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Jean-Luc Godard transformed the face of cinema with his prolific, influential and revolutionary body of work which includes such classics as "Breathless", "Weekend" and "Contempt" just to name a few. His video series Historie(s) Du Cinema, consisting of eight episodes made over a period of ten years is an extraordinary look at the medium through the eyes of this unique filmmaker. Hugely ambitious in scope, the series covers a wide range of topics from the birth of cinema to Italian neo-realism to Hollywood and beyond. A dazzling montage of sight and sound, Historie(s) Du Cinema features a diverse array of film extracts, the voices of - among others - Juliette Binoche and Alfred Hitchcock, and an eclectic music soundtrack ranging from Beethoven to Leonard Cohen.
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Visually, Godard provides us with a collage of clips from Chaplin, Hitchcock, Rossellini, Vigo, Renoir, Cocteau, and countless other films intermixed with art history stills & all is accompanied by both a musical soundtrack and a poetic "narrative" (sometimes in Godard's voice, sometimes in a kind of Alphaville distorted voice & sometimes the narrative is read by select actresses who perform the narrative as if it were a script they are learning). This multi-media collage is ripe with suggestive juxtapositions but any stable or solid meanings dissolve as quick as each image. In telling these histories, Godard allows himself more than a margin of indefiniteness.
Certain phrases nonetheless resonate:
"We are one another."
"The myths by which we live are contradictory."
"Cinema has always yearned to be more real than life."
At one point Godard is interviewing a film historian who claims that the New Wave filmmakers were perfectly situated to tell the history of cinema because they arrived at a moment when film had a history that was rich but short enough to be absorbed by a single generation. Godard agrees somewhat, but adds that film history is connected to other histories and that for each filmmaker that history is a personal one based on that filmmakers own selection of influences. Godard claims that for some filmmakers like Truffaut, it was immediately apparent what their version of that history was and in what way they were adding to it. But Godard claims that for him it has taken many years to figure out film history and his relation to it.
What resonates in my mind after a single viewing is that Godard views cinema much as Lou Reed views rock n roll in the song "Rock n Roll." In that song, rock n roll offers release from the tedium and uncertainty of actual life and of actual living. For Reed (or Reeds character in the song) rock and roll is a kind of salvation, a kind of redemption. Because it offers a new kind of energy, a new kind of release, and because it lasts, its the one thing that makes this transitory existence tolerable. That seems to be Godards view of cinema (or at least one of his views of cinema).
But thats merely a summary of one of Godard's moods, there are many Godard's at work here. The beauty of this history is that no two viewers will likely translate these Godards and his myriad-minded histories in their own way.
But, this DVD edition forget one thing: some people don't need any subtitles, some people are french or speak french. So let's them the choice to watch this masterpiece without subtitles! I was so upset when I realize the subtitles were "obligatory". DVD 101: the choice for the spectator to watch with or without subtitles.
Then, it's really the minimum. But anyway, Histoire(s) du Cinéma is a monument, so it doesn't really matter if there is not supplements.