cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values


This post by Nick Lacey

Editing in À bout de souffle (France, 1960)

in The Case for Global Film film blog, has illustrative stills and did have a YouTube extract of the film till it was removed under ‘copyright claim by [1] Optimum Releasing [2]. Are they mad? Surely it is good advertising for new generations to watch the film?

The link could have gone in COTA post

FILM Editing {links in Catherine Grant’s blog}

But it seems a good idea to put it separate for search purposes. So if you type ‘editing’ in the search box top right, you’ll get this but ‘editing Godard’ (par example) you will give this. Though not ever post has the correct category and tag labels, so you might miss. Though from my experience, search in wordpress seems to search on body of text as well.

April 23, 2010 Posted by | continuity editing, editing, jump cut | , , | Leave a comment


A member of a Godard forum I subscribe to wonders if anyone has a date for this photograph.

It’s probably the most well-known, iconic photograph of Godard. Dark glasses, fag (Gitaine or Galois?). Looking at 24 frames or so. Not in a second though.

If you know Godard it has to be the 60s during the New Wave. Would there be many of him before this?

If you looked at the photo alone – epoché prior knowledge – just the image: age, hair style and glasses. I’d go for personal history of specs. When did he start and stop wearing those. Many years? Did they break and he had to buy another pair? Or did he put them away in a draw or an old glasses case? Are they just shades or prescription? That and looking for other versions of the same photograph. Is this a cropped version?

The date question wasn’t mine. I thought I could find a date quickly and did, 1960, though what I discovered at the bottom of another copy of this photograph, doesn’t guarantee it’s correct – looking so intently at versions of this photograph made me wonder if it was posed. Let’s have a look to see if there are any other versions. Is it the only one or were others taken at the same time? Was it perhaps an impromptu photograph taken by a hanger on or something he orchestrated for publicity?

Does he look as if he might put you straight on these questions?

Does he look here as if he is going to put a date on anything? You might get a divertimento on time discipline.

He looks suspiciously like a contented blind man. You take a photograph. He hears the click. He smiles. You take another. There is that strange slanting of the shoulder: is that the slant of the smoker as he knocks his cigarette on the ash-tray?

You know the kind of thing: black glasses, white stick – tapping down the street. Curb edges. Street light poles. Other pedestrians politely getting out of the way so he can find the familiar objects he uses to guide himself. Getting on a bus first. Even ladies give up their seat on le Metro. Get the girl: you can’t see whether she’s beautiful or not, its all in the voice. Or vice versa.

I decided to help find the date of the photo using Google Images. It’s not very difficult. Instead of looking for websites using Wordy Google, find images and then work from the images to the website in which it’s embedded. Often it’s a route to aspects of the topic you’re interested in that might not have come up on a ordinary search. I’m visually orientated, so a diagram of something is always my first port of call before tackling an explanation.

What shall we look up as an example. Say serotonin. Familiar word but not much idea what it is. Brain for sure. But lets Google Images: serotonin.

Ah what’s that knobbly picture, looks interesting.

This Godard spec fag pic has the hand holding the film missing. To me that’s the most interesting bit. In the first photo, it’s easy to see he uses his thumb and index finger through which he will pull the film strip. Why would someone cut that piece off?

Strange how you can set off on one journey and end up on another.

Hair is always the give away. Though who knows. Can Godard remember? Who took it would be interesting. My guess is there is only one of these. It gets fiddled with in photo-editing software. Maybe they think by cropping and altering copywrite images they won’t be recognised. Or maybe they feel they can do a better job of balancing the image.

Where there is more of the image it’s possible to discern more of room behind hime. Pleated curtain. The corner of the door frame.

It’s only with this version we see how the film runs over his index finger – while held by thumb and second finger – over the back of his hand, spiralling over the inside of wrist, to shoulder, chest or back.

Crop his hand and the eyes. Is the eye you can see through the lens really looking at a frame? It seems to be directing its gaze to the right of the strip of film.

O.k. you got there before me. Did anyone else get a photo taken of himself like this. Eisenstein. As every film student knows Godard and Eisenstein have a direct line through montage. There are plenty of sources if you haven’t a clue what that’s all about. Godard and Eisenstein is a short post in Godard Montage, and more importantly Le Gai Savoir Godard and Eisenstein — notions of intellectual cinema by Ruth Perlmutter in Jump Cut.

There’s extrapolation and there extrapolation. If Godard is not paying homage to Eisenstein through his own image I’d be surprised. Mind you, it’s easy to get carried away. All film people who use celluloid and edit in it rather than digitising and then returning the edit to film for projection, look at bits of film.

But anyone who has looked into Godard and editing know he looked upon montage as more than mere editing.

Take a trip into the world of Godard and Montage. Read The Cinema Alone: Essays on the work of Jean-Luc Godard 1985-2000, edited by Michael Temple and James S. Williams. The whole of Chapter 2 Montage, My Beautiful care, or Histories of the cinematograph by Michael Witt is available in the Google Book version.

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Godard | | Leave a comment

FILM GODARD A Man, A Woman and a Dog

FILM GODARD Au Adieu au Langage [iPhone]

Godard has a new film out. And he’s keen/anxious to talk about it, film ‘n stuff.

A few people have seen it, writing and talking about it at great length so spoiling it for everyone else who might have wanted to see it without the comments and interpretations of the expertigensia ringing in their ears, at what you now know are salient or significant points in the film [or the homage points, say, to his own films or film in general] which you’d hope to enjoy, be puzzled or exasperated by at your own pace.

Thank God (the one without the full stop or as the French call it, point, a word J-LG could have a field day with…). I made sure I did not read a lot before watching The Great Beauty. And then when I had seen it, I desisted from even translating the title into Italian or even mentioning that the phrase had been used by a character in the film in a certain way. See, there I’ve done it now. Now you will be on the look out for it, even though there has been no indication why this might have some significance.

One reads the contents of one’s mind before seeing a film, in anticipation of it, which in itself may spoil a film. Book, art, play, film. A filmic or booky equivalent, shall we say analogy, to phenomenological bracketing or epoché is impossible. I’ve already remarked in a recent post that as soon as I saw the poster for The Great Beauty, I knew [as would literally millions of others..] where we were coming from, though not necessarily where we were going to. Eric Morecambe’s famous riposte [applicable to almost anything, like the Actress & the Bishop jokes] to Andre Preview on his, Eric’s, terrible rendition of – was it Grieg’s piano concerto? – “I’m playing the RIGHT notes, but not necessarily in the RIGHT order!” always flings itself up from the recesses of my mind like the lyrics to an incomprehensible ’60s songs like the one by Noel Thingy called The Windmills of My Mind.

Why it is that I think of J-L Godard as the archetype (or prototype) of the incredibly difficult (but obviously highly intelligent) au contrarian conversationalist in any setting – uncle [ton ton] J-J at a family wedding or diner party, seated next to you in aircraft, etc. – who somehow manages to create the immediate suspicion he may well be mad, or temporally cured and released from some sort of mental institution (the old jackets…), yet, underneath the frightening persona, has something interesting to say which holds you there despite your inclination to run.

Really mad people we seem to have an instinct for as we have so much experience of them in everyday life. Like films we have seen too much about before watching them, Jean-Luc Godard comes with such a pedigree, a provenance, we are comfortable in the paradoxical nature of many of his pronouncements. Expect them even. Be lost without them, possibly. We know he, like a lunatic, assumes you know he is God [when it comes to film]. If you do, as he knows he is and you do, then all is simple.

The reviews on Adieu au Langage were not out when I was passed by Glen W. Norton, via a Godard forum, the link to the Canon video interview avec Godard with English subtitles

(…a classic God[.] subtitles joke in there not created by God[.] himself. Qua? Comment? These are accurate subtitles while his are notably unreliable.)

The areas I forced myself to listen to, while going Ni Ni Na Na with hands over my ears [mostly], were the technical ones. And this is reflected in graphics included in the post. Let’s try to grasp (as it is obviously important) why he at one and the same time decries technological advances and at the same time adopts them with alacrity. Except that is, in the case of editing (See relevant tab on the canon interview page) where he it is explained there – something know amongst God[.] watchers – he uses magnetic video tape to edit with, thus getting his technical collaborators who have filmed digitally to make video tapes for him to edit. The amusing thing is he’s renowned as an expert in editing with tape to an extent that makes many scratch their heads at his ingenuity.

I use this digital-magnetic example as a route into the mind of Jean-Luc Godard, in a sense prior to any messages he may be sending to his avid (an even not so enthusiastic) followers about life in general and of course the art of cinema, and Art.

While he argues here about his latest film that 3D is a FWOT

(Along the lines of, “It is useless! We see no more with it than before..” All true of course.)

he still uses it (At least twice so far..). And presumably this is a way of saying something. Well of course it is. And here is where we get to the crusty old uncle who frightens the sh** out of you, who blows cigar smoke into your face, and yet who let’s drop those few words which catch your interest. Words you know are true like you know a word of art by a master is true without being quite sure how to explain it.

With Godard it is for me when he talks of art. If you knew nothing about Godard the film genius and heard him talking of art in relation to all sorts of things, you will be gaining an experience of the mind of a man who has thought very deeply about his art and craft, film. Filmmakers who talk photography are in the same area. Even the knowledge that a film-maker was formerly a photographer says a lot.

The one who now always comes to my mind, when film and photography are mentioned in the same sentence, or should we even say thought in the same thought, is Nuri Bilge Ceylan. And if I may take a God[.]-like excursion down an dark alley which neither you the reader nor I may quite know is a dead-end or not – as this post is as ex-tempore as you are likely to get in postdom – Ceylan, has used severally the trope of bloke-wandering-around-ancient-site-with-camera-ignoring-and-annoying-girlfriend trope.

With Godard we have to understand that every film is the same film because he is trying to get over the same God[no .]-like message about how he as God [with or without .] can use film to get over his agendas [or not]. And so could everyone else to humanity’s general betterment, if they only had the brains and foresight to see. He like many good or even great film directors [even nerdy-looking baseball cap wearing ones..] is steeped in film from the year dot. And he evokes the complete history of film almost in every quakey sentence he utters. It’s always, “What is film?”. And of course, “What can it do and not do?” He seems to be saying all the time, “Film can’t do/isn’t doing so many things that people dreamed it might do.” And that’s because they don’t understand it well enough to see its talents.

Godard’s “cinema is dead” or “It is now!” [UK football ref there you no UK people..], or “Well, I thought it was then but it really is now” can confuse people. But it’s simple. He believed like Eisenstein that film was purely for political ends. The montage was the method. The Way, The Truth and The Light.

And so fast forward to a film like Adieu au Langage [3D]. Just like me with my immediate and deep apprehension of the depth of Italian cinema through a balding man sitting on a classy bench with shades that look suspiciously like the Ray-bans Marcello Mastroianni wore in 8 1/2, we should get the fact that every time Godard speaks on film (and life) he is thinking of how film failed. He may talk enthusiastically and yet mockingly or ironically about advanced technology, but you know he is still trying to get there, by any means at his disposal.

And all the time, he is still using the same film-text-film-text-text-film-film he developed from his earliest films. At one point in my Godard journey, I felt sure he was saying film could not replace writing and so his films had to constantly show this to be true. For the audience this can be both irksome and difficult. A major facet of this is his voice and text overs are in French. Unless French is your first language or a good second, his efforts to overlap three things at once are pretty much wasted on you, as an immediate effect.

If this all seems a bit too arcane and you have not got to Histoire[s] du Cinema (and perhaps never will) try reading Celine Scamma’s schema for Histoire[s] – a blog search in COTA will get you there.

And finally, as The Two Ronnie would say, there is that thing about Godard and his unreliable subtitling. Apogee: Film Socialism. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but I sense he is saying that you can’t translate poetry into another language without destroying or partially destroying its original meaning. Which is true. Godel, Escher Bach, for some ideas and background. And he quotes poetry a lot in his films. As well as showing and talking about art.

And so for film. The very act of trying to make a film helps to remove your original intention (He seems to be saying..amongst many other things). If you just use film. So he, wanting to be sure of getting over whatever message he intends, falls back on words in films as text and commentary (plus the obligatory art),which in itself is an essay on the limits of film. Or the dialectic between The Word and The Film. (Being some kind of Marxist, he would want to show that dialectic is real moving things forward).

And so (and here back to latest interviews) he feels he can’t say directly (and never could or would) simply, in words, what he wants to say about film. This is both because it dishonours film (and maybe dispels some of its magic and mystic) and because he doesn’t want to make the whole thing seem simpler than it is. Instead he picks up on small points (in the Canon interview he starts with SMS, the modern, the dubious) from which to expand (why not start anywhere?) outwards and back inwards at the same time, to the core of what he sees film is and can do. And of course what life (using an iPhone) is and can mean (film your day he suggests..). That goes without saying. Though, like God[.], I’ve said it to make sure you don’t miss it.


With Canon interview spoiler…

1/. Godard comes in many shapes and sizes
– He briefly reprised his views on aspect ration with Gallic hand gestures demonstrating the cutting off of the upper part of a shot, etc.

2/. Something I feel strongly: what a film is about or meant to be about can be taken separately from how it was made. Or not. They can complement each other. Or not. My natural inclination is to run these in parallel. Weaving in and out. Often when the going gets tough on the film itself as a story with a narrative imperative (or not), resorting, or even retreating (out of the sun into the shade..), to the How Did They Do That? seems the most sensible place to go. Even if in the end that strip of bright sunlight between the shady tree and the house has to be crossed.

Godard is often talked about in terms of his oeuvre when a new one pops up (as one does of directors in general). We get the jump cut standing for À Bout de Souffle, or Fritz Lang standing for Le Mépris (who starred in it but to whom Godard was also paying obeisance to as a director. (Wiki:Contempt (film) is an Idiot’s Guide to the latter with some of the associated Langifications – A browser search on Fritz on that wiki page will do the trick).

May 24, 2014 Posted by | Douglas Hofstadter, DSLR cinematography, DSLR Digital Cinematography Guide, Eisenstein, European art cinema, European cinema, European film, film analog/digital, Film and The Arts, film aspect ratio, film reflexivity, film sex, Film Socialisme, film technique, film theory, film [its techniques], French films, Fritz Lang | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FILM VIDEO Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma

stills from the opening seconds of Chapter 1A – Histoire[s] du Cinema

Cinema is a sign, and its signs are amongst us

Jean-Luc Godard
In JLG by JLG vol II, edited by Alan Bergala

The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life. Unlike painting and literature, the cinema both gives to life and takes from it, and I try to render this concept in my films. Literature and painting both exist as art from the very start; the cinema doesn’t.” –

Jean-Luc Godard

I need a day to tell the history of a second, a year to tell the history of a minute, a lifetime to tell the history of a day.

Jean-Luc Godard

….a history of cinema and a history of the twentieth century, each inside the other.

John Howe

My Histoire(s) du Cinema starts with a chapter called ‘Toutes les Histoires‘, a lot of small stories in which signs can be seen. It then goes on to say that this story is alone – the only story that has ever been. Then – you know my immoderate ambition – I say: not only is it alone, but it is the only one that will ever be and that has ever been (after, it will not be a story but something else). It is my mission to tell it.”
Jean-Luc Godard

Histoire(s) du Cinéma 1988–98 is a powerful and visually stunning critique of cinema and its relationship to the other arts, as well as a reflexive analysis of the director’s life and work. Originally commissioned for European television, the production spans ten years and includes eight episodes (of a proposed ten) in four chapters.

The project began in 1988 and emerged from a series of lectures Godard delivered at the University of Montreal in 1978. In these lectures, Godard presented an analysis of his own films alongside others, juxtaposing imagery with additional references to painting, newsreels and television. The project also bears the marks of Godard’s early film criticism published in Cahiers du Cinéma. Central to the project is Godard’s ongoing concern with the politics and materiality of filmmaking — for example, the process of editing, which Godard conceives as analogous to the act of lying. Godard reacts against the simple conventions of editing, continually juxtaposing and superimposing images in montages that search for truth and meaning in cinematic imagery. Godard famously asserted, ‘If directing is a gaze, editing is a heartbeat’.{}


Cinema : The Archaeology of film and the memory of a century
Jean Luc Godard, Youssef Ishaghpour, John Howe

Undeniably a work of enormous scope, Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoires du cinéma eludes easy definition. An extended essay on cinema by means of cinema. A history of the cinema, and history interpreted by the cinema. An homage and a critique. An anecdotal autobiography, illuminated by Godard’s encyclopedic wit, extending the idiom established by JLG par JLG. An epic – and non-linear – poem. A freely associative essay. A vast multi-layered musical composition. Histoires du cinéma is all of these. It is above all, a work made by a man who loves and is fascinated by the world of film.

from DVD review at

Histoire(s) du cinéma is Jean-Luc Godard’s most devastating accomplishment as filmmaker/critic/artist/poet/historian. Produced over a period of ten years (1988-1998), Histoire(s) has been heralded as a work of tremendous significance to the practice of both cinema and history; most famously by Jonathan Rosenbaum, who declared it to be “the culmination of 20th century film-making” (1). Whilst not technically a film, Histoire(s) undoubtedly represents the ultimate labour of cinephilic love, an intensive audio-visual retrospective ruminating on the multiple incarnations of cinema, its vital intersections with 20th century history and ultimately, its immanent death, as projected by the medium’s most studied, critically devoted and playfully intellectual independent figure.

Alifeleti Brown in Senses of Cinema

It is possible to hate half or two-thirds of what Godard does – or find it incomprehensible – and still be shatered by his brilliance

Pauline Kael

For any one interested in film, Godard is important; for any one interested in Godard, Histories(s) is important.

Who said that?


Two sets of YouTubes of Chapter 1A and 1B:

Histoires[s]du Cinema Chapter1A – Toutes les Histoires (All the Histories) -1/6

Histoire[s]du Cinema Chapter1B – Une Histoire seule 1/5


wiki: Histoire(s) du Cinema
– lists the individual programmes and films mentioned.


