Bazin on Global Cinema, 1948-1958 by André Bazin

By André Bazin

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It is precisely in the phenomenology of the actor that we discover the laws of cinematic illusion. I have remarked numerous times over the past ten or fifteen years on the reduction in number, if not the utter disappearance, of true stars, and the rise of the mere starlet as well as, more recently, even the anonymous performer. Today we understand better the cause of this phenomenon: as cinematic illusion technically grows stronger and stronger, a layer of consciousness slides between the viewer and the film that locks the image in servitude to time.

Th is paradox, which is essentially that of the mechanical arts, seems to me to have but one limitation or, more precisely, an ontologically intolerable point of contradiction: death. If life is calculated by society from the moment of birth, its denial by means of death is life’s true existential origin. In effect, our experience of time is defined by, and derived from, this privileged instant that transforms life into destiny, in André Malraux’s words. Death doesn’t belong to time: it is its moment of origin, the absolute zero point.

Greta Garbo, even when she embodies (or, better put, “disembodies”) the character of Marguerite Gautier in Camille [, dir. George Cukor] or Christina of Sweden in Queen Christina [, dir. Rouben Mamoulian]. It is precisely in the phenomenology of the actor that we discover the laws of cinematic illusion. I have remarked numerous times over the past ten or fifteen years on the reduction in number, if not the utter disappearance, of true stars, and the rise of the mere starlet as well as, more recently, even the anonymous performer.

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