French film critic André Bazin was born at Angers, France on April
18, 1918. He courageously and unselfishly devoted his life to cinema discourse by writing about film and film
theory before a broad spectrum of readers, as well as by participating in the showing of films and discussion about
them in a broad range of venues. These included cin�-clubs, factories, and even places where there were many
people who had never seen movies before. Bazin was a movie reviewer, cinema critic, and film theorist, and
often combined these functions.
André Bazin wrote for many different reviews and magazines,
including the general review L'Esprit, founded by the liberal Christian personalist philosopher, Emmanuel Mounier,
where Bazin was influenced by the ideas and integrity of the film critic Roger Leenhardt; the often more Marxist
Leccran fran�aise, a film review founded during the Resistance; the revived version of Jean George Auriol's
Gallimard-sponsored La Revue du Cin�ma (1946-1949); Le Parisien lib�r�, L'Observateur, France-Observateur, and
He co-founded the important film criticism magazine Cahiers du
Cin�ma and probably did more to elevate and vitalize film discourse than anyone before him or since. For
someone as interested in film as he was, Bazin was unusually uninterested in appearing before or getting behind a
At his time, Bazin was also somewhat remarkable in that he was not
someone from another field such as literature, psychology, or philosophy who might be seen as dabbling in or
diversifying into cinema discourse.
Although there was certainly writing on cinema before André Bazin,
much of it was industry-subsidized promotion, retelling of plots, self-promotion by persons in the industry,
polemics that cinema should not contain narrative or drama, diatribes against talking pictures or other
innovations, or adulation of or gossip about stars.
André Bazin embodied a new emphasis, with attention to more than
just the usual exploration of story-performance-theme that discussion of films routinely limited itself to or
focused on. He would talk and write more deeply, including about such things as the role of the set and props
in Marcel Carne's Le Jour se Leve, Jean Renoir's camera movement around a courtyard in Le Crime de M. Lange, the
use of deep focus to depict both a person who has attempted suicide and a person coming through the door to the
room in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, and the non-hammering of forced nuances or interpretation into a breakfast
table scene in Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons.
Bazin was a man who could find significance in the fact that Charlie
Chaplin's Tramp kicks backwards instead of forward and could perceptively write about snow in the movies!
People will probably always speak of films in terms like "funny", "sexy", "scary", "inspiring", and "exciting", but
Bazin was at the forefront in ushering in new dimensions to film discourse.
An earlier French film critic, the great Louis Delluc, once wrote a
one word review of a film, saying "Rien [nothing]." It is difficult to imagine André Bazin writing such
a review; he generally tried to evenhandedly explain himself and would sometimes publicly retract from an earlier
position, as he did with Renoir's Diary of a Chambermaid.
Orson Welles once disagreed with Bazin about Bazin's
characterization of Welles' lead character in A Touch of Evil; as an editor of Cahiers du cin�ma, Bazin probably
could have had the remark edited out, but he was more concerned with the truth than saving face.
As Raymond Bellour has noted, Bazin wrote in a time when critics and
theorists viewed motion pictures or moving pictures passing before them in the actual ongoing course of
movement. Since then, there has been greater ability and tendency to stop, fragment, and dissect films, and
film analysis has periodically incorporated semiological, sociological, ideological, or psychoanalytical
perspectives from thinkers such as Roland Barthes, Theodor Adorno, Karl Marx, Louis Althusser, or Jacques Lacan.
Guy Hennebelle, at pages 3 and 4 of an introduction titled "Cin�mAction et les th�ories", in Th�ories du cin�ma,
Cin�mAction n. 20 (L'Harmattan 1982), speaks of a conference on cinema research almost two decades after Bazin's
passing, at which much of the discussion was along the lines of Christian Metz's semiological
A large number of those in attendance could not understand what was
being discussed. Cinema discourse has moved in many directions since Bazin. Discourse beyond what
each and everyone can understand should not be prohibited or dismissed, yet one of Bazin's virtues was that,
although his writings can sometimes be challenging, they are understandable.
