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UBC Theses and Dissertations

(Neo)Bazinian realism : existential phenomenology and the image-body Inouye, Shaun


French critic-cum-theorist André Bazin remains a central figure in discourse concerning cinematic realism. A prolific film commentator during the postwar period, Bazin advanced a theory of realism that took resemblance to be the apogee of film aestheticism, a radical departure from the then-dominant views held by Soviet film theorists that cinema's "essence" as an art form hinges on techniques that dissociate it from reality (via montage, for instance). A one-time favoured approach, in the 1960s and 1970s Bazin's theories were lambasted in the wake of an intellectual paradigm shift that came to view cinematic realism as an ideological subterfuge, lulling passive viewers into accepting bourgeois "realities" driven by inequalities and capitalist motivations. More broadly, Bazin's perceived faith in the objectivity of the image was labelled naïve and empirically dogmatic, an antiquated notion founded on Catholic mores that had no place in the modern, secular world. Today, the residual negativity from these criticisms still mar the reception of Bazin's realism, resulting in facile summations that neglect or misrepresent the more sophisticated, nuanced version he presents. Situated within the larger reappraisal of Bazin's work taking place in film studies – known collectively as "neo-Bazinianism" – this thesis acts as a much-needed corrective to the near-ubiquitous view of Bazinian realism as being ontologically contingent upon the photographic medium, and "indexically" connected to an antecedent reality. I argue that, given his proximity to the leading figures of French existentialist and phenomenological thought – namely, Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty – Bazin advances a theory of realism based, not on the objectivity of the camera's gaze, but the intersubjectivity of embodied experience, having recognized in the image a perceptual engagement with the world analogous to our own. It is the concept of the "image-body" that is crucial here, a self-coined term that anchors the thesis around the central assumption that, if Bazin's realism offers us recognizable representations of the world onscreen, and it is our perceptual bodies that make manifest this world, then the "realistic" image must in someway share with us an embodied, enworlded state.

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