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.