An Analysis of Andre Bazin’s “The Myth of Total Cinema”

In the second paragraph of “The Myth of Total Cinema,” Andre Bazin outlines his thesis with one simple quote: “The cinema owes virtually nothing to the scientific spirit.” It is important to note that Bazin was a member of the French communist party during World War II and held some Marxist viewpoints. With this in mind, he argues that the goal of cinema is not to make the film seem more “realistic,” but instead to showcase filmmakers’ ideas onto the screen.

Bazin also argues that basic technological discoveries are “fortunate accidents,” and should be of less importance to the audience than the ideas themselves. This is something that I do not necessarily agree with. Bazin, being a Marxist, is innately opposed to the profit motive in society. The cinematic innovations brought to screens support the profit motive because general audiences are often attracted to new cinematic developments rather than innovative ideas. The top three highest-grossing films in history are as follows: Avatar, Avengers: Endgame, and Avatar: The Way of Water. These films boast remarkable visual effects and innovative CGI visuals but lack the thought-provoking ideas of box-office flops like Donnie Darko, Fight Club, or even Citizen Kane. In 1946, Bazin envisioned a capitalist world that incentivized technical innovation in film, rather than idealistic experimental projects.

Bazin also argues that technological innovation in film “paradoxically, take(s) it nearer and nearer to its origins.” Furthermore, he states that “cinema has not yet been invented.” This is an exciting and philosophical argument that I agree with. People who witnessed silent films, as Bazin noted, hold nostalgia for those “primitive films.” He argues that silent films are as much cinema as color films, or of anything from today’s standards. Cinema is not the flashy CGI, the bombastic sound design, or the costumes; In Bazin’s eyes, cinema is an idea and an art. It can be whatever you want it to be.

Andre Bazin argues that cinema has little in common with science, focusing on the medium’s function as a blank canvas for filmmakers’ ideas. This viewpoint is consistent with his Marxist upbringing, but I disagree with Bazin’s assessment because of the commercial success of movies like “Avatar” and “Avengers: Endgame.” But once more, I can see why he is opposed to the profit motive. Bazin’s claim that film’s development paradoxically links it to its roots supports my belief that cinema transcends technology. Bazin thinks that ideas, not alone technological advancement, illustrate cinema itself.

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