Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife

Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife

Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife

Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and Its Afterlife


With the full range of his voluminous writings finally viewable, Andr Bazin seems more deserving than ever to be considered the most influential of all writers on film. His brief career, 1943-58, helped bring about the leap from classical cinema to the modern art of Renoir, Welles, and neorealism. Founder of Cahiers du Cinma, he encouraged the future New Wave directors to confront his telltale question,What is Cinema? This collection considers another vital question,Who is Bazin? In it, thirty three renowned film scholars--including de Baecque, Elsaesser, Gunning, and MacCabe--tackle Bazin's meaning for the 2st century. They have found in his writings unmistakable traces of Flaubert, Bergson, Breton, and Benjamin and they have pursued this vein to the gold mine of Deleuze and Derrida. They have probed and assessed his ideas on film history, style, and technique, measuring him against today's media regime, while measuring that regime against him. They have located the precious ore of his thought couched within striations of French postwar politics and culture, and they have revealed the unexpected effects of that thought on filmmakers and film culture on four continents. Open Bazin; you will find a treasure.


Thomas Elsaesser

André Bazin is taken by many to be the undisputed father of modern film studies, the classic whom we make our students read but also the classic to whom we return ourselves. My title alludes to the fifty years since the publication of the first collection of his essays, volume one of Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? But “The Bazinian Half-Century” alludes as well to Michel Foucault’s notorious prediction that “perhaps one day this [i.e., the twentieth] century will be known as the Deleuzian century.” By suggesting that a more realistic estimation might be half this length, and, for our field, to give the honor to Bazin, I nonetheless want to acknowledge Deleuze’s part—in addition to Serge Daney’s tireless advocacy—in reigniting the discussion around the master’s unexpected topicality. in the special Autumn 2007 issue of Cinémas titled “La théorie du cinéma – enfin en crise,” Bazin, flanked by Roger Leenhardt and the Cahiers du Cinéma generation, is situated at the center of a renewal of film theory in the spirit of discovery and disclosure, terms Deleuze would endorse in opposition to aesthetic programs serving social constructivism or cultural studies.

This “finally in crisis” of film theory may sound odd to non-French ears, for when has film theory not been in crisis? in fact—if we think of Arnheim, Balazs, Kracauer, Bazin, Metz, Heath, Daney, Mulvey, and Deleuze—is not film theory the product of the different crises that the cinema has undergone, such as the coming of sound, the trauma of fascism, and the ubiquity of television, not to mention the crisis in the humanities occasioned by structuralism and deconstruction, as well as the crisis of patriarchy highlighted by feminism? Deleuze’s theory of the “time-image” responds to the crisis of the “movement-image,” when European cinema realized the impossibility after Auschwitz of telling stories or inhabiting a world, of aligning body and mind (perception, sensation, and action) in a coherent continuum. Perhaps film theory has always been a reflection on one or another “death of cinema” (the death of early cinema brought about by classical narrative in the ’20s, the death of silent cinema by sound in the ’30s, the death of the studio system by television in the ’50s, the decay of cinephilia by the closure of neighborhood cinemas in the ’70s, the death of projection by the video recorder in the ’80s, the death of celluloid by digitization in the ’90s). Every film theory may be a funeral as much as a birth announcement.

The present moment stands under the crisis-sign of the digital divide. in a graduate seminar at Yale University called “What Was Cinema,” we adopted a set of simple maxims: rather . . .

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