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but OE:Ue distina Jeifonnma:s- David Breashears

the formal contours of



THE FORMAL CONTOURS OF CINEMA

The objective of this chapter is to understand cinema through a range of film theories.
There is a need to understand the philosophy of cinema in order to discern the theoretical
underpinnings of cinema. The chapter deals with the philosophy of cinema as explained by
Gilles Deleuze and then aims at understanding theorists like Bazin, Balazs, Mitry and
Metz and filmmakers and theoreticians like Eisenstein and Pudovkin. This chapter is
essentially a literature review and the need to review various theories on cinema is to help
understand cinema in more than one way. Along with the fascination for the medium,
efforts were also made to understand cinema formally. A general framework was envisaged
to understand films by formally studying them. This study included a set of general
observations which encompassed a wide range of formulations positing a particular
argument on cinema and its constitution. This scheme facilitated to understand cinema
more than merely a form of entertainment. The body of knowledge which enables one to
understand and study cinema with a set of rules and regulations, procedures, norms, and,
motivations is called film theory. The dynamics of film theory involves a constant change
in perceptions about cinema. Unlike other disciplines which belong either to humanities
or social sciences, film theory draws its components essentially from films. The theoretical
construction of cinema is not only about the formal presentation of cinema but more
importantly about the philosophy of cinema. There is a certain strange character about
cinema. The conventional teleological model is turned on its head by film theory in the
sense that it does not follow the linear lineaments of theory and practice as is done by
other subjects. There is, however, a constant give and take relationship between the
'theory of film' and the 'practice of film making', which regularly alters the contours of
their objectives.

Understanding Concepts through Deleuze


Gilles De1euze elaborates that a study of cinematographic concepts IS essential for
understanding Cinema. For him, these concepts are neither technical, nor critical or

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linguistic in the sense of the different genres. Cinema seems to be a composition of images
and signs, that is, a pre-verbal intelligible content which Gilles Deleuze terms as pure
semiotics. He also adds that semiology of a linguistic inspiration abolishes the image and
tends to dispense with the sign. 1

Cinematographic concepts are therefore types of images and signs which correspond with
each other. The image of the cinema being automatic, is presented primarily as a
movement-image. According to Deleuze, specific conditions define different types of
images like the perception-image, the affection-image and the action-image. This typology
certainly determines a representation of time but Deleuze argues that it is an indirect
representation of time in so far as it depends on montage and derives from movement-
images. He stresses that a reversal happens in the movement-time relationship and that
time is no longer related to movement but it is the anomaly of movement which is related
to time. As a result, there is a direct time- image which is derived from the movement
rather than the indirect representation of time through movement. The direct time-image
controls and commands the false movement. In French, it is called the Faux Mouvement,
which is the title of Wim Wender's movie, Falshce Bewegung as well, which was made in
German. It means· the 'wrong move' in English. For Deleuze, it is not important to say
that the modern cinema of the time-image is more valuable than the classical cinema of the
movement-image. Here, he is talking about the masterpieces where in no hierarchy of
value was applicable. The cinema as he says is always as perfect as it can be, taking into
account the images and signs which it invents and which it has at its ·disposal at a.given
moment.

Deluze's study is a constant interweaving of concrete analysis of images and signs with the
monographs of the directors who have created them or renewed them. For him,
Hitchcock came to portray the image of mental relations. 2 Relations, he argues, as external

I Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I: The Movement-Image, Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, London: The

Athlone Press, 1986.


2 Donald Spoto in The Life of Alfred Hitchock: The Dark Side of Genius argues that Hitcock's expressionless desciptions of

the most anti-social conduct made him seem to be a person from outside planet. A land where murder was routine and

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to their terms have. always been the subject of English philosophical thought, and
Hitchcock produced a cinema of relation just as the English philosophy produced a
philosophy of relation. In this sense Gilles Deleuze argues that Hitchcock is at the juncture
of the two cinemas, the classical that he perfects and the modern that he prepares. In all
these respects he says that it is no.t sufficient to compare them with painters and architects,
but they should be compared with thinkers.

His thesis is not only about images from particular films but the 'types' to which these
particular films belong. For Deleuze, philosophy is not a reflection of something else but
is a creation of concepts. The concepts however, are thought in a new way and they are no
longer 'concepts of' as understood by the reference to their external object. For him, they
are like colours, sounds or images, intensities which either suit you or don't, which work
or don't. Concepts are images of thought. Philosophy is not a state of reflection on other
domains, but a state of active and internal alliance with them, and it is neither mire
abstract nor more difficult. Therefore it is not a question of reflecting on the cinema, it is
normal that philosophy produces concepts which are in resonance with the pictorial
images of today or with cinematographic images. Deleuze's endeavour is to create
philosophical concepts alongside cinema on well known philosophical themes, and then
to put them to work in the cinema. A by product of this school of thought is that the
usual boundaries between disciplines lose their relevance and sense, as new assemblages are
created where two new themes are brought under one canvas and the conjunction between
particular themes illustrate a broader conjunction between philosophy and the cinema.
The interesting part in philosophy is that it facilitates and proposes a cutting (decoupage) of
things in a new order, a new cutting; it groups under a single concept things that one

betrayal, the typical response of one person to another. Hitchcock's films were indeed his notebooks and journals and that
his almost maniacal secrecy was deliberate means of deflecting attention away from what those films really are
astonishingly personal documents A paragraph from Spoto's book will reveal the kind of mental relations that Gilles
Deleuze wrote. "Guilt., of course, is the predominant theme of Hitchcock's films. It derives only from the complexities of
his own inner life; guilt is also one of the great themes in all art, and especially in contemporary art and literature.
..... .. Hitchcock shared and intuition that one can in the last analysis, be freed from corruption only by guilt- by standing
condemned and accepting forgiveness and redemption freely or enduring punishment and hoping for a second chance. Such
artists stand apart from the heady-healthy- mindedness of our time that artists on the denial of all spiritual guilt; they resist
the modem era's attempt to dismiss all moral responsibilities as an infraction of manners, or as psychosis- or as a blunder
along my less extreme part of the spectrum." P.17

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1

would have thought were different, and it separates from it, others which one would have
thought very close. That cinema is itself a cutting of visual and sound images asserts the
philosophical exposition on cinema of Deleuze. There are modes of cutting which can
converge. This exposition is not a study in the history of the cinema but rather a
classification of images and signs as delineated by the American logician Pierce whose
study he. considers to be complete and most varied. Providing primacy to the word in a
classical fashion, Deleuze posits that he is not providing any reproductions for illustrations
to the text for the text alone aspires to be an illustration of the great films, of which each
of us retain a memory to a greater or lesser extent, emotion or perception.
Deleuze on Bergson
In proposing to substantiate his VIews on the 'isolation of cinematographic concepts',
Deleuze presents us with Bergson's theses on movement. The first thesis of Bergson,
Deleuze fears is the most famous and that it threatens to obscure the second. The first
thesis says that movement is distinct from the space covered. Space covered is past, and
movement is present, the act of covering. The space covered is divisible, indeed infinitely
divisible, while movement is indivisible, or cannot be divided without changing it
qualitatively; each time it is divided. Deleuze concludes that this presupposes a more
complex idea: the spaces covered belong to a single identical, homogenous space, while
the movements are heterogeneous, irreducible among themselves. Deleuze by countering
Bergson's statement argues that one cannot reconstitute movement with positions in space
or time: that is immobile sections. He further adds that one can achieve this
reconstitution through the abstract idea of succession, identical for all movements. He
adds that in the process one can miss the movement in two ways. On the other hand he
identifies that one can bring two instant instants or two positions together to infinity; but
movement will always occur in the interval between two, in other words behind your
back. 3 The essence of the argument is that how much ever one divides and subdivides
time, movement will always occur in concrete duration and thereby each movement will
have a qualitative duration. Hence the formula; real movement minus concrete duration and
immobile sections plus abstract time is opposed. Giving the incorrect formula a name-

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cinematographic illusion, Bergson defines Clnema as that which works with the two
complementary givens: instimtaneous sections which are called images and a movement or.
a time which is impersonal, uniform, abstract, invisible or imperceptible which is in the
apparatus and with which the images are made to pass consecutively. Cinema thus gives us
a false movement or it is the typical example of false movement.

Deleuze has problems with Bergson in that he gives the oldest illusion a modern and
recent name- cinematographic. He says that when the cinema reconstitutes movement
with mobile sections, it is merely doing what was already being done by the most ancient
thought
(Zeno's· paradoxes), or what natural perception does. In this respect Deleuze's views differ
from phenomenology, which saw cinema as breaking with the conditions of natural
perception. Problems like these are not the reproduction of the illusion itself in a cenain
sense. Could it be argued that the result is anificial because the means used are also
anificial? He argues that the position of the natural perception and the cinematic
perception is the same, but in the former the illusion is corrected above perception by the
conditions which make perception possible in the subject and in the cinema it is
corrected at the same time as the images appear for a spectator without conditions. In this
respect Deleuze argues that phenomenology is right in the sense of assuming both natural
perception and cinematic perception as beeing qualitatively different. In shon, he says that
cinema does not give an image to which the movement is added, infact it immediately
gives us a movement-image. It gives us a section which is mobile and not a section which is
immobile.

Deleuze is of the view that Bergson was aware of the mobile sections and the movement-
images and he adds that the movement -image, beyond the wnditions of natural
perception was the extraordinary invention of Bergson in the first chapter in Matter and
Memory. 4 Any process in the initial stages is bound to conceal itself and the essence of the

3 Deleuze,p 1.
4Ibid.p.3.

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thing doesn't come at the outset, but only in the middle and in the course of its
development. Bergson posed the same questions to life and cinema. Bergson argued that
the novelty of life .could not have appeared when it began in its initial stages, but is bound
to imitate natural perception. So was the case with cinema. He was seeking an answer as to
what was cinema's position at the outset. Deleuze replies that, on one hand the view point
was fixed, the shot was therefore spatial and strictly immobile and on the other hand the
apparatus for shooting was combined with the apparatus for projection, endowed with a
uniform abstract time. The evolution of cinema or its development was to take place
through montage, the mobile camera and the emancipation of the view point, which
became separate from the projection. The shot became a temporal one rather than a spatial
one and the section would become mobile rather than becoming immobile. As Deleuze
points out that cinema would rediscover that very movement-image of the first chapter of
Bergson's Matter and Memory. Deleuze infers from his first chapter that there is a critique
of all attempts to reconstitute movement with the space covered, that is by adding
together instantaneous immobile sections and abstract time. On the other hand there is a
critique of cinema which is condemned as being one of these illusory attempts, as the
attempt which is the culmination of the illusion

In his second thesis, 'Creative Evolution', Bergson distinguishes between two different
types of illusions instead of reducing everything to same illusion about movement.
Deleuze, however points out that the error remains the same in that of reconstituting
movement from instants or positions but there are only two ways of doing this; the
ancient and the modern. For antiquity, movement refers to intelligible elements, Forms or
Ideas which are themselves eternal and immobile. De1euze argues that movement merely
expresses a dialectic of forms, an ideal synthesis which gives it order and measure. In
trying to provide a teleological link on movement and the relation to instants, from the
consequences of scientific revolution, De1euze explains drawing from the examples of
modern astronomy of Kepler, modern physics of Galileo, modern geometry of Descartes
and the differential and integral calculus of Newton and Leibniz and states that
everywhere the mechanical succession of instants replaced the dialectical order of poses:

100
which is substantiated by Bergson in Creative EvoLution when he says that modern science
must be defined pre-eminently by its aspiration to take time as an independent variable.
Deleuze argues that the cinema was the last descendant of this lineage which Bergson
traced. A series of means of translation like the scientific inventions, the series of means of
expression like the diagram and the photo can be thought of. In that case the camera
would appear as an exchanger or as a generalised equivalent of the movements of
translation. s

Conditions of Cinema
Deleuze gives an account of the determining conditions of cinema as there was some
confus{on, especially in the realm of the pre history of cinema due to the source of the
technological lineage which is always embedded in myriad, if not obscure thoughts. It is
not merely the photo but the snapshot ( the long-exposure. photo belongs to the other
lineage); the equidistance of snapshots; the transfer of this equidistance on to a
framework which constitutes the film ( it was Edison and Dickson who perforated the
film in the camera ); a mechanism for moving on images ( Lumiere's Claws). Deleuze
infers from these determining factors and says that it is in this sense that the cinema is a
system which reproduces movement as a function of any instant-whatever that is, as a
function of equidistant instants, selected so as to create an impression of continuity. This
implies that any other system which reproduces movement through an order of exposures
projected in such a way that they pass into one another, or are transformed, is foreign to
cinema. He gives an example to clarify this point when he argues chat this definition
becomes clear when one attempts to define the cartoon film. If it belongs fully to the
cinema it is because the drawing no longer constitutes a pose or a completed figure, but the
description of a figure which is always in the process of being formed or dissolving
through the movement of lines and points taken at any- instant-whatever their course.
Here he says that the cartoon film is not reLated to the Euclidean geometry but the Cartesian
geometry in that it does not give us a figure described in a unique moment, but the continuity

5 lbid.pA.

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of the movement which describes the figure. 6 Then Deleuze takes on the examples of Marey's
graphic recordings of the Muyerbridge's equidistant snapshots, which relate the organised
whole of the canter to any- point-whatever. If the equidistant points are chosen well one
comes across remarkable occasions that is the moment when the horse has one hoof on the
ground, then three, two and on~. These are called the privileged instants. 7

Deleuze later tries to distinguish between the singular and regular points which belong to
the movement which may be ordinary and remarkable and the choosing of these moments
by the director in a modern dialectic and the old or classical dialectic. In the old dialectic,
it is the order of. the transcendental forms which are actualised in a movement and the
modern dialectic is the production and confrontation of the singular points which are
immanent to the movement like in the films of Eisenstein. Deleuze defines the 'any-
instant-whatever' is the instant which is equidistant from another. Finally, he defines
cinema as the system which reproduces movement by relating it to the 'any-instant-
whatever'. This definition again poses problems in the manner questioning the interest of
the system and its point of view. And if it is from the point of view of science it was very
slight. It was one of analysis from the point of view of scientific revolution. Deleuze
questions whether the invention of cinema has any artistic interest at all. He refused to
believe in the affirmative because art upheld the claims of a higher synthesis of the
movement and for him cinema, hardly had any interest in the synthesis of the movement.
Art apart from claims of synthesis of movement, also remained linked to the poses and
forms that science had rejected. At this juncture Deleuze argues that we have reached the
heart of cinema's ambiguous position as industrial art and Paul Rotha's position, that
cinema is the greatest unresolved equation between art and industry; it was neither art nor
a science. Deleuze contends that Bergson is not content merely to corroborate his first
thesis-on movement and his second thesis -although he says that it stops half way and
makes possible another way of looking at the cinema, a way in which it would no longer

6 Emphasis mine.
7 Deleuze, p.5.

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be just the perfected apparatus of the oldest illusion, but on the contrary, be the organ for
perfecting the new reality.

His third thesis is also contained in his Creative Evolution. Reducing the entire thesis into
a formula he argues that not only is the instant an immobile section of the movement, but
movement is a mobile section of duration, that is of the whole. He adds that the
movement expresses something profound and much more, and in that sense, change in the
duration or in the whole. To say, that duration is change is part of its definition; it
changes and dies, not stops changing. Like for instance he says that matter moves but does
not change. Thus Deleuze infers that movement expresses a change in the duration or in
whole and that movement is nothing but a translation in space and each time there is
translation of parts in space there is a qualitative change in a whole. Taking cue from
Bergson's examples Deleuze argues that movement presupposes a difference of potential.
For instance when I is starving and A moves for food to B and I has reached B and has
something to eat, what has changed is not only the state of I but the state of the whole
which encompassed B, A and all in between them. Citing numerous examples, Bergson
puts forward his third thesis·· in terms of an analogy. Deleuze argues that the only
difference is that the ration on the left hand side expresses an illusion and on the right
hand side, a reality. According to Bergson, the whole is neither given nor giveable. Then
there is this argument that the whole is just a meaningless notion, but Deleuze posits that
Bergson concluded that the whole is not giveable because it is in the open and its nature is

to change constantly or to give rise to something, in short to endure. 8 Deleuze argues that
Bergson initially discovered duration as identical to consciousness. Finally he says that the
upshot of Bergson's third thesis is found on three levels- (i) the sets or closed systems
which are defined by discernible objects or distinct parts, (ii) the movement of translation
which is established between these objects and modifies their respective positions, and (iii)
the duration or the whole, a spiritual reality.which constantly changes according to its
own relations. Thus, from these propositions Deleuze observes that movement has two
aspects, on the one hand that which happens between objects or parts and on the other

103
hand that which expresses the duration or the whole. The result is that duration, by
changing qualitatively is di,-:ided into objects and objects by gaining depth, by losing their
contours, are united in duration. Finally Deleuze sums up Bergson's first chapter in Matter
and Memory: (i) there are not only instantaneous images, that is ,immobile sections of the
movement, (ii) there are movement -images which are mobile sections of duration (iii)
finally , time images, that is duration-images, changes-images, relation-images, volume-
images which are beyond movement itself.

Cinema as Images and Signs


What follows these philosophical precepts of cinema is a theoretical understanding of
cinema; both in its abstract and existential sense. The isolation of cinematographic
concepts were deemed necessary by Gilles Deleuze in a view to understand and define
cinema as a composition of images and signs. In contradistinction, there is a need to
integrate cinmatographic concepts to define and understand cinema beyond the
composition of images and signs. It is here that a plurality of perspectives on cinema is
relevant. It is from this philosophical premise that a cue is taken to understand cinema
beyond composition of images and signs. Cinema is also construed in terms of cultural
compositions. It is necessary for a theoretical matrix to understand cinema as a cultural
composition, though the presence of such a matrix is not mandatory.

The task in this chapter is not to demonstrate the entire range of theories available on
cinema, but to review and analyse a few important theories and theoreticians of cinema
which, are relevant to the theme of this work. The theoretical stock includes material
from various disciplines, ranging from sociology, psychology to technical details. There
have been several writings on cinema all of which will not be included in this chapter, the
objective is not to chronologically document what happened in the history of cinema, but
to deviate from the linear narrative to place few important arguments and examine them
against the light of the overarching concern of this chapter.

8Ibid.p.9.

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Bazin and Film Theory
Jean Renoir attributes that it was Bazin who gave the patent of royalty to the cinema just
as the poets of the past had crowned their kings. 9 It is in rediscovering him that one
realises that the singer rises above the object of the song itself. Renoir in a befitting tribute
to him writes that cinema might not survive but the writings of Bazin certainly will. 10
There might be a plurality of interpretations of any particular shot in a film but the fact
will remain that they will agree on one thing namely the high quality of What is Cinema?
The following arguments will draw generously from Bazin's work because Bazin has
formulated and posed one of the most basic questions in addressing and studying cinema
formally. 11

Bazin's work in theorising cinema is important because he was visibly the first one to be
interested in the image, both still and moving, and historical and social aspects of cinema.
His style was close to a philosophical method. In fact the starting point of Bazin's work is
the final analysis of Gilles Deleuze. In a tribute to Bazin, Guy Leger recounts how Bazin

9 Jean Renoir has been an important director in the history of world cinema. The two most visual approaches to his works
have been the blandly celebrating and the cultic. The first approach invokes Renoir's humanism, his love for "little people",
and his "joy in nature". The cult appreciation in Renoir tends to concentrate on details that run through the films. Both
approaches flatten out Renoir's films and reduce their complexities to a series of simple philosophic pieties or a continuity
of visual quirks. What is of importance should be the vital relation of such details, or preferably more important ones, to the
large themes and attitudes of Renoir's entire body of work. The emphasis on Renoir raises the spectre of 'auteur' theory. He
is partially responslb\e for the frameworK of the poelique des {Juteurs as promUlgated by Francois Truffaut ina 1954 issue of
Cahiers du Cinema. The particular usage seems to derive from a remark made by Renoir on the set of La Regie du Jeu in
1939: It used to be the era of the actor: the film was equivalent to its star, and so we had the Mary Pickfords, the Douglas
Fairbankses , the Greta Garbos. Then we had the age of the directors (metteurs-en-scene) and the films of King Vidor,
Stenberg, Feyder, Clair. Now a new epoch is beginning: the epoch of the writers ( auteurs); because from now on it is the
scenarist who will create the film ... , in Leo Braudy, Jean Renoir: The world of his films, New York: Doubleday, 1972,
p.15.
\0 Film theory, criticism and filmmaking as we know it today owe almost everything to the French film criticism in the
period till 1945, and particularly to the contribution of the journal Cahiers du Cinema, founded in 1951. The period of
Cahiers in the fifties, which brought forth the films of the nouvelle vague and helped set offa an important criticaldebate in
Britain and the USA in the late fifties and early sixties and the post-1968 period of theoretical elaboration and politicisation
of Cahiers ans subsequently of film theory and criticism in Britain and the USA in the 1970's. The forerunner to Cahiers
was Revue du Cinema, published in 1929-31 and 1946-49 under the editorship of Jean-George Auriol. The founders of
Cahiers always thought of continuing the work of undertaken by Auriol. In the fifties and sixties regular and critical
contributions were made by Clement, Clair, Cocteau, Roquier, Renoir, Autant-Lena Gremillon, Clouzot, Leenhardt and by
subsequent Cahiers editors Bazin and Doniol- Valcroze and also from friends of Cahiers such as Lotte Eisner, Henri
Langlois, Hennan Werberg, Geroges Sadoul plus the first articles by Eric Rohmer, other writings under his real name,
Maurice Scherer, later a Cahiers editor.
II Andre Bazin, What is Cinema, vol. I, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

105
was interested in the photographic image as well as the historical and the social aspects of
cinema. 12

Gray compares Bazin as the Aristotle of cinema and his work with Poetics. Jean Louis
Tellenay observes that at a time when the word filmology did not exist. Bazin created a
cinematographic culture on his own. Francois Truffuat and Robert Bresson points out the
distinct and significant method which Bazin followed. In a sense he followed the old
scholastic method, which is to state the thesis and to follow the statement with a denial
before proceeding to the proof. Eric Rohmer argued that his essays and indeed his whole
work fits into the pattern of a mathematical demonstration. The whole body of work is
based on one central idea, an affirmation of the objectivity of cinema in the same way as
all geometry is centred on the properties of a straight line. Bazin does not fit his work into
any alien system of aesthetics unlike his predecessors who followed a system that usually
starts with a definition of art and then tries to see how film fit into it.

Bazin rejected all common accepted notions and proposed a radical change of perspective.
If the classicists thought that the advent of the sound era might have made Bazin remark,
as the coming of 'an end of an art, he thought otherwise. For him, sound came not to
destroy but to fullfill the testament of cinema. This comes straightaway from his central
theme of objectivity of the cinema, and by implication rejects all notions of what Sadoul
calls the myth of pure cinema.

