341 Week 3

December 13, 2010

In his essay “On Editing”, Pudovkin discusses his methods of treatment of the material, editing the sequences, editing the scenerio, and editing as an instrument of impression. With concern to his methods of treatment of the material Pudovkin says that a cinematograph film is built out of pieces. It is the sum of shooting; the script is divided into sequences, each sequence into scenes, and scenes are constructed from a whole series pieces (script-scenes) shot from various angles. The construction of a scene form pieces, a sequence from scenes, and reel from sequences, and so forth, is called editing in Pudovkin’s observation. He believed that the close-up should direct the attention of the spectator to that detail which is, at the moment, important to the course of the action. The Long shot was used give the spectator a general view. Pudovkin says the close- up is not an interruption of the long shot, but represents a proper form of construction. Here the objective of editing is the showing of the development of the scene in relief as it were by guiding the attention of the spectator to one, and then another separate element. The lens of the camera replaces the eye of the observer, and the changes of angle of the camera, which is directed toward one person at one point, and then on another at another point. The camera angle can focus on one detail and then on another. This process must be subject to the same conditions as those of the eyes of the observer. Pudovkin says the the Film technician should shoot the scene in separate pieces and combine them in a way that could be used to direct the attention of the spectator to the separate elements, compelling him to see as the attentive observer saw. Pudovkin thought this was the way to secure the greatest clarity, emphasis, and vividness. This serves to imitate the glance of the observer of a rapidly developing scene with a camera to get a series of rapidly alternating pieces. This makes for a stirring scenario editing-construction. The reverse would be long pieces changing by mixes, conditioning a calm and slow editing construction. This Constructive editing the Podovkin discusses builds scenes from separate pieces and each concentrates the attention of the spectator only on that element important to the action. The sequence of these pieces must correspond to the natural transference of attention of an imaginary observer. Each shot must contain an impulse towards transference of the attention to the next element of interest. This treatment of material uses the camera to mimic how the director wants the imaginary observer to interpret information on screen.
For Pudovkin, when editing the sequence, it should be constructively edited from scenes. The camera, which is analogous to the observer, must not only be moved from side to side but from place to place. A consecutive sequence will appear upon the screen only if the attention of the spectator can be transferred correctly from scene to scene. This shows how for Pudovkin, editing is in actual fact a compulsory and deliberate guidance of the thoughts and associations of the spectator. Pudovkin writes that if editing is coordinated according to a definitely selected course of event or conceptual line, either agitated or calm, it will either excite or soothe the spectator.
Pudovkin emphasizes that when editing the scenerio, the continuity of the separate sequences when joined together depends not merely upon the simple transference of attention from one place to another but is conditioned by the development of the action forming the foundation of the scenario. Pudovkin says that a scenario always has a moment of acute tension, which is almost always found at the end of the film. To prepare the spectator, or more correctly preserve him, for this final tension, Pudovkin believes that the director should make sure that the spectator is not affected by unnecessary exhaustion during the course of the film. He suggests employing the careful distribution of titles (which always distract the spectator) to secure compression of the greater quantity of them into the first reels, and leaving the last one for uninterrupted action.
Pudovkin believed in using editing as a device for creating impressions for the spectator. For him editing is not merely a method of the junction of separate scenes or pieces, but is a method that controls the psychological guidance of the spectator. He likes the idea of contrast, a method based on a simple contrast relation. On screen the impression of contrast is increased because it is possible to relate sequences, scenes, and shots to each other. The spectator is forced to compare the two actions all the time, one strengthening the other. Parallelism is a method that resembles contrast but is considerably wider. Here two thematically unconnected incidents develop in parallel by means a common element that is relevant to both. Pudovkin talks about using symbolism by means of editing to introduces an abstract concept into the consciousness of the spectator without the use of a title. Simultaneity is a method Pudovkin liked in American films, in which the final section is constructed from the simultaneous rapid development of two separate actions. In this situation the outcome of one depends on the outcome of the other. This purely emotional method creates a maximum tension of excitement through constant suspense. Pudovkin was interested in the use of Leit-motif (reiteration of theme) by the scenarist to emphasize the basic theme of the scenario. A piece might reappear whenever the scenarist desires to reiterate or reemphasize a recurring theme.
Formalists, like Pudovkin, and Eisenstein, were first to develop a theory and put it into practice. For the basis of their theory of technique was that editing was basic unit of meaning. That’s why it’s called soviet montage. Montage is confined to sequences whereas editing concerns putting the entire film together. Formalists combine art and politics with film. Their rationale was that if they were going to make something different and change the way people thought then they were going to need a different approach and style. They couldn’t just simply tell a different story, they needed different approach that could be revolutionary in terms of style and ideology. Hollywood, for example represents capitalist values. Lenin believed in film being used to educate people and to make them politically active and invested; under the Czar this was not a concern. They were only concerned with not being shot by the Cossacks and not staving to deaths. They wanted to create a film industry that was radically engaged, politically different, artistic, and popular. In line with the prevailing ideology of the time, Lenin said that art is just another form of labor in the service of building this new socialist society. Filmmakers were revolutionary artists, who were building a future like the people who were constructing buildings and developing the economy. The formalists wanted to develop a theory, almost like a manifesto, and the basic idea was that film should be political, radical, revolutionary in that it should change the way people thought, artistic, and popular, meaning accessible to the masses.
Sergei Eisenstein believed that the organizing principle of film, what makes it different from other art forms, is that it has this process of editing or montage. He believed that a film without edits would be a record of a play. Editing is the most common way of combining shots. EX. Fading, wipes, telescoping, dissolves, irising, jump cuts etc. Eisenstein believed that the way you put things together creates meaning. The juxtaposition, the way the different elements and shots are linked creates story and meaning. The next shot changes the way you feel about the previous shots. He thought you could use this technique to manipulate people to feel or think a certain way. After all, formalists believed that using propaganda was positive way to further the communist cause.
In the first film school appointed by Lenin, Kuleshov performed the Ivan Mozzhukhin experiment, which became the foundation for soviet formalism. This experiment proved that if you take away an establishing shot people infer a connection between shots that are unrelated. People will draw a connection based on the fact that the shots are next to each other. Shots have no meaning by itself. All meaning is from the shots placement alongside other context; it’s all about context. In the Mozzukhin experiments, audience assumed an emotional response. They read their own emotional responses into the shots.
Formalism reacts against linear storytelling. It jumps around in time and space. Stories are not governed by rules of cause and effect. They don’t really care about character motivation. This is the opposite of Charlie Chaplin, who is the ultimate perfection of the Hollywood style. This style uses continuity editing, which dictates that shots should be subordinate to the story, to character motivation, to characters action or character psychology. Formalists say the editing of shots should be subordinate to what you want the audience to think and feel; it should be motivated by ideas. They want you to see the process of putting the film together unlike continuity editing. Here part of the meaning of the film is how it is put together. Continuity editing is so compelling because, as Munsterberg says it works the ways our brains work. Things happen for a reason, there is a cause and effect rationale in the plot, there is motivation behind things, and people do not act randomly.
