French Film Theory in the 1920’s

         When first reading Jean Epstein’s “Magnification” I thought it was a poem. The way he was expressing himself on close-up shots was with so much passion I had to re-read the first paragraph over because I almost forgot what he was talking about. But reading on, he has such a care to how close ups should be used. How they shouldn’t be overused, too long, over done, or improperly used because it would basically ruin the film. He states, “If it is too long, I don’t find continuous pleasure from it.” This is understandable. Close-ups are mostly used for times of extreme intensity, to show expression and emotion in the characters face. But used too often, we lose that sense of intensity and we see this shot as any other shot because it no longer has meaning and we feel that there is no longer a purpose for this shot. Earlier in his work, he mentions how the close up “seems to address [him] personally.” When we see a close, especially one that is looking at us but addressing the character, it is as if we are the other character that character is talking to. Close-ups like these allow us to be pulled into the film because we then feel as if we are a part of it. I feel like when we watch a film we get so caught up in it, and its because of meaningful shots like the close-ups that we do. It is easy to feel or to get sent back to reality all because of one a bad shot and for Epstein, it would be unacceptable.

         I also found it comedic how Epstein refers to cinemas as a “hermaphrodite, with art rather than science proving to be its sex.” To one that studies film, this sentence makes clear sense. But for one that might be casually reading this, I think would have to re-read the sentence. At first, cinema was in fact a science in developing it technologically. It was another machine that was developed for our use. But once mastered, it was a form of art. A way for people to express themselves and create their own interpretations of the world around them. Film creation because a persons lump of clay, to mold and shape it as they like, taking care of every detail before done. A fact that I always knew but never really acknowledged is that “perspectives are merely optical illusions.” Film is something we can control because it “can be looked at from all directions.” When as story is told it doesn’t have to be told just one way in one order with the same theme, or actors, or even plot. It can be looked at in hundreds of different ways. Nothing is set is stone. This is what film is all about, showing us a different perspective.

         Breton’s take on dreams in the ‘First Surrealist Manifesto.’ It is true that when we sleep, we are at the “mercy” of our memory. We can have the craziest dreams of this we didn’t think possible. Sometimes we reveal ourselves our dream as well without even realizing it. The weird thing though, is that we reveal ourselves to ourselves. Perhaps we should take our dreams more seriously. He questions, “why should I not expect more of the dream sign than I do of a daily increasing degree of consciousness? Could not the dreams as well be applied to the solution of life’s fundamental problems?” Why must we only think of and take the logical route to our problems. I don’t think many people have considered their dreams to be a solution to any problem, but its food for thought. Why not? Even though it is not happening to us it could be a message to guide us. I wouldn’t let my dream have the last word in my decisions, but it would be an interesting thought.

         At the end, Breton defines Surrealism as “pure psychic automatism by which it is intended to express either verbally or in writing, the true function of thought. Thought is dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations. “ True function of thought-as in memories, dreams, unconscious. He defines surrealism as our thoughts that are without influence of reason or logic. But since we are influenced by everything around us today, is are we able to have such thoughts? We are controlled by time and demands. In the world today, we live by those. Even in a moment of relaxation, can be interrupted by some errand we have to run. So what can we consider as a pure surrealist thought?

         In the Artaud readings, I found more interest in “Sorcery and the Cinema.” I first found it a surprising how he guess the advancements in film technology such as a stable and mobile camera, color, and 3-D cinema. Which we have today… well all except the 3-D cinema, but we have 3-D cameras that take 3-D shots. With this said, I disagree with his statement, “these are accessories which cannot add much to the substratum of the cinema itself which is a language in its own right.” Color alone adds so much to a film and how we perceive it. Sometimes film will follow a certain color scheme of dark or light colors, or sometimes they might dress a character in a certain color scheme to represent the person they are through the contrast of the colors of the character and the environment around her. Colors are even used to focus attention on certain things we might have missed that’s important to the film. It also brings the film alive. We do not see the world around us in black and white, we see it in color. By seeing the screen in color as well, it helps us take that step into the film and become a part of it. Colors are also very eye catching. As for the mobility and stability in a camera, I feel that unless it’s a documentary or a film that wants to give a certain perspective from a characters view, a stable camera is best. Without one, there is so much movement and shaking that sometimes, the audience can bring themselves out of the film and notice the technical things in the film, which is something the audience shouldn’t notice. Perhaps if he were around long enough to see this technology advance and how it adds to cinema he would think differently.

         In Dulac’s, “The Essence of Cinema,” he discusses the different forms of art and adds in that film is now one of them with the need of breaking off its chains to be allowed to grow and develop. With cinema, he states, “there are no more barriers between us and things!” because now these art forms can work together. What I found most interesting in this reading is how Dulac stated that “neither literature nor theatre…have influenced cinema, but on the contrary they have been influenced by it.” I always thought it was the other way around since many films today come from literature. Also because literature has turned into so many plays. Before that, he mentions how cinematic methods used could be found in literature and theatre in the ‘rapidity of movement.’ I’m not sure what he means by this means. Maybe how fast the story goes? He also claimed that both literature and theatre ‘dilute impressions and inspirations’ which is why it couldn’t of and didn’t influence cinema because it was cinema that used these methods that concentrated on impressions. So when cinema developed, it was literature and theatre that were ‘impressed’ and ‘inspired’ by cinema.

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One Response to “French Film Theory in the 1920’s”

  1. david cooper Says:

    wow. it’s crazy that you got so much from the readings. I couldn’t understand most of what the writers said. you really explained it well. kudos.

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