About two-and-a-half years ago I posted a short article on this blog about how I came to receive a personally inscribed copy of the great book Notes on the Cinematographer (Notes sur le cinematographe) by Robert Bresson, my favorite director of all time. For those who haven’t read it, the book is a series of brief notes — some of them only sentence fragments — that Bresson wrote while making films over the course of many decades. These notes, which range from cryptic aphorisms to bits of practical, commonsense advice directed by the author to himself, have been compared by critics to everything from the pensees of Bresson’s hero Blaise Pascal to the messages contained in Chinese fortune cookies. Regardless of how you describe it, one thing’s for certain: the book is so chock-full of wisdom and genuine insight into the creative process that I think it should be considered essential reading for not just filmmakers but artists of any stripe. As I am in the process of writing a new feature-length script that I hope to produce next year (50+ pages down and counting — huzzah!), I find myself returning to Notes on the Cinematographer yet again for inspiration. Among the hundreds of notes contained therein, here are my top 10 favorites:
10. Not to use two violins when one is enough.
9. A whole made of good images can be detestable.
8. Let the cause follow the effect, not accompany it or precede it.
7. A too-expected image (cliche) will never seem right, even if it is.
6. When a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralize it. The ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer.
5. No psychology (of the kind which discovers only what it can explain).
4. Hide the ideas, but so that people find them. The most important will be the most hidden.
3. Empty the pond to get the fish.
2. Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.
1. My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.
Notes on the Cinematographer can be purchased from amazon.com here.
June 7th, 2013 at 11:33 am
I remember when you brought the book to class with a most prized reverence. Is it downloadable from Amazon or via the net?
June 7th, 2013 at 11:37 am
Ask and you shall receive:
Click to access bresson1.pdf
Click to access bresson2.pdf
Click to access bresson3.pdf
June 14th, 2013 at 8:41 am
Bresson’s daughter has just published a book of her father’s interviews :
Hopefully it will be one day translated in english.
Just like his ultimate masterpiece, Four nights of a dreamer, should be available on dvd!
June 14th, 2013 at 9:29 am
I hadn’t heard about that book but that’s great news! I’ve been fortunate to see FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAM on two occasions in 35mm — a masterpiece indeed.
October 31st, 2013 at 1:17 pm
One of my favorite books as well, some of the most treasured parts have to do with sound. Excellent selection of your ten favorites, I’ll never forget this note as well: “One should not use the camera as if it were a broom.”
Hoping very much for the English translation of “Bresson par Bresson”.
October 31st, 2013 at 1:48 pm
Thanks for chiming in, Blaz. I too am holding my breath for the English Bresson par Bresson.
November 25th, 2015 at 2:21 am
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