There is a preoccupation in Bazin's work with adaptation, as it relates both to theatre and
novel and indeed to the relation of cinema to painting. Jean Mitry another notable figure
in film history and aesthetics questions what Gray calls an altogether unjustifiable means
the central notion of Bazin's critical structure- the objectivity of the filmic image and his
arguments on deep focus photography.13 Mitry challenges the perception of Bazin's notion
of image in that the evaluation of the image is not according to what adds to reality but

12 Bazin, vol. I, p.2.


13 Ibid.pp.3-6.

106
what it reveals of it. ,Mitry argues, what the camera reveals is not the reality itself but a
new appearance correlated to the world of things-what indeed one may call a camera
perception. This is to say that despite the will of the cameraman there occurs a certain
alteration in the image and that restructuring of the real cannot be accepted as objective
and immediate. Bazin refuses to agree that the essence of the theatre resides, as Henri
Gouhier puts it, in the physical presence of the actor, thus setting it apart from cinema in
one basic respect. As a corollary of this famed argument, Bazin holds that the cinematic
image is more than a reproduction, rather a thing in the nature, a masque or a mould.
Finally, cinema is recognised as a subject of study rather than an escape par excellence
from a high pressure life which too many for too long have thought over at least in the
United States. 14 Gray reminds that they might be nice to wander in, but in reality, each
but a cul-de-sac. The more we see the screen as a mirror than an escape hatch the more we
are prepared for what is to come_ The ultimate confrontation man has been avoiding on
the grounds that man must first live before he can philosophise. The cinema, in the right
hands, adds Gray, can play an. important role in this confrontation. Andre Bazin is a true
visionary and guide as he is one of those who have genuinely helped to answer the
question first asked by Canudo, Delluc·· and other pioneers - of film aesthetics and
filmology- i.e. What is cinema? In order to seek an answer for this very basic question
Gray points out that one should reach beyond the screen to the realms of history,
philosophy, literature, psychology, sociology and add another dimension to the
humanities to make it more dynamic. IS

Bazin traces· the story of resemblance and substitution to the Egyptians process of
embalming the dead. In a thought to insure even these mummies, near the sarcophagus,
alongside the corn that was to feed the dead, the Egyptians placed terra cotta statuettes as
substitute mummies which might replace the bodies if they were destroyed. It is this
religious use, then, that lays the primordial function of the statuary, namely, the
preservation of life by a representation of life. This proposition of resemblance or realism

14 Eric Rohmer, Rediscovering America, Cahiers Du Cinema 54, Christmas 1955, Tranls1ated by Liz Heron
IS Bazin, Yol.1, pp.7-8.

107
will arise when the plastic arts is seen as less a matter of their aesthetic than of their
psychology. Viewed from the sociological perspective, photography would provide a
natural explanation for the great spiritual and technical crisis that overtook modern
painting around the middle of the last century. Andre Malraux holds that cinema is the
furthermost evolution to date of plastic realism, the beginnings of which was manifested
during the Renaissance and found its complete expression in baroque painting. The
fifteenth century paintings were confounded in spiritual concerns turned towards an effort
to combine this spiritual expression with as complete an imitation as possible of the
outside world.

Bazin feels that the decisive moment came with the discovery of the first scientific, and
already in a sense, mechanical system of reproduction, namely perspective: the camera
obscura of Da Vinci foreshadowed the camera of Niecephore Niepce. The artist was now
in a position to create an illusion of three dimensional space within which things
appeared to exist, as our eyes in reality see them. According to Andre Bazin, painting was
torn between two ambitions, one purely aesthetic and the other purely psychological. The
expression of spiritual reality is where the symbol transcends its model in the aesthetic
and the duplication of the world outside, which is the psychological. This psychological
satisfaction on illusion consumed the plastic arts. Bazin feels that the invention of the
perspective only had solved the problem of form and not of movement, realism was forced
to search for some way to give a dramatic expression to the moment, a kind of psychic
fourth dimension that could suggest life to tortured immobility of baroque art. Bazin
argues that in order to understand the pictorial, one should view the tendencies separately,
though the artist will essentially combine these two tendencies and allot equal time to both
in his work.

Illusion, Photography and Perspective


Illusion, according to Bazin had always troubled the heart of painting since the sixteenth
century. Illusion being itself completely non aesthetic, the origins seem to dwell in the
domain of mind and magic. The need to have an illusion has upset the equilibrium of

108
plastic arts. Contrary to being what was thought that the quarrel over realism in arts
stemmed over the confusion between the aesthetic and the psychological; between true.
realism, that is the need to give significant expression to the world concretely and in its
essence, and a pseudo realism of a deception aimed at fooling the eye, a pseudo realism
content with illusory appearances. Middle Age painting did not pass through this crisis and
is simultaneously vividly realistic and highly spiritual. It knew nothing of the drama that
came to light as a consequence of technical developments. Perspective says Bazin was the
original sin of the Western painting. Niepce and Lumiere came to the rescue. 16

Photography had freed the plastic arts from their obsession with likeness. Painting was
forced to offer illusion arid this illusion was reckoned unto art. Photography and cinema
satisfy our obsession with realism. Bazin feels that there is always an element of doubt
over the image of the painting because of the intervention of the human hand. Again in
the transition from baroque painting to photography, it is not perfecting a physical
process but rather a psychological fact satisfying the appetite for illusions by a mechanical
reproduction in the making of which man does not playa part. The solution is not to be
found in the result but in the way of achieving it. 17 The crisis of realism came in the
nineteenth century of which Picasso is the central figure and which put to the test at one
and the same time the conditions determining the formal existence of the plastic arts and
their sociological roots. The painter throws the painting to the masses who identify
resemblance on the one hand with photography, and on the other hand painting is related
to photography. For Bazin, the originality of photography lies in the objective character

of it. For tJ"le first time according to him between the originating object and the resultant
reproduction there is no creative intervention of man except for the instrumentality of
mechanical agent. The photographer does not have anything to do with the reproduction
except for the fact that he had chosen a subject and it might reflect on his personality
unlike the role played by the painter on his painting. All arts for him are based on the
presence of man except photography which derives from the absence of him.

16 Niepce discovered the still camera and Lumiere the moving camera.
17 Bazin, Vol.!, p.12.

109
Consequentially the means by which the reproduction is done through automatic means
have radically altered the psychology of image. The credible credentials of photography
derive from its objective character. The fact of the matter is that for Bazin, we are forced
to accept that the photograph is real as the object reproduced, actually. re-presented set
before us in time and space. Bazin adds an irrational power to the photograph which is
absent in painting and painting according to him is an inferior way of reproducing
things, an ersatz of the processes of reproduction. He attaches too much value to the
photographic image which for him is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions
of space and time that govern it. The image might lack the original properties of the model
but it shares by the virtue of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the
reproduction: it is the model itself. 18

Photography for him does not create eternity as art does, it embalms time, rescumg It
simply from its proper corruption. Seen from this perspective cinema is objectivity in
time. The film is no longer to preserve the object. For the first time the image of things is
likewise the image of their duration, change mummified as it were, to use the expression of
Andre Bazin. The categories of resemblance which determiJ?-e the species photographic
image likewise then determine the character of its aesthetic as distinct from that of a
painting. Photography actually contributes to the natural creation instead of providi~g a
substitute for it. His supposition that cinema is also a language stems from the fact that
photography is clearly the single most important event in the history of plastic arts. The
result was that it freed the Western painting from its obsessiveness with realism and
allowed it to recover its aesthetic autonomy. For him, the photograph allows us on the
one hand to admire its reproduction, something that our eyes alone couldn't have taught
us to love, and on the other hand to admire the painting as a thing in itself whose relation
to something in nature has ceased to be the justification for its existence.

The First Industrialists

18 Baudrillard's argument on the simulacrum comes to light. Nothing else is true except the simulacrum itself argues
Baudrillard. This argument is made ·against the background of modem culture where there is no location and rootedness to

110
Bazin pomts out that Clnema owes virtually nothing to the scientific spmt. All the
technicians including Lumiere and Edison were just ingenious industrialists. Any account
on cinema that was drawn merely from the technical inventions would be a poor one. On
the contrary, an approximate and complicated visualisation preceded the scientific and
industrial discovery opening the way to its practical use. In the photographic cinema
discovery precedes the technical conditions necessary for its existence. Bazin explains how
the invention took long to emerge, since all the pre requisites had been assembled and the
persistence of the image on the retina had been known for a long time. Though the two
were not necessarily connected scientifically, the effects of Plateau, marks Bazin, are
contemporary with those of NiceFhore Niepce, as if the attention of researchers had
waited to concern itself with the synthesising movement until chemistry quite
independently of optics had become concerned, on its part, with automatic fixing of the
image. Plateau was responsible for the study of the synthesis of simple movements done
scientifically. His study, claims Bazin, didn't have to wait till the industrial and economic
developments of the nineteenth century. Sadoul points out that the genuine labours of
Plateau were at the origin of the many inventions that made popular use of his discovery
pbssible. 19

Nothing stood in the way of the manufacture of the phenakistoscope or the zootrope.
This historical coincidence can in no way be explained on the grounds of scientific,
economic or industrial evolution. The photographic cinema could just as well have grafted
onto a phenakistoscope foreseen long ago in the sixteenth century. The delay in the
invention of the latter is as disturbing a phen -nenon as the existence of the precursors of
the former. Those who were completely involved in this pioneering research, in their
imaginations saw cinema as a total and complete representation of reality; they saw in a
trice the reconstruction of perfect illusion of the outside world in sound, colour and relief.

categories and concepts and they on"ly have a fleeting existence without a fixed location.
19 Bazin, VoLl, pp-12-19_

111
Film historian, P. Pot.oniee points out that it was not the discovery of photography but of
stereoscopy which came into market in 1851, slightly before the first attempts at animated
photography that opened the eyes of the researchers. Seeing people immobile in space,
what they wanted was movement in the very same space- a faithful reproduction of nature.
In any case Bazin reveals to us that not even one inventor who was working in this area
combined sound and relief with animation of the image, be it Edison with his kinetoscope
attached to a phonograph or Demenay and his talking portraits, or Nadar who produced
the first photographic interview on ChevreuI,2o Even Nadar's dream was to see the
photograph register the bodily movements and the facial expressions of the speaker while
the phonograph was recording the speech. The reasons for colour not appearing then was
the three-colour process experiments took some time. Nevertheless, E Reynaud had been
colouring his little figurines for some time and the first films of Melies were coloured by
stencilling.

Bazin even informs us about t~e numerous writings that all conjure up one image in their
imagination, that is an image of total cinema to provide the complete illusion of life which
was a long way then. Bazin contends that the guiding myth, inspiring the invention of
cinema then was the accomplishment of that which dominated all the techniques of
mechanical reproduction of reality in the nineteenth century, from the photograph to the
phonograph, namely an integral realism, a recreation of the world in its own image, an
image unburdened by the freedom of the interpretation of the artist or the irreversibility
of time. Interestingly, Bazin proposes that if the origins of an art reveal something of its
nature, then· one may consider the silent and the sound films as stages of technical
developments that little by little made a reality out of the original myth. From this view
point he contends that it would be absurd to take the silent film as a state of primal
perfection which has been gradually forsaken by the realism of sound and colour. The
primacy of the image is both historically and technically an accidental one. Bazin argues
that the nostalgia that one feels for the silent screen does not stretch enough into the
childhood of the seventh art. He adds that the real primitives of cinema, existing only in

20 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections all Photography, London: Vintage, 1993,p.70.

112
the imagination of a few men of the nineteenth century, are a complete imitation of
nature. Every new development added to cinema, paradoxically, should take us nearer to
the origins. In short, Bazin holds that cinema has not yet been invented. Having said this it
would be a reversal of the concrete order of causality, at least psychologically to place the
scientific discoveries and technical developments at the source of cinema's invention. 21

Edison and Lumiere had the least confidence in cinema's future. People like Marey were of
indirect assistance to cinema and had a specific purpose that was accomplished. There were
men who were just obsessed by their own imaginings like Berard Palissy. The cinema was
thus born from the converging of these obsessions out of a myth, the myth of total cinema
argues Bazin. This process, adds Bazin, likewise adequately explains the delay of Plateau in
I applying the optical principle of the persistence of the image on the retina, as also the
continuos progress of the syntheses of movement compared with the state of photographic
techniques. The fact is that each alike was dominated by the imagination of the century. It
is also important to clearly distinguish between the inventions which came as a result
precisely of scientific evolution or industrial requirements, and those which quite clearly
precede them. Bazin draws substance from the myth of the Icarus who had to wait on the
internal combustion engine before descending from the platonic heavens but dwelt in the
soul of every man who had first thought about birds. This statement could also be
extended to the myth of cinema, argues Bazin, but its forerunners prior to the nineteenth
century have only a remote connection with the myth we share today and which has
prompted the appearance of the mechanical arts which not only characterises today's
world but have gone to dominate the life of the twentieth century.

Silent Cinema and the Problematic of Sound


By 1928, silent cinema had reached its artistic peak and the realism that sound would bring
could only mean surrender to chaos. The advent of sound destroying the aesthetics of film
represented one school of thought. Bazin was one of the very few who felt that the advent
of sound has given ample proof that it came not to destroy but to fulfil the Old Testament

21 Bazin, YoU, pp 20-21.

113
of cmema. The technical revolution caused by sound-was that it was an aesthetic
revolution. In the history of cinema, contends Bazin, there was no breach in the period, as _
regards editing, between the silent and the sound era. On the contrary he holds that there
is enough discernible evidence of a close relationship between certain directors of 1925 and
1935 and especially of the 1940's through the 1950's. He made comparisons between Eric
Von Stroheim, Jean Renoir and Orson Welles or Carl Theodore Dryer and Robert
Bresson. The clear cut affinities demonstrate the gap separating the -1920's from the 1930's.
Secondly certain cinematic values actually carry over from the silent to the sound film and
above all, that it is less a matter of setting silence over and against the sound than of
contrasting certam families of styles, certam basically different concepts of
cinematographic expression.

He distinguished cinema between 1920 and 1940, between two Opposlte trends; those
directors who put their faith on the image and those who put it on reality. By image he
means that everything that the representation on the screen adds to the object represented
thereby. He adds that there is a complex inheritance to the image but it can be reduced to
two categories. The plastics of the image and those that relate to the resources of the
montage, which is just the ordering of images in time, which is editing. Plastics would
include the style of the sets, of the make up, up to a point even of the performance to
which we naturally add lighting and finally the framing of the shot which gives us its
composition. Or is it what the French called it as the mis-en-scene which means to put things
into the scene, and loses its meaning when translated into English as direction.

Montage and Editing


Montage is derived from the masterpieces of David Wark Griffith. Andre Malraux argues
that it was montage that gave birth to film as an art, setting it apart from mere animated
photography, thereby creating a language. 22 The uses of montage in pre-war classics of
American film are invisible. Scenes were broken down for the purposes of analysis. On the

22Andre Bazin, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Pierre Kast, Roger Leenhardt, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer: 'Six Characters in
Search of auteurs: A Discussion about French Cinema' in Cahiers du Ciellema, May 1957_

114
basis of the material or dramatic logic of the shot. It was this logic which concealed the
fact of the analysis, the mind of the spectator naturally accepting: .: viewpoints of the
director which are justified by the geography of the action or the shifting emphasis of
dramatic interest. This neutral quality of the invisible editing fails to make full use of the
montage. On the other hand these potentialities are clearly evident from the three
processes generally known as parallel montage, accelerated montage and montage by
attractlon.

Parallel montage is the simultaneity of two actions taking place at geographical distance by
means of alternating shots from each and Griffith was a master in parallel montage.
Accelerated montage is that which creates an illusion of the steadily increasing speed of a
,-
shot without actually using any images of speed simply by a multiplicity of shots of ever-
decreasing length. Finally there is montage by attraction, the creation of SM Eisenstein,
which Bazin describes as the reinforcing of one image by association with another image
not necessarily pan of the same episode. There are a variety of combinations of these
processes. They might differ in their processes but they share a single trait in common
which constitutes the very definition of montage, namely. the creation of a sense or
meaning not objectively contained in the images but derived exclusively from their
juxtaposition. Montage used by Kuleshov, Eisenstein and Gance did not show us the
event but alluded to it. Bazin feels that the greater part of the constituent elements came
from the reality they were describing but the final significance of the film was to reside in
the ordering of these elements much more than in their objective content. The
combinations are infinite. The only thing in common is that they suggest an idea by means
of a metaphor or by association of ideas. Thus between the scene, the ultimate object of
the recital and the image pure and simple, there is a son of relay station, an aesthetic
transformer in the mind. The meaning is cenainly not in the image but in the shadow of
the image projected by the montage onto the field of consciousness of the spectator. It is
the human agency which transforms the pure image into a sensible translation. The social
and the cultural elements constitute this process of translation. Through the contents of
the image and the resources of the montage the cinema had at its disposal an ammunition

115
of means whereby a variety of interpretations of an event were imposed onto the
spectator.

The Soviet cinema carried its permutations and combinations on the theory and practice
of montage to its high point and the German cinema did all kinds of violence to the
plastics of the cinema. Other cinemas do count too, but wherever the case be, it does not
appear that the language of cinema was at a loss for ways of saying what it wanted to say.
The silent cinema had an art of its own even if the art of the cinema consisted in
everything that the plastics and montage added to a given reality. Sound could only play
a subordinate and at best a supplementary role to the film, a counterpoint to the visual
image. Bazin comes to the defence of the directors of the silent era like Stroheim, FW
Murnau and Robert Flaherty whose films where montage plays no part, as though
expressionism of montage and image constituted the essence of cinema. 23 What is
important, in Nanook of the North, is the relationship between Nanook and his
environment, the North pole and his hunting of the seal; the actual length of the waiting
period. Montage could include the time involved but Flaherty confines himself to showing
the actual waiting period; the length of the hunt is the very substance of the image, its true
object. 24 Bazin is of the view that this episode is much more moving than any montage of
attraction. Murnau is interested not so much in time as in the reality of the dramatic space.
Montage plays no more a decisive part in Nosfreatu than in Sunrise. The view that his
plastics of the image are expressionistic sound superficial and his composition of his image
are in no sense pictorial. It adds nothing to the reality, it forces it to reveal the stru·ctural
depth of the image, to bring out the pre existing relations which become constitutive of
the drama. But it is Stroheim who rejects the photographic expressionism in its entirety.
He has a simple rule for direction. Take a close look at the world, and keep on doing so
and at the end it will lay bare all the brutalities and ugliness to you.

23 Bazin, YoI.l, pp.22-26.

24 William Rothman, Documentary Classics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp.t-20.

116
These directors certainly do not exhaust all the possibilities but they suffice to reveal, at
the very heart of the silent film, a cinematographic art, is the shot, in which the image is
not evaluated according to what it adds to reality, but what it reveals of it. In the latter, art
deprives reality of one of its elements. The moment you cease to maintain that the
montage and the plastic composition of the image are the very essence of the language of
the cinema, argues Bazin, sound is no longer the aesthetic crevasse dividing the two
radically different aspects of cinema. The cinema which is to believed have died of
soundtrack, says Bazin, is in no sense, "the cinema". The real dividing line is elsewhere
adds Bazin.

The American Cinema


History of the United States between 1930 and 1940 featured six major kinds of films
which gained popularity, the triumph of Hollywood. 1. American Comedy, Mr. Smith
Goes to Washington, 1936. 2.The Burlesque film, The Max Brothers. 3. The dance and the
vaudeville film, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the Ziegfield Follies. 4. The crime and
the Gangster film, Scarface, I am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang, The Informer.
S.Psychological and Social Dramas, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, .
Frankenstein. 7. The Western, Stagecoach, 1939. 25 French films ranked second during this
time and their superiority was slowly manifested in a trend that was called stark somber
realism or poetic realism in which four names really stand out: Jacques Feyder, Jean
Renoir, Marcel Carne and the Julien Duvivier according to Bazin. In France and in the
US, Bazin contends that sound film arrived well before the second world war and attained
its well balanced stage of maturity. Bazin argues that cinema- in its form and content-
during this time had the ripeness of a classical art. The originality of the post war cinema
largely derived its strength from the Italian and the English schools, devoid of the
Hollywood system of thought. The years from 1940 to 19S0 saw the introduction of new
blood and unexplored themes. Bazin concludes that the real revolution took place at the
level of the subject matter, that is to say the content of the movies did a dramatic change,
rather than that of style.

117
During these years there was some stabilisation of the technical progress and the only
changes in this situation have been in photography, thanks to the increased sensitivity of
the film stock. With the panchromatic stock in common use, with an understanding of the
potentials of the microphone, and with the crane as the standard studio equipment , one
can say that since 1930 all the necessary requirements for the art of cinema have been
available. 26 Bazin feels that alfilost there was a universal pattern of editing during 1938. In
a conventional sense, if the films of the silent era can be called as expressionist or
symbolistic the new form of story telling according to him was called as analytic or
dramatic. Bazin argues that the sound image, far less flexible than the visual image, would
carry montage in the direction of realism, increasingly eliminating both plastic
expressionism and the symbolic relation between images. Thus, around 1938, films were
edited according to the same principle. The story was unfolded in a series of set-ups
numbering as a rule about 600. The characteristic procedure was by shot-reverse-shot, that
is to say in a dialogue scene, the camera followed the order of the text, altering the
character shown with each speech. It was this fashion of editing w.hich was in vogue
between 1930 and 1939 which was to be challenged by the shot in depth introduced by
Orson Welles and William Wyler. The influence of Citizen Kane was monumental and this
fact cannot be denied or even for that matter over estimated. Thanks to the depth of the
field, whole scenes were covered in one take, the camera remaining motionless. The effect
was achieved from the actors in a fixed framework.

Andre Bazin reveals to us that if one is looking for the precursor of Orson Welles it was
not Lumiere or Zecca but it was Jean Renoir. He argues that in Renoir's films the search
after composition in depth is, in effect, a partial replacement of montage by frequent
panning shots and entrances. It is based on a respect for the continuity of dramatic space
and, of course, of its duration. In a defence to Welles' refusal to break up the action to
analyse the dramatic field in time, Bazin argues that it is this refusal to break up the scene

25 Cahiers du Cinema, Vo1.l, ed. by Jim Hillier. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp.73-82.
26 Geoffery !'{owell-Smith, Oxford History o/World Cinema, London: Oxford University Press,p.30.

118
which is a positive action, the results of which are far more superior to anything that
could be achieved by the classical cut. In a comparison between the framing of two
different shots in 1910 and the other form of film by Wyler or Welles, the framing of the
former is intended to all intents and purposes. A missing substitute for the fourth wall of
the theatrical stage, or at least in the exterior shots, for the best vantage point to view the
action and in the latter case the setting, the lighting and the camera angles give an entirely
different reading. Between them the cameraman and the director have converted the screen
into a dramatic checkerboard, planned down to the last detail.
"What we are saying then is that the sequence of shots in depth of the
contemporary director does not exclude the montage -how could he, without revert to a
primitive babbling? He makes it integral part of the plastic. The story telling of Welles or
Wyler is no less explicit than John Ford's but theirs has the advantage over his that it does
not sacrifice the specific effects that can be derived from the unity of image in space an
time. Whether an episode is analysed bit by bit or in its physical entirety cannot surely
remain a matter of indifference, at least in a work with some pretensions to style. It would
be obviously to deny that montage has added considerably to the progress of film
language, but this has happened at the cost of other values, no less definitely cinematic."
(P.35.Bazin: 1967)
The depth of the field is a capital gain in the field of direction, argues Bazin and that it is a
dialectical step forward in the history of film language. Apart from being economical and
simpler, the depth of the field shot is a subtle way of getting most out of a scene. In
addition to affecting the structure of the film language it also affects the relationships of
the minds of the spectators to the image and in consequence it influences the interpretation
of the spectacle. Bazin lists out the following characteristics of deep focus

1. That depth of focus brings the spectator into a relation with the image closer to that
which he enjoys with reality. Therefore it is correct to say that, independently of the
contents of the image, its structure is more realistic;
2. That it implies consequently, both a more active mental attitude on the part of the
spectator and a more positive contribution on his part to the action in progress. While
analytical montage only calls for him to follow his guide, to let his attention follow
along smoothly with that of the director who will choose what he should see, here he
is called upon to exercise at least a minimum of personal choice. It is from his attention
and will that the meaning of the image in part derives;

119
3. From the two preceding propositions which belong to the realm of psychology, there
follows a third which is metaphysical. In analysing reality, montage presupposes of its
very nature the unity of the meaning of the dramatic event.

