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

La vita è bella [1997)

If would be a shame if there were any lies wrapped up in Holocaust historiography.

Because, if there were, they would have the potential to seriously degrade what should be a pure remembrance.

If, for instance, the majority of concentration camp prisoners/workers died as a direct result of the Allies cutting Nazi supply lines.

And when these camps were “liberated” or otherwise found, public relations needed a story (and fast!) to account for this horrible loss of life which technically fell on the shoulders of the Allies.

If (and it’s a big if) that was the case, then such a “noble” lie might have been “borrowed” by the emerging Zionist state of Israel.

Anything to make way for the Jewish homeland.

To recap, if a majority of Jewish casualties in WWII were actually the result of the Allies attempting to starve the Nazi state into submission through siege tactics, then the Allies would have had motive and opportunity to foist upon the world a caricatured distortion of the facts.

Caricatures do not do true honor to the victims.

And if the emerging Jewish state of Israel used such distorted facts to further lobby for a “homeland” (a place where people were already living…non-Jews…for a long time), we could say that “Israel” also had motive and opportunity to participate in this “noble lie” (for different reasons).

But what is most sad is that what I have just written would get me arrested in several countries of the world (mostly in Europe).

We will mention one:  France.

I have spoken about the Loi Gayssot in critical terms before.

And I do not think it is a smart piece of legislation.

It is, ironically, a very authoritarian law.

If I understand it correctly, this law (aimed at “Holocaust deniers”) punishes even those who object on critical grounds to any factual aspect of Holocaust “history”.

As we know, history has been wrong before.

And it can be wrong again.

Furthermore, we never close the door on a particular epoch.

For every other event (except the Holocaust), we welcome new research which brings the situation into clearer focus.

The Holocaust is the one period of history which is off limits (verboten) to any sort of skepticism.

And it is this sort of authoritarian attitude of anti-history which will be the unraveling of whatever the liars of history are trying to hide.

Lies are a big part of every world event.

Operators at the lower level just want to cover their butts.

White lies.

But these white lies can pile up.

And pretty soon the official historiography bears little resemblance to the actual event in question.

Mid-level operators merely want to move up in life.

They want to keep the bigwigs off their backs.

So they condone low-level lies.

And they even concoct some fairly witty stratagems of their own.

And these regional efforts coalesce into inexplicable gumbos of narrative (like the story we have all been given concerning 9/11).

But the real fuckery happens at the high-level.

Here is where everything is a game.

Here is where hubris reigns supreme.

Here is where the Ivy League and the Oxford/Cambridge set conspire in an unholy matrimony of minds to make “a new world”.

These are the minds which, largely, have been so besotted with “logic” that they can no longer entertain the idea of a God or any sort of higher power.

And it is at this level that public relations and social engineering churn out lies which are meant to shape world history.

Lies which are meant to redraw the map.

If the gas chambers did not exist (except in the propagandistic imagination of Allied copy) in any Nazi camp, then it would have likely been a high-level wonk who conceived of such a grand macabre to once and for all paint the Nazis as “pure evil” and the Allies as “beneficent warriors” fighting a “just war”.

So let’s see how censored the Internet is, ok?

As of today, you can still harbor some doubts.

A mathematician doubts.

Bertrand Russell doubted Gottlob Frege.

And Russell was right to doubt.

Logic and mathematics teach us that most “complete, unified” systems eventually fall by the wayside.

That is because they are flawed.

Our knowledge improves.

Some discoveries are truly special, but it is always a process of learning.

The Gayssot Act in France (and other similar legislation in neighboring countries) wants you to take (on faith) the complete accuracy of Holocaust historiography SO FAR.

Such legislation is eager to CLOSE THE BOOK on all nuance and scholarship.

But there is at least one website which seems to harbor healthy doubts about aspects of the Holocaust.

Remember:  questioning ANY PART OF THE HOLOCAUST in France is a violation of the Gayssot Act.

Excuse my French, but that is fucked up!

Don’t we want the truth?

If Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking ring, do we want to know that?

Yes.

If Donald Trump was colluding with the Russian government to get elected, don’t we want to know that?

Yes.

If the gas chambers were a fanciful way to paint the Nazis as the ultimate enemies, don’t we want to know that there were (in fact) no gas chambers in any concentration camp?

Yes.

We want to know.

And we also want to know how bad the Nazis were.

We want to know about babies on bayonets.

We want to know every Jew-hating idea they ever penned or yelled.

Because we do not approve of this Jew hating.

But we will not punish speech.

In our quest to quash the Nazi strain of hatred, we will not become (ourselves) “Nazis”.