La « partition » des Histoire(s) du cinéma
Jean-Luc Godard

by Céline Scemama

A tabulation of Histoire [s]. E.g. page 1:

Open the graphic in another tab – it will be a easier to read.


“I always begin with ideas and that doesn’t help with the audience.”
Jean Luc Godard interviewed by Scott Kraft – Cigar Afficianado Magazine sept/Oct 1997


These five short essays/reviews summarise succinctly what is going on in this video series:

After the Movies Michael Wood, London Review of Books, 4 December 2008

Histoire(s) du cinéma by Alifeleti Brown in Senses of Cinema

Despite the diffuse gesture of Histoire(s), it might be argued that its central motivation is to collapse the cinema from within by way of an exhaustive process of reflexive audio-visual evocation and deliberation, a post-cinematic montage that implicitly situates the cinema as an archive of a bygone era.

Histoire(s) du Cinéma
By David Pratt-Robson
(2007 review of the Region 2 DVD in Stylus Magazine)

The Man With The Magnétoscope – Jean-Luc Godard’s monumental
Histoire(s) du cinéma as SoundImageTextBook

by Alexander Horwath/ Translation by Aileen Derieg

-Written in 1998 to mark the arrival of CD / book of Histoire[s] with audio of filmtext in German, French and English and a selelction of stills.

The Histoire(s) are always everything at once: moving image, photography, catalogue of paintings, pixel mutation, music, noise, fragment of film sound, speaking voice, writing in the image, literature quarry, essay text. They are sensation and knowledge, information and emotion, theory and practice of the cinema, writing the history and telling the stories. The Histoire(s) are less and, at the same time, more than a Gesamtkunstwerk, because they were never intended to be “a totality” and never “only” an artwork.

For Ever Godard #31 Srikanth Srinivasan in The Seventh Art


Notes in Histoires[s] du cinema Chapter1A – Toutes les Histoires (All the Histories) -1/6 put up by ‘pimpimbulldog’ (aka maths teacher Bogdan from Romania). Pasted here in full (hope he doesn’t mind):

Histoire(s) du cinéma is a video project begun by Jean-Luc Godard in the late 1980s and completed in 1998. Histoire means both “history” and “story,” and the s in parentheses gives the possibility of a plural. Therefore, the phrase Histoire(s) du cinéma simultaneously means The History of Cinema, The Histories of Cinema, The Story of Cinema and The Stories of Cinema.Is an examination of the history of the concept of cinema and how it relates to the 20th century; in this sense, it can also be considered a critique of the 20th century and how it perceives itself. The project is considered the major work of the late period of Godard’s career; it is alternately described as an essay and a poem.

If one wants to be up to the minute about cinema, there’s no cause to be concerned that Histoire[s] du cinéma has been in production for at least nine years — after having been sketched our rather differently, in the form of an illustrated lecture series given in Montreal, a decade prior to that. (2) After all, James Joyces Finnegans Wake, the artwork to which Histoire(s) du cinéma seems most comparable, written between 1922 and 1939, was first published in 1939, but if one read it for the first time this year, one would still be ahead of most people in literary matters. For just as Finnegans Wake figuratively situates itself at some theoretical stage after the end of the English language as we know it — from a vantage point where, inside Joyces richly multilingual, pun-filled babble, one can look back at the 20th century and ask oneself, What was the English language? Godards babbling magnum opus similarly projects itself into the future in order to ask, What was cinema?

Joyce’s province was the history of mankind as perceived through language and vice versa, both experienced and recapitulated through a single, ordinary night of sleep — that is to say, through dreams. Only superficially more modest, Godards province is the 20th century as perceived through cinema and vice versa, both experienced and recapitulated through technology — that is to say, through video. Clips and soundtracks are examined and juxtaposed — partly through the ordinary operations of a video watcher (fast forward, slow motion, freeze frame, muting, and programming) and partly through more sophisticated techniques like editing, sound mixing, captioning, and superimposition. Finnegans Wake considers both the English language and the 20th century as something thats over, and in the same way Histoire(s) du cinéma treats both the 20th century and the history of cinema as something thats liquidated, finished. (This isn’t entirely a new position for Godard. In January, 1965, responding to a questionnaire in Cahiers du cinéma which inquired, What do you think of the immediate and the long-range future of the French cinema? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, or do you have a Lets wait and see attitude?, he replied, I await the end of Cinema with optimism. This is one of the reasons why, to my mind, the fact that Histoire(s) du cinéma is a video is of enormous importance, because video in certain respects is the graveyard of cinema, and its also the graveyard of the history of the 20th century — or at least of the popular perception of that history. (Cogito ergo vidéo reads a title at the beginning of chapter 1b.)


Ph.D. thesis:
Jean-Luc Godard and the Other History of Cinema


Douglas Morrey

University of Warwick Department of French Studies (2002)

Morrey runs through Histoire[s] in detail as one would for a thesis. But quotes are in the original French, untranslated in footnotes.

This is the second PhD linked to from the long list in Film Studies for Free.

Morrey p. 9 :

Godard’s argument in Histoire(s) du Cinema is this that, if montage granted a new way of seeing, it should also have led to a new way of thinking, yet somehow failed to do so.

Other writing by Douglas Morrey

GoogleBooks, Jean-Luc Godard [2005], from A Manchester University Press series, French Film Directors, and an essay, Bodies that Matter, reviewing a book of essays, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture by Vivian Sobchack [2004].

Academic papers/reviews/essays/blog posts on Historie[s]

Tony McKibbin in Experimental Conversations, Cork Film Centre’s Online Journal: The Butterfly Effect: High Mimetics in Godard’s Histoire[s] du Cinema.
5 stars for usefulness. if you were wondering what this death of film was all about, this at the end of the essay is reassuring:

As Nicole Brenez astutely noted in her contribution to a piece called ‘Movie Mutations’, printed in Film Quarterly and elsewhere, “the death of cinema merely represented a grand melancholy theme that certain filmmakers needed in order to make their films”. Perhaps this is true of no film more than Histoire(s) du cinéma. But does its death not give birth to poetry, perhaps rather like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly?

Trailer for Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma Jonathan Rosenbaum

Le Vrai Coupable: Two Kinds of Criticism in Godard’s Work

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma
“Memory of the world” (a lecture)

Laleen Jayamanne August 2007

Histoire[s] du Cinema by Gray Daisies

[1] Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma: lectures given by Godard at Montreal Film School before Histoire[s] was completed.
[2] Histoire(s) du cinéma

Histoire(s) Du Cinema: A Requiem for Cinema

Histoire(s) du Cinema (1988-1998, Jean-Luc Godard)
Post from Brandon’s Movie Memories. Brief comments on chapters 1-4 under headings, with a beautiful still in each which help to remind us that films are primarily about the excitment of the visual. And yet Godard’s Histoire[s] is loaded with words!

Difficult work in a popular medium: Godard on ‘Hitchcock’s method’
Rick Warner
First Published in Critical Quarterly Vol 51, Issue 3, pages 63-84 October 2009

On Painting and History in Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma (1)
by Sally Shafto

More Montage Necessary John Lingen – Review of Richard Brody;s Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard

…..the progression of Godard’s anti-American rage has the all the overextended illogic of a scorned lover. In his six-hour series Histoire(s) du Cinéma, completed throughout the 90s, he proposed his thesis that cinematic history be divided into two periods: pre-1945, when the art form was honest; and post-1945, when America (and by proxy Hollywood) became the arbiter of cultural taste, subsequently squandering the opportunity to address the concentration camps in an aesthetically honest way. For Godard, no movie properly addressed Auschwitz when it was most necessary, and therefore the art form was doomed.

Other sources

Critique of Godard by Rancière mentioned in Morrey’s Ph.D. thesis:

The Saint and the Heiress: A propos of Godard’s: Histoire(s) du cinéma
Jacques Rancière

Discourse; Winter 2002; 24, 1; ProQuest Education Journals

Mundane Hybrids: Rancière Against the Sublime Image
Ted Kafala

– Explains Ranciere of Godard in part.

The French film critic Serge Daney plays a part in Histoire[s] and has written about Godard in general. There are a few translations into English such as this selection, The Godard paradox, taken from the Book Forever Godard. Blog: Serge Daney in English.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Myspace page has a many Godard photographs and Craig Keller’s essay on Godard originally in Senses of Cinema.

Cinema : The Archaeology of film and the memory of a century
Jean Luc Godard, Youssef Ishaghpour, John Howe
GoogleBook (Intoduction by John Howe)
2000. English translation 2005

From La Nouvelle Vague to Histoire[s] du Cinema – History in Godard, Godard in History
Colin Nettelbeck

An Audio Visual Brain: Towards a Digital Image of Thought in Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoires[s] du Cinema
by Pasi Valiaho

Le Gai Savoir: Godard and Eisenstein—notions of intellectual cinema
by Ruth Perlmutter
from Jump Cut, no. 7, 1975, pp. 17-19
Although dealing with a specific other Godard film, this adds to our understanding of what we have with Histoire[s].

Images in Spite of All – 4 Photographs from Auschwitz
George Did-Huberman
(English translation: Shane B Lillis)

Eisenstein’s Montage Theories

Editing: The Heart of Film – An Introduction To Film Editing
Click on Theory.

Sergei Eisenstein and the Montage [pdf]

Wiki: Soviet Montage Theory

Brakhage and the Theory of Montage – Victor Grauer

Introduction to Montage – a post from blog Understanding Media

Bigue’s Editing Notes

The Challenge of the Vertical Montage -Essay by Henrik Juel

Film editing and Montage pages from
Awfully set out, old-fashioned mixed font, mixed colour pages the way How to Design Good Website manuals say not to do it, but there is simply explained basics in there.

Battleship Potemkin by Christian Blauvelt, Slate Magazine, 19 April 2010
Andrew Sarris is quoted:

“The totalitarians of the Left embraced Eisenstein and montage as the first step toward brainwashing humanity, but the cinema quickly lent its manipulative social powers to television. The cinema returned to formal excellence, abandoning the salvation of mankind as the criterion of cinema.”

Wiki: Room 666

YouTube of Godard’s Room 666

La Geo-politique de l’mage dans les Historie[s] du cinema de Jean-Luc Godard
by Junji Hori

– 19 page .pdf, arguing Godard’s take is arrogantly Euro-centric. Others have said the same thing. He also dismisses British film.

Jean-Luc Godard – Short biography and filmography

Jean Luc-Godard page in They Shoot Pictures, Don’t Thye?

The Misery and Splendors of Cinema – Godard’s Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinéma

– Review by Robert Kesler of the 87 minute version of Histoire[s]

Soft and Hard: Intimations insinuations implications

Rod Stoneman in Kinema relates his collaboration with Godard and Anne-Miéville in the making ofA Soft Conversation between Two Friends on a Hard Subject (1985), a film commissioned by CH4, in which he quotes some of the dialogue (Mieville comparing his work and approach to hers, for example) and shows how ideas in Histoires[s] were already there. But more importantly describes Godard’s imperatives and a little bit about the man himself.

Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinema
by Keith Uhlich

The director himself has suggested that every cut is a lie; Godard’s approach, then, is the continual juxtaposition and superimposition of “lies” in an ongoing search for truth. Thus, Moments mimics the workings of its creator’s mind: one thought, one reference leads inexorably to others, sight and sound mirroring the inherently questioning nature of the human soul.

when speaking of television’s detrimental effects on cinema, Godard lives down to the disheveled old fuddy-duddy persona that he physically embodies on-screen. Making grand pronouncements from his back-alley soapbox, the director panders to the death-of-cinema acolytes, those faddish doomsday prophets who latched onto the kernel of a good idea (for television has certainly had its adverse effects) and perverted it into an infallible truth of Leviticus.

“The film we had imagined”, or: Anna and Jean-Luc Go To the Movies

by Adrian Danks

Deals with films within films in Godard and generally, though doesn’t mention Histoire[s]

Methods of Détournement by Guy-Ernest Debord

Détournement as Negation and Prelude Situationist International 1959

For a Revolutionary Judgment of Art Guy Debord 1961
Really only for this:

“….an alteration of “the present forms of culture” depends on the production of works that offer people “a representation of their own existence.”

M.A. Thesis by Farris Wahbeh:

Forget Godard: The Cinematic Abductions of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Guy Debord

{1} Intro

{2} Chapter 1: Pasolini’s Lingua X

{3} Chapter 2: Becoming-street: In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni as cinematic dérive

There have been dissenting voices from the beginning of Godard’s career as a film-maker, as exemplified by the ‘statement’, The Role of Godard, issued by The Situationist International in 1966. Clearly they hadn’t got the whole of his film and video oeuvre at that time, but you get the idea with such phrases as “…the Club Med of modern thought”.

‘No Trickery with Montage’: On Reading a Sequence in Godard’s
Pierrot le fou
Daniele Morgan – Film Studies Issue 5 Winter 2004

Between Sound and Space blog review of ECM soundtrack of Histoire[s]

October 8, 2010 Posted by | Alfred Hitchcock, André Malraux, film [its techniques], French cinema, Godard, Jean-Luc Godard, Pudovkin, Rancière | , , , , | Leave a comment

FILM ESSAY Five explanations for the jump cuts in Godard’s breathless by Richard Raskin

Five explanations for the jump cuts in Godard’s Breathless


Richard Raskin


P.OV. number 6,  December 1998

which has a set on editing under the title The Art of Editing, starting with Mark Le Fanu: On Editing

April 14, 2010 Posted by | À bout de souffle, Breathless, Godard | , , | Leave a comment

FILM BERGMAN AUTEUR [1] – All anecdotes must lead somewhere

FILM BERGMAN persona [boy hand]

Persona was premièred at the Spegeln cinema on 18 October 1966. The editor Ulla Ryghe has described how the famous scene where the film burns up, often interpreted as if the actual celluloid cannot stand the friction between the two main characters, caused a number of problems at the initial screenings. After a number of projectionists had stopped the film, the film cans themselves had to be marked with red labels assuring them that the actual film does not catch fire, even though it appears that way.


–As a nurse talks and her patient remains silent, their identities begin to merge.


Ingmar Bergman Foundation

Nice story. Someone’s bound to use it in a film. Ah, the intertextuality of film. Is there a Bergman Biopic yet?

This post is the beginning of my triple-ply, stronger, more absorbent re-look at Bergman, mostly through the lens of auteurism, starting with Persona which I watched again, fortuitously, a few days before reading about Godard, auteurists and cineastes. The Criterion version of Persona is currently available on YouTube. The naughty bits are in, so this must be Bergman’s cut. On the Criterion website, a set of essays on Persona and a 1.31 min. video essay without an oral/aural essay attached, which neatly catches some of the bits you’re bound to look for again in the rewind! If you’re fortunate enough to be able to watch the YouTube on a nice big tv screen, all the better. It’s good definition, but watch it while you can, you never know.

I feel I ought to say – which has probably been posted here and there before – that I’m not an academic (clearly) or a formal film student. How I’m learning about film is piece-meal and fragmented. And full of half-understood things. It seems at times like a person dragged off the street and pressed down in a chair in front of an old-fashioned editing machine, strips of film of various lengths hanging all about in the way we see in shots in films about editing rooms, and made to create a film, ending up with an out-takes ‘film’ just like the at the end of Cinema Paradiso but with some other subject apart from kissing. Or more appropriately, here, pre-credit sequence astoundingly similar to the ‘mad’ sequence in Persona.

In the previous post, the conversation I picked up the comments stream in a recent Girish post mentioning the publication by Caboose of an English version of Godard’s 1978 Toronto ‘lectures’, with the title Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television. A commenter made some remarks about auteurists and cinephiles as distinct, in opposition, which Girish had a distinct view on. All this seemed to be something I ought to get clear.

Anyone interested in films beyond watching them and a like/didn’t like, ends up with auteur theory, mentioned almost every time someone writes a film book or essay, which ineluctably leads to Truffaut’s “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema”, back to Andre Bazin et al. and trillions of academic papers, essays and articles.

The auteurist vs. cinephile apposition which Girlish deals with made me realise I couldn’t blague my way through this with scant knowledge but needed to sit down and take some time over it.

And so for a while to Bergman, considered auteur de auteurs, how he made his mark, put his thumb-print on his work (and why even..). Having watched Persona before reading the post, I was primed, motivated, and ready to go.

As the opening paragraph of Ingmar Bergman the filmmaker, says:

The history of the cinema has seen directors whose works have been more “original” or “groundbreaking” (such as Eisenstein, Ozu or Godard). And there are plenty of directors who have made as many, if not more films (Griffith, Hitchcock or Chabrol). Yet the question remains: is there anyone who so epitomises the concept of the auteur – a filmmaker with full control over his medium, whose work has a clear and inimitable signature – as Ingmar Bergman?

September 18, 2014 Posted by | auterism, auteurist, Bergman, cinephile, Ingmar Bergman, Persona [1966] | , , , , | Leave a comment

FILM COURSE FILMAKER IQ The History of Cutting – The Soviet Theory of Montage

GRAPHIC FILM montage [FilmmakerIQ]

You must have come across FilmakerIQ. If you haven’t, what have you been up to? Watching more films? The time has come to do a petit Godard*, take your iPhone iPad or Android and get out there to make a film. Well, don’t stop watching films, of course, but try a little something even if it is to prove film-making is not your forte. A film mind you is not a wobbly bit of video of a disemheaded body. It’s lots of wobbly bits editing together. Even a soundtrack. Apparently the young folk tell me you can do this all from a mobile nowadays which leaves me impressed but well behind. For me it’s editing software on a PC because I can’t see a keypad very well …(when is software an app? Is everything an app nowadays?)

Strangely since making and particularly editing film is a big preoccupation of mine (more a preoccupation than praxis mid you..), I don’t seem to to have either highlighted FilmmakerIQ yet or put up a video. Unless that is as well as not being able to see tiny keypads I’m losing my memory as well.


The History of Cutting – The Soviet Theory of Montage

A very informative and personable video by John P. Hess. There are lots of others equally informative and interesting. A pairing with this one, perhaps, The History of Cutting – The Birth of cinema and Continuity editing.

