Week Four: Realism

According to prolific film critic Andre Bazin, what all filmmakers had in common was a desire to put cinema at the service of what he called a “fundamental faith” in reality. The credibility of a film did not come from its authenticity but from the identity between the image and its object. For Bazin, realism was a style whose chief elements were the long take, deep focus, limited editing and, when possible, the use of non-professional, or at least relatively unknown actors. Realism for Bazin was the essence of cinema and its keys were simplicity, purity, and transparency.

Like Bazin, Kracauer argued that of all the arts, film is uniquely qualified to record physical reality. Kracauer conceded that many films combine realist with formalist tendencies, but he concluded the films that make us “experience aspects of physical reality are the most valid aesthetically.” Kracauer cites that the best moment in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948) is not Shakespeare’s text, or Olivier’s acting, or even his direction, but a moment when the camera, almost by inadvertence, frames a window of Elsinore castle and lets us see the “real ocean” in all its force. Thus, in essence, what Kracauer is saying is that realism reasserts all that is before the camera.

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