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Notes on the Cinematograph (New York Review Books Classics)

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The French film director Robert Bresson was one of the great artists of the twentieth century and among the most radical, original, and radiant stylists of any time. He worked with nonprofessional actors—models, as he called them—and deployed a starkly limited but hypnotic array of sounds and images to produce such classic works as A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Diary of a Cou The French film director Robert Bresson was one of the great artists of the twentieth century and among the most radical, original, and radiant stylists of any time. He worked with nonprofessional actors—models, as he called them—and deployed a starkly limited but hypnotic array of sounds and images to produce such classic works as A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Diary of a Country Priest, and Lancelot of the Lake. From the beginning to the end of his career, Bresson dedicated himself to making movies in which nothing is superfluous and everything is always at stake. Notes on the Cinematograph distills the essence of Bresson’s theory and practice as a filmmaker and artist. He discusses the fundamental differences between theater and film; parses the deep grammar of silence, music, and noise; and affirms the mysterious power of the image to unlock the human soul. This book, indispensable for admirers of this great director and for ­students of the cinema, will also prove an inspiration, much like Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for anyone who responds to the claims of the imagination at its most searching and rigorous.


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The French film director Robert Bresson was one of the great artists of the twentieth century and among the most radical, original, and radiant stylists of any time. He worked with nonprofessional actors—models, as he called them—and deployed a starkly limited but hypnotic array of sounds and images to produce such classic works as A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Diary of a Cou The French film director Robert Bresson was one of the great artists of the twentieth century and among the most radical, original, and radiant stylists of any time. He worked with nonprofessional actors—models, as he called them—and deployed a starkly limited but hypnotic array of sounds and images to produce such classic works as A Man Escaped, Pickpocket, Diary of a Country Priest, and Lancelot of the Lake. From the beginning to the end of his career, Bresson dedicated himself to making movies in which nothing is superfluous and everything is always at stake. Notes on the Cinematograph distills the essence of Bresson’s theory and practice as a filmmaker and artist. He discusses the fundamental differences between theater and film; parses the deep grammar of silence, music, and noise; and affirms the mysterious power of the image to unlock the human soul. This book, indispensable for admirers of this great director and for ­students of the cinema, will also prove an inspiration, much like Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for anyone who responds to the claims of the imagination at its most searching and rigorous.

30 review for Notes on the Cinematograph (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mariel

