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

Knight Without Armour [1937)

First, my apologies.

My apologies to every Jewish person I may have offended.

There is no good explanation other than to say that the Internet is rife with anti-Jewish sentiment.

I have experienced this irrational wave of nastiness and tried to fight against it.

But I am just a human.

A human with no friends.

And so I ask world Jewry to forgive my failings.

My mission is to speak peace.  It is sometimes not easy to speak peace with a tongue of fire.

Many things I have posted over the years.

What I post is my opinion.

But let it be known that I am just as ignorant as anyone.

And so I ask God to send me Jewish friends.

I have long had my arms open to Muslims worldwide.

My spirit is one of acceptance.

I am no genius.

I accept the Christians of the world.

I have no grudge.

I understand the immortal things no better than any man.

I ask Scientologists to forgive me.

I don’t understand your beliefs.

There is no reason for me to denigrate you.

I ask Lenny Pozner to forgive me.

I don’t know what happened at Sandy Hook.

I know it seems very strange, but I am not a chorus boy for a wave of anger.

I ask the state of Israel and Israelis to forgive me.

I don’t know your country.  I can’t pretend I do.

I ask everyone who has depended on me to forgive me.

I have only tried to tell the truth about 9/11.

Maybe I am wrong.

Maybe the truth is just as it was written by the 9/11 commission.

I don’t think so, but I’m willing to admit that I don’t really understand it.

I don’t understand physics.

I don’t understand intelligence agencies.

I would ask the CIA to please forgive me.

You are probably risking your lives and doing very honorable things.

I just don’t understand.  I don’t know.

I haven’t been there.  I have no idea what you do.

I ask the New World Order (which may or may not exist) to forgive me.

I know you’re probably just a bunch of well-meaning rich people.

I don’t know what your aims are.

I don’t hate you.

I don’t even know you.

But most of all I ask Jacques Feyder to forgive me.

Here I have taken the film review form as a way to ask forgiveness.

I have not talked about his film.

I haven’t talked about Marlene Dietrich.  Or Robert Donat.

Or even the very interesting Frances Marion.

I’m sorry.

I hope only that by speaking candidly I can do justice to this wonderful film.

I always stand up for Muslims.  And Palestinians.

But today I don’t have the right words.

Please forgive me, comrades.

And to my socialist brothers and sisters.

Please accept my apology.  I don’t know what your philosophy really is.

I cannot criticize what I do not know.

I only know film.  And my gut.  And music.

In a word:  art.

I stand with anyone who loves art.

My politics don’t make any sense.

Don’t mind me.

I’m trying to do the best I can, but it’s not good enough.

I’m a bundle of contradictions.

I can only press onwards and hope for the salvation of film and love.

Please forgive me Meir Kahane.  I did not know you.

Please forgive me Jewish Defense League and Mossad.

And the Anti-Defamation League.

I don’t know what you’re up against.  I don’t see what you see.

Please forgive me AIPAC and Southern Poverty Law Center.

I’m not sure if I ever insulted you, but I probably did.  At least one of you.

Please forgive me George Soros.

I don’t think I ever insulted you, but I wanted to.

And that’s wrong.  Because I don’t know anything about you.

I live in Texas where there are very few Jews.

I don’t know about Judaism.

I don’t understand.

But I don’t want to insult your tradition.

I don’t understand the Holocaust.

I don’t know what to say.

I can only tell the truth the best I can.

Please join me in a new effort of forgiveness and openness.

We can make a better world with wisdom.

I pray to you God for wisdom.

My words are impure.

I have tried.  And yet my words are hollow.

Please breathe your life into my words and make them real.

Make me a decent person.

Thank you.

 

-PD

#8 Mr. Bean in Room 426 [1993)

First, a short list of Hulu failings:

-Pootie Tang (shite)

-Mordecai (shite)

-Lars and the Real Girl (epically shite)

-The Voices (shite)

-Mystery Team (shite)

-Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (shite squared) [catalog dilemma]

-Anchorman 2 (shite to the second power)

-Beverly Hills Cop II (repetitive shiteness) [catalog dilemma]

-Cannonball Run II (must see first episode to appreciate this shite)

-Teen Wolf Too (now with word shite!)

-The Naked Gun 2 1/2 (quasi-decimal shite)

-The Naked Gun 33 1/3 (LP shite)

-My Best Friend’s Wedding (shite)

-Cashback (shite)

-Dear White People (shite)

-Everything Must Go (shite)

-Jerry Maguire (shite)

-The Skeleton Twins (shite)

-Trailer Park Boys (shite)

-16-Love (shite)

-Novocaine (sic shite)

-Dark Horse (Judeo-Nepotistic shite)

-Little Paradise (shite)

-Frances Ha (epically shite)

-Stranger Than Fiction (shite)

-8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (shite)

-C.S.A.:  The Confederate States of America (ambitious shite)

-Trees Lounge (depressing attempt at shite)

-King of California (total shite)

-Dead Hooker in a Trunk (go-back-to-film-school shite)

-Are You Joking? (more Judeo-Nepotistic shite)

-And Now a Word From Our Sponsors (shite)

-Falling Star (Kosher Casino shite)

-Jewtopia (no comment)

-The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish shite)

-Heathers (cruel shite)

-Sleeping Beauty (barely shite)

-Gold (Irish shite)

-The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire (quintessential shite)

-Jack Ryan:  Shadow Recruit (lazy shite)

-Mission:  Impossible (a colon-full of Scientologist shite)

-Space Milkshake (actually, not too bad…)

[I hate to say it, but the number of films by mediocre directors named Schwarz is really astonishing.]

