Jean-Louis Baudry “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus” – A Review

Jean Louis Baudry

Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus


In such a way, the cinematic apparatus conceals its work and imposes an idealist ideology, rather than producing critical awareness in a spectator.”


Baudry sets up the questions he will answer throughout the rest of the text:

  • How the “subject” is the active center of meaning.
  • How the cinematic apparatus is actually more important for transcendentalism in the subject than the film itself.
  • The hidden “work” of the cinematic apparatus, that is, the progression from the “objective reality” (what is filmed), through the intermediary (the camera), to the finished product (a reconstructed, but false, “objective reality”, not the “objective reality” itself, but instead a representation of it)


Baudry then discusses this “work”. This, he claims, is what distinguishes cinema as an art form. This process of transformation from “objective reality” to finished product. He asks, in this finished product is the “work” made evident, does viewing the final product bring about a “knowledge effect”, or in other words, a recognition of the apparatus, or is the “work” concealed?


He finishes the section by stating, “concealment of the technical base will also bring about a specific ideological effect. Its inscription, its manifestation as such, on the other hand, would produce a knowledge effect, as actualization of the work process, as denunciation of ideology, and as a critique of idealism.”


It’s important to stop here and question what Baudry means by “idealism”?

Sociologically, idealism emphasizes how human ideas – especially beliefs and values – shape society. Philosophically it asserts that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial.


The Eye of the Subject


Baudry discusses the viewpoint of the “subject” in both Greek and Renaissance art histories. While both static, the Greeks “subject” is based on a “multiplicity of points of view” while the Renaissance paintings utilize a “centered space”. “The center of this space coincides with the eye…so justly called the “subject”.


Baudry then continues and discusses the camera’s vision, which he calls Monocular. “Based on the principle of a fixed point by reference to which the visualized objects are organized, it specifies in return the position of the “subject” the very spot it must necessarily occupy. What Baudry has done here is created the “subject” for the finished product, the entity into which the exterior world will attempt to intrude and create meaning.

Question – If the subject is a “fixed point”, then does one’s positioning in a theater affect the ability for meaning to be created? Is the “mirror” as affective?


Baudry then discusses the necessity of transcendence which he will touch upon more later in his essay. Briefly however, the ideal vision of the “virtual image” with its hallucinatory reality, creates a total vision which to Baudry, “contributes…to the ideological function of art, which is to provide the tangible representation of metaphysics.”


Projection: The Difference Negated


Baudry discusses the paradox between the projected film. It consists of individual frames, separate, however minutely, from each other in image. However, when projected the frames create meaning, through the relationship between them, creating a juxtapositioning and a continuity. As Baudry states, “These separate frames have between them differences that are indispensable for the creation of an illusion of continuity, of a continuous passage (movement, time). But only on one condition can these differences create this illusion: they must be effaced as differences.” This is a critical notion as we will see in just a moment.


“We should remember, moreoever, the disturbing effects which result during a projection from breakdowns in the recreation of movement, when the spectator is brought abruptly back to discontinuity, that is, to the body, to the technical apparatus which he or she had forgotten. When such discontinuity is made apparent then to Baudry both transcendence, meaning in the subject, and ideology can be impossible.


So what is the importance of this effacement of discontinuity in frames. Baudry states, “We might not be far from seeing what is in play on this material basis, if we recall that the “language” of the unconscious, as it is found in dreams, slips of the tongue, or hysterical symptoms, manifests itself as continuity destroyed, broken, and as the unexpected surging forth of a marked difference.” We must note the similarities between Baudry’s Freudian idea of the unconscious and of the language of the cinematic apparatus. Both, fool the subject (the viewer and the self) into believing in a continuity, while both occasionally providing glimpses of the actual discontinuity present in the construction. Thus a relation is established between the unconscious of the “subject” and what is being presented on screen. Or as Baudry puts it….


“Thus one may assume that what was already at work as the originating basid of the persepective image, namely the eye, the “subject”, is put forth, liberated by the operation which transforms successive, discrete images (as isolated images they have, strictly speaking, no meaning, or at least no unity of meaning) into continuity, movement, meaning; with continuity restored both meaning and consciousness are restored.”