Why is it that crusty academics (all over the web nowadays..) come to mind droning on about their considerable knowledge of film, to little effect, when a dynamic presentation like this wants to make you learn? It’s in a nutshell, but some nutshell, some nut, as Winston Churchill might have said if he used the words nutshell or even nut.

*Godard mention – aah, so satisfying to have got one in another post….he recommends in his latest interviews qua his new film wot he did in 3D but thinks 3D a waste of time, you all get out there with your iPhones alors recherche la femme et le pistol – or is it revolver with the accent on the -ver – et bien aussi le chien which might be a dog or a bitch and have some significance to the overall message of the film.

June 12, 2014 Posted by | editing, Eisenstein, film editing, film production, Russian Fim School | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM VIDEO ESSAY Layers of Paradox in F for Fake


Catherine Grant highlighted [in]Transition in one her posts a few weeks back. Looks like a jolly good thing, as we say in Blighty, rather than arsum as you good ‘ol boys say in the US of A. If you use the ars**[**] word and you are from Blighty, stop it immediately. Things, as we know in the old country, are usually not quite as aw…shucks I nearly said it…as they appear to be.

I’ve side-linked [in]Transition under film blogs/mags/jounos.

As an example, Benjamin Sampson’s Layers of Paradox in F for Fake.

This is a thought-provoking, well-produced, good-looking video essay (often the delivery of the commentary lets a video essay down..) – an example of what [in]T has to offer.

NB: curators notes [i.e. from Drew Morton, the poster] accompanying the video, which lasts 17 mins., and a single comment by Chiara Grizzaffi, a film PhD student, writing about the oft-on-the-lips-question about the video essay – What is it? [etc.] – and then a reply by Drew Morton. Both of these are well worth reading, providing a lot of info, ideas and questions.

In the editor’s introduction to [in]Transition, by Catherine Grant, Christian Keathley and Drew Morton, the point is made that there are video essays, audio-visual essays and visual essays.

Benjamin Sampson is a second year MA student in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. He worked for four years as a freelance videographer and video editor. His current research focuses on the later films of Orson Welles, audience segmentation in the 1950s, and essay films.

F for fake was on British tv many decades ago, but I can’t remember them putting it back on in the intervening years. Pity.

And I can’t remember if I have posted on the video essay, but certainly it’s a thing that all film enthusiasts have thought about. I’ve seen a lot which strike me as being pointless [= failing in intended object] except in that they do use the visual (excerpts from films/stills) – and diegetic and extra-diegetic audio in some cases – to deal with the visual, while failing in the overall premise by relying on the commentary to be the essay. Just a slide show by another name. It’s good to have film clips or stills examples to go with a text but to me it’s not a video essay until the visuals themselves are a significant part of the explanation/interpretation/analysis. In other words: many audio-visual presentations are put out as being video essays. Benjamin’s Orson Welles video essay is most certainly a video essay and not a text tagged onto film clips. But the whole issue must include whether a video essay is any different from a made for t.v. film documentary, that is apart from it’s webby DIYness. And of course it’s shortness.

(side-thought : think how poor the stills are in most film books…I’m reading Valerie Orpen’s Film Editing. Even this good book on a subject which is marginalised in film writing, has too-small stills looking like poor photocopies…o.k. it’s the editor’s fault not hers, but it’s her text and those still are meant to represent some aspect of editing she’s going into in great detail)

In many cases the video essayists are not themselves experienced video/film-makers so falling for the Godard-ism* of not grasping you can’t rub your head and pat your tummy. (And should we say in Godard’s* case expect more than his 1000 to watch ans appreciate his films if he makes them in French in away that is impossible to unscramble as a film experience in another language) There are endless papers, not about film per se, explaining how you can’t talk and attend properly to what the eyes are looking at (e.g. on a mobile phone while driving). It should be obvious you can’t look with a critical eye at a series of film clips if the video essay is one long talk. The trick as demonstrated in Layers of Paradox in F for Fake is to make the clips really short and tailor the delivery to avoid too much overlap. Mind you in this case it’s not a film but a documentary about a film being video essayed, where Welles can be allowed to speak for himself in a way that a character in a film can’t. Film clips of a fiction film can stand for themselves in terms of mise en scene, editing and so on, but they tend to have to be laboriously explained in words, because the moving images themselves are no trusted to do the job. (I’ve been reading the final chapter of Orpen which deals with the way the film’s mise en scene/ decoupage/editing is used to highlight the star. So thinking about how that could be done in a video essay.)

As is made clear in editor’s introduction to [in]Transition and the comments accompanying the video essay, the video essay is evolving, and it’s evolution alone, by the look of it, is providing fodder for a few score research papers and PhDs.

* Jamais deux sans trois? if you can always try to get the word Godard in a post three times at a minimum.

There is that thing about 6 degrees of separation on any subject till the conversation gets round to Hitler and the Nazis. I like to think this is true of Godard. Just like the Actress and the Bishop Joke [in it’s endless forms], which can be fitted around any conceivable topic and situation, it should be possible to write a post on film and always manage to say the G.-word at least once.

NNB. A few post back I introduced the God./ God distinction. God. [full-stop > ‘God-point’ is a lot easier to mouth, though strictly it might sound suspiciously like something meteorological]. So from now on, ‘God. thinks he’s God’ [or someone else says he thinks he is or say they think he is..] is now quite clear and not mistaken for some sort of theological atheist argument. Though I’m sure someone could write 3 A4s on God. and G** with no trouble at all.

June 5, 2014 Posted by | F for fake, video essay | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM The Great Beauty 2013 [1]

Toni Servillo in The Great beauty

Dead in the water. Stuck. Wanting to spill out you thoughts on a film you heard about, watched and then, hey everybody, this is good, it’s….ah,um….you’ve got someone you’d like to watch this film before you spoil it by explaining all. Who hasn’t had that sinking moment when you ask someone about film, only to realise the whole film is going to be recalled from prodigious memory for you, and there is no escape. Yes, seen it. Brilliant. And here is entire right down to the details of all the dialogue.

I’ve got the same problem with The Great Beauty directed by Paolo Sorrentino. What can I say? I’ve tried writing it through to see what can be said, ending up with half-written sentences stuttering to a halt well before reaching their destinations. I was even going to use a few Italian phrases heard in the film. No. There is no way round this except to say it’s termed an art-house film. It’s Italian. English sub-titles. It won the best Foreign Film Award at the Oscars last year. Must be worth watching for foreign film enthusiast. It is.

What to say on a film you want someone to watch before you say anything? Are there films you can say quite a lot about without spoiling someone else’s viewing? Is the smallest vignette permitted? No. Not in this case either. All I can say now is, Lo, a film, try it. So. Not even the title translated into Italian. How one has to exercise steely control. And so this post is also addressed to someone who has seen the film who might understand why the title has not been translated in the heading, or in the body of text. (But who can have a conspiratorial wink about knowing why, and in turn not being able to put a kibosh on things by making a comment..)

Perhaps as a displacement activity to assuage the frustration : une petite idée de film.

A man and a woman meet, fall in love. Have a relationship. Then it breaks up for reasons unknown to the audience. On show some bewilderment, anger, sadness, regret, etc. Hankies out. They both loved the movies and spent a lot of time watching them and talking about them. As one does.

They both realise they can’t share anything about film anymore – no communicating at all. They spend a lot of time thinking and imagining what they would be choosing to see, where they would be doing it if still together. Shown by the usual – inevitable – tropes [cleverly masked as homages and satire on] of shots of couples going into movies, etc. Even plugging in DVDs, blubbing, et al. Little scene in which one or other, disconsolate but determined, goes to see a movie. Buys a ticket, stands in foyer with the milling crowd – then after a certain amount of wistfulness, walks back out onto the street.

The upshot, to cut a short story shorter, is the means by each comes to terms with the loss of the film connection amongst the butterflies of lurv, and learns to live and love again. He of course has a film blog and finds he can’t write about films he wants her to see, so stalls, writes around the curly hedges, about production design or mise en scene, or even Godard being rude about actors, anything just to post with the film’s title on the heading. A marker for the future. A dog lifting it’s leg to a lamp post.

Suddenly one day he finds he can write a bit more on films he has seen. But not a lot. He still can’t bring himself to write about the latest releases – he doesn’t want to be a dirty little spoiler. But he realises he can write about obscure art-house movies that no one would want to watch, or even the technicalities of film making like editing.

Here’s one.

In the middle of a long dissertation on Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window, from an editing point of view (and POV comes into it a lot..), in Valerie Orpen’s Film Editing, on page 27, referring to an interview with Truffaut, at which point he is talking about the Kuleshov effect:

FILM EDITING orpen p.27 [hitch on actors] [2]

reading this, helps to see a bit more clearly what Godard means about actors. He’s saying the same thing, except he says it in such as a way as to highlight his role as auteur. Ce film, c’est a moi! Tout a fait….mon Dieu….mais oui….c’est vrai….il est moi! Godard=cinema=Godard. And Hitch was in the Hollywood system for the most part i.e. not what would be considered an auteur. Hitch was in control of his projects in a way most Hollywood directors were not. I’ve not read it said he was an auteur in the way the New Wave directors were. Though Godard is greatly interested in him and his work.

May 16, 2014 Posted by | Alfred Hitchcock, Godard, Jean-Luc Godard, POV, Rear Window [1954], The Great Beauty [2013] | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FILM DIRECTOR Atom Egoyan’s pearls of wisdom

Wisdom Wednesday: Atom Egoyan’s Golden Rules

Honestly can’t remember watching any of his films. Ararat rings a bell. And didn’t know he was born in Egypt. His name looks like it’s Turkish or Armenian. Proves to be the latter. wiki:Atom Egoyan. I’m at a slight advantage because we had a couple of -ians at my school: Kevorkian, Torosian. Wiki:Armenian name tells me something I didn’t know either. The -ian means ‘son of’. Surnames, schmirnames. Messerschmidt. It’s forenames that count. And what a name Atom is! Every family should have an Atom in it. When he was a little boy, when you said his name, you could define him as well. Molecule. Mmmmm.

Atom’s #3 struck a chord. [ed. this is changed from ‘rang a chord’.]

#6 is in stark contrast to what I just read in footnote 1, chapter 2 Film Editing: The Art of the Expressive, by Valerie Orpen, on Godard’s view on actors.

“My relationship with actors is very hostile. I don’t speak to them….They don’t have a destiny and they know it. They are always conscious of their mutilation. The gap between the creator and the actor is the same as the as the gap between being and having. An actor cannot be.

[Le Nouvel Observateur, Oct 12-18, 1956]

No, but he can recite Hamlet’s soliloquy. One wonders if Godard had been reading too much of Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness”. Thought he might try it out on actors at their most vulnerable. Pretending to talk to the Arrifex, but clearly to the actors – who he doesn’t talk to – Your Being-in-itself is nothing! Etc.

But who is this Godard? Nothing….

Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot [2013], was mostly thought utter crap by the reviewers [32% reviewers/ 85% viewers, which is presumably based on the US audience]. The Sweet Hereafter [1997] got high praise, but I’d tend to go for Ararat [2002] – a lot because it’s a historical subject that interests me and is a film about a film. And there is some suspicion over why it was banned in Italy. And Turkey once wanted to be in the EU! Huh. Next thing we know it’ll be the German’s kicked out because of the Holocaust…

May 9, 2014 Posted by | Atom Egoyan | , | Leave a comment

FILM JOURNAL Alphaville Issue 5 – Cinema in the Interstices

PHOTO Cracked_Concrete_01_by_RocketStock

click to enlarge

Alphaville : Journal of Film and Scene Media

Issue 5

Cinema in the Interstices

Cinema in the Interstices: Editorial

Conscious of the underlying significance of this term and its many interpretations within the context of visual culture, particularly as related to film and screen media, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media set out to provide a forum to explore the myriad of interstices that exist both within the medium of film and between film and other media, firstly in the form of an international conference held at University College Cork in September 2012, and now in a special issue of Alphaville dedicated to the topic.

Lot’s and lots to read.

I was drawn in by the word interstice. A wonderful sounding word which most people couldn’t pronounce let alone define. The editorials starts with:

The interstice: something empty, something minute—a crevice, a chink, a narrow gap—yet, in spite of this definition of something apparently slight and inconsequential, one perhaps may make the claim that the interstice serves as a foundational element of film. The “intervening space”, as the OED defines it, in its celluloid form provided the connection between multiple images, allowing them to run together to form the illusion of movement. While this interstitial black strip that imperceptibly framed the moving image is no longer a constituent part of cinema in its current digital format, interstices continue to proliferate in screen media, perhaps to a greater extent than ever. Indeed, just as cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography, this intermediality takes on a redefined role in the digital era, with the lines between cinema, television, art, video and new media becoming increasingly difficult to define.

And so I was off, thinking about black bars between frames of pellicule. Though I knew in my bones, chasing a few rabbits down their holes, this was the entre to a lot more things of interest and use among a whole swathe I probably wouldn’t understand or be bothered with. But how do you know till you read?

And so what exactly are the film things I am bothered with? Think, Think. One, how films are made, particularly cinematography and editing, aesthetics goes without saying (but there, I’ve said it), and the limits of film (and the sort of questions that cropped up when Godard started writing in the Cahiers and then made films himself which, if we use A Bout de Souffle, was often about how film was not up to the job he wanted it to do – and/or was dead and gone in the terms in which he saw it: in two words Eisenstein and montage. Godard a writer trying a new medium and as I see it often being disappointed and expressing this disappointment in his own films. Alright, I admit it, I’ve been trying Histoires yet again). Phew! How hard it is to attend to three things at once and have the added disadvantage of English subtitles. Perhaps better without enough French to read La « partition » des Histoire(s) du cinéma de Jean-Luc Godard by Céline Scemama as a companion-piece to Histoire(s). My ideal: watch it first, then the transcription,then both together. But it becomes a study not an experience, where it has to be watched on DVD to stop it at will.

The start point – stimulated by the Alphaville editorial’s first para – was that black gap between each frame. Faux naively (sometimes the ridiculously obvious can turn up insights) I mused the black dividing lines had to be there because of the way a roll of film running through a camera exposed individual frames. A shutter or shutters opened to expose each frame and it couldn’t do it quick enough to have no gap between frames. Though of course even if that were feasible, with each frame abutting directly to the next, the separation of frames as they are by a gap might well be needed to help create the moving images at a certain speed of projection. Who knows – not many – if the movie would work projected without the few millimeters of black space?

It wasn’t there in order to. It was there because it had to be there, and then they found a way to get over these leetel black bars between frames by projecting the film at a certain speed both to eliminate them from perception, and eventually at 24fps to get a movie that wasn’t jerky as the early silent films were.

Then the assertion that

[..] cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography

made me think some more – and this is the first paragraph of the editorial! – what interstices were these exactly? That later.

The fourth wall. We know that cinema was distinctly theatrical in it’s beginnings. But surely, film rather than being in cracks between the traditional arts – once the theatrical style was left behind – was a new art form which superimposed itself on them as a whole, using them; or perhaps that the arts fed directly or indirectly into film, rather than the other way round. Or even that it parasitised on them or was in symbiosis with them. Or both. Or saprophytic. Or even commensal. But it did become the predominant – as in popular and wide-spread – art form the 20 century. Pretty quickly it was the flicks people went to see instead of music hall – certainly not art galleries or museums. Though come to think of it, music and film became close partners in a way that art and theatre did not. Theatre and ballet became favourite subjects of film and have remained so to the present day. Opera became the musical. But film technique has developed on its own.

Film Studies at University College Cork

Well, better start reading. Might learn something.

October 2, 2013 Posted by | 24 fps, art, À bout de souffle, Breathless, Cahiers du cinéma, cinematography, Eisenstein, film, Film and The Arts, film editing, film music, film [its techniques], film-making, Godard, perception | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM BRESSON Au hasard Balthazar [1966] – Records of Material Objects in the Cinema #10: A Band-Aid on Anne Wiazemsky’s Leg

Iconic image of famous auteur looking for his cut. Can he see anything with his shades on, through a fog of smoke from his Gitane?

Records of Material Objects in the Cinema #10: A Band-Aid on Anne Wiazemsky’s Leg

MUBI blogs Written by Daniel Kasman, 13 January 2012

Ignore the short post but slip down to the comment by Matt

I’m curious if it is noticeable in the film’s scene rather than just a still from the film? Sometimes a shot like this may last a second or two – but as a frozen frame it seems so much more significant.

David Bordwell once laid out a whole color theory about an Angelopolous film. When I went back to see the scene it passed by so quickly that it barely registered. But, clearly, he had seen it on an editing device [or DVD] and was able to watch the film frame by frame. Which essentially made it a different scene.

There’s the viewer of the film and the maker of the film. Whether film or digital, editing involves looking at individual frames or freeze framing. Nowadays the viewer of a DVD can stop the film in much the same way as the editor does. The difference is the film-maker started off with a lot more footage to edit down to his final film, the viewer only has the final cut, whether to view as a film or frame by frame.

January 20, 2012 Posted by | Bresson, Robert Bresson | , | Leave a comment

TV ♦ Channel 4 ♦ 4OD ♦ The Story of Film: An Odyssey ♦

The Story of Film: An Odyssey

This the 4OD catch-up page : episodes 1-5 still available as of 2 October 2011

Bought the BCA edition of Cousins’ book when it came out in 2004. It’s full of information and ideas, but I find it a difficult book to read because there isn’t enough space around the text. Simply highlighting all the film titles would make a great difference.

