September 5, 2008

The Holy Bible

School has begun. It's great. I'm either sitting in a room talking about movies I've just seen (projected in 35mm usually. I watched films by Buster Keaton, Raoul Walsh, Michael Snow, and some of the first shots ever taken by the Lumiere brothers in 1895, in class this week), or I'm sitting in a room talking about movies I'm going to make and playing with old, beautiful 16mm cameras. Or maybe I'm staring at the legs of the girl beside me.

Needless to say, I've got movies on the brain more now than ever before (remember, pure cinema is making women look beautiful).

I re-opened my copy of Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer yesterday.

It is the Holy Bible of cinema. Unquestionably.

Throw away EVERY other book about cinema (even Tarkovsky's); Bresson's book is enough.

It's a series of proverbs he wrote for his own use over the course of his career that helped guide his thinking about cinema.


"A small subject can provide the pretext for many profound combinations. Avoid subjects that are too vast or too remote, in which nothing warns you when you are going astray. Or else take from them only what can be mingled with your life and belongs to your experience."

"Music takes up all the room and gives no increased value to the image to which it is added."

"Forms that resemble ideas. Treat them as actual ideas."

The book is small enough to fit in your pocket. That is where mine is going. And it may never leave it again.


Jeff said...

Glad to hear your enjoying film school. Thanks for the book recommendation. I will have to look for a copy as it sounds very useful and even inspiring.

jon said...

that music quote is excellent. of course, there are exceptions, aren't there? music does add something, even a lot, when used properly, doesn't it?

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


Yeah, I don't take Bresson's little proverbs as dogmatic commands. I think the music in 2001:A Space Odyssey proves fairly conclusively that music can add a lot to an image.

The master film editor Walter Murch (The Conversation, Talented Mr. Ripley, Touch of Evil) said that generally music should never be used to create a mood, but rather to sustain it. So, if the low rumbling strings come in to inform you that something bad is about to happen -that's terrible. But if you watch something terrible happen in silence and then the music comes in big as you watch the aftermath -that's an appropriate use of music's emotional power (think of the end of Taxi Driver -the way the music comes in only AFTER the famous climax). It's an interesting idea.

A lot of my favourite movies don't have any music at all.