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Features and Elements in Bresson's Work

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We will continue our discussion on the French master with especially with reference to Robert Bresson. And yesterday, we were discussing Pickpocket; his most famous and well known work, so let us revise the key element in a Bresson. So Bresson, who has had very for reaching influence on directors who followed him, as well as directors of the new Hollywood; and yesterday we did refer to Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader. So, key features are; there is the strong spiritual element in all his works, the moral force in his works. The Sparseness; he reduces; the setting, the music and of course the dramatic emphasis on acting, so there is no melodrama at all. Those are the key future we have to remember. All these things; the spiritual element, the sparseness, they lead to a certain kind of an emotional force to Bresson’s works. And of course, there is a sense of metonymy;in a Pickpocket, there are several close up shots of hands where the people are involved inpick pocketing and all that we get to see, are closer shots of their hands.And this is recurring motifs in most of the Bresson’s works. So, exchange looks, close up of hands,eyes; this became much repeated features in Bresson’s works.Now talking about spiritual element; most of his works, almost all of his works focuson the seeking redemption in hopelessly corrupt the word. As yesterday, we were discussingBresson’s work raise moral questions, ‘Will we be judged and by what law?’And again Bresson is the highly an existentialist in his approach; for him the word is essentiallyan absurdist, meaningless place. So, these are the key features, these are the philosophythat we have to remember while discussing Bresson. And yesterday we already talkabout Pickpocket in some details, today we will discuss, ‘A Man Escaped’ and ‘Au Hazard Balthazar’.‘A Man Escaped’ (1956) is again an extension of Bresson’s minimalistic style.There is the man who is imprisoned for a very petty crime,and most of the time he is behind bars, locked up in very small cell. Much of the actionsare, much of the action takes place in a cell. And then again we find Bresson’s theoryof the cinematograph; non-professionals giving de-dramatized performances and yet yieldinga very unique emotional force to the world. Do you remember, what meant yesterday by non-professionalsgiving de-dramatized performances? What was it? It just meant that actors were stripedof emotions, anyway he would cast only people who are not trained, remember that?Yes, I am talking to you; you remember that he would cast people who were not trained actors,who were not in the profession of acting. And still with those actors also, how would you makea, how would you strip people of emotions? We would make them rehearse repeatedly; exhaust them,wear them off, and that would drain them of all their energy and emotions andthen he would shoot. This was the techniques which were also made common by Carl Dreyer, remember?We were yesterday discussing the Paul Schrader book, focusing on Ozu, Dreyer and Bresson.Paul Schrader has written a classic, seminal book; the screen writer for Taxi Driver.He has written a book on Ozu, Dreyer and Bresson. If you read that, you will understand theirtechnique and there is something which is very common in these directors.You can again, if you look at some of the stills from ‘A Man Escaped’, you willunderstand how minimalistic it is. ‘A Man Escaped’, what is it about? A man tryingto escape and he do escape. A condemn man escapes and he does escape.So, therefore in most of the publicity stills of the film, you see a very tight close up of theactor behind the bars or a rope hanging from the prison wall, a man escaping, trying to escape.And he relentless; he does not talk too much, he has made couple of friends inthe prison but there is not much dialogue, concrete images, remembered?When we were discussing Bresson, what did we talk about; his emphasis on images, concrete images.So, concrete images, a rope hanging on from the prisons’ wall a very concrete image.Prison dramas are of course quite common. We have a popular prison drama; ‘The Shawshank Redemption’but then earlier we had Jacques Becker's The Hole and Genet’s ‘A Song of Love’which preceded ‘A Man Escaped’.All these films along with ‘A Man Escaped, The Hole andA Song of Love’ act as allegories of human suffering, just like Shawshank Redemption.It is just not about man imprisoned, it is like an allegory, the most of us suffers, the world is the prison.Now ‘Au hazard Balthazar’; in English, the English title is just Balthazar (1966).It follows the life of a Donkey but it isnot singing donkey; it is not donkey from Shrek, it is the various spiritual kinds of donkey.And