Weighing in at 1.2 kg of fine paper the 612 pages of The Story of Film (no ‘An Odyssey’ subtitle), including index and picture credits, they had to pack it all in, but it looses out though a something not quite right visual interpretative choice of layout. All of which is paradoxical since it’s about a visual medium. Plenty of nice graphics, including many in colour. Maybe the other editions have better visual impact. Though it’s a wonderful, heavy glossy large-format paperback, with a good proportion of colour photos to go with the colour films they represent. For me I think one simple change would have made it o.k. Print all the film titles in bold, so that you could, can. skate over the text, from title to title from time to time, reverentially almost touching them, one after another in a quasi-religious way, as if these were mentions of God’s name in the Torah. What do you need to do with this book? To be able to open it somewhere and find the line of films, trace it through and stop at the one you want , read about it, say Renoir’s Regle de Jeu, and then move on. They would stand out from the page rather a lot, but in the case of text (as opposed to film) functionality should come first over looks. Note, however, I haven’t used bold for titles! Just might come back an make the titles bold to make my point.

Interestingly, The Story of Film documentary, though taking each era and new technique chronologically as he does in the book – mixing directors from different countries as the themes are followed, and occasional looping forward in time to later films and directors, and then back, to make points – doesn’t really allow you to sit with the book picking out more detail at each stage as you watch. Some of the book is re-jigged or missed out altogether, not unexpectedly. Going back to the book after the series is over, will be like a re-editing of the documentary, with a rapidly fading image of film sequences not quite tallying with the text and photos. Although if you are a film buff, these clips seem to stick in mind like glue somehow. Probably get full marks on depth of field in a large proportion of them, for example.

In episode 5, which I have just watched, Cousins mentions Carney in Scarface[1932]: how the American critics of the time concentrated on the wrongness of the character Cagney portrays showing such glee in his badness.

Coincidentally just read H. L. Mencken’s The Homiletics of Criticism which in mind nicely dovetails with this remark by Cousin’s about film criticism. This is a cultural thing which pretty much still exists: modern Hollywood movies are still treated by critics as if they are moral tracts first – the homilies of homiletics – and visual aesthetic experiences second. So a film, say in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, will be criticised heavily for unsympathetic portrayals of soldiers before it is assessed as a whole. First and foremost is the making sure the myth of America is playing out correctly, or corrected if deemed wrong, and second is the truth of an artistic portrayal. So try to stick to film experts for critiques!

Cousin’s film essay is perfectly understandable, though I find I’m again taking a fragmentary approach, as I did with Godard’sHistoire[s], picking out bits here and there, preferring to enjoy the visual spectacle of so many film clips, artily and artfully edited together. This is pretty much what you have to do with Godard: going back again and again to slowly bring out the complexities. You’re not quite sure some of the time what his position is, let alone having an answer if you find you disagree!

Luckily, in The Story of Film we don’t have to endure subtitles in English and the traditional Godard dense verbal overlay in French – plus translations of the textual montages on screen! – which rather defeats the purpose for non-French speakers. Though to help with Godard there is the nice tabulation (in French but at least written down to take ones time over translating and sorting, which I have found an linked to in a earlier post Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma. If you can’t find it amongst all the other things in there, it’s La « partition » des Histoire(s) du cinéma de Jean-Luc Godard by Céline Scemama. In that post there is a snip of the first page of the schema, so that it’s possible to see at a glance how this might help to unravel the complexity of Godard.

Cousin’s delivery is so measured as to make it impossible to miss a single word. Godard almost seems to be ‘colour-blind’ about narrative can blot out visuals, like a mobile phone-call can as one is driving. Or maybe, rather, Godard knows very well that it does have this effect, but chooses to do it nonetheless, because he requires this conflict in the viewing/listening experience. He’s not there to give you an easy ride. That, I feel (other have said) is because Godard is really a novelist manqué. He gives preference to the textual (in his case not only texts on screen – including montages of words and parts of words – but texts read out) as if he were unsure he trusts film on it’s own. If it isn’t that – and I’ve a lot of reading to do on Godard – then his oeuvre as a whole (with exceptions) is a long, drawn-out essay on the limits and difficulties of film. Which is fair enough. And why so many are intrigued with him.

What I’m looking forward to (I’m just off to watch episode 5 of the Story of Film) is to see how he tackles the New Wave, Godard in particular. Is he going to uses film techniques to mirror Godard’s style? Well, probably not. But the clips he uses to illustrate his points will be great fun.

October 3, 2011 Posted by | Godard, Mark Cousins, The Story of Film: An Odyssey | , | Leave a comment

FILM HANEKE Code Unknown [2000] – A first viewing

Code Unknown [2000]

Full title:  Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys

A feature film is twenty-four lies per second.”

— Michael Haneke


There are an awful lot of these, so here a small selection.

Code Unknown / Code Inconnu by Stephen Nottingham

Code Unknown: An Auto-Dialogue Girlish

From which there are links to a blog-a-thon on Code Unknown including:

Code Unknown and Crash: Collisions, Connections and catharsis

– from blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule,

and an untitled post by film-maker David Lowery in Drifting:  a brief, clear-sighted over-view.


Code Unknown Darren Hughes in  long pauses, which takes on Haneke’s use of photographer Luc Delahaye’s L’Autre series.

And also:

the imdb user reviews of Code Unknown, which go into many pages (66 reviews in all) and from which one can glean many ideas, and different ways of explaining the same thing.

for example dbdumonteil writes:

Shortly before the incident when Jean wants to go to Anne’s flat, the latter tells him the code of her flat: “if you want to enter my flat, the code of my building is B4718”. I’m not sure whether it’s the right code but the building could epitomize a metaphor of a man’s life. Every man’s life is similar to a building kept generally by a code. The title of the film is rather easy to understand. The famous “unknown code” is a blocked access to any character’s real life. This code is unknown for the strangers who surround him or her and as a consequence they don’t known anything of his or her real life. It’s this situation that is represented in Haneke’s movie.

Michael Haneke in Strictly Film School

My thoughts

This is my second Haneke after Caché [2005].  Post:  FILM HANEKE Caché

A pretty strange sensation to see Maurice Bénichou

as the Arab man in the train who passes his glasses to Anne at the moment when he dares to confront the boy, and Walid Afkir

(above in the part of his son in Caché, squaring up to George in a TV studio corridor) playing the teenage Arab who taunts Juliette Binoche in Code Unknown. Both in this earlier film playing different parts to those they took in Caché, yet seeming for a moment as if they are playing the same parts at an earlier stage in the same story : the tube train (metro) scene where Anne is harassed almost as if it might have been a moment in the earlier life of the Anne of Caché.  Though, of course, in Caché the taunter and the passive man of Code Unknown are father and son.  And it doesn’t look like they are related in Code Unknown! But who knows what is in Haneke’s mind?

Even if these films are watched chronologically, rather than the other way round, it might pop into mind that these two sets of characters were in some way part of an on-going story. They are, in a way, because they are taking the parts of the same type of characters: the marginal immigrant from North Africa and French-born son. Though one thing that is apparent from both films is that Haneke wants us to see that the boys in both films are French by birth, and yet still perceived as foreign, a threat, to the George and Anne’s (and Police) of the world. The difference between the two films is that in Code Unknown the boy is seen to be behaving inappropriately. A young, French-born Arab taunting a middle-class white woman in a metro train. With added irony – it is an immigrant (going by his age) not a white passenger who in the end defends her. part of Haneke’s purpose here, resumably is to show the races just don’t mix. For dramatic tension the North African man come to Anne’s defence once the absue is over and the two hooligans are about to leave the metro carriage. He squares up to the main culprit, but one feels after the damger has passed. In the horrible seconds, which seem like minutes, before he does so, he sits passively looking forward, not engaging as do the other passengers. We as viewers know full-well he and the other pasengers are petrified too. If they haven’t experienced a mugging, they know all about it from the media and the the prevelence of guns and knives.

This ‘paralysis of non-intervention’ is a universal theme: London, Paris, New York:  you might get yourself stabbed or shot in any big city. Even if you are morally and ethically aware of the need to act, it is ‘epoched’ for your own survival. So, although a French film with French issues, that bit travels easily to audiences from other cultures. In a Hollywood movie the good guy stands up a lot earlier.

In Caché, neither the Arab man or his French-born son are seen to be doing anything to upset George, except – in the case of the young man – to have the confidence to be able to defend himself verbally against accusations from George of being involved in the ‘harassment by video’. The father defends himself – but in a more passive way, stating simply and repeating it, that it wasn’t him – indicating that he feels less confident than his French-born son about his position in French society. The older man has of course, we see, clearly been beaten down by the circumstances of his life in France. He probably hasn’t got a job or any prospect of one any more,  living in the despiriting enviroment of the banlieu government housing blocks.

If you have watched Caché, you will know the father’s final response.  Both the simple denials, and the final shocking act, are the things that make those who watch these films who have read about France and its colonial past, reflect back on the gory history of relations between France and Algeria. Read Alistair Horne’s The Savage War of Peace, Algeria 1954-1962, to learn about the number of Algerians who died over the whole of France’s control of Algeria from 1830.

In the first long scene in Code Unknown, where many of the character’s lives cross – they are almost artificially put in conjuction with each other for a moment by the will of the director in his long tracking shot up and down the Boulevard – the tension is created by the assumption amongst the whites, including Anne, the two policemen, and onlookers that the young black African man, Amidou, (possibly here, taking the part of the born in France generation) has been accosting the brother of Anne’s boyfriend. The one person who knows the truth – the Romanian begger, Maria, who was at the centre of the incident – can’t speak French, but in any case, wanders away from it because she fears being caught for being an illlegal immigrant. Even when the young black man, Amidou, explains that Maria witnessed the whole thing,  pointing her out as she tries to scurry away, she is only dealt with by the police for her flouting of the law, not to find out from her who caused the fisticuffs between the two young men.

We later learn that Amidou has been roughed up at the police station,  but not that guilt has been established. All very nastily racist. One is tempted to say that this is particularly French racism. We have seen racism in US and European films, and on real streets, but they all have their own special features.

If you watched Caché before Code Unknown, you will immediately recognise the same rising anger in yourself recollecting the scene where George the TV presenter, gets angry with a black cyclist in the street, who appears to have done nothing wrong except cycle a bit too close to the two pedestrians, George and his wife Anne. Tellingly, in Code Unknown the young black man is pepared to argue back – here with the Police – just as the Walid Afkir character in Caché does with George. In that case it’s over the innocence of his father, who unlike his son, won’t really defend himself against George’s repeated accusations that he was behind the sending of ‘staking’ videos.

Whichever way round you watch these films, these scenes seem like reprises of each other – a standard confrontation between indigenous white and immigrant (or first generation French-born) black – all rather ugly. In the final scene in Caché there is a hint that the younger generations might be getting on better than their parents, but there is no such a resolution in Code Unknown. The general feel is of communities being widely separated. This is exemplified by the African family, who are given ample opportunity in long scenes to show how they live very un-French lives, strikingly shown by the women’s respect for the taxi driver (either as the head of the family, or as an elder of the community, or both), and how the mother of Amidou resorts to asking the elder/husband to interpret dreams she has had in what looks like voodoo minus the bones. The idea seems to be that [a] she hasn’t got out of her old superstitions despite living in a modern European democracy, [b] that this approach is all she has in a world where the immigrant is not treated on a par with the white.

In Caché, the middle-class intellectuals talking over diner about the iconic, real 1962 incident in Paris in which many Algerian protesters were shot by the Police and dumped in the Seine. There is no shame of guilt amongst the exclusively white diner ensemble. The historical incident has come to the fore in the film because George remembers the two immigrants who his parents looked after and had working on their farm, who had never come back from the demo.

Dennis Cozzalio’s description and analysis of Code Unknown is a good, clear starting point. Though there are a range of online responses to the film which tackle it in different ways. This tends to back up my idea that when you think about Haneke films you don’t often take them from the beginning and work through to the end.

Andrew Grant, of Benten Films, in is his film blog, like anna karina’s sweater:

A Crumpled Piece of Paper: Scattered & Inconsequential Musings on Code Unknown

makes a set of brief comments under 5 headings. In the first he neatly summaries the film:

….complexity or sublimity of Haneke’s meditation on racism and classism (amongst other things).

Handy, too, for the set of stills and his cinematographic analysis of the beggar scene.

I haven’t come to a overall conclusion, except that Haneke is not a director for standard movie resolutions. Or even explanations. Starting at the beginning and working my way through describing everything in the film has no appeal at all. Once you’ve read a dozen summeries and analyses by others, it seems rather superfluous. Although each viewer has his or her own particular places of interest, as I have.

It seems more fruitful to grab scenes and work to the centre (or the edge?), as it were. Like a mountain one thinks of climbing because it is there, having blog space means one tends to make marks of some sort, but leave gaps to add more.

Elbert Ventura in a post, Helping  Hand, tries the swimming pool scene. He begins with the discrepancy between the photo on the DVD cover

and what happens in the film (though strangely doesn’t begin with a graphic of it (above) to bring home the point, saying :

The cover art for the home video release of Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown is an eye-grabber: Juliette Binoche, head above water in a swimming pool, letting out a scream. Certain to draw in both the discerning and the dilettante, the cover is also something of a fraud. Code Unknown not only plays out nothing like the cover art—it’s the antithesis of it. That catchy picture is the work of either a really cynical distributor or a really prankish one.

He then includes a set of stills of the swimming pool scene to demonstrate these shots are cut conventionally, not in the long takes that are present elsewhere in the film. The reason he gives for this is:

Cutting within the scene, Haneke reverts to conventional film grammar—and, in the process, calls attention to the scene’s artifice.

Then :

It doesn’t take long to realize that we aren’t watching a scene in Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown but from something tentatively called “The Collector,” a film within Haneke’s film. In Code Unknown, Binoche plays an actress named Anne; in “The Collector,” Anne plays a woman in distress in what seems like a thoroughly generic thriller. The wonder of the pool scene is how Haneke takes that most mundane of tropes—the shot-reverse shot—and makes it strange, even revelatory. Juxtaposing it against a succession of Bazinian long takes, Haneke’s simple cut becomes a formalist critique of cinema.

I think Hanke would love this “Haneke’s simple cut becomes a formalist critique of cinema”.  But not necessarily in a positive sense.

[SEE  wiki: story within a story and wiki: Mise en abyme]


[ wiki: shot reverse shot and Part 4: Editing of Yale Film Analysis Guide ]

You don’t have to be a professsional film-maker to know though there are many tricks to be played on the viewer – for one’s own cinematic pleasure and/or for the purposes of a storyline. In the end there are limits to how confused one can make the audience using story, structure and cinematography.  If Haneke filmed and edited the film-within-a-film (s) identically to the rest of his film, we really would not know what was going on: he already projects the ‘story’ as a set of vignettes: sampling life:  “This is what I saw of it, you might have seen it differently if you had been around at the time.”

Watching that sequence (scene 35 of 43), which is the last film-within-film, we certainly might start ( because there is time in the shot) by asking where that man in the pool comes from – he’s not been in the film up to now – who is the kid and what is she doing in a penthouse swimmimg pool?  We might at first incorrectly assume it was just another part of Anne’s life Haneke was introducing almost at random. Was it something before or after? After all there are random cuts in the film that would put Godard to shame, so why not an unexplained scene from somewhere else in her life which bears no relation to the on-going events?

Once Anne has acted in a shot from her acting work (scene 4 ) we are cued to expect she might be in film-within-film again.  Anne is taking the part of  someone who seems to be locked in something like a rusty container.  (It turns out to be a room that has had its windows blocked off – in one shot Anne is shown opening a shutter to a newly bricked up window.)  Before she starts acting, she looks towards the camera in medium shot, listening to the director’s instructions from off-frame. Then we get her acting/emoting in close-up. There is a sharp cut – in the middle of her acting – to George the photographer’s brother sitting at a table eating.

I rather like the idea that the character Anne, played by the actress Binoche, taking a part in film[s] within a film, can magnificently express a heightened emotion that she might not be able to do as the character Anne in her own story. A good example of her real-life ineptitude being the supermarket shots with her boyfriend.

The next time Anne is shown doing some acting is scene 14. Almost immediately there is a shot from behind a mise en scene film crew, filming her as she enters a room as a character being given a viewing of a flat.

It is not until three-quarters of the way through Code Unkown that we see a scene (#36/43) of Anne dubbing sound onto the film. At first we might think it is Haneke directing the part Anne acts, but soon we see it’s a film director off shot in a film-within-a-film. We recognise someone else is directing this film-within-a-film, but see Haneke created, scripted and directed him it and him. Without slipping into unnecessary preciousness, we might say Haneke is responsible for his own style of filming and editing, and the director character (s) who control(s) the films with the film is ‘in control’ of his  standard filming and editing style. They are from separate film worlds. Even though everything in the film is Haneke’s.


I have a yen to to start in detail with Luc Delahaye’s “L’Autre” photographs. According to Darren Hughes in Long Pauses, the photographs in Code Unknown of the passengers in the metro carriage that George, the war photographer, takes surreptitiously from a camera hanging from his neck using a hidden cable release, are those of Delahaye. [wiki:Delahaye]  A set of 90 were published in a book. Michael Fried in AmericanSuburbX writes of them:

The cumulative effect as one turns the pages is hallucinatory in its intensity: The sameness of the compositional schema throws into relief not only the physiognomic distinctness of the individual subjects but equally their uniform determination, as it comes to seem, to absent themselves as much as possible from their immediate circumstances.

Haneke goes two stages back: we do not just see (and react to) the photographs as we might in a gallery or coffee table book. He shows us a montage of George’s Kosovo war photographs with a voice-over of George reading a letter out.  ( I was reminded at this poit for some reason of how Don McCullin went off war photography.) Then we see George (scene #24/43) sitting in Anne’s flat alone, relaxed, taking his time carefully preparing to go out to take photographs. He tightens a nut on the camera mounting, then practices putting the camera round his neck, with the strap adjusted to position the camera high up on his chest, checking in the mirror to see what it looks like (from the point of view of the oerson whose photo is being taken).

Anyone who uses a camera regularly in different ways might have felt a slight constriction at the unnaturally high position of George’s camera, wondering what he wanted to take pictures of. (For some reason I can’t explain, I was reminded of seeing a framed portrait of Nasser strapped high like that on the chest of an angry Baghdad University student we knew in the days just after the 1958 Iraq Revolution). But of course it means only one thing, he plans to take close-ups. Taking candid shots say from over 5 meters away, it’s fine to sling the camera at belly level, which feels comfortable, points the camera parallel to the ground, and does not look as if one is necessarily going to take a photo, just that the camera is being carried. There is no need for a cable release. No one notices you taking pictures because you are not holding the camera up to eye level.