    Robert Bresson Notes on the Cinematographer is my philosophy book or self-help book for putting things together in what I feel, or need, to be real in stories, images, moments. I'm sure it's one hell of a book for creative people. I don't make things so much as try to get by and live better by living elsewhere (as in outside of me). I'm not the right person to ask about that... Anyway, I'd assimilate this instead of The Little Book of Calm (as seen on the brilliant Black Books series when Manny Robert Bresson Notes on the Cinematographer is my philosophy book or self-help book for putting things together in what I feel, or need, to be real in stories, images, moments. I'm sure it's one hell of a book for creative people. I don't make things so much as try to get by and live better by living elsewhere (as in outside of me). I'm not the right person to ask about that... Anyway, I'd assimilate this instead of The Little Book of Calm (as seen on the brilliant Black Books series when Manny accidentally ingests that ridiculous book and starts spouting out advice from it. "Pretend you're an orange and laugh at it." I love that show. I'd love to live in that book shop with Manny and Bernard). These are notes that Bresson jotted down to himself, pretty much. Like someone else's train of thought that would cross stations with what I think about a lot. (One thing I am not is a clear thinker.) I hope for inspiration from someone so inspired. I feel inspired watching his films. (Unfortunately, I think like pulling from the toppermost of my mental soils, seldom going down to the roots or allowing for future harvests. As in, speaking out of my ass. Got plenty of fiber, at least.) Between them and me: telepathic exchanges, divination. This is one of the reasons why I watch so many movies. It's also why I have such a bad staring problem. I'm probably hoping for something... I wanna feel affirmed, probably. Find some kind of beauty. At least something not cold. (*Note I probably don't understand a fraction of most things. I'm probably like Good Charlotte when they name their brilliant beyond brilliant influences. Like they haven't ever listened to themselves! The least fat of the two did get Hilary Duff into The Smiths. Maybe when the fattest one is tired of Nicole Ritchie beating up on him he could tell me about all that I'm missing!) (What's this? A mysterious note in the margins of my book for me to get some self-esteem.) Cinematography is writing with images in movement and with sounds. I love that. I so agree! I liked what he said about it working when the models (Bresson doesn't call his actors "actors") and it works out right when they get his secret wishes. This is something I've thought about from time to time, whether all the other people involved in films (not just screenwriter and director. How come Charlie Kaufman is one of the only screenwriters given credit? It's like people really think that all these directors came on these scripts out of nowhere!) are also writers. I love this wavelength, "secret desires" idea of Bresson's. Maybe it really is like that. How neat. Others become arms to reach... Respect man's nature without wishing it was more palpable than it is. I try to remember this one. Communication is really hard for me. I try and remember that the flavor of other people's feelings aren't always going to be that strong for me to pick up. (Or palatable.) A system does not regulate everything. It is a bait for something. An unsoul crushingly way to look at that. I need to have some sort of organization up there (thumping my noggin right now). My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water." Hm. Doing the same action twenty times in rehearsals will lead to doing them without thinking about them. That's not a direct quote. He says stuff about that a lot. John Frusciante made six records in 2004. After spending lots of efforts on different takes to get everything as perfect as can be he decided to try just one take for his singing. (People could sing his er tune now, what with the surge of auto-tune...) Does it kill spontaneity? I liked that idea of it coming about again just by getting used to it and no longer thinking about what you are doing. (It is going to get tiresome to keep quoting so much...) I'm not sure if I agree with Bresson on true and false, or on music. In a mixture of true and false, the true brings out the false, the false hinders belief in the true. An actor simulating fear of shipwreck on the deck of a real ship battered by a real storm - we believe neither in the actor, nor in the storm." There could be something wrong with my brain wiring. I believe that something can be both true and false. I find it difficult to believe that any thing is all true or all false, if it is emotions. I tend to act more upset when things aren't that bad than I do when things are really, really bad. You can't always tell on the surface. I like to look for little signs, read between the lines... Bresson wrote that there should be no music at all, unless instruments seen in the film. Lars Von Trier and his cronies based their Dogme95 theories on an essay by Bresson's fellow Frenchie Truffaut. I guess Bresson would have seen eye to eye with them on the music, at least. Pretty useless restrictions, I thought (what did any of it have to do with telling a good story?). (I really liked Rosetta, even if it wasn't "officially" dogme, and love Breaking the Waves.) I think it's a case by case thing. Some might rely on what comes from elsewhere (cool soundtracks). It's just that I think most of us make our own life soundtracks of what we hear that it becomes a part of us, and not "slipping off elsewhere". (I wanna go elsewhere.) Music. It isolates your film from the life of your film (music delectation). It is a powerful modifier and even destroyer of the real, like alcohol or dope. Oops. Two types of film: those that employ the resources of the theatre (actors, direction, etc.) and use the camera in order to reproduce; those that employ the resources of cinematography to create. I'd never been able to put into words the difference between theatre and cinema. (Usually what I read/hear from others is against cinema and in favor of theatre.) I see it like real life versus stories. Memories versus stories. Perspectives versus reality. The