Ontologies of the Moving Image: Bazin’s Realism

One way to look at the ontology (the nature of what something is) of the moving image is from a realist perspective.

Founder of the Cahiers du Cinema, influential French film philosopher Andre Bazin paved the way for filmmakers of the nouvelle vague. Bazin also championed cinematic realism: the unity of time and place with authentic realist style that produces aesthetic realism. Furthermore, Bazin claimed the real situations and locations used by the Italian neo-realists such as Rossellini and de Sica best exemplified the aesthetics of cinematic realism.

Some cinematic techniques used to attain aesthetic realism include the use of:

Outdoor Settings & Natural Light

Real People/Non-Professional Actors (provide ‘rawness’)

Long Takes & Minimal Quick Editing/Montages (provide a space to watch time unfold)

Deep Focus (allow spectators to gaze anywhere in the scene)

Unanticipated/Unscripted Footage

Some critics, such as Noel Carroll, disagree with Bazin’s realism, and argue:

  • Photography always requires at least some subjective human intervention (e.g. framing a shot)
  • Bazin’s ‘medium essentialism’ considers technology to dictate style, yet mediums are hard to define and often change
  • Photographs are not prosthetic images: I can’t orient my body towards that which the image depicts

Furthermore, some films question the ontology of cinematic realism:

Is a film made entirely of still photographs still a ‘film’?

Is a documentary film shot in 3D still an example of cinematic realism?

However, in Bazin’s defence, because he claims a human psychological and anthropological desire to preserve cinematic images against time exists; he is not claiming cinematic images are independent of human intervention. Bazin’s realism is aesthetic, psychological and ethical, and therefore not strictly ontological.

 

Reference Source

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Ontologies of the Moving Image’, Lectures 2 & 3 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

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