Review: ‘Histoire(s) de Cinema’

Genius gadfly Jean-Luc Godard delivers two more installments of his small-screen series about the big picture of the 20th century. As with previous episodes of this projected eight-part essay, segments 3A and 4A of "Histoire(s) de Cinema" are part cinephile parlor game, part opaque treatment of recent history and part joyful video riff on whichever subjects Godard feels inclined to expound upon. The Delphic result is the cinematic equivalent of channel surfing with the person who invented the remote control. Episode 3A, "La Monnaie de l'Absolu" (roughly, "The Coin of the Absolute"), deals, in an oblique fashion, with the collapse of cinematic integrity during the second World War and the medium's continued cravenness in the late '40s and early '50s. Godard, gleefully art-directing with his video editing machine, superimposes multilingual typography, stills of Impressionist artwork, shocking Holocaust footage and, of course, abundant movie excerpts, all the while giving an epigrammatic narration.

After Godard states with Olympian breeziness that Russian, American and British cinema of the period respectively produced martyrs, publicity and nothing at all, the segment concludes with a rousing, and uncharacteristically straightforward, tribute to Italian neorealism.

For “Le Controle de l’Univers” (“The Control of the Universe”), Godard turns semiotically to the language of signs and combs cinema archives for passages on body parts. After a few superimpositions of hard-core couplings, we relearn that God, or rather control, is in the details, and the segment becomes a playful paean to Hitchcock and his craft. For Godard, Hitchcock was nothing less than “the master of the universe,” proof that the cinema world’s most famous convert to video still thinks highly of his former medium.

Histoire(s) de Cinema

French - Swiss

Production

A Gaumont/Peripheria/CNC/Femis co-production. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Video. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 10, 1997. Running time: 52 MIN.
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