In short, montage by its very nature rules out ambiguity of expression. On the other hand
Bazin argues that the depth of focus reintroduced ambiguity into the structure of the
image if not of necessity but of a possibility. Hence he feels that it is no exaggeration
when you say that Citizen Kane is unthinkable, shot in any other way but in depth.

Formerly the montage was the texture and the stuff of the cinema but in Citizen Kane a
series of super impositions are contrasted with a scene presented in a single take,
constituted another and deliberately abstract mode of story telling. In accelerated
montage, tricks are played in space and time but Welles and Wyler have nothing to cheat
according to Bazin but on the other hand offers contrast, condensing time. Like
accelerated montage and mont~ge of attractions these super impositions, which the talking
film had not used for ten years, rediscovered a possible use related to temporal realism in
a film without montage. Orson Welles is significant in the history of films because he was
spectacular and marked a new era and beginning of a film language. 27 Bazin argues that it
is not a question of belittling the films of 1930 to 1940 but establishing a sense of dialectic
progress of its highest expression ~ound in the films of 1940. Bazin offers that there was
no doubt that the talkie sounded the knell of a certain aesthetic of the language of the
film, but only wherever it had turned its back on its vocation in the service of realism.
The sound film nevertheless did preserve the essentials of the montage, namely
discontinuous description and the dramatic analysis of action. What it turned its back on
was the metaphor and symbol in exchange for the illusion of objective presentation. The
expressionism of montage has virtually disappeared but the relative realism of the kind of
cutting that flourished around 1937 implied a congenital limitation which escaped us s"o
long, argues Bazin, as it was perfectly suited to its subject matter. Only an increased
realism, holds this particular school of thought, of the image can support the abstraction

120
of the montage. In silent days montage evoked what the director wanted to say; in the
editing of 1938, it described it. In contemporary cinema, Bazin feels that the director
writes in the film. To corroborate his view he argues that the image-the plastic
composition and the way it is set in time, because it is founded on a much higher degree
of realism-has at its disposal more means of manipulating reality and of modifying it from
within.

Cinema and the Literary Arts


The filmmaker is no longer the competitor of the painter and the playwright, he is at last,
the equal of the novelist. Bazin seems to be arguing the case for mixed cinema and refers to
the significant period in which cinema sought material from the heritage of literature and
stage. Though increasingly cinema looks up for material in plays and the stage but its
approach is different. Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo have only supplied characters
and adventures or plots, if you will, to the film maker largely independent of their literary
works. And that is why a Javert or D'Artagnan have become a part of a mythology as in
Les Miserables and Javert Seetharaman in the Tamil film history, existing outside the
novels. These characters enjoy an autonomous existence of which the original work are
no longer anything more than an accidental and almost superfluous manifestation. Film
makers treat novels as film synopses. Film makers also seek novels for the details,
characters, plots and the atmosphere. But here again Bazin states that one can ignore the
fact that it is a book and just consider the writer a prolix scenarist. This is true with
American crime novels which are written with a double purpose in mind, namely with an
eye on a Hollywood adaptation. This is true of the present day American legal thrillers,
fictions in the line of John Grisham and Michael J Crichton whose pulp fictions have
been filmed. Furthermore, respect for crime fiction when it shows any measure of
originality is becoming more and more the rule; liberties cannot be taken with the author's
text with an easy conscience.

27 Bazin, Vo1.l ,pp.30-37.

121
In an adaptation certainly new values are involved which might not be present in the
text. 28 In theatre the direction of this evolution is more evident still. Dramatic literature,
like literature has always allowed itself to suffer violence at the hands of cinema. It has
always been a temptation for the director to film theatre, as in the case of any country's
film history, because it is already a film spectacle. Bazin feels that in the adaptation of the
novel there is required an amount of creativity in translating the page to the screen and on
the contrary the theatre is a false friend.
"Its illusory likeness to the cinema set the latter en route to a dead end, luring onto
- the slippery slope of the merely facile. If the dramatic boulevards, however, has
occasionally been the source of a goodish film, tJ:lat is because the director has only taken
the liberty with a playas he would with a novel, retaining in fact only the characters and
t.he plot. But there again, the phenomenon is radically new and this seems to imply
respect for the theatrical character of the model as an inviolable principle." (Bazin: 1967,
p.54)

Questions still keep ragmg about the earliest film CntICISm which fought for the
autonomy of the seventh art now only to be discarded like an old hat. And further it was
posed that if it was possible for cinema to exist without the crutches of literature and
theatre. This however is the problem of a reciprocal influence of other arts on cinema
and of adaptations in general. If cinema were two thousand years old then we would see
clearly that it does not lie outside the common laws of the evolution of arts.

But cmema IS Just a century old and its historical perspectives according to Bazin is
prodigiously blurred. What ordinarily extends through one or two civilisations is here
contained within the life span of a single man. 29 In tracing the history of literature and
music, they. are old as history itself and just as the child derives its early education by
imitating the adults around him, cinema had to imitate the other hallowed arts. Cinema
with its birth in the beginning of the century, its history as the resultant of determinants
specific to the evolution of all art and likewise of effects on it of the arts that have already
evolved. Bazin argues that the confused pattern of this aesthetic complex is aggravated by
certain sociological factors and that is cinema, in fact, has come to the fore as the only

28 Percy Fernandez, Every Man, An Island, The Pioneer, May 12, 1999.
29 Bazin, Yol.l, p.55.

122
popular art at a time when the theatre, .the social par excellence, reaches only a privileged
cultural minority. Cinema, though might have had an origin with a privileged base but it
went down in the history as a mass and popular entertainment. This was the signpost that
might lead to an inference that may be twenty years from, 1930-50, cinema will be
reckoned in its overall history as the equivalent of five centuries of literature.

This is commonplace of literary history up to the eighteenth century, when the notion of
plagiarism appeared for the first time. In the Middle Ages, the great Christian themes are
to be found alike in the theatre, painting, stained glass windows and so on. The misleading
notion about cinema is that, in contrast, to what usually happens in the normal evolution
. cycle of art, adaptation, borrowing does not happen in the early stages of its growth. On
the contrary the amount of originality and the autonomy of the means of expression have
never been greater than they were in the first twenty to thirty years of cinema. Normally
one expects any art in its nascent stage will imitate its superiors and then bit by bit evolve
to work out its own scheme of things and select its rightful themes and procedures and
themes. Bazin argues that it is less easy to understand that it should place an increased
volume of experience at the service of the material foreign to its genius, as is its capacity of
invention was in inverse proportion to its powers of expression. This argument placed
film in a very delicate position. The fact that cinema appeared after the novel and theatre
doesn't entail cinema to fall in line behind these arts and in the same plane.

It is very important to note and trace the historical conditions under which cinema
emerged and the sociological necessities that gave birth. And the conditions were very
different from those in which the traditional arts exist. The first film makers extracted
what was of use to them, to lure the audience and make it popular, namely the circus, the
provincial theatre, the music hall, which provided slapstick films, especially with both
technique and the actors. Bazin quotes a familiar saying when everyone had to comment
about Zecca when he discovered a certain Shakespeare. "Wlt a lot of good stuff that the
character passed up!" Zecca and his fellows were in no danger of being influenced by a
literature that neither Zecca nor his audiences read. On the other hand they were greatly

123
influenced by the popular literature of that time. Fantomas, a masterpiece of the screen. 30
The film gave a new life to the conditions out of which came an authentic and great
popular art. When film actually followed. the theatre in its footsteps a link was restored
after a century or two of its evolution, with dramatic forms that had been virtually
abandoned and Bazin turns quite angry when he questions those historians who knew
everything there is to be known about farce in the sixteenth century ever make it their
business to find out what a resurgence of vitality it had been between 1914 and 1919 at the
Pathe or at the Gaumont studios under the baton of Mack Sannet. Bazin feels that he could
do the same thing, that the same processes appeared in the novel especially in the case of
serial films. In doing so he concludes that both the story teller and the film want to test
their power of magic by way of interruption, to know the teasing sense of continuation of
a tale, that is a substitute for everyday living which in its turn, is but a break in the
continuity of a dream. And because of this, the so-called original purity of the primitive
screen does not stand up under examination.

The sound film does not mark the threshold of a lost paradise on the other side of which
the muse of the seventh art, argues Bazin. Rediscovering her nakedness, would then start
to put back her rags of which she had been stripped. The cinema, argues Bazin, has not
escaped a universal law. It has obeyed in its own way-the only way possible, in view of the
combination of technical and sociological circumstances affecting it. Bazin argues that is
not enough to have proved that the greater part of the early films were only either
borrowed or pillaged in order to justify thereby the actual form of ad~ptation. Deprived
of his usual stand the champion of pure cinema could still argue that the intercourse
between the arts is easier at the primitive level. But there is another school of thought that
argues that forms do not to act on each other and one another but it is true that the
history of the art goes on developing in the direction of autonomy and specificity. The
concept of pure art is not entirely without meaning; but it refers to aesthetic reality which is
as difficult to define as it is to combat. 3! Bazin contends that even if a certain mixing of the

)0 [bid. p.57.
)1 Emphasis mine.

[24
arts remains possible, like the mixing of genres, it does not necessarily follow that they are
all fortunate mixtures. There are fruitful cross- breedings which add to the qualities
derived from the parents; there are attractive, but barren hybrids and there are likewise
hideous combinations that bring forth nothing but chimeras. Bazin also points out the fact
that there is an existence of the. literature borrowing from the cinema as the cinema
borrows from the literature. It has been commonly agreed that the American novel has
come under the influence of cinema and more so, if not consciously the modern day
novels resemble more of a film script than the original characteristics of a novel. Even if
one admits that the novel has been shaped by the gravitational pull of the cinema, this
influence of a new art has unquestionably not been greater than that of the theatre on
literature during the last century. The influence of a dominant neighbour on the other arts
is probably a constant law. Bazin holds that if we maintain that cinema influences the
novel then we must suppose that it is a question of potential image, existing beyond the
magnifying glass of the critic and seen only from where he sits. He holds that in that case
one would be talking about a non existent cinema, an ideal cinema, a cinema that the
novelist would produce if he were a film maker; of an imaginary art that we are still
awaitirig. The novel has means of its own-language not image is the material, its intimate
effect on the isolated reader is not the same as the experience in the crowded darkness-but
precisely for these reasons the differences in the aesthetic structure make the search for
equivalents an even more delicate matter, and thus they require all the power of
invention and imagination from the film maker who is truly attempting a resemblance.

Bazin also points out the characteristic use of violence which is not portrayed with the
same force on the screen. The screen uses violence in a customary fashion that is somehow
like a devalued currency which is at the same time provoking and conventional. The more
the adaptation, the more it disturbs the equilibrium of the text that has important and
decisive literary qualities. The more the creative talent a new equilibrium needs to be
reconstructed that is not identical with, but is the equivalent of an old one. Bazin comes
down quite vehemently on those who think that adaptation is a slothful exercise from
which the true/pure cinema can gain nothing. It is those who care the least for fidelity in

125
the name of so called demands of the screen who betray, at one and the same time both
literature and cinema. Bazin goes on to substantiate his view when he talks about the
effective fidelity of a Cocteau or a Wyler which is not a step backward but on the contrary
is development of cinematographic intelligence. Whether it is the role of the perspicacious
mobility of the camera or the asceticism of editing, the refining down of photography or
the use of fixed camera and of deep focus, their success is the result of outstanding
mastery. Moreover it is the inventiveness of an expression which is the exact opposite of
passive recording of theatre. To show respect for theatre is not to photograph it. To create
theatre of any worthwhile kind is more difficult than to create cinema and this is what the
majority of adapters were trying to do up to the fifties and sixties. Far from being a sign of
decadence the mastering of theatrical repertoire by cinema is a proof of its maturity for
there could be a hundred times more cinema and better cinema. In short Bazin holds that
to adapt is no longer to betray but to respect. The cinema of the sixties was ready to take
effectively on the realm of the theatre and the novel because it is sure of itself and master
of its own means. Now, he argues that it can aspire for fidelity - not the illusory fidelity of
the replica-through an intimate understanding of its own true aesthetic structure which is a
prerequisite and a necessary condition of respect for works it is about to make its own.
The multiplication of adaptations of literary works which are far from cinematic need,
argues Bazin need not worry the critic who is concerned about the purity of the seventh
art: on the contrary they are the guarantee of its progress. Bazin cautions not to be misled
by the comparison and the analogy one draws between cinema and other arts, especially
those are evolution towards an individualistic use has made virtually independent of the
consumer. The cinema cannot exist without a minimum number and it is an immense
minimum, of people who frequent cinema now and then. The only possible comparison,
holds Bazin, is with architecture because a house has no meaning except its habitation, so
to say that it is functional. The cinema is likewise a functional art. Taking another system
of reference, we must say cinema's existence precedes its essence. And it is this existence
that the critic should depart from. Talking of those who condemned the sound film, he
says that they were unable to accept the fact that the verification of a change in history
goes beyond reality and postulates a value judgement. This fact they ignored earlier.

126
~. I'

Bazin is of the view that the critics find great resemblance between cinema and the novel.
Filmed theatre he says passes for heresy. It took quite a while to establish that the cinema
is a valid medium of dramatic works, especially in the first few years of its inception where
most of the films were failures and failed to catch the audiences. To start with, there was
sufficient prejudice against filmed theatre. There were praises on certain forms of cinema
which closely analysed, embodied the art of drama. He goes on to give examples from the
American comedy and sums up that if looked carefully the American comedy is no less
theatrical than the adaptation of any boulevard or Broadway play. Expounding on the
sociological background that made possible the brilliant development of American
comedy; he argues that the effect of which was confirmed in the working relationship
between theatre and cinema. The cinema, in a manner of speaking, dispensed theatre from
any need for prior existence. There was no such need, for the authors of these plays could
sell them directly to the screen. This was purely an accidental and historical phenomenon
related to the combination of sociological and economic conditions. The American
comedy was in a decline following the successes of the filmed Broadway comedies.

Bazin enlightens that in the American system there was never any prejudice against filmed
theatre. Though the circumstances of production in Hollywood up to 1940 were
completely different from of Europe. There was little borrowing from the stage, the
cinematographic theatre restricted to certain genres and at least during the first decade of
sound although borrowing little from stage. The crisis in the Hollywood films have
always been a reason for it to look into the written theatre. Bazin adds that the American
comedy always had a potential for theatre, albeit invisible. The greater part of the
American and French comedies came from the music hall or from the boulevard theatre.

Apart from Charlie Chaplin's indebtedness to the English school of mime, it is clear that
his art consists in perfecting, thanks to the cinema, the music-hall comic. Here cinema
offers more than the theatre by relieving of its imperfections, in a way going beyond it.
The economics of the gag are governed, says Bazin, by the distance between the stage and

127
the audience and above all the length of the laughs which spur the actor to protract his
effect to the point of their extinction. The stage forces him to exaggerate and only the
screen could allow Charlie to allow mathematical perfection of situation and gesture
whereby the maximum effect is obtained in the minimum of time. The cinema makes it
possible to carry a simple situation to its ultimate conclusions which on stage would be
restricted by time and space. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that slapstick cinema
gave the characters, situations and routines of classical farce a sudden and dazzling rebirth.
The producers of Hollywood slapstick films went for their actors, and the routines of this
genre combined with the resources of cinema added widely to the technical repertory. It
made possible a Max Linder, a Buster Keaton, a Laurel and Hardy, a Chaplin. Between
. 1903 to 1920, the masters of comedy reached a peak unique in its history. The relationship
between cinema and theatre are much older and much closer than is generally thought to
be the case and it is certainly limited to what is called filmed theatre. People do not give
much thought to cinema. For them it is a vast decor, exteriors and plenty of action. If they
are not given the least minimum, they feel cheated. The cinema must be more lavish than
theatre. Everybody must be a star and any hint of poverty or meanness in the everyday
surrounding contributes to a flop. Obviously a director or a producer who is willing to
challenge the public prejudice needs lots of courage, especially if they do not have too
much faith in what they are doing. The heresy of the filmed theatre is rooted in an
ambivalent complex that cinema has about the theatre. It is an inferiority complex in the
presence of an older and more literary art., for which the cinema proceeds to
overcompensate by the superiority of its technique-which is mistaken for aesthetic
supenonty.

Andre Bazin at a point calls for certain comments which according to him seem to
concern the concept of presence because it is this very concept as understood prior to the
appearance of photography, that cinema challenges. The fundamental question he raises is
that the cinematographic image be likened to other images and they must be regarded as
having an existence on their own di, :nct from the object. After dwelling a while on the
concept of presence, he takes on the essential traits of photography which according to

128
him is correctly tracing the image of the object of the person. Its automatic genesIs
distinguishes it radically from the other techniques of reproduction. The photograph
proceeds by means of a lens to the taking of a veritable luminous impression in light -to a
mould. As such, it carries more than mere resemblance, namely a kind of identity-the card
we call by that name being only conceivable in the age of photography. But Bazin adds
that photography is a feeble technique in that its instantaneity compels it to capture time
only piecemeal. The cinema does something strangely paradoxical. It makes a moulding of
the object as it exists in time and furthermore, makes an imprint of the duration of the
object. In inventing an expression for the presence of the actor, by adding to the placards
announcing his appearance the phrase, "in flesh and blood". Bazin feels that it would be
wrong to say that the screen would be impossible and incapable of putting the presence of
the actor. He argues that it does so as in the case of the mirror which relays the presence
of the person reflected in it-but it is a mirror with a delayed reflection, the tin foil of
which retains the image.

In a footnote to this entire argument Bazin differentiates between television and theatre.
He argues that television naturally adds a new variant to the pseudo presences resulting
from the scientific techniques for reproduction created by photography. On the little
screen during live television the actor is actually present in space and time. But the
reciprocal actor-spectator relationship is incomplete in one direction. The spectator sees
without being seen. There is no return flow. Televised theatre, therefore seems to share
something both of the theatre and of cinema: of theatre because the actor is present t.o the
viewer, of cinema because the spectator is not present to the actor. 32 Nevertheless this state of
not being present is not truly absence. The television actor has a sense of the millions of
ears and eyes virtually present and represented by the electronic media, that is the camera.
This abstract presence is most noticeable when the actor fluffs his lines. Painful enough in
theatre, says Bazin, it is intolerable on television since the spectator can do nothing to
help him be aware of the unnatural solitude of the actor. In the theatre, in similar
circumstances a sort of understanding exists with the audience, which is a help to an actor

129
in trouble. This kind of a reciprocal relationship is impossible on television. In putting
forward the propositions of opposition and identification on the screen and theatre Bazin
contends that the characters on the screen are quite naturally objects of identification.
While those on the stage are objects of mental opposition because their presence gives
them an objective reality and .to transpose them into an imaginary world needs an
effective intervention from the audiences, that is to say, the will to transform their
physical reality into abstraction. This abstraction being the result of a process of
intelligence can only be asked from a person who is fully conscious adds Bazin. A member
of a film audience identifies with the actor on the screen through a psychological process,
the result of which is to turn the audience into a mass and to render emotion almost
uniform. Adding substance, Bazin draws an analogy from algebra that if two numbers
equal a third, then they are equal to one another, thus he points ou~ that if two individuals
identify themselves with a third, then they are equal to one another. Though this
comparison might risk a generalisation, according to Bazin this seems to be more often the
rule. He draws an example of the chorus girls on the screen and on stage. On the screen
they satisfy an unconscious sexual desire. When the hero joins them he satisfies the desire
of the spectator in the proportion to which the latter has identified himself with the hero.
On the stage the girls excite the onlooker as they would do in real life. The result is that
there is no identification with the hero. Instead he becomes an object of jealousy and
envy. In other words, Tarzan is only possible on the screen. The cinema calms the
spectator, the theatre excites him. Even when it appeals to the basest of instincts the
theatre up to a certain point stands in the way of creation of a mass mentality. Bazin
argues that crowd and solitude are not antinomies: the audience in a movie house is made
up of solitary individuals. Crowd here should be taken to mean the opposite of an organic
community freely assembled. The theatre stands in the way of any collective
representation in the psychological sense, since theatre calls for an active individual
consciousness which the film requires a passive adhesion.

32 Emphasis mine.

130
These views shed a new light on the actor. Bazin argues that they transfer him from an
ontological level to a psychological level. It is to the extent to which cinema identifies with
the hero that it comes in conflict with the theatre. Because the cinema has in position the
means which favour a passive position, which means to a greater or lesser degree stimulate
the consciousness of the spectator. Inversely the theatre can lessen the tension between the
actor and the spectator. Bazin argues that the theatre and cinema will no longer be
separated off an unbridgeable aesthetic moat, they would simply tend to give rise to two
attitudes of mind over which the director maintains a wide control. Funher examining the
pleasure derived from watching a movie is different from a theatrical experience. Moreover
the pleasure derived from reading a novel and that of watching cinema is alike in that the
reader alone like in a dark cinema hall identifies with the protagonist. After reading for a
while, he identifies with the character and has an illusory effect. Incontestably, in the
pleasure derived from cinema and novel there is a self-satisfaction, a concession to solitude,
a son of betrayal of action by a refusal of social responsibility. The entire process might
look cathanic in effect, may seem psychological. Modern pedagogic research have proved
fruitful insights into the cathanic process of theatre. Bazin clarifies the argument with
regard the objection based on presence, and on that alone, the theatre and cinema are not·
basically in conflict. What is really in dispute are two psychological modalities of a
performance. 33

The theatre is indeed based on the reciprocal awareness of the presence of the audience and
actor, but as only related to a performance. The theatre acts on us by the vinue of our
panicipation in a theatrical action across the footlights and as if it were under the
protection of their censorship. The opposite is true in the cinema. Alone, hidden in a dark
room, we watch the half-open blinds a spectacle that is unaware of our existence and
which is the pan of the universe. There is nothing to prevent us from identifying ourselves
in imagination with the moving world before us, which becomes the world. It is no longer
the phenomenon of the actor as a person physically present that constitute the theatrical
play and deprive the spectator of active panicipation. Bazin argues that it is much less a

33 Bazin, VoLl, pp.77-IOL

131
question of actor and presence than of man and his relation to the decor. Bazin is of the
view that in theatre man i.s the central plot around which everything revolves an all-
important phenomenon and, on the contrary the drama on the screen can exist without
man and some film masterpieces use man simply as a counterpoint or an accessory to
nature. Like in Nanook, the subject is man's struggle with nature, which cannot be
compared to theatrical action. Bazin quotes Jean Paul Sartre that in the theatre the drama
proceeds from the actor, and in cinema it goes from the decor to man. This dramatic flow is
of decisive importance. It is bound up with the verY essence of mis-en-scene.

