In the wake of World War II, French cinema would continue to look back upon the German occupation as a time during which the new medium would take itsIn the wake of World War II, French cinema would continue to look back upon the German occupation as a time during which the new medium would take its stance artistically with as much passion as fighters of the resistance did. A younger generation of filmmakers such as Jean-Pierre Melville (Army of Shadows), Louis Malle (Au Revoir Les Enfants), and Francois Truffaut (The Last Metro) all made poetic commentaries on the struggle of a country that has become somewhat popular for fervent ideological rebellion. Of course, there were quite a few French directors of the generation before, making allegorical statements about the absurdity of fascism. A long list of names comes to mind, the most well-known being Jean Renoir, Rene Clement, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Marcel Carne. Films such as Clouzot's Le Corbeau (which took polemical hits from every direction, left and right included), Jean Renoir's La Regle du jeu, Clements La Bataille du Rail, and Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis were all received with scornful dismissal, and most of them were banned under the occupation. It was an artistically rich period for French cinema, one considerably overlooked by contemporary cinephiles in light of the ostensible playfulness of the New Wave. However, it was this innovative sensibility, set forth by the likes of the famous French filmmakers of the forties, that inspired a younger generation to make powerful films, regardless of whatever sort of censorship fascism might impose.
With the aforementioned list of names and films in mind, this collection of essays and reviews by Bazin, mostly written in the mid-forties, will seem like an esoteric text. In fact, Bazin was aware of so many great films at the time, that Rene Clement should seem like a popular name in context. Still, unlike his theoretical contemporary Sergei Eisenstein, Bazin's boldly insightful views on cinema really came out of his writings from Cahiers du Cinema. Which is to say that what is largely understood of Bazin's philosophy on film was to be found in his specific film reviews, along with the occasional short essay that he did for the famous film journal. That the contemporary film enthusiast even has a firm grasp on Bazin's ontology of cinematic realism is probably thanks to the two craftily edited volumes of What is Cinema? by Hugh Gray.
As Truffaut quotes Bazin in his introduction to this edition, "The cinematic esthetic will be social or else cinema will do without an esthetic." This is integral to understanding what Bazin's feelings were about the "Seventh Art" and its importance as a popular medium. Due to the snobbishness of criticism concerning, say, painting or the theatre, Bazin felt that these artistic mediums were somewhat removed from mass audiences. Cinema, as a widely popular spectacle, and in the dregs of its low-brow beginnings, was capable of reaching out to a larger audience. All the early criticism of film that Bazin mentions (issues mostly having to do with its aesthetic boorishness or obvious mode of storytelling) work toward its advantage in moving everyone; the lay-viewer and the cineaste alike. This accessibility informs the power of film as a social storytelling medium. Not only that, but it goes to show, taking into consideration the powerful reactions to many of the films that Bazin mentions in these writings, especially the political condemnation that many French films of the resistance experienced. He puts it so succinctly in the essay entitled The Cinema and Popular Art, and incidentally, this is a revelation that John Sullivan (Joel McCrea's character) has in the 1941 Preston Sturges film Sullivan's Travels.
"In modern civilization, however, and especially where cinema is concerned, the concept of popularity takes on a completely different meaning. A film is more popular the more directly it is assimilable by the greatest number of people on the surface of the earth, to its very ends, as has often happened; the Chinese coolie of the suburbs of Shang-hai, the African Black, the European, the Yankee, of all classes , of all intellectual formations, even of all ages - all get pleasure from it. Popularity is here understood in the extensive sense. It is measured by the space conquered, by the number of people it reaches."
The economic, social, and political importance of film were factors that Bazin mentioned in later writings, but here they become a more central focus than some of the technical, or more art-theoretical aspects of cinema that he would concentrate on in the fifties. In other words, here Bazin speaks less of montage and realism in film than he does about the social conditions that influence the creation of certain films. The synthesis of these two theoretical obsessions would bring Bazin to find near-perfection in the films of the Italian neo-realists. It logically follows that the genesis of Bazin's concept of realism is to be found in the nature of the means of expression of cinema - that is, anything recorded happening in real-time, regardless of its fictional veneer - shows up in this text quite a bit.
In spite all of this talk about the accessibility of the medium and the popularity of cinema, Bazin still writes reviews with the vitriolic fervor of a Cahiers critic. And it's difficult to say that he truly felt that everyone, meaning both the public and film critics alike, would really understand the true nuances of the medium. Especially in the essays that urge most critics to not write so incompetently about film. He destroys any ounce of integrity that Pierre Prevert's Adieu Leonard might have had in its day, and even when he praises a film, he never sounds thoroughly pleased (possibly with the exception of Carne's Les Visiteurs du Soir, clearly a critic's favorite at the time). Godard definitely picked up a few critical cues from the old man, albeit Godard's were far less comprehensible. The reviews in this edition are interesting enough to read, and make for great film recommendations. Historically speaking, Bazin's arguments have become a bit misconstrued, and it would be lovely to have a more up-to-date, polished edition of this book because it has clearly been out of print for too long.