Bresson traces its life and its death, its life and is birth; its entire life is from birth to its death.And when it is a baby donkey, a couple of children in the village,they pour water on its head, what is the indication here? Baptism. So, the donkey is baptized remember?Bresson is a very Christian director, and he says that all of us have to go through.I mean, it is just not fair only the humans deserve a certain kind of virtual; all livingbeings are equal in Bresson’s eyes. Then, we have, we follows the donkey’s life.The movie set, the story set in the French district. The donkey; several people chainedhands, he owned by several people during the course of the movie. And the world is watchedthrough the donkey’s eyes. The donkey is the very common, silly animal for most ofus but in Bresson; he is a philosopher, he is the narrator, he is the narrator of the movie.And there are many characters in the film; there is a fourteen year old girl,she is in love with someone, her parents. So, there are several people; there is a ringmaster, the donkey also owned for a couple of months by circus owner and he trains thedonkey to be a specialist in mathematics; he starts solving the multiplication tables,etcetera and becomes the star donkey. So, all sorts of things happen to Balthazar.And through the donkey’s eyes, what does he see? A village full of weak, flowed and petty people.So, that is Bresson’s take on humanity; this is what people are all about.So, having a donkey is just a metaphor. It is the director looking very objectively at human kind.So, what Bresson’s seems to suggest that, we are all Balthazar, we all suffer and the worldwill stay the way it is. What the basic idea is; no one going to change for you, when Balthazaris beaten to death, the village idiot, the village drunk, misfit, treats and nurses it back to help.So, there is something, there is something redeeming even in the most hopelessof the mankind, of people; the village drunk, the local drunk whom everyone has written off.When he dies, when the donkey dies, it goes back among the herd of sheep and dies peacefully;there is no melodrama, they no loud music. Bresson does not ask us to weep, at Balthazar death.The donkey just dies very peacefully; there is a herd of sheep, whateverthey are doing, they continues, no one is affected. What is Bresson telling us?Does donkey going to make difference?Student: NoAnyone’s death does not make a difference, the world goes on. Do you remember this famouspainting Fall of Icarus, what is about?Student: Icarus’s wings.Icarus that is story, but there is painting as well by Brueghel, I think he is a Dutch painter.What happens in the Fall of Icarus? Icarus has been given Wings of Wax and heescaping to his freedom. But, then because he has been given wings by his father,they are not his natural wings remember, they the Wings of Wax. He is over confidence, full of joy.So, he starts flying higher and higher and reaches very close to the sun, and thenwhat happens when you wearing wings of wax and also close to sun? Melts and meets his death,so falls from his heights and splashes in a water, dies. There is the painting byBrueghel depicting this sequence, this scene; Icarus drowning to his death, the world passes in by.What does it mean? Nobody is in debt, however high and mighty you might be and itdoes not matter, that is the Bresson’s philosophy; whatever may be our dreams, hopes, ambitionand plans after all, after everything we are going to be treated by the world the way itwants to treat us, nothing is going to change.Any comments? Azhar knows Balthazar,would you like to add something to it? The girl, the love story that runs through the movie?Student: Ma’am, yesterday I was watching Pickpocket.Wow.Student: I am thinking the different ways he uses the camera.In Pick Pocket it is all static camera motion, I think and small spacesbut it is opposite in Au hazard Balthazar; there are, the frame is it covers more space.So, there are two ways to portrait.Loneliness. See, Balthazar has after all is a donkey, athe world is his home. And in Bresson’s Pickpocket the man is confined by his own loneliness,therefore places are all; even his little room surrounded with books is almostlike a prison, and if you compare his room, Mitchell’s room in Pickpocket with the manwho is condemned in ‘A man escaped’ in prison, they are quite alike, they not much of a difference.What he is trying to tell us? It is more or less all of us are in prison;it’s in death that we find redemption, freedom. It is a highly philosophical, as we have beentalking about; the existentialist, the world the absurd, the meaningless, whatever we do is meaningless.That is the idea that is recurring in his films.I am going to read you. This is the book; ‘The Films in My Life’ and who is this?François Truffaut, Truffaut was one of the critics for Cahier