Thursday, October 27, 2005

I know I rarely update this blog, but I figure I can throw a paper up now and then for the general edification of this blog's small audience...enjoy my cinema 121 paper...
Bazin and Rules of the Game

André Bazin’s essay on the theater and cinema from What is Cinema? opens with a discussion of the concept of presence. Bazin is responding to those who despise filmed theater, explaining that the last argument left for the superiority of actual theater over filmed theater is the “‘the impossibility of separating off action and actor.’” (Bazin 418). The actual presence of the actor with the audience allows for the greatest impact of the play, and thus theater is the best medium for the text that was created by the playwright. Presence, as Bazin explains, is “defined in terms of time and space.” (Bazin 419) While the audience is absent from the actual actor, Bazin shows that there is a sense of time and space which is present with the actors in cinema. Cinema captures an object in the same manner photography does, but also, “makes a molding of the object as it exists in time and, furthermore, makes and imprint of the duration of the object.” (Bazin 419) Bazin goes on to make the case that the cinema is actually truer to the reality of space than theater; it is the one reality of which cinema cannot be deprived. Thus, in the cinema everything “takes place as if in the time-space perimeter which is the definition of presence.” (Bazin 420)
For Bazin, though, the question of theater versus cinema should focus on the terms “opposition” and “identification.” Bazin quotes Rosenkrantz:
“The characters on the screen are, rather, objects of mental opposition because their real presence gives them an objective reality and to transpose them into beings in an imaginary world the will of the spectator has to intervene actively, that is to say, to will to transform their physical reality into an abstraction.” (420)
Thus, the focus shifts from ontological to psychological. The viewer, psychologically isolated from his fellow audience, is passive, taking in whatever the cinema offers him. Such a state allows the viewer to identify with characters in the story. In the theater, however, the actor and the audience are both aware of each other. Such an awareness puts them in opposition to each other, and thus the viewer is not passive anymore; he does not identify with the characters on stage.
Bazin says that we, as viewers of cinema watch, as voyeurs, “through half open blinds a spectacle that is unaware of our existence and which is part of the universe.” (422) The spectacle of cinema can exist without actors, and thus, the dramatic flow does not begin with man, as it does in the theater. In film, the dramatic flow of theater is reversed, beginning with décor and then moving to man. Thus, according to Bazin, a film should be as realistic in terms of décor as possible. He says “cinema is dedicated entirely to the representation if not of natural reality at least of a plausible reality of which the spectator admits the identity with nature as he knows it.” (Bazin 426) He gives as an example to support this thesis the failure of German expressionism. Thus, film, realistically portraying both time and space, but in a different mode than theater, doesn’t lack presence, but instead redefines the notion of presence. For a time, the viewer is drawn into the film, and the “film is the Universe.” (Bazin 426) To accomplish this, though, a film must achieve realism of space through accuracy of décor.
Jean Renoir’s classic masterpiece, The Rules of the Game is the perfect demonstration of Bazin’s ideas about film, particulalarly how the accuracy of décor affects the reality of space and thus, the effectiveness of the film. Rules of the Game itself is very theatrical, and it is ironic that it should be used to prove Bazin’s points in his essay comparing theater and cinema. Perhaps this is what makes Renoir’s film so interesting when coupled with Bazin’s ideas. It often uses theatrical framing and sets, but intersperses them with techniques unique to film (such as close ups and panning the camera) to make it effective. Renoir uses other techniques in addition to close ups and panning to keep the reality of décor such as deep focus, background actions, pacing, and the use of camera. The sequence of scenes during the party provide plenty of examples of Renoir’s craft and use of these techniques.
Renoir’s use of deep focus is the key to many of the other techniques that confirm reality of space, and it is also the primary confirmation to the viewer’s eye of the reality of space. Deep focus is closest to how the human eye sees, and thus, Renoir creates a visual that subconsciously confirms the realness of his story to the viewer. Additionally, deep focus does not seek to direct the viewer’s eyes. They are free to take in whatever they wish on the screen, be that the action in the foreground or the action which may be developing in the background.
The use of background action is another technique Renoir utilizes to confirm the reality of space, and his use of deep focus allows him to let the viewer explore these actions. Renoir uses it extensively during the party sequence, and it allows the multiple story lines to progress and weave together. One scene in particular to consider during the party sequence takes place in the foyer with the stairwell. Marceau, a house servant, asks his master Robert Chesnaye to cover for him while he escapes from the groundskeeper Schumacher, who is seeking revenge on Marceau for philandering with his wife. Robert intercepts Schumacher, who has been dragging his wife from room to room looking for Marceau, and informs him that he must stay out of the party area. While speaking, we see Marceau escape through a back door, and Schumacher’s wife quietly slips away to escape through the same backdoor. After Robert is called away, Schumacher, realizing his wife is gone, looks around desperately. While doing this, Andre Jurieu, who is in love with Chesnaye’s wife, Christine, enters and asks Schumacher if he has seen Christine. Schumacher says he has not and in the process of looking for his wife, opens a door to reveal Christine with Saint-Aubin, another party guest. Jurieu sees them and enters the room. This particular background action not only simply convinces the viewer that they are watching a realistic party scene (something theater could have a hard time accomplishing, due to lack of stage space), but also advances the story line. It is both décor and story. This is the beauty of film, that such action can be simultaneously part of the atmosphere, and concurrently advance the story.
This scene also demonstrates another technique of Renoir, namely, putting multiple events in one long, extended shot. This particular shot contains three events and allows them to proceed almost concurrently: Robert intercepting Schumacher, the escape of Marceau, and Jurieu’s discovery of Christine. In showing the events at almost concurrent moments, Renoir tells the story in a realistic manner. Instead of breaking the three events into three separate and differently framed shots, he is showing things as they progress in their true pacing. By layering these events in a single shot, Renoir is confirming the accuracy of décor, and thus, the reality of space. The extended shot, like deep focus, allows the viewer to absorb the story in the same way they would watch such events unfold in real life. This also confirms the accuracy of décor.
During extended shots Renoir does not always keep the camera stationary. Oftentimes, he moves it from room to room, as if the viewer is a silent observer, mingling amongst the party guests and studying the goings on. In addition to this, Renoir has the camera enter in the midst of action, as if it has been going on for some time while the camera was in another room. This is reminiscent of Bazin’s point about the conventions of theater which a theatergoer must accept. While theatergoers know the actor exits the stage and goes to his dressing room, they accept for the purpose of the story, that he actually goes some place else. In the world of film, however, the camera can follow the actor as they leave and go to that “some place” or enter on them later in that “place,” confirming that they were there the whole time. The character does not cease to exist in the mind of the viewer, rather they simply go out of view. This particular aspect of the reality of space is extremely important to Renoir’s films. The viewer must be convinced that while Christine and Jurieu are speaking in one room, Schumacher is still pursuing Marceau. The tension of that chase is still there for the viewer, even when the camera is not present to observe those actions.
Renoir does a supremely good job of creating a décor that is true to reality. It is almost as if he has simply turned the camera on, and the viewer becomes the silent observer described by Bazin in his essay. Renoir accomplishes this reality and sense of the film as a temporary universe through the techniques of deep focus, background action, and his use of camera. Rules of the Game is a masterpiece, orchestrated by a master filmmaker. This becomes perfectly clear when analyzed through Bazin’s critical lens

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