Expanded hardcover, paperback and electronic edition coming soon as part of the volume Montage, Découpage, Mise en scène!

Découpage has been exciting to read. Quite balanced, accessible and definitely insightful. Bazin’s Découpage was a good primer. The Buñuel passage that opens the book feels like a true scholarly revelation. Please let me know if you write any more books in the future. I would love to purchase a copy to lend my support to your project.
— Evan Peacock, student, University of Lethbridge

Read on-line reviews of Montage, Découpage and Mise en scène in the film magazines Senses of Cinema and Movie.


Timothy Barnard

In this volume, the only book on the topic of cinematic découpage in English, Timothy Barnard surveys the writings of a broad range of filmmakers, historians and theorists of cinema’s early, classical and modern eras to explore the meanings of découpage and the usefulness of the concept to film criticism and theory today. Almost universally confused in English-language writing on film with editing—when it isn’t completely ignored—découpage articulated instead an understanding by French critics that sequencing was conceived before and during the shooting of a film, not in its assembly, and that the camera played not merely a pictorial role but instead structured the film through its formal treatment and sequencing of the mise en scène. A nascent theory of découpage was sketched out by André Bazin, but the term and the concept have been obliterated from most English translations of his work, in which it has perversely been replaced by assembly, or editing. Despite everything we have been told, D.W. Griffith, as Bazin remarked, did not invent assembly: he invented découpage. ‘Griffith didn’t invent the close-up either’, Bazin quipped in a 1947 article defending Orson Welles against the charge by Georges Sadoul that Citizen Kane did not invent the use of depth of field. ‘But he invented découpage—which is to say thirty years of cinema’.

Employing an innovative découpage-like writing structure that flows effortlessly among his sources and disentangles découpage for the English reader in direct prose that will find a welcome home in undergraduate lecture halls, graduate seminar rooms and on the bookshelves of general readers alike, Barnard leads us on a journey through the history and theory of découpage and argues for its importance to film theory today. The authors discussed include Henri Agel, Alexandre Astruc, Jean George Auriol, Béla Balázs, André Bazin, Raymond Borde, David Bordwell, Eileen Bowser, Luis Buñuel, Noël Burch, Sergei Eisenstein, Jean-Luc Godard, Tom Gunning, Lev Kuleshov, Roger Leenhardt, Rachael Low, André Malraux, Jean Mitry, Harry Alan Potamkin, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Alma Reville, Éric Rohmer, Georges Sadoul and Kristin Thompson.

What may seem remarkable, given the forceful case made for découpage by Astruc and Bazin just as the Young Turk critics were beginning to make their mark, is how systematically these younger critics shunned the term, except occasionally in its banal acceptation as shot breakdown, and how quickly it sank from view as this generation’s mise en scène school of criticism took its place. François Truffaut, Bazin’s protégé, never used the term in any significant manner, not even in the negative sense invited by his 1954 polemic written under Bazin’s tutelage, a scathing critique of the French quality cinema industry and its reliance on screenplays based on literary classics. There are a number of reasons for this avoidance, I believe. One is simply a generational desire to make one’s own mark and not use someone else’s terms. Second, while the concept was central to Bazin’s work during these critics’ formative years, for whatever reason it was largely dropped from his own vocabulary precisely after the publication of ‘Découpage’ and his polemic with Godard in 1952. By the time the two generations were writing alongside one another in the pages of Cahiers from that date, découpage was no longer vitally in play in Bazin’s own thought. In addition, the film industry meaning of the term, the Bible of the classical film shoot, would have been anathema to the Young Turks—later, as filmmakers, they would not use a découpage technique. Finally, as I suggested a moment ago, their infatuation with Hollywood cinema stemmed less from its analytical découpage than from an aesthetic of the single striking shot. They thus turned to the old theatrical term mise en scène, partly perhaps in provocation—who could accuse them of a taste for canned theatre (unless we agree that this is what analytical découpage is)?—but also to signal their rejection of Bazin’s prescriptive theories.
— Timothy Barnard
Forthcoming January 2020 in an expanded and revised edition as part of the caboose volume Montage, Découpage, Mise en scène.
Timothy Barnard is the proprietor of caboose, for whom he has translated Jean-Luc Godard’s Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television in 2014 and a volume of Selected Writings by André Bazin in 2018.