Reading: ‘Notes on the Cinematograph’, Robert Bresson

While browsing through the bookshelves of the Irish Film Institute bookshop this week, I discovered a copy of Notes on the Cinematograph by the French film director Robert Bresson. Although I have been aware of his name for many years, I am not familiar with any of his films.

Notes on the Cinematograph contains a series of brief notes and fragments that Bresson wrote to himself while making films over a period of several decades between 1950 and 1974. On the back of the book, John Semley says ‘Half-philosophy, half-poetry, Notes on the Cinematograph reads in places like The Art of War for filmmaker’, a point which became very apparent as I began reading. At less than ninety pages, this is a book that can be read in one sitting, but demands that the reader invests far more time and thought than this to fully appreciate what is being said.

A distillation of his theory and practice as a filmmaker, the Notes on the Cinematograph is full of cryptic aphorisms and practical, common sense advice on all aspects of filmmaking, from cinema, writing and working with actors, to photography, sound and lighting.

Below are just a few of the many ideas in the book that I found particularly inspiring.

‘My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living person 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’ (Bresson, 1986:11).

‘Not to use two violins when one is enough’ (p.13).

‘The noises must become music’ (p.16).

‘The cinematographer is making a voyage of discovery on an unknown planet’ (Bresson, 1986:18).
I find Bresson’s idea that filmmaking is a process of self-discovery for the director/filmmaker, who’s role on set is ‘not to direct someone, but to direct oneself’ (p.5) a very interesting approach to making films.

‘Catch instants. Spontaneity, freshness’ p.19).

‘Don’t run after poetry. It penetrates unaided through the joins (ellipses)’ (p.21).

‘Let it be the feelings that bring about the events. Not the other way’ (p.21).

‘Forget you are making a film’ (p.24).

‘Unbalance so as to re-balance’ (p.25).

‘Hide the ideas, but so that people find them. The most important will be the most hidden’ (p.25).

‘Music takes up all the room and gives no increased value to which it is added’ (p.28).

‘The soundtrack invented silence’ (p.28).

‘Things made more visible not by more light, but by the fresh angle at which I regard them’ (p.29).

‘Bring together things that have never been brought together and did not seem predisposed to be so’ (p.29).

‘Dig into your sensation. Look at what there is within. Don’t analyse it with words. Translate it into sister images, into equivalent sounds. The clearer it is, the more your style affirms itself. (Style: all that is not technique)’ (p.35).

These are just a few of the ideas that woke me up to the essence of what it means to make a moving image.

This is a wonderful book to discover so early on in my own journey on this course. I now need to watch some of Bresson’s films in order to fully appreciate what are, to me, quite radical and eye-opening ideas.


Bresson, R. (1986) Notes on the Cinematograph, Introduced by J.M.G. Le Clezio. New York: New York Review of Books.

Reading: Cinematography Robby Muller (2013), Van Deursen & De Vries

Linda Van Deursen & Marietta De Vries (2013) Cinematography Robby Muller. Zurich: JRP Ringier

I discovered Deursen & De Vries’ book Cinematography Robby Muller while browsing through Ashley Lauryssen’s Open College of the Arts study blog. Robby Muller was a Dutch cinematographer, whose inventive use of lighting and approach to composition were consistent elements within films by directors such as Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch. As a fan of both these filmmakers, II felt compelled to locate a copy of the book and find out more about this cinematographic auteur.

Organised thematically, the book collects together hundreds of shots from fourteen films Muller worked on during his career with directors such as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Peter Bogdanovich and Lars von Trier.

Rather than analysing and discussing the techniques Muller used within individual films, the authors present a series of film stills, organised around several key themes found in Muller’s cinematic practice; such as filming road movies; filming in natural light; filming at different times of the day; filming lens flare. Most of the stills are accompanied by captions, in which some of the directors and technicians Muller worked with offer a brief comment on the images, providing a pithy insight into the way in which he worked.

The book contains stills from fourteen films on which Robby Muller worked as cinematographer, of which only Paris, Texas (dir.  Wim Wenders) and Down By Law (dir.  Jim Jarmusch) are familiar to me.

Alice in den Stadten (1974)
Falsche Bewegung(1975)
Im Lauf Der Zeit(1976)
Der Amerikanische Freund (1977)
Die Linkshandige Frau (1978)
Saint Jack (1979)
Repo Man (1984)
Paris, Texas (1984)
Down By Law (1986)
Barfly (1987)
Mystery Train (1989)
Dead Man (1995)
Breaking the Waves (1996)
Dancer in the Dark (2000)

What struck me about the film stills contained in the book, is the way in which Muller uses light to convey a mood. His ability to use both natural and artificial light in a way that appears so natural to the location. This is summarised nicely in the caption to the stills from Saint Jack (1979), in which Theo Bierkens, the best boy on the film, says ‘He [Muller] always looked carefully at what a location had to offer and enhanced that. Not in a dogmatic way, but more intuitive’ (Duersen & Vries, p.89).

Together, these film stills are a wonderful resource on the creative practice of a cinematographer who is passionate about light, how it works and how it falls within a scene. It’s the kind of book I can browse through, look at a single shot or a series of shots, and see exactly what Muller saw when his eye was to the viewfinder. It’s a book I shall be returning to again for advice and inspiration when lighting my own moving images.


Van Deursen, L., & De Vries, M. (2013) Cinematography Robby Muller. Zurich: JRP Ringier

Reading: Video Art (2007), Michael Rush

Video Art (2007), Michael Rush

‘The story of video art embraces all the significant art ideas and forms of recent times – Abstract, Conceptual, Minimal, Performance and Pop art, photography, and digital art. The story also departs from art-historical categories into a new domain, that of the technological, which has its own referents and language’

(Rush, 2007, p8).





Video art is an all embracing art form

  • multiple ways of constructing a history of the medium of video art
  • history of video art so far concerns three generations of artists
  • video artists ‘spontaneously adopted a massive communications medium for their own purposes, turning an implement of commerce…into a material for art’ (Rush, 2007, p.8)
  • two difficulties for critics: (1) the language used for video art is borrowed from film; (2) there are no convenient ‘themes’ or ‘schools’ of artists to help organise critical discussion

Blurring the boundaries

  • video art emerged when boundaries between traditional art forms were becoming blurred
  • painting, performance, dance, music, film, writing, sculpture combined in single works of art
  • early video art emerged from or reacted to post-Abstract Expressionism
  • the physical and the conceptual were linked from the start in video art – remain linked today
  • performance – principle material in the medium

A hybrid art form

  • video used in combination with film, computer art, graphics, animation, virtual reality, all types of digital applications
  • video is rarely the ‘pure’ medium of a work – more often a mix
  • is video art obsolete?
  • ‘We live in a time when ideas – and not specific media – are central to artists’ (Rush, p.11)

Key points for me

There are no obvious ‘themes’ or ‘schools’ of video artists. Today’s video artists are interested in the manipulation of time and breaking the boundaries between the material used and the medium of its creation. I don’t know how I plan to use what I have learned here. Though I do have one question: how do you create something new through the medium of video in a world so saturated with moving images?


Rush, M. (2007) Video Art London: Thames & Hudson