Histoire(s) du cinéma {Chapter 1(a): Toutes les histoires} [1988]

Times seem apocalyptic.

So here is the greatest movie ever made.

But it is not available on iTunes.

You may have a hard time finding it.

And an even harder time playing it.

I did.

Back in the day.

I had to acquire a region-free DVD player.

And I did.

Solely to watch this film.

It is in four parts.

Each of which is divided in two.

So, therefore, eight parts.

This much-féted masterwork was not only released on television (which is to say, it was not a “theatrical” film per se), but it was accompanied by a soundtrack on the very erudite German record label ECM and further augmented by a book (text and screenshots) published by the most famous French publishing house Gallimard.

The soundtrack is very difficult to find on CD, but it is becoming less-difficult to find in the digital realm (unlike the film itself).

You can at least “listen to the movie” on Spotify.

And so for this film review, we will only be considering (to start with) the first section (which runs 51 minutes).

It is the section with which I am most familiar.

It is my personal favorite.

But it is important to note that the entire 266 minute film is essential to the “weight” of this creation (even if this first part is the most finely-crafted).

But we will reconsider as we go along.

The first section of the film (that which is under consideration) dates from 1988.

The book was not released till 1998 (when the film was completed).

So we have a sort of serial composition here (in the sense of Finnegans Wake).

It came out in parts.

It dribbled out.

Like QAnon.

And its influence spread.

Like COVID-19.

We remember William S. Burroughs and his concept of the “word virus”.

That is certainly germane here.

But I return, again, to Finnegans Wake.

No film creation in the history of cinema is more like James Joyce’s aforementioned masterpiece than Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Indeed, the only other creation I know of which enters into this same sui generis realm is Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk (translated in English as Arcades Project).

These are DENSE works…these three masterpieces.

One (Joyce) a “novel”.

One (Godard) a “movie”.

And one (Benjamin) a philosophical book.

Two books and a movie.

And the movie eventually became a book (Godard’s Gallimard creation).

The reverse of the usual.

Here, book doesn’t become film.

And there is not “more” in the book than there is in the film in Godard’s case.

If anything, there is certainly less.

Which doesn’t make it any less poignant.

So, what Godard has created for us with the book is a perfect guide to REMEMBERING WHAT WE SAW.

Which is a big theme of Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Film preserves the holiness of real life (to paraphrase).

Film (and video…of which this movie makes extensive use) preserves a moment.

Film can be (and is, always) a document.

Godard outlines a very French dichotomy here.

Film can be either predominantly of the Lumière brothers’ tradition (what we might call “documentary”).

Or of the Méliès tradition (a doctored reality…a “staged” document…what we might call “drama” [and its various subgenres such as “comedy”]).

But this dichotomy is not strictly “mutually exclusive”.

And here Godard brings us the example of Robert Flaherty.

Known as a director of documentaries, Godard points out that Flaherty “staged” his documentaries (which blurs the lines between the Lumière/Méliès dichotomy).

And what of Histoire(s) du cinéma?

Is it a documentary?

In many ways, yes.

It is a history of film.

But it is also a history of the filmmaker who is MAKING that very same history of film (namely, Godard himself).

To add further layers of surreality, Godard must address his own contribution to the history of cinema (which is considerable by even the most unbiased estimation).

Which is to say…

Godard is important to the history of film.

Very important.

Whether you like him and his films or not, he cannot be ignored.

And so we have here a very curious and “loaded” document indeed.

It is a matter of historiography.

Godard cannot (and indeed, does not even try) to remove his own opinion from this exercise of surveying the history of cinema.

That may be, ultimately, because Jean-Luc Godard never stopped being a film critic.

It was as a lowly film critic that he started…and it is as a film critic with his caméra-stylo (“camera pen”) that he continues to create today.

All of his films are, in and of themselves, film criticism.

From Breathless to The Image Book, he is always making a statement.

Pointing out how vapid Hollywood can be.

Pointing out what doesn’t exist in the marketplace.

