André Bazin & caboose
I first became aware of Montreal-based publisher caboose when they approached me last year to pen a volume in their Kino-Agora series. (Series details can be found here.)
Today, some momentous news for film culture: caboose is releasing a brand new translation, by Timothy Barnard, of André Bazin's What is Cinema?
In a recent Film Quarterly, Dudley Andrew pointed out that less than 7% of Bazin's writings are available in English translation. Spurred by this startling observation, I put up a post on Bazin's writings a few months ago that sparked a lively and informative discussion.
Bazin's Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? originally appeared in French in 4 volumes beginning in 1958, soon after his death at age 40. The 2-volume English-language What is Cinema?, translated by Hugh Gray, came out about a decade later. It included a selection of essays from Bazin's original, and was put out by the University of California Press.
The new Barnard translation collects several key essays from Bazin's original volumes, and includes three pieces that don't appear in Gray's translation: on Wyler, Tati and Painlevé, the last of these never before translated into English. Samples from all 13 essays in the book are available to read online. The publisher promises: "This is the only corrected and annotated edition of Bazin in any language [...] Rarely does a new translation radically alter our understanding of a thinker's work. This is that book."
Gray's rendering of Bazin has remained invaluable but has also provoked mixed feelings and controversy. Richard Roud wrote a scathing critique of it in Sight and Sound in 1967. Adrian Martin remarked in the comments to the previously mentioned post: "Gray's Bazin is the rather cosmic/mystic/Catholic/realist Bazin that many (most) Anglos think of, which is why Cardullo's Bazin at Work is such a crucial corrective to it."
We are in the midst of a Bazin revival, evident from the recent twin-venue conference held in Paris and at Yale to mark the 50th anniversary of his death. Further, recent writing like Daniel Morgan's well-regarded essay "Rethinking Bazin: Ontology and Realist Aesthetics" (Critical Inquiry, 2006) has served to enlarge and complicate our view of this versatile theorist.
Despite the strong resurgence of interest in Bazin, why has it taken so long--over 40 years--for an alternate translation of his key work to appear in English? The answer has to do with copyright issues. In many countries--including Canada, Japan, China, New Zealand, and others--copyright is retained for 50 years after an author's death before works enter the public domain. In fact, this used to be the international norm until the U.S. and France moved to a 70-year rule. Today the U.S. stipulates this as an explicit part of bilateral trade deals, and has persuaded Australia and South Korea, and more recently, Argentina and Chile, to move from 50 to 70 years. Canada has been lobbied by the U.S. on this issue but has passed no legislation yet to alter the 50-year rule. Since Bazin died in 1958, his writings passed into the public domain last year in Canada; this has made the new translation possible. (For more on copyright: here's the Wikipedia entry on public domain.)
The new issue of Offscreen is titled "Bazin Renewed." It includes an interview with Timothy Barnard about the new translation and a piece by Donato Totaro called "What is a Good Translation? Bazin Revisited".
There is also an essay at the caboose site that makes for particularly stimulating scholarly reading: Barnard's translator note on the word "découpage." It runs to over 20 printed pages and carefully traces the uses and meanings of the word over the course of the last one hundred years. Also of interest: Barnard's foreword (not available online) details the "meticulous research into Bazin's sources which has led him to a connection between the ideas of Bazin and Bertolt Brecht and to a pseudonymous article believed to have been written by Siegfried Kracauer."
The book can be ordered online through the caboose site but for shipping only to Japan, China (including Hong Kong), New Zealand, and other countries who follow the 50-year rule. Pages is selling the book online and at their store on Queen Street in Toronto. Apparently, it doesn't matter where the order originates--Pages will ship only to Canadian addresses. The book will also be on sale at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Tokyo in May.
Your thoughts on Bazin, film-writing translations, or copyright issues? All are welcome!
cover pic: "Sharlo Takes a Bow," a woodcut of Charlie Chaplin created by the Soviet artist, book designer and illustrator Varvara Stepanova for issue #3 of the journal Kino-Fot in 1922.