closest we can get to seeing how something really happened, not just how we colored it. The closest we'll ever get to seeing in someone else's brains. I love actors (ahem or models) 'cause even though they can't totally be someone else, it is still like that Robert Bresson secret desires catching on. Of someone else. Even if they aren't real. I don't care if they are playing someone real or fake. I wanna know those secret wishes too. Don't run after poetry. It penetrates unaided through the joins (ellipses). I just thought this one was awesome. A sound must never come to the rescue of an image, nor an image to the rescue of a sound. Avoid paroxysms (anger, terror, etc.) which one is obliged to simulate, and which everybody is alike. That's what makes the best writing (in any medium) for me. That something that is wholly another, even if it is alike. The different edges of those things are what I look for. Right-on! From the beings and things of nature, washed clean of all art and especially the art of drama, you will make an art. Your genius is not in the counterfeiting of nature (actors, sets), but in your way of choosing and co-coordinating bits taken directly from it by machines. I want those parts. To communicate impressions, sensations. Agony of making sure not to let slip any part of what I merely glimpse, of what I perhaps do not yet see and shall only later be able to see. Displaying everything condemns cinema to cliche, obliges it to display things as everyone is in the habit of seeing them. Failing which, they would appear false or sham. The real is not dramatic. Drama will be born of a certain march of non-dramatic elements. Yes! The BIG moments in life are usually hand in hand with the most dull. Any constant fear can become sameness boring. Any Oprah memoirist might be jealous of fodder from my family history, but it is really same old. Your film is not made for a stroll with eyes, but for going right into, for being totally absorbed in. The crude real will not by itself yield truth. And that's where the writing comes in. And the acting and the pretending and the making stuff out of everything and out of nothing. That's what I live for, probably... The most ordinary word, when put in its place, suddenly acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine. What he said. I wish that I could speak French. This book is probably even better. (Not to mention Serge Gainsbourg would be like sex after just masturbating.) Truth and lies aren't things I really grasp in my hands. It's more like a taste on the tongue. I've gotta do it myself to get it sometimes. Try on how someone says something to me, repeat it for between the lines stuff, if they are making fun of me or not. (My favorite actresses are the ones who remind me of those I've known best in my life. I can recognize and get into the patterns. That's why Samantha Morton and Liv Ullmann types are my favorites.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Some nice interviews on youtube with this great genius: https://youtu.be/FRAztry-ZoI https://youtu.be/DVODh2lkVdc "The mixture of true and false yields falsity (photographed theater or cinema). The false when it is homogeneous can yield truth (theater). In a mixture of true and false, the true brings out the false, the false hinders belief in the true. An actor simulating fear of shipwreck on the deck of a real ship battered by a real storm–we believe neither the actor, nor in the ship, nor in the Some nice interviews on youtube with this great genius: https://youtu.be/FRAztry-ZoI https://youtu.be/DVODh2lkVdc "The mixture of true and false yields falsity (photographed theater or cinema). The false when it is homogeneous can yield truth (theater). In a mixture of true and false, the true brings out the false, the false hinders belief in the true. An actor simulating fear of shipwreck on the deck of a real ship battered by a real storm–we believe neither the actor, nor in the ship, nor in the storm." " The truth of cinematography cannot be the truth of theater, nor the truth of the novel, nor the truth of painting. (What the cinematographer captures with his or her own resources cannot be what the theater, the novel, painting capture with theirs.) —————————————– An image must be transformed by contact with other images, as is a color by contact with other colors. A blue is not the same blue beside a green, a yellow, a red. No art without transformation." "“The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences. Power of the cinematographer who appeals to the two senses in a governable way. Against the tactics of speed, of noise, set tactics of slowness, of silence.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    "An actor in cinematography might as well be in a foreign country. He does not speak its language" "my movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected onto a screen, come to life again like flowers in water" "Cinematography: new way of writing, therefore of feeling" "Someone who can work with the minimum can work with the most. One who can with the most cannot, inevitably, with "An actor in cinematography might as well be in a foreign country. He does not speak its language" "my movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected onto a screen, come to life again like flowers in water" "Cinematography: new way of writing, therefore of feeling" "Someone who can work with the minimum can work with the most. One who can with the most cannot, inevitably, with the minimum" "When a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralize it. The ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer" "Your film will have the beauty, or the sadness, or what have you, that one finds in a town, in a countryside, in a house, and not the beauty, sadness, etc. that one finds in the photograph of a town, of a countryside, or a house" "Displaying everything condemns cinema to cliché, obliges it to display things as everyone is in the habit of seeing them. Failing which, they would appear false or sham" "Your film's beauty will not be in the images (postcardism) but in the ineffable that they will emanate" "Build your film on white, on silence, and on stillness" "I have dreamed of my film making itself as it goes along under my gaze, like a painter's eternally fresh canvas"

