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A Note on the Texts

Timothy Barnard

André Bazin was born in April 1918. The publisher is proud to

release the present volume a few weeks before the hundredth anni-
versary of his birth, in the hope that it will bring renewed interest
in his work. This volume is also appearing the year of the sixtieth
anniversary of Bazin’s death at the age of forty in November 1958.
Whichever side of this latter date each of us was born on, we can
measure our lives against the tragic brevity and astonishing pro-
ductivity of this most gifted life, during which Bazin wrote over
2,500 articles in the brief fifteen-year ‘from the Liberation to the
Nouvelle Vague’ period in which he worked.
Yet despite being by far the most important, productive and
stimulating French film critic of his generation, Bazin has suffered
a fate in death as cruel as his premature death itself. Apart from
his famous protégé François Truffaut, who abandoned criticism for
filmmaking and who died tragically young in turn, and his ‘per-
sonal gainsayer’ Éric Rohmer, one would be hard pressed to identify
many authors on whom Bazin has had a (positive) influence over
the course of the now several generations of French film critics to
have practised the trade since his death. Not to mention his status
as a relic without relevance to today’s debates in film theory.
This is surely due in part to the even worse fate of his writ-
ings. In French, no critical edition of any part of his work exists
or has ever existed. The first of the four slim volumes comprising
his best-known publication, a collection of sixty-four articles from
andre bazin: selected writings 1943–1958

every stage of his career with the title Qu’est-ce que le cinéma?, was
published under his own supervision the month of his death, with
the final volume appearing four years later under the supervision
of Jacques Rivette. Bazin and his editors took the opportunity to
revise and abridge his work and to fix a few—but far from all—of
the elementary mistakes found in the original publications, but no
critical commentary or explanatory notes have ever been provided.
In the fifty-six years since this collection was completed, no
critical edition has been issued, despite regular sales as a course
text. In fact, a short thirteen years after the fourth and final volume
was issued the collection suffered the ignominy of being slashed
almost in half and reduced to a single volume—even as the publisher
still claims the rights to texts in the collection which it has not kept
in print for over forty years. It is in this mutilated form that the
book is available today, a volume lacking key essays which have now
passed into virtual oblivion in French. Some of those essays can be
found in translation in the present volume. Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? is
accompanied in French by a small handful of posthumously edited
collections on Jean Renoir, Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin,
along with three miscellanies. None has any sort of commentary
beyond a brief preface, and they did not begin to appear until thir-
teen years after Bazin’s death. In many cases, the texts appearing
in these editions, beginning with those prepared by Bazin before
his death for inclusion in Qu’est-ce que le cinéma?, were abridged or
revised versions of what he originally wrote. Often these original
versions have fallen into oblivion in French, alongside numerous
significant texts which have never been reprinted or were cut from
Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? in 1975.
Much of Bazin’s voluminous output was ephemeral in his own
lifetime; it was only after Bazin’s death and by reading Qu’est-ce
que le cinéma? that Jean-Luc Godard, for example, discovered (and
marvelled at) the key early texts, included here, ‘Ontology of the
Photographic Image’ (1945) and ‘The Science Film: Chance Beauty’
(1947)—and then only in versions different from the original.

The hallmark of the present edition is that it includes only the

original versions of Bazin’s texts, as they were first published and
before any revision or abridgement by the author or his posthumous

a note on the texts

editors. Most of the essays in this volume are appearing here in this
original version for the first time since their initial publication—for
the first time not only in English but also, in numerous instances
and to the best of the translator’s knowledge, in French or any other
language. Although in certain cases the later revisions in French
were arguably minor, in others this is manifestly not the case, and
by the translator’s count only five of the twenty-six texts included
here have ever been reprinted in French in their complete, original
form (one of these five, ‘No Script for Monsieur Hulot’, suffered
a change of title). The texts in the present volume are thus the
versions of Bazin’s writings which his contemporaries read and
discussed. Any serious appraisal of Bazin’s views needs to take these
original versions into account.
Of the other twenty-one texts, several are not readily available,
having never been reprinted in French or having been withdrawn
from the current edition of Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? Bazin merged,
cut down and revised four of these texts in 1958 to create two
composite texts; the four originals are published here, reprinted
and translated in this form for the first time (apart from the 2015
publication by the present translator of the text ‘Découpage’).
­Bibliographical information for each text can be found at the end
of each chapter, giving the initial title and the date and place
of publication along with information about later reprintings in
French and a brief indication of whether and to what extent the
text translated here differs from these later reprintings.
This edition incorporates, in one form or another, every text
included in the translator’s 2009 edition of What is Cinema? These
texts were revised for republication here, in part to conform to
the new organising principle of using only original versions of the
texts and in part simply to revisit the translation to polish the prose,
cast out Gallicisms and awkward turns of phrase and fix translation
errors. For that reason anyone comparing the version of an essay in
the present edition with the version included in the 2009 edition of
What is Cinema? should by no means assume that every difference
between them is the result of later changes made to Bazin’s text
in French by its author or his posthumous editors. Close examina­
tion of the respective versions in French is required to make such a