George attaches a cable release which he hides under his clothes and practises using it. We hear the shutter release clicking. In the next scene, we see why he wants the high position when he sits down in the underground train carriage. This is confirmed by showing the line up between the camera and the head of the first person to sit opposite him with a camera angle over the woman’s left sholder.  Even so, it might have to have been a wide angle lens rather than 50mm, for him to be sure to get the heads in his photographs without framing by eye.

There is another way of cutting these scenes:leaving out George’s preparation for photography. First we see the war photographs and the commentary in the form of George’s letter, then we cut to George with a camera round his neck walking down a carriage to take a seat opposite a woman. It is a big jump, and requires a lot more filling in of gaps, but we can see immediately he is doing something different from what we assume is his metier, the war photographer.  And we would ask why and come to a conclusion. Putting in the build up stages, as Haneke does, allows the viewer to wonder what he is going to photograph, and then have it either confirmed or refuted by the shots of him taking clandestine photographs. And finally individual photographs of Delahaye’s of commuters are presented one by one.

Delahaye is quoted as saying:


(If you find the print on this snip too small right mouse it into another tab)

There is a much more nuts and bolts way to think about what a photograph is. Part of this is that it can lack a context. Whereas in Code Unknown both text and film have a before and after, an individual still — unless for example, it is a part of a set of closely consecutive frames show side by side which shows some sort of progression — has largely been removed from its context. It has also been removed from its context because it is a frame of a particular section of a view that existed at the time the photograph was taken. The shot in the film of the girl lying on the ground with what looks like a dead dog (this seems to be Luc Delahaye’s work, too) could have been framed slightly to the left, and standing to the side of the girl might be a western film crew, filming her distress close up. That is very different picture from what seems like desperately lonely girl needing help and support, and therefore a universal image.

A photograph on an art galley wall might have an inscription, say, Sarajevo 1993, which is like removing a piece of reality in the form of a still photograph – a particular place, a particular time – and stitching  to it a keyword to re-evoke a context. But what each individual  evokes when seeing the word Sarajevo will be different. Someone who had read and seen a great deal about Sarejevo and the Bosnian War will have a rich context, while the person who has no idea where Sarajevo is, will have little. That does not mean to say the photograph will not have an impact for the person who knows nothing of the place where it was taken, but it will be a very different experience. A dead body in Sarejevo is not the same as a dead body in a Chicago street because it has a different story behind it. If a photograph has no label, the viewer try to work out the context.

To say  ‘if an image is powerful enough, it resists us, if, by its obscure coherence, part of it escapes our understanding, then it means that something has been won from reality’ must be understood in that sort of  context as well.

A photograph has a set of correspondences with the real event it attempts to record, but all the signs and signifiers of the scene are not there in the photograph (for example, the smell and sound as missing), though cues to three-dimensionality and questions of figure-and-background are still available. These have to be ‘added back in’ by the person looking at the picture, from information in it, or simply by a process of mental evocation from sources outside the photograph.


Maybe Haneke thinks he can do the same thing with film that Delahaye thinks his photographs achieve. Hence, for example, he can cut off shots before their natural endings. to ‘win something from reality‘.


Without being able to explain why I see Haneke’s films (I’ve seen Cache and Code Unknown so far) as barometric films as opposed to others which might be termed chronometric.

An aneroid barometer with the moveable needle left where it was set 24 hours before, shows whether the air pressure has dropped or risen in that time and by how much. But a barometer without a moveable needle has this vital piece of information missing. A baromoter without a manual needle does not tell us whether the pressure has gone up or down and by how much in that 24 hour period, unless the readings have been recorded at regular intervals. The visual impact of seeing the two pointers compared is immediate, whereas referring to recorded data to work out if the current reading is higher or lower, is not. The fine detail is still missing from this image, however, because in the set time (say 24 hours) the moveable needle has been left in position, and the barometric pressure might have gone up and down and then back up again.

In a sense, Haneke’s cut of the clandestine camera scenes has shown fingers moving the two needles together, then cut to show the barometer with the needles apart. Which is not the same of two shots of a clock, showing time has advanced. The pressure changes are an indicator of what weather might be coming. And weather is a complex phenomenon.  A clock shows time has passed, and indicates that something  might have happened in the interval, that we don’t see or know about.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | Haneke, Michael Haneke | | Leave a comment

FILM WEBSITE The Worldwide celluloid Massacre

An encyclopedia of extreme, surreal, twisted and bizarre movies

This is a collection of brief film reviews/director profiles by Zev Toledano. I came across it when looking up Godard one more time.

Comparing the compactness of his interpretation of Godard with,say, the comprehensiveness/prolixity of the wiki: Jean-Luc Godard, ought to bring a smile to one’s face, if that face had seen some Godard films and read about him elsewhere.

After his succinct assessment of Godard he lists those Godard films he considers worth a try ( ‘of some interest’) and those he thinks are tosh (‘worthless’). À bout de souffle gets a mention (‘ …hand-held cameras, wild jump-cut editing, youthful undisciplined energy, whimsical narrative, exploratory cinema with people in the street as subjects, and other unconventional techniques’ ) but is in neither the ‘watch’ or ‘don’t bother’ category.

Today, reading Jim Emerson’s latest post led to Roger Ebert’s piece, The ecstasy of the filmmaker Herzog, on Werner Herzog attending a cinema interruptus viewing of Aguirre Wrath of God. A commenter, Mathew Walther, made a remark about the grammar of a sentence in the post. Ebert replied about having read Mathew’s blog. I checked it out and found the latest post, The Elephant in the street, part i, using the work of Kieslowski in examining Paul Schrader’s Transcendental Style in Film (which looks like a book one should avoid, going by this 4 page review). A quote attributed to Kieslowski:

I suspect there are a few hundred books in the world which have managed to achieve a full description of what lies within us. . . Literature can achieve this, cinema can’t. . . It’s not intelligent enough. . . it’s not equivocal enough.

took me straight back to Godard. Had he got the wrong medium? Perhaps he should have written novels. I needed an explanation of Godard between the simple clarity of Toledano, which was true but didn’t say enough, and the wiki entry, which it was possible to read all the way through and still not quite understand the essence of Godard.

I found an element of this essence on my bookshelf: Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film.

Writing about how jumps cuts hadn’t suddenly arrived with À Bout de souffle, describing the way they had been used in Dovzhenko’s Arsenal (1930), he mentions that Godard uses exactly the same number of jump cuts (nine) as in the Russian film, although he had written before about his dislike of jump cuts in certain Spanish films.

Cousins then goes on ( p. 271):

The shock attached to seeing jump cuts in À Bout de souffle arose because they were not there for any special psychological purpose, as they had been in Arsenal, nor were they wedded to quite traditional stories, as in the Spanish films. The reason for cutting the sequence in this way was because the cuts were beautiful in themselves, because they emphasised that what we were watching was cinema, just as painters had turned to cubism many years earlier because it emphasised the flatness of the canvas. Godard had been part of the magazine Cahiers du Cinema’s “think tank”. So immersed in cinema were Godard, Truffaut and others that they saw it not as something that captures real life, a mere medium, but as part of life, like money or unemployment. So, when they became filmmakers, movies were not just vehicles to carry stories and information or to portray feeling; they were also what those stories carried, part of the sensory experience of, say, sitting in a cafe watching the world go by.

In the next paragraph he goes on: “The subjects of their films were themselves, their erotic imagination, their fragility and alienation.”

April 13, 2010 Posted by | film [its techniques], Godard, Kieslowski, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Paul Schrader | | Leave a comment

FILM Concentrating on Kieslowski: Camera Buff (Amator) – A first viewing, and beyond

This post is meant for someone who has already seen Camera Buff and who is really into film. It is not especially a film review, nor is it exclusively analysis. I am not a film theorist: it’s all about going from the known to the unknown. This film seems as if it might be a pivot point for someone who is learning film because it’s somewhat a film about film.

Often what interests me is less than the total narrative. What I’ve written is not fully formed and subject to change. Some of it may be repetitive, incoherent or just plain wrong. I’ll get there in the end.

In the process of writing, I’ve been re-watched sections of the film using a DVD in a PC to get freeze-frame and also reading some of what is available online. Focusing on one brief film review (Canby) is a means of developing my thoughts, right or wrong, clear or confused. It may seem as if I’m picking on this now dead critic, when it’s just to have some jumping off points from which to work out my views.

By the way, I’ve recently come across the word amateur again in another context: lover of, as in this free dictionary history of the word: “I am no amateur of these melons”.

There is a growing list of possibly useful ref. material at the bottom of the post. Where possible I’ve linked to a reference in the text.


jerzy Stuhr as Filip Mosz in Kieslowski’s Camera Buff (1979)

In my mind, there isn’t as much of a distinction between documentary and fiction as there is between a good movie and a bad one.

Abbas Kiarostami


Cinema is not the reflection of reality, but the reality of the reflection.

Jean-Luc Godard


I don’t know what truth is. Truth is something unattainable. We can’t think we’re creating truth with a camera. But what we can do, is reveal something to viewers that allows them to discover their own truth.

Michel Brault

(quoted by Gary Morris in his Bright Lights of Cinema review of Peter Wintonick’s documentary: Cinema Vérité: the defining moment.)


Photography is truth. And Cinema is truth 24 frames a second.

Jean Luc Godard


The camera lies all the time. It lies 24 frames a second.

Brian De Palma



Wiki: Camera Buff

Cinematique Ontario

Noel Megahey DVD Times
review of AI DVD

Andrew L. Urban in Urban Cinefile:

……a story of how the camera changes his life, just as the film changed Kieslowski’s filmmaking career, setting him on a path of dramatic filmmaking, instead of documentaries.

The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski: variations on destiny and chance

By Marek Haltof

GoogleBook. The best comprehensive summary. Some analysis. Pages 42-46. 47-52 missing.

At the core:

“The camera enables him to see more, to go beyond the façade of things and to grow as a person and a political being.”

Camera Buff by Rahul Hamid in Senses of Cinema:

Filip (Jerzy Stuhr) buys his first camera during his wife’s pregnancy to record the development of his daughter-to-be. He is asked to record the twentieth anniversary of his state-run company, when the managers realise that he is the only one with a camera. As he makes the film his consciousness as a director is slowly awakened. The company head enters his film into an industrial film festival, facilitating Filip’s admission into the world of cinephilia. Anna (Ewa Pokas), an attractive member of the film commission, embodies this seduction. Through connections made at the festival, Filip is encouraged to make more documentaries, and even gets one aired on television. He finds that the camera exposes truths that do not gibe with the interests of the company, the state, or even the people being filmed. Filip’s total immersion into the world of film and his burgeoning ambitions as a filmmaker begin to destroy his marriage. We know that his obsession has completely taken over when he furtively peeps at his wife’s back, through a frame made by his fingers, after she has threatened to leave him. He has begun to filter and direct even the most real of events through the process of filmmaking.

This TV Guide review has a short summary of the story.

Dennis Schwartz summaries and briefly reviews Camera Buff

Barbara Bernstein in Movies-seivoM:

Filip faces the questions that Kieslowski has clearly asked himself. Is life filmed more important than life lived? Do movies have more than utilitarian value? Do his exposes of waste and corruption really serve the common good? Is he exploiting his subjects or celebrating them? Is he capturing reality or manipulating it?

Paul Clarke: Reviews by Request: Camera Buff (1979)

….the original title of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s early film Camera Buff is Amator, which roughly translates as Amateur. The difference between the two titles is telling. Whereas Camera Buff implies that the title character is a hobbyist or an enthusiast, the word “amateur” implies something more than that. The common definition of “amateur” is “non-professional”, but the root of the word is the Latin “amator”, or “lover.” In other words, someone who does something out of love.

Fernando F. Croce

“Cinema is the first art. Who said that?” “Lenin.”

Socialist Film Review:

There are two main struggles that run through the film, one psychological and one political. Psychologically, there is the struggle between a person’s need to create, to make something more important than himself, and his more basic needs, which are overrun by the destructive force of his creativity. In other words, as the camera is turned only on the outside world, the director destroys himself in order to amplify the world. It is in fact the act of ultimate courage to finally turn the camera on himself, after he has been neglecting himself for so long.

The second struggle is the political one. Again Kieślowski portrays the bureaucracy in Poland in a sophisticated way. It is not portrayed one-sidedly, but rather as something with its own internal logic. While some of the censorship that takes place appears to be linked to corruption, much of it is justified by those who do it because there are real social problems created for the community when Filip ignores the censors. But this is also a nuanced point: given an atmosphere of (self)-censorship, a bit of unusual information can be truly harmful; but without the censorship to begin with, maybe full information would not have the same effect.

It is worth reading the long essay by James Latham, “Your life is not a very good script”, David Holzman’s diary and documentary expression in late-1960s America and beyond, for Camera Buff study.


The late Vincent Canby‘s short October 3, 1980 NYT article reckoned Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary (1967)  did a better job than Camera Buff.  I haven’t seen the McBride except for {YouTube extract}. Camera Buff is not about mocking cinema verité (SEE links at bottom for cinema verite/ direct cinema ), which is what McBride was apparently trying to achieve: a review by ‘Phoust’ of Holzman in Amazon starts with “In the sixties Jean-Luc Godard claimed that film was truth 24 times a second. ” Another review by ‘HJ’ :

Holzman decides to film his everyday life to make it real, in the hope that some kind of truth about the meaning of his life will emerge. Instead, his obsessive filming alienates everyone; his girlfriend is replaced by a very fraught love/hate relationship with his camera…

… a 1960s spoof documentary satirizing the cinema verité movement of the period, showing that cinema, especially documentary, is voyeuristic and distorts rather than reveals truth

Another reviewer, Kyle Gillman:

Where Holzman succeeds the most is its ability to convey David’s infatuation with film and filmmaking. In his opening monologue, David tells us that “noted French wit Jean-Luc Godard called film ‘truth at 24 frames per second.’” David really believes in this, and it is an especially clever way to begin a 74 minute lie. There is a certain intoxicating naiveté to filmmakers with such an unabashed belief in the truth-telling properties of film. [My bold] And David’s glee as he walks through the city holding his camera over his head, to show off his new fish-eye lens attachment, is appealing. And perhaps the best scene in the film is a single extended shot of David’s friend Pepe tells David what the audience already knows; film is a complete disaster and was a terrible idea to begin with.


The beauty of Kieslowski’s fictional take on documentary film-making is the pared-down style ( Noel Murray in his review calls it docu-realism) which allows everyone to see the joins. This simplification might seem to make the ideas simplified, which is not the case. Notions of what film is and can do are never easy.Camera Buff pitches its sale by positing a simple, honest – though not stupid – hero trying to make a home movie who gets caught up in the magic of film-making.

Camera Buff was released in 1979.  Remarks Krzysztof Zanussi made in a 2001 interview, after Kieslowski’s death in 1997, included in the AI DVD extras, come to mind after Canby :

All the films were good from the beginning to the end. It is a tragic paradox of Krzysztof’s life that he was long undervalued outside Poland. The Moscow Film Festival success of Camera Buff didn’t open doors to the world. Later, the Cannes festival, initially dismissed his films, saying he was a local artist, of no wider interest.


He knew people’s opinion was fickle. One moment they dismiss, the next they praise. They dismissed Blind Chance, Camera Buff and No End.  It’s incredible how stupid the reviews were, how senseless. Suddenly everything became great. People looked at the films again, or for the first time.


He had been well esteemed in Poland but as “a good local artist”. Untrue. he was as universal at the beginning as at the end.


His films weren’t local, requiring special knowledge. We’ve seen Iranian films and understood the evil of suppression perfectly.


It’s an illusion of stupid critics and lazy audiences to consider a film local and incomprehensible.


Krzysztof was lazily, thoughtlessly dismissed. It takes a little bit of effort and faith to understand. In art there is no such thing as perception without effort. The artist gives, and the receiver has to believe that it is worthwhile. Sometimes there are artists who are boring and tiring with nothing of interest to say. Krzysztof was saying most beautiful things in that former Polish reality. the reality has changed, but the human dramas remain unchanged.

Canby wrote:

”Camera Buff” touches some of the same points explored far more perceptively and hilariously in Jim McBride’s American classic, ”David Holzman’s Diary.”

Much of the film means to be uproariously emotional, but the events we see seldom justify all the overwrought reactions.

Mr. Kieslowski also appears to suggest that art – in this case movie making – must be a process by which the artist consumes the raw materials of his experience and then spits them out as finished art, leaving the people around him in the state of gnawed beef bones. This is a vast oversimplification of the creative process and is probably only applicable, really, to the second-rater.

The director is on much firmer ground when he is satirizing the jargon of criticism and the clichés of film making. The film is funniest when it shows us Filip escaping from the various personal crises in his life by stepping outside himself and seeing it all as something to be caught in a viewfinder.

Krzysztof Zanussi, whose new Polish film, ”The Constant Factor,” is another New York festival entry, makes a brief, amusing appearance as himself, a successful director who offers sage advice to Filip and other young film makers.

Canby’s take on the art of film-making depicted in Kieslowski’s film seems way off beam. Maybe he didn’t watch the film too carefully. Maybe he couldn’t deal with – allow for – the cultural differences. If part of what he means is that people are effected by the power of film to the extent that they tend, at times, to believe film over life – that the art of film of their lives makes their lived lives seemed diminished – he may have a point. But is he saying this? Kieslowski himself may have been ruminating in this film that human lived lives can seem paltry after versions of them watched on film. There is at the core the simpler question about whether documentary can tell the truth, but it is as much about artistic freedom and censorship.

The phrase, “..the destructiveness of conscious artistic intervention is used by Dana B. Polan, in Brecht and the politics of self-reflexive cinema.

