For its 100th issue (Winter 2o16), the French quarterly Trafic asked its contributors to select a particular book that had a formative influence on him or her. Here is my contribution. — J.R.
I still have the original Gallimard edition, probably the most tattered and thumbed-through French book that I own, published in 1969, the same year that I moved to Paris from New York — the title missing the article (Une Praxis du cinéma) that is now found on the 1986 edition. I can even recall purchasing this book at Le Minotaure, a Surrealist bookstore on Rue des Beaux Arts, a short distance from my rented flat on Rue Mazarine, and the ridiculous advertising slip (against which Burch rightly protested), “Contre toute théorie,” that enclosed it.
By this time, I’d already read — or at least tried to read, back in New York — earlier drafts of some of the chapters when they had appeared in Cahiers du Cinéma, and may have also read Godard’s praise of one of those chapters in one of his interviews. Due to a crippling disability in learning languages, much of which I still suffer from today, I had to read those chapters with the aid of a French-English dictionary, even though Burch’s French—the French of an American émigré — was far easier to follow than the French of Roland Barthes in Le plaisir du texte, published four years later, which eventually became my other key French text of this period.… Read more »
This book review appeared in the Winter 1974/5 issue of Sight and Sound. For illustrations, I’m including a contemporary photograph of the author, Noël Burch (seen here in Rotterdam with the late Allan Sekula) and two stills from Burch’s first and (probably) best film, Noviciat (1964 — only 18 minutes long, but including illustrations of a remarkable number of the formal procedures described in his book.
Shortly after this review appeared, I recall receiving a gratifying fan letter of sorts from James Leahy, a teacher at the Slade School in London and a devoted Burch disciple, at least at the time. — J.R.
THEORY OF FILM PRACTICE
By Noël Burch
Translated by Helen R. Lane
Secker & Warburg, ₤3.50 (paperback, ₤1.90)
“Theory of Film Practice is at every point derived from and confirmed by the perception that film develops not through the contraints and coventions of an industry, but in opposition to them.” Thus Annette Michelson, in her exemplary introduction to this revised and updated English edition of Praxis du cinéma (1969), sets forth one salient fact about Noël Burch’s seminal work that clearly isolates it from the critical mainstream as we know it today.
There are many others: a total rejection of the illusionist principle which was expanded in depth by André Bazin (more precisely, extended into deep focus), and has subsequently been adopted as an unexamined postulate by most of his epigones; a ‘scientific’ approach that rigorously eschews journalism, sociology, literary analysis and the promulgation of moral concerns, however much it reflects Burch’s own aesthetic predilections; above all, an obstinate insistence on regarding films as sounds, images and the formal relationships between them.… Read more »