Dramatic and Photographic Realism


The consequences of photographic realism come mto play here. The cinema uses the
resources of nature because it is able to do so and the director has in his capacity to use the
camera at his will which has the resources of the microscope and the telescope. The last
strand of a rope about to snap and the climber falling into the crevasse, everything is
possible and well within the reach of the director. 34 Dramatic effects and consequences do
not have any material limits to the eye of the camera. Drama is freed by the camera from
all contingencies of space and time. But this freeing of tangible dramatic powers, argues
Bazin, is only a secondary aesthetic cause, and does not explain the reversal of value
between the actor and the decor. For sometime the cinema deprives itself the use of the
setting and of the exterior nature while theatre in contrast uses a complex machinery to
give a feeling of ubiquity to the audience like in, The Passion ofJoan ofArc by Carl Dreyer,
which was shot entirely in close up. The virtually invisib[e and in fact theatrical settings
by Jean Hugo is compared with Ford's Stagecoach and Bazin questions whether the former
is any way less cinematic than the latter. He goes on to hold that that quantity has nothing
to do with it, nor the resemblance to theatre techniques. He argues that the film direction
differ from theatre direction because the cinema allowed a closer look and view of the
scenery and made a reasonable use of it. The decor in the drama contributes as much to the
drama as it does in the film but the fact is that the problem is not in the decor but in its

34David Breashears. High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and High Places. New York: Simon & Schuster,
1999, pp.187-210.

132
nature and its function. Therefore, he argues that there should be some light thrown on
essentially the theatrical notion, that of the dramatic place.
1
The theatrical notion of dramatic space pushes the argument into the frontiers of
architecture. He argues that there can be no theatre without architecture. Whether a
performance or a celebration, theatre of its very essence must not be confused with nature
under penalty of being absorbed by her. Founded on the reciprocal awareness of those
taking part and present in one another, it must be in contrast to the rest of the world in
the same way that play and reality are opposed, or concern and indifference, or liturgy and
the common use of things. Costume, make-up, the style of the language delivery and the
footlights, all contribute to this distinction, but the clearest sign of all these is the stage.
The architecture of the stage has varied from time to time without ever stopping to mark
out a privileged spot actually or virtually distinct from nature. It is precisely by the virtue
of the locus dramaticus that the decor exists. The decor constitutes the three sided wall
which opens into the auditorium which we call the stage. These few square feet of space
which constitutes the light and machinery flanked by the wings, th~ hidden labyrinths,
which is called the back stage, which does not interfere one bit with the continuity of the
pleasure of the spectator who is playing the game of the theatre. But the backstage
nevertheless is in constant interaction with the stage, though not explicitly. It is the
backstage which prepares the stage for action. 35 Its appearances are turned inward facing
the public and the footlights exist by virtue of its reverse side and its absence from
anything beyond, as the painting exists by the virtue of the frame. The theory of theatre
architecture and its relations to the stage, "is provided by the Palladium with the
extraordinary Olympic Theatre of Vicenza, making the ancient amphitheatre open to the
sky a purely architectural trompe-I' oeil. There is not a single element, including the
entrance to the auditorium, which is not an affirmation of its essentially architectural
nature. Built in 1590, inside an old barrack donated by the town, outwardly the Olympic
Theatre appears to be just red brick walls, that is, purely an utilitarian architecture which
one might describe amorphous in the sense in which chemists distinguish between the

133
amorphous state and the crystal state of the same body. The visitor going in by what
appears to be a hole in the wall cannot believe his eyes when he finds himself, all of a
sudden in the extraordinary hollowed-out grotto which constitutes the semi circle of the
theatre. Bazin draws a comparison with locks of quartz or amethyst which outwardly look
common stones whereas inside they are a composite of pure crystal, secretly oriented
inward, the theatre of Vicenza conceived according to the laws of an aesthetic and artificial
space polarised exclusively towards the centre."

The picture is not to be confounded with the scene it represents and is not a window in a
wall. The stage and the decor where the action unfolds constitute an aesthetic microcosm
inserted perforce into the universe but essentially distinct from the Nature which
surrounds it. It is not the same with the cinema, the basic principle of which is a denial of
any frontiers of action. The idea of a locus dramaticus is not only alien to cinema but is
contradictory to the screen. The screen is not like a frame of the picture but a mask which
allows only a part of the action to be seen. When a person makes an exit off the screen we
assume that he is out of sight but he continues to exist in his own capacity at some other
place in the decor which is hidden from us. There are no wings to the screen. There could
not be without destroying the specific illusion, which is to make a revolver or a face of the
centre of the universe. In contrast to the theatre the space of the screen is centrifugal. It is
because, argues Bazin, that the infinity which the theatre demands cannot be spatial, that
its area can be none other than the human soul.

The actor is the focus of the two-fold concave mirror says Bazin. From the auditorium and
the decor there converge on him dim lights of conscious human beings and of the
footlights themselves. He lights up in each member of the spectator an accomplice flame.
The dramatic infinities of the human heart moan and beat between the enclosing walls of
theatrical space. That is why dramaturgy is in its essence human. Man is at once its cause
and its subject. Discussing the problems involved in adaptations of great works such as
Racine, Shakespeare or Moliere and, what is specifically theatrical about these tragedies IS

35 Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin, 1979.

134
not their action so much as the human, that is to say the verbal priority given to their
dramatic structure. It is not therefore essentially the action of a play which resists film
adaptation, but above and beyond the phrases of the intrigue it is the verbal form which
the aesthetic contingencies or cultural prejudices oblige us to respect. It is this which
refuses to let itself be captured in the window of the screen. Quoting Baudelaire, "the
theatre is a crystal chandelier". Bazin further extends his view that if one were to offer in
comparison a symbol other than this artificial crystal-like object, brilliant, intricate, and
circular, which refracts the light which plays around its centre and holds us prisoners of
its aureole, he says that he might compare it with the cinema that is the little flashlight of
the usher, moving like an uncertain comet across the night of our waking dream, the
diffuse space of frontiers that surrounds the screen.

Screen and Realism of Space


It is proved that the cinema gets it reality from the photographic image. The cinematic
illusion is not based, as Bazin argues, in the theatre on convention tacitly accepted by the
general public; rather it is based on the inalienable realism of that which is shown. All
trick work inust be perfect in all material respects on the screen. Thus, Bazin wants to
conclude that cinema is dedicated entirely to the representation if not of natural reality at
least of a plausible reality which the audience can identify with nature as he knows it.
Risking generalisation, Bazin offers the example of German Expressionism since it was
evident that Caligari attempted to depart from the normal decor to the bizarre, the
audience could not identify with it. Though Bazin argues that cinema opens a window to
the artificial ,¥"odd, or could we say a world of creativity as seen by the novelist, provided
there is a common denominator between the photographic image and the world we live
in. Bazin posits that our experience of space is the structural basis for our concept of the
universe. Taking the example of Henri Gouhier, Bazin says that, " the stage welcomes
every illusion except the illusion of presence," that the cinematographic image can be
emptied of all reality save one- reality of space. Again the problems of overstatement of
the inclusion of all reality gloom large because it is difficult to imagine a reconstruction of
space devoid of all reference to nature. The world of the screen and the world of nature

135
cannot be juxtaposed. The screen of necessity substitutes for it since the very concept of
universe is spatially exclusive.

It is possible to imagine a reconstruction of space but in a altogether different fashion as


seen in the films like Caligari that have attempted to substitute a fabricated nature and an
artificial world for the world of experience have not equally succeeded. But again you
have the successes of Nosferatu and the Passion ofJoan Arc. Yet it would seem at first sight
that the methods of direction belong to the same aesthetic family, and that viewing the
varieties of temperament and period, one could group these films together as
expressionistic as distinct from realist. If closely viewed there are basic differences between
Robert Weine and Murnau for Nosferatu plays for greater part of the time, against natural
settings whereas the fantastic settings of Caligari are derived from deformities of lighting
and decor. In the case of Dreyer, it is a little subtle since at first sight nature plays a non-
existent role. Bazin argues that the decor by Jean Hugo is no less artificial and theatrical
than the settings of Caligari; the systematic use of close ups and unusual angles is well
calculated to destroy any sense of space. Regular cine club goers were introduced to this
film and every time they were told the famous story of how Falconetti's hair was actually
cut and the rest of the actors wore no make up . These references to history ordinarily, holds
Bazin, have no more than the gossip value. But again Bazin personally feels that in any case
they seem to hold the aesthetic secret of the film; the very thing it owes its continued survival.
For Bazin, Dreyer's brilliant sense of cinema is manifested in the exterior scene. According
to him every other director would assuredly have shot in the studio. The decor as built
evoked a Middle Ages of the theatre and miniatures. According to Bazin if the paradox of
cinema is rooted in the dialectic of the abstract and concrete, if cinema is committed only
to communicate by way of what is real, it becomes all the more important argues Bazin to
discern the elements in filming which confirm our sense of natural reality and those
which destroy the feeling. On the other hand it argues a lack of perception to derive one
sense of reality from these accumulations of factual detaiJ.36

136
Bazin comes to a conclusion that the basic aesthetic problem of filmed theatre is indeed
that of decor and the triul!1ph card that the director must hold- the reconversion a
window onto a world of space oriented towards an interior dimension, namely the closed
and the conventional area of the theatrical play. Once this paradox of space has been dealt
with, the director, far from hesitating to bring the theatrical conventions and faithfulness
of the text to the screen will find himself, on the contrary, completely free to rely on
them. From that point onwards, Bazin argues it is no longer running away from those
things which make theatre but in the long run to acknowledge their existence by rejecting
the resources of the cinema. The evidence of a return to filmed theatre ad during the last
ten years belongs essentially to the history of decor and editing argues Bazin. It is a
conquest of realism-not, certainly, the realism of subject matter or realism of expression
but the realism of space without which Bazin feels the moving pictures do not constitute
cmema.

Thoughts on Comparison

Bazin thought that Mizoguchi arid Kurosawa are two sides of the same coin. He posed a
fundamental question in comparing them, or understanding them, "would we know the
day any better if there were no night? To dislike Kurosawa because one loves Mizoguchi is
only the first step toward understanding. Unquestionably anyone who prefers Kurosawa
must be incurably blind ?ut anyone who loves only Mizoguchi is one-eyed. Throughout
the arts there runs a vein of contemplative, mystical as well as an expressionistic vein."

Bazin refers to the Western as the American film par excellence, especially pointing out
the durability of it and the world wide attention it evokes among citizens all over the
world irrespective of nationalities. The reason he tries to attribute towards this universal
evocation is that the western possesses some secret of youthfulness and a secret that
somehow identifies with the essence of cill(' 'la. 37

36 Bazin, Vol.!, p.108.


37 Cahiers du Cinema, Vo1.l, ed. by Jim Hillier. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp.88-93.

137
Bazin argues that it would be futile to reduce the essence of the western to one or other
manifest components. The same ingredients are to be found elsewhere but not the same
benefits that appear to go with them. Thus the western must be something other than its
form. Galloping horses, the frontier town, strong and brave men in a wild and austere
landscape could not add up to its genre nor encompass its charms. Those formal attributes
through which one recognises the western are simply the signs or symbols of profound reality,
what Bazin calls the myth. He argues that the western was born out of a mythology and a
means of expression: saga of the west existed before the cinema in literary texts, folk tales
or folk lore form, and the multiplication of western films has not killed off western
literature which still retains its public, and continues to provide screen writers with the
best material. 38

Bazin finds at the source of the western the ethics of the epic and even of tragedy. Also at
its source is the epic of ethics. The Good verses Bad and an aberrated extension, the Ugly.
The western is in the epic category because of the astonishing and s!lper-human level of
their heroes and the legendary magnitude of their feats of valour. Billy the Kid is as
invulnerable as Achilles and his revolver infallible. The style of the mis-en-scene is in
keeping with the character of the hero. A transformation into an epic is evident in the set ups
of the shots, with their predilections for vast horizons, all encompassing shots that bring
us into mind the conflict between man and nature. The western has virtually no use of the
close up, even for the medium shot, preferring by contrast, the travelling shot and the pan
which refuses to be limited by the frameline and which restore to space its fullness. This
epic style derives its essence from the morality which underlies it and justifies it. It is the
morality of a world in which the social good and evil, in their simplicity and necessity,
exist like two primary and basic elements. The simplicity of the western scripts have often
been subject to parody argues Bazin.

38 Bazin, Yol.2, p.141.

138
Bazin defends the naivete but the naIvete greatness is recognised in westerns by simple
men in every clime despite the differences in language, landscape, customs and dress. The
epic and the tragic hero is the universal character. The Civil War is a part of the
nineteenth century history, the western has turned into a Trojan War of the most modern
epics. The migration to the West is the Odyssey, or the migration to the West just part of
the great American myth. The western's penchant for outlandish situations, exaggerations of
the fact and the use of deus ex machina, in short everything which makes for improbability is
the foundation of its aesthetic and its psychology says Bazin.

The history of the film has only keown one other epic cinema and that too a historical
cinema. The epic and the western have begotten myths necessary for the confirmation of
history and it was cinema which was the only language capable of expressing this, above all
giving its true aesthetic dimension. Bazin holds that without the cinema the West would
have left behind, in the shape of the western story, only a minor literature, and it is
neither by its painting nor its novels that the Soviet art has given the world a picture of
grandeur through a medium called cinema. The fact is that henceforth the cinema is
specifically a.n epic art.

Film Theory: Form and Functions


Film theory and film criticism are related but not identical activities and their common
goal is understanding cinema or the eternal pursuit of understanding the cinema. Before
we proceed with the details a basic definition of film theory and film criticism will enable
us a framework for discussion. Film theory is concerned with the general rather than the
particular. It is concerned with what might be called the cinematic capability itself. And in
the same breadth film criticism is construed as "applied film theory" .39

What initially constituted the work in criticising cinema in a more formal fashion later
became the corpus of film theory and the distinction between film theory and criticism

139
eventhough are separate categones, at the level of functioning there are a lot of
resemblances. Theory generally, at least film theory is conceived as abstract in nature
and criticism with a more practical attitude by nature. According to James Monaco, at
the lowest end of the scale lies film reviews or what one calls the reportage or the kind of
criticism the journalist practic~s. This involves two things and relatively two simple
things- describe the film and evaluate. At the upper end of the scale lies the kind of film
theory that has nothing to do with the film or the actual practice of the film, an
intellectual activity primarily exists for its own sake and has its own rewards and doesn't
necessarily have much relation to the real world. In between lie the vast expanses of
general criticism and theory.40

This classical argument has undergone a lot of weathering. In contemporary film studies
film theory is described in the classical sense has come to formulate and reformulate a
whole lot of articulations drawn from the practice of the film and other aspects associated
with film making. It no more cocoons itself as an island. A number of dichotomies govern
the work of film theory. To begin with the contrast between the practical and the ideal,
which is suggested by the ideal and the practical, that is between theory and criticism.
Closely associated with it is the prescriptive theory and criticism. The prescriptive theorist
is somewhat of an idealist of what a film should be and the descriptive theorist only with
what film is. The prescriptive theorist works on the basis of the inductive logic, has
already a pre determined set of rules and regulations and then measures the works of
cinema with that yardstick and the descriptive theory works on the deductive logic and the
theorist examines the entire range offilm activity and then only draws tentative conclusions
about the real nature of the film. The third and the important dichotomy is between
theory and practice. The film maker need not study film theory to make a film and film
makers till recently had little interest in film theory. However, as and when cinema
became a force to reckon with in its form, technique, technology and aesthetics, the gap
between theory and practice was bridged. As a result many contemporary film makers

39 J Dudley Andrew, The Major Film Theories. London: Oxford University Press, I 976,pp.4-S.

140
have proceeded from strong theoretical bases as in the case of theoreticians paying much
attention to the art of making films.

The Hollywood style which to a great extent dominates film history never produced a
codified body of theory. On the other hand the West produced a number of significant
films in the history of cinema of the thirties and the forties depended on a complex and
powerful aesthetic system, yet there was no Hollywood theory as such. Clearly, film like
other arts needs no theory nor does it need one to understand their existence and role like
any other institution in the society The pioneers didn't have one and the tragedy is that
you have one of the landmark figures in the history of cinema DW Griffith who argued
that the human pulse beat was the secret metronome of film making. In Pace and M01Jies
Liberty Magazine, 1926 he wrote, " The American school.. ... makes no effort to keep up
the tempo of the picture in tune with the average human heartbeat, which of course,
increases in rapidity under such influences as excitement, and may stop in moments of
pregnancy."

This sort of a perception resulted from a cogitation which was the result of film's own
inferiority complex as the youngest of arts. Christian Metz argues that this kind of a
criticism psychoanalytically relieves cinema from the bad-object status. It did not gain
respectability for a long time, for the educated had to render their seal of acceptability.
The early rule was that if film could support a weighty theory then they must be as
respectable as the other arts who are older than cinema. This certainly was puerile. It was a
long time, in the seventies that it was accepted as a study in the universities. Many of the
earliest works on cinema were prescriptive and quite elaborate. Certain standards were
necessary as in other works of humanities and these were provided by the film theorist.
These standards or norms were borrowed from other works of art and social sciences
disciplines. Later it did not insist on these very standards because cinema started
developing its own and more sophisticated system of values. Within any specific film

James Monaco, How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History and Theory of Film. New York: Oxford
40

University Press, 1977, p.295.

141
theory there are a number of dichotomies at work and not only that, there are dialectic
and paradoxes operating in ~he corpus of film theory.

Is the theory mainly aesthetic or philosophical? Does it relate the parts of cinema to each
other or parts of a kind of genre of films to each other.? Is cinema anyway related to
culture or is cinema just a manifestation of culture or is there any relation between the
individual and the society and the film. Is it sociology or is it politics. Sergei Eisenstein
used film terminology to describe the relationships between various approaches to the film
theory. A long shot film theory according to him would deal the film in context, judge the
film's social and political consequences or implications. The medium shot film criticism
focuses 'on the human scale of the film which is what most of the reviewers concern
themselves with. The close-up theory breaks down the film into parts and resolves the film
into its elements. Film semiotics and other theories that attempt to treat the language of
the film, for example are close-up approaches. The essential concept is the classic
opposition between form and function. Then we proceed to the implications of these
oppositions whether one is interested in what the film is which is the form or the how it acts
upon us which is essentially the function. It was quite sometime that the film theory shifted
the focus from the form of art to the meaningful analysis ofits function.

The pioneer film theorists were mainly interested in providing a respectable artistic cachet
for the young art. In 1915 a well known poet called Vachel Lindsay published The Art of
the Moving Picture. In his thesis he challenged the readers to consider the sideshow
entertainm~nt as a real art. He identified three basic types of photoplays as movies with
pretensions to art which were then called: "The Photoplay of Action,", "The Intimate
Photoplay" and "The Motion Picture of Splendour," Monaco feels that these three
categories triangulate the Hollywood cinema of the next fifty years. These comments were
apparently made in the seventies. In each case Lindsay had formulated and categorised
elements in which film could not compete but only surpass other arts. Action, Intimacy
and Splendour were and still are all strong direct values. This kind of a comparison

142
however, could only stem from researchers and early theorists because it is at the
formative stages of any discipline or any other art that such a comparison is made.

The later film theorists, if Andre Bazin is taken as an example, have time and agam
consistently and systematically tried to prove that cinema exists simultaneously with other
arts such as literature and theatre and at the same time consolidating cinema's own
position and their distinct qualities. Lindsay later compared the cinema with the
accomplishments of other older arts, discussing film as, sculpture-in -motion, painting-in-
motion and architecture-in-motion. A few films taken by the cultural establishment then
were the ones which mimicked the stage and yet Lindsay understood that the real
strength of the film lay precisely in the opposite direction the so-called photoplays. His
main thesis was to show the contrast between the cinema and the stage and how these
parallel arts contrasted and it was this argument which was the major concern of film
theorists during the twenties and thirties. And film theorists were trying to establish a
separate identity for the cinema. He compared the invention of the photoplay as
important as the picture writing in the Stone age. He went on to consider film as a
language which in the modern day film theory would mean th~ semiotics of the film.

Munsterberg and Photoplay


An year after Lindsay's another work on cinema appeared (directly opposed to his work,
style and approach but a seminal in work and equally valuable). Hugo Munsterberg's The
Photoplay: A Psychological study in 1916 was directly Munsterberg's work unlike Lindsay's
was not populist but academic. Munsterberg's work not only provided the initial cachet
but till date remains one of the objective framework in film theory and the gamut of film
theory infact traces its origin infact from Munsterberg. He was committed to bridging the
gap between popular understanding and film theory per se. According to him, the world
was divided into two categories the 'high brow' and the 'low brow' and his objective was
to bridge the gap between these two brows. 41 For Munsterberg, film theory should not
only take into account the implicit aesthetics but also the external social and psychological

143
effects. He calls these two facets as inner and outer developments of the motion pictures.
He starts his proposition from here. His contribution lies in the application of principles
of pre-Freudian psychology to cinema. Munsterberg uses the principles of Gestalt
psychology. The Gestalt school of thought states that a unified physical, psychological or
symbolic configuration having properties that cannot be derived from its parts. Freudian
approach stress the passive experience of the audience and emphasises on the dream like
nature of the experience but Munsterberg's approach is more in the level of interaction, an
interactive phase between the film and the audience. Munsterberg's explanation on
perception of movement in moving pictures is that it does not depend on the persistence
of vision which he calls as a static phenomenon but as a result of an active mental process
of interpretation of these still images. 42

It seemed obvious to Munsterberg to describe all cinematic properties as mental. At its


primary level, the mind animates the sensory world with motion which he called phi-
phenomenon. The raw material is the mind and the result is the motion picture. Cinema
for him is the art of the mind just as music is that of the ear and painting is that to the eye.
All the technology' proceeds from this belief and proposition. Apart from the basic quality
of motion what work are those close-ups and camera angles not because of the lenses but
because of the mind's way of working. At the highest mental level are the emotions which
control the lower processes. The cinematic aspect corresponding to emotion is the story
itself, the highest ingredient available to this narrative art, the one which directs aU the
lower processes of film making. Emotions must be the central aim of photoplay. The basis
of the, film medium lies not in the world outside but in the mind according to
Munsterberg. Thirty years later Bazin contributed to the corpus of film theory and held
that film must be seen as an evolving phenomenon, perpetually developing an ever-more
perfect technology which will serve the unthought of goals by giving us unimaginable
forms of cinema. Andrew in analysing the development of such an evolution holds that it

41 Baudelaire and Bourdieu saw in culture the same dichotomy,


42 James Monaco, p.298-300.

144
never crossed Munsterberg's mind that the purpose of the highest cinema could be other
than the traditional purpose of art or that its form might not follow the established
precepts of art.