Kieslowski may be satirising the poseurs in the amateur (and players the professional) film world through his depiction of various characters at the film festival, including Filip’s mentor, Anna, who might be a film/media groupie. But he is not being cynical when he shows how enthusiastic ordinary people are by seeing themselves in film. They genuinely take pleasure in Filip enjoying his growing success in film-making. All his has to be seen in the context of a repressed society.

Filip’s films are eventually shown on TV: he becomes a local celebrity. But his subjects have been the very locals who now see him as a celebrity. They are liberated from the drabness of their lives by having the spotlight put on them through Filip, who in turn seems to be moving up and possibly out.

Filip’s first film, Jubilee, documents the 25th. anniversary of the factory. It wins 3rd. prize (there is no 1st. prize – they think theyr’e all pretty bad!) at the amateur fillm competition in Lodz. His mentor Ana is on the committee. She later tells him his film is not good but she wants to encourage him.

Filip’s second film celebrates the life of factory worker, Wawrzwec, a dwarf. The TV company have accepted it for transmission. Family and friends sit down to watch the finished super-8 film on TV. Wawrzwec is soon overcome: he can’t watch the film all the way through. Filip leaves the rest watching the film to comfort Wawrzwec.



Kieslowski is claiming film can do this kind of thing is a special way.

In any case, here is the juxtaposition of the witnessed life lived (these people all know Wawrzwec) and film depiction. He may have been moved by the way he was presented; he is certainly moved in some way the film does not precisely show; he is pleased, but also overwhelmed. Film (and here, we might forget, it is a novice’s documentary efforts…) has made him a star in the face of his very ordinariness. He has knuckled down for 25 years to a pretty thankless job, but not come out of it bitter. Has the film created a character called Wawrzwec who bears some resemblance to the real life person, but is not him? Or has it captured the truth of the man in the edits of the short film? We don’t know because we don’t really see the whole of the film. We can’t judge based on what we see of the man in the film we are watching or the film make of him. We can only wonder if this is what film does.

This all makes better sense if we know Kieslowski’s early career was in documentary film-making. Thomas Hibbs’ piece, Kieslowski’s Inescapable Moral Horizons, might be worth reading at this point.

We, the audience, see some of the completed Wawrzwec documentary when family and friends watch it on TV. Earlier, we see Filip shooting scenes for the film. In one sequence they follow him from the washroom to his lockers, the harsh camera light carried by Witek, Filip filming, and Wawrzwec, and other workers all crammed into a narrow room. In another shot, Filip executes an obviously planned pan. First, he films through a large window as the workers – the hero of the documentary, Wawrzwec in front – walk out of the factory, then he pans through about 45º to film through what soon becomes apparent is a smaller frosted glass window in the upper part of a door.

A second or so into this frosted-door shot – we see just enough to see an unfocused head or two passing left to right – the filming is blocked by factory manager Halski putting his hand in front of the lens. Kieslowski has offered us an opportunity to see what is in the mind of the Filip the film-maker. Kieslowski does not cut in a shot from Halski’s point of view, immediately after his hand goes to the lens: a shot that would have been filmed from the door side, with Halski in front to of Filip holding the camera. Instead we continue to be shown proceedings from behind the documentarist’s shoulder.

We see what Filip would have filmed if he had been allowed to: a procession of unidentifiable heads moving across the door window. We have a clearer idea of Filip’s cinematographic and filmic intent confirmed once Wawrzwec opens the door to ask if the shot went o.k. We see that it is indeed a visual expression, as eloquently as it is possible to say it in words or images, about how Wawrzwec triumphs over adversity. Filip is clearly a film-maker with flair.

And yet, we must remind ourselves, we are not watching a documentary but a scripted movie showing us all this going on! We are looking through one window into another. And yet by the style of filming, we tend to see it through the eyes of Filip.

At the same time as we get a satisfying cinematic explanation in the movie, about how a documentary-maker can achieve such an exposition, we are getting the hint from Kieslowski — a renowned documentary film-maker in Poland before he was known in the West for his feature films — of his later expressed belief (e.g., Kieslowski on Kieslowski) that fiction can tell the truth more sincerely than documentary. He does this by choosing a scripted fiction film as the vehicle rather than a documentary film of a documentary-maker!

What might have upset factory manager Halski is suggested visually. He suddenly appears in shot from the right, blocking the lens with his hand, loudly demanding what Filip is doing. The immediate short dialogue between Filip and Halski tells us Halski is unhappy with Filip using a dwarf to represent a model worker in his factory, but not if he has seen Filip’s cinematographic and aesthetic intent. He doesn’t ask him to explain what he was trying to achieve by filming in the way he was. The final action this scene has Filip thumbing his chin at the back of the departing Halski, showing us Filip intends to control the documentary. He is finding his feet. He dissimulates in his remarks to Halski in order to create the film he wants, planning to circumvent the censorship the apparatchik wants to impose. In other words, he seen as intelligent enough to know how to make films that get around the control and censorship, which is what Kieslowski himself had to do as a documentary film -maker: he stopped making documentaries when a film he made of a railaway station was conviscated by the authorities. He suspected they wanted to indentify people.

Our view of the Wawrzwec/frosted glass shot is the manager interrupting filming, with a flicker left to right of unknown heads passing the opaque window behind him. We are left wondering whether it is the filming of the dwarf, per se, that irks Halski, or whether it is the subtle way Filip choose to achieve this panned shot without a direct reference to his diminutive stature. What did Halski he see? He says:”What are you doing? Stop that.” Did he realise the dwarf was too short to be seen through the frosted window? Or was he simply unaware of the subject of the film till this point? (After his first film, Halski has told Filip to let him know what he is planning to film. Filip replies, “You mean you want a script?”)

Later we understand, if we did not before, or immediately the blurry heads moving across the ‘screen’ formed by the small window in the door: it is telegraphed by Wawrzwec opening the door to show his height compared to the frosted window – the level of the window in the door means that the hero of Filip’s film will not be seen in the ‘second’ part of the pan.


The ensuing dialogue between Filip and Halski tells us specifically the manager was concerned filming the midget was making fun of him (and so, of course, the organisation). Why couldn’t he chose some else, he asks. This dialogue between Filip and manager, another mini-essay on film, about the filmmaker knowing what he is creating and the non-filmmaker being unable to understand. Or is it?  It does show the manager knows perfectly well – with none of the filmmakers knowledge – film can be used for negative as well as positive: not so hard, since every one has seen enough films to know how it can work. He asks Filip why he chose that particular worker. Is he, he asks, trying to make fun of him? We are getting Kieslowski’s development of a character who seems at first to be a hardened, cynical man who knows how to play the system to protect himself and his workers.

When Halski leaves, Witek asks Filip what Halski had wanted. He indicates he wanted to censor his work. Filip flicks his chin with his fist, in what presumably is the Polish equivalent of a ‘V’ sign.

This process, in a few shots and a few lines of dialogue, is in itself an essay on how all-pervasive film and film thinking is, even at an intuitive or subconscious level. Most cinematographic tricks are familiar to viewers.

Other ‘essays’ in the film make the point that the documentary filmmaking process (as, too, the fiction movie) has limits: the person, admiring the Mona Lisa’s smile in the Louvre may suddenly get a pang of seeming comprehension of how its painter might have come to see the smile he then painted, but they do not know how it was painted. (There is one way in which the viewer of the painting can understand how the smile works: it is said that women of the time learned to smile with one side of the mouth.) That is special and unique to Leonardo Da Vinci. Only part of any film is ‘accessible’ in this sense. Yes, all the director does to achieve this is to splice segments of his film together in a particular order – but what an order and what an effect!

Here it might be useful to put what Marek Haltof says on page 43 The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski: Variations on destiny and Chance:

….Kieślowski produces a self-reflexive film – a meditation on film-making, its pleasures and dangers, an essay about being faithful to oneself and personal sacrifice, as well as about the responsibilities of being an artist.

The best complete summary of camera Buff is in this book.

Quite early on in Camera Buff , Kieslowski is wanting to ask if film — by its very nature — always does certain things which are less that the truth. In particular, it is well known that Kieslowsi was, by inclination, predominantly an editor. That is, of all the processes involved in making a film, he got most fun out editing, feeling he was creating the film at this stage in a way he wasn’t when on location. He said he filmed shots with editing in mind:  he made sure to get extra material that is often seen to be needed only after the editing process begins. It would be interesting to see how film-makers vary on that: whether this care with shooting enough material can be said to Kieslowskian or a relative commonplace of filmmaking.

The question of the style by which he created his films – the balance between filming and editing  – and what bearing this might have on examining in detail a film like Camera Buff, could also be examined.

Few, on reflection – filmmaker or audience – come to believe that film does the job of depicting truth better that real life operations in the real world. Kieslowski’s own journey, from documentary to feature film, illustrated the truth of this. He came to believe fiction film could reflect truth better than documentary. However, this can be explained by both his learning about the capacities and limits of film as he made them, and that his documentaries were so often censored by the authorities. In one case a film of his was confiscated.


Though many films that have done the job of highlighting some problem, or helped bring some injustice to a wide audience, films of themselves have never been the end of the story.  Reviewers and critics of films often seem to treat film as a medium as a straw dog. The severe critic of films seems to have his cake and eat it, both saying film is never going to truly reflect things – it can’t by it nature and limitations; a few licks to many (or too few) of paint on the canvas can leave it over-painted or incomplete (which is, in any case, a perennial thought in the mind of the serious filmmaker) – while himself having viewed the whole of a particular story through the window a particular film-maker has made for him..

Canby’s remark about Camera Buff: “The film is funniest when it shows us Filip escaping from the various personal crises in his life by stepping outside himself and seeing it all as something to be caught in a viewfinder”, can be expanded.  Perhaps it could be expressed this way: there are two counterpoised essays in Camera Buff , one, how art can accurately reflect life in ways that lived life can’t: it can see into things in a way that personally examined life fails to; two, how life is life and art is art: any feeling that art gets close to the truth being an illusion of technique and psychology.

Some think art (film) can enhance what humans intuit and decide without being able exactly to explain what and in what way.

Camera Buff itself uses another director, Kryzysztof Zanussi and his film, Camouflage, as a way to examine this dilemma. Filip asks a secretary at his work what’s on. She tells him Zanussi’s Camouflage is on, and that the director himself is doing a talk afterwards. The Q and A has the following dialogue:

Q. Is it enough for a director to believe he is telling the truth? Or should he try to verify it?

Z. He must. And there lies out eternal dilemma. Wondering if what we’re saying is objectively true, or wise, without being able to specify how it can be tested.

Each of us hopes that his film will help someone. That it will change society. But let’s face the facts. We are no longer alchemists of the soul, capable of changing the world. Criteria are relative. There are no hard and fast rules. We don’t know. And this uncertainty is our strength. It’s what drives us to say things over and over again. Differently, more tellingly, more precisely.

When the audience meet Zanussi after the Q and A, someone ask him, “Did you study another subject?”. Physics he says. To me this says: quantum indeterminacy.

Balanced within these views or approaches is the strangeness, peculiarity, uniqueness of film that by its nature has always seemed to reflect life in way that other arts didn’t or couldn’t. More people have probably watched films than read books in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Even if art, music, literature get to the heart of what is to be human, film -clearly recognised as an artefact by the viewer, who is nonetheless happy to suspend disbelief once the lights go down – psychologically seemed to be part of some symbiotic understanding of the world to a greater degree than books paintings or music, despite coming later as a technology

The hero of Camera Buff is caught between the two arguments. He does begin to believe he can mediate life through his films, but is seen to be just as much part of life without film, all the way through the story. Though for him film seems to squeeze out life – the natural process of a learner film-maker – experienced filmmakers do not think or act like this.


In the end, Filip decides he can’t trust filming others to tell the truth, so turns to filming himself and his own thoughts. Presumably he continues to find solace in film, still believing that is a powerful medium, armed with the only logical answer he can find to such problems — involve himself — as to whether it is voyeuristic and distorts the truth.

This also gets around one problem highlighted in Camera Buff of editing a film into a shape which has unintended consequences. Aesthetics can play a part in this: how prettily a film is may actually distort the truth it was to meant to help faithfully mirror and amplify.

What Canby fails to do in his review – so providing a valuable service to someone trying to deeply examine Camera Buff as a means to answering fundamental questions about film – is to say Filip (through Kieslowski, the omnipotent filmmaker – a standard film-makers joke) has created the problem of this viewfinder’s eye of the world and is, in the film, coming to a resolution of the dilemma. Kieslowki is clearly making fun of, though gently, this process through which a novice filmmaker goes, hinting he himself has been there, done that.

To begin with becoming fixated on film is for Canby to have put into the mind of the prospective viewer the notion that that is what Camera Buff is about in it’s entirety. This is to dismiss the rest of what is going on. Filip has persistent human concerns that run in parallel to his film-making. And he is clearly seen to be expressing his humanity with and without a camera.

In the process of learning to make films, Filip realises there can be unintended consequences.

His wife leaves him because he won’t stop making films: he doesn’t want her to go, exactly, but he wants to carry on filming more than he wants her to stay. Filip can’t resist viewfinding her back through his fingers as she goes through the door. She suddenly turns to look at him: he quickly drops his arms before she sees. Or did she see?  It is obvious from his response, once she has gone, that he accepts he will never be able to make films with her around.

At one point, he destroys his film on the brickworks before it has had an audience: he has been told the film will adversely effect the workers he thought he might be helping.

In the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera highlights a similar problem when Tomas publishes a letter in a magazine comparing the Czech Communists to Oedipus. If I remember rightly, someone at the magazine gets it in the neck as a result of the article.  At least Filip, once told by his boss some of the reasons why the brick factory is idle, despite being proud of his film, can see ahead to the unwanted results it may provoke.

Underlying all this, is the journey in documentary film-making under political oppression that Kieslowski himself travelled. In this review of Monika Maurer’s The Pocket Essential Kieslowski, there is a brief mention of what made Kieslowski turn from documentary making to fiction:

In her comments on one of Kieslowski’s earlier features Camera Buff (Amator, 1979), Monika Maurer says: ‘Like his protagonist, Kieslowski also rejected the documentary form of film-making, and for similar reasons. When the militia confiscated some footage that the director had shot at Warsaw Central Station, Kieslowski dropped an activity that could, however unwittingly, potentially aid the powers that be.’

Canby asserts the emotions in Camera Buff are overplayed. I can’t see this. Maybe Poles act differently to situations than Americans? Canby may suggest this sense of emotions being exaggerated because the acting is filmed in a quasi-documentary (or para-documentary ) style.

If he had been able to understand the system under which these characters were living, he might have been less harsh on the depiction.  Zanussi in his 2001 interview says that the film talks about little opportunity, when in reality there was none whatsoever.  Living under an oppressive government and state machinery, Filip is overwhelmed because he has a chance to do more interesting and rewarding work, which he sees as having a social role.  The others in the works film club are as excited as Filip by the prospects of being filmmakers. Everyone else encourages him even though won’t get the chance he has.

There seems to be a perfect logic in making Mrs. Mosz over emotional. She’s got to be het-up enough to leave Mr. Mosz.

In any case Kieslowski is not here or in his later fiction films making realist drama.


Canby was obviously someone who didn’t want to be behind a viewfinder.  He takes Mrs. Mosz’s part! The half jealousy, half-incomprehension, doing the job of pointing out that film is not just ‘a writing down’ of what people have done. The role of the manager in trying to control the end result of Filip’s film output is another essay on how film is not to be assumed to be a mere dry recording of events in a bureaucratic report; how the artist’s eye can conflict with the feared message; an extra ingredient the film-maker put into his film which lifts it above recording beyond the mere facts; what makes film an art which can produce great art.

For Mrs. Mosz’s part, though she seems not to want to know anything about cameras and film, it’s more than that. It turns from mild interest in what her husband is doing in his new hobby, through to a desire that he does not succeed as a film-maker (some inclining of what this will mean for their future). Mrs. Mosz was initially happy for Filip to make a home-movie of their newly born daughter. However, when Filip asks her to re-enact scenes which he did not get as they happened, she gets irritated. At one point, as he films the baby in the baby chair, books supporting one of the legs fall away, causing the chair to tilt. She rushes to pick up baby, but he shouts at her, “Not yet”, then directs her to move into shot. She does as she is told, but afterwards sarcastically suggests he would have let baby fall to get a good shot. This a pivotal point in the movie, where Filip moves from recorder of events to film-maker.

Another scene examining the truthfulness of documentray fiom-making is the one where he films a pigeon on a window sill as he waits in a corridor to film the toing and froings of committee members of the factory’s 25th. anniversary celebrations.

These are both essays on the default position of documentary film, that it is never just what is there, but some other reality which is imposed by the process of filming. It is a universal cliché of home-movies that the participants are often seen to be acting up for the camera:reflexivity. Those who are interested in documentaries and study them cinematographically, know many contain elements of reconstruction in the same way that Filip’s baby shot is. Often a conversation is not the first conversation, but a re-filming of a conversation: the film-maker wants a better version.

This debate about documentary film, in its turn, reflects another essay: that the non-filmmaker does not know what film is about and can produce, so cannot really criticise it in the way another filmmaker or film student can.

Camera Buff starts with the Mosz’s happy with their simple, quiet life together, so Mrs. Mosz looks upon his change of heart – taking up the camera and neglecting her – as a betrayal. Later, as he catches the Łódź the train for the amateur film competition, she shouts “Don’t win!”. He doesn’t hear her amongst the noise of station.

Some people protest about cameras about them: they are said to remove, degrade, or interfere with life, with the soul of a social event. Reminiscent of the thought experiment, Schrödinger’s Cat, it is also question that underlies cinema verité/ free cinema/direct cinema/ candid eye.


