In “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” Bazin speaks o: the image as being evaluated not according to what it adds t< reality but what it reveals of it. "The Evolution of the Language of Cinema". Andre Bazin. Jean Renoir; Precursor to Welles, understood the importance of depth; Orson Welles. Film critic Andre Bazin had very strong feelings on the subject of montage and realism. In his article “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema”, he explains his .
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By langguage, the art of the silent film was at its height. Many of the best directors were understandably, though not justifiably, sorry to witness the disappearance of this perfect world of images. The realism of lanuage was bound to upset matters.
In fact, now that the use of sound has satisfactorily proved that far from annihilating the Old Testament of the cinema it has brought it to fulfilment, one might well ask oneself if the technical revolution that resulted from the introduction of sound could really be called an aesthetic revolution. In other words, did the years really witness the birth of a new cinema?
As far as anrde way a film is put together is concerned, the history of the cinema does not evolutoon fact reveal as marked a difference as one might expect between the silent and sound cinema. There are many affinities to be found between certain directors of the s and others of the evolurion and especially the s — between, for instance, Eric von Stroheim and Jean Renoir or Orson Welles, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson. I am quite aware languaeg the brevity of this essay will oblige me to make some critical simplifications, and I shall regard what I put forward more as a working hypothesis than an objective truth.
With this in mind, I would say labguage by and large there were too opposing schools in the cinema from to By ‘image’, I mean in a general sense anything that can be added to a depicted object by its being depicted on the screen. This addition is complex, but it can be traced back to two factors: By plasticity I mean the style of the sets and the make-up, to a certain extent even the acting, and of course the lighting and framing which complete the composition.
As for the editing, which, as is well known, had its source in D. Griffith’s masterpieces, Andre Malraux wrote in The Psychology of the Cinema that it constitutes the birth of the film as an art: The use of editing can be ‘invisible’; and this was most frequently the case in the classical pre-war American film.
The only bxzin of breaking down the shots is to analyse an event according to the physical and dramatic logic of a scene. The analysis is rendered imperceptible by its logicality.
The spectator’s mind naturally accepts the camera angles that the director offers him because they are justified by the disposition of the action or the shifting of dramatic interest. But the neutrality of this ‘invisible’ breakdown of sequences does not take languqge account the full possibilities of editing.
These are to be found in three devices generally known as ‘parallel editing’, ‘accelerated editing’ and ‘editing by attraction’. In creating parallel editing, Griffith managed to evoke the simultaneity of two widely separated actions, by a succession cknema shots of first one, then the other.
In La Roue The WheelAbel Gance creates the illusion of an accelerating locomotive without having recourse to any real images of speed for all we know, the wheels might as well be revolving on the spotsimply by an accumulation of shorter and shorter shots. Finally, editing by attraction, conceived by Eisenstein and more difficult to describe, might be broadly defined as the reinforcement of the meaning of one image by another image which does not conema belong to the same action: In this extreme form, editing by attraction has not been used very frequently, even by its originator, but the much more general practice of ellipse, comparison or metaphor is basically very similar: Naturally there exists various combinations of these three devices.
But whatever they are, they have a common recognisable feature which could serve as the very definition of editing: Lev Kuleshov’s famous experiment with the same shot of Ivan Mozhukhin, whose smile seemed to change in implication according to the shot that preceded it, is a perfect summary of the properties of editing. Kuleshov, Eisenstein and Gance do not show the event through their editing; they elude to it.
The Evolution of the Language of Cinema by André Bazin
True, they take most of their elements from the reality they are supposed to be describing, but the final meaning of the film lies much more in the organisation of these elements than in their objective content. The combinations are innumerable. But they all have one thing in common: And so between the scenario proper – the ultimate object of the narrative – and the raw image, a supplementary link is inserted, a kind of aesthetic ‘transformer’.
The meaning is not in the image, but is merely a shadow of it, projected by the editing on the consciousness of the spectator. By the end of the silent era, one can consider this arsenal to have been complete. The Soviet cinema took the theory and practice of editing to their ultimate conclusions, whereas the German expressionist school subjected the plasticity of the image sets and lighting to every possible distortion.
The German and Soviet cinemas were certainly not the only important schools at the time, and one could hardly claim that in France, Sweden or America, film language lacked the means to say what it had to say.
If the essence of cinematic art is to be found in all that plasticity and editing can add to a given reality, then the silent cinema was a complete art.
Sound could have played only a subordinate and complementary role, as a counterpoint to the visual image. But this kind of potential enrichment which at the best of times could only have been minor would have paled beside the whole range of supplementary reality that was in fact introduced by sound. What we have done is to suppose that expressionism in the editing and the image is the essential part of film art.
It is precisely this generally accepted notion that is implicitly challenged, as early as the silent era, by directors such as Erich von Stroheim, F. Murnau or Robert Flaherty. Editing plays practically no role at all in their films, except in the purely negative sense of eliminating what is superfluous.
The camera cannot see everything at once, but at least it tries not to miss anything of what it has chosen to see. For Flaherty, the important thing to show when Nanook is hunting the seal is the relationship between the man and the animal and the true proportions of Nanook’s lying in wait.
Editing could have suggested the passage of time; Flaherty is content to show the waiting, and the duration of the hunt becomes the very substance and object of the image. In the film this episode consists of a single shot. Can anyone deny that it is in this way much more moving than ‘editing by attraction’ would have been? Murnau is less interested in time than in the reality of dramatic space: One might perhaps suppose that the plasticity of Murnau’s images has an affinity with a certain kind of expressionism; but this would be a superficial view.