The Transcendental Subject


Baudry begins by describing how when a camera follows a trajectory, it becomes trajectory, seizes a moment, becomes a moment. It’s a little clunky but what I believe he is saying is this. As the camera follows the arc of a ball flying through the air, the frame itself mimics this arc, becomes an arc itself. And if we believe that the consciousness of the individual is projected upon the screen then as Baudry puts it, “in this way the eye-subject, the invisible base of artificial perspective (which in fact only represents a larger effot to produce an ordering, regulated trascnedence) becomes absorbed in, “elevated” to a vaster function”.


“The world will not only be constituted by this eye but for it. The movability of the camera seems to fulfill the most favorable conditions for the manifestation of the “transcendental subject”.


Baudry moves on to how he believes the subject is so able to become consciously enmeshed in the film. “There is both fantasmatization of an objective reality (image, sounds, color) and of an objective reality which, limiting its power of constraint, seems equally to augment the possibilities of the subject.” It is the belief in the omnipotence of thought and viewpoint. The subject sees all, he or she ascends to a nobler status, a god perhaps, he or she sees all of the world that is presented before them, the visual image is the world, and the subject sees all. Add to this that the ego believes that what is shown is shown for a reason, that whatever it sees has purpose, has meaning. And you have a subject who is given great power and a world in which he or she is entitled to meaning.


Film derives meaning from the subject.


The importance of narrative continuity as well, “The search for such narrative continuity, so difficult to obtain from the material base, can only be explained by an essential ideological stake projected in this point: it is a question of preserving at any cost the synthetic unity of the locus where meaning originates [the subject] – the constituting transcendental function to which narrative continuity points back as its natural secretion.”


The Screen-Mirror: Specularization and Double Identification


The physical confinements and atmosphere of the theater help in the immersion of the subject. Indeed Baudry notes that the atmosphere mimics not only Plato’s analogy of the cave but also Lacan’s formation of the imaginary self.

“This psychological phase, which occurs between six and eighteen months of age, generates via the mirror image of a unified body the constitution or at least the first sketches of the “I” as an imaginary function.

Lacan is so abstruse its as if he’s using a different language, but here’s what I can gather. The child upon seeing his or herself in the mirror for the first time, is hitherto, a fragmented conscious and unconscious, his or her recognition of his or herself in a mirror creates an imaginary “I”, imaginary in the sense that 1. The “I” is a organic, singular unit, which contradicts the idea that the being is actually a fragmented entity, also paralleling the concept of the “continuous image” upon the screen, and 2. The child takes the mirrored image and makes it an “ideal self”. This is problematic for two reasons, 1. The mirrored image is not the child itself but instead a reflected image, and 2. The reflected is image presents a whole, something the child will continually strive for but never reach. It is a continually unfulfilled desire, an empty signifier. Note the similarity between this and the constructed image on screen.


The screen as a “mirror” but not one that reflects an objective reality but one instead one that reflects images.


“Thus the spectator identifies less with what is represented, the spectacle itself, than with what stages the spectacle, makes it seen, obliging him to see what it sees; this is exactly the function taken over by the camera as a sort of relay.” And this is because..


“Just as a mirror assembles the fragmented body in a sort of imaginary integration of the self, the transcendental self unites the discontinuous fragments of phenomena, of lived experience, into unifying meaning. Through it each fragment assumes meaning by being integrated into an “organic” unity. Between the imaginary gathering of the fragmented body into a unity and the transcendentality of the self, giver of unifying meaning, the current is indefinitely reversible.


The relationship between the camera and the subject. The camera needs to seize the subject in a mode of specular reflection. The forms of narrative adopted, the contents, are of little importance so long as identification remains possible.


“Everything happens as if, the subject himself, unable to account for his own situation, it was necessary to substitute secondary organs, grafted on to replace his own defective ones, instruments or ideological formations capable of filling his function as subject.” The image replaces the subjects own image as if it is now the mirror.


“The cinema can thus appear as a sort of psychic apparatus of substitution, corresponding to the model defined by the dominant ideology.”


Think of it this way, the consciousness of the individual, the subject, becomes projected upon the film, as both the consciousness and the cinematic apparatus work in similar ways. This allows the exterior world, the “objective reality”, to create interior meaning within the subject. The success or failure of a film is therefore its ability to hold this consciousness through a perpetual continuity of the visual image and the effacement of the means of production, therefore allowing the subject a “transcendental experience”.


