I had the exceptionnal opportunity, in march 1998, to see JLG's latest project, the TV series/video essay "Histoire(s) du cinima", which I would translate to "(Hi)story of cinema" ("Histoire" - singular - means history, but "histoires" - plural - means stories). It was a great and rare pleasure to see such a beautiful work, 4 chapters of 2 parts each, made for Canal+, ARTE and Gaumont from 1988 to 1997. Of those four chapters, only the first (2x45 min) was broadcast, the 3 others (2x26 min each) were only shown during festivals. The complete work is to be broadcast in Europe on Canal+ and ARTE in spring 1999.
Obviously, seeing it just once in a movie theater is not enough to untangle Godard's extraordinary device of signifiance. One should have a copy on video, and watch it quietly, always getting backwards to catch the amazing associations of thoughts which make the framework of the series.
Like "JLG/JLG", Godard's video autobiography, "Histoire(s) du cinima" is a splendid essay on cinema, by cinema. And that's the most important thing: the marvelous intelligence with which Godard uses the multiple signifying means of cinema (image, sound, speech, titles, editing...) to make a gripping and fascinating reflection on history and/of cinema. Genious thoughts flash, and escape from memory as soon as they have been grasped by understanding. Indeed, the intellectual exercise is at least as intense for the viewer than for the director. Thoughts of sublime intelligence, as this essay on war opening episode 3A, or the ironic words on the use of hands and the use of heart, alternate with a hypnotic succession of words projected onto the screen, of patiently built rhetorical figures.
So of course, the first vision of "Histoire(s) du cinima" is puzzling. As I said, meaning slips away from the fingers of understanding as soon as it has been grasped, and often only stays the surprising pleasure of captivated eyes. And Godard becomes a magical poet (which he's seldom been), in the final sequence about italian cinema, and mostly, at the wonderful end of the last episode, where the author reads quotes of the authors he admires, thoughts about time, history and cinema.
Beyond, or maybe below the complexity of the film and aim, "Histoire(s) du cinima" is a rare pleasure which persists long after the time of vision, in the twists and turns of the intellect, seldom so well stimulated, a pleasure one would like to feel more often in front of a television.
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