Drawing inspiration from Kant,? Munsterberg employs a different kind of analysis as he


departs from psychology to aesthetics. History for him described what is film and
psychology described how the external object creates the internal object called the film.
These aspects constitute the 'phenomenal aspects' of cinema. That aspect which goes
outside science to philosophy in order to account for the form and function of the film is
what he called th~ noumenal realm. This realm dwells in value-philosophy and the neo-
Kantian aesthetics. Toconstrue science 'correctly' according to Kant, the belief should rest
in the transcendence of certain logical categories that exists in the noumenal and not in the
phenomenal sphere. He argued that the experience of the truly beautiful places us
momentarily outside of all considerations of personal gain or pleasure. The object or the
experience in itself, when confronted, we feel is justified because it exists in itself. Kant
calls this object of beauty an object having a purposiveness without purpose. For
Munsterberg, the isolated art object must appeal to the disinterested perceiver in all its
uniqueness, first stirring the mind and then putting it to rest. Certain films, according to
him, fully accomplish this. The classic notion of aesthetics as put forward by Andrew is
that which cultivates a sense of aesthetic experience in art objects, which are objects
construed in the world for no practic~l reason. Art works are objects, built to the measure of
the minds, objects whose raison d'etre is to be experienced perfectly and out of all
content. FilII?-s however, do have a purpose of whetting our appetite for the aesthetic
experience of the nature, but they can never substitute for such experience. Munsterberg's
thesis is that the aesthetic aspect of film lies in the psychological realm and that the film
doesn't exist on the celluloid nor the screen but in the mind which actualises it by
conferring movement, attention, memory, imagination and emotion on a series of dead
shadows. The spectator who views the film is wonderfully cut from the outside world, its
care and demands and leaves his emotions stirred. Munsterberg sums up his arguments like
this, " The photoplay tells us a human story by overcoming the forms of the outer world,

145
-.~", • .I'~'-

namely space, time and causality and by adjusting the events to the forms of the inner
world, namely attention, memory, imagination and emotion ...... [ These events] reach
complete isolation from the practical world through the perfect unity of plot and pictorial
appearance." Munsterberg further advances and argues that any kind of material is suitable
for film, even the most violent and the prurient but so long as it reaches its proper
conclusion and releases the energies it has aroused. 43

Unity is very important for Munsterberg and that is indeed the catchword. The formal
unity of the art work will ensure that nothing will affect the practical lives of the
spectators. If the film's form is unified then the film's goal is served.

Arnheim and Film as Art


Rudolf Arnheim like Munsterberg also came from an intellectual tradition of the Gestalt
school of psychology. Rudolph argues that film resembles painting, music, literature, and
the dance in that respect-that it is a medium that may, but need not, be used to produce
artistic results. He uses the analogy of colour postcards for instance, which are not art and
not intended to be. In the same way film is neither a military march, atrue confession
story, nor a strip tease. He categorically states that movies are not necessarily film art. In
that case what are they? 44 From there he goes on to understand the working principles of
film art. His first proposition is that it is a projection of solids upon a plane surface which
is done by the camera. Arnheim clarifies that if the common perception is that the camera
as an automatic recording machine, it must be made to realise that even in the simplest
photographic reproduction of a perfectly simple object, a feeling for its nature is required
which is quite beyond any mechanical operations. He regards certain concepts and
describes in some sense unreal, namely the reduction of depth, lighting and the absence of
colour, delimitation of the image and distance from the object, absence of space time
continuum and the absence of the non visual world of senses. For him, film art is based

43 J Dudley Andrew, pp. J 9-25.


44 Rudolph Amheim, Film As Art. New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 1992,p.17.

146
on the manipulation of the technically visible, not the humanly visual which he compares
with the painting of an arti~t who cannot manipulate nature in ~is works.

Dudley Andrew in deducing from the thesis of Arnheim argues that film art is the tension
between representation and distortion and is based not on the aesthetic use of something in
the world but the aesthetic use of something which gives us the world. 45 Andrew further
states that Arnheim's is a negative theory. The implications of this "difference become the
cornerstone of Bazin's theory later. For Arnheim, theory is based on the negative aspect
that we should suppress the filmic process of representation in favour of the artistic
process of expression. Film becomes art when the filmic process of representing the world
is retarded nevertheless keeping film art dependent on representation. The other arts lift
their material out of the world and freely play with it. The material which was found to
represent the world cannot exist and is unthinkable outside the world. Arnheim is
orthodox when he treats film form. According to him, every medium, when used for
artistic purposes draws attention away from the object which the medium conveys and
focuses it on the characteristics of the medium itself. Every medium proceeds by a means
of central sensory nexus which becomes the symbolic language to be manipulated by the
aritst and successfully translate his perceptions of the world into the proper codes of the
medium as done by a painter as he transmits nothing but translates one kind of perception
into the conventions of his medium. The use of every medium is conventional, some
conventions are more natural to the given medium than others because it has definite
physical properties. Changing conventions through time reveal powerful peculiarities of the
medium un!il the medium has reached its purest form ofall extraneous connections. Arnheim's
fear was that cinema had found such a form and given it up.

The high point of history for him is the period of silent cinema. With the coming of sound
this form had frittered away. It is here that Andre Bazin takes up the cause of the sound
film. Cinematic form, for Arnheim, instead of unifying a varied set of sign systems namely
lighting, gesture, editing and composition had become imitations of reality. Speech

147
according to him turned a film into an impure kind of theatre-substitute. It is again on
these very issues that Bazin argues that sound and the relationship the cinema has with
theatre does not make a poor substitute but only strengthens and reiterates that cinema
exists with its own properties. With the help of literature and theatre the cinema
nevertheless remains distinct, and, in a way has raised theatre and literature to a new
aesthetic level as these two had played a vital role in the formative career of cinema. On
the other hand, sound forces every element to serve the plot and the dialogue and it tries
to insist on reality of the content. To Arnheim, it is indeed a cancer which has destroyed
the artistic life of film by distorting its ensemble form.

Like Munsterberg, Arneheim too was a Gestaltist and he could not conceive the purpose
of film according to Andrew. Arnheim suggested that art is produced by the same human
capability which allows him for the everyday experience though the two are of a different
order. The admirability and the exaltedness comes precisely from its generality, that is the
quality of hovering around on everyday forms. Andrew quotes Arnheim when he says
that the artist uses his categories of shape and colour to capture something universally
significant in the particular. He infers that the artist's concern is not the work or the
subject matter which he creates as the pattern he can create through that subject matter.
When an appreciation towards a painting is made, we admire not the subject matter but
the organisation given to it by the painter. The art work both represents the artist and the
world. Perception and art are founded on the organising abilities of the mind according to
Munsterberg and for Arnheim these are supported by the world which seems to lend itself
certain kinds of organising principles. Arnheim argues that the purpose of art is to
perceive and express the general forces of existence. Arnheim does not favour one art over
another for the multiplicity of styles only manifest an endless variety in man and in
nature. Again unification is very important, for if there is no unity between man and
nature the works will remain unfinished. Though Arnheim's theories are mentalist 1ll

4S Emphasis mine.

148
approach, film theory has moved far away from him. Modern film theories and filmic
perception have been openly indebted to him. 46

Sergei Mikalovich Eisenstein's contribution to the film medium is a double one, both as a
teacher and as a filmmaker. During the 1920's the period immediately following the
Russian Revolution, the Soviet cinema was one of the most exciting in the world not
only practically but also theoretically. The Soviet filmmakers and the film theoreticians
wanted to capture and change reality. The Soviet school of thought construed that the
realism did not give way to revolution and thus realism in films made the films less
equipped for social change. Two schools of thought which existed were Expressionism
and Formalism which are opposed to realism. Expressionism and formalism are separate
tendencies attached to specific periods of cultural history. Expressionism has its roots in
German culture-in theatre, painting and film during the 1920's as welL At the same period
Formalism marked the burgeoning cultural life in the Soviet Union, both literary and
cinematic. Expressionism in the general sense is a more generalised, romantic conception
of film as an expressive force. Formalism is more specific and more scientific and
concerned with the elements, the details that go to make up this force. It is more analytic
and less synthetic. During the twenties, before Stalin imposed Socialist realism two film
makers Eisenstein and VI Pudovkin produced a number of exceptional films and an
amorphous body of Formalist theory which contributed to the development of film
theory and film making in the Soviet Union. At the same time a Hungarian writer, critic
and film maker Bela Balazs was pursuing along the lines of formalist thought. Unlike
Arnheim and Kracauer who were armchair film theorists. Pudovkin, Eisenstein and Balazs
were practising film makers who wanted to describe their art rather than prescribe it.

The Russian Experiments


Very soon after the 1917 revolution a filmmaker called Lev Kuleshov was put in charge of
a workshop. Pudovkin and Eisenstein were students under him for a brief period of time.
As they ran out of film stock they began to reedit the films they had already made and in

46 Rudolph Amheim, pp.19-40

149
the process they discovered a lot of new things, truths and techniques about film making.
Kuleshov linked together a number of shots which were made at varying times and places.
The composite was a new unified piece of film narrative which Kuleshov called creative
geography. In one of the most famous experiments the Kuleshov group took three
identical shots of the well known pre revolutionary actor Moszhukin and intercut them
with shots of a plate of soup, a woman in a coffin and a little girl. Audiences exclaimed at
the subtle and effective ability to convey such varied emotions: hunger, sadness and
affection.

Pudovkin developed a varied theory of cinema from the experiments of Kuleshov and
centred his proposition on what he called as relational editing. For Pudovkin, montage
was the method which controls the psychological guidance of the audience. Though
simple, Pudovkin's theory was expressionistic in nature, regarding how the film maker can
affect the spectator. He discovered five different types of montage; contrast, parallelism,
symbolism, simultaneity and leitmotif. Pudovkin chose the categories of form and
analysed them. He was concerned with the importance of the shot-mis-en-scene and
displayed an attitude that we have come to regard essentially as realist. He saw montage as
the complex pumping-heart of the film and felt its purpose was to support the narrative
rather than alter it.

Eisenstein invented his own theory on editing, his theory on montage as collision as
opposed to linkages -in dialectical opposition to Pudovkin's theory. For Eisenstein,
montage has in its objective a creation of ideas and a new reality, rather than support the
narrative, the old reality of experience. Eisenstein had been fascinated by the Oriental
idoegrams that combined elements of widely different meaning in order to create an
entire new reality and he regarded the ideogram model as a model of cinematic montage. 47
Taking a cue from the literary formalists he conceived film made of elements completely
decomposed and neutralized so that they could serve as fresh material for dialectic
montage. Even actors, according to Eisenstein, were not cast because of their qualities but

150
because of their types. Eisenstein extended this concept of dialectics to the shot itself. As
shots relate themselves dialectically, so the basic elements of a shot-which he called its
attractions-could interrelate to produce new meanings. He defined attractions as:
"every aggressive moment... every element. ..... that brings to light in the spectator
those senses or that psychology that influence his experience-every element that can be
verified and mathematically calculated to produce certain emotional shocks in a proper
order within the totality ...... " (Film Sense-p 23).
Monaco argues because attractions existed within the framework of totality a further
extension of montage was suggested: a montage of attractions. "Instead of static reflection
of an event with all the possibilities for activity within the limits of the event's logical
action, we advance to a new plane-free montage of arbitrarily selected, independent ...
attractions ... " This was an entirely new basis for montage, different ill kind from
Pudovkin.

The important ramification of Eisenstein's system of dominants, attractions and dialectic-


collisional montage lies in its implication for the observer of the film. Whereas Pudovkin
had seen the techniques of montage only as an aid to the narrative, Eisenstein
reconstructed montage in opposition to the straight narrative. If shot A and B had to form
a new idea C then the audience had to be involved to understand the inherent meaning of
the montage. Pudovkin whose ideas seem to be closer to the tenets of realism, on the
contrary paradoxically proposed, a narrative style which controlled the psychological
guidance of the audience. Eisenstein in suggesting an extreme formalism in which the
photographed reality of the stock of raw materials caIIed shocks or attractions ceased to
be itself because it was left to the film maker to rearrange the shots according to his own
priorities. In that case how can the audience have a necessary and an equal participation.
Rather than simply dismissing the argument on the audience' s active participation it is
important to see the interpretation which emerges out of the idea C as a consequence of
shots A and B. Monaco holds that the simplistic dichotomy between realism and
formalism does not hold any more and for Eisenstein it was necessary to destroy realism
in order to approach reality. The real key to the system offilm is not the artist's relation to the

47 James Monaco, pp. 308-309.

151
stock and the raw materials, but rather his relationship with the audience. A hypothetical film,
argues Monaco, Andrew might show great artistry in filming photographic reality but at .
the same time might seldom show any respect for the audience. At the same time a highly
formalist film like the Potemkin might engage its audience in a dialectical process instead
of overpowering them with calculated emotional appeal.

Eisenstein recognised that the elementary film particle- the indi';idual shot is different
from a tone or a sound. He also felt that the shots should be neutralized so that they might
become basic formal elements which could be combined as the director saw fit and
according to whatever formal principles he might want to use. Their native properties
must be extracted so that the physical properties are used to achieve a new and higher
signification. The unexpected revelation which the kabuki theatre brought about in
Eisenstein at last gave him the evidence he needed for the neutralization. Kabuki employs
an exaggerated stylization far beyond what is normally allowed in Western theatre. It
does not simply heighten the fact, or reality of fact, or an event nor does it give a slant or
an interpretation of the fact or event through stylization as Arnheim argued that all art
should do on the contrary. It deforms and alters the fact and alters all the events and facts
until they retain only a physical basis. All aspects of the drama are equal, since all have
become stylized into sheer epidermis, sheer physical form. In this way the kabuki
rendering of a murder is quite different from the western mis-en -scene. The stylization of
the murder gesture eliminates its primacy and puts it on an equal footing with the other
gestures it co-operates with.48

Moreover all this stylized gestures function in a larger system containing stylized codes of
sound, decor and costumes in such a way that one cannot say that these codes are there to
support these gestures. The meaning of a kabuki play in other words could never be
understood by a recounting of the plot or the gestures. It is the form of the ensemble
which contains the meaning and, this form argues Eisenstein, is as abstract and as powerful
as a musical or painterly form. Reality no longer holds down the theatre. Gesture has

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become the equal of tone or colour. Following his experience with the kabuki theatre,
Eisenstein hoped to create for film a system in which all the elements would be equal and
commensurable :lighting, composition, acting, story, even subtleties must be interrelated
so that film can escape the crude realism of mere story telling accompanied by supporting
elements. This is quite different from the conventional aesthetics, which sees lighting,
blocking, camera work and so on supporting the dominant. action, creating a large
impression. For Eisenstein seeing a film is like being jolted by a continuous string of
shocks coming from each of the various elements of the film spectacle, not just from the
story.

Having believed that the smallest unit of the film was shot and that could be delivered to
convey a particular psychological stimulus and can combine with other shots to make the
film, he followed Pavlov to believe that the film shots or attractions could be controlled
for specific audience effect. Mere recording of life was not cinematic for Eisenstein. For
him, the raw materials of the film resided in the elements within the shot capable of
provoking a discrete reaction within the spectator. The main values of such neutralization
are transference arid synaesthesia . In transference a single effect can be produced by a
number of different elements. In film, many elements are present on the screen at once.
They may reinforce each other heightening the effect and the elements may come in
conflict with each other and create a new effect or an unexpected element may convey a
needed effect. This last is the height of transference. In Potemkin where the bourgeoisie
lady says on the Odessa steps, "let's appeal to them", she is replied not by any speech but
by the elongated shadows of the soldiers which move silently, incessantly and ominously
down the steps. Here, when elements of speech and lighting are in a dialogue, a
transference of effect occurrs. When several elements combine at the same time there is a
possibility for synaesthesia, or mulitsensory experience. This, Eisenstein feels because the
film maker has the ability to build each of these attractions any way he chooses. He at last
has a workable material.

48 J Dudley Andrew, p.46.

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For Pudovkin, the film maker was at the mercy of the shot and a creative film maker is
one who sees through the confused history and psychology and creates a smooth train of
images through the proper organisation of shots according to his choice and makes the
viewer accept that experience. The film maker is in total control and the reality captured
by the camera can be heightened by the fastidious editing. It was these linkages of the
successive shots that made the film which was crucial to Pudovkin. He called them the
linkages as against the Eisenstein's school of thought which was based on collision. The
basic differences between the two film makers stem from the concept of raw material.
Eisenstein could never accept the shot as a bit of reality which the film maker gathers. He
insisted that the shot was a locus of formal elements such as lighting, line, moveme;': and
volume. The natural sense of the shot should not dominate our experience. According to
him if the film maker is creative he will construct his own sense out this raw material and
he will build relations which are not implicit in the meaning of the shot. He will create
rather than direct meaning.

Eisenstein argues that the raw material or the building blocks of film is which he calls as
cells is create cinema only when these independent cells receive an animating principle.
The central principle which gives life to these stimuli, making a full film possible is the
concept of montage. His insight into the material of the film had been facilitated by the
kabuki theatre and his study of haiku poetry which ostensibly led him to an
understanding of the montage. Andrew states that Eisenstein saw in the very alphabet of
the Japanese language the basis for cinema dynamics. The concept of ideogram is explained
not by the collision of two ideas or attractions. The picture of a bird and a mouth means
to sing and the picture of a child and a mouth means to scream. Here a change in
attraction from a bird to child produces not a variant of the same concept but an utterly
new signification. In film, the senses perceive attractions, but cinematic meaning is
generated only when the mind leaps to their comprehension by attending to the collision
of these attractions. Haiku poetry, made up of ideograms works in a similar manner. It
records a short series of sense perceptions, forcing the mind to create their unified sense,
and producing a precise psychological impact. Eisenstein gives the following example

154
A lonely crow
on leafless bough
one autumn eve

Each phrase of the poem can be seen as an attraction, and the combination of phrases is
montage. The collision of attract.ions from line to line produces the unified psychological
effect which is the hallmark of haiku and the montage. He discovers five methods of
montage from the absolutely mathematical metric montage, where conflict is created
strictly in the lengths or duration of the shots, to intellectual montage, where the meaning
is the result of a· conscious leap made by the spectator between two terms of a visual
metaphor of a figure ..Most of Eisenstein's methods lie between these two extremes. (the
rest of the montages') According to him, conflict can be organised rhythmically, tonally
and overtonally. Each of these elements depend on a conflict between the graphic elements
of the shots. Our senses apprehend the attraction of these shots and the inner minds join
these attractions through similarity or contrast, creating a higher unity and signification.
Shots as attractions, then, as mere stimulation. It is the specific interaction of the shots at
. the level of rhythm, length, tone, overtone or metaphor which produces meaning.
Montage is the creative power of the film, the means by which the individual cells become
a living cinematic whole; montage is the life principle which gives meaning to raw shots.

The famous statement, "Statement on Sound" is the perfect example of the adaptability of
his theory of montage argues Andrew. While Eisenstein's ideas about film's raw material
and about montage construction had been pronounced before sound had become a viable
addition to film, he quickly incorporated this realistic invention into his anti-realistic
theory. "There will be commercial exploitation of the most saleable merchandise,
TALKING FILMS. Those in which sound recording will proceed on to a naturali<;tic
level, exactly corresponding with the movement on the screen, and providing a certain
illusion." To use sound in this way may well destroy the culture of montage, for every
adhesion of sound to the visual piece increases its inertia as a montage piece and increases
the independence of the meaning- and this will undoubtedly lead to the detriment of

155
montage, operating in the first place not on the montage pieces but on their juxtaposition.
Only a contrapuntal use of sound in relation to the visual montage piece will afford a new
potentiality of montage development and perfection." Eisenstein suggested that
expenments with non-synchronous sound will lead to the creation of an orchestral
counterpomt of visual and aural images. He argued that dialogue and information can be
integrated in the sound track, not to mention music, in a manner far superior to the use of
subtitles.

Apart from claiming sound which proclaimed a montage use of realist technology, he was
also in favour of colour cinematography which could form an additional complex of
montage units or attractions which could interact with other elements in the film. And he
was eager to develop 3D for he saw new parameters between volume and space giving the
film maker another element to control. Though Eisenstein was always in favour of
creating new variables and finding new elements but he was careful in arguing that these
elements should be at the command of the film maker and the elements should not exist
by their own. Andrew argues that Eisenstein's concept of montage had many sources and
that it was a key notion on constructivist aesthetics, though had never developed fully in
Eisenstein's film theory. It clearly owes a good deal to the theories of dialectics led by
Hegel and Marx and nearly everyone else in Eisenstein's socio-cultural milieu.

Towards the end of the twenties and through the thirties Eisenstein wanted to go beyond
simple montage to the level of film form, for it became clear to him that despite the shot
juxtaposition mere juxtaposition could never of its own determine the impact of the
whole film. Montage accounts for the signification at the local level but not for the overall
significance. The problem of film form arose in Eisenstein's thought in his pursuit to
consider the montage and the question about the dominant. For him every shot had a
dominant attraction and other subsidiaries which helped in unrolling the film. In narrative
films, the story line dictates what should attract us first about a shot. Like in a murder
thriller where the murderer is unknown, the point of attraction will always be to spot the
killer. The other attractiori will be the curtains and the clues which he leaves behind or the

156
trails which the murderer leaves behind. In another, say a more abstract genre, the curtains
and the shadows will usurp ~he attention of the audience. The notion of the dominant was
prevalent in Russia during the twenties and Eisenstein was familiar and influenced by the
famous essay written by Roman Jacobson, the linguist and the literary critic called The
Dominant in 1927'. For Jacobson, writes Andrew a literary work is always filled with
codes and they are at constant interaction where one code is dominant through out the
work which becomes the dominant and controls the rest of thein in the work. This
concept according to Eisenstein would be in total conflict with the notion of
neutralisation and decomposition of the shot where all of them are equal and shots per se
like in Jacobson's codes are not important as such and that they should be at the command
of the film maker.

Every film pursues a different kind of line. In most cases the story line is most important
at least in narrative films and the rest of elements revolve around it. Eisenstein was in the
pursuit of subverting this paradigm and giving independence and importance to the
subsidiary elements of the film. Every shot according to him was made up of a series of
tones and overtones apart from the dominant but the dominant is that it strikes the
audience's attention while the tones and overtones are secondary stimuli playing at the
periphery of both the image and the viewer's consciousness. Eisenstein's early
consideration of montage was based on the juxtaposition of the dominants. It was later he
began to emphasise editing which would bring out other lines of development within the
film.

Eisenstein draws an analogy from the world of music to bring attention to film experience.
Film experience is a nexus of complimentary lines, rather than as a staccato system of
discrete stimuli. He adds that the shots be considered like that of the discrete notes of a
piano piece shaped by a composer into several lines, the dominant line in the traditional
line would be the melody line, but he argues that any good piece must be rich in tones and
overtones created by attention to the peripheral harmonics of the keyboard in relation to the
developing piece. Though he meditated on the music analogy he accepted that there was a

157
dominant line in music form . He was in favour of the neutralization of the elements so
that a democratic status is achieved with all the elements in the film. He also urged that the
film makers work on the overtones of the film as much the dominant code of the film.