“Film functions more as a metaphysiological “mirror” that fulfills the spectator’s wish for fullness, transcendental unity, and meaning.”




What is the dominant ideology?

How might one’s position in a theater affect their reaction to a film according to Baudry?

What type of editing pattern would Baudry believe to be most consistent with a “continuity”?

What is the difference between the meaning between image and the meaning created within the “subject”?

What might some criticisms of Baudry’s theory? Do you believe it?

Thought’s on Truffaut’s “La Nuit Americaine”

One thing that I noticed while watching Traffaut’s film “La Nuit Americaine” was the different shoot techniques the director employed in order to create a noticeable distinction between the film and “real life”. This technique is especially evident in the first scene in which there is a tracking shot that follows several characters while a score plays in the background. Here the camera tracks characters as they walk through the streets until it stops and focuses on Alphonse and Alexandre and once this scene ends the camera shot ceases to be mobile and instead is stationary. Here Traffaut makes a distinction between film and real life by shooting the “Meet Pamela” scenes in a cinematic and mobile way to make them appear less realistic and more contrived. Then once the Meet Pamela shooting scene is done Truffaut switches his shots to static shots that are realistic in nature to make it seem as though the “behind the scene shots” are real life. This shooting style helps Truffaut to successfully create a distinction between the film world and real world within his film, and in doing so he creates a film that both celebrates and criticizes the film making process.

Another thought I had while watching the film was it shared a lot of similarities with Fellini’s film “8 1/2”.  Much like “La Nuit Americaine” Fellini’s “8 1/2”  focuses on the life of a struggling director as he attempts to make a film in hectic circumstances. One scene from “La Nuit Americaine” that was particularly reminiscent of  “8 1/2” was Ferrand’s dream sequence in which he sees himself as a child stealing Citizen Kane posters from the front of a movie theater. This childhood flashback scene establishes that film is Ferand’s one true love and shows the audience that his passion for the medium dates all the way back to his childhood, which helps the viewer to understand why he is so intent on making a successful production. Fellini’s film “8 1/2” features a similar scene in which the director has a flashback to his childhood and he remembers the time when him and his siblings jumped on the bed and chanted “asa nisi masa”, a made up phrase that they yelled to bring the eyes of a painting on their wall to life. In both of these scenes the directors use childhood flashbacks to show the inner most desires of the protagonists and in doing so they reveal a great deal about each main character’s past, which helps the viewer to better understand how these men have become so tormented.





Observations from Truffaut’s “La Nuit Americaine”

One of the first elements I noticed in Truffaut’s “La Nuit Americaine” was the abundance of the color red at different times in the film. There were various times where the color really dominated the shot, in an intentional yet subtle manner. The crane, red car, and smaller objects such as the jack all were a bright red, standing out in particular shots. The choice of red could represent themes of lust, passion, and love, as well as the breaking of relationships and the resulting anguish. Although it could be easily overlooked, I enjoyed this detail in the film.

A major theme that began to develop over the course of the film was the contrast between real life and film life, and specifically, which takes dominance in one’s life. There are many usable quotes during the course of the film that illustrate this. One such quote occurs when Alphonse is talking to Julie, “Life is more important than films. Ferrard is wrong.” Furthermore, the contrast between the life of actors and everyone else is apparent in the discussion of kissing being an actor’s equivalent of a handshake.

La Nuit Americaine – “No one’s private life runs smoothly, that only happens in the movies.”

Truffaut’s master tale of filmmaking is all at once a structurally well made film with excellent characters, a well directed adventure into filmmaking and a commentary on the art form all of us are choosing to pursue in our academics. For anyone passionate about film, this should be the kind of film that we are immediately drawn to. The language is crisp, effective, funny and well delivered by the actors. Does it feel dated? Of course – but that only adds to the beauty. With the main theme being is film more important than life, or, better yet, is film perfection and life imperfection? Personally, what Truffaut touches upon in his film is exactly why I (personally) find film so intriguing and why it is an art form I wish to challenge myself in. This is not a painting. This is not music. And this is not a book. Film is a collaborative process involving so many different voices, suits, and set-backs that it is a true mystery how we find ourselves watching the cinema that we do.

