Andre Bazin translated: a practical guide

Have you ever wondered which of Bazin’s works have been translated? Here is my little research that can help. I will first talk about different categories of Bazin’s published works; then I will focus on the famous collection: What is Cinema.

Bazin’s work can be divided into four categories:

  • Monograph on auteurs
  • Monograph on French Cinema
  • Collected essays
  • Uncollected publications

Monograph on auteurs

Bazin has written on Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin, The Cinema of Cruelty: from Bunuel to Hitchcock.

 All four except the one on Chaplin, have English translations. The last one, translated by Jonathan Rosenbaum, has a new edition in 1992.

Monograph on French Cinema

French Cinema of the Occupation and Resistance : the birth of a critical esthetic

Le cinéma français de la Libération à la Nouvelle Vague (1945–1958)

As you can see, only the first one is available in English:

Collected essays

There is, above all, the “qu’est-ce que le cinéma” collection. In French this initially means a four volume work, which appeared in 1958–1965. These volumes are divided thematically:

1. Ontology and language

2. Cinema and other arts

3. Cinema and sociology

4. An aesthetic of the reality: Neorealism

In 1975, these four volumes are condensed into one volume of 26–7 essays, published by Editions du cerf. The selection work is done by Truffaut.

Perversely, the image of Bazin holding a cat becomes the best representative of the four volumes.

This collection is Bazin’s most famous work, and arguably the best work. But they have never been translated in its entirety into English. Every translation project selects what it took as worthwhile at the time and in the end we have things scattered all over the place. The confused state of the matter deserves a separate section of the present article (see below).

Uncollected publications

The final category consists of all the pieces that Bazin wrote but are not published anywhere in book form.

Dudley Andrew and Herve Joubert-Laurencin compiled a database of all the articles published by Bazin. This database is aptly titlted “Ouvrir Bazin”:

But all you can do is search for bibliographical information. The actual texts are not available.

What is Cinema: a story of translation

Shortly after the four volume work was published appeared its first English translation of Bazin, which came right on time for film studies’ boom in the US. This is the following two fancy colored volumes by Hugh Gray which every film student once had:

Hugh Gray’s two volumes appeared in 1967 and 1971, which contain 26 essays. But he obviously made his own selection from the four volumes which is different from the French 1975 version. How the two differ? First, here is what appeared in the 1975 French version but not in Hugh Gray.

1. Le monde du silence

2. M. Hulot et le temps

3. Le cas Pagnol

4. Un film Bergsonian,

5. Allemagne année zéro

6. Les dernières vacances

7. Un western exemplaire: Sept hommes à abattre

8. Europe 51

However Hugh Gray added seven articles which are not in the 1975 French version:

1. Charlie Chaplin (V1)

2–4. Three more articles on Chaplin (one on Monsieur Verdoux, two on Limelight)

5. Entymology of Pin-up girl

6. The Outlaw

7. The Destiny of Jean Gabin (all the above in V2)

From this difference I imagine Gray apparently regards Bazin’s work on Chaplin might appeal more to the US reader. I can’t think of a good reason as to why he gave up on the ones that he did though, except one has to make a choice.

A new collection called Bazin at Work (1997), edited by Bert Cardullo, adds 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 in my first list. In 2009 Cardullo also translated 2 in English and published it in Bright Lights Film Journal (issue 64). This leaves only two essays in the French one-vol edition unavailable in English. Of course Cardullo adds more essays, especially those on Italian Neorealism (in the fourth French volume). Counting Cardullo’s translation then we have only 1 and 7 not translated.

The Hugh Gray version is widely influential but severely criticized. Apparently the translator took some liberty reformulating Bazin’s words (for a detailed critique see Barnard). But as it turned out some of these words are rather tricky. This wouldn’t be a huge deal if Bazin’s work were not as carefully scrutinized by every film teacher and student in the following decades.


Timothy Barnard’s new translation claims to be “definitive” and is praised by a number of well-known film scholars. Barnard is an experienced translator who also did work from French to English (two or more books by Andre Gaudreault). Unfortunately this book is only available in Canada and through its Montreal publisher caboose.

As a one volume translation it features fewer work than the Gray selection. The actual essays included are:

You will have to judge by yourself whether you like this translation or not.

Now, accuracy is important. But the Timothy Barnard edition has only 12 essays. It shares with the Cardullo a translation of Mr. Hulot and one essay on Wyler. And it adds two essays that are previously unavailable: On Jean Painlevé and An Introduction to Charlie Chaplin’s Persona.

Maybe it is the case that those essays collected in the four volume French edition or even the Barnard translation represent Bazin at his best. But simply reading those essays do not give us a whole/accurate picture of who Bazin is, and under what condition he produced those works.

