Montage, Découpage and Mise en scène are currently available as individual volumes in the caboose Kino-Agora series.

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Currently in preparation

Montage, Découpage, Mise en Scène: Essays on Film Form

Laurent Le Forestier, Timothy Barnard, Frank Kessler
with a foreword by Christian Keathley

Montage, découpage, mise en scène: these three French terms are central to debates around film history and aesthetics in every language, yet the precise meaning of each and especially their relationship to one another remain a source of confusion for many. In this unique volume, film scholars Laurent Le Forestier, Timothy Barnard and Frank Kessler examine in lively, readable prose the history of these concepts in film theory and criticism and their genesis and development in practice during cinema’s foundational first half-century and beyond—from early cinema to the modern mise en scène criticism of the 1950s and 60s by way of silent-era explorations of the theory and practice of montage and the early sound period’s counter example of découpage. Each 20,000-word essay will serve as an essential guide for students and specialists alike, combining historical overview with fresh ideas about film aesthetics today.

In the ‘Montage’ essay in the volume Montage, Découpage, Mise en scène, French film historian Laurent Le Forestier starts from the premise that the concept ‘montage’ does not exist in the absolute but must always be considered in light of the time and place in which it operates and is understood, and must always be studied in relation to other arts and social phenomena.

Giorgio Agamben, taking up a topic – the cinema – he did not usually address, once remarked: ‘The specific character of cinema stems from montage, but what is montage? Or rather, what are the conditions of possibility of montage?’ Agamben proposes a solely theoretical response to these two questions: ‘There are two transcendental conditions of montage: repetition and stoppage’. Le Forestier’s essay on montage will start over from this two-part question, with the premise that this theoretical response is insufficient, or at least necessarily incomplete: montage, seen as a practice – editing – and/or as a form of thought – montage – speaks to quite diverse realities depending on the time and place. Agamben’s ‘conditions of possibility’ are constantly fluctuating within highly variable parameters: production systems, the technologies available, the status of the professionals involved in the work of editing, the dominant ideas around cinema, film’s social uses, etc.

Le Forestier’s hypothesis is thus that what is called ‘montage’ at a given point in time is in fact a form of equilibrium between these variables, and that the concept’s odyssey and transformations can be understood as modifications of this equilibrium. Drawing on his highly-regarded work as an early film historian, Le Forestier will examine three such transformative periods – early cinema, the 1920s and the 1950s – to lay the foundation for what could become an (undeniably utopian) total history of montage.

Laurent Le Forestier is professor of film studies at Université de Lausanne. He is also vice-president of the Association Française de Recherche sur l’Histoire du Cinéma (AFRHC) and editorial secretary of the journal 1895 revue d’histoire du cinéma. His research focuses mostly on early cinema (from an economic, technological, aesthetic and socio-cultural perspective), the relations between découpage and montage (from both a theoretical and a practical point of view) and on the history of discourses about the cinema up to the 1950s. He is currently completing a volume entitled La Transformation Bazin, forthcoming in late 2016 from Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

In this section of the volume, the only discussion in English of cinematic découpage, Timothy Barnard surveys the writings of a broad range of filmmakers, historians and theorists of the classical and modern eras to explore the meanings of découpage and the usefulness of the concept to film criticism and theory today. Almost universally confused in English-language writing on film with editing—when it isn’t completely ignored—découpage articulated instead an understanding by French critics that sequencing was conceived before and during the shooting of a film, not in the cutting, and that the camera played not merely a pictorial role but instead structured the film through its formal treatment and sequencing of the mise en scène. A nascent theory of découpage was sketched out by André Bazin, but the term and the concept have been obliterated from most English translations of his work, in which it has perversely been replaced by editing. Despite everything we have been told, D.W. Griffith, as Bazin remarked, did not invent editing: he invented découpage. ‘Griffith didn’t invent the close-up either’, Bazin quipped in a 1947 article defending Orson Welles against the charge by Georges Sadoul that Citizen Kane did not invent the use of depth of field. ‘But he invented découpage—which is to say thirty years of cinema’.

