The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market

Colin Burnett



Challenging the prevailing notion among cinephiles that the auteur is an isolated genius interested primarily in individualism, Colin Burnett positions Robert Bresson as one whose life's work confronts the cultural forces that helped shape it. Regarded as one of film history's most elusive figures, Bresson (1901–1999) carried himself as an auteur long before cultural magazines, like the famed Cahiers du cinéma, advanced the term to describe such directors as Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, and Jean-Luc Godard. In this groundbreaking study, Burnett combines biography with cultural history to uncover the roots of the auteur in the alternative cultural marketplace of midcentury France.


"Colin Burnett’s The Invention of Robert Bresson is a breathtaking act of scholarship. The portrait of Bresson that emerges here, in biographical, cultural and aesthetic terms, is the most complete one that we have to date and will likely ever see. Burnett is as concerned to trace Bresson’s relation to figures like Max Ernst as he is to show us just how deep Bresson’s involvement was with Coco Chanel and the world of advertising. This is not the Bresson most of us have imagined. But even beyond the book’s contribution to Bresson scholarship and French film studies, which is already considerable, Burnett offers us a new way of thinking about what he calls 'a cultural marketplace,' a mode of inquiry that will invigorate single author studies by way of the painstaking detail Burnett’s model gives to the aesthetic and industrial forces at work at the various stages in an auteur’s development, which inform, but do not determine in any simple way, the kind of decisions that a filmmaker is forced to make. For those of us who believe in the importance of single author studies, this book comes as a massive breath of fresh air. For those of you who believe auteurism has run its course, I dare you to read The Invention of Robert Bresson. It will not be easy, I predict, to maintain your resistance."

Brian Price, author of Neither God Nor Master: Robert Bresson and Radical Politics

"Colin Burnett keeps historical questions front and center as he explains Bresson’s creative role within the lively cultural marketplace of post-WWII French cinema. The Invention of Robert Bresson goes beyond the confines of the usual auteur study, revealing the many innovative ways that Bresson promoted his personal style, while also participating fully in the artistic and critical context of his era. Burnett re-energizes our interest in this rewarding auteur and his place within a rich, unprecedented cinéphilia."

Richard Neupert, author of A History of the French New Wave Cinema

"An essential book for those interested in cinema authorship, French film and visual culture, and the iconoclastic Robert Bresson. Burnett’s bold intervention takes Bresson down off his marble plinth and makes him a flesh-and-blood practitioner once again, in fierce conversation with the artistic and industrial situations that nourished his work. Burnett’s real achievement is to make us look at Bresson—and postwar French cinema in all its troubled creative ferment—profoundly anew again."
Tim Palmer, author of Brutal Intimacy: Analyzing Contemporary French Cinema and Irreversible

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