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  • Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and its Afterlife edited by Dudley Andrew, with Hervé Joubert-Laurencin
  • Keith Reader
Opening Bazin: Postwar Film Theory and its Afterlife. Edited by Dudley Andrew, with Hervé Joubert-Laurencin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 370 pp., ill.

The writings of André Bazin, long venerated as the greatest exponent of realist–humanist film criticism and theory, receive manifold attention and reinscription in this rich — if occasionally indigestible — collection, serendipitously complemented by the publication in 2013 of an issue of Paragraph (36.1) dealing with his work. At the high noon of filmic Grand Theory, with its invocations of Metzian semiotics, Althusserian Marxism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Bazin tended to be dismissed as a hopelessly naive humanist, particularly in the wake of 1968. The contributors here offer a handsome refutation — sometimes, as with Colin MacCabe, a palinode — of that view, complicating Bazin’s realism and surely banishing in perpetuity any perception of him as in thrall to degree-zero reflectionism. Bazin was an astonishingly protean figure, the Mozart of writing on cinema by virtue of the variety of his output, thrown into relief by his tragically early death. He appears here successively as philosopher, prefiguring Deleuze; forerunner of cultural studies (James Tweedie’s ‘André Bazin’s Bad Taste’); modernist in his stress on the impersonality of the filmic medium; practitioner (even though he never made a film), through his journalism and his work with the ciné-club movement; conceivably father of adaptation theory through his ‘definitional inclusion of the non-cinematic within the cinematic’, which ‘finds its most extreme case in novelistic adaptation’ (Philip Rosen, p. 111); and — something unknown to this reviewer — television critic more or less avant la lettre. If anything so monolithic as an overall ‘conclusion’ can be drawn from [End Page 590] these thirty-three essays, it is, to quote Daniel Morgan, that ‘[t]he basic feature of Bazin’s account of realism is to treat it not as a doctrine but as a way of understanding the interaction between style and realism’ (p. 133). The book’s final section, ‘Worldwide Influence’, analyses the impact of his work in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Brazil, China, and Japan. This all sounds hagiographic à outrance, yet the variety of perspectives adopted and the richness they uncover mean that the tone never becomes cloying. Bazin stands revealed as not only a great writer on film but one of the major French thinkers of the last millennium. Now and then, as suggested earlier, the tone of some essays makes for heavy going, but that should be enough to send readers back to the original texts, whose amalgam of deftness and profundity has rarely been equalled.

Keith Reader
University of London Institute in Paris