Employing an innovative découpage-like writing structure that flows effortlessly between his sources and disentangles découpage for the English reader in direct prose that will find a welcome home in undergraduate lecture halls, graduate seminar rooms and on the bookshelves of general readers alike, Barnard leads us on a journey through the history and theory of découpage and argues for its importance to film theory today. The authors discussed include Henri Agel, Alexandre Astruc, Jean George Auriol, Béla Balázs, André Bazin, Raymond Borde, David Bordwell, Eileen Bowser, Luis Buñuel, Noël Burch, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean-Luc Godard, Tom Gunning, Roger Leenhardt, Rachael Low, André Malraux, Jean Mitry, Harry Alan Potamkin, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Éric Rohmer, Georges Sadoul and Kristin Thompson.

‘In 1952, André Bazin conceived a fine prank. Its intended victims, however, innocently sidestepped it, and it cruelly backfired on him into the bargain. Asked by the Venice film festival to write an essay whose assigned topic, we can only assume, was editing, Bazin delivered instead a theoretical manifesto which challenged the entrenched notion that editing is the basis of film art and presented a vision of film history as evolving from silent film editing to talking film analytical découpage to a form of découpage that is a fluid form of writing with a differentiating camera, modifying reality from within. He titled this major 7,500-word statement ‘Découpage’. In it we find a masterful summation of the ideas found over the previous four years in his texts on William Wyler, neo-realism and Orson Welles, in particular. And yet, until the present author stumbled on this text at a church-basement flea market in January 2009—at the same time as he was desperately searching for it, not knowing its title—it appears that not a single film scholar since Bazin’s day, working in any language, had ever laid eyes on it, even though Bazin had vaguely referenced it in the first volume of Qu’est-ce que le cinéma?, published two weeks after his death in November 1958.’ — Timothy Barnard

Timothy Barnard is the proprietor of caboose, for whom he has translated a selection of essays from André Bazin’s What is Cinema? in 2009 and Jean-Luc Godard’s Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television in 2014.

The Belgian film critic Dirk Lauwaert once proclaimed that mise en scène is the “most beautiful word” when talking about cinema. In this volume Frank Kessler charts the term’s use from its origins in theatre circles in the 19th century through to the auteur theories found in French film criticism of the 1950s and 60s up to the present day and the place of mise en scène in the contemporary digital cinematic landscape. Mise en scène, when understood as one of the most fundamental techniques of filmmaking, has always been a part of film history, from Georges Méliès’s “artificially arranged scenes” to contemporary block busters or art house movies. But the practices to which the term refers have changed over time, and recent developments have shown that the complex interplay between space, actors and camera is also dependent upon technological constraints. Mise en scène disentangles the various ways in which mise en scène appears in writings about film, with regard to its descriptive scope as well as its strategic functions. It will also look at the different practices of mise en scène and the way in which these are conceptualised. Kessler’s three-pronged historical, theoretical and practical approach fills a major gap in the existing literature on cinematic mise en scène.

‘The French expression “mise en scène” is synonymous with the English “staging”, as it includes all the aspects that are involved when a play is being “put on stage”. So while the cultural hierarchies in nineteenth-century France may have privileged text and declamation over all the other elements of a play, the mere scope of what mise en scène contributes to a theatrical performance shows that the hierarchical relations could easily be reversed. Once the staging of a play came to be considered an interpretation of the text rather than a simple reproduction of the written work, it was mise en scène itself that in fact became the pre-eminent means for artistic creation. Consequently, Patrice Pavis not only adds another function of mise en scène to the ones listed by Arthur Pougin—that of ‘highlighting the meaning’ of the play—but also states that the emergence of mise en scène and the evolution of its status at the end of the nineteenth century resulted in theatre being established as an autonomous art form. As a result, the author of the text could no longer be considered the sole creator of a theatrical work of art. When Berlin audiences flocked to see Max Reinhardt’s staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1905, it was because of his spectacular mise en scène rather than to see Shakespeare’s play.’ — Frank Kessler

frank kessler is professor of media history at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, and one of the founders and editors of KINtop: Jahrbuch zur Erforschung des frühen Films. He is a past president of Domitor, an international association for research on early cinema. His research mainly concerns the period of the emergence of cinema, exploring various aspects of early cinema, especially the genre of féeries, early non-fiction film and acting styles.