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Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years ago

Andre Bazin


An unofficial Bazin website: http://www.unofficialbaziniantrib.com/


And hopefully helpful notes on the reading...


The article begins with the first period of cinema discussed: the era of the Silent Film. This was a period when film was still developing as an art. There were some good ideas present, but it had not been completely pulled together into a coherent whole yet. Filmmakers were not yet able to produce the films they sought to produce. Two trends emerged during the silent era: faith in the image (expressionism), and faith in reality (realism/neo-realism). Those who had faith in the image were the formalists. Two sub-trends emerged from this, those directors relating to the plastics of the image, and those relating to the resources of montage. German Expressionism is most closely linked with this practice. The notable directors include Fritz Lang (Metropolis 1927) and Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920). Those directors who embraced the resources of montage were clearly the Soviets, with Sergei Eisenstein leading that revolution. Notable films from this wing include Battleship Potemkin and Strike.


The other trend, as mentioned, belongs to those directors and film theorists who put their faith in reality. Among the directors of this trend were Erich von Stroheim, Robert Flaherty and F.W. Murnau. These directors focused on differing aspects of realism. Von Stroheim’s film Greed is associated with naturalism, Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North focused on the realism of the duration of time, and F.W. Murnau is associated with the realism of dramatic space. Flaherty’s Nanook is considered by many to be the first documentary film ever made.


The second era of cinema discussed was the era of the sound film prior to World War II. The advent of sound brought about an evolution in film. At this point in history, filmmakers have a fairly complete set of tools with which to produce films. During this period, we see the classical Hollywood style of filmmaking (classical form, content, editing, etc) emerge as the dominant approach through much of the filmmaking world. These were the types of films studios that studios liked producing and which audiences had grown accustomed to viewing.


At this point in the reading, Bazin provides the reader with an analogy of a river that has reached its “equilibrium profile”. Bazin argues “by 1939 the cinema had arrived at what geographers call the equilibrium profile of a river … the river flows effortlessly from its source to its mouth without further deepening of its bed” (Bazin 47). He goes on to add that only a geological movement of some magnitude can cause a shift in the river. Film had achieved this equilibrium (classical Hollywood cinema), but something was at work that would shift its trajectory. Renoir had been ‘below the surface’, acting as a crosscurrent to the classical Hollywood style. He was the first filmmaker who successfully utilized depth-of-focus, a linchpin of realist filmmakers.


Welles was not the impetus for the shift, but a director whose force completed the ‘geological’ shift and ultimately brought film to a new equilibrium. This shift takes us into the third era of cinema, the period between approximately 1940 and 1950. Welles elevates the quality of cinema in Bazin’s eyes.


During this period, we essentially see a rebirth of realism, mirrored by a recession of expressionism and montage. A greater appreciation and utilization of the duration of real time emerges, as does a greater respect for the ambiguity of space. Bazin believed that the ontology of film was to represent reality – “Film should not add to reality. If should reveal it.” Bazin was very skeptical of the formalists who tried to ‘add’ to reality. Film, Bazin felt, was not the appropriate medium for expressionism and the like. In his opinion, filmmakers who were not realists were not respecting the ontology of film. Bazin felt that the advent of sound brought with it an opportunity for cinematic continuity rather than discontinuity.


Essentially, sound is good; the advent of sound allowed for a more complete cinema to emerge, courtesy of Renoir, Welles, et al. But, the great divide in cinema history is thus not between the silent and sound eras, but rather between the two opposing trends, those directors who put their faith in the image, and those who put their faith in reality. These two trends and the interactions between them are what created the evolution in cinematic language.

(courtesy of "Hasskamp on Bazin's "Evolution"" in Cinesthesia)

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