du cinemas remember that!Andre Bazin, Cahier du cinema. So, Truffaut was a writer, a critic he had also writtenan essay; yesterday we were talking about, a certain quality of, ‘certain tendency of French cinema’.I am just read, because he was critic also and Truffaut says, of Bresson‘In my opinion, A Man Escaped is not only Bresson’s most beautiful film but also themost important French film of the past ten years’. This essay was written in 1956.So, before I wrote the sentence, I listed on a piece of paper and listen to this, ‘allthe films that have been made by Renoir, Max Ophuls, Cocteau, Jacques Tati, Becker, Clouzot,and Clair since 1946. So, I made the list of all these films; I think The Man Escaped is a most beautiful film.Now I regret that, I wrote a few months ago, Bresson’s theoriesare always fascinating but, they are so personal that they fit only him,the future existence of ‘a Bresson’s school’.The Bresson School in inverted commas, it would shake even his most optimistic observer’.‘A conception of cinema that is so theoretical,mathematical, musical and above all acetic’, that is one word, one objective commonly appliedto Bresson’s cinema; ‘acetic’. ‘Could not give rise to general insight.Today I must disavow those sentences, A Man Escaped, seems to me to reduce to nothings a certainnumbers of accepted ideas that govern film making, all the way from scriptwriting to the direction.In many ways films nowadays we find, what is commonly called a touch of ‘Bravura’;What that means is that the filmmaker was taught to be courageous that,he tries to surpass himself in one or two scenes.By this token, ‘A Man Escaped’which is a stubborn film about stubbornness made by a stubborn native of the Auvergne,it is the first movie of utter bravura. Let us try to see; how it differs from all theothers we have seen over the years’. So, what he saying in other words is; a very oftenwe describe the director as brave director, he overwhelm you with his daring.Bresson in ‘A Man Escaped’ emerges as the most daring of all the directors.It is a very courageous movie, it is bold movie; why, because of its acetic style. That is what you aretake away should be about or on Bresson; most acetic also innovative and courageous style,not in terms of boldness or depicting something very scandalous on screen but the way he told his stories.Any questions? Please give it a thought for the few movements and then we will skip to other areas.Important director Orson Welles, and from the French masters now we are in Hollywood.Orson Welles and his; which movie, ‘Citizen Kane’,this is something that we have been talking about quite frequently.We also watched the montage sequence from ‘Citizen Kane’ a few days back. So, Citizen Kane (1941) andit was produced by Mercury and RKO picture; this is very important. You should know the names of all studios.So, it starred many people but now we can easily recognize Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten.Director by an Orson wells.It is often consider as the canonical text.Now, I want to take a few movements and think of Canon. What is a Canon?Not a Cannon ball but, canonical text. So, ‘Citizen Kane’ as a canonical text andmy question is to you, what is a Canon? And if you have to make your Canon, then whatwould be part of you is canonical text in cinema? Do not give me a list of books.Please take two minutes to make your canon, canonical list.First you have to tell me what is Canon, and then give me a list canonical film according to you.Please work, you can work in a small group or pair.Paleri and Azher please get together, look at each other.Vedant, join someone, pop over.What is a Canon, I want a working definition of the canon and I wantlist of at least five canonical films according to you. You are given ‘Ones up on a time in America’as your favorite film, so your favorite film need not to be a part of any canon.Alright, time is up.At the back, what is the canon? You three, the little girl in white; she will tell us what the canon.Student: A canon may have certain theories and rules.Certain theories, certain set of rules, confirms to a certain set of rules.Anyone else, you have something to say?Student: PrototypeOkay.Student: It starts a series of few trends which fallowed by other movie or filmmakers.Something Innovative, a bench mark. Pulp fiction, would you call it, a canonical text?Vedant, do you have your list? Your group? Let’s have a list; canonical text according to you people.Student: The Matrix may be.The Matrix, fine. Paleri and Azhar and your friend; what do you have to say about canon and your list?Student: It is a mostly accepted and admired, and also most influential cinema.Fine, give me a list. I think that will clear.Student: Birth of a Nation, Battleship Potemkin, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, 400 blows, Breathless, Eight