the inclusion of the “(s)” notifies, one might discern several histories that “could have been”

the Histoire(s) inhabit a purely video medium, with which Godard is able to juxtapose on-screen simultaneously a slew of cinematic fragments, a technique that would be prohibited on celluloid without the expenditure of a great deal of money and time for outside lab work. As one image fades into another, Godard further complicates the visual aspect of the Histoire(s)‘ segments by throwing quotations and puns on-screen in fractured supertitle. Additionally, the soundtrack of each episode supplies the aural corollary to the visual method: chamber music and film-score collide with dialogue from old films, before being joined by the voice of a disembodied narrator (usually Godard), hushed by a sudden caesura, or accelerated into the high-pitched whine of a rewinding tape-reel. The net effect is one of oceanic, almost overwhelming proportions. Jonathan Rosenbaum has on several occasions correctly drawn comparison of the Histoire(s) du cinéma to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, in part because the seemingly amorphous “Babel”-effect of both works tends initially to disorient their viewer or reader, but also because the intensely recondite nature of both the Histoire(s) and the Wake demand more “outside work” from their audience than almost anything else in cinema or literature respectively. Yet the authors of both have stressed that a viewer or reader should not worry about catching all of the references at play, suggesting of course that these are works which should be lived with or returned to over and over again across decades.


The two works also share the trait that, in their own way, their individual chapters or episodes contain pieces of or stand in for the whole. For Joyce, this structure lent itself to the Viconian theme of accumulated experience admist history’s cyclical repetitions; but for Godard, one suspects the positioning and repositioning of images, sounds, and titles throughout the episodes supplements a thesis that the history of the cinema—how it failed to respond adequately to outside history, and instead how outside history projected back onto it, resulting in a cinematic Great Fall—must be reconstructed without the use of any easy historical fulcrum to enable a single “definite” perspective. Godard Histories of Cinema was a film meant to be watched on DVD at a desk, as Godard himself once watched the classics of Golden Age Hollywood from a library terminal. You need to go backwards and forwards across it, to understand it.1


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