As a formalist, Eisenstein liked the idea of implementing the collsion of shots, or the unexpected juxtaposition of images. This asks the spectator to respond intellectually as apposed to emotionally. Eisenstein is proposing intellectual montage, in which the director and editor put together different images to express an idea and thereby ask the spectator, as an active viewer, to take it apart and figure out the message being conveyed. The collision, the unexpected unrelated shot juxtaposition, is what is expressive here.
In Eisenstrein’s Battleship Potemkin it is very clear who the heroes are even though there is no single hero. Because emotion is secondary, the films are not about character psychology, they are about social forces and ideas. This is where we get the idea of typecasting, what Eisenstein calls typage, which is a different kind of acting. This reation against Stanislovsky’s method acting (also from soviet union- developed this method for the Moscow art theatre), which Eisenstein sees this as very inauthentic. Eisenstein supports the idea that actors are merely visual elements. They shouldn’t inhabit the character but represent an idea. The meaning is in the way the film is put together, editing, composition etc. The meaning doesn’t come from acting. Formalists don’t want the audience to follow the acting first, seeing as it’s just one of many elements. If you keep juxtaposing these actors with things that are unrelated, or don’t seem to follow, the spectator will stop noticing the actors and start noticing the ideas.
Formalists created films with so much meaning that required so much participation, that the audience becomes a co-creator of the meaning of the film.
Eisenstein criticizes the Moscow art theatre for being realist. In his view, realism is a faulty way to tell the spectator anything about reality. Since it’s impossible to 100% faithfully recreate the real world in real space and time, Eisenstein says it’s pointless to aim for realism as a creative objective. Once you edit a movie together you destroy its reality, oneness, and interegrity (this is a gestault idea). Instead of futilely trying reproduce reality, Eisenstein suggests breaking up reality and putting it back together in a creative fashion. In this way you can tell people more about that reality than just reproducing it. If you reassemble reality, people will think about it more, feel it more, and experience it more. The ending of Battleship Potempkin tells us more about why the czar was so cruel and oppressive than any realist film could tell you. He breaks up space completely and uses ideas to convey a sense of what oppression really is. Eisenstein says that trying to reproduce reality limits what the artist can do. The formalists waned something that would serve their purposes as communists. For them the conventional style of realism was not going to change the world by giving audiences a new perspective. Eisenstein wanted to break reality down and put it back together. In the technique he calls decomposition, the director should break reality down into component parts and put it together in a creative way because that will tell the spectator more about reality than making a movie about the real world. What makes film different, is that each shot is a fragment of reality or the real world. Eisenstein wanted to take this quality further and really break reality down, and by breaking it down, he says, you will arrive at some greater truth. Therefore each part of reality will become equivalent and part of the same assembling of ideas. This will heighten reality, making it more interesting, and more capable of purveying ideas
Eisenstein was in interested in the Dialectic approach to film form. In the technique the filmmaker compares a thesis and an antithesis and comes to synthesis. You get meaning from the conflict of opposing ideas. Eisenstein says that the fundamental idea of art for him is conflict. He talks about conflict montage which is based on the idea that the history of art is based on the history of conflict. For him, juxtaposition could be implemented to reach larger themes. Art could achieve deeper meaning through both sides of the story. Montage is a way to use this dialectic principle as the centerpiece of his art. The audience is always asked to compare things. This collision allows you to analyze your assumptions and ideas you might not have thought of and to see them in terms of their politics. He sees film as a thinking, critical, analytical medium.
Eisenstein doesn’t like Griffith’s politics. He says the Hollywood style puts you in a trance and you only understand things emotionally. This is a passive state, in which the spectator is not going to be motivated to do any revolutionary things or be critical of the world. Eisenstein praises Griffith for how he puts a story together, but he doesn’t like Griffith’s politics or the effect on the spectator. Griffith uses editing across space, but this is not enough for Eisenstein because it never gets past the emotional level. It doesn’t speak to the spectator intellectually. It relied too much on melodrama, which is not a realist form. This manipulation of space and time for dramatic effect through editing appealed to Eisenstein. Griffith relied on cause and effect even as he crossed space. Pioneered the technique of two things happening at the same time. Griffith barrowed form Dickens style montage-esq storytelling. Soviets liked his liberal and progressive politics. Eisenstein is proposing that soviet filmmakers take the liberal Dickens politics and the Griffith style of editing and expand upon them both.
In Eisenstein’s montage of attractions the active participation of the spectator is encouraged. The audience is involved in interpreting what the meaning is supposed to be. Meaning is created in the process of viewing. The spectator works with the director and actively thinks about the meaning. The audience can’t just sit there passively and be entertained. You have to think about what your seeing in terms of what it symbolizes. For example, in Potemkin, when the Doctor takes off his manacle to examine the infested meat, the audience should be conscious of the reference to how removed the upper class (czar/nobility) is from the people and the ordinary sailor. This is supposed to communicate an idea above and beyond what happened to set off the rebellion. Eisenstein thinks that putting these shots together invites the spectator to be actively interpreting the philosophical meaning of the film. Just like Munsterburg says, we put the film together from the individual shots in our minds.
This film theory is based on a Soviet egalitarian principle that says everyone is equal. This theory should make sense for the Soviets because in their society everyone is on the same level economically, socially, culturally etc.; what he’s doing is making a work of art that mimics that idea and functions in the same way. Eisenstein belvieves the Spectator is an equal part of the process, equal to the artist- just a worker who has a job to do in society. Eisenstein derives his theory of collision from class conflict. The Soviets needed to develop a new film style to complement their new political and economic system;they need new art to explain it.
Pudovkin was Soviet formalist writer. Unlike Eisenstein he didn’t think shots should be in collision; as a writer he thought shots were building blocks. He didn’t want conflict between ideas, but for one idea to flow into another one. Being a writer Pudovkin was concerned with the story aspect of film editing. He argued that editing is supposed to aid the spectator in putting the story together block by block. The idea here is that each shot should add a deeper understanding to the previous ones and contribute to the overall theme. In the way, Pudovkin says the spectator can understand films not just in terms of their social meaning (Eisenstein cares about this), but in terms of their emotional meaning, as well as in terms of their social in psychological complexity. Pudovkin advocates drawing the viewer in that way, rather than purely intellectually engaging people. The scriptwriter and the director should build a scene from separate pieces of story, each one should concentrate your attention on what is important to the story, the dramatic effects, and larger ideas about the world, society etc. The trick is to make sure the editing has a natural flow. Pudovkin believes editing should be impartial in the way it guides the spectator and organizes attention. Unlike Eisenstein’s idea about collision, Pudovkin doesn’t think editing is supposed to provoke the spectator. Pudovkin is proposing something more conventional and less experimental than Eisenstein, a style that is more emotional and psychological.