Perhaps he is creating that which he would most like to watch…as a film lover.

His favorite film didn’t exist (except in his head–except as a vague concept).

No one had made it.

So, in order to watch it, he had to create it himself.

Then he could (theoretically) “enjoy” it.

I imagine he does this with each new film he makes.

It is always an attempt (“essay”…from French etymology…”to try”) to materialize what he would like to watch.

No director has his cutting wit.

No director’s mind pivots so nimbly.

So he must become his own favorite director…over and over and over and over again.

But this film is indeed a special case.

Ten years of creation.

Joyce spent 17 years on Finnegans Wake.

Benjamin spent 13 years on his Arcades Project.

And all of this which I have written is merely a preface.

That is how IMMENSE and pithy(!) Histoire(s) du cinéma truly is.

To be a creator is tiresome.

It makes one weary.

To always dream.

To imagine.

And to sweat in pursuance of crystalizing ones inspiration.

Jean-Luc Godard has always been a bitter sort of chap.

Bitter about Hollywood.

A love/hate relationship (LOVE/HATE…Robert Mitchum…knuckle tats).

And it is true.

Godard delves very early on into the parallel birth and adolescence of cinema and the Holocaust.

Cinema and the Holocaust.

Cinema was still young.

Cinema had a responsibility to document.

The Germans were very technologically advanced (particularly in sound and video recording).

They kept records of everything.

Even when they went astray during the Third Reich.

Germany had already produced great directors by the time of the Holocaust.

At the top of the list would be F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang.

But they were not alone.

Wiene, Pabst…

There were others.

UFA (which still exists till this day) was a giant.

Think Metropolis.

So where is the documentation of the Holocaust?

[you can see what a “dangerous” question Godard is asking]

Is he “denying” the Holocaust happened?

I don’t think so.

But he’s asking a relatively simple and (I think) sincere question.

Where is the video record?

All that has been passed down to us of the concentration camps (and “death” camps) is the record made by American directors like George Stevens AFTER the camps had been liberated.

So what really went on there?

Are we to really believe the Germans shot no footage whatsoever in these camps?

And if so, why can’t we see it?

Wouldn’t it truly help us to “never forget” and “never again” and stuff etc. etc.???

It is a very inconvenient fact that, as far as the general public has been made aware, there are NO (and I repeat NO) films (NO FOOTAGE) shot by the Nazis in the concentration camps during WWII.

Surely it exists, right?

But where is it?

Who has it?

What does it show?

Godard is the ultimate enfant terrible here (and elsewhere).

He wants to know.

He’s curious.

Because he’s a film lover.

And he ultimately blames Hollywood (which had, by WWII, become the global center of the film industry) for not truly DOCUMENTING what happened in the concentration camps (neither while the camps were active nor anytime afterwards).

But here Godard branches off into an aesthetic direction.

Godard flatly rejects the talentless Spielberg evocation of Schindler’s List.

For Godard, a directer as mediocre as Steven Spielberg has no business trying to tackle humanity’s darkest hour.

This is the conundrum at the heart of Histoire(s) du cinéma.

What Godard (I think) is saying is this:  there is no way to “write” a history of cinema…because a large portion of contemporaneous history (1939-1945) was not addressed in any true way by the BUSINESS (ironically represented heavily by Jews) of Hollywood.

Godard seems to be saying that Hollywood’s Jews (which is to say, Hollywood) let down world jewry during the years 1939-1945…all for a buck (as it were).

It is a persuasive argument in many ways.

But let’s back up a step.

To reiterate, a history of cinema cannot be told…because there is a portion of that history which is MISSING.

This is a very important word here (and a very important term).

There are films which SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE, but weren’t (by Hollywood).

And there are films which may have be made (by the Nazis), but as far as we know (factually) were not made.  They do not exist (officially).

Two kinds of films missing.

Hollywood was responsible for the Méliès portion.

Hollywood should have used its immense power (and magic) to save the Jews of Europe.

