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Transcendental Style In Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer

What became of transcendental style? What in the 1950s began as art house cinema has blossomed into the hydra-headed creature we call slow cinema. Bresson and Ozu, seen as esoteric and slow, now are audience friendly compared to the multi-hour epics of Béla Tarr and Lav Diaz and Pedro Costa. A theater experience for art house customers morphed into marginalized audio-video presentations shown only at film festivals and art galleries.

Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer

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Deleuze is getting at the nuts and bolts of transcendental style. This is what I was struggling to apprehend. Our minds are wired to complete an on-screen image. We create patterns from chaos, just like our forefathers did when they imagined stars in the form of mythic beasts. We complete the action.

Paul Schrader belongs to the select group of directors he names who are working with the transcendental style, such as Eugène Green, Pawel Pawlikowski, Carlos Reygada and Jessica Hausner. First Reformed, in my view, is something of a miracle in the wasteland of sequels, action heroes and saccharine romance films.

It has been a recurring joke that Paul Schrader literally wrote the book on Transcendental Style in Film, his seminal 1972 text that focused on the films of Carl Th. Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson. Though, when Schrader finally wrote and directed his own films, the transcendental style that he had described in those directors was largely absent from his own work. Schrader admired and even loved the pictures his criticism pondered, but as if caught in a rebellion to his strict Calvinist upbringing, it was the visceral verve of hard-edged American cinema that most seduced him.

For decades now, scholars in the field of religion and film have worked toward determining and defining just what constitutes a "genuinely" religious film. Though different labels may be employed to categorize such motion pictures--e.g., transcendental in style, sacramental in style--critics are more or less in agreement when it comes to which films successfully convey a manifestation of the sacred, or what Mircea Eliade terms hierophany.

Paul Schrader, for instance, in discussing the style of film-making he characterizes as transcendental, privileges the following: a lack of external ostentation (no lightning bolts carving out the 10 commandments, no grand dances or orgiastic scenes in Herod's palace); a general nonexpressiveness (no looks of shock or awe or quivering lips connoting being touched by the divine); and a shunning of what director Robert Bresson called "screens" (clues that inform a viewer what to inspect or how to feel) (1972, p. 64). Such films, rather, hinge on two very particular and noteworthy norms, stasis and silence--norms which readers of this paper may quickly and willingly associate with prayer.

What are some noteworthy examples of these transcendentally-styled films? According to Schrader, not to mention the collective wisdom of the aforementioned authors, one film shines prototypically through: Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1951). But there are many others, such as Yasujiro ozu's Japanese classic Late Spring (1949); the Bengali Pather Panchali (1955), directed by Satyajit Ray; and Andrey Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1969). These films do not necessarily take religion or spirituality explicitly as their theme; but they are lauded for their mutual evocation of the sacred through their particular deployment of silence, stillness, lack of expressiveness, and so forth. 041b061a72


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