Because the Loi Gayssot only encourages people to seek out “taboo” knowledge.

I can’t believe I agree with the scumbag Cass Sunstein on an actual point, but I think I do.

In other words:  don’t make the knowledge taboo.

Let the cream rise to the top.

Let the crap sink.

Do not criminalize idiocy.

AND DO NOT EVEN think ABOUT A CHINESE METHOD LIKE REEDUCATION!

So here is the site, dear friends:

http://codoh.com

Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Don’t let some shit-stained-pants-wearing talking head deter you from visiting this site.

Remember when CNN told the world that only “they” could report on WikiLeaks?

These tactics are wearing thin.

If the truth is out there (thank you X-Files), then people will find it.

And the frauds will be exposed.

And the genuine articles will be raised up on cheerful arms.

The global media wants you to think that only dumb Arabs and Persians would ever “deny” the Holocaust.

Do some fucking research!

And I fall into the same target.

I tell myself, “Do some fucking research!”

I do.

All the time.

Just as it was impractical to get an unbiased assessment of 9/11 when the commissioners were appointed by the Bush administration, so too is it impractical to think that a Jewish (or, God forbid, Israeli) author can give an impartial account of any aspect of the Holocaust.

And yet, this is a conundrum.

For Jews, no period of history is so important.

And I sympathize with the call to “never forget”.

But we must be extremely careful to get right exactly what it is we are to “never forget”.

“Never forget” rings especially hollow in the United States regarding 9/11…because most people have absolutely no deep understanding of that event.

I have done my research on that fateful day.

And everything which led up to it.

And much of what followed.

So in the case of 9/11, “never forget” is meaningless…because the vast majority NEVER KNEW IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Which is the trouble with such campaigns.

The message, then, is “Never forget…what we’ve told you…happened.”

Well, that’s not very bloody comforting!

And the propaganda is pretty transparent.

Which brings us to the “Holocaust industry” and this masterpiece of a film (really):  Life is Beautiful.

There is very little propaganda in this film.

There is very little mindless regurgitation of dubious assertions.

But yet it is still there.

And hence my opening diatribe.

First, let me get in one more jab.

Here is something I have actually read.

By Robert Faurisson.

It is called, “The ‘Problem of the Gas Chambers'”.

http://codoh.com/library/document/868/?lang=en

It is from 1980.

There are 141 pieces by Dr. Faurisson (among many other authors) on the CODOH site.

I have read few of them.

But enough to pique my curiosity.

As I said, it makes me highly suspicious when an obviously brilliant scholar such as Dr. Faurisson is “refuted” solely by ad hominem attacks.

When such is the case, said victim only grows stronger.

And Dr. Faurisson is not attacking the Jews.

He’s attacking history.

With logic.

Read it for yourself.

To be recursive, he seems to have found a “fatal flaw” in the historiography which predominates in such shite as Schindler’s List.

We don’t need a John Williams swooning violin melody to tell us the truth.

We just need the fucking truth.

Whatever it is.

We don’t need music in our museums to drive home a particular point.

We just need the artifacts.

They must be laid out in a way which allows for logical conclusion.

They must not LEAD the museum-goer to a particular conclusion.

If they do, then we have entered the realm of propaganda.

And we should be made aware of our participation as guinea pigs in such attempted thought control.

You can read about Dr. Faurisson’s struggles against the French government here (in his biography on the CODOH site):

http://codoh.com/library/categories/1104/

Ok…

La vita è bella.

🙂

It’s a beautiful movie.

Which I saw many times in the theater.

When it came out.

One of the most important and formative films for me as a cinephile.

Roberto Benigni is my favorite actor ever.

And Nicoletta Braschi is wonderful in this film.

Furthermore, Benigni’s film direction is underrated.

The scene, for instance, where he and Sergio Bustric lay in bed is such a lushly-filmed tableau.

I wanted to live in that scene.

Amongst those antiques.

And their hilarious repartee involving Schopenhauer 🙂

But Life is Beautiful is notable mostly as a work of naïveté.

Like Cinema Paradiso.

Instead of Ennio Morricone’s gossamer score, we get Nicola Piovani’s criminally-unavailable musical backing.

[get on that, Spotify!]

There is true magic in this film.

The kiss between Benigni and Braschi under the banquet table.

Sure…

There is so much Chaplin in this film.

Mistaken identity.

The whole thing starts with a virtual rip of The Great Dictator.

But Benigni tells a new story.

And the details don’t matter.

One death was too many…during World War II.

And one family torn apart…was too many…during the Holocaust.

-PD