  4. 4 out of 5

    David M

    Dennis Cooper (charming author of Frisk) once wrote this rather beautiful appreciation of Bresson: http://www.dennis-cooper.net/bio_bres... ' Instead of flaunting their difference, or feigning modesty by deferring to the conventions of Hollywood film, they offer up an art so unimpeachably fair, so lacking in ulterior motivation that the effect is a kind of mimicry of what perception might be like were one capable of simultaneously perceiving clearly and appreciating the process by which perception Dennis Cooper (charming author of Frisk) once wrote this rather beautiful appreciation of Bresson: http://www.dennis-cooper.net/bio_bres... ' Instead of flaunting their difference, or feigning modesty by deferring to the conventions of Hollywood film, they offer up an art so unimpeachably fair, so lacking in ulterior motivation that the effect is a kind of mimicry of what perception might be like were one capable of simultaneously perceiving clearly and appreciating the process by which perception occurs. The only thing these films ask is that one share a fraction of Bresson's single-minded concern for the souls of young people whose innocence causes them to fail at the cruel, irrevocable task of adulthood.' The affinity might not seem obvious at first; Cooper writes transgressive punk pornography. Bresson's favorite authors were Pascal and Dostoevsky. I don't think he ever listened to much music later than Bach. None of his movies can remotely be described as gay pornography. Yet what Cooper learned from Bresson is profound. They share a certain asceticism, a commitment to let the void speak directly through the bodies/faces of their young protagonists. I'm inclined to agree Bresson was the greatest film director of all time, maybe the one true auteur in the history of cinema. His black-and-white movies of religious transfiguration have deservedly become classics. However, to me his later color films are his most astonishing achievements - chiefly A Gentle Creature, Lancelot of the Lake, and above all the Devil, Probably. These are bracing, brutal works. It's unclear if Bresson lost his Chrisitan faith as he got older. He used to say his vision hadn't become bleaker, just more 'lucid.' Simone Weil would say that while she embraced the crucifixion she couldn't accept the resurrection. This was one major reason why she couldn't bring herself to convert near the end of life. She wanted nothing to do with Christianity if it was merely a superstitious form of comfort. In his masterful films, perhaps Bresson offers this same vision of Christianity before or even without the resurrection.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    Robert Bresson is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers - and this book doesn't take away the man's mysterious powers of the cinema. It adds to it. Bresson's film notes are poetic and beautiful. He is truly an essential figure in the arts, and one can't help to think that the cinema was made for artists like Bresson. Robert Bresson is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers - and this book doesn't take away the man's mysterious powers of the cinema. It adds to it. Bresson's film notes are poetic and beautiful. He is truly an essential figure in the arts, and one can't help to think that the cinema was made for artists like Bresson.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Perifian

    I'm currently constructing my own vade mecum. This is one of The Books. I'm currently constructing my own vade mecum. This is one of The Books.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Brilliant short book on the aesthetics of the film (mostly non-commercial, largely non-American) of the 50s through 70s that speaks to me most deeply (Godard, Bergman, Antonioni to skim the A list). Bresson isn't quite "New Wave"--he began making his pieces a bit earlier and rather than developing an instantly recognizable "style" (like Godard or Fellini), he developed the approach outlined here that resulted in movies that superficially may seem quite different but bear a deeply personal stamp. Brilliant short book on the aesthetics of the film (mostly non-commercial, largely non-American) of the 50s through 70s that speaks to me most deeply (Godard, Bergman, Antonioni to skim the A list). Bresson isn't quite "New Wave"--he began making his pieces a bit earlier and rather than developing an instantly recognizable "style" (like Godard or Fellini), he developed the approach outlined here that resulted in movies that superficially may seem quite different but bear a deeply personal stamp. Among other things, these aphorisms, paragraphs, include an approach to actors (Bresson calls them "models" and would reject "acting" almost entirely as a baleful hangover from the stage.). Rather than try to summarize the lyrical, introspective, improvisationa, near-Zen, vision, I'll include a series of quotes that capture the flavor of the book: "To create is not to deform, or invent persons and things. It is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are." (p. 13) "The insensible bond, connecting your furthest apart and most different images, is your vision." (p. 20) "Hid the ideas, but so that people find them. The most important will be the most hidden." (p. 25) "Not to shoot a film in order to illustrate a thesis, or to display men and women confined to their external aspect, but to discover the matter they are made of. To attain that 'heart of the heart' which does not let itself be caught either by poetry, or by philosophy, or by drama." (p. 27) "Recognize the unorganized noises (what you think you hear is not what you hear) of a street, a railroad station, an airport....Play them back one by one in silence and adjust the blend." (p. 31) "Be the first to see what you see as you see it." (p. 33) "Two simplicities. The bad: simplicity as starting-point, sought too soon. The good: simplicity as end product, recompense for years of effort." (p. 46) "Extreme complexity. Your films: attempts, trials." (p. 56)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    Collection of insights into making movies, an art Bresson calls "cinematography," not to be confused with what's commonly called cinematography or cinema. It's more like the flow of life captured by the director's diving rods of camera and tape recorder. Actors are called "models" -- and they should be unrecognizable conveyors of volitionless expression, or something like that. The whole thing's very French, very Zen, stressing silence, intuition, economy. Metaphorically valuable for those not m Collection of insights into making movies, an art Bresson calls "cinematography," not to be confused with what's commonly called cinematography or cinema. It's more like the flow of life captured by the director's diving rods of camera and tape recorder. Actors are called "models" -- and they should be unrecognizable conveyors of volitionless expression, or something like that. The whole thing's very French, very Zen, stressing silence, intuition, economy. Metaphorically valuable for those not making movies. Ideal pretentious bathroom book or stocking stuffer for a young aesthete. With that said, it's only pretentious in that it's the work of someone who thinks deeply about artistic prearrangements required to create philosophically ideal effects that stay true to a precise understanding of reality expressed via the knotting of images deemed simple and true. Ideas to keep in mind while watching his films -- I've only seen one a few years ago and now hardly remember it. Read this because Will Oldham mentions it as inspiration for "I Am a Cinematographer."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a rather odd book. It's a book about film that doesn't talk about any films. I believe only one actor and film is mentioned by name (Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc). What the book consists of are thoughts about filming -- thoughts that are very different from one one usually thinks about as film, which Bresson associates with "the terrible habit of the theatre." Robert Bresson is a great film director, so consequently his Notes on the Cinematograph is well worth listening to. Un This is a rather odd book. It's a book about film that doesn't talk about any films. I believe only one actor and film is mentioned by name (Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc). What the book consists of are thoughts about filming -- thoughts that are very different from one one usually thinks about as film, which Bresson associates with "the terrible habit of the theatre." Robert Bresson is a great film director, so consequently his Notes on the Cinematograph is well worth listening to. Unlike many famous directors, such as Hitchcock, Ford, and Bergman, Bresson never had a stock company of actors he used in film after film. In fact, I can't think of any actor he used more than once. Instead of actors, he talks about models. He avoids imposing a structure on the film in the screenwriting process, yet his films are masterpieces; and the performances he achieves are memorable. I think of Maria Casarès in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne or Martin La Salle in Pickpocket or Nadine Nortier in Mouchette. The films Bresson makes with them end up consuming them as useful for any other picture. Yet he gets great performances, such as Claude Laydu in Journal d'un Curé de Campagne or Anna Wiazemsky in Au Hasard Balthazar. What Bresson attempts is not easy, which is why in his forty-year career he has completed only thirteen features.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rhys Scarabosio

