Angelaki 17 (4):23 - 37 (2012)

A Bazinian commitment to cinematic realism, grounded as it is in the ontology of the photograph, sets up the aesthetic ambition of cinema as irreparably opposed to the structures and ambitions of high modernism ? whether high modernism be taken to have its essence in formal experiment, medium specificity, or negation. Bazin himself licenses such an opposition, but the sense of a divide here is not his alone: there are structural and grammatical reasons why realism (photographic or otherwise) and modernism appear as incompatible. Yet however strong this opposition is ? and however much he himself sometimes endorses it ? Bazin equally offers us resources for closing the gap. In his distinction between aesthetic and psychological realism, his sense of the importance of automatism in cinema's significance, and finally in his insistence that true representation is achieved through poetry, Bazin uncovers a concept of realism as transformative, not transparent, fidelity. This idea of poetic, formalist realism allows for a tentative reconciliation between modernism and realism generally. However, it does so by giving up on a robust idea of photographic transparency as the basis of cinema's power, and thus threatens to efface its specificity as a medium. Stanley Cavell's redescription of medium as automatism helps uncover a Bazinian version of cinematic specificity, one which allows for cinema's appetite for realism without reducing that capacity to a mere inflexible fact of the medium
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DOI 10.1080/0969725x.2012.747328
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