Two scholars are exemplary in pursuing this whole picture, and contribute immensely to the possibility of Bazin studies. First of them is Bert Cadullo, a prolific writer and translator, who wrote the only De Sica study in English that I know of (and enjoy). The 1997 Bazin at Work translated some titles previously unavailable. Cardullo followed this enterprise with Andre Bazin and Italian Neorealism:

Cardullo recently made yet another invaluable contribution on disseminating Bazin’s work: an edition called Bazin on Global cinema: 1948–1958.

This book has about 200 pages of Bazin text and a 100 pages appendix. The appendix lists all 2600 articles in French that Bazin has ever published. It is a valuable resource that should be made online. But other than this the so-called critical bibliography on Bazin has some serious problems: it doesn’t include any article that doesn’t have the word “Bazin” in the title but is obviously about Bazin (such as Tom Gunning’s “The world in its own image”)

To confirm my suspicion that this is indeed a google work, the said bibliography also includes quite a few Chinese articles. Mostly of these are from a journal called Contemporary Cinema, one of the few academic venues. But occasionally there are also items from strange sources such Mianyang Normal University etc. I doubt if the editor has bothered to read (if he can read Chinese) these. Or most likely this result is obtained by searching a Chinese database with Bazin as keyword. If that’s the case, what is the point of publishing it in the book form?

Although the book came out not long ago, it is already out of print. So I would like to quote a few things from it to poke your interest. As you can see from the cover the book contains some passages about Akira Kurasawa. In my personal opinion, Bazin’s few writings on Kurasawa are some of the most illuminating pieces on the subject.

At the hundredth viewing, let us say, we would discover that cinematic language is, in the final analysis, only language, and that a great film is something more. 158

Like Rashomon, The seven Samurai exhibits a too-facile assimilation of certain characteristics of Western aesthetics and the splendid blending of them with Japanese tradition. Moreover, there is in this instance a narrative structure of diabolical cleverness. 158

I find in these lines the true spirit of Bazin at work. Here is someone who is always trying to discern (and in my opinion almost succeeded) what is truly amazing about films. Bazin’s attitude toward Kurasawa is one of conflict feelings: on the one hand he can, like everybody else, appreciate the craft; on the other hand, there is something that he sensed that was insufficient. He compared this admiration as a sort of astonishment that can be attributed to a sense of marvel in front of a new toy — even the cheapest kind, as every parent would know, can keep a child happy for a while. Who wouldn’t feel the same, he observe shrewdly, when exposed to the American film for the first time? Thus he confessed that “for several years now” he had been waiting his admiration to wane. But it never quite happened. Each year Kurasawa was able to work the magic again. And this is what Bazin finally said,

…each new film of his confirms the feeling that I am in the presence of everything that constitutes good cinema: the union of a highly developed civilization with a great theatrical tradition and a strong tradition in plastic art, as well. 158

In a later review for Throne of Blood, Bazin recap these points and summarily states in a fashion that is so distinctively his, that the samurai films are “burdened by their mise-en-scene as if by a samurai’s armor.” (180)

Another renowned Bazin scholar is Dudley Andrew, who has a monograph on Bazin (a chronological record of Bazin’s life and career. recently the book has been revised and published by Oxford UP).

Dudley Andrew’s contribution to Bazin scholarship can also be found in his many articles and the following collection, Bazin on New Media.

This book contains some 57 mostly previously unavailable essays. They are grouped into five categories: the first three parts are invaluable to TV studies scholars. Their titles: the ontology and language of television, television among the arts, television and society. Then there are some articles Bazin wrote in response to widescreen and 3D experiments in the 1950s. These articles exhibit Bain’s usual astute observation; but so far I have not came across anything that is really crystalized.

Finally a brief note on the Chinese translation:

This volume (published in 1995) claims that it made its own selection from the French 4 volumes with helps from Mme Bazin (is she a film scholar?) and Truffaut. But in reality it is largely based on the 1975 French version (do you actually believe Truffaut would suggest otherwise?). Compared to the French one volume edition they remove essays on Chaplin (maybe because there is a book now) and several others that are considered less relevant today.

The only essay that is not found elsewhere is: Cinema and adventure.

The quality of this collection is far from satisfactory. There are numerous inappropriate translations. Intolerance, for instance, is translated into 忍无可忍. For those who have seen the film (one suspects that the translator might not be one of them) this is quite a bad joke! Are you kidding? Is this a film about fist fighting?

The only nice thing I can say about this Chinese version is that it has many illustrations from the films mentioned.

2 thoughts on “Andre Bazin translated: a practical guide

  1. You describe one of Bert Cardullo’s books as “out of print”. In fact it was withdrawn by the publisher very very shortly after it was published. So too the Cardullo translation of Mr Hulot you mention, published in the Bright Lights film magazine, was withdrawn by the publisher.

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