The way Murnau composes his images is not at all pictorial, it adds nothing to reality, it does not deform it; rather it strives to bring out the deeper structure of reality, to reveal pre-existent relationships which become the constituents of the drama.
Thus, in Tabuthe entry of a ship onto the left of the screen makes the spectator see it as a metaphor of fate, without Murnau in any way distorting the strict realism of the film, shot entirely on location.
But it was without doubt Stroheim who was the most reluctant to use visual expressionism and editing devices. In his work, reality admits its meaning like a suspect who is being grilled by an indefatigable police inspector.
The principle of his direction, a simple one, is to look at the world from so close and with such insistence that it ends up by revealing its cruelty and its ugliness. One can well imagine, in theory, a Stroheim film composed of a single shot, which would be as long and as close up as one liked. I do not want to limit my case to these three directors. We shall certainly find others, here and there, who reject expressionistic elements and do not rely on editing to play a large part.
Even Griffith is one of them, for example. But perhaps these examples will suffice to show that in the middle of the silent period there existed a film art that was diametrically opposed to what is normally thought to be true cinema, a language whose syntactic and semantic components are not at all the individual shots: The silent cinema could only counteract this tendency.
Once editing and visual composition cease to be considered as the very essence of film language, it can be seen that the arrival of sound was not an aesthetic watershed dividing two radically different aspects of the medium.
Summary of “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema”
Some people saw that sound was bringing a certain kind of cinema to an end; but this was not at all the cinema. The true cleavage plane was elsewhere; it was, and still is, cutting clean across thirty-five years of the history of cinematic expression.
Now that the aesthetic unity of the silent cinema is not as solid as it seemed, caught as it is between two strongly contrasting tendencies, we should perhaps take another look at the history of the last twenty years.
From toa certain kinship of expression in the cinema grew up throughout the world, originating in particular from America. Hollywood was riding high with five or six well-tried types of eevolution which gave it overwhelming superiority: During the same period, the French cinema was undoubtedly the next best after the American: As it is not my purpose to award prizes, there would not be much point in lingering on the Soviet, British, German and Italian films of this period, which were relatively less important than they were to be during the following ten years.
In any case, the American and French films will suffice to demonstrate clearly that the pre-war anrde cinema was an art that had visibly reached well-balanced maturity. A word about content first of all: As for form, the photographic and narrative styles were perfectly clear and they conformed with their subject: Conversely, one admires dramatic and moral themes which, although not entirely creations of the cinema, were raised to a certain nobility, to an artistic effectiveness that they anrre not have achieved without it.
In short, these were all characteristics of ‘classic’ art in full flower. I am perfectly aware that there is a case for maintaining that the originality of the post-war cinema, compared with that oflies in the emergence of certain individual countries as film-producers, especially in the dazzling explosion of the Italian cinema and the appearance of a British cinema that was original and free from influences from Hollywood; that the truly important phenomenon of the s was the infusion of new blood, the opening up of unexplored regions; that the real revolution took place more on the level of subject-matter than of style, and concerned what the cinema had to say to the world rather than the way of saying it.
Is not neo-realism above all a kind of oc rather than a style of direction? And is not the essential feature of this style self-effacement before reality? It is certainly not my intention to champion some supposed superiority of form over content. But new wine should not be put into old bottles! And bwzin way languuage understanding better what a film is trying to say is to know how it is saying it.
In orthen, the sound cinema had, especially in France and America, reached a degree of classical perfection that was based both on the maturity of the dramatic genres andrd had been developed over ten years or inherited from the silent cinema, and on the stabilisation of technical progress.
The s saw the arrival of panchromatic film as well as sound. Of course, the studios never stopped trying to improve their equipment, but these improvements were only cibema – none of them opened up radically new possibilities in film direction. Moreover this situation has not changed pfexcept possibly in the field of photography, thanks to an increase in the sensitivity of film.
An Analysis of Film Critic Andre Bazin’s Views on Expressionism and Realism in Film
llanguage Panchromatic film upset the balance of values in the image, and ultra-sensitive emulsions allowed modifications to be made in the composition.
Now that the director of photography was evvolution to shoot in a studio with a much smaller lens aperture, he could, if necessary, eliminate the blurred backgrounds that used to be the rule.
But one can find plenty of examples of depth of focus being employed well before then by Renoir, for instance ; it had always been possible in exteriors and even in the studio with a little ingenuity. It was there to be resorted to if the director so desired. And so what is important here is not so much the technical problem, although the solution of this was considerably facilitated, as the stylistic effect which I will come back to.
In short, ever since the use of panchromatic film and the possibilities offered by the microphone and the crane became general in studios, the technical conditions necessary and sufficient for the creation of film art had been achieved by As technical requirements played practically no part in this, the signs and the principles of ciinema evolution in language must be sought elsewhere: Inthe sound cinema had reached a point which geographers call the line of equilibrium of a river, i.
Once a river attains its line of equilibrium, it flows effortlessly from its source to its mouth without hollowing out its bed further. But if any geological shift occurs which raises the peneplain or alters the altitude of the source, the water becomes active again, penetrating the underlying land, sinking in, undermining, and hollowing out. Occasionally, if there is a bed of limestone, a whole new network of hollows forms on the plateau; it is scarcely perceptible, but is complex and contorted if one follows the way the water takes.
The evolution of the shooting script since sound Inthe way shots were broken down in a shooting script was the same almost everywhere. If, to be conventional, we call the type of silent film based on visual and editing devices ‘expressionist’ or ‘symbolic’, we might dub the new form of narrative ‘analytic’ and ‘dramatic’.
Suppose, to go back to one of the cineema in Kuleshov’s experiments, we have a table laden with food and a poor famished beggar. Inthe breakdown might have been as follows: