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What Is Cinema?

What Is Cinema?: Volume II

new foreword by DUDLEY ANDREW
essays selected and translated by HUGH GRAY
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 226
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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: 978-0-520-93126-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-viii)
    François Truffaut

    André Bazin wrote about film better than anybody else in Europe. From that day in 1948 when he got me my first film job, working alongside him, I became his adopted son. Thereafter, every pleasant thing that happened in my life I owed to him.

    He taught me to write about the cinema, corrected and published my first articles, and helped me to become a director. He died only a few hours after I had finished my first day’s shooting. When, on being sent for by his friend Père Léger, I arrived at his home in Nogent, he looked up...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxvi)
    Dudley Andrew

    Is it possible that André Bazin’s personality has gotten in the way of the ideas he promulgated? François Truffaut’s touching foreword to this volume calls him “a creature from the times before Original Sin.” Hugh Gray urges us to read him as a modern St. Francis whose natural generosity, modesty, and humor are the virtues of a born critic. For Jean Renoir, Bazin is both poet and saint, one whose words, broadcast across a pure frequency, will survive after the noise of the power mongers in this feudal age of film has been filtered out by the sieve of history....

    (pp. 1-15)
    Hugh Gray

    Four years ago in his foreword to the first English volume ofWhat is Cinema?Jean Renoir spoke of the influence that André Bazin would undoubtedly exercise in the years ahead. The truth of this is already being borne out in various ways and places. In English-speaking countries, for example, his name appears increasingly in critical studies of film. In France his continued importance as an authority to be reckoned with has again been recognized by the fact that some Marxist film critics seem to have felt it essential to return to the attack against his theories with something of...

  6. AN AESTHETIC OF REALITY: NEOREALISM (Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation)
    (pp. 16-40)

    The historical importance of of Rossellini’s filmPaisàhas been rightly compared with that of a number of classical screen masterpieces. Georges Sadoul has not hesitated to mention it alongsideNosferatu, Die Nibelungen, orGreed. I subscribe wholeheartedly to this high praise as long as the allusion to German expressionism is understood to refer to the level of greatness of the film but not to the profound nature of the aesthetics involved. A better comparison might be with the appearance in 1925 ofPotemkin. For the rest, the realism of the current Italian films has been frequently contrasted with the...

    (pp. 41-46)

    The subject matter ofLa Terra Tremaowes nothing to the war: it deals with an attempted revolt by the fishermen of a small Sicilian village against the economic stranglehold exerted by the local fleet-owning fish merchants. I might define it as a kind of super-Farrebiqueabout fishermen. The parallels with Rouquier’s film are many: first, its quasidocumentary realism; then (if one may so put it) the exoticism intrinsic to the subject matter; and, too, the underlying “human geography” (for the Sicilian family, the hope of freeing themselves from the merchants amounts to the same thing as the installation of...

    (pp. 47-60)

    What seems to me most astonishing about the Italian cinema is that it appears to feel it should escape from the aesthetic impasse to which neorealism is said to have led. The dazzling effects of 1946 and 1947 having faded away, one could reasonably fear that this useful and intelligent reaction against the Italian aesthetic of the superspectacle and, for that matter, more generally, against the technical aestheticism from which cinema suffered all over the world, would never get beyond an interest in a kind of superdocumentary, or romanticized reportage. One began to realize that the success ofRoma Città...

    (pp. 61-78)

    I must confess to the reader that my pen is paralyzed by scruples because of the many compelling reasons why I should not be the one to introduce De Sica to him.

    First, there is the presumption implied in a Frenchman wanting to teach Italians something about their own cinema in general,* and, in particular, about the man who is possibly their greatest director. Besides, when I imprudently accepted the honor of introducing De Sica in these pages, I was particularly conscious of my admiration forLadri di Bicicletteand I had not yet seenMiracolo a Milano. We in...

    (pp. 79-82)

    Miracolo in milano created only discord. In the absence of the general enthusiasm that greetedLadri di Biciclettethe originality of the scenario, the mixture of the fantastic and the commonplace, and the penchant of our time for political cryptography stirred up around this strange film a sort ofsuccès de scandale(which Micheline Vian has debunked with relentless humor in an excellent article published inLes Temps modernes).

    A conspiracy of silence, a sullen and obstinate reticence, is building up againstUmberto Dand as a result even the good that has been written about it seems to condemn...

    (pp. 83-92)

    As i sit down to write this article, I have no idea what kind of reception Fellini’s latest film will have. I hope it is as enthusiastic as I think it should be, but I do not conceal from myself the fact that there are two categories of viewers who may have reservations about the film. The first is that segment of the general public likely to be put off by the way the story mixes the strange with what seems to be an almost melodramatic naïvete. These people can accept the theme of the whore with a heart of...