Psycho Scene Analysis – Suspicious Officer

December 10, 2010

In the film Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, there is a continual sense of something disturbing or illicit from the opening shots. Hitchcock preferred that his world be an orderly and logical place. In Psycho, he takes his sense of order, proper values and moral rectitude and turns it over to reveal the dark underside that was emergent in society in the 1960’s and beyond. Psycho was an unpleasant wake-up call from the seemingly innocuous motel manager that revealed the desire of Americans for sex and violence in films. Hitchcock understood this desire and re-defined how America watched movies. Hitchcock deliberately tried to make audiences aware of the pleasure they derived from the act of watching sex and violence and wanted make them feel guilty for participating in a kind of voyeurism and objectification of women. He intentionally makes the viewer aware of voyeurism and objectification in order to criticize it. It’s interesting to note how in the beginning of Psycho the camera searches for a story or something to focus on in a voyeuristic way until it finds Marian in her underwear; here she is presented as a sexualized object for Sam and for the men in the theatre. For the rest of her time in the film she is objectified by men as a way to punish her for being a threatening sexualized women. Every man she meets looks at her and wants to control, or punish her. When the cop looks at her through his sunglasses- this represents the idea of voyeurism in movies because she is being looked at and can’t look back- it’s as if he knows she’s guilty of something, and that crime is being a sexualized women, who steps out of her girl-next-door role.
From the illicit opening scene in the seedy hotel room between Marian Crane and Sam Loomis, there is already a sense of disorder. After Marian crosses the line from illicit to illegal by stealing $40,000 from her employer and fleeing Arizona by driving to Sam, she is assailed by guilt and paranoia. Marian’s theft is a crime of opportunity born of desperation. The $40,000 was conveniently left in her care to be banked, her sister is away from home for the weekend, she is already upset, and disturbed that her lover’s dismal financial state has kept him from being able to openly declare their relationship.
From the start, Marian knows what she has done is wrong and during her drive towards Sam and freedom she hears voices in her head admonishing her for her actions. Marian is the girl-next-door type and these actions have taken her far off course.
When she pulls over to sleep, that is her only escape from the reality of what she has done. It must not be a very restful sleep, as she is found at the beginning of the “suspicious officer” scene to be slumped down across the front seat of her car.
Marian is awakened by an anonymous California police officer in the early morning hours. Hitchcock’s lighting is a cold gray, with lots of dark spots and shadows both in the car, and on the officer’s face.
From the moment she awakens, her own inner turmoil conveys itself to the policeman. The officer initially is non-threatening, mostly concerned with the fact that Marian, a woman traveling alone, would sleep in her car at the side of a road instead of staying in a motel – where it was safer. This is a foreshadowing of when the film would switch from Marian’s story to Norman’s. Here Hitchcock sets up a scenario where the audience can become aware of how they derive pleasure from voyeurism and objectification as the film forces them to identify with the killer. Instead of objectifying Marian as a way of dealing with the sexual desire that she represents, Norman Bates punishes Marian by killing her.
Marian’s responses to the officer give away her anxiety. Despite her wide-eyed attempts at innocent behavior, her body language reveals that there is something wrong. She is cold and rude and unsympathetic to the audience as she interacts with the officer; She must be controlled and punished by the officer who the audience identifies with. Even the officer’s tone changes from one of remote concern for her safety to suspicion, the longer she speaks and over-explains herself. As the camera switches from Marian to the officer his expression shifts from mildly pleasant to stern.
When Marian attempts to leave, the officer asserts his authority and demands her license. Marian’s body language as she shields the contents of her bag from the officer is tightly controlled, like a spring about to pop. The shot is also interesting as it is shot from the passenger side of the vehicle, so the viewer is looking up at Marian, still in the shadows of the interior, where she represents the disorder that she has introduced into the sunny bright world that is outside the door of the car. The officer, who is the ultimate authority of law and order, stands in the morning light.
There is no music, and very little sound in this scene other than the dialogue between the characters. This is effectively counteracted when Marian is putting the envelope with the money away into her purse. The crackling of the envelope and the rustling of the paper is too noisy after the silent interior of the car. It reminds Marian and the viewer that this package is the reason for all the unease and deception that has been occurring since the beginning of the film. Money is Marian’s root of all evil, so far, since the want of money caused her to betray all of her principles, her employer’s trust and her own self respect. Her desire to save Sam and be able to marry him and live a normal life is represented in that white envelope that she is protecting from the prying eyes of authority. As Marian drives away from the suspecting eyes of the law, the driving staccato sounds of the score come into play and Marian’s guilt-ridden journey continues to eventually land her in the Bates Motel, where her real hell is awaiting her.
In context with the rest of the film, Marian’s interaction with the suspicious police officer causes her to realize her vulnerability to capture. From her encounter, she changes her car, signs into the Bates Motel using a different name and tries to conceal her identity and her purpose. Along the way she reveals to all who meet her that she is a woman hiding something. Hitchcock deftly plays the audience throughout these scenes implying that it is Marian’s guilt and crime that is the focal point of the film. Her epiphany – and her return to the audience’s sympathies – to return to Phoenix however is short-lived as she has already encountered the smiling monster that is Norman Bates.


Godard et la nouvelle vague 3

December 3, 2010

While his films were analytical and based on theoretical ideas from the start, Godard started to move to more intensely philosophical and political concerns in his later work. He began to abandon narrative and the traditional Hollywood formula to create a political cinema. However, Goddard’s earlier work like Breathless and My Life to Live dabbled with American genre but always in a detached and critical way. In Breathless there is a break from tradition early on as characters appear on screen with no introduction. Character motivation is ambiguous as the plot meanders with no clear direction. The plot is not driven by psychological motivation and the narrative doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional Hollywood cause and effect sequence. My Life to Live deviated from traditional narrative structure to present a series of scenes that are more intense and insightful than a typical three act screenplay structure, which had always been the norm.
My Life to Live presents twelve episodes in the life of a young woman who turns to prostitution to pay her rent (Godard was known, throughout his career, to use prostitution as a metaphor for both art and economic life in general as well as the position of the filmmaker under capitalism). Each episode of the film features a theatrical scene preceded by a title that lists the characters in the episode, its location, and a brief summary of the action. While Godard’s early films like we can notice in films like Breathless and A Women Is a Women, relatively clear-cut plot lines, he gradually progressed toward a more fragmentary, collage structure. The story is still clear by it is split up into unpredictable paths. Godard has a tendency to put staged scenes together with documentary material. Also, in his other works we might see things like advertisements, comic strips, crowds passing in the street without any obvious connection to the plot unfolding. Godard would mix stryles from drawn from popular culture, like detective novels or Hollywood films with references to philosophy or new wave, avant-garde art. These Inconsistencies, digressions, and disunities of Godard’s work make most New Wave films seem more typical and less far-out next to his.
Early on in his career Godard’s early work introduced his signature hand-held camera and jump cuts and then evolved into a more developed style that explored a wider spectrum of techniques integrating conventional film methods. In My Life To Live Compositions tend to be decentered, the camera moves on its own to explore a milieu as we saw in Breathless. One interesting thing Godard uses in this film is the influential and innovative effect of making shots look extraordinarily flat. Frames sometimes had a painterly two dimensionality.
The film’s camera style is a diverse array of unconventional shooting strategies. Godard’s revolutionary camerawork transcends French New Wave novelty as far as to say, it could it serve as a cinematic extension of Nana’s soul. The awkward angles and long panning shots during Nana and Paul’s conversations reveals the underlying tension and emotional distance between them. Nana’s conversation proceeds in silent film intertitles, reflecting her own suffering and desire to achieve greatness and escape the banality of her sordid life. The seamless camerawork following Nana as she dances uninhibitedly around the billiard room feels almost mesmerizing; it is a fleeting glimpse of the few brief moments of happiness she has ever known before her tragic ending.
The performance of Anna Karina, who was married to Godard at the time, was largely improvised because Godard didn’t want to give Karina her lines until right before each scene. In order to maintain the freshness of the performances, Godard hardly ever even made more than one take of each shot. The film is shot in stunning black and white by Raoul Coutard. Its amazing the way that the improvised acting and choppy story give the viewer the impression of watching a documentary about a woman’s life. It is one that can be appreciated as an artistic vision as well as moral story, immersed with haunting contemporary tragedy.
Godard’s early films all seem abstract, this one especially. His use of innovative experimental photographic techniques, is appealing for his subject matter and topic. The depiction of themes and emotions is subjective, and works well with the stylistically unconventional My Life to Live very well. With inventive elements like awkward angles and natural acting, the film impacts individuals more profoundly because of the divergence from the norm. We are drawn to the subtlety of Anna’s expressions, and the way she doesn’t really articulate her loss and despair. This way the viewer can know and feel it quite personally in their our own way. What make this film interesting and unconventional compared to typical Hollywood films is how the narrative commentary is far from clear-cut in what it implies. There are many alternative interpretations of the film.