    “When the public is ready to feel before understanding, what a number of films reveal and explain everything to it!” Don’t make a film well, make a film with your own eyes and ears. Whatever comes of that will be most exciting and true.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Ahhhhh, yes!!: Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen. Because you do not have to imitate, like painters, sculptors, novelists, the appearance of persons and objects (machines do that for you), your creation or invention confines itself to the ties you knot between the various bits of reality caught. There is also the choice of the bits. Your flair decides. One does not create by adding, but by taking away. To develop is another matter. (Not to spread out.) When you do n Ahhhhh, yes!!: Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen. Because you do not have to imitate, like painters, sculptors, novelists, the appearance of persons and objects (machines do that for you), your creation or invention confines itself to the ties you knot between the various bits of reality caught. There is also the choice of the bits. Your flair decides. One does not create by adding, but by taking away. To develop is another matter. (Not to spread out.) When you do not know what you are doing and what you are doing is the best -- that is inspiration.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    Not to attempt a review when the reading is enough.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    A friend lent me this, partly because I’m preparing to explore Bresson’s filmography through Criterion. It’s a great, often wise, little book; a sort of Pensees of film theory. Some of my favorite excerpts: “The faculty of using my resources well diminishes as their number grows.” (p. 10) “Slow films in which everyone is galloping and gesticulating; swift films in which people hardly stir.” (p. 55) “In his film X displays things having no appropriateness to each other, and so without bonds, and so d A friend lent me this, partly because I’m preparing to explore Bresson’s filmography through Criterion. It’s a great, often wise, little book; a sort of Pensees of film theory. Some of my favorite excerpts: “The faculty of using my resources well diminishes as their number grows.” (p. 10) “Slow films in which everyone is galloping and gesticulating; swift films in which people hardly stir.” (p. 55) “In his film X displays things having no appropriateness to each other, and so without bonds, and so dead.” (p. 58) “Expression through compression. To put into an image what a writer would spin out over ten pages.” (p. 59) “The most ordinary word, when put into place, acquires brilliance. That is the brilliance with which your images must shine.” (p. 70) “Hollow idea of ‘art cinema’, of ‘art films’. Art films, the ones most devoid of it.” (p. 75) “Silence is necessary to music but is not part of music. Music leans on it.” (p. 86) “The number of films that are patched up with music! People flood a film with music. They are preventing us from seeing that there is nothing in those images.” (p. 87)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Arta

    "Provoke the unexpected. Expect it." "Provoke the unexpected. Expect it."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Luke Poff

    Fascinating; definitely worth revisiting.

