Three facets of realism

Bazin favours the techniques of deep focus and the long take because they maintain cinema's 'essential' or 'distinctive' characteristic, its realism, inherited from the photographic image's indexical link with reality, whereas montage breaks this indexical link (while d├ęcoupage is a compromise between montage and deep focus). More specifically, Bazin identifies three facets of realism in the cinema: (1) an ontological realism; (2) a dramatic realism; and (3) a psychological realism (Bazin 1991: 80).

Ontological realism restores to the object and the decor their existential density, the weight of their presence. This is achieved by means of the photographic image's automatic, mechanical recording capacity, which takes a mold in light of reality: 'One might consider photography... as a molding, the taking of an impression, by the manipulation of light' (Bazin 1967a: 12). The photographic image does not diminish the ontological status of the events photographed because its recording capacity transfers reality to the image. We shall explore this type of realism in the following section (7.1.3).

Dramatic realism is achieved in the deep-focus, long-take shot because it refuses to separate several planes of action - the actor from the decor, the foreground from the background - since it respects the spatio-temporal unity of the scene.

Finally, the long-take, deep-focus shot achieves psychological realism by bringing the spectator back to the real conditions of perception, a perception that is never completely predetermined:

(1) ... depth of focus brings the spectator into a relation with the image closer to that which he enjoys with reality. Therefore it is correct to say that, independently of the contents of the image, its structure is more realistic;

(2) [depth of focus] implies, consequently, both a more active mental attitude on the part of the spectator and a more positive contribution on his part to the action in progress____

(3) From the two preceding propositions, which belong to the realm of psychology, there follows a third which may be described as metaphysical. ... montage by its very nature rules out ambiguity.

Bazin immediately adds, however, that 'depth of focus reintroduced ambiguity into the structure of the image if not of necessity - Wyler's films are never ambiguous - at least as a possibility' (p. 36). Bazin's favourite example is depth of focus in Citizen Kane: 'Citizen Kane is unthinkable shot in any other way than in depth. The uncertainty in which we find ourselves as the spiritual key or the interpretation we should put on the film is built into the very design of the image' (p. 36). In other words, the film's style imitates the film's theme.

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