and halfBy the French masters, new wave film makers, okay;conical text, Eight and half, okay.Here what is the canon?Student: The work which sets a foundation for other works and arts. Other than whatAzhar said, I have Sholay and Iruvar. Iruvar, Sholay, yes; think of something else, more international.Let me just define canon for you. All of you have some idea,but the dictionary defines; the canon as generally accepted rule,standard or principle by which something is judged.There are, someone said rules and principles here. So, a list of booksor other works those are the generally expected as the genuine work of a particular writeror as being important, important text; of course, dictionary is giving us the word books,books are canonical, but we can even stretch the definition a little bit, and say texts are canonical.And a set of films which are important, because they adhere to certain standardsand certain principles as they rightly pointed out.Canon became an important term in Christian theological discourse in 1890with the establishment of Hebrew biblical Canon.And whatever falls outside cannon are apocryphal and non-authentic.So, these are the words you should remember.Canon authenticates, canon validates.Now, the canon as a theory or as a term is muchcontested, like an every theory and there has to be some contest, you cannot blindlyaccept any concept or term or theory. So, Canon is much contested, much debated term.Who decides?He may say Matrix; you may say Sholay, but who decides, is there a touch of subjectivity?If you look at now seminal film critics, I can only talk about the most well known ones.There is Pauline Kael, are aware of Pauline Kael? Pauline Kael from Hollywoodwas a critic who would tell us what to watch. And her views were so important that she couldmake or mark a careers; actors, director and screenwriter etcetera. Most people who wouldread at least film magazines or reviews, they would go by her word. People like Pauline Kaelhad authority to create a list of canon, conical texts. A more accessible, Roger Ebert’s;he always tells you what to watch, ‘Hundred best movie’.Student: Great movies.Absolute, Volume one and volume two;‘Great movies’, Roger Ebert’s, and in each volume there are hundred movies.So, Roger Ebert telling us what to watch. There is book called, ‘Thousand and onemovies watch before you die’ that means, do not dare to die before watching these movies.So, every once in a while you get a list or a collections of such books where you are told, what to watch.Now, here you can please focus on this.What is it called, ‘The greatest movies ever’ the greatest movies ever.What is this book doing?A creating a set of canonical text, the greatest movies; so this is a canonand the book is written by the people who are considered authority on film writing.‘The little black book of movies’, there is similar book floating around somewhere;the little black book of, the book alphabets. Here I am showing you, the little black book of movies.Which movie is this from?Student: Silence of the lambSilence of the lamb, canonical text. So, what are you doing here now? We are looking, andtag line is; ‘over a century of the greatest films, stars, scenes and speeches and eventsthat rock the movie world’.They are telling us, these are the movie that you should be watching.You will have a camp here, you will have cult here, but they are all parts of a certain canon.So, canons are those which adhere to certain principles and which areconsider authentic by whatever standards.In literature for example, it is inconceivablefor any anthology to omit Shakespeare or Homer or Tolstoy. If they are giving you list ofhundred one books to read before you die, and how can you not have Shakespeare; right?The Shakespeare becomes the canon. Iliad and Odyssey; you have to read, otherwise you arenot educated enough, you have to read. James Joyce’s Ulysses; you have to read if youwant to be taken seriously by a certain group of people, canonical literature.Tolstoy, of course Tolstoy is a great entertainer, also a great story teller, so easy to read;Anna Karenina, War and peace wonderful books part of the canon.For example, in eighteenthcentury you have someone like Samuel Johnson, Doctor Samuel Johnson who included 52 writerswho constitute the cannon of the English verse; and it was called ‘the lives of the most eminent poets’.So, what was Johnson doing? Creating a canon, it was one of the foremost attempts in creating canon.So, ‘Remembrance of things of past’ by who?By Proust.Divine comedy by Dante, Paradise Lost by Milton and Moby Dick by Herman Melville and all kindof literary and anthologies; and again film anthologies, there are certain movies, theyrightly mentioned a list of movies which are part of the cannon. There cannot be an anthologyof cinema without the mention of the ‘Birth of a nation’, the