andre bazin: selected writings 1943–1958

A number of other minor interventions in Bazin’s texts should

be noted here, especially as they are for the most part invisible to
the reader. Bazin, in the haste with which he wrote as a working
journalist and no doubt with his hand hurrying to keep up with
the ideas running through his head, rarely paid much attention to
things such as punctuation or paragraph breaks and rarely if ever
had an opportunity to proofread his work. In addition, some of
the journals he wrote for were rudimentary affairs, without the
professional practices and look of today’s periodicals, and one sus-
pects that many of the little anomalies found in these original texts
were due to typists and typesetters working beyond his control.
The translator has thus taken the liberty of invisibly correcting
minor typographical errors, misspellings, errors in dating films and
the like and of breaking some extremely long paragraphs as they
appear in the original editions into more manageable length for the
reader. More serious gaffes on Bazin’s part are noted in a translator’s
note, should it be of any value to scholars to know, for example,
that in the essay ‘Découpage’ (the principal foundation for the
composite text ‘The Evolution of Film Language’ of 1958) Bazin did
not know in which Soviet film iconic stone lions famously rise up
in revolt (a mistake that was not corrected in 1958). Other lapses
involving mere misremembering of a particular scene in a film
generally pass without comment; readers should check Bazin’s
descriptions and arguments against the films being discussed.
Writing film journalism for immediate consumption back in
1940s and 50s France, Bazin and his editors felt little need to docu-
ment his references or sources or to provide any more than the
French release title of the films he discusses. In the present volume,
each film’s director is identified and film titles are given once in
their original language alongside their standard English title and
date of release. Thereafter, the more common of the two titles is
used: the original (Le Jour se lève) or the English (The Rules of the
Game). In an effort to avoid needless clutter, however, in texts which
occasionally resort to long lists of films not discussed substantively
in the article, such as ‘Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of
the Liberation’ and ‘For an Impure Cinema: In Defence of Adapta-
tion’, some of this information is omitted. This information can be
found in the film title index.

a note on the texts

The titles of books, plays and artworks referenced by Bazin

are given in English only, with the author’s name, usually omitted
by Bazin, added. First names, also usually omitted by Bazin, have
been added, with the exception of historical or artistic figures
(Shakespeare, Picasso) generally referred to today by their last name
only. Name and title indexes appear at the end of the volume.
The essay by Jacques Aumont and the Glossary of Terms are not
With respect to the publications and authors Bazin quotes,
references or paraphrases without documenting his source, the
translator has attempted to find these sources and provide them in
translator’s footnotes. When it has not been possible to identify such
a source, no footnote appears. Information about these sources is
welcomed for future editions. In the introductory essay by Jacques
Aumont, the author sometimes quotes texts by Bazin which are
available in English translation in other volumes but not the present
one. In such cases, the translator quotes from the existing transla-
tion when it does not betray Bazin’s meaning, but offers his own
translation instead when it does betray this meaning. In some cases,
this can lead to quoting a particular translation in some places and
not others.

Readers will remark as they make their way through Bazin’s texts
that certain terms appear in capital letters. These are used to refer
curious readers to a Glossary of Terms at the conclusion of this
volume. Several glossaries, in fact, three of which could be more
accurately described as brief terminological essays on key terms in
Bazin: découpage, montage and fait, and the various English terms
used (and not used) to render them here. (The first glossary defines
a few recurring general film or cultural terms which may be un-
familiar to some readers—actuality film, American comedy, boule-
vard theatre, commedia dell’arte, film d’art and rapprochement.)
Each of the terms in the Glossary appears in capital letters the
first time it appears in a chapter. Thereafter it appears in roman
type or, if a French term, in italics. In the case of fait, which is trans-
lated variously throughout, depending on the context, by the terms
event, fact, happening, deed and fait accompli, which also have
everyday uses, these terms are placed in capital letters each time

andre bazin: selected writings 1943–1958

they are used to translate fait, so that the reader can distinguish
when these terms are used to translate fait from their more work-
aday occurrences.
In the Glossary of Terms, readers will find discussion of a term
found throughout these writings which they may, however, never
have encountered before: découpage. (Or about whose meaning
they may in the past have been led astray.) At the same time, the
Glossary accounts for the complete absence in this translation of
Bazin’s writings of the word editing, whose place here is generally
taken by the term assembly as a translation of the French montage.
Acting also as translator of Jacques Aumont’s introductory essay
to the volume, the translator follows conventional usage and trans-
lates montage as editing. (The upper-case letters used for glossary
terms in Bazin’s texts are not used in Jacques Aumont’s essay.)