  12. IN DEFENSE OF ROSSELLINI A letter to Guido Aristarco, editor-in-chief of Cinema Nuovo
    (pp. 93-101)

    My dear Aristarco,

    I have been meaning to write these comments for some time now, but month after month I have deferred doing so, put off by the importance of the problem and its many ramifications. I am also aware that I lack theoretical preparation, as compared with the seriousness and thoroughness with which Italian critics on the left devote themselves to the study of neorealism in depth. Although I welcomed neorealism on its first arrival in France and have ever since continued to devote to it the unstinting best of my critical attentions, I cannot claim to have a...

    (pp. 102-123)

    The only evidence for the indictment and sentencing of Landru (whom a soft-hearted and equivocal popular mythology had promoted to the title of Sire de Gambais) and the sole exhibit that led to his conviction was a small pocket account book. In it he jotted down his expenses with meticulous, detailed conscientiousness. There was recorded, opposite the entry of each final, conjugal trip to the little Norman town where he owned a quiet country house, the cost of two railroad tickets—one a round-trip ticket and the other a one-way. Clearly, from this to an inference of premeditation was but...

    (pp. 124-127)

    To write aboutLimelightis a task which has nothing in common with the professional critic’s monotonous day-to-day, week-to-week job. The following comments, then, are a meditation upon an event calledLimelight.

    I am discussing the film before seeing it again in a public cinema. I write on the basis of the remarkable gathering at Biarritz at which the whole French cinema world wept at the sight of the death of Molière—that is to say, of Calvero, alias Chaplin. When I say wept, I am not exaggerating. As the lights went up, they revealed four hundred directors, screenwriters, and...

    (pp. 128-139)

    Some people may well have felt intimidated, in reacting toLimelight, by the critical terrorism that surrounded the first appearance of the film in Paris. There was no such favorable predisposition towardMonsieur Verdouxand no one was shocked by a divided press—nor by a divided public which had not exactly lined up for it. But then Chaplin had not come to play the traveling salesman forMonsieur Verdoux. His presence on this occasion created a strangely ambiguous situation. The wave of sympathy and curiosity stirred up by the person of the author broke over the film. To have...

    (pp. 140-148)

    The western is the only genre whose origins are almost identical with those of the cinema itself and which is as alive as ever after almost half a century of uninterrupted success. Even if one disputes the quality of its inspiration and of its style since the thirties, one is amazed at the steady commercial success which is the measure of its health. Doubtless the western has not entirely escaped the evolution of cinema taste—or indeed taste, period. It has been and will again be subjected to influences from the outside—for instance the crime novel, the detective story,...

    (pp. 149-157)

    By the eve of the war the western had reached a definitive stage of perfection. The year 1940 marks a point beyond which some new development seemed inevitable, a development that the four years of war delayed, then modified, though without controlling it.Stagecoach(1939) is the ideal example of the maturity of a style brought to classic perfection. John Ford struck the ideal balance between social myth, historical reconstruction, psychological truth, and the traditional theme of the westernmise en scène. None of these elements dominated any other.Stagecoachis like a wheel, so perfectly made that it remains...

    (pp. 158-162)

    First, let us not confuse the pin-up girl with the pornographic or erotic imagery that dates from the dark backward and abysm of time. The pin-up girl is a specific erotic phenomenon, both as to form and function.

    A wartime product created for the benefit of the American soldiers swarming to a long exile at the four corners of the world, the pin-up girl soon became an industrial product, subject to well-fixed norms and as stable in quality as peanut butter or chewing gum. Rapidly perfected, like the jeep, among those things specifically stipulated for modern American military sociology, she...

  19. THE OUTLAW “The best of women is not worth a good horse.”
    (pp. 163-168)

    Even before it was shown in France,The Outlawhad acquired a scandalous reputation that was bound to result in public disappointment and make it a subject of severe criticism. In the event, the film had a short run. The same people who had fought to get to see it during the first days of its run booed those sections from which they thought the most interesting scenes had been cut. They felt robbed. Reviewers for the most part adopted an indulgent and amused tone. It would have been undignified to show disappointment. One critic managed to see something else...

    (pp. 169-175)

    No one would dream of writing a book on eroticism in the theater. Not, strictly speaking, because the subject does not lend itself to reflection, but because these reflections would all be negative. Certainly this is not true of the novel, since one whole section of literature is founded, more or less explicitly, on eroticism. But it is only a sector of it, and the existence in the Bibliothèque Nationale of a section known as “hell” points up the fact. It is true that eroticism now tends to play an increasingly important role in modern literature, and novels are full...

    (pp. 176-178)

    The film star is not just an actor, not even an actor particularly beloved of the public, but a hero of legend or tragedy, embodying a destiny with which scenarists and directors must comply—albeit unwittingly. Otherwise the spell between the actor and his public will be broken. The variety of films in which he appears, and which seem so agreeably surprising in their novelty, should not mislead us. It is the confirmation of a destiny, profound and essential, which we unconsciously seek in the actor’s continually renewed exploits. This is evident in Chaplin, for example, and, interestingly enough, more...

    (pp. 179-192)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 195-200)