The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

By Colin Burnett | Go to book overview

5
Vernacularizing Rhythm:
Bresson and the Shift Toward Dionysian
Temporalities—Plot Structure and Editing
from Journal d’un curé de campagne (1951)
to L’argent (1983)

The omnipotence of rhythms.

—Robert Bresson1

MORE SO THAN any other area of film aesthetics, rhythm brings us to the core of Bresson’s intervention in the midcentury cultural market. As we will see, he eventually perceived in the concept of rhythm the potential for an entirely new creative medium, one distinct from cinema, which he dubbed le cinématographe (writing in motion) in a manner that was, perhaps tellingly, reminiscent of the interwar period.2 But what did the concept of rhythm entail for Bresson?

When Bresson entered the industry, filmmakers like René Clair, associated with the silent-era avant-garde (1919–1929), viewed rhythm as “an all purpose structural concept” that allowed them to carefully regulate the timing and duration of shots in order to give their scenes a conspicuous tempo.3 Clair carried the idea into the conversion-to-sound era (1929–1934) with tight image-and-music coordination that offered sprightly explorations of pulsating sonorized movement in such films as À nous la liberté (1931).4

Clair and others from the interwar era were effectively accepting the musicologist’s notion of rhythm, which involves creating from groups of abstract or nonrepresentational pulses or beats a discernible tempo or speed. In most folk music, jazz, and other very rhythmic forms, the pulse drives the listener’s experience—makes us want to tap our feet or clap our hands. Musical rhythm breaks up or distinguishes these pulses in order to create emphasis. This is accomplished through the subdivision of tones, as well as through meter, the repetitive pattern of strong and weak tones. Strong notes, in the musicologist’s jargon, are accented; important notes are stressed, with weak notes and intervals inserted in between—the tick-tock-tick-tock of a musical cue. Furthermore, the intervals

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