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Motion pictures--Italy. Realism in motion pictures. Cardullo, Bert. I88B What Is Neorealism? In one of his essays from the s Bazin himself projected that distant day when ilm studies would enter the university curriculum—and it was Bazin more than anyone else who played the role of midwife.
Bazin graduated from Saint-Cloud with the highest honors ater he was called up for military service in , then demobilized in mid but was disqualiied from teaching in French schools because of a stutter. In , during the German Occupation, Bazin became a member of an organization in Paris—the Maison des Lettres—that was founded to take care of young students whose regular scholastic routine had been interrupted by the war.
Bazin came to ilm criticism by way of his collaboration with Travail et Culture, a semi-oicial body concerned with cultural activities among working-class people, for whom he organized innumerable screenings. Yet Bazin never entirely lost sight of his educational ambitions, evidenced in an heuristic style of argument that implies more than it states and forces readers to think for themselves. In all Bazin is said to have penned something approaching 1, pieces, including contributions to foreign magazines mainly Italian as well as French ones.
He needed to be proliic since by this time he had a family to support: his wife, Janine, and a small son, Florent. Bazin died at Nogent-sur- Marne on November 11, Indeed, there was always something a little medieval and monkish about Bazin, who himself was a practicing Catholic. Renoir compared him to one of the saints pictured in the stained-glass windows at Chartres; Trufaut went so far as to call him a creature from the time before original sin.
Nearly everyone acquainted with Bazin eulogized his wisdom together with his personal goodness—and couched both in terms drawn from religious asceticism. Reading Bazin, one never has the sense of a professional logging his secular academic specialty in return for institutional preferment. Instead, one comes into contact with a person—or, more correctly, a soul—bound by a sacred charge to inquire ater truth. But, even though it comprises the biggest stumbling block even for critics otherwise congenial to Bazin, there is no denying the primary source of his inspiration: faith.
It is sanctioned to do so precisely—and paradoxically—because it is an invention of science. But it was not until the development of photography in the nineteenth century that this appetite for the real could be fully satisied. A painting, however lifelike, is still the obvious product of human crat and intention, whereas the photographic image is just what happens automatically when the light relected from objects strikes a layer of sensitive chemical emulsion.
It follows that both photography and its spawn, the motion picture, have a special obligation toward reality. And for Bazin, this moral duty is ultimately a sacred one—the photographic media being, in efect, preordained to bear endless witness to the beauty of the cosmos. For him, the photographic origin of ilm explains the novelty of and fascination with the cinema.
A rapt Bazin thus speaks of the ontological realism of the cinema, and, according to him, the camera is naturally the objective tool with which to achieve it. For him, only ontological realism of this type was capable of restoring to the object and its setting the spiritual density of their being. Photography and cinema, together with such innova- tions as color stock, sound recording, anamorphic lenses, and 3-D, are thus successive responses to an obscurely planted desire for an ever more perfect approximation of the real.
His thought in this instance betrays its sizeable debt to the science-cum-mysticism of the radical Catholic visionary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who projected an evolutionary spiraling of human consciousness until it fuses with divine revelation. Like a mathematical asymptote, ilmic representation is always doomed to fall a little short of its goal.
Bazin concedes that there is no art without artiice and that one must therefore surrender a measure of reality in the process of translating it onto celluloid. Individual ilms and ilmmakers all carve up the unbroken plenitude of the real, imposing on it style and meaning. What Bazin objected to in the work of Sergei Eisenstein was precisely how the Soviet director splintered reality into a series of isolated shots, which he then reassembled through the art of montage.
Consistent with this view, he argued in support of both the shot-in-depth and the long or uninterrupted take, and commended the switch from silent to talking pictures as one step toward the attainment of total realism on ilm. He distrusted montage on the ground that its dynamic juxtaposition of images hurtles the viewer along a predetermined path of attention, the aim being to construct a synthetic reality in support of a propagandist or partial in both senses of the word message.
To Bazin this was a minor heresy, since it arrogated the power of God, who alone is entitled to confer meaning on the universe. But inasmuch as God absents himself from the world and leaves it up to us to detect the signs of his grace, Bazin valued those ilm artists who respected the mystery embedded in creation.