trilogy, 400 blows and Breathless, eight and half’.What as did you mentioned? Battleship Potemkin,Gone with the wind, Citizen Kane, perhaps Ben Hur, so these are the movies.Contemporary movies?I mean, the contemporary is very loose word. So, you can even go back to the seventies;contemporary, something which happen during last forty to fifty years.So canon, if can look at contemporary canon; let’s not go back to Intolerance and Birth of nation andGone with the wind, if you look at the movies made during thirty forty years, last thirtyforty years, what will you think?Raging bull? Scorsese’s? You will definitely think ofScorsese’ Raging bull not necessary Gangs of New York. So, Raging bull has become a canonfor set of particular reasons, some principles that the director or filmmaker has to adhere to.Matrix? Yes, part of contemporary.Student: Godfather.Godfather, of course goes without saying; the Godfather is a very strong presence in any anthology of cinemas.Brian De Palma’s Scarface, yes it is. Chinatown, Polanski’s is part of Canon.Student: Die hard, ma’am?Well, Die hard is a different kind of film, I can see lot of smiles here when you say;Die hard, Terminator, Judgment day. It is a different kind of a canon but not necessarily,I do not think that they will find their way into Roger Ebert’s ‘Hundred movies, you must watch before you die’,I doubt it.Student: City of God?Definitely, City of God; it has to be a part of any canon if book, a recent book comes outthen I am very sure it will be inclusive of ‘City of God’.‘Groundhog day’ it is a contemporary classic. Can you think of anything more, any movies?Student: Reservoir dogsWhat is that?Students: Reservoir dogs Reservoir dogs, okay; we are more interestedin pulp fiction, so pulp fiction is a canonical text which will always be a part of any cinemaanthology, Reservoir dogs may or may not be.Student: Alien?I think so, Alien would. Jaws; Jaws was first of kind.Student: Are you intently saying that some kinds of movies are superior?Absolutely. So, canon therefore I am saying are interesting to analysis as they ‘dictate you',the word is dictate. They are telling you what to watch and what to teach?If Aysha does not teach Citizen Kane, then there will be a question mark on teacher. How dare you,call yourself or call your course a film theory and practice when you did not even touch uponCitizen Kane or Godard or Truffaut?So it dictates you. I cannot, however much I may love Reservoir dogs.But when you are looking at forty hours course, you have to sacrificethe Reservoir dogs, but you cannot dare to sacrifice The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Pulp fiction,they become the canon; Chinatown.I was once teaching a, it was sub module infilm theory and practice; I very often change the syllabus. So, there was a time when Iwas teaching city and cinema. How cities expressed in cinema?And which movies do you think that I would have looked at?Student: Paris, TexasParis, Texas? Paris, je t’aime yes an anthology, very nice; it gives you Paris in its various manifestations, right.New York anthology; the movie yesterday I was talking about, Coppola,Woody Allen and Marin Scorsese’s life lessons. Manhattan, again by Woody Allen;Manhattan is a beautiful depiction of certain part of New York.There are certain canons, if you are looking module like city cinema and you are teaching set of movies like,Paris, je t’aime, like New York storiesthen why not Chinatown that is the question, that is very valid question.Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas that is another very important movie if youwant to look at; how cities and spaces are reflected in it.‘Wings of desire’ again a German movie by Wim Wenders, watch those movies.‘Wings of desire’, there was movieHollywood movie called City of Angels not city of god; city of Angles, Nicolas Cageand Meg Ryan which is a remade version of Wings of desire by Wim Wenders.So, Canon tells you what to teach and what to read, and what you watch.So, you are you are absolutely right, who creates it and do you need to adhere to it? Yes for some reasons,if you call yourself a student of literature then there is no way that you can ignore Shakespeare and Dante.If you call yourself a student of cinema there is no way you can ignore D.W. Griffithand Lumiere Brothers, they are part of your canon.Now, Citizen Kanewas market as the classic story of power and the press. How news print gives you power, media lends power.And often been called or hailed as the greatest film of all time; canon.There is no list of greatest all time movies which is ever complete without the mention of Citizen Kane.And let me tell you, Citizen Kane was not a blockbuster, it was not megahit, andit was not a money spinner. Whose life was it based on?A media magnet, media magnet;William Randolph Hearst, it was based on his life and William