Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Godard Forever: Part Two. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Godard’s ode to the history of cinema, an eight-part ciné-essay demonstrating all cinematic forms seen throughout history, locates within cinema a constantly evolving consciousness. His stream of consciousness filmmaking, which often takes form as multiple simultaneous streams, display a generative quality of film as the inspirational driving force of the viewer’s consciousness. With each carefully chosen formal element and transition, objects of sight and sound, Godard guides the viewer from one point to another, constantly testing cinema’s capacity to take the viewer somewhere they have never been and could not possibly realize without the advent of cinema.
It relentlessly, somewhat obnoxiously, displays all the features of cinema in a rather absurd, almost nonsensical fashion.
Histoire du cinema, avec un S… histoireS du cinema (histories of cinema), searches not for what is cinema, but for what is not cinema. Through sampling, mixing, and remixing a videographic stream of various films, original footage, music, voice-over, and noise, Histoire du cinema becomes a collage, an accumulation of all film entities, forms, and associations. There is no technique nor formal element of cinema which is not somehow, at some time, included in Godard’s film. It relentlessly, somewhat obnoxiously, displays all the features of cinema in a rather absurd, almost nonsensical fashion. In spite of this, there are moments of true revelation and beauty found interspersed within all this nonsense.
Through beauty and the absence thereof, Histoire du cinema conveys the many forms of art as found in cinema. It is all cinema. If deconstruction is Godard’s manner of discovering the non-cinematic, then Godard’s attempt has failed, admittedly so. The cinema is image and sound recorded from reality; there is nothing Godard can show that is not cinema. It is founded on life. Therefore, everything is cinema, and everything is art.
Through beauty and the absence thereof, Histoire du cinema conveys the many forms of art as found in cinema. It is all cinema.
Godard’s intellectual formula is an art which denies itself as art. It is impenetrable, alienating, and cold. It withholds in a manner to suggest more. It recognizes that the beauty in all art is in its underlying forms. So Godard abstracts form and manipulates it. Instead of presenting form in a manner to bring about beauty, he presents form in a manner to invoke thought. This is his take on art. He uses the underlying forms of art to incite the viewer to contemplate the conceptual nature of art as well as the forms which allow it to take shape. It is because form is at the bottom of all things that cinema is irreducible. Form is limitless, therefore cinema too is limitless.
Through this understanding, one can find beauty in the chaos that is Histoire du cinema. The visual and aural cacophony which Godard assaults the viewer with is all of what can rightly be called cinema. And yet, this is not really cinema. This is not really a film, but a video art installation. It is truly a reduction of cinema. And yet, it at once affirms its cinematic identity.
If there is at all a narrative in Histoire du cinema, it runs parallel to Godard thinking out loud. As the film progresses it constantly hearkens back to a few certain images, which serve as a base structure for the film’s eight part sequence. Godard thinks out loud, types, and philosophizes, while images in a variety of colours and aspect ratios move freely throughout the screen. Dissolves and superimpositions allow Godard’s presence to remain visible while the history of cinema is at once displayed on screen. The incessant clacking of his typewriter reminds the viewer that Godard is thinking, contemplating, and writing about cinema, and that what the viewer sees are essentially the images and thoughts held in Godard’s mind.
Through Godard’s deeply idiosyncratic rhythms and transitions, a sense of authorship is constantly found in Histoire du cinema. Despite the seemingly arbitrary nature of its videographic movement, there is always a sense of intention. This sense of intention and authorship, qualities valued by the auteur movement of the 1960s, gives a definite meaning to the film, if only as an example of abstract expressionism. Truly, Godard is the John Cage of film, with each absurd yet intentional movement a minute feature in an ever expanding symphony of film, a symphony which aims to capture the essence of life as a limitless expression of forms.
Though challenging, Godard’s symphony of cinema history is a deeply impressive testament to the limitless possibilities of the medium.