What Cinema Is!
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What Cinema Is! offers an engaging answer to Andre Bazin's famous question, exploring his 'idea of cinema' with a sweeping look back at the near century of Cinema's phenomenal ascendancy.
- Written by one of the foremost film scholars of our time
- Establishes cinema's distinction from the current enthusiasm over audio-visual entertainment, without relegating cinema to a single, older mode
- Examines cinema's institutions and its social force through the qualities of key films
- Traces the history of an idea that has made cinema supremely alive to (and in) our times
is at least in great part a theorist of absence for whom the clear Sartrean categories of presence and absence give way to intermediate concepts with names like ‘‘trace,’’ ‘‘fissure,’’ and ‘‘deferral.’’ Remember, Bazin claimed that photographic portraits don’t represent their subjects; rather, they are ‘‘grey or sepia shadows, phantomlike . . . the disturbing presence of lives halted at a set moment in their duration.’’12 Cinema confronts us with something resistant, to be sure, but not
Angkor Wat, where the hero whispers his longing into a crevice, the film’s (and the lovers’) holy tabernacle. A wad of earth seals this hole to stop up desire. As the camera then tracks through the temple’s passages and columns, we can almost hear echoes of forlorn whispers coming down from eight centuries of pilgrimage and prayer, eight centuries of human feeling raised to evanescent sublimity in this sacred but empty site. Angkor Wat is like a movie theater in which, above which, and behind
(mass) culture, translations pass vertically into the cultural past. The vertical chain of fidelity that anchors an adaptation to the bedrock of its source can cause it to draw apart from the main flotilla of films that drift with the Gulf Stream of fashion. Bazin saw this happen with Diary of a Country Priest, as it suffused its The Evolution of the Subjects of Cinema 131 audience with a different sensibility and set of values. Cinema’s musculature grows through such exercise, for it
Radio-cinema-television, 75 (June 24, 1951). 43. I elaborate this point in Dudley Andrew and Carole Cavanaugh, Sansho Dayu (London: British Film Institute, 2000), pp. 49–50. 44. For the distinction between ‘‘borrowing’’ and adapting, see my ‘‘The Well-Worn Muse: Adaptation in Film History and Theory,’’ in Syndy M. Conger and Janice Welsch (eds.), Narrative Strategies in Film and Prose Fiction (Macomb: Western Illinois University Press, 1980); reprinted in Dudley Andrew, Concepts in Film Theory
is one reason, though not the most essential, that Sean Cubitt has declared all cinema to be fundamentally a version of animation, rather than the reverse.2 If until recently cameras were required for the fabrication of animated as well as standard films, it was merely to conveniently render the artist’s handiwork on celluloid for projection. Today, monitors display animation that has been designed directly on the computer, obviating cameras. Might all cinema someday follow? Cubitt’s is among the