Posts Tagged ‘Robert Bresson’

(Visual) Quotes…, 6/7

June 7, 2010

From Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” (1956).

(Visual) Quotes…, 6/1

June 1, 2010

Let’s begin June with a somewhat special installment of (Visual) Quotes…, featuring the many hands of Robert Bresson’s “L’argent” (1983).

Even when it seems there’s nothing going on

January 25, 2010

I must admit, I was surprised to find that the New Yorker’s David Denby had many of the same thoughts as I did while watching and digesting the wonderful “Police, Adjective” (which will hopefully arrive in Madison soon after it gets finished receiving majorly positive reviews in all the major U.S. cities). I was surprised because, while I like Denby fine as a writer, he almost never puts forward ideas that strike me as being worth grappling with. However, if any recent movie is capable of summoning one’s inner Heidegger, it’s “Police, Adjective,” and Denby takes the bait, waxing on the relationship between time and cinema:

The movie has a doggedly faithful relationship to time. In a lecture given in 1924, “The Concept of Time,” Heidegger, searching for a definition, said that time has no body but is merely a medium in which events take place. Cinema commandeers this neutral quality as brutally as it can, substituting dramatic time for real time. Most directors fill shots with information, and then edit them into briefer and briefer segments, jumping restlessly forward or backward, or cutting between, say, a criminal and a cop and their simultaneous actions. Porumboiu goes in another direction: he wants us to experience the duration of ordinary events. Andy Warhol, with his five-hour movie of a man sleeping and his eight-hour movie of the Empire State Building, was the high and low comic of duration. Great directors like Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman have mounted extended sequences in which the unbroken duration of an event becomes its meaning. They are the dramatic poets of real time, and Porumboiu is among their number.

Hmm… I’ll concede the affinities between “Police, Adjective” and some films by Akerman (whose new Eclipse set is tremendous, by the way); but Bresson? Am I missing something here? Bresson’s is a cinema of juxtaposition, of sounds multiplying images, of materiality; it isn’t really a cinema of duration (i.e. he uses very few if any long takes). This is the same misconception, I think, that leads folks to lump Bresson with Dreyer and Mizoguchi and Tarkovsky and the like. Bresson’s poetry emerges from the combination of fragments, not from their temporal elongation. There’s a lot to like about “Police, Adjective”—but Bressonian it ain’t.

If anything, the sequence in which Cristi and his partner wait to meet with their captain echoes the metaphysics of Dreyer’s “Ordet”: even in silence and dramatic stasis, there’s still a ton going on.

The Bressonian formula?

January 1, 2010

The poetry of Robert Bresson: 0 + 0  = 1.

(Visual) Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 12/23

December 23, 2009

Have you seen Robert Bresson’s “A Gentle Woman” (1969)? If all filmmaking—but especially Bresson’s—is essentially didactic, “A Gentle Woman” is the most effective and lucid lesson that Bresson ever taught. Its typicality is its brilliance. With the probable exception of Godard, no one in the history of cinema taught by example as convincingly as did Bresson.

Thus, I give you a series of stills from “A Gentle Woman”:

From Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer:

If an image, looked at by itself, expresses something sharply, if it involves an interpretation, it will not be transformed on contact with other images. The other images have no power over it, and it will have no power over the other images. Neither action, nor reaction. It is definitive and unusable in the cinematographer’s system. (A system does not regulate everything. It is a bait for something.)

Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/31

August 31, 2009

Just a quick one on this, the final day of our beloved month of August. I’m taking a class on Soviet Cinema this semester, and suffice it to say, I’m very excited about it. I’ve always fallen into the minority camp when it comes to the most famous Soviet director of all-time, Sergei Eisenstein: I love his films, sure, but I love his theoretical writings even more. Of course, what makes this position so peculiar is the fact that many seem to find his writings stylistically opaque if not intellectually incoherent. Personally, I’ve always found Eisenstein’s writings to be kind of awkwardly composed but philosophically potent as all-get-out. Indeed, any critic or scholar who has tried to come to grips with what a film is and what a film does is indebted to Eisenstein’s theoretical work; that his ideas have seamlessly carried over into other fields, like architectural theory, is a testament to the conceptual effectiveness of Eisenstein’s philosophy of montage.



But I’d like to see more attention devoted to the philosophical affinities between Eisenstein’s theory/practice and that of another director who articulated his own vision for what cinema was and what a film ought to be: Robert Bresson. Today’s Quotes of quotes of… will be dedicated to demonstrating just how similar these two thinkers/artists really were, at least when it came to expressing how they conceived of cinema. All of the Bresson quotes are taken from his book Notes sur le Cinématographe (English: Notes on the Cinematographer), while the Eisenstein quotes (you guessed it, in red) can be found in various essays from Film Form: Essays in Film Theory.

The film-frame can never be an inflexible letter of the alphabet, but must always remain a multiple-meaning ideogram. And it can be read only in juxtaposition, just as an ideogram acquires its specific significance, meaning, and even pronunciation (occasionally in diametric opposition to one another) only when combined with a separably indicated reading or tiny meaning–an indicator for the exact reading—placed alongside the basic hieroglyph.

(Eisenstein, “The Filmic Fourth Dimension”)

An image must be transformed by contact with other images as is a color by contact with other colors. A blue is not the same blue beside a green, a yellow, a red. No art without transformation.

Cinematographer’s film where the images, like the words in the dictionary, have no power and value except through their position and relation.


And yet we cannot reduce aural and visual perceptions to a common denominator. They are values of different dimensions. But the visual overtone and the sound overtone are values of a singly measured substance. Because, if the frame is a visual perception, and the tone is an aural perception, visual as well as aural overtones are a totally physiological sensation. And, consequently, they are of one and the same kind, outside the sound or aural categories that serve as guides, conductors to its achievement.

For the musical overtone (a throb) it is not strictly fitting to say: ‘I hear.’

Nor for the visual overtone: ‘I see.’

For both, a new uniform formula must enter our vocabulary: ‘I feel.’

(Eisenstein, “The Filmic Fourth Dimension”)

If an image, looked at by itself, expresses something sharply, if it involves an interpretation, it will not be transformed on contact with other images. The other images have no power over it, and it will have no power over the other images. Neither action, nor reaction. It is definitive and unusable in the cinematographer’s system. (A system does not regulate everything. It is a bait for something.)


Now why should the cinema follow the forms of theater and painting rather than the methodology of language, which allows wholly new concepts of ideas to arise from the combination of two concrete objects? Language is much closer to film than painting is. For example, in painting the form arises from abstract elements of line and color, while in cinema the material concreteness of the image within the frame presents-as an element-the greatest difficulty in manipulation. So why not lean towards the system of language, which is forced to use the same mechanics in inventing words and word-complexes?

(Eisenstein, “A Dialectical Approach to Film Form”)

Because you do not have to imitate, like painters, sculptors, novelists, the appearance of persons and objects (machines do that for you), your creation or invention confines itself to the ties you knot between the various bits of reality caught. There is also the choice of the bits. Your flair decides.