Godard et la Nouvelle Vague 2

December 3, 2010

Breathless, Godard’s first feature length film, was a low budget production that took advantage of natural lighting, wheelchair dollies for tracking shots. The film was shot cheaply on 35 mm silent black and white with sound added in post-synchronization. Like all the directors of the New Wave, Godard implemented handheld cinematography, location shooting with direct sound, and sophisticated editorial structures: freeze-frames, optical zooms, and rapid intercutting. This created a daring new cinematic language that was more self aware. Godard uses stylistic devices to add a lyrical flow to film. When Michelle and patricia are riding in the car there are continuous jump cuts to the same shot, but they are not used to add continuity to the scene. As Michelle names each feature he finds beautiful about Patricia there is a jump cut to a shot of Patricia’s face corresponds to the cadence of Michelle’s speech. The jump cuts used in the Scene where Patricia meets with a journalist at the restaurant are meant to give his speech a lyical flow as he tells a story. This technique is similar to the editing a music video. Godard also uses jump cuts in the opening scene where Michel is impatiently driving down a country road. Here is it obvious that that the driving time between the shots has been left out to Michel’s impatience and speeds up the action to skip over time and distance. In this scene, as Michel is vaguely delineates his plan to go to Paris and meet a girl, he seems to be talking about things in real time as if narrating things that are actually happening. He even addresses the camera directly, looking right into it, which reminds the audience of the production process. Here Godard uses direct address having his actor break character and violate the principles of realism. His intention was to break through the illusions of mainstream narrative cinema to make audiences think and in doing so come closer to understanding reality. To a similar effect of self-reflexivity, drawing attention to the production process is a political technique because it makes audiences more conscious of and distanced from the illusion of cinema, then they will be less likely to be manipulated, more able to think critically to enact change.
Godard had written the first scene of Breathless and had a pile of notes written for all the other scenes; he decided to invent the material last minute instead of planning ahead, saying that if you know where you’re going it ought to be possible. He called this technique last minute focusing, saying that you must have an overall plan and stick to it. Godard says that he tends to improvise with material that he accumulated over the years working as both a film writer and a filmmaker, implementing them when he sees fit. Many directors of the New Wave had a great deal of theoretical or historical knowledge, but little practical experience. However, Godard seemed to make this workd for him. Godard said that “One can make use of what one has already seen in the cinema to make deliberate references… I thought in terms of purely cinematographic attitudes. For some shots I referred to scenes I remembered from Preminger, Cukor, etc. and the character played by Jean Seberg was a continuation of her role in Bonjour Tristesse. This goes along with Goddard’s taste for quotation. He says “I show people quoting, merely making sure that they quote what pleases me. In the notes I makes of anything that might be of use for a film, I will add a quote from Dostoevsky if I like it.” The films of all the directors that came from the Cahier du Cinema school were all what Goddard said were the work of film enthusiasts.
Breathless was the sort of film where anything goes according to Godard. He said “ I wanted to take a conversational story and remake, but differently, everything the cinema had done. I also wanted to give the feeling that the techniques of filmmaking had just been discovered or experienced for the first time. The iris-in showed that one could return to the cinema’s sources; the dissolve appeared, just once at the end of the press conference seen, as though it had just been invented. Godard makes this device seem especially interesting, substantial, or complex in it’s own right; the style becomes the substance or the subject in this moment. Like his fellow Cahier Du Cinema critic turned director Francois Truffaut, Godard’s visual style is a combination of experimental and classical techniques. The techniques that have been used throughout cinematic history that were left out as a reaction against those kinds of filmmaking. This explains the lack of continuity shots in Breathless. However, Goddard realizes that there are exceptions, films in which those techniques are need more frequently.


Godard et la Nouvelle Vague 1

December 3, 2010

In his interview Godard recalls, “when we were at last able to make films, we could no longer make the kind of films which had made us want to make film. The dream of Noovelle Vague- which will never come about- is to make Spartacus in Hollywood on a ten million dollar budget… Everyone has always thought the Nouvelle Vague stood for small budgets against big ones, but it isn’t so: simply for good films of any kind against bad ones. But small budgets proved to be the only way to could make films.” However, Godard realizes that it was in France where the producers first recognized the auteur. In Hollywood big budget films, the directors was more like an employee and the producers called all the shots. Also the auteurs of the New Wave needed to move away from tendency toward realism and naturalism which had more meaning and value in America. The found there own voice which talked about what the French new. This is why they might accused of addressing the same subjects. Also many of the directors of the new wave had similar ideas about cinema. Godard says “we like more or less the same novels, paintings, and films.” This gives insight into why many new wave auteurs tend to reference and discuss these various forms of culture in their work. Godard sums up the movement by saying “The nouvelle vague was honest in that it did well what it knew instead of doing badly what it didn’t know or mixing up everything it knew.” But this is the way the French culture preferred film. Godard points how in France genres are generally not mixed, whereas “in America a thriller can also be political and include gags.” He says “This is why a French thriller never tells you anything about France. Of course this mental departmentalizing also corresponds to a departmentalization of social truths.” However, while considering this statement, it is interesting to note a discrepancy between how Dixon and Wheeler describe his films and what Godard says regarding the mixing of Genres. They describe the Little Soldier as a political thriller and A Women is a Women as a romantic comedy.
In response to how producers say ‘Godard talks about anything he pleases, Joyce, metaphysics painting, but he always has his commercial side.’ he says “The nouvelle vague, in fact, may be defined in part by this new relationship between fiction and reality, as well as through nostaligic regret for a cinema which no longer exists. In Breathless we see cinematic references that give the film a characteristically New Wave sense of self-reflexivity. Michelle uses the alias Laszlo Kovacs, which is the name of a distinguished cinematographer. He is also obsessed with the image of Humphrey Bogart, which makes sense because writers of Cahier Du Cinema admired American low budget films, especially those of the noir tradition. Godard’s models Michelle’s character after him. Michelle seems to want to emulate the image represented by Bogart in his ganster films. Michelle is captivated by the idea of being a cigarette smoking, womanizing gangster. It seems like Godard even casted the actor to resemble Bogart. This idea is supported by the scene where Michelle is walking past a movie theatre that is playing a Humphrey Bogart film, and stops to stare at the poster with a deep sense admiration as he whispers “Bogey” to himself. In fact Breathless is even dedicated to Monogram Pictures, an American B-movie studio that made gangster films. This is an homage to gangster film but does not concern itself with the crime narrative; it is merely a vehicle to reflect on these type of films and on a deeper level, a commentary on the alienated conditions of modern life. Goddard’s earlier work like Breathless and My Life to Live dabbled with American genre but always in a detached and critical way. There are film references through Cameos by other filmmakers including Jean Pierre Melville (as the novelist), Daniel Boulanger, Francois Truffaut, Claud Chabrol and Goddard himself (as the informer, which can be argued gives him symbolic power as an auteur). It is interesting to note the juxtaposition of high and low with the ubiquitous, literary, and popular references. Godard shows us pinups and portraits of women by Picasso and Renoir, and the soundtrack includes both Mozart’s clarinet concerto and snippets of French pop radio. This idea can be summed up by examining the memorable point of view matte shot of Patricia staring at Michelle through the rolled up poster. The poster is a Renoir, and she is looking at Michelle who is smoking a cigarette like Humphrey Bogart. Between segments of pop music, when Michelle and Patricia are laying around in the hotel scene, Patricia talks about Dylan Thomas’s A Portrait of the artist as a Young Dog” and reads a passage from William Faulkner’s Wild Palm.
Godard’s films take on a documentary aspect in order to give them the truth of fiction and this why Goddard chooses to work with good professional actors. French documentaries that were made outside of the studio system were highly influential for the New Wave. Fiction and reality reality were often blurred in these films, calling into question the possibility of ever knowing the objective truth about complex historical situations. Godard is also interested in the Theatrical aspect of cinema. He notes, “where I was trying to discover the concrete, I noticed that the closer I came to the concrete, the closer I came to the theatre. My Life to Live is very concrete, and at the same time very theatrical.” Goddard believed that by trying to be realistic and true to life the theatre, and in effect the imagination is revealed. Goddard is ultimately trying to reveal the spectacle through the documentary format. The documentary part would be revealing a character and the spectacle would be the filmmaker creates the character as a something like a gangster or a secret agent. In My Life to Live the spectacle is come form the fact that the women is a prostitute.
While his films were analytical and based on theoretical ideas from the start, Godard started to move to more intensely philosophical and political concerns. He began to abandon narrative and the traditional Hollywood formula to create a political cinema. In Breathless there is a break from tradition early on as characters appear on screen with no introduction. Character motivation is ambiguous as the plot meanders with no clear direction. The plot is not driven by psychological motivation and the narrative doesn’t necessarily follow the traditional Hollywood cause and effect sequence. My Life to Live deviated from traditional narrative structure to present a series of scenes that are more intense and insightful than a typical three act screenplay structure, which had always been the norm. This fragmentation is taken further with Two or Three Things. This political commentary demonstrates Godard’s subversion of the tradition film form as it uses slogans, intertitles, TV commercial-style product shots, and voiceovers to convey a biting critique of consumer culture. This sophisticated visual style, which took precedence over narrative or emotional content, is reminiscent of Max Ophuls and his complex comera work. Godard’s La Chinoisa came out in 1967 and seemed to reflect the political atmosphere of the time and foreshadow the events of 1968. This film was a political piece about college students in Paris who were influenced by Maoist Marxism. This film foreshadowed the events of may in 1968, when there student uprisings to protest the conditions in universities escalated into widespread, violent confrontations with the police. Labor unions and workers joined the students, supporting their critique of the government. Within two weeks, Ten million workers were on strike, cause mass chaos throughout the country. The era marked a further political shift in Godard’s filmmaking. Godard’s later work became increasing more theoretically driven and further abandoned tradition narrative structure. They focused on language and revolutionary politics, and any Marxist socialist undertones in films like Breathless or My Life to Live became amplified. The tumultuous political atmosphere of the late 60s in France was reflected in Godar’s work and in the New Wave in general. At this time the French were protesting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The situation was complicated for the French, who had a controversial history in the region, and created a kind of moral and cognitive dissonance for them. On top of that French socialists were conflicted in terms of ideology with Maoism and Ho Chi Minh in North Korea.