This edition of Bazin’s writings, like the translator’s 2009 edition

of What is Cinema?, is made possible by Canada’s copyright laws,
under which a work generally falls into the public domain fifty
years after an author’s death. While this used to be the universal
copyright term worldwide, in recent decades it has come under
increasingly intense assault by large corporations, beginning in
the film and entertainment business. In much of the world, this
term has increased to ‘death plus seventy years’ and beyond. For this
reason the present volume is unavailable, for example, in the United
States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia
and can only be sold in Canada, Japan, China, India, Korea, Taiwan,
New Zealand and a few smaller markets scattered throughout Asia,
Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
In addition to the current restrictions on the sale of this volume,
at the time of writing these lines Canada and the United States are
renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
at the insistence of the United States, with loud demands for copy-
right term extension by the latter as a condition for a new agreement.
In addition, the now (temporarily?) scuttled Trans-Pacific Partner-
ship (TPP) trade deal, to which Canada and the United States were
signatories, would likely have included copyright term extensions;
should the agreement be revived, as is currently being discussed,
copyright term extensions in Canada and the Far East seem more

a note on the texts

likely than not. In the event that either of these trade deals contains
a copyright term extension clause, the present edition may well be
forced off the market, and in the case of the TPP the last remaining
major countries with the once-universal fifty-year copyright term
would be hauled into the longer-term regime.
The translator believes that the fifty-year copyright term presents
an ideal balance of readers’ and authors’ rights. Had, for example,
André Bazin lived until the age of seventy, under the seventy-year
term the writings translated here, dating from the 1940s and 50s,
would not have come into the public domain in Europe until 2059
and in the United States even later, which is to say a century or
more after the texts were written. The longer copyright term con-
demns readers and scholars to the existing lamentable English
translations of Bazin for an unjustifiable period of time. Public
domain is the reason we can walk into a bookstore and find a choice
of editions of Shakespeare, Dickens and Balzac, and the reason in-
novative scholars and publishers can produce new critical editions
and interpretations of these works: the law recognises no right to
exclusive control of these works after a certain period of time has
elapsed. Even in a relatively extreme case such as Bazin’s tragic death
at the age of forty, leaving behind a young widow and a nine-year-
old child, under the fifty-year system Janine Bazin, who passed away
at the age of eighty, would have benefited from copyright protec-
tion of her late husband’s work for the duration of her lifetime, and
his son Florent until the age of sixty.

At the same time, without copyright protection cultural producers

such as the present translator will simply cease to produce new
work, or produce work of inferior quality or avoid projects involving
a great deal of time and expense, such as a major, annotated scholarly
translation issued in a well-made bound edition. It will apparently
come as a surprise to otherwise intelligent and bien pensant people,
but in many cases intellectual property is not corporate theft but
simply the fruit of cultural workers’ intellectual labour and the tool
which enables them to ensure their labour will be remunerated,
in exactly the same way artists, architects, graphic designers, web
designers, filmmakers and musicians are remunerated for their
labour: by marketing the product of their labour in an open econ-

andre bazin: selected writings 1943–1958

omy which encourages innovation. Cultural products which are

protected under our society’s rule of law from being usurped by
those who had no hand in their conception or fabrication.
Why the rule of law and the prevailing moral concern for the
welfare of cultural workers and their right to control their work
apply to the entire creative class except those who write and pro-
duce books is a contradiction with no possible morally defensible
explanation. (To say nothing of the lot of those whose more work-
aday livelihood—poorly-paid contract copy-editors, translators
and designers; printers’ and publishers’ manual workers and office
staff—depends on sales revenue from books.) That a lack of respect
for these principles can often be found, and most aggressively so,
amongst other members of our society’s precarious creative class
is simply blatant hypocrisy and a concerted assault on writers and
small publishers. Worse, they are being joined by rapidly increas-
ing numbers of amply compensated academics and professionals,
some of whom work in those fortresses of privatised knowledge,
the elite American private university, in agitating for the idea that
knowledge—but not their own—should be free.

The printing motif used throughout this book as a section break

in the texts and on the book’s title page, known around caboose
as the machine-age fleur-de-lis but in reality Lanston foundry orna-
ment no. 251, was produced in the early twentieth century by the
Lanston Type Company of Pennsylvania. The company was a major
force in typography in the twentieth century before it went out of
business and its stock was sold. Its ornaments collection was made
of brass plates which have miraculously survived various disasters,
including a tsunami on Prince Edward Island, Canada, after the
company’s stock was purchased by a Canadian type designer, the
late Gerald Giampa. The Lanston archive ornament collection is
currently available from the P22 type foundry in Buffalo, New York.