Murnau also rank high for Bazin—is the one who mediates least, the one who exercises selectivity just suiciently to put us in much the same relation of regard and choice toward the narrative as we are toward reality in life: a director who thus imitates not arrogates , within his scale, the divine disposition toward man. It should be added, however, that Bazin eventually distanced himself from the priestly cult of the director- author because he felt it ignored the commercial context in which most movies were produced—a context where the work of art is not necessarily stamped with the personality of its creator, in which the director may not be the one above all who gives a ilm its distinctive quality.
Despite diferences in stylistic approach, these ilm artists converge on the same enigmatic reality like the radii of a mandala. And this is another charge that Bazin brought against montage: its sacriice of the dimensional integrity of the photographed event. In the name of a higher realism, then, Bazin celebrated the long, uninterrupted take for its capacity to simulate the most elemental aspect of nature—its continuousness. His great hero in this regard was Renoir, who, signiicantly for Bazin, combined long takes with the technique of deep-focus cinematography.
Bazin considered this not just one aesthetic option among others but in fact the very essence of modern cinematic realism. For him, the incalculable virtue of deep focus is its ambiguity: since everything in the ilm frame can be seen with equal clarity, the audience has to decide for itself what is meaningful or interesting. While a director such as Welles or Wyler to whose ilm he Little Foxes Bazin would return again and again may provide accents or directions in the composition of the image, each nonetheless opens up the possibility that the viewer can, so to speak, do the editing in his or her own head.
At no other period in its history, in fact, has the cinema been so enslaved by escapist fantasy—and never have we been less certain of the status of the real. Now the digitalization of the image threatens to cut the umbilical cord between photograph and referent on which Bazin founded his entire theory.
In the end, every living realism petriies, to become a relic in the museum of obsolete artistic styles. All it requires is a leap of faith. Realist or not, unlike all the other authors of major ilm theories, Bazin was a working or practical critic who wrote regularly about individual ilms. Indeed, it has been suggested that the best of his criticism has been lost because it occurred in the form of oral presenta- tions and debates at such places as I. Bazin based his criticism on the ilms actually made rather than on any preconceived aesthetic or sociological principles; and ilm theory for the irst time became, with him, a matter not of pronouncement and prescription, but of description, analysis, and deduction.
He would then formulate the laws of this genre, constantly reverting to examples from this picture and others like it. In this he showed himself to be a college graduate accustomed to the rigors of scientiic analysis, bringing to the study of motion pictures a mind of unremitting objectivity and going about his work very much in the manner of a geologist or zoologist in front of his microscope. Without forgetting the special quality of cinema as an art form, moreover, he never lost sight of ilm as a social document that relects its times—not like a mere carbon copy, but more like an X-ray, penetrating the surface of reality so as to bring out the pattern that lies underneath.
Every movie, then, even a bad one, is an opportunity for Bazin to develop an historical or sociological hypothesis, or to postulate about the manner of artistic creation. Bazin founds his critical method on the fecundity of paradox—dialectically speaking, something true that seems false and is all the truer for seeming so.
He even anticipates deconstructive analysis by justifying the shortcomings or anomalies of so-called masterpieces, maintaining that they are as necessary to the success of these works as their aesthetic virtues.
Above all, one principle lies at the basis of every piece Bazin ever penned. First, he had a way of criticizing ilms that he did not like which was irm and without concessions, but which was also devoid of any bitterness or meanness.
Second, this principle of tact in fact characterizes a method of subtle analysis and diferentiation applied to the complex and varied living organisms that were ilms to Bazin—organisms whose delicate mechanisms he tried to discern without losing sight of or even obscuring their general movement. It is to distinguish original cinematic experiment from falsely inventive sham, in the way that Bazin did—could not help but do—with every iber of his being. He did his teaching in ilm clubs, at conferences, and in published articles.
Yet while many people now make their livings teaching ilm and far better livings than Bazin ever enjoyed , some teachers look back with longing to that era when relection about the movies took place in a natural arena rather than in the hothouse atmosphere common to universities. Current ilm scholars, including those hostile to his views, look in wonder to Bazin, who in was in command of a complete, coherent, and thoroughly humanistic view of the cinema.
Yet the poet in him—the fecund wielder of igure and metaphor, who drew on the fathomless well of his own imaginative intuition—would just as surely have experienced a sense of loss.
