Alexander Astruc : Birth of a New Vanguard -- The Camera-Stylo
In March 1948. L'Ecran Français published a short article by Alexander Astruc, Birth of a New Vanguard -- The Camera-Stylo which became the first important document of the era of the "New Wave". It is impossible not, for instance, to see it influence on François Truffaut's A Certain Tendency of French Cinema .
This is a translation of that article that I prepared. The article is available in French on-line at:
It is also republished in facsimile form and very small type in French new wave by Jean Douchet ; in collaboration with Cédric Anger ; translated by Robert Bonnono on page 40.
The article is preface by a quote from Orson Welles "Ce qui m’intéresse au cinéma, s’est l’abstraction". I have tried to find the exact English quote and the bes I can do is one site "Cinema as a means of expression fascinates me". Whether that was the origianl English, I can not say.
It is impossible to not see that something is happening in cinema. We risk going blind before this current production which spreads from the beginning of the year to the end an immobile visage where the atypical has no place.
For today, cinema is fashioning itself a new visage. How do we see this? It suffices just to look. One would have to be a critic not to see the stunning transformation of that face which is taking place befroe our eyes. What are the works through which this new beauty is developing? Exactly those which the critics ignore. It is not by chance that from Renoir’s The Rules of the Game to Orson Welles passing through The Ladies of the Bois du Boulogne, all that sketches out the lines of a new tomorrow escapes the critics, for whom, in any case, it can not but escape.
But it is significant that the works that escapes the blessings of the critics are those which we are in agreement about. We grant them, if you want, an precursory character. That is why I speak of the vanguard. There is a vanguard every time something new is happening.
Let’s be more specific. Cinema is quite simply in the process of becoming a means of expression which all the other arts have been before it, in particular painting and the novel. After having been successively, a fairground attraction, an entertainment analogous to boulevard theater, or the means of preserving the images of an epoque, it is becoming, little by little, a language. A language, in other words, a form in which and through which an artist is able to express his thoughts, as abstract as they might be, or to translate his obsessions exactly as he might do today in an assay or a novel. That is why I call this new age of cinema, the age of the Camera Stylo. this image has a very precise meaning. It means that the cinema will tear loose from the tyranny of the visual, of the image for the image, of the immediate anecdote, of the tangible to become a method of writing as fluid and subtle as that of written language. This art, endowed with all possibilities but a prisoner of all prejudgments, will not persist in eternally slogging away in the petty domain of realism and social fantasy that has been accorded to the frontiers of the popular novel when they do not make of it the chosen domain of photographers. No domain should be forbidden to it. The most profound meditation, a view point on human production, psychology, metaphysics, ideas, passions its dominion. Better, we say that the ideas and visions of the world are such that today cinema alone can interpret. Maurice Nadeau wrote in an article in Combat, “Were Descartes alive today, he would be writing novels”. I beg Mr. Nadeau’s pardon but today Descartes would be closed up in his room with a 16mm camera and he would write the discourse on method on film, for his Discourse on Method would be such today that only cinema would adequately express it.
It must be understood that until now, cinema has been only spectacle. this owes very exactly to the fact that all films are projected in theaters. But with the development of the 16mm and television, the day is not far off when everyone will have a projection apparatus at home and will go and rent at the corner bookstore films written on any subject, in whatever form, as likely literary criticism, novel as mathematical treatise, history, popularization, etc. From that time on, it will no longer be permissible to speak of a cinema. There will be cinema as today there are literatures, for cinema as literature, before being a distinctive art, is a language which is able to express any area of thinking. this idea that cinema expresses thought is perhaps not new. Feyder has already said, “I can make a film based on Montesquieu’s “The Spirit of the Laws .” But Feyder was imagining an illustration of “The Spirit of the Laws” in images as Eisenstein had imagined an illustration of Capital ( or an imaging ). As for us, we say that cinema is in the process of discovering a form which becomes a language so rigorous that thought could be written directly on the film without even passing through those unwieldy combinations of images that made for the delights of silent film. In different terms, to say that time has elapsed, there is no need to show dropping leaves following an apple tree in flower and to indicate that the hero wants to make love, there is much the same other ways of proceeding that that which consists in showing a saucepan filled with milk overflow onto the gas as Clouzot did in Quai des Orfèvres.