Randolph Hearst did his bestto see that the movie does not last in theatres, and he had the power, he had the muscles, he could do that.And then of course, the narrative which was way too complicate for those times.And how many of you seriously watched Citizen Kane?That is good, that is very impressive.Azhar, how you?Please do watch it and I want you to pay attention tothe first ten minutes when you are taken across; what,Xanadu.So, as Charles Foster Kane,the protagonist; he is dying, he is on his deathbed and we are taken through his estate, and it is called, Xanadu.And while we are admiring the luxuries of Xanadu, there are lots of things happening there.Watch it, what the way in which Orson Welles demolishes all the traditional narrative structures.And how does he do it? He is not been very realistic;in fact it is a very subjective camera movements, the way he treats the spaces is extremely subjective.For instance there is a particular light ina middle of the room, and the light is stays in one corner of the screen whereas you aretreated to his golf courses, to his Gandolas, to his zoos; he owns animals right,all part of his Xanadu estate while the same light, a bulb hangs in the middle of the screen.So, golf courses I mean the bulb cannot be middle of golf courses right or in a middle of a swimming pool.What is he trying to tell you? Very interesting, you know there is no quick answer.Often termed or often declared the best movie of all parts.So, it is a very strong of all times, so very strong part of any film canon.And ‘Sight and Sound’, what is Sight and Sound? It is a film magazine, very scholarly magazine.It is not one of those yellows rags which talks about, you know the gossip about the actors and theirbusiness but it is a very serious, very academic kind of journals; it is not a journal butit’s a magazine but has the respectability of a journal, an academic journal.Sight and Sound has rated it four times as the best movie ever which is the huge prize by any standards.Any comments you would like to make? Canon? On Citizen Kane? Any questions?Student: Polls has become very integrated part of it.In last year’s polls, in which magazine? In ‘Sight and Sound’? Okay, Sight andSound keeps on conducting this polls which are very important; they do tell us what to watch,which is the best movie ever, you know why. You know because now there is tendencyto look at the body of work by a director and Hitchcock any day will score over Orson Welles.How many of you remember any other movies by Orson Welles apart from Citizen Kane?But, Hitchcock even in your sleep, you can mention at least five films, is it not true?North by Northwest, Rear Window, that nice movie with Carry Grant and Grace Kellyin French Riviera; to catch a thief. Notorious; it is a spy movie, it is a thriller.Strangers on a train, Psycho of course and then Vertigo.But, Orson Wells?Student: Touch of Evil.Touch of Evil, yes; weight movie but not phenomenal success.The Magnificent Ambersons, again a magnificent movie but not a success at all;highly innovative, the way he told his narratives.Chimes at midnight with or re-telling of which story,‘Chimes at midnight’?Macbeth; that is Orson Welles takes on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.So, he has made movies which are known basically to films scholars and film Cine-enthusiast,but Hitchcock is well known, so naturally.I am very sure twenty years from today pulp fiction will be the most admired film, why not.And where did ‘The Godfather’ stands here in this list?Student: I do not think, in my sense I don’t think it will be.That is very strange. Do you remember other titles?Student: I think, Tokyo Story?So, look how things change, how canon change.Now, if Tokyo Story by Ozu occupies the second place then it is interesting.And who was it? Orson Welles himself, he was no admirer,and I am saying no admirer of these people; like the French masters or a Italian neorealistsand the Japanese greats, he said that I absolutely do not understand what they make.And then he said there is a school of boredom to which these films belong. And most of the timesthese people come to me, he cited Cahier du cinema; you remember we have been talking about.He said, those journalist come to me and start asking very high-brows questionsand expected me to give high-brows answers, I cannot discuss that; I mean they want meto talk about cinema as an art and what the hell is that, he says I have absolutely noclues what it means, but I do give interviews to those people because like me, I cannot say no.That his, so Welles as a critic. He had absolutely no regards for the Japanese masters,Ozu’s and Fellini's all those peoples of the world. He called them boring, don’t mind it.You must read his biography; it is very interesting.Thank you so much.We will meet tomorrow and continue with Citizen Kane.