I pretty much fell in love with Cowie after listening to his commentary track for Bergman's the Seventh Seal. He's also recorded one for Resnais' HiroI pretty much fell in love with Cowie after listening to his commentary track for Bergman's the Seventh Seal. He's also recorded one for Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour. Cowie's insights are ridiculously well researched and perceptive. He's basically in the same league as Bogdonavich, McCabe, Bordwell, and Richie....more
Colin MacCabe recently wrote an endorsement for the dust jacket of Fredric Jameson's new Valences of the Dialectic by Verso, which enthusiastically stColin MacCabe recently wrote an endorsement for the dust jacket of Fredric Jameson's new Valences of the Dialectic by Verso, which enthusiastically states that Jameson is "Probably the most important cultural critic writing in English today... It can truly be said that nothing cultural is alien to him.", maybe true, who knows? Although it might not be the best sign when this is the man writing the film biography that you're about to read. MacCabe's academic credentials might deter certain readers; fans of Godard who just want to hear about all of the juicy Karina/Wiazemsky gossip, as well as the endless amount of anecdotes about Godard and his working habits. Fortunately enough, this bio contains a balanced amount of theory and biographical entertainment.
A biography on a filmmaker such as Godard really requires a good amount of discussion of theoretical influences, as much of Godard's filmmaking finds inspiration in either radical ideology or obscure classic literature. There is also the unquestionable significance of Bazin's influence on what Godard's filmmaking seemed to grow into; an adventurous filmic elaboration of the concept of Bazin's ontology of cinema (I know, stay with me here), which deals with the capability that film has of documenting the reality of fictional narratives. Unlike Truffaut, who, let's face it, didn't really stay true to the essence of what made French New-Wave filmmaking so innovative and revolutionary, Godard pushed the limits of the medium, and with the aid of his more ingenious contemporaries such as Resnais, Marker, Varda, and Rohmer, replaced the dry, mechanical adaptations that were making French cinema so stagnant and bourgeois, with films that seemed unlike anything that the world of cinema had produced before.
And of course there is also a wealth of information about his marriage to Anna Karina, which in so many ways is just painful to read. It drives home the notion that Godard wasn't unfairly pegged as a total and unabashed misogynist. Even if it could be argued that his films aren't, which, actually, many of them aren't, his personal life was not kind to the opposite sex, and to a degree he clearly hated most of the women that he was with. MacCabe's descriptions almost make it sound as though women were in some way an unavoidable package deal when it came to Godard and his love of cinema. And that he, at times, almost confused the two. Karina had apparently attempted suicide numerous times. Wiazemsky was equally tormented by his mood swings and selfishness. Of course, this is a film director that we're talking about here, few if any, are really the most compassionate people in the world when it comes down to it. Solipsism, sadism, selfishness; these all seem more or less like the sort of character traits that are a prerequisite for the job. Not to excuse any of this, at all really, but this is the picture of the man that MacCabe paints.
Also illuminating is the information about the Dziga Vertov group, and Godard's creative partnership with Jean-Pierre Gorin. MacCabe is less critical of Godard's eventual Maoist ideology laden films. Critical of Letter to Jane of course; honestly, another example of what could only possibly be construed as misogyny, or at least some kind of weird political sadism. MacCabe has definitely seen more of these films than most people though, as his professional relationship with Godard is as close as most people seem to get. Which is sort of a problem for this book, as it's unlikely that most American audiences have seen half of the Godard films that MacCabe cites, especially every installation of his Histoire du Cinema, which is by no means an easy piece of media for one to get one's hands on.
I've yet to read some of the other picture-book-like bios on Godard. And ultimately this book sated my intellectual curiosity about Godard on a level that I wasn't even aware of having. And that he stresses the importance of his relationship with both Bazin and Henri Langlois is definitely the sign of an author who understands Godard and who he remained faithful to in a filmmaking sense. The less-than-admirable biographical information really has to be taken with a grain of salt, and it's also by no means absolute, but MacCabe is reporting what mostly seems like the truth. In a way it's all this stubbornness and selfishness that make Godard so provocative and intriguing. I'm still paying attention anyway. ...more
I read this during an (almost) unhealthy obsession with Yasujiro Ozu. However, I also love Bresson and Dreyer. Schrader's book reaches for the most paI read this during an (almost) unhealthy obsession with Yasujiro Ozu. However, I also love Bresson and Dreyer. Schrader's book reaches for the most part, and while I can't argue too much against stylistic themes of transcendence being apparent in all of their work, I found the effort to point out the fact, somewhat contrived. My feelings about Schrader himself, may also have something to do with the ones that I have about his book though. He was in this film tribute to Ozu on the Tokyo Story DVD, and I could hardly sit through his entire segment (which was only about ten minutes). It's the same blowhard type banter that I revile Martin Scorcese for. Directors like Schrader and Scorcese seem to latch themselves onto classic directors at times, going on and on like juvenile film scholars. It's about as interesting (read annoying) as a pop musician writing a novel. ...more