Cahiers du Cinéma is the most prestigious and influential film journal ever published. An anthology devoted entirely to its writings, in English translation, is long overdue.
The selections in this volume are drawn from the colorful first decade of Cahiers, 1951–1959, when a group of young iconoclasts rocked the world of film criticism with their provocative views on international cinema—American, Italian, and French in particular. They challenged long-established Anglo-Saxon attitudes by championing American popular movies, addressing genres such as the Western and the thriller and the aesthetics of technological developments like CinemaScope, emphasizing mise en scène as much as thematic content, and assessing the work of individual filmmakers such as Hawks, Hitchcock, and Nicholas Ray in terms of a new theory of the director as author, auteur, a revolutionary concept at the time. Italian film, especially the work of Rossellini, prompted sharp debates about realism that helped shift the focus of critical discussion from content toward style. The critiques of French cinema have special interest because many of the journal’s major contributors and theorists—Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Rivette, Chabrol—were to become some of France’s most important film directors and leaders of the New Wave.
Translated under the supervision of the British Film Institute, the selections have for the most part never appeared in English until now. Jim Hillier has organized them into topical groupings and has provided introductions to the parts as well as the whole. Together these essays, reviews, discussions, and polemics reveal the central ideas of the Cahiers of the 1950s not as fixed doctrines but as provocative, productive, often contradictory contributions to crucial debates that were to overturn critical thinking about film.
A good case can be made for the 1950s as the most stimulating decade in the annals of film criticism. Credit for this goes largely to the French journal Cahiers du Cinéma, which nurtured and published a small band of iconoclasts who later moved into active filmmaking and became the core of the influential New Wave group. Jean-Luc Godard and the late François Truffaut were probably its most important members, with Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chobrol right at their heels… Jim Hillier’s collection…concentrates on the 1950s, assessing the pre-New Wave cinema of France, as well as classical Hollywood film and Italy’s neo-realist school. It also treats such technical issues as the essence of mise en scène and the advent of CinemaScope… This is a fascinating and provocative book that casts a keen light on the ideas (and by extension, the films) of such astonishing cinéastes as Godard and Rivette, while also showing their affinities with the incisive thought of André Bazin, the group’s mentor… This collection deserves a wide readership among casual and committed filmgoers alike.
This isn’t simply an anthology of interesting film criticism; it’s something much more rare and intriguing—the documentary history of an important intellectual shift… By treating movies as movies, not as poor relations to books or plays, the Cahiers critics helped introduce a new art form to the century that produced it.
Wonderfully intellectual and anti-academic at the same time, the articles are, more than anything else, supremely personal… These are immensely serious people, self-consciously bent on nothing less than changing the history of cinema. In important ways they first taught us how to look at movies, especially our own.
- 328 pages
- 6 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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