Whatever else it may be, Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma (now available on DVD from Artificial Eye) does not resemble the afternoon bill at the old Plaza or the new Cineplex. He first thought of creating a history of cinema in 1978. It would be told, he said, 'archaeologically and biologically'. In spite of the metaphors, the plan seemed conventional enough: an account of movements and techniques, of changes of 'cultural terrain'. The result was a book, Introduction ŕ une véritable histoire du cinéma, based on a series of talks Godard gave in Canada, where he discussed quite a few of his own films in relation to the work of selected classic directors: Lang, Dreyer, Minnelli, Resnais, Rossellini, Eisenstein. Certainly all of these directors recur in Histoire(s), as do many of Godard's own long-serving ideas. But the form is different: an intense and intricate video essay that looks forward (or across) to Chris Marker's Immemory (1998), released in the same year that Godard finished Histoire(s). Except that Godard doesn't have the riches of digital storage, or the luxury of alternative tracks through the archive. In this sequential sense, its inevitable placing of one frame after another, the work can be thought of as a movie after all.
LRB 4 December 2008 | PDF Download