Precious Bodily Fluids

What Cinema Is! – Dudley Andrew, 2010


Approaching Andrew’s updated riff on Bazin just after reviewing Bazin’s What Is Cinema? ideally allows one to see where Andrew is coming from and, just as importantly, where he is going. Andrew essentially does exactly what he sets out to do: to update Bazin’s argument to our present moment in film studies, noting Bazin’s relevance to the contemporary setting and reestablishing the validity of Bazin’s ideas in relation to a changed and changing landscape. Andrew reminds us of Bazin’s insistence that cinema’s existence preceded its essence, and so shifting forms–such as the shift from celluloid to digital–do not compromise cinema’s status as cinema but only prove Bazin’s point about the mutability of cinema. Andrew uses Bazin’s categories of classical, modern, and avant-garde to show how cinema is in a constant state of flux, particularly by virtue of its status as a fundamentally technological medium. It thereby historicizes itself at every moment, even as its modern and avant-garde incarnations point forward toward its inevitable evolution. By describing cinema as ontologically evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Andrew insists that this was what Bazin both expected and celebrated from cinema, and that changes like digital fit comfortably within cinema’s ontogeny. By this term, Andrew refers to the ontological messiness of cinema, a form that is perpetually modern and perpetually situated between the classical and the avant-garde. Although this is true of other media, cinema’s messiness does not equal a lack of ontological specificity. Bazin celebrated those auteurs who moved cinema from its classical phase into its modern one, Jean Renoir and Orson Welles. Andrew joins the throngs who lament Bazin’s death almost literally on the eve of the nouvelle vague, a moment that brought into full being the shift begun by Renoir and Welles a decade earlier. Andrew notes that this overlaps importantly with Deleuze’s own observation of the shift from the action-image to the time-image, the shift rendered decisive by World War II and the new mode of consciousness and experience of narrative that humanity underwent. By “avant-garde,” Andrew states that Bazin was not exactly within his rights to use such a term, since he dehistoricized it from its context in terms of art history and reappropriated it for use in terms of cinema. The new cinema did not fit the definition of “avant-garde” as it was (perhaps ironically) classically understood. Andrew points to Astruc’s seminal essay, “Toward a New Avant-Garde: La Camera-Stylo,” that famous treatise that couches film authorship in terms of literary authorship. “Stylo” translates as “pen,” but its etymology refers to “style.” As a result, very often Bazin’s argument about the new avant-garde has often reduced it to style, specifically to mise-en-scène. However, Andrew argues that subject matter is much more Bazin’s focus of the shift from classical to modern, and from modern to avant-garde. By complicating topics on which cinema focused, cinema addresses its contemporary moment in new and innovative ways, ways that often necessitate a formal shift. The shift that took place in the postwar years was of one kind, and the kind continued into the nouvelle vague took cinema in a newer direction. Toward his conclusion, Andrew takes the argument into a variety of other areas that feel dense and difficult to manage, but Andrew navigates this tough territory adeptly, as always.

This entry was published on September 4, 2013 at 3:59 pm. It’s filed under Book Summaries and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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