Sirk and Melodrama 2

December 3, 2010

Sirk’s characters contend with the same problems and issues that are typical of the melodrama genre like love, sex, death and social circumstance. In Written On the Wind sex is the main problem for the characters is sexual. Following the melodrama archetype, Written on the Wind has an overly dramatic, romantic plot filled with twists and turns. It may seem unrealistic or contrived but this functions to keep the characters sexually repressed. Marylee is sexually repressed because she can’t have Mitch. Mitch is sexually repressed because he’s in love with Lucy who cannot reciprocate his feels because she is married to Kyle, and pregnant with his child. It’s a bit of a stretch, but Kyle ironically falls into a downward spiral after he learns from his doctor that he might be impotent or sterile. As he staggers out of the drugstore where he first hears the news, he seems totally defeated. To add insult to injury, Sirk has Kyle confront a boy playfully riding a mechanical pony, which reminds him of what he cannot have. To further comment on the sexuality of the characters, Sirk includes phallic oil wells pumping away in the background. Marylee’s problem on the other hand is a kind of sexually frustrated nymphomania. This shames her father and contributes to the tragic undoing of the family. This is perfectly illustrated as Sirk cuts back and forth between Marylee’s sexy mambo dance and her father tumbling down the stairs to his death. This represents the literal rise and fall of the patriarch of the Hadleys. In Imitation of of Life, for example, Sirk also uses the world of melodrama as a vehicle to address social issues, especially questions of social and class circumstance. What makes this so compelling is how Sirk signals the forces of social repression through his use of imagery. There’s also an air of fatalism in the way that social customs and the material world acquire lives of their own in Sirk’s stories, stifling the characters’ sense of what’s possible and limiting their options. Characters’ choices seem to be determined by a combination of ideological norms and financial or class circumstance. Sirk explores this theme even further in Imitation of Life.
Sirke is a modern master as we see in Imitation of Life with his unique choice of acting and music. Here too he uses wide frames and exterior space to limit and control these characters within domestic space. One of the few things in the film that Sirke does subtly in terms of his treatment of space is his editing and camera movement. In the New York City apartment, for instance, where we know it’s a tiny, constricted space, he cuts from one view to another. This makes it feel a lot more expansive and allows the characters a greater sense of mobility in that space than in a more grandiose Connecticut home. In this location we’re always at low angles and the characters are kept away from each as they are bisected by banisters, walls and windows. This shows the beautiful Connecticut home actually constraining Sarah Jane; She is always seen at a long angle behind a banister. A low camera angle shows Laura in the sitting room with her friends with Sarah all the way in the kitchen. It is nowhere near Renoirs style of characters existing in three dimensional space outside the frame but they do pop in and out to move along the melodramatic plot. With the funeral we see all these people are in Annie’s world but are not in the frame because of the restriction to the view point of Laura’s world. Laura says ‘I didn’t know you had friends’ and Annie responds, ‘well you never asked’. For the first time in the film we see more black people than white with blacks in the front of church, not washing dishes or chauffering, and the whites in the back. Laura, the movie star is in the back and a famous black singer is singing in front of the whole church. After Annie is gone there is a total reversal of relationships. The colors and sets are very purposefully flat and fake similar to Written on the Wind. The window shows that there is an outside but there really isn’t, you can’t really go outside because it’s just a fake backdrop.
What Sarah Jane wants is mobility in society. This means going against the idea of dating black men her age who would be bus boys and chauffeurs, which she thinks she is above at this point. Although Annie is likable and self respecting, she goes along with what it means to be black in society and is submissive to the white world. Annie does care for Laura and Cindy but they are not equal because in reality she works as their maid for little money and calls them Miss Laura and Miss Susie. This is exactly the opposite of what Sarah Jane wants for herself. No matter how much Laura loves Annie there is a cultural divide at this time that can not be overcome because Laura’s world view has been constructed as a middle class, white, suburban character who expects certain behaviors and possibilities from black people no matter how much more liberal and understanding she may be. Laura is such a self involved career women that it never occurs to her the Annie has a life outside her home. The film shows that in the white bred Connecticut world, black people only function as far as white people need them. For example Susie rambles on about her adolescent infatuation with Steve while Annie is on her death bed expecting she has nothing better to care about than giving her matronly advice. Laura confides in Annie that she feels like she pushed Susie away from her and when Annie compares that to what is going on with Sarah Jane, which is actually much more serious, Laura dismisses the problem as no big deal compared to what she is going through. No matter how strong their bond, Annie and Laura are limited by their existences, stereotypes, economic division, and how much they can relate to each other’s social circumstances. Sirke is trying to make the typical white viewer, going into the film to see about the race problem, have to deal with their own subconscious racism.
Sirke wants to use the brechtian alienation effect but not sacrifice emotional release. The scene where the camera cuts from Sarah Jane getting beaten up by her boyfriend to Annie giving Laura foot massage, is so brilliant because Sirke is assuming an audience that thinks racism is bad. He plays with the identification of somebody who thinks they know the just position of race in society. No matter how much a person may like Sarah Jane there is a sense of racial tension and discomfort she puts across to the viewer with her disturbing racial grey area. Sirke uses a powerful kind of music that is reminiscent of Rebel without a Cause and teen movies and a kind of bee bop jazz to get the 1950’s viewer, to subconsciously identify with the boyfriend, who is controlling racial position. We then cut right to Laura saying “oh Annie that feels good” where Sirke shows us that no matter how much we don’t want to admit it Sarah Jane being punished for this racial transgression feels good. The spectator tries to fight it, but if the world is seen as divided into black and white, with the unacknowledged racism, then someone like Sarah Jane has to be punished for crossing racial boundaries.
Sirke was championed for his use of garish color, with searing reds, and deep blues, taking color to its limit. He uses space to give a sense of artifice, and forceful materiality, the world is grounded in the reality even though it appears fake. Sirke is essentially a feminist director, trying to use these women’s pictures to dramatize the artificiality of women’s roles and racial roles in the 1950’s and to comment on social class structure. He subverts the melodrama genre by adding valuable substance to it. While he exposes the artificiality he also takes the scripts extremely seriously. They are so overly dramatic and sometimes overacted that Sirk’s commitment to making the material believable actually functions to takes the viewer back and the film becomes sort of satirical. This serves to criticize the very cultural stereotypes on which melodrama plays.
Films like Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life may have happy endings at the request of the studio, but they are colored with irony and sadness to make them more substantial food for thought. The viewer is left detached or unsettled and question whether the ending was a realistic (and if not what does that say about society?) or truly happy. Sirk said, “Everything seems to be okay, but you well know it isn’t.”


