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Bazin - Every Film is a Social Documentary (1947)

Bazin - Every Film is a Social Documentary (1947)

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By Andre Bazin - Every Film is a Social Documentary (1947)
By Andre Bazin - Every Film is a Social Documentary (1947)

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Published by: Non-Public on Jan 26, 2014
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Often when he did bring an auteur centerstage, however, as he did with Camé on the occasion of his forgettable 1951

film Juliette ou la clé des songes, it was not as a transcendent artist whose themes and sensibility deserved deep refieaion; instead Bazin used Carné's career to ponder how styles and genres move into and out of phase with history and with the public sensibility. Bazin loved to probe the system that brought films into being and sustained them in the cultural imaginary, for as a daily critic he took in every sort of film imaginable, mainly mediocre features. Rather than try to filter from these a few crystals, he aimed to understand tbe entire process by which they got made and then anained their shape and value, whatever that might be. This meant genre study in the broad sense. What psychological knot does each genre pick at? How have later variants grown out of earlier examples in the genre or drawn on adjacent types? What pre-cinematic avatars connect these films to longstanding cultural concerns? To him cinema was a vast ecological system, endlessly interesting in its interdependencies and fluctuations. He was always ready to celebrate the creativity' of tbe director; but "tbe genius of the system" he found even more fascinating. Only an interdisciplinary approach could start to understand why even modest directors made such satisfying films during the classical period, a period he could sense was on its way out. His protégés might exercise an elitist politique des auteurs, but he shamed them with their obligation to keep in mind technology, economics, sociology, and, yes, actual politics, alongside the usual approaches borrowed from literary studies and art history. Bazin knew quite a lot about each of tbese subjects and methods, but his particular genius lay in identif>'ing some revealing textual attributes of whatever film was before him, then using these to leverage a weighty understanding of rbe film as a whole, or the filmmaker, or the genre, or the general conditions of filmmaking and reception. In effect he followed out the questions to which films appear to stand as answers, letting stylistic details in the films themselves call up his extraordinary range of knowledge. No one before him, and

Translated by Paul Fileri
(Originally puhli.slied as "Tout film est un documentaire social," LPS Lettres fr ancaisps. \ o . i66. ", Julv 1947)

innate in photographic objectivity—is fundamentally equivocal, because it allows the "realization" of the marvelous. Precisely like a dream. The oneiric charaaer of cinema, linked to tbe illusory nature of its image as much as to its lightly hypnotic mode of operation, is no less cmcial than its realism. In a certain sense, cinema cannot lie, and every film can be considered as a social documentary. To the extent that it has come to satisfy the dream desires of the masses, it becomes its own dream. The sole objective criterion is success. Every producer who bas made a film that pleases knows how to fill the type of imaginary void within which his film took shape. In commercial terms, good producers detect within the public any "dream holes" still unfilled and hasten to fill them in. It's true that advertising and the erosion effected by carefully managed productions can dig those holes in advance. But, being a dream, cinema hides its ultimate reality behind appearances that are nothing but symbols. As in a dream, nothing in cinema is completely accidenta!, and at the same



time nothing is completely fake either. It isn't ttue that French or American f>eople enjoy lives free of work, living in sumptuous apartments, decked out witb three fiights of marble staircases, where telephones, which you and I have trouble finding, are made of white bakélite at tbe very least. But it's true that some secret demon keeps the shameful hope for such a social paradise alive in each of our hearts. American secretaries don't marry the sons of tbeir billionaire bosses, but the Cinderella mytb occupies a dominant position in American culture and millions of secretaries find themselves dreaming about the one and only modern, urban Prince Charming who will sweep them off their feet.




rather than a critical analysis that can best reveal cinema's secret reality. This reality is all the more secret since it lets the eraziest dreams take on the quasi make-believe of real life. And so the social, political, moral, and lastly aesthetic value of a film depends on its implicit affirmations. It follows that if we define film culture

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40 I FILM COMMENT I November-December2008

so visit us today at: www.RY EILM. To defend the public against this form of abuse of consciousness. a State. I dare say. Collecting and Film Noir sections. the historical.IDARESAY WORST THOUGHTS.mpagallery. worst thoughts. GOOD OR BAD. G Motion Picture Arts Gallery EXPERIENCED IN THE ART OF THE MOVIES 90 Oak Street. illusions. 44 IE WE DEEINE EILM CULTURf: NOL ONLY AS KNO^^LEDGE OE SOME GI\T:NS OE THE TECHNICAL. M D THE ARTISTIC BUT ALSO AS THE RECOGNITION OE OUR COLLECTEVE DREAMS. IS AN IRREPIACEABLE SOCLAL DOCUMENTARY?? rYKONt- POWER JUUi DIUE" "ELiH Please visit our website with its Monthly Features. New Jersey 07073 P H O N E 201-635-1444 F A X 201-635-1445 The Motion Picture Arts Gallery was founded in 1982. on the belief that motion picture art —especially film and movie posters —is timeless and enduring. East Rutherford. is an irreplaceable social documentary. realist or fabricated. and the artistic but also as the recognition of our collective dreams. even a civilization or a culture wants to make the masses mistake for their own desires—these are. to help tbe audience in tbis way to prioritize its pleasure according to what it contains. as in a riddle where you're asked above all not to look for the big bad wolf. tight down to the seventh veil that masks the viewer's own unconscious desire. to bring out in the outline of its images. good or bad. these self-interested concoctions.not only as knowledge of some of the givens of the technical. ILLUSIONS. and. THE HISTORICAL. the aims of a film culture expanded to the dimensions of the public itself. a film culture for which the growth of the ciné-clubs has at last left us filled with hope. THEN EW. A^D.com November-December2008 i f i L M COMMENT I 41 . New acquisitions are added daily. then every film. among other things. for the sole purpose of providing the opium sellers with an outlet for their drug. which an entire production consortium. to render the public sensible to the needs or illusions that were created in it as a market. Our inventory consists of more than 20.000 original movie posters and lobby cards spanning 100 years of cinema. to wake the audience from its dream. to teach it at the same time to reject what consciousness could not admit were it to fully understand. REALIST OR EABRICATED. to pull back all the veils.

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