  16. 4 out of 5

    James

    I'm definitely my undiagnosed-OCD father's son. When I was a Berkeley undergraduate, I took my visiting father and stepmother to their first Thai food, which in those benighted days was pretty exotic. He really liked it as, of course, he would. Thai food is awesome. He REALLY liked it, though. I would not be exaggerating much at all if I were to say that every subsequent meal out with them for three decades took place at a Thai restaurant. I might be a little more self-aware, but I'm pretty much I'm definitely my undiagnosed-OCD father's son. When I was a Berkeley undergraduate, I took my visiting father and stepmother to their first Thai food, which in those benighted days was pretty exotic. He really liked it as, of course, he would. Thai food is awesome. He REALLY liked it, though. I would not be exaggerating much at all if I were to say that every subsequent meal out with them for three decades took place at a Thai restaurant. I might be a little more self-aware, but I'm pretty much exactly like my dad. I'm like a dog on a bone with my interests. People have flattered me, as it was fashionable to do not so long ago, by telling me that I'm "passionate" about things . I happen to know that the English adjective is derived from the Greek verb "I suffer - as a Golgotha-bound Jesus could surely attest -but I think most people who congratulate themselves with being passionate imagine it as something grandiose and sexy and benign. My passions are properly Greek - driven and not infrequently a little joyless and even downright uncomfortable in their neurotic comprehensiveness. Take the films of Robert Bresson, for example. Before this year I had seen Pickpocket, because Mark Cousins rhapsodized about it in his ten-episode opus The Story of Film, and Lancelot du Lac, which is right up my street but not, I should think, Bresson's - making a movie about the most valiant knight of the Round Table and zooming the camrea in on stirrups and hooves during the jousting sequences isn't just bold, it's perverse, in this viewer's opinion. But I digress. Last summer, the art house near me, which puts on revival showings of classic cinema every week, did a small Ozu series. Like Bresson, Ozu is one of those directors that people who are smarter than I am adore and I've been a little baffled. I enjoyed the Noriko films. I found them tasteful and sweet - a little sad, a little funny and, I gotta say it, a little boring. Poking around on the Web for background with a view toward understanding the devotion (look at those Criterion Collection celebrity ten-best-films lists - EVERYONE picks an Ozu), I learned that Paul Schrader wrote his film school dissertation on Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer. I've liked Shrader's movies - some, keenly so - and he was one of the more fascinating characters in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, so, Jim's son that I am, I had to check it out. It's a good argument, but a little soporifically inclusive and reiterative in the manner of academic prose. But, having started, I had to finish and having finished, I had to watch all the movies (Well, with respect to the Bresson oeuvre, through Au Hasard Balthazar at any rate. More to follow no doubt...) and having wrestled with the work, I had to read the theory. Which brings us to Notes on the Cinematograph, Bresson's slim collection of aggressive, oracular apothegms about the theory behind his technique. Bresson calls his own fully aware, fully filmic art "cinematograph" so as to contrast it with the mainstream filmmaking that goes by the name of "cinema" and which he despises as the handmaiden of theater. My understanding may be a little colored by my irritation, but I sometimes felt while reading this that Bresson thinks he has made the only worthwhile films. I definitely felt that he is more than a little full of himself. I say this as someone who has become a fan. A Man Escaped and Mouchette are fantastic. Pickpocket is really good. I found Balthazaar periodically moving, but sorta creaky and programmatic. I seriously doubt that I'll ever watch Diary of a Country Priest or Trial of Joan of Arc again. The bracing minimalism, the quirky editing rhythms, and the "automatic" quality of line reading that he gets from his non-professional "models" are aspects of his technique that I think are theoetically well-justified and produce a unique cinematic satisfaction. One of the DVD-extra talking heads said that he thought a Bresson film was like a proper martini - ice cold when you take it in but progressively warming in its aftereffects. I thought that was pretty astute. I would definitely recommend some of the films, but probably not this combative, self-satisfied Hagakure for the pretentious aesthete, which yields limited rewards to a specialized audience. I think we already know who we are.

