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Découpage

André Bazin
Translated by Timothy Barnard

In 1952, André Bazin wrote a major theoretical statement entitled Découpage, 7,500 words in length, for an Italian film festival catalogue. In it he developed his thesis that découpage is the basis of film art and the key to understanding film history, a view he had begun to argue in earnest in 1948 with articles on William Wyler and Italian neo-realism and in 1950 with a short monograph on Orson Welles. Perhaps by virtue of it being published in Italy, however, this essential document, apart from eliciting a passionate rebuttal from a twenty-one-year-old Jean-Luc Godard, passed unnoticed in France. It quickly sank from view before Bazin took it up again in 1958 and revised it, changing its title to “L’Evolution du langage cinématographique”, “The Evolution of Film Language”, the most widely-read essay in film studies.

In English, however, Bazin’s argument remained obscured from view, even with the translation of the Evolution essay as early as 1967, which every film studies student in the English-speaking world has read. For there Bazin’s key concept was mistranslated, as it has been practically throughout his writings available to us in English, as editing, the very target of his manifesto in favour of découpage. From the beginning, English readers have been unaware of Bazin’s essential concept découpage and its primordial place in his aesthetic system.

With this translation, Bazin’s text is republished in its original form for the first time in any language since 1952, and the term and concept découpage restored to Bazin’s argument for the benefit of English readers. Here is the cornerstone of Bazin’s aesthetic theories, obscured for a half-century and more and finally brought to light.

Découpage is published by caboose as a handsome 32-page booklet on heavy, high-quality paper with notes by translator Timothy Barnard. For copyright reasons, sale of Bazin’s essay Découpage is restricted. It cannot be sold, for example, in the United States or Europe. Please see the additional information under the “Order” tab to the left of this page if you wish to purchase this publication.

Over the past ten years, cinema has reconnected with the Stroheim-Murnau school in particular, which was almost completely eclipsed in the 1930s. It has not limited itself to carrying on the tradition; rather it has found therein the secret to a realist rejuvenation of narrative, which has once again become capable of incorporating real time—the duration of events—for which classical découpage insidiously substituted intellectual and abstract time. Far from doing away with the accomplishments of editing, however, this cinema has given them relevance and meaning. Only through the heightened realism of the image does additional abstraction become possible. The stylistic repertoire of a filmmaker such as Alfred Hitchcock, for example, ranges from the power of raw documentary images to superimpositions and extreme close-ups. But Hitchcock’s close-ups are not the same as those of Cecil B. DeMille in The Cheat. In Hitchcock, they are just one stylistic device among many. In other words, editing in silent cinema suggested what the filmmaker was trying to say, while in 1938 découpage was used to describe. Finally, in our own time, we can say that filmmakers write directly on film. Because it relies on a greater degree of realism, the image—its visual structure, its organisation in time—now has more means at its disposal to inflect and modify reality from within. Filmmakers are no longer merely rivals to painters and playwrights; they have become, finally, the equal of novelists.

— André Bazin
March 2015, 32 pp., 5.5” x 8”, saddle-stiched booklet, ISBN 978-1-9278520-3-3, $4