EVERY FUCKING FILM should have been about the plight of the Jews in Europe who had been rounded up.

But we know very well that that’s not what Hollywood did.

The Nazis were responsible for the Lumière portion.

As twisted as the Nazis were, there is no way in hell those sick fucks did not film (with their Agfa technology, etc.) what was going on in the camps.

No fucking way.

Of course they filmed.

Like a goddamned serial killer.

And it was of pristine quality.

So where the fuck are those films?

But, sadly, Godard is called an “anti-Semite” for asking about these films.

Very sad.

He is coming from a “pure film” stance.

He wants to see the films.

He wants the world to see them.

And so the history of cinema is incomplete.

There is a gap.

Irving Thalberg.  Howard Hughes.  CIA.  RKO.  Starlets.

Film directors have been projecting their fantasies onto the screen since the beginning.

Their perfect women.

Their dream lovers.

But you can’t approach film history without approaching Hitler.

Film was at such an important point in its development.

And along came Adolph.

Chaplin and Hitler overlap.

They have the same mustache.

The Great Dictator was a comedy…more or less.

But it was also an attempt (“essay”) to address Hitler’s presence on the world stage.

An attempt to repudiate Hitler.

And yet, Chaplin could not quite hit the right tones.

It is maudlin.

As a comedy, The Great Dictator is pretty superb.

But it hasn’t aged that well as a piece of poetic philosophy.

Not really.

In that moment, the great Chaplin was powerless.

But at least he tried.

He tried.

But something was missing.

The camps.

Direct reference to the camps.

Addressing the problem with no beating around the bush.

No horseshit.

We need to see the bodies rotting.

We have seen that.

But we need to see the gas chambers.

We need to see the German efficiency and precision.

We need to see their documents.

Their film documents.

No Hollywood recreation can convey what those mythical reels contain.

No backlot will suffice.

We have the propaganda films.

Leni Riefenstahl.

I think what Godard is saying is this…

Hollywood has, since WWII, had to live with the guilt of NOT DOING ENOUGH during the Holocaust.

At the time (while it was happening), it was not kosher (no pun intended) to address the camps.

The public needed uplifting fare.

And Hollywood provided.

Hollywood provided a service.

Entertainment.

But Hollywood (as an entity) was permanently cheapened by not addressing the deep philosophical issue of mass death…mass murder.

Hollywood could have yelled, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

And, indeed, the theater WAS on fire.

But Hollywood said nothing.

Hollywood told jokes.

No medium is perfect.

Hollywood is people.

But as an institution, Hollywood was exposed as being essentially artless and vacuous.

There were exceptions.

Hitchcock (British…but part of Hollywood).  Chaplin (British…but part of Hollywood).

Nicholas Ray.  Erich von Stroheim (Germanic…but part of Hollywood).  D.W. Griffith.  Howard Hawks.  Orson Welles.

But WWII was also the death of European cinema.

This is a very important concept that Godard conveys.

Not only were European Jews liquidated by the Nazis, but European cinema was effectively liquidated by Hollywood.

Europe would never be the same.

Fritz Lang.  Jean Renoir.  Abel Gance.  Jean Vigo.  Jean Cocteau.  Roberto Rossellini.  Max Ophüls.

America won the war.

The Soviet Union also won the war.

Germany lost.

France was “liberated”.

Italy lost.

And as Europe was subsequently split in half (the capitalist West and the communist East), the hegemony of American film [Hollywood] spread.

At the end of the Cold War, that hegemony became complete.

And so Godard is lamenting the death of his national film industry.

Godard is Swiss.

But he is, in many ways, also French.

He is a French speaker.

His years of highest-visibility were spent in Paris.

And there is not really a Swiss film industry of which to speak.

French film died (“liberated”/occupied).

Italian film died (lost war…occupied).

German film died (lost war…occupied).

Scandinavian film died.

Everything was pushed out by Hollywood.

Europe was relegated to the the realm of “art film”.

