In This Article André Bazin

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbook Entries
  • Anthologies and Journal Issues Dedicated to Bazin
  • Biography
  • Collections of Bazin’s Essays
  • Uncollected Essays in English
  • Bibliographies
  • “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”
  • Bazin’s Notions of Film History and Film Style
  • Bazin Meets the Digital Age
  • For and Against Bazin
  • Philosophical Traditions

Cinema and Media Studies André Bazin
by
Dudley Andrew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0006

Introduction

André Bazin (b. 1918–d. 1958) may well be the most influential critic ever to have written about cinema. He contributed daily reviews to Paris’s largest-circulation newspaper, Le Parisien libéré, and wrote hundreds of essays for weeklies (Le nouvel observateur, Télérama) and such esteemed monthly journals as Esprit and Cahiers du cinéma (which he cofounded). A social activist, he directed cine-clubs and, from 1945 to 1950, worked for the Communist outreach organization Travail et Culture. He befriended Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Orson Welles, and Luis Buñuel and was a father figure to the critics at Cahiers who would create the New Wave just after he died. He adopted the delinquent François Truffaut, who dedicated The 400 Blows to him. Bazin’s influence spread to critics and filmmakers in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia, where today, for instance, Jia Zhangke salutes Bazin as formative to his approach. One of Bazin’s first essays, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” (“Ontology” essay; 1945), anchors much of what he would produce. It legitimates his taste for documentaries, for neorealism, and for directors who don’t use images rhetorically but to explore reality. Criticized by communists for writing “The Stalin Myth in the Soviet Cinema,” he would be posthumously satirized by Marxist academics for his presumed naïve faith in cinema’s ability to deliver true appearances transparently. These attacks now seem parochial. He was influenced by Bergson, Malraux, and Sartre. He specialized in literature as a brilliant student at the École normale supérieure, where he also was passionate about geology, geography, and psychology. Metaphors from the sciences frequently appear in his articles. While many of his acolytes are “humanists,” particularly devotees of the “auteur policy,” it is increasingly clear that Bazin attends equally to systems within which films are made and viewed, including technology, economics, and censorship. Of more than 2,600 articles he wrote, only 220 or so are easy to access in anthologies. He personally collected 52 of his most significant pieces in What is Cinema? Other collections then appeared thanks to Truffaut, Éric Rohmer, and other devotees. Obviously, those who have written about Bazin have done so knowing only a fraction of his output. Still, that output is considered consistent, rich, and consequential. Bazin’s impact will undoubtedly grow as more of his pieces become available.

General Overviews and Textbook Entries

The first scanning of Bazin as a thinker with a full view of the cinema came in the months after his death and was provided by his successor as editor at Cahiers du cinéma, Éric Rohmer (Rohmer 1989), and by the British critic Richard Roud (Roud 1959). It would be well over a decade before Bazin received sustained treatment in English, and then it was thanks to the translation of his key essays. This came at the moment of the arrival of academic film studies, where Bazin naturally was taken up in the first textbooks that laid out film theory as a field of study. Tudor 1974 and Andrew 1976 both aim to put Bazin into a small lineup of “classical theorists,” with the former finding fault with the realist tradition and the latter believing it to have been liberating. Much later, in Andrew 1997 and Andrew 1998, the author composed several entries to summarize Bazin, the first of these attending to the debates his theory has occasioned and the second serving as a description of the logic of the work and its putative unity. The question of unity has been in dispute, with Henderson 1980 and later Carroll 1988 insisting on a division in Bazin between his theory and his critical-historical practice, while Perkins 1972 upholds his continuity of thought, the author taking his cue from Éric Rohmer’s initial pronouncement. Elsaesser 2011 looks beyond Bazin’s period to see how the problems he addressed and his usual approach line up with the work of film scholars in later decades, extending to the present.