It was his good fortune, then, to write in the period just before ilm studies congealed into an institution. He enjoyed the privilege of being a critic able to cut to the quick of an argument with no other justiication than his own unerring instinct. Bazin, it was claimed, refused to follow due process. His vaunted theory of realism amounted to little more than a loose patchwork of ideas that never coalesced into a stringent system, but instead remained dangerously impressionistic and oten latly contradictory.
But there was worse to come. In the wake of the s counterculture, ilm-studies departments across Europe as well as the united States were transformed into hubs of self-styled revolutionary activity.
Fueled by the absolutist views of the French structuralist and Marxist Louis Althusser who proclaimed the function of the mass media to be an endless endorsement of ruling-class values , radical academics came not to praise cinema but to bury it.
As the most eminent critic of the preceding decade of the s in France, Bazin became a igurehead for the estab- lishment, and the militant new regime at Cahiers hammered him for his supposed political complicity an Oedipal rebellion if ever there was one. Crossing over to Great Britain by way of the inluential theoretical journal Screen, the sport of Bazin-bashing proliferated throughout the s and s.
How could anyone be fool enough to suppose that the cinema was capable of recording reality directly, when the reciprocal insights of semiotics and Lacanian psychoanalysis had demonstrated that human perception is always mediated by language? It might almost be said that the whole Byzantine ediice of contemporary theory sprang out of an irresistible desire to prove Bazin wrong. Admittedly, his earnest belief in the intrinsically realist vocation of ilm puts him on the far side of postmodern relativism and doubt.
As such, Bazin was, as if anything, a species of transcendentalist, a kind of cinematic Hegel, who proposed to discover the nature of ilmic reality as much by investigating the process of critical thought as by examining the artistic objects of sensory experiences themselves, among which he would have welcomed digital ilm and web-movies, even as he welcomed the advent of television in the s in addition to writing about this then-new medium in his inal years.
Roberto Rossellini, With minimal resources, the neorealist ilmmakers worked in real locations using local people as well as professional actors; they improvised their scripts, as need be, on site; and their ilms conveyed a powerful sense of the plight of ordinary individuals oppressed by political circumstances beyond their control.
But neorealism was the expression of an entire moral or ethical philosophy, as well, and not simply just another new cinematic style. Still, the post-World War II birth or creation of neorealism was anything but a collective theoretical enterprise—the origins of Italian neorealist cinema were far more complex than that.
Generally stated, its roots were political, he Earth Trembles, dir. Luchino Visconti, Indeed, what is sometimes overlooked in the growth of the neorealist movement in Italy is the fact that some of its most admired aspects sprang from the dictates of postwar adversity: a shortage of money made shooting in real locations an imperative choice over the use of expensive studio sets; and against such locations any introduction of the phony or the fake would appear glaringly obvious, whether in the appearance of the actors or the style of the acting.
Obsession, dir. Like the German Nazis and the Russian Communists, the Italian Fascists realized the power of cinema as a medium of propaganda, and when they came to power, they took over the ilm industry. Although this meant that those who opposed Fascism could not make movies and that foreign pictures were censored, the Fascists helped to establish the essential requirements for a lourishing postwar ilm industry.
The roots of neorealism
Please note that this product is not available for purchase from Bloomsbury. There are also essays on art and politics, film and comedy, and cinema and the avant-garde. The book also features a sizable scholarly apparatus including explanatory notes, an extensive index, a contextual introduction to Bazin's life and work, a comprehensive Bazin bibliography, and credits of the films discussed. This volume thus represents a major contribution to the discipline of cinema studies, as well as a testament to the continuing influence of one of film's pre-eminent critical thinkers. July Umberto D.
Andre Bazin and Italian Neorealism
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André Bazin and Italian Neorealism
The book also features a sizable scholarly apparatus including explanatory notes, an extensive index, a contextual introduction to Bazin's life and work, a comprehensive Bazin bibliography, and credits of the films discussed. This volume thus represents a major contribution to the discipline of cinema studies, as well as a testament to the continuing influence of one of film's pre-eminent critical thinkers. There are also essays on art and politics, film and comedy, and cinema and the avant-garde. Chapter Sixteen. Chapter Seventeen. Chapter Eighteen.