  17. 5 out of 5

    CM

    A collection of quotes and short notes that do not really add up to anything but some vague commentary/suggestion on filming. I am more than a bit puzzled as to the constant appearance of this book on every list of film books ... Those who have more experience with his films (and his distinctive style in cinematography) may appreciate this tiny book more.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ian Hamilton

    Huge Bresson fan; laud the ethos behind his approach to filmmaking; seen em all; respect the man immensely - I'm going to be the detractor on this one; unfortunately this collection of notes doesn't really do much. Yes, there are some nuggets of greatness buried in here, but the collection is largely repetitive, some of his observations frankly just don't make sense, and yes, I'll say it, it's pretty pretentious. Trudging through this didn't come easy. I really, really, really wanted to glean so Huge Bresson fan; laud the ethos behind his approach to filmmaking; seen em all; respect the man immensely - I'm going to be the detractor on this one; unfortunately this collection of notes doesn't really do much. Yes, there are some nuggets of greatness buried in here, but the collection is largely repetitive, some of his observations frankly just don't make sense, and yes, I'll say it, it's pretty pretentious. Trudging through this didn't come easy. I really, really, really wanted to glean something more out of this, but alas, no.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Jackson

    "Don't show all sides of things. A margin of indefiniteness." / "Not artful, but agile." / "No marriage of theatre and cinematography without both being exterminated." / "From beings and things of nature, washed clean of all art and especially the art of drama, you will make art." / etc. "Don't show all sides of things. A margin of indefiniteness." / "Not artful, but agile." / "No marriage of theatre and cinematography without both being exterminated." / "From beings and things of nature, washed clean of all art and especially the art of drama, you will make art." / etc.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tam Sothonprapakonn

    "Prodigious, heaven-sent machines--to use them merely for rehashing something phoney will appear, in less than fifty years' time, irrational and absurd." Notes of an artist who truly believed in the potential of his chosen artistic medium--CINEMATOGRAPHY, not CINEMA--and who was so single-mindedly resolute in the pursuit of his artistic vision. Absolute trust in the potential of the cinematic apparatus: "Your camera catches not only physical movements that are inapprehensible by pencil, brush or p "Prodigious, heaven-sent machines--to use them merely for rehashing something phoney will appear, in less than fifty years' time, irrational and absurd." Notes of an artist who truly believed in the potential of his chosen artistic medium--CINEMATOGRAPHY, not CINEMA--and who was so single-mindedly resolute in the pursuit of his artistic vision. Absolute trust in the potential of the cinematic apparatus: "Your camera catches not only physical movements that are inapprehensible by pencil, brush or pen, but also certain states of soul recognizable by indices which it alone can reveal." But not succumbing to the futurist cult of the machines: "Face to face with the real, your taut attention shows up the mistakes of your original conception. It is your camera that corrects them. But the impression felt by you is the sole reality that has interest." The distinctive character of cinematography, a new language, a new way of feeling, a new kind of expression: "The things one can express with the hand, with the head, with the shoulders! ... How many useless and encumbering words then disappear! What economy!" A deeply rich, personal creative Bible which I will certainly revisit time and time again. "DIVINATION--how can one not associate that name with the two sublime machines I use for my work? Camera and tape recorder carry me far away from the intelligence which complicates everything."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jansen Cümbie

    Prob would have appreciated this more if I’d seen more than one Bresson film (tho the one I have seen—Au Hasard Balthazar—was enough for me want to pick this up). Bresson had an interesting goal in 1975: what would cinema look like when you circumvent literally all the magic (polished dialogue/A-list stars/the juxtaposition of music and visuals, etc.—all which distorts audience's perceptions) that people love about the medium? Like his films (I assume, based on what he wrote), don't go in expectin Prob would have appreciated this more if I’d seen more than one Bresson film (tho the one I have seen—Au Hasard Balthazar—was enough for me want to pick this up). Bresson had an interesting goal in 1975: what would cinema look like when you circumvent literally all the magic (polished dialogue/A-list stars/the juxtaposition of music and visuals, etc.—all which distorts audience's perceptions) that people love about the medium? Like his films (I assume, based on what he wrote), don't go in expecting a linear argument—these are just his unadorned notes, and rarely exceed a sentence or two before moving onto another topic. It's a compelling line of thought to entertain for a few hours, and there's certainly a few gems on the nature of human communication from the director.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Matt Harms

    Bresson on the camera and tape recorder: "Prodigious, heaven-sent machines--to use them merely for rehashing something phoney will appear, in less than fifty years' time, irrational and absurd." ... Isn't idealism nice? This entire collection is remarkably precise. I think I finally understand why I detest BBC-esque period dramas. Photographing theater isn't art! (Except when it is.) Much of Bresson's thoughts and rules needn't be exclusively applied to film-making but seem to be useful for any k Bresson on the camera and tape recorder: "Prodigious, heaven-sent machines--to use them merely for rehashing something phoney will appear, in less than fifty years' time, irrational and absurd." ... Isn't idealism nice? This entire collection is remarkably precise. I think I finally understand why I detest BBC-esque period dramas. Photographing theater isn't art! (Except when it is.) Much of Bresson's thoughts and rules needn't be exclusively applied to film-making but seem to be useful for any kind of art-making. I cannot wait to have "Passionate for the appropriate." tattooed across my flabby chest.