  • Andrew, Dudley. “André Bazin.” In The Major Film Theories: An Introduction. By J. Dudley Andrew, 134–178. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

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    In this early textbook laying out film theory as a field, the chapter on Bazin positions him on the side of “realist theories” and in opposition to the “formative tradition.” He is differentiated from Kracauer through his views of cinema’s raw material (tracings of reality), its way of manipulating that material, and its purposes.

  • Andrew, Dudley. “Bazin’s Evolution.” In Defining Cinema. Edited by Peter Lehman. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

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    The first half of this eighteen-page article lays out the logic underlying Bazin’s scattered writings. The second half examines the fate of those ideas in the debates that are part of film studies. Bazin’s refusal to “essentialize” cinema keeps his theory open to new developments and has enabled him to outlast local debates.

  • Andrew, Dudley. “André Bazin.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 1. Edited by Michael Kelly, 228–232. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    A succinct summary of the core of Bazin’s ideas and attitude toward cinema. Historical concerns are minimized while the logic and connectedness of the various directions of Bazin’s thought are emphasized.

  • Carroll, Noël. Philosophical Problems of Classical Film Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

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    A substantial, carefully formulated accusation that Bazin’s so-called “theory of cinema” in fact applies only to a certain strain of films that he promoted. He may have been a fine critic, but criticism cannot dress up as theory. Moreover, Bazin’s realism rests on a crumbling foundation.

  • Elsaesser, Thomas. “A Bazinian Half-Century.” In Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory & its Afterlife. Edited by Dudley Andrew, 3–12. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    An encyclopedic film scholar assesses Bazin’s place, not just during the time his ideas were in force but in debates about early cinema and post-cinema. The former comes under the rubric “Bazin as media-archeologist”; the latter debates are grouped under “indexicality” and “philosophy.”

  • Henderson, Brian. “The Structure of Bazin’s Thought.” In A Critique of Film Theory. By Brian Henderson, 32–47. New York: Dutton, 1980.

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    Originally appeared in Film Quarterly (Summer 1972). Opposed to Rohmer 1989 and Perkins 1972 and anticipating Carroll’s later critique (Carroll 1988), Henderson breaks down Bazin into a “theoretical” and “critical-historical” thinker. These irreconcilable dimensions Bazin strives but fails to unite via the concept of “evolution.” A fair, cogent examination of extant materials that would need revision today, given Bazin’s greatly expanded corpus.

  • Perkins, Victor F. “Minority Reports.” In Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies. By Victor F. Perkins, 28–39. London: Penguin, 1972.

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    One of the earliest and best considerations of Bazin, whose theory Perkins believes rescued cinema from those who value it insofar as it behaves like the other arts. But cinema’s recording function is something to be exploited, not overcome. Bazin honored a range of films that gain by being records.

  • Rohmer, Éric. “André Bazin’s ‘Summa.’” In The Taste for Beauty. By Éric Rohmer. Translated by Carol Volk, 93–104. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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    Part eulogy, part review of the first two volumes of Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? Rohmer pleads for the coherence of work that until then had been seen only piecemeal. Unapologetic in his allegiance, Rohmer stresses the “objectivity axiom” that orients all Bazin’s writing and guides his appreciation of diverse genres and of impure cinema. Originally published in Cahiers du cinéma 91 (January 1959).

  • Roud, Richard. “Face to Face: André Bazin.” Sight and Sound 28.3–4 (1959): 176–179.

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    The first English summary of Bazin. Strikingly accurate, Bazin’s source is located in Roger Leenhardt and his effect in François Truffaut, the men to whom Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? is dedicated. Bazin linked silent realist masters to postwar cinema via Jean Renoir and insisted that adaptations paradoxically provide cinema its best route by which to evolve.

  • Tudor, Andrew. “Aesthetics of Realism: Bazin and Kracauer.” In Theories of Film. By Andrew Tudor, 98–115. London: Secker & Warburg, 1974.

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    This early textbook summary links Bazin to Kracauer, rejecting both for fantasizing “an aesthetic from which human interference is absent.” Although a source of many crude “bazinisms,” Tudor usefully distinguishes “pure realism” from “spatial realism,” while asking Bazin to go beyond both and include montage.

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