Sirk and Melodrama 1

December 3, 2010

Douglas Sirk is known for his expressive Mise-en-scene: the affective use of decor and costuming, dramatic framing and lightning, and links to painting and music. The style is excessive in every way, from the garish high key lighting to blatantly indicating soundtrack. Every time there is a dramatic spike in the plot the music is cued to narrate what’s happening. The film incorporates flat lighting to give the composition a two dimensional look that lacks realistic space and depth, almost like a painting. The scenes that take place by the river with the autumn leaves changing, have an especially picturesque composition reminiscent of a landscape painting. The scene where Lucy first walks into the Hotel room in Miami the color (embellished by the artificiality of Technicolor) and composition are extraordinarily breathtaking and enchanting; It’s as if Sirk was filming still life paintings of fruit and flowers.
The interior shots are wildly over the top with fantastic colors and opulent décor, and his exterior landscape shots that are supposed to be the background are obviously fake backdrops. This exaggeration draws attention to the artifice of the Hollywood portrayal of realism and elevated the film above context of a glossy women’s pictures. Sirk’s responses in the Jon Halliday interview about Imitation of Life explains how his view of the world emerges through his work in melodrama: “There is a wonderful expression: seeing through a glass darkly. Everything, even life, is inevitably removed from you. You can’t reach, or touch, the real. You just see reflections.”
The message in Written on the Wind is concealed by using style to convey the substance of the work. Sirk’s mise-en-scene can be described as baroque, as it is highly stylized and almost artificial in appearance. The drama between characters is reflected in the mood of its environment through the use of color and lighting, and in many shots the sets are oppressive to the characters. The Hadley’s mansion, which is supposed to be a sort of haven for the characters, a place of comfort and status, starts to look like a prison as the décor dominate the compositions. Sirk uses deep focus lenses, which have the effect of giving a harshness to the objects and a kind of enameled, hard surface to the colors. Sirk says, “I wanted to bring out the inner violence, the energy of the characters, which is all inside them and can’t break through.” Concurrently, the shots are framed to entrap the characters in their environment of eerily colored walls and reflective surfaces. It’s interesting how Lucy and Kyle are framed by the windows in the plane when they embark on their pivotal trip to Miami; Kyle says, “I think we’re past the point of no return.” Sirk uses framing devices throughout the film to show us that characters are trapped in their environment, like when Kyle and Marylee are framed by the bedroom window after Marylee convinces her drunken insecure brother that his wife is having an affair with Mitch. Sirk notes, that the character in the film “can’t go back, they can’t return.” And even though Kyle and Marylee, for example, dream of going “back to the river”, there is no escaping their own self-destruction fueled by alcoholism and sexual frustration. ” After Marylee loses her father, brother, and Mitch, she sits at her father’s desk in a grey suit, the color Kyle often wears, caressing a phallic model of an oil derrick. There is a big framed portrait of her father, almost like a reflection behind her; except in the portrait he exudes a kind confidence and adequacy that Marylee lacks. This single framed reflective shot seems to capture most of the recurring themes of the film, including Kyle’s impotence, the inadequacy of Hadley children and their inability to live up to their father’s expectations, and the fact that Marylee has lost the model partriach of the Hadley family.


Bazin and Citizen Kane

October 23, 2010

Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane came out in 1941 and became on of the most revered films in history. Because of Welles’ new creative freedom from casting to editing, the ambiguous portrayal of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his affair with actress Marion Davies was very controversial. The narrative composition and style of Kane were unprecedented and complex. The narrative was inverted as the film starts off with the death of Charles Foster Kane then regresses to a newsreel that sketches out his life as a reporter tries to uncover the true meaning of the Kane’s last word, “Rosebud”. This sequence plays out as the reporter goes from person to person that knew Kane at different points in his life. It is interjected with flashbacks that reveal different sides of Kane and his contradictory, elusive personality. The flashback technique gives off a sense of subjectivity to the audience. The reporter’s investigation ends in a way that is left up to interpretation by the viewer which is uncommon in most Hollywood films.
We see in certain scenes that Welles uses long takes and other fascinating imagery namely the newsreel and several montage sequences with fast cuts and sudden changes in sound and volume. The film gives off a strong sense of depth by placing certain objects or people closer to the camera or others a great distance as it works with and emphasizes vast spaces of certain sets. Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland developed these deep focus shots with different special effects like optical-printer work which combined several tracking shots unnoticeably into one such shot as we notice in the crane shot where a flash of lightning hides the joint between two shots in the nightclub skylight. In one deep focus shot, larger objects on the table were filmed separately and edited together with a shot of the people in the background. Although many of Kane’s deep shots put acutely focused, separately filmed planes seamlessly together, some shot were filmed with foreground objects very close to the camera and other background element at a great distance while the whole frame remained in sharp focus. A perfect example of this is the long take of the contract signing scene where one character is close to the camera, another in the middle ground, and a third is extremely deep in the shot. This helped influence scenes being filmed in a single or sequence shot. Deep focus, deep shadows, and flowing camera movement were imitated in the dark noir style films, like The Maltese Falcon.
Kane brought its pioneering flamboyant style of gothic chiaroscuro, deep focus framing, dynamically ranged soundtracks, brooding dissolves, abrupt cuts, overlapping interruptive dialogue, and intricate camera movement to his later films like the infamous baroque, noir, classic, Touch of evil.
Bazin championed Citizen Kane because the deep focus maintained integrity for the shot. The way the viewer gets the most freedom and respect was to be shown as much of the world untampered with as possible. It is also crucial for the realist aesthetic that the filming is manipulated as little as possible. The long shot take, keeping the camera rolling as long as possible preserves realism. This maintained reality and space and time integrity. Bazin also said this preserves the ambiguity of life for the spectator to immerse their attention in. The other way to achieve this is deep focus which has to do with shifts in the lens and camera technology in the 1930’s. Keeping as much of the frame in focus allows for a clear and distinct foreground, middleground, and background thus letting the spectator to pay attention to what in the frame interests them. To refrain from editing also gives off a sense of freedom. This way the greatest amount of the real world is preserved in the tradition of Bazin’s realist aesthetic. There is a scene in Citizen Kane where Kane is sitting in the foreground with a typewriter with the ceiling in view. In the very background there is an office door, and you seen his friend Jeb. These are all presented simultaneously in quite crisp focus because of certain new lens and new trick photography techniques. In this shot it is easy to interpret how appropriate it is that Kane is big and Jeb is small, knowing their situation. Before these technological aspects of Kane and Renoir’s Rules of the Game, which Welles builds on, film had relatively short focus. Like Renoir, Welles tried to keep as much of the frame in the focus and have relationships between different parts of the frame. First you might see the foreground then you will notice a character walk into the office, walk through the space, sit at the desk. All relationships are in focus. The more you have in focus and the longer it is presented the easier it is to pay attention and interpret all relationships and subjects in the frame, so argued Welles and Bazin. This is opposed to when some parts of the frame are out of focus and your attention is kind of manipulated only toward what is clear.
Citizen Kane tends to portray the glamorous or the more powerful rather than a neo realist film like Open City that leans toward and aesthetic impulse to show that ordinary people, laborers, farmers, garbage men, can have a certain dignity and interest value in terms of telling a story.


