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This is the most accurate, thoughtful and inspired translation of Bazin (or, for that matter, of any French film theorist) into English we have seen in a very long time. Barnard’s own nationality and his bilingual status have given him the technical resources required to transfer Bazin’s language in a faithful yet transparent prose. What makes the book so unique, however, is the sheer mass of information contained in its critical apparatus. Barnard has taken up the challenge of cleaning up the apparent mess created by previous English versions of Bazin’s work, commenting upon a number of key passages and concepts and making Bazin’s prose more accessible and enjoyable than ever before. Any serious film scholar should make the extra effort necessary to obtain a copy of this book.
— Paolo Cherchi Usai

Read more comments on and PDFs of print reviews of the caboose Bazin.

What is Cinema?

André Bazin
translated with annotations by Timothy Barnard

Rejoice! This definitive translation of selected essays from André Bazin’s What is Cinema?, the cornerstone of modern-day film theory, finally makes his true ideas available to English readers. Bazin shines through in this accurate, readable and elegant translation, which has already been adopted as the standard version of this essential text by leading film scholars. Rarely does a new translation radically alter our understanding of a thinker’s work. This is that book.

The caboose edition of What is Cinema? collects the most important articles found in the original four-volume French edition. In the first of these volumes, published the month of his death in 1958 at the age of 40, Bazin tackled the philosophical issues raised by film and the photographic image in mid-century French intellectual circles, responding to the giants Sartre and Malraux in a style that pioneered the philosophical film essay. These essays are complemented by studies of directors central to Bazin’s universe: Chaplin, Wyler, Tati (an article long out of print in English and re-translated here) and Jean Painlevé. In later, posthumous volumes, Bazin addressed issues around film’s relations with literature and theatre and the questions raised for film aesthetics by Italian neo-realism.

This edition of What is Cinema? is the only corrected and annotated volume by Bazin in any language. The translator’s meticulous research into Bazin’s sources has led him to a connection between the ideas of Bazin and Bertolt Brecht and to a pseudonymous article by a mysterious author named "M. Rozenkranz" which visibly borrows from the work of Siegfried Kracauer.

What is Cinema? is the most important event in English-language film publishing in a generation. Whatever one’s specialisation, no film library is complete without this handsome, cloth-bound and sewn volume. The titles of Bazin’s seminal articles are now part of the film studies lexicon—when they haven’t been corrected here:

352 pp., 6” x 8”, index, cloth, ISBN 978-0-9811914-0-9, $30

One of the many merits of Timothy Barnard's new translation is that it puts Bazin back into history. The translation restores some of the urgency of the writing, while the copious footnotes supply much-needed context. It is far more scholarly than the existing edition, both in its annotations and in the quality of the translation, which is both elegant and accurate. — Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Queen Mary, University of London

For the first time, Timothy Barnard has given us the meticulous and scholarly edition of What is Cinema? that every lover of Bazin has dreamt of. The translator’s notes alone, with their enthralling discussions of important theoretical problems, make this edition worth consulting without delay. — Jacques Aumont, Université Paris 3

Each [text] is accompanied by an impressive philological labour, consisting either in finding the original of a quotation that Bazin had distorted or in setting out hypotheses, backed up by evidence, as to the meaning Bazin accorded to one word or another. The most imposing (and conclusive) research concerns the meaning of a term essential to Bazin, découpage. Barnard devotes to this word and to the difficulty of translating it a twenty-page note that is a veritable exercise in historical semantics. Most of all, Barnard’s entire enterprise consists in reintroducing history into a body of work from which it had largely disappeared. Through his editorial choices, Barnard has in a sense turned What is Cinema? inside out like a glove, revealing part of its hidden historical dimension. Anchored by his apposite notes, Bazin’s texts recover their historical weight.—Laurent Le Forestier, 1895

Girish Shambu informed me of a bookshop on Toronto’s College St. that carries a new translation of Andre Bazin’s What is Cinema? Because of copyright conflicts with the publisher of the previous translation, this edition, published by caboose, is unavailable [in the United States]. When I arrived and began perusing the film section, the clerk called out to me, “Are you looking for What is Cinema?” Rather astonished, I replied, “How did you know that?” “Oh, everyone with a TIFF badge who comes in here is looking for that book,” he replied. It seems that bringing home this translation is, hyperbole aside, almost reminiscent of the Americans who had to smuggle Ulysses out of France in their suitcases during the 1920s. Girish told me that, when he bought the book a few days earlier, the clerk quipped, “Some good, old-fashioned contraband, eh?” — Richard Porton

Vastly superior to the two volumes published by the University of California Press. I'm especially taken with the graceful flow of the translation. — Jonathan Rosenbaum

One of the boldest moves ever seen in Anglophone cinema studies. This new translation challenges us to jettison received wisdom and take a fresh look at what Bazin actually wrote, linking him tellingly to Malraux and Kracauer (an astounding and ingenious intuition). Barnard’s mission is to strip the questions in each essay bare for others to address. This tender and chivalrous sentiment is reinforced by painstaking translator’s notes, certain of which will undoubtedly become famous in their own right. — Dudley Andrew and Prakash Younger, Yale University and Trinity College

Read Paolo Cherchi Usai’s review in the Journal of Film Preservation (Brussels) (no. 81, Fall 2009). Download PDF

Read Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's review in Film Quarterly (vol. 64, no. 3, Spring 2011). Download PDF

Read Jacques Aumont’s review (in French) in CiNéMAS (Montreal) (vol. 20, no. 1, Fall 2009). Download PDF

Read Dudley Andrew and Prakash Younger’s review in CiNéMAS (Montreal) (vol. 20, no. 1, Fall 2009). Download PDF

Read Donato Totaro’s review in the on-line film journal Offscreen.