Eisenstein also argued about the totality of the film- total experience and the feeling of
whole-which was very important for him. It is not merely joining mechanically montage
pieces but sensitively orchestrating a vibrating whole so that the audience can receive a
host of organised stimuli through the images and creating a final impression and a feeling
of totality. Such interconnected montage thinking is polyphonic montage according to
Eisenstein and its result is unity through synthesis. The synthesis is of a higher level than
montage, as montage is of a higher level than the juxtaposition of attractions. Montage
according to him is what brings the raw material alive and brings energy into the film but
what makes this energy organised towards an overall goal, towards a meaningful shape is
the synthetic unity of the film.

Eisenstein's concerns about film form and unity can be reduced to au interplay between
the images and art organism and art machine. He insisted that art must be the intersection
of nature and industry. The notion of image as art comes from many classical rhetoricians
who spoke of art as a controlling device for the responses of the audiences. The nineteenth
century realists especially Taine and Zola contributed to this elaboration of this image. But
Eisenstein's views on image as an art stem from the period he worked with the
Constructivists. They took seriously the dictum of Marx and Lenin that art, first of all, is
like any other work. Eisenstein was also partisan to the new theory of acting called bio-
mechanics. In the twenties, it challenged the Stanislavski method, the heart of the
abhorred and the naturalistic Moscow Theatre. The very name bio-mechanics
demonstrates the orientation of the avant-garde in Russian in the twenties. The film maker
is already aware if one is taking into consideration the Eisensteinian school of thought as
/'

the end and then he carefully proceeds with the procedures and the means to attain that.
The means would include the basic raw material of the film, that is anything which makes

158
the spectator feel a difference, what Eisenstein has called attracttons and then the
juxtaposition of the images where a cinematic meaning is created.

With the montage there develops a line of development, then there is a dominant and
several attendant lines. The most common are the characterisation, plot, over all lighting
and so on. The spectator picks up these dramatic meanings and then recreates the story by
resolving the tensions with which he is confronted. Eisenstein believed that the human
mind is dialectical and the crowning point of the film is this dialectical realization of the
spectator which results in the synthesis which is nothing but the meaning comprehended
by the spectator out of the collision of images.

Pudovkin and Griffith led the spectator to a trance and Eisenstein on the other hand
sought that the spectator's aid in forging the meaning of the film. The film achieves its
unity or its perfection when the spectator realizes the conclusion of collision of ideas. An
inference is made from this school of thought that without the active participation there
would be no art work. The mechanistic theory of art work should always emphasise on
the structure and the habits of human mind rather than the subject of the art work for the
human mind is the means by which the film exists and is the destination of its message.
The organic theory, on the contrary states that the object of any art work, here the film, is
sufficient enough in sustaining itself on its own. The all infusing principle for Eisenstein is
theme as for Hegel was the idea and Christianity, the soul.
"Each montage piece exists no longer as something under related but becomes a
particular representation of the general theme which in equal measure penetrates all the
shot-pieces."

Eisenstein argued that In a good film the particular representatIons, when properly
ordered, produce the theme which has itself brought them into being. This notion leads to
anot1-~er problem of circularity. Eisenstein harped on the situation of the actor time and
again. An actor exhibits a chain of gestures the combinations of which promote and
finally realize a complete image say of a particular emotion, anger. The small gestures
which are linked together on the chain are all properly chosen by the exigency of the

159
theme of anger even though anger finally exists only when the chain has been completed.
The mechanistic side of Eisenstein suggests that the actor from the beginning knows
precisely what he wants to convey and needs to find only the most efficient and powerful
means to encourage the audience to leap to that image. The organic side rebels, claiming
the theme is invisible even to the actor until his chain of gestures has run its course, but
that this theme functions all the same in choosing those tiny bits which make up the
whole. Andrew holds that the organic form is attractive, but it has the danger of
displacing the responsibility for the outcome of a film from the film maker giving it
mystically to nature. Eisenstein did not allow himself to lose to reductionist arguments
such that the film grew into its proper form and it is useless to think further about it.
According to Eisenstein, the life principle of film making was the theme and that the
theme could not be plucked out of thin air. Consequently the most crucial task of a
director in film making, according to Eisenstein is the discovery of the theme. Andrew
holds that the work such a discovery is tantamount to construction of the film.

For Eisenstein, nature does not exist on its own or to say that it is not available in an easy
manner. But the world of nature and history is transformed by the mind. There is nothing
called bare reality which can be truly apprehended. It is the onus of the artist and the
filmmaker to make what is available and then construct it into his works of art. Taking an
example from his own life, around 1905 there was an insurrection on the ship Potemkin as
a part of the abortive revolution. For a year, the insurrection rallied the people of Odessa
and other ships. Eisenstein was of the view that there could be countless ways of filming
the event but only one would take advantage of the true form of the event and one film
would tell the truth which is tied to the historical event. Then the process begins where
the filmmaker appropriates the event in his own terms thereby the event becoming
subjective, because according to Eisenstein, telling a story does not involve just the
recording of appearances. According to Eisenstein, in order to attain reality one must
destroy realism, break up the appearances of the phenomenon and reconstruct them
according to reality principle. For Eisenstein, as nature and humans obey the principle of
dialectical form, the filmmaker must see behind the reality in order to thematize the

160
subject, Then he makes choices in the raw material and his montage methods will be
dictated by the life principle. It is the spectator who recreates the theme of the film in his
mind and in the end where the spectator and the film will move toward the final image of
the film. The end, or shall we say the film is not a product according to Eisenstein but it is
a creative process in which the audience participates both emotionally and intellectually.
"The spectator is made to traverse on the road of creation as the author traversed in creating the
image." (The Film Sense p.32) Not only the road to it is part of the truth but the
investigation of truth must itself be true. True investigation for him is the unfolded truth,
the disjunctive members of which unite in result. A work of art, understood dynamically,
is just this process of arranging images and feelings in mind of the spectator. 49 In these
films, where the images are cleverly arranged, they are nothing but propaganda films
which suit the filmmaker and has a definite purpose in mind. These kind of films resemble
the TV commercials and they cleverly arrange the images in the feelings and minds of
spectators in· order to give them the greatest possible emotional affect. The effect is already
thought out on advance and it is this which provides the raison d'etre of the work ofart.

This situation subordinates the art work to its explicit effect. A particular genre of films
can be worked out according to the message or the effect conveyed and this typology
could serve as an indicator that most of the cinematic texts more or less successfully carry
on the task of communicating their already pre planned messages. Though Eisenstein's
arguments on film as a tool for propaganda was never explicit but he did suggest that film
is part of a world wide revolution in consciousness. This would imply that the film maker
dwells in a separate domain of knowledge and the spectator who is ignorant about the
world in which he lives is brought to light by the medium of the film.50

Belazs and Form


Bela Balazs shared his ideas with Sergei Eisenstein on the formality principles and other
Soviet literary critics during the twenties also tried to incorporate with his realist

49 Sergei Eisenstein, Film Sense, p.17


50 J Dudley Andrrew, pp.51-70

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principles. 51 He was fascinated by the secret of close-ups to reveal details of fact and
emotion. He developed a theory of the true province of film as mirco-dramatics, the subtle .
shifts of meaning and the quiet interplay of emotions that the close up is so well equipped
to convey. Balazs was the first film theoretician to place the film in the economic sphere of
the influence. He realised that the economic foundation of the film is the prime
determinant of film aesthetics and he was one of the earliest film theorists to understand
and explain how our approach to any film is moulded by the cultural values we share. 52

Andrew is of the view that there have been two major periods of prolific formative
theory. The first came between 1920 and 1935 when an entire intellectual tradition class
became· conscious that cinema, especially silent cinema, was not merely a sociological
phenomenon of extra ordinary importance, but a powerful art form with· the same kind of
rights and responsibilities as any art form. These early theorists and film makers wanted to
explain the properties of the new medium in order to help explain the power of the silent
cinema and the success of it and also give a chartered course of path for its future and its
maturity. The second major period of formative film theory began in the early 1960's and
is still growing according to him. This period witnessed a growing academic interest in
the cinema which triggered a new wave of films especially in Europe with the setting up of
Cahiers du Cinema by Andre Bazin and his colleagues. Obviously the formative theories of
the cinema were more of a description in terms of technique. On the other hand their
cinematic form and purpose was not raised and the result was a rubric for possible uses of
the medium rather than developing a corpus of theory.

Formalism and Film Theory


The early stages saw explanations of a given framework which was a priori and this
proved film making into a formula of choices decided by the film maker and it was against
this mechanical and digital tendency that Eisenstein fought a hard battle with throughout
his life as he was aware of the fact that a stringent formalism chains the artist and tends to

51Bela Balazs was a Hungarian who lived in exile in Gennany was one of the major theoreticians of cinema. His famous
work, Theory of Film: Character and Growth of a New Art was published in 1948.

162
dictate the look of the films from outside. Formative film theory was nothing but a
simple cataloguing of film effects and this would hardly form the theory of cinema and the
aesthetics of it. The dates of Russian Formalist movement from 1918 to 1930 coincide
with the formative years of film theory and Eisenstein was one of them who contributed
to the film theory as he was influenced by the formalist movement. The Russian
Formalist doctrine was revived in the sixties as it was translated in other languages and
openly celebrated since then. The Russian formalist positions are perfectly consistent with
the formative film theories. Primarily a theory of poetic language. Russian Formalism sets
out an entire gamut of theory on human action. The main problem posed by them was the
artistic or the aesthetic aspects of man's life and the special relation between them if there
were any. The Formalists established a system of four categories of functions which they
argue account for every human activity. They belong to the domain of practical,
theoretical, symbolic and aesthetic. The practical category is concerned with those objects
or actions which are connected to the immediate use, the theoretical category comprises of
all objects and actions which function for general and unspecified uses. In the symbolic
category a given object or an activity serves the function of another object or activity. Last
there is the aesthetic category which includes those objects which serve no purpose or any
function whatsoever. They exist in themselves purely for contemplation and perception.
The language, the Formalists contended, serves a symbolic function requiring that we go
beyond it to that which it represents. In poetry too, they argued that the language existed
for itself. Victor Sshklovsky, on of the most prominent Formalists and a friend and
biographer of Eisenstein summarises the ideas of art as the category of art which operates
in many areas and serves many purposes. "Art exists that one may recover the sensation of
life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to
impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The
technique of art is to make objects unfamiliar to make forms difficult, to increase the
difficulty and length of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art
is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object itself is not important."

52 James Monaco, pJ14.

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The formative film theorists firmly believed that the cinema serves as a symbolic function
when it reproduces reality and serves an aesthetic function when it forces us to attend in a
special way. For the Russian Formalists, the technique of art was always based on
deviation. They argued for making the objects strange. For them art was not a matter of
significant content, inspiration and imagination or whatever the people have put at the
heart of the artistic endeavour. It is sheer technique that can take the object or activity and
wrench it from the flow of life. The overall process by which the technique calls attention
to the object or familiarizes the object is defamiliarization The Formalist appreciated all
art works which emphasised this process where for example the reader of a literary work
involved in a literary experience, which if called enjoyment is the result of the product of
the perception of the literary process. It is in the same case with the cinema where the
spectator is overwhelmed by the cinematic process otherwise called technique. Boris
T omashevsky , taking a cue from Shklovsky generalised this process by categorising
various literary techniques and pointing out how each one of them forces art away from
the representation of reality. He distilled plot ( technique) from the story (reality),
motivation (technique) from general causality (reality), etc., He concluded that all literary
techniques which we regard as artistic
(irony, pathos, humour, figures of speech) function as conscious distortions of reality.

A second spell of literary Formalism gripped Prague in the late twenties and the early
thirties, further refining the concept of defamiliarization by introducing the concept of
foregrounding. According to them, artistic speech is that speech which lifts itself readily
outside the readily understandable that is the clearly codified, which stands solidly in front
of the reader's eyes. He cannot avoid it because it is simultaneously different and difficult.
They saw every art work as a construction of various sorts of artistic work and judged
each by its success in foregrounding itself. The exaggerated details of the foregrounding
\

have direct counterparts in the cinematic close-shot. Bela Balazs and several other critics
establish cinema's claims to art in its capacity for the close up, for the picto;' II forming of
details. The spatial metaphor of foregrounding has its temporal counterpart in the notion
of rhythm which is another central aspect of the Formalists.

164
Just as the filmic close-up is associated with foregrounding, similarly we can put montage
with rhythm. Allardyce Nicoll, when speaking on Russian films of the twenties, said, "If
cutting is prose, then montage is poetry." The Formalists have always been tempted to
rank artworks bearing ostentatio.us technique above the more subtle kind of artworks. In
effect, Formalism has been tempted to become partisan of a particular style of art rather
than a philosophy applicable to artworks of all styles. Jan Mukarovsky, a major critique of
the Prague school immediately saw that the densest possible artwork would succeed in
foregrounding, everything completely eliminating the background. They argued that all
relief would be lost and nothing would stand out. According to him, foregrounding is that
which makes the art work stand away from the world rather than the specific elements
within an artwork which oppose themselves to the rest of the art work. The style of the
work depends upon the background employed in relation to the foregrounding and sheer
quantity of the foregrounding can never make the object aesthetic. An object is viewed
aesthetically or not, and it is enough for an artwork to have one and the only instance of
deformation within to make us view it aesthetically as a whole. Though it would be a
slight deviation from the existing problems between the background and the
foregrounding, the positive of a manual camera in which the object focused in the
foreground is clear against the background which is out of focus. But what differentiates
and distinguishes a photograph from a manual camera and that of an automatic camera is
that in the former there is difference in the foreground and the background but there is no
such difference in the latter as a result of which there is depth in manual photography
which can be. called aesthetic as against manual photography.

Mukarovsky and his Prague colleagues developed the concepts of aesthetic norm and
aesthetic value to deal with specific situations of individual art works. This kind of
flexibility allowed them to deal with all kinds of artworks which allowed them to tow a
more descriptive rather than an evaluative position argues Bazin. In studying the kinds and
amounts of foregrounding within various art works, we are studying and comparing

165
styles. Style according to Andrew is nothing but a specific pattern of technique, and
technique Shklovsky said is art itself.

Balazs' purpose of cinema was narrow, the subject to film art or what he called the
language form of cinema. Though his work resembled Arnheim and Munsterberg, argues
Bazin, but unlike them, Balaz went to analyse the economic structure of the film which he
insisted was at the basis of this new art. He stated that the growth of the film art depended
on the financial and the business conditions because in the primary stages it was at the
mercy of the theatre managers trying to fill a need for novel entertainment. Cinema was in
competition with vaudeville, music hall and popular theatre and in order to compete with
the live entertainment the film promoters were looking for subjects which cinema alone
could render. For this very reason, nature was brought on the screen as an active
participant of film dramas. According the early theorists like Balazs, cinema was
photographed theatre competing with theatre in the domain of the subject matter. Bela
Balazs poses the fundamental questions asked by the early theorists about the significance
of cinematography as an independent art and employed methods that distinguish and
differentiate it from that of the theatre. The difference between photographed theatre and
film art is that they are both motion picture projected on a screen, but one is a technical
reproduction and the other is an independent creative art. The theatrical situation is one
which always maintains its action in a spatial continuity separated from the spectator by a
stable distance and the spectator views the action from one unchanging angle. While
photographed theatre often varied distance and angle between the scenes of the drama as
every event unrolled without change. According to Balazs, the film situation was the same
as that of theatre until Griffith brought in the changes by breaking the scenes into
fragments created a new language of cinema and shifting the angle and distance from
fragment to fragment and arranging the film not as a linkage of scenes but as a montage of
fragments.

Economic factors made the cinema seek new subjects, but these subjects demanded a new
form of technique such as the close-up and the montage. A form of language developed and

166
this language started to dictate the kinds of subjects and stories suitable to cinema. Bela
Balazs believed that the cip.ema achieved full maturity in the twenties in an era where
proper subjects were presented in proper cinematic form aiding to a development of a
popular culture, a culture that was no longer dependent on words. In a manner of
speaking, the silent cinema had not fully shed the conception that the image replaced the
word for most of the films in the silent era were using title cards, words and sentences to
aid the silent film. What attract~d Balazs was the art of the cinem'a, which according to
him has the revolutionary potential for cultural rejuvenation. According to him, the raw
material of film is not exactly reality itself but is instead the filmic subject which presents
itself to one's experience in the world and which offers itself to be transformed into
cinema. 'Balazs held a firm belief in the reality and independence of the external world of
sensation. Art never grasps reality in itself and brings its own patterns and human
meanings to the world. Reality according to him is multifaceted as the novelist, painter
and the film maker may be present at the same historical event and each will translate the
event in his own way according to his subjective orientation. Reality can never be grasped
by a single person though all make use of the same medium but the manifestations are
many.

Balaz's arguments on the essence of raw material is well manifested in his arguments on
adaptation. A film maker who delves into another art work or another subject matter of
any art work does nothing wrong so long as he tries to re shape it through the form-
language of cinema. Andre Bazin urged the film makers to forget the form language and
put themselves at the service of the masterpieces they want to bring to the screen. And
Balazs argues against the possibility of the adaptation not because of anything but because
a masterpiece is a work whose subject ideally suits its medium and any transformation of
this work will inevitably produce a less satisfactory result. On the contrary, Balazs argues
that there are innumerable mediocre literary works which are more likely to have within
them the possibility of cinematic transformation. He cites examples of films wherein the
filmmaker saw the potential for cinematic transformation like in The Birth of Nation}
Psycho} The Searchers} Touth of Evil and Treasure of Sierra Madre. He confers the film

167
scnpt an independent status of work of an. A complete film script could on occasion be
read as full transformation of reality. Balazs does argue that the raw material of the cinema
is not something which lie dormant for any man to use and the cinematic raw material
exists for those who have taken the talent and energy to seek out in their experience. For
Balazs the cinematic subject produces and in turn is produced by cinematic techniques.
Proper subjects can be fully and revealingly transformed' by the various techniques of
cinema. An ardent proponent of cinematic inventions he argued should be that they may
put to use for their formative rather than the realist potential. He vehemently attacked the
process of representationalism. He was open to the new inventions in technology like
Eisenstein. "Only when the sound film will have resolved noise into its elements,
segregated individual, intimate voices and made them speak to us in a separate vocal,
acoustic close-up; when these isolated detail-sounds will be collated again in purposeful
order by sound montage, then will the sound film have a new an."

Balazs' vision of cinematic techniques was not based on the pictures of reality but on the
hllmanization of nature for the very choices we make are products of our cultural patterns
within us. Since the vision is nothing natural and everything is cultural, the anist does not
do a disservice when he distons reality as there are many facets to reality and every time
the artist or the filmmaker distons reality, or if you will, fictionalises reality, he may in
fact stretch the visual patterns within the minds of the spectators until they are able to see
reality anew.

According to him, good editing starts trains of ideas and gives them a definite direction. In
such films we can see a son of inner film of associations running within the human
consciousness. Balazs criticised the metaphorical and the intellectual montage excesses in
Eisenstein especially in his film October. Balazs criticised the visual "hieroglyphic picture-
writing in which the pictures mean something, but have no content of their own" and
remarked that Eisenstein had "fallen victim to the mistaken idea that the world of purely
conceptual thinking could be conquered by film art." (Theory of Film Art p 128) The
pictures do not mean anything for Eisenstein, and only makes sense when it is juxtaposed,

168
with what he called attractions and collision of these images. Balazs agrees on the point
that those figures of speech in a film which come naturally out of the image themselves, as
in Potemkin, where an unmistakable analogy is drawn between the men on the ship and
the engines and that the engines power the ship just as the men in the ship can power a
revolution is what Eisenstein wanted to convey. Both terms of figure( the men and the
engine) in this case, arise directly from the subject and the story. The mind apprehends the
comparison and seizes the relationship present in' the world being filmed. Andrew holds
that the result is something else, a wilful joining of dramatically unmotivated terms, such
as the fall of the Tsar and the crash of the statue, in a scene from October. He adds that
the mind may readily associate the statue and the power of the Tsar. Balazs decried this
sort of misuse of what he thought was an essentially visual and dramatic medium. Balazs'
argument is that the film maker should be bold enough to manifest the techniques which
he possesses so that the audience do not look for the supposed reality or look beyond the
screen for reality. The film techniques such as fades, dissolves and other narrative punctuation
graphically indicate that the images are of human construction, meant not to stand for reality
but to criticise it or respond to it. Balazs insisted that these cinematic conventions maintain a
naturalistic relationship to mental processes by which we move from image to image in our
inner worlds.

After having discussed the language-form of the cinema by Balazs we will consider the
formal principles by him which shape the language of the film into actual examples of
cinema which is called the genres and the importance accorded to cinematic form cannot
be overestimated, 'argues Andrew.
"A stone on the hillside and the stone of one of Michelangelo's sculptures are both stone.
As stones their material is more or less the same. It is not the substance but the form that
constitutes the difference between them ...... .It is an old canon of art that the spirit and the
law of a material maifests itself most perfectly in the constructed forms of a work."
(Theory ofFilm p.161)

Fonn and Documentary


He proposed to study the forms of cinema by studying the margins of cinema or the
marginal genres. According to him, the outer regions are colonised on the one end by the

169
avant-garde and on the other end by the pure documentary. Between them lie the more
conventional genres of fictional film, news and educational film and personal
documentary. At both the ends the genres avoided intentionally story.
"On the one hand the intention was to show objects without form and on the other to
show form without objects. This tendencyled on the one hand to the cult of the
documentary film and on the other to toying with objectless forms." (Theory of Film
p.174)

The pure documentary in order to avoid the story is completely dumb and the abstract
film has gone beyond the story and thereby losing touch with reality it should interpret.
For Balazs, the documentary without a constructive plot reproduces the raw material of
reality so vividly as to find sufficient dramatic elements. For Balazs, like Eisenstein reality
was something that could not be grasped naively by the filmmakers. For Balazs,
filmmakers should have enough talent so that they comprehend reality out of the chaos
and the incomprehensible scenario. Andrew quotes Balazs to substantiate these
arguments, "In order that out of the empirical fog of reality the truth-that is, the law and
meaning of reality-may emerge -through the interpretation of a seeing and experiencing maker,
such a maker must bring into play every means of expression available to the art of the film."
Balazs was of the view, like most of the formative theorists that even if photography were
to capture reality that bare reality was not sufficient and for them single pictures are mere
reality and only editing, to say here montage turns them into truths or falsehoods. For
Balazs, there is nothing called objective reality. The claims by certain film makers like
Dziga Vertov that their film making manifested superior objectivity, made him argue that
it all depends on the whims of the cameraman and the editor, hence the entire process of
filmmaking is subjective. It is the personal continuity which joins the various images in
the film.

Balazs was disturbed by the real function of documentary for he thought that the
documentary pushed cinema from the normal narrative path but also equally with the
avant-garde films. For he argued that the technical capacity dictates what should be seen
and what should be filmed. Balazs certainly came in praise for the narrative shape at the

170
expense of the plastic shape because the abstract and the fiction films succeeded in
transforming subject matter into significant shape. At a point of time the Russian
Formalists accepted the consequences that the subject matter of art does not matter once it
has been taken over by the technique but Balazs could not accept the view and was firm in
the belief that art results only from the conscious and consistent transformation of reality
into art . .Towards the end he turned almost into a realist when he decried avant-garde
techniques and modern film forms which neglect or undermine the human world.
According to him, only the drama can reveal.