Canby in his review of Film Buff can only be assuming looking through a viewfinder is not ‘seeing’ the wider world the camera is not recording. Filip’s starts off filming everything that moves, but this settles down into filming what he needs to make his movies. A scene depicts Filip’s first use of his super-8: at a party of friends celebrating the birth of his daughter, he removes the camera from its case and it is passed around the guests. There is telling shot in which a girl points the camera at Filip the wrong way round: Filip retrieves it and films the girl, then pans round the room, in an arc, till he sees through the camera (though it is not a through-the-lens camera) the TV screen, which is showing piano recital. He films the screen for a few seconds and then puts the camera down to remark that he is a fine musician. Kieslowki is mapping the territory: Filip is both being a cameraman and a human being. Though the running gag of the film is its cinematic reflexivity, it is still, Kieslowski is telling us, a drama about lived lives.

Filip’s camera is always shown up and down.  He looks at the scene as a whole in order to select what to focus on with the camera.  A camera viewfinder does focus the eye on less of the total view: someone standing nearby might witness more while the camera man looks through his viewfinder. This is the metaphor of all cinematically self-reflexive films: that the lens can minutely examine something the eye might not see.

As Filip shows, as he learns to use the camera, he can move it around to look at anything he wants, just as eyes do (Piotrek and his mother). Though we know the peripheral vision is reduced when a scene is viewed through an eyepiece.  On other occasions he puts the camera down and looks directly with his eyes at the object of his kino-eye. In various shots he is seen carefully examining a scene without filming it afterwards (e.g. wife walks away from factory: he is about to film her but restrains himself).  It seems rather pedantic but necessary to spell it out so that someone like Canby can’t get away with unthoughtful assertions just because he apparently does like (despite being a film reviewer…) life being mediated through a lens.


What struck me as really funny about Canby’s remarks, highlighted in bold in the quote above, is it is as if he forgets to make sure his readers know that Kieslowski has made an assured film drama about a man with an amateur camera trying to making documentaries. It is as if Canby has himself has forgotten Filip is a scripted character. By comparison, David Holzman’s Diary is the classic mockumentary, which though a scripted fiction, is filmed as if it was itself a documentary. This is achieved by the the cameraman, Holzman, filming himself as much as others.

No, Canby knows it’s a fiction, but his remark “This is a vast oversimplification of the creative process and is probably only applicable, really, to the second-rater” shows his form of words confuses Kieslowski’s vast understanding of documentary which shines through Camera Buff time and again with the character Filip as naive film-maker: the fiction film portrays the process his hero goes through to learn the true art of documentary. That is to say, this is film as a series of essays on the nature of film and film documentary. It is a film which is going to be viewed by people who are happy with nuance and the elliptical, but who are not necessarily totally au fait with the arcane art of documentary film-making. 

I was going to write: Canby is confused. This is clearly not true. But he has used a form of words which suggests the auteur doesn’t understand the complexities of documentary film-making because his fictional hero learns the art of film in simple stages. It is lightbulb clear, as we watch the film, Kieslowski understands perfectly. Camera Buff the movie is itself a kind of documentary expressing his knowledge of his art; how he explains Filip learning it; the gap between the two; the pitfalls.

Kieslowski is playing with notions of what it must be like for a complete novice to start from scratch. Kieslowsi went to film school and so was taught the film arts. He in no way can be said to have done what Filip did, even if, in a sense, we are witnessing the stages through which Kieslowsi came to understand the problems of documentary making. That is because Kieslowski was taught how to do it, and Filip Mosz taught himself.

One of the things Camera Buff shows is skill at making a film and the understanding of the limits and dangers of documentary film-making can be separated.





On my watching, it was clear that Kieslowski presents, visually and in dialogue, a series of complex, subtle ideas about documentary film-making, at which he was a master before becoming a feature film-maker. The use of a semi-documentary style of cinematography in a feature film about documentary film-making is a subtler approach than documentary recording of documentary film. There is nothing simplistic, as Canby says in his short review, except the uncluttered style: certainly not in Filip’s struggle to learn film-making and his epiphanies about the film art.  What is shown is a stage-by-stage process by which Filip moves towards being a good film-maker.

The four photos above of a sequence of shots lasting about 30 seconds, shows how Filip already has a grasp of what documentary making involves. We are even shown in these shots his dogged persistence in having a go, when others are trying to stop him. First, the side window shot, then through the frosted glass of the door. Manager Halski intervenes to put his hand over the camera.  Immediately Wawrzwec, the star of the documentary, opens the door to ask how the shot had gone. The essay is complete: if you did not get it from the brief shot through the frosted glass of the door, as a few blurred heads move across the smaller window like a monitor or TV screen, you get it when you see how tall Wawrzwec is in relation to the door.

There is telling moment at the beginning of this sequence, with Wawrzwec walking towards the camera: using freeze frame on a PC moving the video on very slowly, he can be seen looking directly at the camera for a fraction of a second as if to say, “Am I doing it right?”. The whole of this sequence – including this almost sublimal act, the way Filip films it, and Wawrzwec opening the door to confirm the method Filip was emplying to visually describe what he could not in dialogue – though in narrative terms concerning censorship and artistic freedom, is also the essay, What is documentary film?, which started with Filip coaching the pigeon on the window sill.

There is a essay in Off screen Journal by Randolph Jordan, The Gap: Documentary Truth between Reality and perception, which rather laboriously deals with some of this question. Camra Buff, as a whole, can be seen in these terms, as an intermediary stage between fiction and documentrary film. All very neat: Kieslowski himself moved from documentary film-maker to movie.

Camera Buff was particularly moving to me because several years ago, I too started out, like Filip, filming everything that moved – with a HDDV camera rather than a hand cranked super 8 – and I too, later, came up against what effect a documentary I was trying edit into shape would and could have. At first, the sheer excitement of seeing how one could pre-empt shots – plan a set of shot positions; plan to shoot various alternatives; take more video than one knew would be needed in the final film; how effective soundtrack and voice-over were in different combinations: even think of music as one filmed – and then, in the shaping of the final film, the pleasure in having one’s hunches about what to film confirmed in editing, can override notions of truth in documentary. In the process of technically making a film you are missing the point about truth.  Kieslowski shows without ambiguity that you can’t be a serious film-maker and not realise at some point there is a problem of whether your film reflects  the truth.

Two points about Kieslowski: one, he admitted to making the same film over and over, and that Camera Buff clearly runs through all these permutations. One of the clever ways he has done this it to have the script itself disguise some of these purely filmic problems. There is a story about people in there as well as one about film-making.

It became evident as I tried to edit my video, I had managed to film some sort of narrative I had partially preordained but that (a) I hadn’t got enough video, and (b) there were many different ways of telling the same story. In Filip’s first attempt – which he recognises, even at the editing stage, hasn’t got enough footage – with the added complication several pieces of footage he really wants to included have to be left out by censorship – he is shown to have had some sort of innate imaginative flair: It is almost as if he himself is surprised by it, not being able to say why he for example chose to film the white pigeon. Which, in its turn, may be Kieslowski saying there are givens, defaults in a way, which anyone attempting to make a film documentary will soon see, or should if they have any cinematic, filmic, moral and aesthetic sense. Or, more slyly, that those who are going to end up good film-makers will. And, finally, that those who haven’t a clue and could do it, can none the less understand by imagination, what is involved. Or, indeed, that despite never going to be documentary film-makers, they should understand.

Kieslowski unburdens Filip – a novice film-maker in the process of learning-by-doing, yet with natural flair – from some of these  difficulties by having his works director telling him he can’t put certain scenes in. This is like Kieslowski saying, “This is what might happen at film school”: Poland under the communists. A script device to both show the censorship and to compress the process of Filip getting to the tipping point into proper film-making quicker. At the time of filming, Filip’s boss tells him not to put in shots of members of the committee going to and from the toilet. Before this, he has also prevented Filip from filming in the committee room itself, so Filip stands about in the corridor, frustrated, wondering what to film to make his story work. We are seeing, well telegraphed, that he does see a story ahead of time. He is not just filming first and thinking later. We are shown the imaginative process of a film-maker quite clearly. Though he seems a simple guy, he is shown to have artistic flair.

There is another telling scene in the corridor of the meeting. As he puts bread crumbs on the window sill, Filip sees a figure down below walking way, who he realises is his wife. There is a shot of her walking away. Then a close-up of him looking at the super-8 and shrugging. He knows his wife would not be happy if he filmed her. Or, it is Kieslowki saying he is beginning to overcome the shoot-anything-because-I-have-a-camera-syndrome. Filip is learning to focus on the film he has projected in his mind. That that is what film-makers do even if they are documenting events as they occur. The white pigeon part of the story may seem like an attempt to show he can be distracted into filming things that are irrelevant to the film. But I see Filip instinctively seeing a visual metaphor and shooting it. It is no accident the bird is white as far as Kieslowski is concerned!

Filip wants pigeon and toilet, though at this stage (and we never see the completed edit) it is not clear how he will include them and how. After taking the footage of two men walking along the corridor to the toilets and then returning to the room, the director comes out to tell Filip not to film men going to the toilet. This is the first hint it is not going to be Filip’s film. Yet, he has his white pigeon footage to bargain with. Let me put that in, I’ll leave out the toilet. That is what in the end is agreed. Kieslowki is talking about his on experience as a film-maker.

Here, though it seems like plain censorship in an oppressive state, with the company man automatically pre-empting what he knows his superiors will not want, Kieslowski is also telescoping Filip’s learning process by having another character point out what Kieslowski might have done in a talk on documentary film making, or that film student might learn at film school in more general terms about documentary film-making.

Camera Buff was released in 1979, in the thick of the communist era still.  Solidarity began stirring the waters in 1980.  It was a Polish film made by a Pole, which Poles at that time would completely understand. At the same time, for those with a clear view, not in such a system, the universal themes are there: highly transferable as Zanussi says. The viewer who comes to such a film understanding Kieslowski uses documentaries to get round the system, and tell the truth as he saw in it in a world where there was heavy censorship, would appreciate Camera Buff more.


There is a sense that Kieslowski is always in his own films, feature or documentary.  I like that. Here, as part of Filip learning his trade, or as some other character or part of the narrative. Or, in Red , where he is interpreted as being Judge Kern in some way while at the same time interposing himself as director, with a director’s powers to manipulate his own film, even if by so doing things included do not make any sense to the narrative. Some include the idea that since Kern is a Judge, he also represents God, the ultimate Judge. It is fine as an idea, but I don’t see it in the film.

In Camera Buff the wife’s displeasure at all this filming, hints at the “Why film, it only spoils things?” question, which runs throughout the film.  It is not just she  wants her man, taken away from him by his new hobby. She is Everyman who doesn’t see the point of filming things you can see anyway. Photographers who snap things in group settings are often barracked for spoiling the vibe. To record what you see, and in the process record the way you have seen, your choices of what to take and what not to, to be examined later, is not something a  non-photographer might grasp. Canby hints at this business with his remark:

Like many movies about movie nuts who are as committed as Filip, Camera Buff manifests a strong sense of self-importance. It seems to share Filip’s conviction that there is something magical about the camera itself, sometimes confusing the importance of the object photographed with the camera that does the photographing.

This is the opinion of someone who may have taken some family snaps but who never got as far as a genius like Kieslowski: a man, with his deep knowledge of cinematography, who would never confuse camera with object photographed. His films were long meditation on these sorts of things.

Filip when filming his works conference, his first ‘commission’, Jubilee, realises this too. Afterwards, as he edits what he has filmed, despite having the insight – the desire, which hints at a natural film-maker – to film extraneous detail such as the white pigeon on the windowsill. Note Kieslowski here, has him not just filming the pigeon, but putting bread on the windowsill to make the pigeon come back, so he can film this. This is a question Kieslowki is asking about what documentary is and is not. It should  lead the perceptive viewer to  realising that the act of manipulating events can be separated from the camera recording them.


There are quite well-known events which are known to have have been stage managed, and therefore are not ‘the truth’. One that springs to mind is the Romanian Revolution, which was both witnessed by the people living there and by  the world’s media. It was later established that the shooting that went on was in fact a choreographed  scenario in which disaffected sections of Ceaucescu’s regime posed as revolutionaries, in order to depose him.  In some cases they couldn’t even be bothered to wear suitable disguise, so that men in blue uniforms were doing the shooting! This all became clear when details such as the supplies of food that the ‘revolutionaries’ had organised for themselves as part of their privileges as part of the regime.

We are inured to simpler versions of ‘untruth’ every day in the modern TV age with the ubiquitous walking-to-camera, walking-past-camera, nodding, and door opening and closing shots: hackneyed shorthand which directors deem necessary or use without thinking.

When you only watch your own national TV, as here the BBC, you are not necessarily aware of how distorting the presentations are. During the Bosnian crisis, a French TV report was  shown on British TV. The style of  camera world was a revelation. It exposed the nature of the BBC reporting as largely replying on second-hand reports and post-facto filming. A reporter talking to camera. The French report showed obvious real0time video of a camera team struggling up cobbled streets to enter into the courtyard of a house, and immediately interview a family. The difference between the two was so shocking different, I never took much interest in British TV reports from then on.


Initially I solved my own problem of not having enough video to edit, by deciding to do my own talking heads, turning the camera on myself in the way I later saw Kieslowski makes Filip do in the final shot of the film. Kieslowski does this in order to show Filip has recognised the question that has crept into his mind after having done enough practical film-making to become aware of the problem of truth in film. He has made the character a complete naive to enhance the effect of the journey of discovery.


In later debates with someone who was not into film-making, or even film watching, I was asked whether I was seeing my documentary too much from my point of view.


There is a scene in Camera Buff where a black van, which is soon seen to be a hearse, then an empty hearse, speeds along the streets and out of sight, right. Filip is a passenger. Later in another part of the story – Filip with his camera in the street outside the blocks of flats – a back van drives up.  It is a friend of Filip’s who lives in the same block of flats. He is keen for Filip to film him, so drives the hearse off over a piece of hilly waste ground and back, to provide some action. Filip is seen with the camera to his eye complaining he is driving too fast ( to catch the action). Then his friend gets out to pose in front of the hearse:  Filip films him calling up to his mother at a flat window, high up. The camera turns from friend to his mother and back as the friend tells his mother he is being filmed. Later, mother dies. (is this with the super 8 or the 16 mm ?)

Piotrek is not at his mother’s funeral. Filip attends with his camera assistant, Witek, without camera. A later scene shows Filip’s wife crying: the implication she regrets telling Filip not to take his camera to the funeral. They find Piotrek barrackaded into his room with a wardrobe against the back of the door, which they have to push away. He is sitting still at a table. They console him.  He tells them he couldn’t face seeing her buried. He then asks Filip if he can see the film. We see him being shown (and see it ourselves) the footage Filip has taken of the Piotrek/black van/driving/mother conversation.  No funeral.  But he can see his mother at the window, talking back down to him, and marvels : “What you’re doing is beautiful. Somebody is dead but still here.” He asks Filip if he can keep the film.

kieslowski’s spiel on recording is a separate issue from documentaries as a whole being truthful or not. Though, at the same time, it is clear Piotrek’s film is a truthful record of events, whether or not edited documentaries are.


In Camera Buff , our hero starts with a super-8 camera he bought himself, costing two months salary, but ends up with a more expensive Russian 16 m.m. Krasnagorsk-3, with a 200 m.m. zoom lens, bought by his company for him to use as part of the film unit/club set up with Filip in charge. The scenes of excitement of those in the ‘film club’  are surely to hint at the the film-maker’s sense of freedom.  In a shot Filip takes after getting the 16 mm, he demonstrates the camera’s greater powers. Here the equipment is signalling his progress from complete novice with flair to gifted amateur. In a way, it might also be said to divide the film into two halves.  Someone with views like Canby might see this as simplistic. Anyone who has attempted filming will know what it is like to try filming with equipment that is  does match the shot already created in imagination!



There are three scenes under the theme of “learning about film”: one, when Filip directly muses out loud, seemingly to himself, “I must go to the cinema more often”; two, where he is seen buying Filma magazine and the newspaper Politiyka at the train station after attending the showing of Zanussi’s film, Camouflage; three, when he is seen sitting at home leafing through a pictorial history of film: his wife asks him what he is reading. He says: “Just looking at  pictures”. 

Film buffs know what the picture book might be: Classics of  the Foreign Film, by Parker Tyler (1962).  It isn’t: I have it. It’s Film History for Everyone (ref:Cinema of Kryzysztof Kieslowski by Haltof):  Wajda’s Ashes and Diamond’s (1958), Jiri Menzel’s Closely Observed Trains (1966),  Istvan Szvabo’s Father (1966), Ken Loach’s Kes (1969), and Karoly Makk’s Love ( Szerelam) ( 1970). Interestingly, Classics of the Foreign Film has two or three Russian and one Spanish, the rest Western Europe including Sweden, represented by Berman. Only two Polish mentions: Michael Wasznsky’s The Dybbuk (1938), and Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds.

The shot after Filip looking at a film book, is his wife waking: “I just dreamt a hawk killed a chicken.”  The first shots in the film are of a hawk catching and killing a white chicken. This is one of Kieslowski’s favourite kino-tricks: retroactive cognition. This a film about a documentary film-maker, so we could wonder if the first shots of the film are Filip as film-maker imagining the hawk and the chicken. Or, perhaps near the end of the film, that this is the sort of shot Filip will or could achieve from the things he sees or hears in life.  That is to say, his experience of the hawk shots are his wife’s telling of dream on waking.  Notice, Kieslowski simply relies on her description – there is no repeat the shots after the dream.

Kieslowski is a very intelligent film-maker and respects his audience to understand and to accept it is possible to use widely separated shots which still make perfect sense. Not unique but it must be noted and examined in his other films. Do other good directors do the same or as much?

He uses this separation process time and again in his films. This is not to say that retroactive cognition shots were not around before Kieslowski. One of the ways he uses them effectively is by creating as uncluttered a film as possible, so they stand out.  He has talked about realising that some will recognise the significance of earlier shots, while others may not notice.

It does beg the question as to whether a serious watcher of his films might be better off watching them chronologically in order to see how his techniques develop. I  started with Veronique and Three Colours, then The two Short films, Killing and Love followed by Camera Buff and a few snippets of Decalogue from YouTube. This was a choice dictated by things I had read about the films before watching them.