Bazin and Italian Neorealism

October 23, 2010

In his article An Aesthetic of Reality: Neorealism, Bazin writes “The realist trend, the domestic, satirical, and social descriptions of everyday life, the sensitive and poetic verism, were before the war, minor qualities, modest violets flowering at the feet of the giant sequoias of production. Rossellini was striving for a realism of international importance, but it was the liberation that set these aesthetic trends so completely free as to allow them to develop under new conditions that were destined to have their share in inducing a noticeable change in direction and meaning. Some components of the new Italian school existed before the Liberation: personnel, techniques, aesthetic trends. But it was their historical, social, and economic combination that suddenly created a synthesis in which new elements also made themselves manifest. When Rossllini made unlike in In the era when Open City was created Rossellini and his contemporaries had moved out of the neo realist style into a more subjectivist art cinema style. As to the films cultural environment, the film came out in 1945 months after the fall of Mussolini with the Germans influencing Italian fascism. In the film we see how the Germans moved in and set up shop as the Italians report to German officers. However the film was not a step back in terms of style. It has some rough edges that can be understood in cultural context being that Rome had nearly been destroyed. Unlike the Germans and French, in Italy, the liberation did not signify a return to the old recent freedom; it mean political revolution, allied occupation, economic and social upheaval. When Rossellini made Open City it was inspired by things actually happening at the time. Bazin writes that Italian films have an exceptionally documentary quality that could not be removed from the script without thereby eliminating the whole social setting into which its roots are so deeply sunk.
Rossellini not having made any films before had to scrap together the equipment, film stock, and the non-professional actors. He uses only two well known actors. There is a hand held, rapid fire, on the fly in the streets mode. These are the kind of things that rub edges and glide through the streets. I see a rough Bazintian style that Open City uses to move Italian cinema toward neo realism. Like German expressionism neo realism is very cohesive in that its elements follow a certain recipe and also it was very historically recognized, from 1945 to 1955ish. The film has a lot of location shooting, no stage sets, no props, just taking a camera to the streets. There are actors performing in the streets and then just random passersby coming through the frame, with no blocking off the set. This is Unlike Hollywood today where everyone is permitted to be there and is a paid extra. Bazin talks about an amalgam of players as being the hallmark of social realism and Italian neorealism. He says it is the rejection of the star concept and the casual mixing of professionals and of those who just act occasionally. It is important to avoid casting the professional in the role for which he is known. The public should not be burdened with any preconceptions. This film, like Umberto D and Bicycle Thieves takes the bazintian style of social realism even farther having real life cut in and out the frame. Due to the equipment available to them and the need for more mobility with the image track, hand-cameras and lighting meant that sound had to be dubbed in later. The camera lets life unfold before it while the director manipulates the frame but not what’s in front of it. This can be seen in Umberto D and Bicycles thieves through De Sica and Zavattini’s use of “dedramatization” which is used to focus on the beauty everyday captured in real time. The opening scene is an unbroken shot capturing the simple beauty of a women’s morning routine where she is making coffee.
The neorealist cinema is taken into a more political realm being more concerned with the struggle of the lower class with mothers and fathers trying to make ends meet. Open city is exquisitely leftist and anti fascism with politics ingrained into it as it leans toward exposing social problems like poverty and the struggle of the working class. In this film I felt it made more sense that they went out into the world and found real people to portray the gruff, poor, Roman working class characters, who can tell the own stories from a more authentic standpoint instead of dressing up a dignified rich actor and coaching him to do the same when the poor are all around.
It doesn’t have a strict narrative logic like we find in the Hollywood tradition. The flow of the film was sometimes stopped in its tracks to address the political aspect of the meaning of the work with characters delivering awkward political speeches that still stayed true to the heartfelt sentiment of the story. Open city moves smoothly using some traditional Hollywood editing with shot reverse shot formations, transition shots, but not cross cutting. It maintains space in open outdoor shooting.
What Bazin would appreciate about Open City, Umberto D and Bicycle Thieves is that they’re so concerned about realism in a graceful and uncontrived way, being more about visceral emotional power than analysis and doesn’t try to control the world but show it as it is. Bazin wrote that Italian realist films are first and foremost reconstituted reportage. The action could not unfold in just any social context, historically neutral, partly abstract like the setting of a tragedy, as so frequently happens to varying degrees with American, French, or English cinema. As a result, the Italian films have an exceptionally documentary quality that could not be removed from the script into which its roots are so deeply sunk. This attention to realism is what Bazin believes allows films like Open City, Umberto D, and Bicycle Thieves to translate a moral and socially conscious message across borders and cultures. He writes that in a world already once again (after WWII) obsessed by terror and hate, in which reality is scrarely any longer favored for its own sake but rather rejected or excluded as a political symbol, the Italian cinema is certainly the only one which preserves, in the midst of the period it dedpicts, a revolutionary humanism. The real world is interpreted through Rossellini or Da Sica and delivered as true to life as possible on the screen using realist techniques. The realists bear in mind that the world is, quite simply, before it is something to be condemned.


Bazin: The Ontology of the Photographic Image, The Myth of Total Cinema, and The Evolution of the Language of Cinema

October 22, 2010

Bazin was an influential proponent of cinematic realism, or what he called the aesthetic of reality. An aesthetic is a style, a style of telling you about the world in a particular way and he contended that realism is something created by the medium of film. He believed that because realism is only possible through an art form and because realism is a style of representing the world, it can only be achieved through artifice, as in artificial or contrived. In other words what we perceive as real when we watch it is something that is artificial- created through art- something that the director and the creative team put together; they select elements from the real world (even in a documentary) that have to be assembled. No one is going to sit down and watch 1000 hours of footage for your documentary. You’re going to edit it down to an hour and a half. So there’s going to have to be selecting, cutting; taking it apart an putting it back to together. For example a documentary is not meant to be perceived that way. There is a sense of reality being created from all the actual reality that was shot- you’re putting it together into a telestory, but a story that we believe to be fictional and artificial. We are essentially being told a story assembled from pieces of reality. There is really only one actually real documentary film ever: Andy Warhol’s Empire, which is composed of an 8 hour long, single shot; it is simply meant to be a commentary on film, or reality.
What Bazin calls realism, is something that is constructed through artificial means: the cameras, the acting, the lighting, sets etc. These element are used by the artist has to create realism. Realism as a style is not the same as what we understand as ‘realistic’. You might not buy something in a movie that seems too far-fetched but that’s your perception, meaning it’s unrealistic to you. But the style it was presented in was most likely realism, especially if it was an American film; by this undestading realism is an aesthetic an approach to the arts. There are plenty a of ‘unrealistic’ fantasy, sci-fi, and horror flicks whose rationales we accept even when they make no logical sense; they all have an explanation that is completely ridiculous but while your watching it you totally go along with it. Night of the Living Dead doesn’t use a realistic explanation, but you by the film because it uses realism as a style very cleverly; it wants you to accept this reality that is separate from our own. It’s not a ‘realistic’ explanation, but because it uses the visual style of realism and narration of realism, you accept it and you buy the film.
Realism reflects the American philosophy of practicality. The narrative is driven by cause and effect. Realism recreates the time and space of the real world and reproduce the way we think people behave. Shot A causes shot B, which in turn causes shot C, and that’s the way we think the world works: nothing is random and everything happens for a reason. This also ties into democratic ideals, which state that you can actually have an influence on the world and life doesn’t just happen to you, you participate in it. This a recent idea from the 1600s enlightenment period. When film was created they employed the predominant art forms of the 19th century of the arts, the theatre arts (realism, natualism, melodrama). The story seems to unfold on its own. Unlike when you see a formalist film it just unfold before you, as if there is no one there directing it- no editor, no cinematographer, etc. The camera confirms the idea we have that seeing is believing; there is a kind of detached observation where the story unfolds by itself, rather than consciously revealing itself as the work of the creative team; You don’t see that’s it’s been put together from fragments of reality.

