More will follow as I unravel the tangled web, for now I write this about the first two entries: Histoire(s) du cinéma: Toutes les histoires (1988) Histoire(s) du cinéma: Une histoire seule (1989)
We find several premises here, but let's begin with this. Cinema as successor of photography, that inherits its right to depict reality but also the duty. With time we tend to forget or forgive, our memory of what was real is altered by the experience of the present, but something captured on celluloid is true as it was. Holocaust images shake as profoundly as they did, if not as vividly. When I wrote about Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera, I talked about the beginning of time proper, of the present narrative. We can cobble together a view of the historic past from disparate sources, but never before the invention of the photographic lens did we have the living document. People, places, life, we see them as they truly were.
However much we mull this over, we understand the filmed image can shape worlds, for better or worse. On the subject I share Godard's wonder, is the camera morally complicit to what it sees and does it merely reproduce or originate reality. For Dziga Vertov this was a mostly political concern, how we can escape the troublesome fluctuations of the soul and transform into machine-like precision. The devoted workers of his Symphonia Donbassa were model heroes of this, the film was their paean. For me, it's mostly a poetic issue, is what I see what I see or is there better way of seeing.
Godard attempts to untangle the thread from the beginning.
In Toutes les Histoires, he contrasts Hollywood, the beast of Babylon, the dream factory, with Soviet Russia, the system that crumbled trying to imagine too many dream factories. The American starlets with the faces of peasants, the airy and sexual with the solemn. A girl and a gun is enough to make a film, that is sex and death are the primal urges. My question, do we come to the movies to exorcise them are to be further numbed? In the subsequent film, he revolves around the axis that "cinema is not art, it's hardly even a technique". To this extent, he shows us clips from those silent stag films, perhaps the first blow job captured for all time on celluloid. This may seem contradictory, utterly ridiculous, especially considering the importance he places on making movies, which he seems to elevate to the position of a surrogate raison d'etre. "Ergo, cognito, cinema" as he says elsewhere in the film. It is, likely, a Socratic interrogation.
I like that Godard subjects cinema to completely contrasting viewpoints, cinema that shapes realities and cinema as a disposable object, that he examines it from all angles to see if he can discern a full outline. Posing these questions, we can formulate a better evaluation but also fine-tune the very process of evaluating.
Where does all this get us after 1,5 hours then, how are we any wiser for watching the films? The answer for me is none at all, and part of the problem is again Godard himself.
He can be seen quoted or quoting from books the most vacant banalities, for example "change nothing, so that everything is different". He conflates the tired thought that TV killed cinema with the realization that it brings the world inside our living-room yet paradoxically narrows our horizons. He tells us that almighty producer Irving Thalberg was "the founding stone, the only son", because he had so many movies at his hands. Now and then, footage of Hitler or Mussolini creep in, James Stewart in Vertigo, dedications to John Cassavetes and Glauber Rocha. A photo of Hitchcock with arms extended cut with footage of damsels in distress, a devious puppeteer plying his trade.
I touched on this again in one of my previous Godard threads, this sense of dichotomy I get from Godard, between a feverish intellectual who places too much importance in cinema to completely abandon it and a satisfied bourgeois who really has little incentive to keep making it.
The importance here is of almost spiritual proportions. Seeing the powers of his intellect circling and burrowing in search of meaning inside the very limited field of cinema has an almost comical effect for me. It seems that for him every small truth about life can be discovered in something that is related to movies.
I mean, the two reels of film in a projector, one that spools and the other that unspools, are called the "slave" and the "master". Can't you almost sense the gleeful satisfaction when Godard was first told, how satisfying it must be for him as political metaphor?
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