European cinema was put in a corner.

The wrecked economies of Europe could not compete with the war-machine-rich studios of America.

America had the magic–the fantasy–the special effects–the Technicolor.

Weary Europeans wanted happiness.

And they bought into the American idea of happiness.

To the detriment of their own unique cultures and philosophies.

Europe became Americanized (at least in the realm of the cinema).

To be continued…

 

-PD

Vampyr [1932)

I come to you from the darkest place.

Where all hope has been extinguished.

A maze of study and revelation.

Barely a word here spoken.

Do not give me your attention.

I am not the first person.

You wander in this dream.

He comes to know the horror.

Her and her alone.

Climb climb climb from the mist of history.

Give up your secrets to the light.

Vampyr, Kryptos, Tutankhamun.

IQLUSION.  1Q84.

gravity’s rainbow.  CERN.

In a Glass Darkly.  Published in Ireland.  1872.

Sheridan Le Fanu.  Dublin.

Does Langley know about this?

Always candles.  Always lighting candles.

NYPVTT.  Berlin.

Nicolas de Gunzberg as Julian West as Allan Gray.  Got it?

MZFPK.  We’re losing time quickly.

At an even pace.

Speeding towards the hour.

As slowly as we’ve ever been.

William H. Webster.  The only person to have ever headed both the CIA and the FBI.

Courtempierre.  Loiret.

Ah!  The review…

As if waking from a dream.

Or falling back into a nightmare.

Placing one foot in front of the other.

Rena Mandel could have come straight from Nosferatu.

Like Greta Schröder.  1922.  1932.

Not flapper like Frances Dade.  Blonde on blonde.  Helen Chandler.

UFA wanted Dracula to come out first.

A strange tactic.

And then utter failure.

But Sybille Schmitz has that Nazi jawline.  Like Leni Riefenstahl.

Spoonsful of tea for a dying man.

Candles peer in through the glass.

And the camera stares upwards…at the swaying trees.

It is like Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.

To be opened after my death.

Sealed in wax thrice.

Submission is the only slow number.

Mid-tempo.  A revelation.  Talisman.

A crooked doctor.  And you’re giving blood.

They’re putting you on statins.

The drug companies will pay.  And general practitioners will have impunity whoring for big pharma.

A view to a kill.

Berlin.  Surrounded by East Germany.

Mengenlehreuhr.  Yale.

Ooga booga.

Buried alive in the blues.

Come spend a life in Texas.

With no one.

Come be abandoned in Texas.

Not even on the island.

Information warfare.

He is getting his message out desperately.

Franz Liszt as Marguerite Chopin.

No comment from Gounod.

Walpurgisnacht.

Nerval translated 1828.

Gretchen.  Margaret.  Marguerite.

Ettersberg.  Buchenwald.

We see why Godard became suspicious.

Because all but the Dutch declined Resnais’ solicitation for holocaust footage.

Inside the camps.

During the war.

By the most technologically-advanced civilization in terms of film production.

Obsessive-compulsive documenters of expenditures.

The problem with the gas chambers.

Sybille Schmitz looks like a raving lunatic.

The ecstasy of Stockholm syndrome.  A bank.  Those doe eyes and bearded hippie among the safe-deposit boxes.

The Goethe Oak at Buchenwald.  THE Goethe Oak?  George Washington slept here.

The Goethe Oak bombed by the Allies.

Now a concrete stump thanks to the DDR.

Goethe Eiche.

Janus-faced Germany.  Januskopfes Deutschland.  Sounds like a load of rubbish to me.

Schiller’s beech tree didn’t bite the dust till 2007.

Death by flour.

I’ll say it again:  Wikipedia’s masterpiece.  “List of unusual deaths”.

 

-PD

 

 

 

The World is Not Enough [1999)

I was ready to proclaim this the fourth great Bond film…until Devil’s Breath.  Suddenly, the world turned on its head.  No, it wasn’t so much a clumsy bit of storytelling (though that would soon follow), but rather a defective disc.  Perhaps a defective computer.  Yes, my night turned into one big, giant, heaping ball (?) of excruciating film criticism.

