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André Bazin has a curious status in intellectual life. He is everywhere admitted as the founding father of film criticism and theory in general. The magazine he created in the 1950s, Cahiers du cinéma, has good claim to be the most influential film magazine ever published. And yet at the same time, he has been curiously neglected. He died at the young age of forty, in 1958, just before the “structuralist turn,” and film theory, more influenced by this turn than any other discipline, more or less comprehensively rejected him in the seventies. Equally, within general French intellectual culture, he has been barely acknowledged, let alone as a major thinker.
For some time now, however, particularly in the work of Serge Daney, Bazin has been making something of a comeback, and a double conference—“Opening Bazin”—held in late November at the Université Paris Diderot and early December at Yale University, looks likely to lead to a comprehensive reevaluation of this remarkable thinker. The Yale event was extraordinary not simply for the eminence of the critics gathered, both from France and America, but for the striking fact that almost all of them had done considerable original research for the event, many in the archive of Bazin’s complete writings that Dudley Andrew has established at Yale. The picture that emerged at the conference was of a thinker whose fundamental engagement with the nature of cinema makes him an essential reference point as the cinema finds new forms, both in museums and on the Internet, while remaining the key crystallization of value in the entertainment industry. Bazin lived through two crucial moments in the history of cinema—Rossellini and neorealism, which provided him with his most important theoretical and critical examples, and the birth of the New Wave, which in the films of Godard and Truffaut, Rohmer and Rivette, would live out his ideas.