Notice in the audience of the amateur film competition which Filip attends, bog-eyed in awe, another of Kieslowski’s friends, Krzyszktof Wierzbicki – he of large glasses and unforgettable nose – assistant director on Camera Buff, stands up to ask a question. He directed and interviewed in the documentary I’m So So filmed less than a year before Kieslowski died.


Contemporary Cinema by John Orr (GoogleBook with some pages missing) has a sections on Kieslowski which are easy enough to get to via the GoogleBook search box on the book’s page)

This long piece by Tim Lucas covers all his films including Camera Buff:

Kieslowski’s scenario is never less than reasonable (Filip’s success begins with Third Prize at a Festival where the films are judged so poor that no Grand Prize is awarded), and the choices he forces on his unassertive hero are the kind that would frazzle more resourceful men. (For example: should he surrender the chance to represent his community with his craft, and possibly help to improve its living conditions, in order to salvage his once-blissful marriage to a woman who demands that he chose between her and his camera?) In addition to portraying a rainbow of wildly divergent social attitudes to film, Kieslowski also explores the corruptive urge to falsify the factual nature of the medium, at first on a personal level (Filip forgets to film his baby’s homecoming and pleads with his wife to re-stage the event) and then following it to the extreme of bureaucratic censorship (Filip’s imposing boss, who funds his documentaries, demands cuts that would curtail the self-expression of his work, and enforce its political correctness). Though made as a bittersweet critique of the restrictions imposed on East European filmmakers of the time, Camera Buff can be viewed as a more universal satire about art and conformity, the temptations of success, and the all-consuming allure of cinema.



Modes of reflexivity


  • entry for ‘Reflexivity’ from : Critical Dictionary of Film and Television Theory, Roberta E Pearson & Philip Simpson (2001) and a
  • bullet pointed lists of (1) key features found in reflexive texts and (2) functions of reflexivity

Exposing yourself: Reflexivity, anthropology, and film (1)

Long essay which doesn’t do film as such except in terms of anthropology, but does reflexivity a bit.

Through the looking glass: reflexivity, reciprocality, and defenestration in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

An extract, but enough to get the general idea such as:

Hitchcock announces the reflexive allegory that connects Jeff’s rear window to the cinematic screen on which the film narrative is projected during the opening titles, when the three bamboo curtains on Jeff’s apartment window rise as a visual echo of the rising curtain in a theater.

Cinematic reflexivity from Bresson to Fellini

A post in blog ‘Alight on my web’

Film Theory by Robert Stam

A GoogleBook abstract with a large wodge missing, but worth reading. Brief mention of Vertov.

Wiki: Vertov

Wiki: Man With a Movie Camera

Dziga Vertov in Sense of Cinema

Cinema Vérité: Defining the Moment by Katherine Speller in Sense of Cinema

Camera eye: Peter Wintonick’s Cinema verite: defining the moment

Cinema Vérité

Cinema Vérité: Defining the Moment by Katherine Speller

French Realism and Cinema Verite

Cinéma Vérité (Running Time 105 mins/Certificate 15/Directed by Peter Wintonick) Synopsis

Cinéma Vérité : the defining Moment Review in Bright Lights by Gary Morris

Cinéma vérité: The Defining Moment review by Ronnie D Lankford

Direct Cinema and Cinema Verité
Comparing Direct Cinema and Cinema Verité by Candis Callison

Between fiction and non-fiction

“Your life is not a very good script”: David Holzman’s diary and documentary expression in late-1960s America and beyond by James Latham

This essay says the author:

….argues that David Holzman’s Diary is both an example of and a critical statement about filmmaking theories and practices that would become integral to contemporary documentary expression. More specifically, I examine the film’s discourses on cinematic reflexivity and individual identity, and how these relate to filmic and social practices that in some cases already had taken root and in all cases would become more prominent in the media landscape.

“Your life is not a very good script”: David Holzman’s diary and documentary expression in late-1960s America and beyond


Many links to all sorts.

The Gap: Documentary Truth between Reality and Perception
Randolph Jordan

from Off Screen

Studying Cinema David Bordwell

Film and Philosophy

Film Theory Re-Assessed Dana Polan

Film Theory Robert Stam {GoogleBook)

Concepts in Film theory Dudley Andrew
Chapter 1 The State of Film Theory. pp. 1-18 (complete)
Chapter 2 Perception pp. 19- 23
Eco’s theories start page 20.

Do we learn to ‘read’ television and film and do televisual and filmic codes constitute a ‘language’? Rikke Bjerg Jensen

Runs over the same ground as above: may help to have a different explanation of the same thing!

December 13, 2008 Posted by | film [its techniques], Kieslowski, Krzysztof Kieślowski | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film)

18 August 2008

If you are anything like me you will come across an extreme example or two of the cinematographic long take and end up doing an impromptu film course by default – a bit like coming across random pages of the text of a film school course blowing down the street.

I came to Béla Tarr by accident through a quote in Spurious of part of an interview with Tarr.

I have never watched any of his films. There are some extracts in Youtube.  The first one I came across was the opening sequence from Werckmeister Harmonies. Then the tango from Satantango: there is a short cut to a boy looking through a window which breaks this up.

Knowing nothing about Tarr’s work at this stage, I was put in mind of Tarkovsky : the later bar scene in Stalker goes on and on and on, though it is a pretty static shot, if I remember correctly: perhaps one zoom in.

The opening sequence from Satantango lasts for 7.54 minutes in the Youtube version. The first 60 seconds is static. Then the camera tracks slightly to the left (or pans a degree or two from the track position…..keep you eyes on the foreground puddles) to better frame building ends, perhaps, or to better group the cows as they begin to move leftwards across in the middle distance in front of  the buildings. This is documentary filming, though one knows it is the beginning of a fiction. One is becoming aware of the camera. This awareness would be broken if some serious action was introduced such as a cowman entering the shot calling out to his cows. But nothing happens except the camera tracking the cow’s movements. One becomes aware of thinking that the track has been laid out in advance, despite the cows seemingly acting on their own. If the camera stays fixed to the track there is a limited amount it can do.

One of the things I became aware of is that the cows were acting independently. In other words, whatever the director’s plan for this scene, he could not direct the cows. The plan had been for a long, slow take, whatever the action, without any rapid camera movement. When a few cows come into the foreground, one rather close (though it is not possible to judge from this how close it is to the camera – whether the track is much further back) one suspects the camera may be moved away from it. There seems to be an attempt to get the front cow out of the picture, but since the modus is ultra slow camera movement, it doesn’t happen. The curious cow and a few others further back wander off out of the frame to the left, the front one left half in the frame for a while.  What this amounts to is an awareness that the filming is ex tempore. No one knows what the cows are going to do. The director knows he cannot jerk the camera away from anything that doesn’t accord with his image. So what you see is mind of the cinematographer (or maybe the director himself might have been in the chair) as small adjustments are made to the scene.

Afterwards I read that it was believed amongst film theorists that this slow movement of the camera is seen an non-intrusive, not playing a part in creating what is filmed, unlike montage. I don’t think this is true. Though I don’t dislike the effect. I thought the length and slowness of the procedure in this Tarr take made it clear it was not just like something I might watch in real life (a single point- of view) but was obviously mediated through the camera. Though the idea – so the theorists say – is depth of focus is designed to let the viewers eye roam the scene much as it might in real life.

The arrangement of such a shot gives it limited possibilities. The camera is on a length of track set down in a specific orientation.  Within this there can only be tracking, panning and zoom. Tarr doesn’t use any zooming here. But the static 60 seconds turns into slow, narrow-angle left pan – or track and pan – which made me wonder if the beginning static shot had been started with the camera at an angle greater or less than 90 degrees to the buildings in the background.

I could almost see the crew pushing the camera on the trolley along the tracking as the scene unfolded. To me this is as intrusive as the narrator in a novel who interrupts his own story to make comments about characters in it: here in film is a kind of generic statement about film, rather than about this film, “This is being filmed”.

The effect of montage film can be unreal but mostly because of the rapidly changing point of view, changes of focal length, and so on, which don’t give you time to ponder about cameras and crews. In what is I learn called the normative style of film making (the one we see in almost every Hollywood film we watch) – short takes tightly edited to force the story through by compression – there is no time to mull over how the effect has been created through sheer momentum of a series of short shots. In other words, with fast cut action you must keep up with the action, whereas with a very long take, it’s inevitable the brain will drift off the viewing into private thoughts about how it was achieved as well as the content.

As the cows begin to move left, the camera  tracks very slowly parallel to the action.  The parallelness of the track becomes apparent as it passes puddles in the foreground and once it runs close to the wall of a  building (which is immediately in focus), till at last it arrives at a road/track at 90 degrees to the track, where the cows are seen walking away from view and out of sight.

Watching the sequence again, it seemed that the slight pan after 60 seconds was a correction to make sure when the final long track took place it was parallel to the long row of building in the foreground. So at the start the camera had been set on the track at an angle of about 100 degrees to make the view square to the background long building along which the cows ambled. At the end of this row is a building set on its own at a slight angle to it. It is to this that camera seems to use the slight pan to adjust to, before the long tracking right to the end of the sequence.

The way my brain works ( leaving aside the intended meaning of the scene with its eery soundtrack – I haven’t seen the film) I imagined the director had seen the cows move like this on many  occasions.  This is fiction but in documentary style. He can’t control the cows.  Interesting to see how many out takes there are of this scene.  I felt as if the cows were not pushed into moving by someone outside the frame. They did this every morning.

The tango dance from Satantango some say they find mesmeric.  It is not a continuous take – there is an intercut of a boy looking through a window. But it goes on and on, and on and on. The swirling dancers keep swirling as best as they can in between tripping and falling over. A distinct story line evolves  with the man, balancing what looks like a banana on his forehead, keeps on crossing the dancing traffic. The short loop of music adds to the effect. Its like an over-long music video in this respect.  But there is a lot going on in the action. Watch it a few times. It is a self-contained story.

There came a time, about 30 seconds into the dance, when I began to suspect it will go one much longer than I would like and could bear. It did. Having watched the whole scene again, there seemed to have been some point to the length.  Being able to re-watch one scene is not possible in a theatre viewing. It makes it possible to focus on things one might not have the first time around.  So there is already a question here in asking if the director expects the viewer to pick out all the detail or to drift in a mode which is saying, this is a dance sequence, I’ve seen plenty of these and pretty much know what goes on in them. But then, because of the sheer length what else can you do but start to pick out detail?

For me, the focus was on the woman in the light coloured pullover and her bespectacled partner.  Although this was said to be impromptu, and Tarr himself says the actors were tiddly, when you think of the whole thing afterwards you recognise a lot was going on in there. It was self-contained story.

There are many questions to be asked about such a film technique and viewer participation. Does the mind drop into a less attentive mode as it becomes apparent that the sequence is very much like a loop with its seemingly repetitive action?  Does the mind, once it loses attention and because of the sheer length of the scene, begin to recognise that a lot more is going on than first thought and become re-attentive?  And then regret not paying attention to begin with?

Most directors would structure a scene like the tango with several points-of-view and with cut-aways to people at tables watching the dancing and then back, close-ups of dancers head and shoulders, or to other secondary elements, such as someone leaving the room to smoking a cigarette outside, perhaps with the sound of music coming through the open door, or a cut-away to dancers through a window.  You can watch a dozen films with a dance-hall scene in it and find these elements. The audience is asked to fill in what is not shown. The construction of this scene assigns the audience one POV  while asking it to imagine the others.

Tarr seems to be saying, ” Look, this is what happened in its entirety. I am showing you everything that happened in that room in the ten minutes it happened. Nothing has been left out. I have shown it to you from one point-of-view only, but it was all there.” The assumption is that he knows perfectly well irritation and possibly lack of attention will set in.  This can happen when we watch real-life action such as the complicated movements across a station forecourt with people criss-crossing across the space. How many people idly waiting for a train would start to pick out specific faces, acts or categories of action from within the seeming samey mass of it?

Tarr knows that we are used to films with lots of short shots stitched together with jump cuts. Some commenters say they can’t watch the film (which lasts over 7 hours) without beginning to squirm quite early on.

At the beginning of the cow sequence in Satantango, the camera points unrelieved (a full 60 seconds) at the cow shed and the cows coming out. The viewers start to ask what can be learnt from this commonplace scene. They know what happens with cows.  But the moment this thought enters the head, when something only slightly different happens (a cow gets curious about the camera and crew) it is noticed.

It seems almost inevitable in any long film sequence like this that the mind wanders off the events being filmed to notions of film per se: that there is a camera in front of us, there, and in front of it is a scene being acted out.  Though it can be said this is realism because everything in a given time was included, unlike a similar sequence consisting of many edits, it becomes unreal because of its length and slowness.

Tarr specialises in shots of people walking off into the distance. There are a few YouTube examples. They walk and walk (along a road, say) and the camera follows or lets the walkers go. There is nothing much in the distance or to the left or right.  My question is whether, filmically, it is enough to say I have seen every second of the walk? Are we talking narrative or the Aesthetics of Shot ?

Film theorists like Tarkovsky and Andre Bazan argue for the long take by criticising montage. By doing so they are arguing for realist cinema.  Another thing I learnt after watching the Tarr sequences, is that realists saw Eisenstein’s montage techniques as novelistic: the cut being the full stop, etc.  One of the most useful texts here is the essay The Long Take That Kills: Tarkovsky’s rejection of montage by Benjamin Halligan. Might as well link here to pages in (1) Shots – The Aesthetics of Shot (2) Camera movement [ “The film critic Andre Bazin was one of the great champions of camera movement within long takes, believing that such shots had then potential to record the reality of the world in front of the camera more accurately than sequences constructed through editing.”](3) Realism – Theories of Realism (The whole realism section really). Haligan, referring to a scene in Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia, says:

“The speed of the tracking is of the utmost importance here; its slowness strips the camera movement of a narrative function., since the camera movement does not advance the narrative progression of the film [….]. So what does this slowness do to the aesthetic? Having removed it from the context of the film’s narrative, it reworks it as a meditative, perhaps hallucinatory, swell of mobile imagery.”

There is something called the Average Shot Length ( mentioned at the bottom of wiki: Long Take together with a table of  the highest ASLs of films starting with the one-take movie Russian Ark. Numbers two and three are Werckmeister Harmonies and  Satantango with ASLs of 223.7 secs and 145.7 secs. respectively.  It should be obvious to the the statisticians amongst you this is not greatly meaningful because a film with one very long shot and a mass of very short ones could end up with the same ASL as a film with a lot of slightly longer shots. It certainly tells you that one film may contain more long shots than another. It allows students of film to write about how things have changed over the years shot-wise.

Other views?

Darren Hughe in Long Pauses, Boring Art Films, October 4, 2005:

In the mad dash to build and resolve, build and resolve narrative tension, most movies use standard continuity editing to do the work for us. In the perfect genre film (Psycho, for example), we’re at the director’s mercy. We willingly surrender our freedom for two hours and go wherever the film leads. Boring Art Films, by contrast, are often elliptical. Instead of splicing together a perfectly coherent line of narrative development, they leave gaps. I like the words “parataxis” and “hypotaxis.” The former juxtaposes, the latter draws connections. “I left. She cried.” versus “When I left, she cried.” Boring Art Films typically use parataxis to force the viewer into a participatory role. We get to be creative when we watch. We get to fill the gaps.

Girish in a July 2006 post titled The Long Take, does Bazin but points out there is a view that the long-take can be put to non-realist purposes, citing Godard’s Weekend.

Fast cuts, Slow views by Richard Herskowitz (mentions a book by Kundera called Slowness) :

…..Antonioni, Ozu, Bresson, Kubrick, Rohmer, Malick… These slow-teurs have suffered some abuse for telling uneventful stories. Remember how some critics dubbed Antonioni’s leisurely films about alienated characters and their environments “Antoniennui?” How Gene Hackman in Night Moves passed on an invitation to watch an Eric Rohmer film by comparing it to “watching paint dry?” In response, I’ll quote Robert Bresson: “Condemned are the films the slowness and the silence of which are mistaken by the slowness and the silence of the audience in the cinema.” The action of contemplative cinema is latent in the mind of the viewer who becomes, in our featured guest Paul Schrader’s words, “an active participant in the creative process.” Schrader’s influential book Transcendental Style in Film, on Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer, noted that the paring down of action and performance and spectacle liberates the viewer to soar imaginatively and spiritually.

There’s quotes from Bazin on deep-focus and realism in Screenville.

A blog calling itself Contemplative Cinema  has a set  of posts on Bela Tarr, including one with an awful lot of links to all sorts of things Tarr.

And finally a selection of sites dealing with Bela Tarr’s films :

The Melancholy of Resistance: The films of Bela Tarr by Peter Hames in KinoEye (New Perspectives on European Film) (subtiteld ‘suffering for your cinema’) does a review of Satantango.

Satantango: And then there was darkness by Donato Totaro in Offscreen.

Lateral Sculpture: Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó is a very long, interesting and well-written post by Ryland Walker Knight in  a  blog called The House Next Door, which introduces Tarkoky’s book, Sculpting in Time, and links to a dedicated Torkoky site, Nostalghia, which links to articles and essays  including The Long Take That Kills: Tarkovsky’s rejection of montage.

Prof. of film Studies David Bordwell’s post Tango Marathon.

A Place in the Pantheon: Films by Bela Tarr ( Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader)

A one-page review of Satantango in NYT.

Darren Hughe’s Long Pauses blog covers Satantango and Damnation in separate posts.

Short effective review of Satantango in Movie Habit by John Adams.

Waggish has two posts on Satantango.

Satantango by Rumsey Taylor in Slant Magazine.

Opening shots: Satantango ( out1 blog) – handy link to the opening sequence in Youtube.

Another version of the Nostalghia links on Tarkovsky.

Strictly Film School ( on Almanac of Fall, Damnation, Sátántangó, Werckmeister Harmonies

Hope Deep Within – Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies by Gabe Klinger in Senses of Cinema.

August 19, 2008 Posted by | Bela Tarr, film [its techniques] | , , , , , | 3 Comments