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Claude Lanzmann directed this 9 1/2 hour documentary of the Holocaust without using a single frame of archive footage. He interviews survivors, witnesses, and ex-Nazis (whom he had to film ... See full summary »
At a lakeside hotel, Michel Piccoli discusses the centennial of cinema with Jean-Luc Godard. Godard asks why should cinema's birthday be celebrated when the history of film is a forgotten ... See full summary »
This is the first of eight short works which make up Histoire(s) Du Cinema, all of which are available in one box set in England and France. I am going to discuss all eight of the shorts as one unit, so my comments may be about any in the series.
First off, I am not a cheerleader for Godard. Some of his films are wonderful but too many of them are overflowing with his ego. Histoire(s) Du Cinema consists of a collage of film clips (mostly unidentified), art prints, and quotations from literature cut together with shots of Godard sitting at a typewriter, perusing his library, endlessly smoking, and muttering his long-winded comments, most of them not related to what we are watching. I have always felt that Godard is not as clever as he thinks he is and someone who really was that clever would nail Godard. I'm not such a person although I did spot one incorrect statement (Lot's wife was turned to a pillar of salt, not his daughters). As for most of Godard's commentary I had to contend with just not being on his intellectual wavelength. Whether that is his fault or mine is open to debate. Quick quiz: what do, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Blood of a Poet, Au Hasard Balthazar, and Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom, all have in common? Got me but Godard strings their images together, one after the other.
Reservations aside, Histoire(s) Du Cinema is worth watching. Godard clearly loves films. The first couple entries didn't grab me, but the middle portions are well done. The third ("Le Seul Le Cinema") and the fifth ("La Monnaie De L'Absolu"), in particular, stand out. The uses of Open City and Night of the Hunter made me want to watch those films again. The fifth episode builds to a loving montage of Italian cinema which would be hard for a cinephile not to love. There are other moving excerpts throughout the series: Major Ambersons' dying speech, the woman climbing the stairs to Destiny, the superimposing of hallways from Paisan and Beauty and the Beast. The only problem with these clips is that I often wished I was watching those films instead of Histoire(s) Du Cinema.
A potential viewer should not expect the linear (or entertaining) quality of the Martin Scorsese film documentaries. These are experimental films and not a collection of short documentaries. Histoire(s) Du Cinema is certainly full of itself and, yet, despite that, I was glad to have watched it. If nothing else, the film gave me recommendations for other films that (at least in their clips) appear to be stunning. Of course, tracking them down would have been easier had Godard included their titles. Oh well.
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