One element of the film I find fascinating is the character of Alphonse. I love the fact that in all of his free time, he tells his cast and crew that he is going to the movies. A man obsessed by cinema tries to live his life according to the code of film. It’s a code I find myself living quite frequently as well. I think many actors, writers and directors look at reality through the lens of a camera… with an audience watching them. They thrive on drama, try to create picturesque moments, and question their faith in life when things go ‘off script’ in real life (as we see with Alphonse being dumped). Rationally, filmmaking is a story telling form of art that audiences watch for a variety of reasons… but it is not reality. I write scripts and find myself constantly frustrated when my conversations in life don’t follow the language and flow I give my characters… But it is something we all must accept, no matter how much we love to get lost in the world of cinema.

This is a film made by a man obsessed with his art form. He even plays the fictional director in the movie! My favorite line so far is said by Ferrand to Alphonse, now lost in despair – “No one’s private life runs smoothly, that only happens in the movies.” We love movies… plain and simple. Our personal preferences will vary, but that’s what makes film perhaps the greatest art form ever. It takes so many different genres, tones, mediums and voices and stuffs them together into moving images that dare to dazzle us and transport us to a new world to forget about the one we are currently in. “I’d drop a guy for a film… but I’d never drop a film for a guy.” I’d say the same (about a woman) but the point is clear… This is what we love. And the process might be like going to war… but when the final product is something to be proud of, it sure feels like victory. This was the perfect film to start with – and to answer day one’s question about why we need to know film theory… It’s because we need to understand what film is, it’s essence, and it’s relation to our lives and how it shapes us. If you live and breathe film (like I know many in the class do), you need to ask “what is my reality compared with my cinema.”

Artificiality of Cinema vs. Reality of Production

The title of Truffaut’s “La Nui Americaine”, meaning Day of night, originates from an American film technique in which a scene is filmed during the day, and then in post production made to look like it was shot at night. The significance of the title represents the artificiality of cinema. Throughout the film, various illusions are created such as the use of the stunt double, the candle light trick and much more. Film is a revolutionary medium because of its ability to create deceptions that would otherwise be realistically impossible. In Munsterberg’s “Why we go to the Movies,” he highlights the same principal; film surpasses the limits of reality, which is why they are so entertaining and why they differ greatly from theater productions.

While special effects and grand illusions can be simulated in a film, hard work and devotion off screen, can not be. One theme that was presented throughout the piece was the overwhelming amount of effort and dedication required in the filmmaking industry. Issues such as time constraints, uncooperative casts, and restless nights only scratch the surface in the grand realm of practical issues that arise during filmmaking. At various points, it felt as though, for some characters, the film they were working on, “Meet Pamela,” was more important than real life. One lady on set even stated “I’d drop a man for a film but I’d never drop a film for a man” indicating that films are more of a priority than aspects of her own personal life. For Ferrand, the director, his devotion is unprecedented and even conflicts with his sleep. Having had personal experience with film production on a much smaller scale, I was always aware of the daunting amount of innovation and commitment required in this field; however, it is always shocking to be reminded of how much work is poured into a full-length feature.


Endless Creativity or Putting out Fires?

Truffaut’s La Nuit Americaine (1973) points to many of Munsterberg’s examples of what makes films or “photoplays” unique. With its range of camera angles, quick cuts, multiple story lines cutting back and forth, and other devices, La Nuit Americaine shows the technical aspects of what distinguishes film from theatre. The constructed sets, such as Julie and Alphonse’s bedroom window that is raised on scaffolding to appear to be facing his parent’s room, allow Truffaut to overcome the limitations of space. With this liberation, “a freedom [is] gained which gives new wings to the artistic imagination” (Munsterberg, Critical Visions). As argued by Munsterberg, film provides a medium for endless creativity which is demonstrated by the “behind the scenes” look into movie making as seen in La Nuit Americaine. Although Munsterberg touts film as being the best artistic medium of his time, he does not account for the accompanying problems that it demands. Tight budgets and deadlines, emotionally unstable actors, etc. are all inevitable issues that come along with making a motion picture. So, while film provides a medium for endless creativity, it also requires putting out a lot of fires. Watching this film, I cannot help but think the effort it took to get some of my favorite movies to the box office. As said by Truffaut (Director Ferrand) in the film, “Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive”.