André Bazin was an early advocate or defender of Orson Welles, Jean
Renoir, Italian Neo-Realism, Charlie Chaplin's post-Tramp films, and William Wyler. Realism in cinema was
very important to Bazin and he was an advocate of less conspicuously "packaged" cinema techniques, preferring the
longer take and deep focus or depth of field photography (where the viewer could simultaneously clearly see on
different planes of distance, witnessing people in a room planning a boy's future and also be able to look out the
window at the unaware boy, playing in the snow; see a conversation and an eavesdropper to it; or watch a person who
is being stalked or shadowed, and the stalker or shadower as well). For Bazin, a cinema where the viewer was
allowed to interpret tended to better reflect the ambiguity, mystery, and interconnection that is before us
in real life.
Yet it should be noted that André Bazin tried to listen to others,
observe the reactions of varied audiences, and be open-minded. His positions in regard to matters such as
montage or editing and deep focus have sometimes been inaccurately over-simplified into absolutist views, perhaps
partly due to placing too much emphasis on the fact that there was a chapter titled "Montage Interdit " in Bazin's
Qu�est-ce que le cin�ma? This over-simplification is misleading and productive of fascinating but arguably
Bazin preferred longer takes and explained why, questioned the
suitability of montage as a cinematic attempt to mimic literary simile, and believed that when the suggestion
of actual spacial juxtaposition or temporal continuity was important to convey danger or things like the efficacy
of a magician (as opposed to technically unveiling his techniques) or a dancer, it was better not to undermine the
impression of reality with editing.
If such matters are presented by montage, we don't as fully "know"
if the child was ever in danger from the lioness, if the rabbit was pulled out of an empty hat or placed there
during a cinematographic intermission, whether the dancer can actually dance a full routine or has to do it over
several weeks, and if the members of the dance team can actually stay in step with each other.
Though Bazin viewed montage or editing as having a "price", he was
not advocating the prohibition or elimination of all montage or editing. For example, in his first Cahiers du
Cinema article, "Pour en finir avec la profondeur de champ", from Cahiers du cin�ma, n. 1, (April 1951), Bazin
would speak of the history of deep focus, reintroduced into interior shooting by Renoir, Welles, and Wyler, and how
it had been debated but had now become established as a matter of current usage, less noticeable and striking than
it had seemed at its introduction, more discrete, a part of the director's stylistic arsenal.
Bazin would conclude somewhat moderately, viewing montage, long
sequences, deep focus, and non-deep focus as tools here to stay, to be integrated. Bazin also stated it would
be evidently absurd to deny the decisive progress that montage had brought to cinematic language, but believed it
was also at the expense of other values.
Aspects of montage could be integrated into long sequence and deep
focus direction, so as not to sacrifice unities of time and space. Deep focus was not just a technical
advance, it was a dialectical advance.
The two final paragraphs of the Cahiers article would appear in the
Qu�est-ce que le cin�ma? article "L'�volution du langage cin�matographique" in the French as well as the English,
Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese translations, though perhaps with some de-emphasis of the "plan-sequence" -- or
long sequence -- term in the English translation.
Bazin's appreciation of Citizen Kane and his writings on Cocteau's
Les Parents terribles, including "Du th��tre transform� par la magie blanche et noire en pur cin�ma (Les Parents
terribles)", L��cran fran�ais, (December 7, 1948), in Le cin�ma fran�ais de la Lib�ration � la Nouvelle Vague"
(Cahiers du cin�ma 1998), pp. 188-193, and "Th�atre et cin�ma", from L�Esprit (June and July-August 1951), in
Qu�est-ce que le cin�ma?, translated into English -- with some omissions -- as "Theater and Cinema", in Gray, Hugh,
What Is Cinema?, Vol. I (University of California Press 1967), and also
available in the Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese editions, make abundantly clear that Bazin was not advocating
that film be static like a frozen-in-place shoplifting or security surveillance camera.
Still, although Bazin may have done more to give more focused
discussion on direction and directors than anyone before him or since, and was certainly not opposed to film as
personal expression, Bazin clearly preferred direction that did not seem to be calling attention to itself for its
own sake or in an obstrusive or seemingly purposeless "hey, look at me" way. For Bazin, if the ringing of a
telephone matters, it is apparently not necessary to hammer this to the viewers eyes, optic nerve and brain with
cliched closeups and cuts back and forth.