Bazin says that the central paradox of film is that you can only have realism through something that is artificial but you can’t see it as being artificial. Realism is a construct, something that is built, but in order for it feel realistic and in order for you to perceive it as realistic you can’t see that’s it’s been constructed. So once you see that it’s been constructed you won’t think it’s realist anymore. He wrote that “When this aesthetic aims in essence at creating the illusion of reality, as does the cinema, this choice sets up a fundamental contradiction which is at once unacceptable and necessary: necessary because art can only exist when such a choice is made. Without it, supposing total cinema was here and now technically possible , we would go back purely to reality. Unacceptable because it would be done definitely at the expense of that reality which the cinema proposes to restore integrally. That is why it would be absurd to resist every new technical development aiming to add to the realism of cinema, namely sound, color, and stereoscopy.” He proposed the idea was that film was the fulfillment of thousands of years of artistic desire; from cave painting to the renaissance people have wanted an art form that will reproduce the world 100 percent faithfully.
Bazin was really excited about Italian neorealism because it seemed to prove his theories were correct. He liked Orson Wells, Italian Neorealism; he wanted film to be progressive (he was a liberal), spiritual (he was a devout catholic), entertaining (should be accessible to everybody), and universal ( perceived by people all over the world); this was important because he is writing after WWII. If the neorealists could portray the causes of the war that were responsible for all the horror in the subject matter of Italian Neorealism film, which included nationalism, prejudice, and the cultural differences make people kill each other, then maybe an art form that speaks to everyone equally can bridge cultural divides. That’s why for him realism is the way to do it; realism is more universal than formalist style for example. Realism is something that travels and translates well; every cultural tradition has some representation of realism in their culture to some degree. He was considered nairve because he said film should at try to be a universal language and bridge cultural gaps. He understands that this might seem idealistic and that the world is not like this, but maintains hope that something as inconsequential as film can make the world a better place because just maybe then we can start to understand each other better.
He isn’t really developing a theory as much a philosophy and a set of criteria for evaluating what artistic filmmaking is. He’s elaborating on what is the essence of film, what is it telling us about the meaning of life, about art, and about human existence. This image that you look has a sense of being, it has a presence that other art forms don’t have. Photos don’t have it because they are just one image. Painting doesn’t have it because it’s artificial, made of paint, and it’s one image. Theatre doesn’t have it because it happens right in front of you in that moment as you see it and your perspective on it doesn’t change because you have your assigned seat where you sit there and watch it. There is something about the essential nature and presence of the image on film that different. He says this is the culmination of thousands of years of art. Humans have always tried to reproduce the world as closely as possible as they could in whatever art forms they had available. There was the invention of perspective in the 1400s with the development of the vanishing point to create the illusion of depth with painting. In the 1800s there was the invention of photography, which replicated the world more closely. Film finally allows us to get as close as possible to reproducing reality, and therefore fulfills the internal desire people have always had to express themselves through art. According to Bazin this desire was also for art to reproduce reality as faithfully as possible. Film is the culmination of humans’ attempt to find an art form that can reproduce reality. The combination of the use of sound, the treatment of space and time, the fact that it’s a photographic record of something that actually happened, (even if it’s actors acting something out) contributes to the reproduction of reality. The essence of what is being filmed is being respected in some way and is real in someway.
There is always going to be some element of what is filmed that is real, whether it is a true story, a documentary, or fiction. The cinematic image captures the essence of real human beings in the relationship we have to time and space, and therefore film doesn’t destroy the meaning of the object being filmed; it can’t misrepresent it the way that things can be misrepresented in other art forms. Film It respects the integrity of the real world, even if it is a completely fantastic story or even if it is a totally artificial story. Reality TV is fake and staged with writers and casting director; it is not reality but a construction. Bazin would say that it still respects reality because it is filming real people in uncontrolled situations in real space and time, so the essence of (not the perception) of the person in reality is still respected. You’re aware that when you watch Nanook of the North that it didn’t happen that way and that you’re seeing a selected amount of footage but it still respects the essence, the nature of humanity.
Bazin admired Orson Well and his cinematographer Tolland as well, as the Italian neo realists like De Sica- because they used like long takes, deep focus because there is not a lot of editing involved. According to Bazin there are two kinds of realism. Physical realism, which refers to how image on the screen, reproducing the space of the real world, is an illusion, because it’s only 2d; we perceive it as having the same space as in the real world. Psychological realism refers to how film seems realistic to us because of how it looks, because it was recorded by a machine and because it seems to follow space and time as we know it. Also people behave the way we think people behave, in an ordered way- everyone has a reason for the things they do. If you don’t understand why someone does something you might say I don’t understand why they did that but they much have had a reason; people don’t just do random things. Because film was recorded by a machine it’s impartial,objective and not tainted by some kind of human interference. It’s a more faithful reproduction of the world because paradoxically it was an art form that had machine in between human beings and the world. It’s seen as realistic and respects the real world, even if the art is then broken up in editing. The film More real because it’s somehow less dependent on human minds. It does this by making the process of shooting, recording, editing invisible. When you start doing what formalists like Eisenstein or Pudovkin are suggesting you’re calling into attention how human beings are involved and therefore you’re destroying the illusion of reality; you’re making a film that’s less artistic and less unique (basically opposite of Eisenstein). Eisenstein is saying that film is better if you cut it up and reassemble it and Bazin is saying that it’s actually worse. We have a relationship between the image and object that gives us a link between art and the world that didn’t exist before movies- this is what Bazin means by Ontology or essence of film-

Bazin knows that films are artificial but what makes them great to him is that they leave traces of reality on the physical film. There is a physical world out there that leaves its traces on celluloid. There is always going to be some essence of reality that is captured as long as you’re filming real people, real animals, or whatever objects you’re filming in the real world. There is a physical close link between what was filmed and what you see on the screen, like a footprint or impression left in the sand, the impression of light on the film strips is a reflection of reality; it’s not reality but it’s as close as you’re going to get so why not go for it? Because it is so close it will always give you some essential truth about reality because it respects the essence of reality, Bazin said film is asymptotic to reality like a parabola will never meet the x and yaxis.                                                                            In his article The Evolution of the Language of Cinema, Bazin writes that the movement from silent to sound cinema was not the major evolutional point in film language. Bazin categorizes all directors between the years 1920 to 1940 into two groups: “those directors who put their faith in the image and those who put their faith in reality.”  The imagists are broken down into two groups, those working with the plastics (lighting, decor, composition, acting) and those working with the editing (the montagists). The realists do not distort time (like the montagists) or space (like the expressionists) but attempt to depict true reality. The major realist directors are F.W. Murnau, Eric Von Stroheim, Robert Flaherty, Carl Dreyer, and Jean Renoir. The montagists are gouped into two categories, distinguished mainly by the time period they worked in: 1920- 30 (Abel Gance, D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein) and 1930- 40 (the American classical “invisible” style, influenced largely by Vsevelod Pudovkin).  It was montage that made film into an art, creating a language.
The end of the silent period brought these two image categories to their height in the form of German Expressionism (the plastics) and the Soviet Post-Revolution cinema (the montagists). The trend from the silent to sound cinema did not show any immediate effects on shooting or editing styles. By the late 30’s sound moved editing toward realism, switching the operative cutting style from symbolic or expressive to dramatic or analytical, and the preferred editing style became more or less standardized. By around 1939 film reaches its “equilibrium- profile”, a well balanced stage of maturity as a classical art form with film like Jezebel, Stagecoach, Le Jour se léve.  By 1939 cinema reached a point of classical perfection where content fused with form.  Cinema had reached the point where most technical innovations were established (color, track, dolly, crane, zoom, sound, panchromatic film stock) and the next advancement in the evolution of the language of cinema would not be propelled by a thematic movement rather than a technical one.  This thematic shift was propelled by subject matter and the effect it imposed on technical and formal aspects. The result of this was, according to Bazin, the most important aesthetic revolution in film history, the arrival of the mise-en-scéne style. By 1940 realism had evolved, splitting up into two schools of thought, the spatial realists, like Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, William Wyler, and the pure objective realists, who were in line with Neo-Realism and documentary style.  This progression toward realism exemplifies Bazin’s notion of the cinema continually inching forward toward the pure “myth” of total cinema.


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