  23. 5 out of 5

    jude

    It is as if there are two TRUTHS: one that is dull, flat, boring, at least in the eyes of those who daub it with falsity; the other ... there is something extraordinarily profound in this book that i never expected to come across when i first started reading this. if i were to be honest, i have not even watched most of bresson's films: a paltry sum of two—l'argent and journal d'un curé de campagne—is my grand total for a checklist. yet those two were so different from films that i've watched It is as if there are two TRUTHS: one that is dull, flat, boring, at least in the eyes of those who daub it with falsity; the other ... there is something extraordinarily profound in this book that i never expected to come across when i first started reading this. if i were to be honest, i have not even watched most of bresson's films: a paltry sum of two—l'argent and journal d'un curé de campagne—is my grand total for a checklist. yet those two were so different from films that i've watched before that i cannot help but feel compelled to try and understand the director a bit better. myself being myself, i turned to books. fortunately, for me, bresson has written one. even more fortunate for me, it is—much like his films—clearly a work of art.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rob Stammitti

    Goofy and overly rigid but nonetheless essential for people like me who spend more time than maybe they should considering the ontology of movies and the various ways the mediums of the 20th century intermingle with and influence each other. Also it's just really breezy--the amount of time between when I started the book and when I "finished" it is substantial in terms of when I literally started and stopped but it only took like three actual sittings to read the whole thing cover to cover...tha Goofy and overly rigid but nonetheless essential for people like me who spend more time than maybe they should considering the ontology of movies and the various ways the mediums of the 20th century intermingle with and influence each other. Also it's just really breezy--the amount of time between when I started the book and when I "finished" it is substantial in terms of when I literally started and stopped but it only took like three actual sittings to read the whole thing cover to cover...that is, allowing for the possibility that rereading some of these aphorisms over and over again will never really make them coherent unless you're real deep in Bresson's wheelhouse. Anyway, it's in general very inspiring and insightful and often funny and I can't say I won't often think of some of his more broad and applicable ideas when considering certain movies, whether his, someone else's, or my own.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Allan

    Truly a collection of notes, some expressing fragments of thought, others more complete ideas about the art of film. Through this accumulation of opinions, questions and insights, Bresson reveals his interest in the use of silence and sound, the effects (mainly bad) of the theatric mindset on the cinema, the uses of models (his term) versus actors, and other facets of the art he practiced so notably.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aditya Watts

    Kind of difficult to comprehend at times. Some interesting observations but I can't help but feel Bresson is convinced by his observations as 'truth' like many artists. Good for provoking thought and as a subject of debate. I personally abhor manifestos or any attempts at rule making in art. Kind of difficult to comprehend at times. Some interesting observations but I can't help but feel Bresson is convinced by his observations as 'truth' like many artists. Good for provoking thought and as a subject of debate. I personally abhor manifestos or any attempts at rule making in art.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Vaibhav Munjal

    "The point is not to direct someone but to direct oneself." An interesting name for a book which is not a book about cinematography, as it mainly talks about the dos and don'ts of creative filmmaking. A precise collection of notes that will tell you all that Bresson learnt during his lifetime. I am not sure if I could comprehend all the points that he has made in this book, but I am sure I will keep revisiting it for years to come, to fully understand it all. "The point is not to direct someone but to direct oneself." An interesting name for a book which is not a book about cinematography, as it mainly talks about the dos and don'ts of creative filmmaking. A precise collection of notes that will tell you all that Bresson learnt during his lifetime. I am not sure if I could comprehend all the points that he has made in this book, but I am sure I will keep revisiting it for years to come, to fully understand it all.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Swrang Varma

    "Let it be the feelings that bring about the events. Not the other way." bresson and i always agreed. "Let it be the feelings that bring about the events. Not the other way." bresson and i always agreed.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    I will read this many times throughout my life

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen Rubin

    I do love aphorisms and proverbs of the professions, and this book is aphorisms of a cinematographer.

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