July 2007

“Since the principle of the capitalist production process does not arise purely out of nature, it must destroy the natural organisms that it regards either as means or as resistance. Community and personality perish when what is demanded is calculability; it is only as a tiny piece of the mass that the individual can clamber up charts and service machines without any friction. A system oblivious to differences in form leads on its own to the blurring of national characteristics and to the production of worker masses that can be employed equally well at any point on the globe.”

Siegfried Kracauer,”The Mass Ornament” (1927).

To spread out the last moment so that it lasts almost through a whole act, has been the ambition of many a master of the film. The axe is raised, the fuse is lit and then … what happens between two battings of an eyelid? A rushing series of shots show the feverish working of human consciousness.

– Balázs, Béla. Theory of the Film; Character and Growth of a New Art [1945]. New York: Dover Publications, 1970, p. 131.

… the film camera has revealed new worlds until then concealed from us: such as the soul of objects, the rhythm of crowds, the secret language of dumb things.

… the faces of things radiat[e] touching attention, consideration, tenderness, love — and they all seem to be looking … because she [a character, a runaway bride] looks at them; all seem to stretch out hands towards her, because she feels they do so. There are ever more of them — they crowd the room and block her path — her flight slows down more and more, then she stops and finally turns back….

On the stage the living, speaking human being has a greater significance than dumb objects. They are not on the same plane and their intensity is different. In the silent film both man and object were equally pictures, photographs, the homogeneous material was projected on to the same screen…. In significance, intensity and value men and things were brought onto the same plane….

Even in the talkie the speaking human being is still only a picture, a photograph. The word does not lift him out of the community of the common material. For this reason even the sound film still offers the possibility of a consistent style …

– Béla Balázs. Theory of the Film; Character and Growth of a New Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1970, pp. 47, 56, 58-59.

“A basic principle of European aesthetics and art philosophy from the ancient Greeks to our own time has been that there is an external and internal distance and dualism between the spectator and work of art. This principle implies that every work of art by force of its self-contained composition, is a microcosm with laws of its own. It may depict reality but has no immediate connection and contact with it. [It] is separated from the surrounding empirical world….”

“… the new forms of film art born in Hollywood show that in that part of the world … the spectator does not regard the inner world of a picture as distant and inaccessible. Hollywood invented an art which disregards the principle of self-contained composition and not only does away with distance between the spectator and the work of art but deliberately creates the illusion in the spectator that he is in the middle of the action reproduced in the fictional space of the film.”

Balázs, Béla. Theory of the Film; Character and Growth of a New Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1970, pp. 49-50.

The first new world discovered by the film camera in the days of the silent film was the world of very small things visible only from very short distances, the hidden life of little things. By this the camera showed us not only hitherto unknown objects and events: the adventures of beetles in a wilderness of blades of grass, the tragedies of day-old chicks in a corner of the pultry-run, the erotic battles of flowers and the poetry of miniature landscapes. It brought us not only new themes. By means of the close-up the camera in the days of the silent film revealed also the hidden mainsprings of a life which we had thought we already knew so well. Blurred outlines are mostly the result of our insensitive short-sightedness and superficiality. We skim over the teeming substance of life. The camera has uncovered that cell-life of the vital issues in which all great events are ultimately conceived: for the greatest landslide is only the aggregate of the movements of single particles. A multitude of close-ups can show us the very instant in which the general is transformed into the particular. The close-up has not only widened our vision of life, it has also deepened it. In the days of silent film it not only revealed new things, but showed us the meaning of the old.

Bela Balazs. Theory of the Film; Character and Growth of a New Art. New York: Dover Publications, 1970, pp. 54-55.