Television ads, movie previews, music videos, the films of Jean-Luc
Godard, and Oliver Stone's recent, almost pinball-paced Any Given Sunday provide obvious examples of a seeming
rejection of Bazin's general preference against obvious discontinuity or sudden shifts of
On the other hand, when a Forrest Gump meets a President, Bob
Hoskins' Eddie Valiant encounters Toons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, or an action hero runs from an fiery
explosion today, Bazin's intuitions are honored by showing the event and the participant(s) in the same
frame. In fact, some of what Bazin was saying about montage was already evidenced in Hollywood kisses, where
there often might be a shot and reverse shot prelude but it was seen as necessary to show the actor and actress
together in profile or semi-profile for the kiss itself.
Although televised sporting events are often edited on-the-spot,
with cameras in many different positions, some events, such as Olympic gymnastics, will often be shown without
cutting from camera to camera once the routine is actually started. Certain situations seem to lose something
if shown entirely by editing from shot to shot, such as the situation of the person who mistakenly believes he is
the object of a flirtation that is actually intended for a person behind him. It is as if incongruity or irony may
sometimes need unbroken, rather than suggested, spacial connection to achieve full effect.
Moreover, average people who have caught a big fish, or met a
celebrity or major politician and who have this photographically memorialized generally prefer not to rely on a
Kuleshov or Koulechov effect. Rather than hang a photograph of themselves on a wall next to a photograph of a
large fish, celebrity or politician, they generally prefer that there be one photograph!
Bazin's moderated 1951 remarks about depth of field can also be
illustrated by a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 film, I Confess, in which Mrs. Grandfort and Father Logan are
speaking on the telephone. The background behind Mrs. Grandfort is out of focus; there is probably little or
no purpose in us distracting ourselves determining what books she has on her bookshelves! However, on the
other end of the conversation, we clearly see Father Logan but also see Mrs. Keller, the wife of the real killer,
eavesdropping in the background.
Deep focus would arguably be inappropriate or unhelpful in the Mrs.
Grandfort shots, but seems indicated during the Father Logan/ Mrs. Keller shots; Mrs. Keller is listening to,
deciphering, and reacting to an ongoing conversation and the comprehension of both Father Logan and Mrs. Keller is
simultaneously unfolding. Both Father Logan and Mrs. Keller are important. Whiplash editing or focusing
and unfocusing between her and the priest would tend to force interpretation and emphasize merely fragmentary
aspects of the situation rather than the whole situation.
In real life, people are not always facing each other or in the same
room; and a classroom of seated students or a courtroom scene will often involve characters arranged in three
dimensions, both in life and on film. The deep focus or depth of field -- which are not exactly the same --
advocated by Bazin allow us to view some scenes in a more life-like way than past practice, which often seemed to
require either placing characters in what might be viewed as a sort of artificial line-up or hanging on an
imaginary clothesline, or cutting or ping-ponging back and forth between them.
A wife is speaking in the bedroom as her husband is brushing his
teeth at the bathroom sink, his brushing breaks at her witting or unwitting mention of the name of another woman
who happens to be his mistress. Both faces, the conversation, and the break in brushing are of possible
This might arguably be better shown -- and can certainly be more
subtly shown -- in a non-fragmentary way, perhaps even more so if we are being given a clue as to the existence or
identity of the mistress or as to whether the wife is or is not aware. Close-ups and montage might even be
viewed as conspicuously labeling, as "telling" rather than "showing", and done at the price of denigrating
interrelated components of the situation; it might be noted that mystery novels do not normally highlight the clues
in red ink!
In an early scene in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd., a film which made
the cover of the first Cahiers du cin�ma, William Holden's Joe Gillis walks away from Gloria Swanson's Norma
Desmond as she continues to gaze at him. Deep focus allows us to simultaneously continue to watch her
gaze, observe him physically distancing himself, and observe on his face the dawning recognition that she is a once
famous star of the screen.
Interestingly, digital effects often are done with deep focus or
depth of field; for example we are usually able to clearly see two space vehicles that are in the same frame in a
Star Wars-type film, regardless of the fact that they are at different distances from us. It may also be
noted that some of what may appear to be true "deep focus" is sometimes simulated, as in some shots in Citizen Kane
in which obvious or not-so-obvious special effects are used.
