Theory of Film Practice

NOËL BURCH
TRANSLATED BY HELEN R. LANE
Copyright Date: 1973
Pages: 188
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztgnb
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  • Book Info
    Theory of Film Practice
    Book Description:

    This classic in film theory, presents a systematic study of the techniques of the film medium and of their potential uses for creating formal structures in individual films such as Dovzhenko's Earth, Antonioni's La Notte, Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar, Renoir's Nana, and Godard's Pierrot le Fou.

    Originally published in 1981.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5336-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Foreword (1980)
    (pp. v-x)

    “I” am not the author of this book.

    The name on the cover is the same, but the “I” writing this foreword is in so many ways not the “I” who wrote the book fourteen years ago that he feels compelled to dissociate the two.

    That other “I” was an American expatriate of thirty-five who, fifteen years earlier, had decided to make his home in Paris, largely because of a fascination with what he knew of French film culture (he had seenle Diable au Corpssome fifteen times), who had attended the French national film school (IDHEC), who had...

  4. Part I Basic Elements
    • 1 Spatial and Temporal Articulations
      (pp. 3-16)

      The terminology a film-maker or film theoretician chooses to employ is a significant reflection of what he takes a film to be.

      The French termdécoupage techniqueor simplydécoupage¹ with its several related meanings is a case in point. In everyday practice,découpagerefers to the final form of a script, incorporating whatever technical information the director feels it necessary to set down on paper to enable a production crew to understand his intention and find the technical means with which to fulfill it, to help them plan their work in terms of his. By extension, but still on...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 2 Nana, or the Two Kinds of Space
      (pp. 17-31)

      To understand cinematic space, it may prove useful to consider it as in fact consisting oftwo different kinds of space:that included within the frame and that outside the frame. For our purposes, screen space can be defined very simply as including everything perceived on the screen by the eye. Off-screen space is more complex, however. It is divided into six “segments”: The immediate confines of the first four of these areas are determined by the four borders of the frame, and correspond to the four faces of an imaginary truncated pyramid projected into the surrounding space, a description...

    • 3 Editing as a Plastic Art
      (pp. 32-48)

      Thus far, I have examined the general nature of a filmed image and the articulations between such images without really considering what they actually look like. While still maintaining my “structural” approach, I might now examine both the image and the shot transition as concrete visual phenomena.

      I might first venture to point out how the way in which we see differs from the way in which a camera sees, an ambitious and somewhat risky endeavor, which many others, notably Karel Reisz in his excellentTechnique of Film Editing,¹ have undertaken before me. However, since I am attempting to redefine...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  5. Part II Dialectics
    • 4 The Repertory of Simple Structures
      (pp. 51-69)

      Frequent mention has been made in the first part of this work of a dialectical conception of cinematic form. It must be emphasized once again that this is not so much a specifically Hegelian process as a conception principally and perhaps somewhat improperly borrowed from serial music, from what the contemporary French composer and theoretician Jean Barraqué has called post-Webernian “musical dialectics”: the organization of the various musical parameters (pitch and duration of sound, instrumental attack, timbre, and even silence) within musical space. As has already been pointed out, cinematic parameters of a similar nature exist. Thus far, I have...

    • 5 Absence of Dialectic and Complex Dialectics
      (pp. 70-89)

      The preceding chapter drew up a kind of inventory of the many simple dialectics that may be detected in the formal strategies of a given film. Before going on to examine some examples of the complex structures that can result from the more or less deliberate and carefully planned combination of several simple structures, a long parenthesis is in order. At least one of the conclusions that can be drawn from the brief analysis in the preceding chapter is that any film contains dialectical structures, if only because there is bound to be some degree of contrast between sequences (however...

    • 6 On the Structural Use of Sound
      (pp. 90-102)

      The fundamental dialectic in film, the one that at least empirically seems to contain every other, is that contrasting and joining sound with image. Thenecessaryinterrelationship of sound and image today appears to be definitely established fact, as even the most doubting critic must concede once he has examined the history of film. From the very beginnings of our art, starting with Méliès’s showings of his films in the basement of a Paris café, audiences and film-makers alike felt the need for some sort of sound (that is, musical) background for these images whosesilencewas unbearable,¹ despite the...

  6. Part III Perturbing Factors
    • 7 Chance and Its Functions
      (pp. 105-121)

      The concept of sheer chance is a very fashionable one in contemporary art, and, like every fashion, there is a very serious concern underlying it. This particular fashion sheds considerable light on one striking trend in current aesthetic theory: the many ways in which, in the West, the traditional integrity of the work of art is being challenged, and the manner in which the artist’s heretofore inviolate, demiurgic role is being questioned. These explorations also extend beyond these avant-garde concerns, however, for they reflect a very widespread, although confused, impatience with the solidly established tradition of the “closed” as against...

    • 8 Structures of Agression
      (pp. 122-136)

      In preceding chapters, there have been occasional references to the feeling of discomfort created by certain types of “match cuts,” ones that until recently had been considered “bad” matches but that could be integrated, it was suggested, into a broader, nonnormative plastic conception ofdécoupagewherein the degree and the nature of the resulting discomfort would be taken into account and regarded as parameters. The discomfort created by disorientation in particular (because of “bad” eye-line matches, for instance, or “bad” matches in screen position and direction of movement), the vectors of which can unquestionably be “controlled,” can be handled in...

  7. Part IV Reflections on the Film Subject
    • 9 Fictional Subjects
      (pp. 139-155)

      Having started from an area of investigation so circumscribed, so modest, so rudimentary that no one seems to have concerned himself with it in a systematic manner before, we have reached a point as we near the end of this work where I can discuss another realm so vast and “noble” that almost all film criticism has been devoted to it. Even inLes Cahiers du cinéma, over three-quarters of the articles published are chiefly concerned with a film’s subject, and when problems of film form and film syntax are touched upon it is invariably from this point of view....

    • 10 Nonfictional Subjects
      (pp. 156-167)

      From the earliest beginnings of film, in addition to those pioneers for whom film was essentially a lucrative way of entertaining the public, there were others for whom film principally provided a means with which to inform (and perhaps even propagandize) and educate (and perhaps even indoctrinate) a mass audience. For both Marey during the archaic era of cinema and Lumière during its “primitive” period, it was an article of belief that, in the camera, man had at last found an instrument capable of capturing and recording the “real world” and that its essential function, its sacred mission lay therein....

  8. Index
    (pp. 168-172)