The expression of thought is the fundamental problem of cinema. The realization of this language has obsessed all the theoreticians and creators of cinema from Eisenstein to the scenarists and adaptors of the talking film. But neither the silent film, because it was hostage to a static concept of image, nor the classic talking picture, such that it exists today, has been able to resolve adequately this problem. Silent film thought that it worked the problem out with montage and the association of image. Recall Eisenstein’s famous declaration, “ Montage is for me the method of bringing movement (in other words, idea) to two static images.” And as for the talking picture, it has been content to adopt the procedures of theater.
The fundamental event of this last years is the realization which is in process of becoming a dynamic character, that is to say meaningful for the cinematic image. Every film, because it is first a film in movement, said otherwise, it unfolds in time. is a theorem. It is the place of a linking of implacable logic, which goes from one end of itself to the other, or better yet of a dialectic. This idea, these realizations, that silent film tried on the surface to bring into existence by a symbolic association, we have learned exist in the image itself, in the unfolding of the film, in every gesture of the characters, in each of their words, in the movement of the camera which ties objects and characters to objects. All thought, like all feeling, is a relationship between one human being to another human being or some objects which make part of his universe. It is in explaining these relationships and in drawing an objective path that cinema can be the true place of the expression of thought. From today, it is possible to give cinema works equivalent in profundity and significance as the novels of Faulkner and Malraux, as the essays of Sartre and Camus. In the meantime, we have before our eyes a significant example: It is Man’s Hope by Malraux where, for the first time perhaps, cinematographic language gives an exact equivalent of literary language.
Let us now examine the concessions to the false necessities of cinema. Scenarists who adapt Balzac or Dostoyevski excuse themselves for the mindless treatment that they force works to undergo beginning from which they construct their scenarios by citing some cinematic impossibility to realize psychological or metaphysical backgrounds. In their hands, Balzac becomes a collection of engravings where fashion holds the highest place and Dostoyevski suddenly begins to resemble the novels of Joseph Kessel with Russian-style drunkenness and troika races in the snow. Now, these prohibitions are only made of a laziness of wit and a lack of imagination. Today’s cinema is capable of realizing any order of reality whatever. what interests us in cinema today is the creation of this language. We have no want to remake poetic documentaries or surrealistic films every time we can slip away from commercial necessity. Between the cinema of the 1920s and filmed theater, place for a cinema which frees.
This implies, you must understand, that the scenarist makes the film himself. Better yet, that there no longer be scenarists, for in such a cinema, this distinction of auteur and realisateur makes no sense. Direction is no longer a means of illustrating or presenting a scene, but of true writing. The auteur writes with his camera as a writer writes with a pen. How in this art where a visual and sound strip unrolls developing through some anecdote (or with no anecdote, it does not matter) and in a certain form, a concept of the world, could we make a difference between the one who thinks the work out and the one who writes it? Imagine a novel by Faulkner written by someone other than Faulkner. And Citizen Kane, would it be acceptable in any other form that the one Orson Welles gave it?
I well know yet once that this term avant-garde will make you think of surrealist films and other films termed abstract of post-war period of the first World War. But that avant-garde is already rearguard. It looked to create its own domain in cinema: we are looking on the contrary to understand it and to make for it the language the most vast and transparent that can be. Problems such as the translation of the time of verbs or logical connections interests us a lot more than the creation of this visual and static art dream by surrealism which meanwhile adapted to cinema only the researchings of painting and poetry.
There it is. It is not about a school or a movement but simply of a tendency. Of a realization, of a certain transformation of cinema, of a possible future and of the desire we ahve to hasten this future. Of course, no tendency can demonstrate itself without works. These works will come, they will see day. the economic and material difficulties of cinema create this astounding paradox, that it is possible to speak of what is not yet, for if we know what we want, we do not yet know if, when and how we can do it. But it is impossible that cinema not develop. this art can not live with eyes turned toward the past, brooding over memories and nostalgia for a bygone epoque. Its visage is already turned toward the future and, in cinema as elsewhere, there is no possible concern but that of the future.
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