Balazs was against the Old World culture for trying to perform cinema in the fashion of
classic art. Andrew states that the Europe once had to learn from America that the true
form of cinema is one of spectator identification in which the distance between the vision
and the visible falls away. Andrew quotes Balazs to substantiate, "Hollywood invented an
art which disregards the principle of the self-contained composition and not only does
away with the distance between the spectator and the work but deliberately created the
illusion in the spectator that he is in the middle of the action reproduced in the fictional
space of the film. ( TheOry of Film, p.SO). Balazs has highlighted the privileged position of
the cinema like all academicians of cinema, and spectator identification and delusion are
seen as the positive aspects of the cinema whereas they work against the concepts of
defamiliarization and of art as formal technique. An argument which could counter this
aspect of Balazs is that how could anyone lost in the illusion make any sense out of the
moving images. This has alw",/s remained the classic problem and an ensuing debate as is
most often argued by stern film theoreticians that by having sufficient information or the
knowledge of film or cinema one is able to discern the meaning of the cinema and by also
participating in the illusionary moment. At every level he argued for the special cinematic
capacity and its ability, in particular, the close-up, which he said gives cinema the power of
revealing the secret movements and the laws of nature. "The close-up can show us a
quality in the gesture of the hand that we had never noticed before .... The close-up shows
your shadow on the wall which you have lived all your life and which you scarcely
knew." (Theory of Film p.SS). The dominant theoretical trend in the first decades of

171
cmema was formative. There remained an undercurrent which was nothing but an
opposing current. Tracing. the realist movement chronologically, one can cite the
arguments of Louis Feuillade's in 1913 in which he advertised his films as showing life as
it is. In France there was Marcel L' Hebrier and especially Jean Vigo whose remarks have
manifested the earliest marks on the realist film theory. It is argued that the realist film
theory is closely linked to the social function of art. While Feuillade's advertisement was
strictly an advertisement, trying to draw big crowds and big' money with realistic
spectacle, the statements of Vertov, Rotha and Vigo shriek with a sense of political
aSpiratlOn.

Realism and Cinema


Realist cinema should not compete with entertainment films, it should provide an absolute
alternative, a cinema with a conscience true both to our everyday perception of our life
and to our social institution. For the realists and later the neo-realists, cinema exists to
make us see the world as it is, to allow us to discover its visual texture and to let us
understand the place of man within it. Though these proclamations are sensitive enough
but with the onset of the neo realist tradition these proclamations have never carried in
them the scientific rigour to be recognised as a theoretical formulation or probably that is
the core of the neo realist tradition deviod of all positivistic elements which is there in
other theories. 53

The basic properties which helped constitute the medium are photography, instantaneous
photography as used by Muybridge and Marey with the older devices of magic lantern
and the phenakistoscope. Apart from this the non photographic elements include editing
and sound. The decisive factor among all elements is instantaneous photography. This
clinched the issue establishing the film content. He adds that the nature of photography
survives in that of film.

53 J Andrew Dudley, pp.75-104

172
Kracauer states that there are two properties of the film medium and they are the basic
and technical properties. The basic properties are identical with the properties of
photography. Film is equipped to record reality through the lens of the camera and
reveal physical reality and hence gravitates toward it. Physical reality otherwise is called
by him material reality or the camera reality. In passing Kracauer also mentions the
reproductive medium of the film and its ability to preserve. Of all the technical properties
of the film, the most indispensable is editing because it is through this process that there
is a meaningful continuity of shots which is unthinkable in still photography. Among the
other cinematic techniques are the close-up, the soft focus and multiple exposure etc.,
which have been taken from photography. Certain special effects and like slow and quick
motion, reversal of time are peculiar to film only.

Kracauer argues that in a film both the physical or the basic properties and the cinematic
and the technical properties influence the film. Yet there may be a film which might use
its cinematic devices so well and produce a statement disregarding camera reality, and vice
versa, where a film might record the physical reality well and cinematically done in a
imperfect manner. The first prototypes of two opposing. interests were Melies and
Lumiere. Kracauer in reference to these two personalities argues that they embody thesis
and the antithesis in a Hegelian sense. Lumiere was a strict realist and Me: who gave
freedom to his artistic imagination. Lumiere's Teasing the Gardener' in which a gardener is
watering the flowers and an impish boy steps on the hose releasing it at the very moment
when his perplexed victim examines the dried-up nozzle. Water squirts and hits the
gardener smack in the face. The film according to Kracauer is the mother of all comedies
to come, represented an imaginative attempt on the part of Lumiere to develop
photography into a means of story telling. Yet the story was like a real life incident. Such
was the veracity of the moving photographic image that made Maxim Gorky comment
about the Teasing Gardener, "the spray is going to hit you too, and instinctively shrink
back." 54

173
George Melies took over where Lumiere left off. But his main contribution to cinema
according to Kracauer lay in substituting staged illusion for unstaged reality, and
contrived plots for everyday incidents. For Lumiere, film was nothing but a scientific
curiosity and that it cannot serve artistic, and in a manner of speaking aesthetic purposes
but fails to provide clarification on this issue. But Melies approach radically differed from
that of Lumiere's. Kracauer attributed Melies' success to the unfinished task of Lumiere.
Melies was the first one to exploit the cinematic devices systematically. Drawing on both
the stage and photography, he innovated many techniques which were to play a role in
the future of cinema-among them were the use of masks, multiple exposure,
superimposition as a means of summoning ghosts, the lap-dissolve, etc. Kracauer argues
that by using his ingenious techniques he added a touch of cinema to his playful narratives
and magic tricks. Illusion produced in this climate depended on another kind of
craftsmanship than the magician's. It was cinematic illusion, and as such went far beyond
the make-believe of the theatre. Kracauer states that much as his films differed from the
theatre on a technical plane, they failed to transcend to its scope by incorporating
genuinely cinematic subjects. The reasons, Kracauer believes, why Melies did not move
the camera because the stationary camera perpetuated the spectator's relation to the stage.
Melies was essentia"lly a theatre director and his ideal spectator was the traditional theatre
goer, child or adult.

The Realist tendencies about the cinema argued that films went beyond photography in
two respects. First they picture movement itself, not only one but another phases too.
When the camera was fixed, life on the screen was only life manifested itself through
external or objective motion. Through time these movements were no longer necessarily
objective. In the technically mature film, the subjective movements, Kracauer states,
constantly compete with the objective ones. In substantiating with an example, Kracauer
comments that the spectator may have to identify himself with a tilting, panning, or
travelling camera which insist on bringing motionless as well as moving objects to his
attention. Or an appropriate arrangement of shots may rush the audience through the vast

54 Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film

174
expanses of time and .space so as to make it witness, almost simultaneously, events in
different places and periods. The emphasis was then as before on objective movement; the
medium seems to be partial to it. Kracauer quotes Rene Clair, " If there is an aesthetics of
cinema ....... it can be summarised in one word: 'movement'. This takes us back to the
philosophic pedestal of Gilles Deleuze. The external movement of the objects perceived by
the dye to which we are today adding the inner movement of action." Second, films may
seize upon physical reality with all its manifold movements by means of an intermediary
procedure which would seem to be less indispensable in photography-staging. In order to
narra' m intrigue the director has to stage the action as well as the surroundings. Here he
discusses that if this recourse to staging is most certainly legitimate if the staged world is
made to appear as a faithful reproduction of the real one. The important thing is that the
spectator who is watching the film feels he is watching the action as if it were shot on a
real location, thus the studio built settings to convey an impression of reality to the
audience. The settings which represent reality as perceived by a prescriptive painter are
more real than the real-life sh~ts because they impart an essence of what such shots are
showing according to Emile Vuillwrmoz. From the cinematic point of view, Kracauer
argues that these allegedly realist settings are no less stagy than a cubist composition. They··
suppress the very camera reality which film aims at incorporating. Here Kracauer points
out that the sensitive film goer will be disturbed by them. Strangely enough, it is possible
that a staged real life event evokes a stronger illusion of reality on the screen than would the
original event if it had been captured by the camera. In the contemporary popular film
period, Titanic directed by James Cameron is a case in point where the plot of the picture
is pitched on a scale to emotionally move the audience with the disaster. As for
composition, the two most general types are the story film and the non-story film. The
latter can be broken down into the experimental film and the film of fact, which on its
part comprises, partially or totally, such sub-genres as the film on art, the newsreel and the
documentary proper. Kracauer states that it is easier to see that some of the dimensions are
more likely, than others, to prompt the film maker to express his formative tendencies and
aspirations at the expense of the realistic tendency. The formative tendency might impinge
on the realistic tendencies in dimensions because of the emphasis on the physical reality,

175
do not normally invite such encroachments; documentaries with real-life shots which
merely serve to illustrate some self contained oral commentary. Films which combine
these two tendencies are frequent. A movie involving an every day life incident includes
also a dream sequence. Kracauer is of the view that such combinations may lead to clashes
between the realistic tendencies and the formative tendencies. The clash of , say, the studio
built and the real imagery clash and the spectator who is watching the film feels that it is
an intrusion if there were to be a realistic scene immediately after an imaginative and
fantastic scene and it also depends on the sensibilities of the spectator and the audiences.
Those indifferent to the properties of the medium and the peculiarities are likely to
resent to the unexpected emergence of crude nature as a let down , while those more
sensitive to the properties of the medium will in a flash realise the make-believe character.

Kracauer argues that actually these collisions of this kind are by no means the rule, rather
there is enough evidence to suggest that the two tendencies which sway the medium may
be interrelated in various ways and he adds that some of the relationships between the
two tendencies can be aesthetically gratifying than the rest. . .. '" .That films may claim
aesthetic validity if they build from their basic properties, like photographs, that is they
should record and reveal physical reality. Kracauer's argument, that this sort of an
exclusive emphasis on the primary properties of the medium with reality has put film in a
strait jacket. The objection to this statement or argument finds manifested in many films
which are abstract or experimental in nature where they are unconcerned about the
representation of nature and they are mainly films who are not concerned with the
external world. The expressionist German films went far in this direction with totally
bizarre settings and images made the German art critic Herman G Sheffauer, even eulogise
expressionism on the screen for its remoteness from photographic life. Thus Kracauer is
not comfortable when these genres are called less cinematic than the films concentrating
on physical existence. The answer, if, lies in the latter films because they alone can offer
insight and enjoyment which is otherwise unattainable. But Kracauer states that all the
genres which do not cultivate outer reality and are yet there to stay. This answer though
may seem dogmatic fields two considerations which would be more justifiable. First is the

176
issue of aesthetic legitimacy, that is the popularity or the favourable response of the genre
need not depend on the m.edium from which it issues and many a genre has held the
audience because the film had catered to the social and the cultural needs of the public and
it remains popular for reasons which do not involve questions on legitimacy. The public is
least bothered about the fact that the film has any cinematic merits. Second, even if his
argument of aesthetic validity is to be taken as biased or one sided and that it results from
a bias for one particular type of cinematic activities and hence is' unlikely to take into
account the possibility of the hybrid genres or the influence of the medium's non
photographic components. This does not speak against the propriety of that definition.

Cinematographic and the Photographic


In strict analogy to the term photographic approach, the film maker's approach is called
cinematic if it acknowledges the basic aesthetic principle. Kracauer argues that the
cinematic approach materialises in all films which follow the realist tendency and this
implies that even films devoid of 'creative' aspirations such as newsreels or educational
films are tenable to propositions from an aesthetic point of view- presumably more so than
films which for all their artistry pay little attention to the given outer world. The essence
of the film apart from the photography is also the director's creative energies to cover all
the dimensions of the film. All the creative efforts of the director are in keeping in mind
the cinematic approach as long as they benefit the medium's substantive concern with our
visible world. As in photography everything depends on the right blend bet~een the
realist and the formative tendencies. The two are well balanced if the latter does not try to
overwhelm,the former but eventually follows the lead.

When cinema is conceived and called as an art medium the popular perception is that they
usually think of films along the lines of traditional art in that they are free expressions than
explorations of nature. Among the films considered customarily art are the expressionist
German films, they seem to implement the formula of Hermann Warm, one of the
designers of The Cabinet ofDr. Caligary settings, who claimed that films must be drawings
brought into life. All abstract and the experimental films fall under this category and they

177
are intended as autonomous categories but frequently ignore physical reality or exploit it
for purposes alien to photo.graphic veracity. By the same token there is an inclination to
classify works of art feature films which combine forceful artistic composition with
devotion to significant subjects and values. Kracauer says that would apply to a number of
adaptations of great stage plays and other literary works. Kracauer argues that such a usage
of the term art in the traditional sense is misleading. It lends credence to the belief that
artistic qualities must be attributed precisely to films which neglect the medium's
recording abilities in an attempt to rival achievements in the fields of fine arts, theatre or
literature. Consequentially this usage tends to obscure the aesthetic value of films which
are really true to the medium. If art is reserved for Hamlet, argues Kracauer and the like,
the large creative talents which are put to use by the director in the documentaries
capturing material phenomenon for their own sake. Like in Nanook, where the
documentaries saturated with formative tendencies, like any selective photographer, their
creator has all the imagination and the curiosity of a reader and an explorer and their
readings and explorations arise from the material given and the significant choices they
make out of the world. Added to this are the technical aspects like editing which facilitate
the c~eative process. Kracauer argues that this situation leads to technological dilemma.
Due to the fixed meaning the concept of art does not and cannot truly cover all cinematic
film- films which incorporate aspects of physical reality with a view to make us experience
them. It is they, and not the films reminiscent of traditional art works which are valid
aesthetically. Kracauer argues that if film is at all an art it should not be confused with the
, established arts. He says that in justifying the films like Potemkin and Nanook as art, it
should be kept in mind that even the most creative film maker is much less independent of
nature in the raw than the painter or the poet; that his creative manifests itself in letting
nature and penetrating it. ss

Kracauer claimed that his work was material aesthetic founded on the priority of the
content whereas all other theorists were interested in the form. The medium of Kracauer's
theory is, that it is a melange of subject matter and subject treatment, of cinematic raw

55 Ibid, pp. \-22.

178
material and cinematic technique. This melange is umque to the aesthetic umverse,
according to Andrew, because the traditional arts exist to transform life with their special
means and cinema exists most profoundly and most essentially when it presents life as it is.
The other arts exhaust their subject matter in the creative process whereas cinema on the
contrary exposes its matter. This however, is one of the classical theories of cinema and
its aesthetics and cinema has also facilitated in the later years in exhausting their subject
matter in numerous creative processes. Kracauer's material aesthetic blends two domains-
the domain of physical reality and the domain of technical capabilities of the film. The
photograph records reality and it records some aspects of reality better than it does others.
The physical reality is made up of many aspects and it is the job of the film maker
according to Kracauer to read both reality and the medium justly so that he can be certain
to employ the proper techniques on the proper subject matter. There is a similarity
between Balazs and Kracauer in that both are in search of proper cinematic subject matter
and both argue that film techniques exist only to operate on the subject matter.

The precursor to cinema, according to Kracauer, is photography. and cinema is the


unquestionable link to visible reality. The world is the subj~ct matter of cinema and is
qualified by the photographer. If the subject matter is content-oriented the base of the
cinema is technical and Kracauer opts not to take the technical limitations into account.
For him, all other technical properties of the medium namely editing, close-up, optical
effects and the like are supplementary and only indirectly related to the main content of
the film. He advised the film makers that the technical properties should only subject the
primary function of the film which is to record reality and reveal the world. Many
technical transformations make us forget the matter for the means make us attend to the
movie and not the world. It is here where Kracauer says that the cinema is striving to be
like the traditional arts and go beyond the raw material. The technical aspects of the
cinema make it more unrealistic and, according to Kracauer, is like a scientific
instrument used as a toy, interesting and fun, but always a diversion. For Kracauer, all art
had the battle between form and content inherent in them and it was cinema which was
the first art to have an edge over form and where content was primary. The first and the

179
basic ingredient to cinema is photography because it ties forever to the natural world and
proper cinematography is based on the extension of the ideals and natural methods of
photography. Since Photography ought to reveal reality, so was cinema.

Kracauer argued that man and nature converge on the photographic process and reach a
rapport. The cinematic approach or the realist approach is just to follow wherever nature
leads to and not led by the constructs of the imagination. Kracauer argues that it is the
special technology which gives substance to these human tendencies. The film maker has
two objects in mind, reality and the cinematic record of reality and has two goals -the
recording of reality through the basic properties of his tool and the revealing of the
reality through the judicious use of the tools available to him including the more
flamboyant ones. There are two possible motivations to a filmmaker that of realism and of
formalism and the latter destroys the cinematic approach when used unauthorised, and
used properly can help perform the second of the filmmaker's double duties; to let reality
in and then penetrate it. Cinema should be an expression of the world' s meaning not of
man's, insofar as man can see it.

Kracauer was interested in the typology of films and he broke his subject down,
immediately singling out story films as the central genre against which all other types of
films must necessarily react and be measured. He first divided the non story film into the
film of fact and the experimental film. The experimental filmmaker, he stated, operates
under three related intentions toward his material:

1. He wished to organise whatever material he chose to work on according to rhythms


which were a product of his inner impulses, rather than imitation of the patterns found
in the nature.
2. He wished to invent shapes rather than record or discover them.
3. He wished to convey, through his images, contents which were an outward projection
of his visions rather than an implication of those images themselves ( Theory of Film,
p181)

180
"The modern theorists and the avant-garde film makers called these efforts as cinema par
excellence and Kracauer called them as utterly anti- cinematic. The artist became realistic
minded and outward bound." Kracauer concluded, "that the avant-garde's experiments in
the cinematic language, rhythmical editing, and the representation of neo-unconscious
processes greatly benefited film i.n general. Nor it should if be forgotten that, like Bunuel,
many an avant-garde artist became realistic minded and outward bound." (Theory 0/ Film,
p 192) Between the film of fact and the experimental film there mediated another genre,
the film on art, architecture and sculpture. He appreciated these films which faithfully
record these objects but condemned those who make use of these images of sculptors and
painters in the service of the new, imaginatively transformed films.

He had enormous respect for documentaries without the strictures of a plot and he did
discuss conventional documentaries because the human impulse to shape reality directly
confronts recorded reality. Andrew states that both Kracauer and Balazs were conservative
and cautious when it came to their projects- Kracauer's realism and Balaz's formalism
where Balazs retreated from the absolute formalism of experimental cinema and Kracauer
from the radical realism of newsreel and cinema verite. For Kracauer the story is the heart
of the subject of the cinema and its development. The story film according to Balazs and
Kracauer is the aesthetic and the economic basis of cinema because it brings into playa
subject matter and the audience experience. The best documentaries he suggested always
move toward audience participation. He argued that the proper film form as balance
between the documentary which tries to follow the random flow of nature and the story
film which st.rives t6 pull nature into a human shape.

Story Film and Treatment


The story film can be treated into three categories- the theatrical film, the adaptation, and
the found-story or the episode. The theatrical film has its origins in the silent screen and
goes against all cinematic principles. It is a film with a closed form which surrounds actors
in a chosen decor and has artificial or stylised speeches and has got nothing to do with the
natural. The story becomes a surrogate reality and they try in bringing the classics of stage

181
art to the masses. On adaptation, he argued that of all the literary forms the novel was the
closest to the cinema and adaptations make sense only when the content of the novel is
firmly rooted in objective reality and not in mental or spiritual experience. For Kracauer,
cinema is essentially a visual medium and he criticises the off-camera voice over
techniques to carry on the essence and the spirit of the drama resorted by filmmakers.
Here he ·is criticising Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest adapted from Georges
Bernanos. Kracauer discovered his ideal cinematic genre in his found-story:
" When you have watched for long enough the surface of a river or a lake, you
will detect certain patterns in the water which may have been produced by a breeze or
some eddy. Found stories are in the nature of such patterns. Being discovered, rather
than contrived, they are inseparable from films animated by documentary intentions.
Accordingly they come closest to satisfying the demand for the story which 'reerp.erges'
within the womb of the non-story film." (Theory of Film, pp.245,46)

By definition, stories are dependent upon the chaotic and unpredictable whirl of life
which spins them out, argues Kracauer. They are open ended, unstaged and
indeterminate. Kracauer gives Nanook as an example between these films and their stories
arise out of the locale and the culture being filmed. There is no individual initialisation of
the plot and the plot must come from reality itself. The individual exists in the film to
bring about human dimensions of a broad and objective situation to make the audience
feel passionately about the problem and not for its informational content.

Kracauer believed that, films formally or to use his term compositionally should mirror
reality, is in the tradition of imitation theories of art. He drew upon the authority of
Erich Auerbach, whose work, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature.
It has similarities with Kracauer. Auerbach argued for serious literary realism which, in
avoiding ideology and in imitating the plurality and variety of man's experience, may lead
the way toward a lasting brotherhood. Valuable realistic literature allows the reader to
recognise world of his neighbour; in so recognising it, he can even criticise it in the pursuit
of a better world. Artistic transformations for both, believes Andrew serves to clarify and
amplify patterns sound in experience rather than to create new experiences dictated by the
inner patterns of the artist. Artist in all media can create realistic works if they form their

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raw material into a composition which is structurally similar to that of the empirical
world.

Kracauer used the history of realism to destroy the other strains of cinema. His critics
have, pointed out that he has shown the glories of realistic films in film history but he did
fail to prove that all films must be realistic in order to be cinematic. These questions
become more poignant, believes Andrew, in the light of the writings of the Cahiers du
Cinema critics of the fifties whose school of thought led by Andre Bazin with their basic
principles not at all different from Kracauer's. They saw nothing wrong with believing in
the essential realism of the film image, while at the same time approving countless uses of
that image. The realism of the raw material of cinema is not, in their view, a restriction on
the kinds of cinematic forms that material may take.

Mitry and Filmology


Andrew Dudley states that three aspects of Jean Mitry's life has contributed to his critical
distance. First he worked on the French avant-garde films. Even after the decline of this
. era he stayed close to this movement and close to film production editing such films of
Alexandre Astruc's short Le Rideau Cramoise (1953), filming and editing his own Pacific
231 (1949) and Images pour Debussy (1952).The new experiments on style, images, music

and editing were done thorough these movies and even adaptation. The closeness of
Mitry's filmmaking and his theoretical practices arise out of these experiences. The second
aspect is his penchant for history. Along with Henri Langlois and George Franju he
founded th: Cinematheque Francaise in 1938. This has become the greatest storehouse for
films and film till date all over the world. The third aspect was pedagogical, which blended
both his creative experience and the encyclopaedic experience. He was one of the first
professors of cinema.

According to Mitry, all the earlier theories were a key to the understanding of cinema.
Mitry rejects this approach, demanding instead that each problem in film be treated in and
of itself. For him the theorist must not lose himself in the defence of a single important

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insight like in Eisenstein where he was, according to him, obsessed with editing. Andrew
states that Mitry has organised all the theoretical problems which arose in the first fifty
years of film theory and carefully delineated the major positions taken on these issues. For
Mitry, cinema is not something to be understood instantly or argued about ideologically
but it is an enormous field where careful and patient and controlled study can illuminate.
This he says is the spirit of the modern film study.