Here’s what I found:  I am a sucker for a good story.  I must admit:  Michael Apted had me.  Guy’s got talent.  But the rigmarole entailed in finishing this viewing was epically taxing.

I downloaded at least five (5!) separate DVD player software packages.  I’m a cheapskate so, yes, they were all freebees.  I should start by saying that my go-to (Cyberlink PowerDVD) wouldn’t even read the disk.  That’s only about the third time such has ever happened, though one of the two others was recently.  Also, my Spotify account is on the fritz.

So I went through BS DVD Player (appropriately named), VLC Media Player (the best of the lot, but still…), Real Player (epically shite), GOM Media Player (complete waste), and UMPlayer.  This last one is worth noting because it was with this “tool” that I spent a good hour trying to get back to “Chapter” 14:  Devil’s Breath.  This particular player is so crap that I had to resort to watching the film at 32x normal speed.

It was during this chipmunk “exercise” that it finally hit me:  all James Bond films are the same.  [Yes, I am an idiot.]

And even though I knew Bond would get the girl (ok, maybe there’s the Lazenby exception), I was hooked like a fucking fish by Michael Apted.  In such a predicament, a further truth emerged:

this is the best propaganda money can buy.

So much noise about American Sniper…from people who have probably never seen Battleship Potemkin.  I’m sorry, dear critics, but you are disqualified.  I know it is snobbery, but you cannot judge a film’s place in history unless you have a more thorough grasp of the cinematic medium.  It’s not that hard.  Film is barely 100 years old.  If your frame of reference only stretches back 10 or 20 years, then I can hardly take you seriously.

And yet, I am the dupe.  I admit it.  I am just as susceptible to the grandeur of this propaganda as anyone.

Just what IS the message?

In most Bond films it is messy.  That’s what makes them watchable.  It is not a “hit-you-over-the-head” propaganda.  No.  It actually creeps up on you…like Fabian socialism.

Ah, now we are getting somewhere!

You see, every James Bond movie is a code.  I know that makes me sound like a Mel Gibson quack for saying so (and I am), but it’s true.  The World is Not Enough is no exception.

One thing is undeniable:  the premonitions of 9/11 are inescapable in this film.  But the critical question is:  where are these geopolitical signals coming from?

Azerbaijan.  Baku.  Caspian Sea.  A villain (Robert Carlyle) who’s the spitting image of Vladimir Putin.  Terrorism.  Post-Soviet states.  And to the film’s credit:  false flags.

Yes, Elektra blows up her own pipeline.  Remember The Pentagon!  A battle cry.  An employee emerges from the hole to the scent of cordite.  We know.  If you do not know, you should know:  battlefield damage assessment indicates missile.  One can feign innocence when one gratuitously attacks oneself.  No real damage.  Recently renovated.  Almost empty.  Cook the books.

Elektra even disfigures her own ear…to make it look like she was tortured.  I hear Richard Strauss.  Nazis.

But let us discuss why this is not a great film. It’s not Denise Richards’ fault that the dialogue sucks.  It’s not Pierce Brosnan.  He’s great!

No, things really start to go off-track when the film shifts to Kazakhstan.  Every cut, every edit, every segue is worse than the last.  The mise-en-scène becomes straight soap opera…and the dialog (whoa…the dialogue!).  There is a faux urban “hip” in the phraseology which speaks to just how dumb audiences had become by 1999 (or at least how dumb “Hollywood” presumed them to be).  It is both grating and ingratiating.

The beauty of early Bond films like Dr. No and From Russia With Love is that they are little more than B-movies.  There is as little pretense as there is budget. This was before the series had become completely hijacked as a vehicle for propaganda.  It’s just another case of Hollywood destroying what Hollywood subsumes.