Bazin greatly admired Jean Renoir's La R�gle du jeu [The Rules of
the Game], a film that not only had deep focus and depth of field in a visual sense, it also had some simultaneous
and overlapping dialogue -- a sort of life-like deep focus in sound -- prefiguring Robert Altman, who would seem
"innovative" to many in this regard, in the 1970s. Renoir's film was not a box office success, yet often
makes the top of lists of the greatest films in film history. After Bazin's passing, Renoir would dedicate a
restored version of La R�gle du jeu to André Bazin.
Perhaps comparison of two short portions of two of the most famous
film sequences in cinema history may provide some illustration of Bazin's preferences. Towards the end of the
famous shower sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Hitchcock shows the descent of Janet Leigh's character Marion
Crane down the shower wall, using camera movement to follow her.
Our own eyes would probably do something similar. On the other
hand, in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin classic Odessa Steps sequence, Eisenstein shows the descent of
Beatrice Vitoldi, the woman with a baby carriage, who is wounded, falls out of the bottom of the frame; in the next
shot, she reappears at the top of a stitched-on new frame (almost as if she is moving through cars of a railroad
train, or descending through a multi-storied building and has gone through the floor of a room, through the roof of
a room on a lower floor, and into that room), and continues her descent.
Both the complete shower sequence and the complete Odessa Steps
sequence involve multiple camera positions and a significant use of editing. However, focusing on the
descent of the two women, Bazin would almost certainly consider Hitchcock's choice more realistic and prefer it to
Eisenstein's choice (It may also be noted that about an hour into Mizoguchi's Sansh� day� or Sansho the Bailiff,
Nakagimi descends towards the ground near a body of water; Mizoguchi finds it more appropriate to follow her than
to edit during her descent).
Most of the time when people speak or write of André Bazin in
connection with anything other than Bazin on a particular director, film, or genre, much of what they say is based
on their readings or first or second-hand impressions from an article or articles that appeared in the first volume
of Qu�est-ce que le cin�ma? It might parenthetically be noted that the very title of the book -- in English,
What Is Cinema? -- suggests that an inquiry will take place, but it does not promise a definitive and final
conclusion anymore than the song title "What Is This Thing Called Love?" does.
Moreover, neither the translations nor the present single-volume
compilation from that four-volume work contain the entire text of Bazin's original preface. The following
penultimate -- or next-to-last -- paragraph may possibly temper or clarify our perceptions of Bazin's
"Cette premiere s�rie est donc compos�e d'�tudes br�ves ou longues,
anciennes ou r�centes, group�es autour du th�me critique suivant: les fondements ontologiques de l'art
cin�matographique ou si l'on veut, en termes moins philosophiques: le cin�ma comme art de la r�alit�. Nous
partirons, comme il se doit, de l'image photographique, �l�ment primitif de la synth�se finale, pour en arriver �
esquisser, sinon une th�orie du langage cin�matographique fond�e sur l'hypoth�se de son r�alisme ontog�n�tique, du
moins une analyse qui ne lui soit point contradictoire."
To roughly translate, Bazin is saying "This first section is thus
composed of studies, brief or long, old or recent, grouped around the following critical theme: the ontological
foundations of the cinematographic art, or, if one wishes, in less philosophical terms, the cinema as a realistic
art. We will begin, as we must, with the photographic image, primitive element of the final synthesis, to
conclude by preliminarily sketching, if not a theory of the cinematographic language founded on the hypothesis of
its realistic ontogeny, at least an analysis that would not be at all contrary to it." This expression of
general intent admittedly clearly shows a focus that is vastly different from Eisenstein's remarks that cinema is
montage or Positif critic Ado Kyrou's in Le surr�alisme au cin�ma that "The cinema is essentially
Still, Bazin's remarks seem rather temperate and non-absolutist and do not appear to be
the language of someone wanting to purge, invalidate, exclude, censor or prohibit! The omission of this
paragraph from the later one-volume edition should not be seen as a disavowal; rather, Bazin had passed away
shortly after the publication of the first two of the planned four volumes, the statement had been written in the
context of a foreword to the first volume, and it would have been out-of-context as a foreword to the posthumous
Although André Bazin often took positions different from what might
be expected, he did not seem to be provocative for the mere sake of being provocative, as one might expect or
suspect of some other critics. Bazin seems to have lacked real malice towards anyone. When he did not
like a film by the Pr�verts, he closed his review on a positive note, saying he went to see Le Jour se L�ve,
another Pr�vert-associated film that was a Bazin favorite, in order to feel better. Moreover, although he was
certainly not humorless, he does not seem to go out of the way to engage in wordplay for the mere sake of wordplay
or to appear clever.
