Donald S. Skoller, “Praxis as a Cinematic Principle in Films by Robert Bresson,” Cinema Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Autumn 1969), 13-22.
Skoller begins by defining “praxis” as an unfolding of action that is gestural rather than strictly narrative, then proceeds to look at two of Bresson’s films through this lens: Diary of a Country Priest and A Man Escaped. Skoller is something of a formalist, or so it would seem through his elevation of form over substance/content. He insists that Bresson’s films sublimate the narrative to the image, appealing to Bazin in locating a “non-narrative mode” in Bresson’s works that emphasize a praxis-image, in which, as Bazin maintains, “the value of an image does not depend on what precedes or follows it” (18). Skoller identifies this approach as phenomenological, one that puts “emphasis upon direct apprehension of the visual details and elements as they exist on the screen before we have assigned a narrative essence to them.” This technique de-symbolizes the image, makes the spectator’s eye pre-eminent, foregrounds space over time, forces the story to recede, and reveals the inner essence of those objects being presented in the image. Considering the date of this essay’s publication, this is a thoughtful and even helpful step toward understanding ways to approach Bresson’s films. However, the essay’s strongly formalist tendencies, while helpfully illustrating how Bresson’s films reflect a certain mode of expression and perception, demand more subtlety these days. Perhaps the best way to think about this essay is a prospectus for a larger work in which Skoller could expand on his categories of praxis, graphic, form, and narrative.