From UA to MGM…more and more globalist…more and more “new world order.”  Yes, in case you were wondering:  that is in whose name the propaganda breathes…the devil’s breath.  This becomes a shabby mashup of Titanic and Leni Riefenstahl.

-PD

Le Mepris [1963)

I dated Brigitte Bardot for awhile.  Well, not THE Brigitte Bardot, but it might as well have been her.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Ah, but all those hours on the highway didn’t end happily.  No, there weren’t many happy endings for those involved.  Anna Karina.  Jean-Luc Godard.

Contempt.  You must look beyond the characters.  Look beyond the actors.  And even so, you must take note…Fritz Lang as Himself.  It’s like the old U.S. TV tradition of saving that one zinger character for the end of the opening credits.  Say, for instance, you’re watching The Jeffersons or Laverne and Shirley…or even Three’s Company…”and Don Knotts as Mr. Furley” [zing!]

But Fritz Lang isn’t funny.  He doesn’t wear a powder-blue leisure suit.  No, the mood is very grave around here.  Even when we relocate to Capri.  It all begins with a quote from André Bazin.  Twenty-five years later Godard would turn to that quote to kick off his masterpiece Histoire(s) du cinema.  “Le cinema substitue…à notre regard…un monde…qui s’accorde.”  Cinema substitutes in our eyes a world which harmonizes.  Ersetzt das Kino in unseren Augen eine Welt qui harmoniertSostituisce il cinema nei nostri occhi un mondo qui armonizza.

This is the world of Le Mépris.  Babel.  Babble on.  Whore.  Vulgarity doesn’t suit you.  How ’bout now?  Does it suit me now?

He commands me…ou il me prie?  Le Mépris.

Once again we miss Anna Karina.  Two films in a row.  Les Carabiniers and now this:  replaced by Bardot’s ass.  Ass ass ass ass ass.  Blue ass.  Yellow ass.  Natural ass.  The tricolor.  God save the queen!

This was Godard’s shot at the big time.  Like Dune for David Lynch.  “Walk On the Wild Side” for Lou Reed.  Godard as Neil Young skipped Harvest and went directly to On the Beach.

That’s how it goes.  Perhaps it’s why Godard got on with Woody Allen.  Yes, Godard the neurotic drove his life and career directly into the ditch.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.

He even made the biggest star in France (B.B.) wear the same shabby Louise Brooks wig which his wife (Karina) had worn in Vivre sa vie.  Yes, something is amiss with this film.

I feel the Godard/Karina relationship problems bubbling to the surface.

“No, go do it!  This is your big chance!”

“But you won’t be mad at me?”

“Why should I be jealous of Bebe?”

“You know I would prefer to cast you.”

“Forget about it.  I’m not mad.  I’m happy.  I just look mad because I’m crying.”

Something like that.

All,                                                of,                          that,           aside,

this film couldn’t be more masterful.  It is a precarious film.  It threatens at every turn to fall headlong into a sea of shit, but it doesn’t.  The waters of Capri blue.  Bardot’s golden ennui chevelure.  A white Greek statue and a Shirley card in CinemaScope.  Go ahead and give Ulysses some sky-blue eye shadow and lipstick.  And Penelope.  Pen elope.  Moravia.  Javal.  dactylo.  camérastylo.

The poet’s vocation.  Vacation.  Terrorist.  Tourist.  Coutard.  Kutard.

Casa Malaparte is abandoned.  99 steps and a bitch ain’t one [hit me] (!)  Gulf of Salerno looking out to…nothing.  Ulysses sees something I don’t.  There is no homeland.  Only insecurity.  Die Heimat?  Fritz Lang would know.  Is that a command or a request?  Please tell Goebbels that Herr Lang has politely declined the offer to head up the film efforts of the Nazi propaganda program.  And by the way, he’s leaving the country.  Maybe call up Leni Riefenstahl.  I’ll bet she has a nice ass… lagniappe!  L.H.O.O.Q.

99 steps from the Gulf of Salerno.  that last step’s a doozy [hit me]!

-PD