Though highly intellectual, Bazin tried not to take himself too
seriously, and would prefer to help a person broaden their understanding of cinema rather than feel obligated to
determine the box office future of films. He once said, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, in Cinema 58, "La
principale satisfaction que me donne mon m�tier r�side dans sa quasi-inutilit�"; yet Bazin was a man who
unselfishly sacrificed his time and his health to his supposedly semi-useless vocation of cinema discourse, showing
and discussing non-approved films during the Occupation and making the rounds of cin�-clubs and festivals and
continuing to write as his health faded.
Like the prematurely deceased director Jean Vigo whom Gilles Jacob
has called the patron saint of cin�clubs -- Bazin literally gave himself to cinema. Yet Bazin, in person, was
apparently fairly well-rounded and interested in other people regardless of whether there was a cinema connection;
this sense of perspective may have been somewhat lacking in the great Henri Langlois, who should still be thanked
and praised for advocating and demonstrating the importance of film preservation and availability.
Many of those -- such as Jean Mitry, Noel Carroll or Positif critic
G�rard Gozlan -- who have criticized some or many of André Bazin's assumptions or conclusions, have nonetheless
noted praiseworthy aspects of Bazin or his criticism.
Moreover, Mitry, though generally praising Louis Delluc in his 56
page monograph Louis Delluc 1890-1924 (Avant-Sc�ne du Cin�ma, Anthologie du Cin�ma 1971), pp. 33, 34, notes that
the criticism of Delluc was often devoid of justification, explanation, and sufficient detail for a contemporary
reader to form a reliable idea of a given film. Mitry then refers to changes since Delluc, and notes that
more current writing gives a good idea of films, using as examples, Welles' Citizen Kane and Rossellini's Paisa
(Paisan). Without mentioning Bazin by name, Mitry is arguably noting some of Bazin's positive
Bazin was a founder of the movement known as Objectif 49 and the
Festival du Film Maudit, both intended to revitalize and deepen cinema and cinema discourse. These efforts
included other critics and writers, such as AlexAndrée Astruc, Pierre Kast, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (a co-editor of
Jean George Auriol's La Revue du cin�ma and a later co-founder of Cahiers du cin�ma), Claude Mauriac, Jacques
Bourgeois, and Roger Leenhardt, and some directors, such as Jean Cocteau, and Robert Bresson.
On a personal level, Bazin was often noted for his generosity, his
deep love for and interest in animals, and a stammer, which had contributed to him not being able to become an
educator in a more institutional sense.
André Bazin was married to Janine Bazin, who would work with André
S. Labarthe on the audio-visual series "Cin�astes de notre temps" after Bazin's passing on November 11, 1958. Their
son, Florent, would later work on films with Fran�ois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Roman Polanski, and, recently, Patrice
Leconte's La Veuve de Saint-Pierre [The Widow of Saint Pierre], with Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil, and Emir
Kusturica. André Bazin himself would sometimes write under the name "Florent Kirsch", derived from his son's
name and his wife's maiden name.
Bazin and his wife Janine were a major influence on the life and
career of critic and future film-maker Fran�ois Truffaut. Truffaut�s first full-length feature, Les Quatre
Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), was begun at Bazin's death, was dedicated to André Bazin and ushered in what became
known as the French "Nouvelle Vague" or "New Wave" at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival.
Bazin was also a significant influence on many film critics,
including Eric Rohmer and, to a less direct extent, Jean-Luc Godard, each of whom wrote for Cahiers du cin�ma and
went on to make films known and appreciated around the entire world.
I hope to be adding to this and the other pages soon. There is
now text on the "Bazin and Truffaut" page. There is text on the "Bazin and Cahiers" page, particularly as to
the pre-Cahiers du Cin�ma magazines, such as L��cran fran�aise and La Revue du Cin�ma, but that page also has much
more to come. There are many bookcovers from around the world and other images on the "Bazin Gallery"
pages, many articles and books are presently cited on the "Bazin Bibliography" pages, and approximately 200
links appear on the "Bazin-related Links" page. There is much more to come! Please be patient; a lot of
work has been done for this site, but a lot more will be necessary to bring it to a more complete though