Regarding the question of raw material, Mitry is eager to uphold simultaneously certain
aspects of Bazin's realism and certain aspects of Arnheim's tranformationalism. For Mitry,
the qualities of the bare film image synthesise the realist and the formative camps. For him
images can not be discussed outside of their relation to the objects they are images of.
They do have an independent existence. One can destroy a film strip of a building without
destroying the building but it is specious to talk about the images without talking about.
the objects. This is the distinguishing factor that puts cinema into a different category
than the verbal language.

Verbal language consists of arbitrary particles which deliver. a mental image to us and
make us think of the object there. But film images are already there and they incorporate
within themselves many actual visual aspects of their objects including the real
movement of the objects. According to him, they are not signs which allow us to call the
objects to mind but analogues of the objects, doubles of it. The bare cinematographic
image represents the virtual in the object and apart from this there is no signification. The
raw material is the image which gives us a immediate perception of the world. Of course
the perception is unmediated and untransformed .The film image exists alongside the
world it represents, not transcending it. Nothing. human or artistic lifts the image into
higher levels of signification and meaning and the film image designates nothing. It simply
shows us itself and analogue of the world. Mitry's position is identical with Bazin's
asymptote to reality. Mitry argued the crucial differences which kept this asymptote
forever distinct from the world it runs beside and so faithfully mirrors. Discussing the
differences, the most important factor is that the image on the screen is put by somebody

184
else. The attention to the image is brought to us not by the self, but by the image. For
Mitry, reality exists as an inexhaustible source of meaning for humans. The significance is
invested by us in whichever ways. The significance of the image is being authorised and
the world speaks of us in the same way and it is somebody else's significance which makes
Mitry conclude that the spectator is not in the world of reality and in someone's world.

Mitry concentrates on the frame of the film which is necessary in film but unnecessary in
life. Always the mediator he finds that the frame at once hides the reality from us like
Bazin and at the same time organises the objects it contains as Arnheim. The spectator
always feels that reality is just lurking outside the screen and not in the screen and at the
same time the spectator is caught in the visual tensions established in the frame. The
framed image according to him begins to strike as an ordered image which we must look
at purposefully and in relation to other framed images; but all the while it never ceases
pointing to the world it represents. He substantiates this argument by analysing the
difference between film and painting. Like Bazin, Mitry also concluded that in a painting
the object represented surrenders its reality and is entirely incorporated into a new reality
of the artwork. In film, however no matter how significant a composition looks it always
tells that there is· always another way to look at the world, other than the world
represented. The world outlives any framing of it, the framing of the image but remains
involved in a real world it can not use up. In painting a single aesthetic reality remains. In
cinema this aesthetic aspect exists , to be sure , but it does so only in dialogue with the
continual psychological realism the analogue can never slough off. This explains the title
of Mitry's book, Psychologie du Cinema. The film image transcends the world by giving it
an aesthetic frame but the world reasserts its virtual transcendence by reminding us that
there are countless other possible ways to see it. Mitry's discussion of the frame and the
window is the key to his entire film theory.

Film Image
Mitry's concepts about the purpose of the cinema, the story, editing all flow from his
theory of the film image. He outlines the imagistic tradition in cinema from the Film

\
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d'art movement through the Italian spectacle and the German expresslOlllst films
culminating in the "last films of Eisenstein. He pointed out that their excessive concern
with the aesthetic world they hope to create within the frame overshadows the reality to
which these images as analogues should naturally point to. Instead of a tension between
the aesthetic and psychological a$pects of the image, we get the aesthetic aspects pure and
simple as in painting. These films, Mitry argues, nullify cinema's special and basic power
by throwing over the tension for some supposed aesthetic advantage. Though Mitry argues
for the film image to the raw material, he suggested that the spectator see full formed
films. Film images are organised into the film world by them. The bare image according to
him has a natural.sense and it exists to be viewed and the sequenced image has more than
sense in that it has significance a definite purpose conferred upon it by the role it plays in
the imaginary but representational world the filmmaker constructs. The most crucial
characteristic of the filmic image is that unlike the natural world it represents the film
image that can be played with and arranged according to the schemes of the filmmaker.
There can be numerous permutations and combinations with images and a series of
aesthetic series and a new psychological world is formed. The psychological energy which
makes us perceive the object through the film image also enables us to that we see any
sequence of images as a continuum. The flow of images is turned to a continuos world by
the human element. According to Mitry, oUf senses constitute the objects they perceive
by giving them real status, they also spread the objects in space and time to build a world
in which these objects are interrelated. The editing process is the filmic analogue of this
mental operation.

Mitry defines the editing process when he defines montage as comprising all methods
giving context to individual images, of making a filmic universe out of the raw material, of
making human signification out of the natural tendency and their analogues to have sense.
He takes on Bazin's critique of montage by arguing that even when a scene is shot with a
moving camera instead of breaking into small scenes, the montage effect is still at work
interrelating various image-objects which come into view. Mitry extends his argument
very far when he says that montage can occur in a single scene filmed from an unchanging

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angle where two images deliver a signification greater than themselves, without editing.
The level of significance, a step beyond the composed film image, according to Mitry, is
always associated with the narrative.

With the senses, man interrelates the objects and gives reality an order and logic. Space,
time and causality put man in the world and allow him to understand rather than perceive
it. Objects just do not exist for man, they play roles and these roles keep changing as man's
desires change and it was Munsterberg who identified the psychological basis of the film
narrative and was elaborated by Balazs when he spoke of a current of meaning running
beneath the images joining them in a creation of a motivated, human world. The
important thing in the movie is the human significance which the filmmaker cannot
withhold from the audience and it is they who give a significance to these images. Each
film plays a role, each film image plays a role in the human drama created out of
perceptual world. Mitry argues that the human drama also applies to films which are not
plot oriented and it applies to documentaries and all other kinds of films. It is the
evocation of human emotion which is important here. A scene of nature can be a poetic
reflection. Generally film images follow a narrative iIi which each finds its proper place
contributing to our understanding of the story at hand.

Mitry argues that the great and the artistic films construct an abstract meaning beyond the
obvious story meaning which holds them together. At this abstract level, the film is
released from its link to sheer perception, released also from the specific story it tells, and
allowed to play freely with our highest imaginative faculties. Mitry associates the higher
levels of cinematic meaning with pure poetic meaning. Thus it needs a poet to transcend
the formal faculties and go beyond the conventional grammar to be poetic which is done
by rhythm, figures and internal associations of all sorts. The great film artists too create
poetic effects as they construct their film worlds from the raw material of film images.
The history of film art is not the history of subject matter nor even the history of the film
stories but the history of poetic techniques which reach beyond the stories they spring

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from. The aesthetics of the film according to Mitry are formulated on the basis of poetic
devices in the construction 9f the film.

Mitry and Musical Essence


Mitry was close to the French avant-gardists who wanted that cinema shed its literary
heritage in search of a musical essence. They also realised that even in a conventional
narrative certain movements within the shot create abstract patterns. and these patterns
could become the dominant feature in the film. If the editor chose so, for editing confers
an external movement on the film, one that can amplify this inner movement or flow
contrapuntally against it. By attending to the shape and the movement of the image,
rather than to its status as an analogue of a real object, the filmmaker could build, a piece
of visual music which would bypass all literalness and appeal directly to our higher
faculties. In defending the movement, Mitry argued that the ear remains our dominant
rhythmic sense and has the ability to discern the minute fragments of sound and the mind
confers gestalts on these sounds and we perceive the sounds rhythmically. The sound is the
neutral matter and it is the mind which can pattern as it pleases. Mitry says that our sight
is not nearly so detached, nor so sharp. He argues that the most telling scientific fact is
the eye's refusal, unlike the ear to distinguish a null state, a vacuum. In modern technology
the eye works in an analogue fashion whereas the ear works in a digital manner. It is not
that Mitry completely wants to discard rhythm in the film. His argume,nts are that he
wants to eliminate the improper rapport between film and music and the conception that
film is a digital art form. Mitry replaces the musical analogy with one from literature. He
compares ~ilm rhythm with prose rhythm and he says that both are dependent first on
their representations rather than on a finite series of mathematically pure tones, as in
music. For him, film and prose rhythms should function as ad hoc in response to the
conveyed images. He argues that film develops in a rhythm, not from a rhythm.

Mitry considered the literary trope or the conceptual abstraction as an excess of the
Russians thought. According to him, through montage, it creates a story logic, a true logic
and a language of images. But Eisenstein was of the view that the film was capable of

188
creating a new kind of ideogrammatic language, a heiroglyphic code which would speak
directly to the spectators. Mitry wanted to deflate this opinion and wanted to establish
\

that cinema was a concrete art. In his criticism against Kuleshov-Mozhukin experiments,
he showed that supposedly purely abstract rapport exists between two distinct images, in
this case, Mozhukin's expressionless face and the nude woman is mediated by the
spectator's narrative sense. From this experiment we are to infer, according to Mitry, that
the spectator has already preconceived notions to create the meaning between shots. Thus
the spectator has a logic of reality and logic of sequencing to connect the successive images.
Without this logic the images would stand isolated and meaningless. Mitry points out that
even a child recognises the images perfectly well but cannot infer deeper meaning.

Mitry suggests that we should recognise a world before the abstractions take on the
meaning. A series of ideograms purporting to be a visual language has nothing to do with
cinema. He argues that it could only function to render local and familiar meanings
which is cultural specific rather than universal. For Mitry, abstract meanings in cinema
should be grounded in concrete feelings. The very abstraction of .the reading process
authorises the kind of figurative speech which is used by Eisenstein but in filming the
same moment, one must discover ways to imply the sentiment through a heightening, not
an abandonment of the real. Mitry's attack on intellectual montage is amplified to include
all films which use physical reality to argue a logical position. Mitry argues that film
sequencing depends on logical juxtaposition, so it can not afford to weave a subtle verbal
logic over the whole course of the film. It cannot qualify or control the meaning released
when two images explode into a concept. It cannot put meanings into a hierarchic order.
Verbal languages can afford to do this by adding a whole array of adverbs and
conjunctions and a whole system of syntactic relations whereby clauses and phrases
depend upon each other. In film Mitry argues that we have one instrument called the
montage effect and adds, that to make cinema the function of verbal language and deliver
conceptual arguments is to misconstrue the medium's powers. Thus Mitry argues that
Eisenstein's desire to film Das Kapital is doomed from the outset. It is Mitry who argues
that Hollywood's narrative editing provides a method for constructing a perfectly fictional

189
world and so great is their mastery over this process that one is often completely lost
within the film world because it's logic is identical to the perpetual logic of our daily
lives. And Mitry recognises this kind of editing as status-quo against other montage
patterns which have asserted themselves. First, he identifies lyrical montage as a variant
of conventional editing which is brought out in films of Pudovkin where the filmmaker
gives up the overwhelming illusion of verisimilitude by concentrating on the moments
of greatest dramatic intensity. It is a process based precisely on the heightening of the
real situation. Mitry moves close to Eisenstein and supports his reflexive montage. Here
the filmmaker in telling the story and respecting the world manages to build another line
of meaning. The symbolic interdependence between objects in the story, play their
shapes off against each other.

Mitry argues that all these effects will propel the film forward if they have a literal base,
that is the story and the perpetual world which it organises needs to be respected. Mitry
calls attention to the point elaborated by Eisenstein that all shots have numerous sense of
overtones apart from the dominant. If a film is edited along the lines of the overtones it is
possible only to view it in relation to the dominant. Thus the sub text is always seen in
relation to the main text. Mitry accepts all kinds of extremes in reflexive editing, since by
definition it bases these extremes within the perception of the world. The film maker is
free to combine shots even according to some distant implication which unites them
provided that these shots are natural parts of the world being filmed. Here is he at odds
with Bazin and for Bazin such reflexive montage when overused belittles the natural
power of the image because it makes us look at that image for the implications which the
filmmaker is training to make. The natural sense of the world and its multi- layered
ambiguity is subordinated to the whim of the filmmaker. For Mitry there is no natural
sense of the world and only those senses which men have given to their perceptions.
While some uses of the reflexive montage do build a rather thin meaning, the filmmaker
has every right to preserve this possibility in case he needs to express just this sort of
meaning. Mitry praises Bazin for dethroning the king, montage forcing it to take its place
along more natural approaches giving the filmmaker a wide range of possibilities. Mitry

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.-.,.,,-.-.r.......... '

argues alongside with Bazin that filmmakers can and have ruined their films by using an
abstract montage process in the heart of an otherwise realistic world but such misuses do
not condemn the process altogether. Mitry argues that he wants to retain for the
filmmaker every style possible but this does not mean that he feels all styles are equal.
Every stylistic implies a separate. cinematic world. Mitry refuses to accord any priority to
the techniques of mobile camera, depth-of -field photography cinema-scope methods,
music, colour, rhythm and methods creating. various level of subjectivity. It refuses as
well as allows anyone world to dominate completely. For Mitry reality has only those
senses which we give it and all versions of reality are human attempts at thrusting human
meaning back on .their inchoate sense perceptions which we encounter. Andrew Dudley
argues that Mitry's extreme views on the plurality in matters of style might lead us to
expect a similar pattern in the area of cinematic structure. He further asks that if in the
domain of style there could be no priorities the same should be the case in the cinematic
structure. But Mitry has a resoundingly negative answer to the fact that the cinematic
worlds such styles create are not of equal value.

Mitry is of the view that novel comes closest to cinema than theatre. Mitry asserts that the
novel is a narrative that organises into the world and cinema is a world that organises into
a narrative. Dudley Andrew substantiates it by arguing that just as the frame acts to reveal
to us the chaotic world of perception, while forcing the world into patterns of aesthetic
meaning, so the open film narrative of film organises the world on the screen into aesthetic
form but enables us at the same time to see through its organisation to the unorganised
world beyond. Cinema, according to Mitry is perception which becomes a language. Mitry
argues that the basic material of cinema has nothing to do with language. If cinema
becomes a language, it is not the language we speak but the language of art 0'- poetry
which means that the filmmaker can lift his images into meaningful and directed
expression through the carefully controlled system of implications he develops via his
camera, sound and above all his editing.

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Mitry's deepest belief in cinema stems from the fact and more so from a passion of reality,
like Bazin and Kracauer. Cinema shapes the reality and bears it a human meaning. For
Mitry experience is the process of the perpetual transformation of partial and brute
perception into rounded human forms. Andrew argues that for Arnheim, this meant
cinema should deal only in abstractions giving us pictures of those human forms but Mitry
comes to a different conclusion where he demands a cinema which while unabashedly
human, will leave open to brute perception. 56

Metz and the Language of Cinema


Christian Metz's contribution to cinema is that cinema can be studied through scientific
methods. Metz adapted the model of Roland Barthes's semiology from his work,
Elements of Semiology. Though the roots of semiology originated from the Swiss linguist
Ferdinand de Saussure who used language as a general model for a variety of
phenomenon. Semiotics is the science which covers many specific approaches to the study
of culture through language. The approach first took shape in the structuralist model of
Claude Levi-Strauss in his works on cultural anthropology.57

Brian Henderson CntlC1SeS Metz as a threat to the film theory itself because of the
condescending attitude towards earlier theoreticians especially Pudovkin. Henderson
proceeds to show that in the work of Metz there is neither a theory of cinema nor a
semiotics of the cinema. Gaston Roberge argues that it is not a question of rejecting
semiotics in general or the semiotics of cinema in particular. The semiotic project stands,
. to formulate questions regarding meaning. Thus semiology and semiotics aim at
formulating a problematic of meaning. Barthes impetus to write Elements did not stem
from the fads of few scholars but from the very history of the modern world. Henderson,
says Roberge that, considers the entire Metzian corpus as a whole. The aim of this
consideration does not give room to assume that a film theory is s systematic work, on
the contrary despite the breaks, failures and contradiction, yet his work is a valuable

56 J Andrew Dudley, pp.107-208.


57 James Monaco, p.325.

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contribution to film theory. The aim of considering the work as a whole is to locate the
systemic failures, though Roberge adds that there is no intention to fill in the gaps or_
extrapolate as is advocated by Andrew Dudley.

Phenomenology, Meaning and Cinema


The phenomenological school of thought posits that the semiotics of cinema is unwilling
and unable to learn new anything form the film being studied. The. knowledge might
increase but the semiotician can not look beyond the analysis of the film. From Agel's
essentialist point the art work is always in control and it is the theorist who pursues it,
pursues a vision opened to him in experience, trying to account for it, prolong and
describe it. Experience is what matters in phenomenology. The innards are not important
in the phenomenology of filni but the experience to appreciate and the science to
comprehend it. Following Ayfre, Agel points out that most studies of art work impose
laws from outside in studying any art work. An art work for them is not an object and
there are many kinds of truths and the phenomenologist wants to unveil the kind of truth
which can't be reduced to logic. According to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, art is primary
activity, a natural, spontaneous, and an intuitive way of understanding life and all theory is
secondary placing the primary activities in a schema constructed to make the
interrelationships clear. For instance, sociology or social anthropology does not clarify
totemism, so much as it lets us see the connection between the society and its practices.
Nor it could. Phenomenology is against the engulfing power we accord to reason in the
society .. 58 Merleau-Ponty believes that the primary activities and art work are leading out
of the labyrinth of logic and moving into the sphere of man's experience. These activities
let nature realised in man's imagination. Agel states that art is a formal gesture organising
our bodies and our imaginations in response to the basic experience. Reason can never
replace it though it can only describe it and formalise it. Agel substantiates it by quoting
Bazin:
" We can coldly isolate patterns in music or logic in dreams as does the psychoanalyst, but,
more warmly, we can begin to live the rhythm of music as an invitation to dance and to

58 J Andrew Dudley, p.259.

193
vibrate; and we can feel it in a sense, as unveiling of the world expressed in the epiphany
of the sensible." (Quoted in Henri Agel, Poetique du cinema, p.9)

The semioitician in art understands a certain signification but for Balin "they feel it in a
sense." Signification according to them is imposed by man and sense which is given to us
by the world and any object possesses and radiates. Reading Bazin, one could argue that
the hidden depth of the world is suggested by the vision art gives us of its true sensual
surface. Agel quotes Gaston Bachelard, for whom nature is the mother of all images. Man
merely leaves him open to receive such primordial clusters as fire and water. Art is for
Agel the path traversed not by logic but by analogies. Agel argues that semioticians of
cinema value one strand of cinema that is the signification whose greatest exponent was
Eisenstein. But Agel points out that there is another strand of cinema which the
semioticians leave out that is the cinema of contemplation. Flaherty, Renoir, Mizoguchi,
Dreyer, Rosellini all let their variety of meanings in reality live within their film. They
refuse to overwhelm the spectator with their sense of meaning and let the sense of the
world slowly appear. There is a sense of supremacy in the images for they manifest a
plurality of meanings which congeals into the images and whic"h have a sense of
transcendence in them because nature is speaking from the screen. For Agel, Eisenstein's
approach to cinema is a violent way of portraying images and his montage has invaded
the content of today's films with scenes cut with violent techniques. Mizoguchi and
Dreyer analysed the analogies which are present in the concrete experience and they
represent a more synthetic and sacred approach. For Agel and the phenomenologists,
semiotics analyses the films, whereas phenomenology offers poetics. Semioticians feel that
that filmmakers cast a meaning on the world with the signs and syntax but for Agel the
great filmmakers read the meaning of the world not mechanically but as one reads the
palm of a hand. Agel points out that cinema peers beyond human speech and human
intrigue. Be it the film syntax, or the editing method or the camera angles, it is nature, says
Agel, which has the last word. Andrew comes to criticise Agel in that for him cinema is
the gateway to the beyond and in the process all ordinary conditions and work involved in
the process of making cinema are completely neglected and out of focus. Ayfre showed
that neorealism like Bazin, was the only movement in film which utilised the full capacity

194
of the medium to account for the accidents of life. Neorealism for him and Bazin a human
realism which illustrated in its very technique man's incessant dialogue with physical
reality. The semioticians object to the views of Ayfre because he does not take into
account the intermediary system through which the audience make sense of the film. But
that is not the concern of the phenomenologists and more than that it is a sense already
inherent in the film which the spectators and the audiences can comprehend which is
given to them by the society and their cultures. For them the rules of the film language
are not the rules of art, and what interested Ayfre was the manner in which a given series
of images transcend the author, the spectator and the normal rules of cinema. Ayfre
argues that like all human beings who act in films, the syntax of cinema and all the laws of
semiotics, while still existing in the real world, dissolve magically into the characters and
life of the artwork whose criterion is no longer scientific truth but aesthetic authenticity.
In dealing with the problem of authenticity Ayfre argues that all films give us images
connected by a syntax, but only some of them are authentic expressions. Most films
according to him are either propagandistic in that they put the filmmaker in the role of
power and the spectator is forced to submit to him or pornographic in that the spectator's
erotic and psychological needs become the goal of the experience and the filmmaker
cravenly submits himself to satisfying those needs.

Ayfre argues that the authentic film ties the filmmaker and the spectator in a dialogue with
earth and the resultant work of art frees itself from the service status and adds that despite
the fact having both the kinds of cinema it is for the authentic cinema that one should
always strive for which makes free of our needs and free from the domination of others.
The imagination has a vital role to play in the life world and the authentic work of art is
not a refuge from reality and he conceives a dialogue between imagination and reason, a
sense of reciprocity and what Ayfre suggests is that the real is a relation between the true
and the dream, between science and imagination, between the discursive, verifiable idea
and the primitive ambiguous image. According to him, the filmmaker should generate
images which move toward abstraction of ideas without being allegorical substitutes for
ideas. The image has to rise to a level of clarity with the capacity of the direction, and on

195
the other hand, if the image is overwhelmed by the idea it becomes nothing but a tool,
losing its ability to direct thought because it is already directed by thought. There is sense
of immediacy and spontaneity in proper images which makes arrest the attention and yet
they possess the power to simplify thought. The artist provides the idea and the spectator
and the critic experiences it and draws the rational truths out of it. The critic, argues
Ayfre, must follow the image by responding anew to the reality.

The theoretical formulations and assumptions discussed so far only provide a window to
understanding cinema and its varied dynamics. By no means can the exhaustive body of
knowledge on the. formal efforts of cinema undermine the medium and the institution of
cinema. The beauty of cinema lies beyond any method to restrict its contours and borders.
In fact it would be naIve if we were to discern all the meanings from just the viewing
experience. The text is understood against a larger canvas of the everyday world. The
theories discussed have only helped to form a discipline with a set of rules and regulations
which will enable us to understand cinema through the formal method. Thus it facilitates
to form a perspective. There is no single view on a particular film. There are a plurality of
perspectives. But film theory directs to find some common denominators so that the
generalities are spotted in cinema in general. Film theory enables us to understand the text
of cinema. Culture enables us to understand the context of cinema. Culture and film
theory however, should not be construed as mutually exclusive and dichotomous
categories. They are constantly influencing each other so that the institution of cinema and
the medium of cinema is understood in its entirety. After having discussed the theoretical
elements of ~inema it is essential to study culture and understand its relationship with
cinema and that is what the next chapter aims at doing.

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