Truffaut’s “La Nui Americaine”

Francois Truffaut’s “La Nuit Americaine” presents a rather light-hearted representation of what it takes to make a film. Many of the difficulties associated with making a film to come light as the director finds himself on an impossibly tight schedule and several of the actors suffer from debilitating off-set issues. Though we have not finished the film, it is already clear that the production of “Pamela” (the film within the film) will not end without another series of stressful events.

Truffaut makes an effort to call attention to cinema’s inaccurate depictions of both the reality of the world itself and the truth of what went into making the ideal picture that millions view on screen.  Scenes of “Pamela” are shot over and over and over again with mounting frustration after every attempt and a mental breakdown from one of the leading actresses (Severine) to cap it all off.  Seemingly unimportant logistics are micromanaged to a fault, and poorly written contract-clauses force Ferrand to make unsettling decisions about his cast.  To paraphrase, Ferrand notes that he originally intended to make a great movie, and now he just hopes to be able to finish it, after being faced with a 7 week ultimatum.  I found all of this to be extremely enlightening, as I never quite conceptualized exactly how difficult and frustrating it is to make all of this happen.  As Orson Welles so elegantly put it, “a writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”  Ferrand struggles to keep his army together, finding himself faced with little tiny problems all the way down to a kitten that won’t drink the milk he puts out for it.  It doesn’t ever seem like anything will be easy, and the whole thing is enough to make the whole operation seem like a complete drag.  Upon viewing the preview of one of her films, one actress declares, “I did that? All I remember is the waiting.”  I think that quote pretty effectively sums up the point that Truffaut wants to make about film-making – despite the glorification of the plot and the characters themselves, the input is far, far uglier than the output.

A further comment on cinema’s departure from reality is made as the stars of the film are all asked about the plot.  The film is a tragedy by genre, and Alphonse, Alexandre and Julie all point to this fact with different interpretations of what that means.  Regardless of what the actors and actresses say to this point, what comes through to the viewer is the fact that the storyline of the film within the film is quite linear – that is to say their lives are pre-destined to resolve in some thematic or predictable way based on the general requirements of a tragedy.  In this sense the film has automatically distanced itself from reality, and Truffaut chooses to accentuate this by presenting a conversation between Ferrand and Alphonse in which the distraught actor is consoled about the departure of his girlfriend, whom he idealistically and selfishly presumed to be his fiancé.  Unable to cope with this “real” life tragedy, Alphonse whines about the unexpected rupture of his relationship.  Ferrand responds by telling him that “movies go on like trains in the night.”  What he means by this is that in films, unlike in the real-world lives of the people who represent characters, the plot will simply move forward without any unintended hiccups.  There is no room for a diversion from the path.  It seems as though Alphonse pictured his romance with Lilliane to be as perfect and ideal as the instant and illicit love relationship between the characters that Julie and Alexandre play in “Pamela,” and could not come to terms with the fact that this just wasn’t meant to be.  To make things worse, Julie ends up sleeping with Alphonse after an effort to explain to him that Lilliane would find herself alone and abandoned after a brief stint with her British lover, contributing further to the harsh and complicated emotions that Alphonse already felt.  What a messy situation.  I guess Truffaut is trying to hammer home the point that makers of films sometimes cannot escape the idealization of the world themselves.  Alphonse’s life looks to be more of a roll of the dice than a straight path towards the eternal love he pictures in his mind.

Some Themes I’ve Noticed in Day for Night

There were a few interesting themes in the film that I’ve seen so far. I enjoy the way the film is shot, which involves a lot of long takes and shots that follow the actors around for an extended period of time. This is effective in showing how fast paced sets can be while making a film. An example of this is the director quickly walking around his sets consulting with people from all different departments, we got a look into the chaos of film making there. Another theme that I noticed was that the film comments a lot on frivolous things. I understand in class it was mentioned that this film is part of french new wave, which is less flashy than other forms of film, and the points made in the film fit this description. There are very large elaborate sets and actions with hundreds of extras that seems very excessive, when filming on an actual location would have produced a very similar effect, and all characters are preoccupied with things that don’t seem too important, having mounds of butter, small props, and perfection in a take. For a film that is part of a less flashy style, this is certainly an ironic subject to cover.


Nick Tassoni