Now, you might reason:  these are just the rantings of an anti-Semitic film snob.

I admit I don’t laugh easily.

It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.

Mostly I don’t like waste.

Entitled filmmakers are more likely to make shite.

They didn’t earn their stripes.

They have an uncle who works for Sony Pictures.

Actually, the film school rubbish on Hulu is astonishing.

It is completely venal in nature.

I just happen to have had some bad experiences with unfunny Jewish films.

What do I mean, “Jewish films”?

I mean exactly what Brandon Tartikoff was referring to when he first saw the Seinfeld pilot.

In that instance, Tartikoff (himself Jewish) was wrong.

Seinfeld was genius!

Seinfeld is a funny show.

Yes, it exists in a Jewish milieu.

Tartikoff thought the show was “too Jewish” to appeal to Americans in general.

He was wrong.

But, sadly, now we have a gaggle of filmmakers who think they are Woody Allen or Mel Brooks.

Status update:  those two guys actually have talent!

Which is not to say they didn’t make some clunkers.

Hulu happens to have picked up two of those clunkers:  Bananas and Life Stinks.

No one’s perfect.

But please…dear world Jewry,

Please tell your precocious sons and daughters that they aren’t all geniuses.

Who’s funding this shit?

Hulu:  who the fuck is in charge over there!?!

Your catalog indicates that you enjoy wasting the monthly fees people pay for your woeful service.

Ok, ok…

A short list of Hulu successes:

-the Criterion collection

THE END.

And so…what part of the Hulu catalog presently needs the most work?

Answer:  the comedy genre of movies.

Second most problematic lack of imaginative curation?

Answer:  the drama genre of movies.

[If you think that Hulu’s selection of movies might be lacking (based on my first two points of emphasis), then you are right:  it is!]

Third crappiest category on Hulu?

Answer:  the “action & adventure” genre of movies.

Even Hulu’s genres are ass-backwards compared to the pinpoint precision of iTunes.

Korean Drama?  Really???  Ok.  I guess Hulu is really killing it in Seoul (and Pyongyang).

CEO Mike Hopkins needs to take a long look in the mirror.

Whoever got the Criterion catalog, give that person an infinite raise.

The rest of them?  Fire their sorry asses.

Beth Comstock needs to overturn the moneychangers’ tables.

Destroy YOUR business, Ms. Comstock.

Jason Kilar…you know what doesn’t work?  Faux-dreams.

Faux-tographs.

A catalog of shite.

Make a call.  Do lunch.

“Anywhere, Anytime:  Shite”

“For the Love of shite”

“Come Shite with Us”

Lot of people drawing a check at Hulu and turning out a subpar service.

The name Hulu comes from two Mandarin Chinese words…both of which translate roughly to “shite”.

Now, just to be fair…I wouldn’t sign up for Netflix if my life depended on it.

iTunes is a horribly antiquated business model (and offers very little value for consumers).

Amazon Prime Video was petty to disallow MacBooks (as incompatible devices) as late as last year.  Not to mention that Jeff Bezos is just a wannabe Rupert Murdoch who bans books like Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.  [And yes, Virginia, Murdoch is the great Satan.]

And so, with such a paltry selection of movies on Hulu, I’ve been forced to examine its television offerings.  The prospects are not much better.

But I will give credit where credit is due.

Mr. Bean was an excellent pickup.

If you want a tight, seamless work of art (unlike this rambling, frothing review), then check out the episode under consideration.

You know, not even the childlike Rowan Atkinson was above making fun of old people (in this episode) or suggesting that continental Europeans be purposefully killed by British drivers (tourists).  Check out his standup comedy album from 1995 for the latter bit.

Which just goes to show…we all lose our heads.

We all exercise poor judgment.  We all have poor taste now and then.

You may not believe it, but I have put my own sorry butt on the line to stand up for world Jewry.

I will be the first to admit that my term “Judeo-Nepotistic” is incredibly crass and insensitive.

And still, I would ask that Jews (who are no doubt hard-pressed on all sides) please exercise some judgment of their own.  Transparent nepotism is really tasteless.  It goes against our better Jeffersonian principles.

So there you have it.  Bobby Fischer was a jerk.  The Holocaust really happened.  Not so sure about the gas chambers.  You’re welcome Faurisson.  The Earth is not flat.  9/11 was an inside job (and therefore not an Israeli job).  Insofar as it was an Israeli job, the U.S. government was at least half-responsible.  It was much more likely an Israeli job than a Saudi job.  Much more likely a purely self-inflicted inside job (no substantial Israeli involvement) than an Israeli job.  And finally, Israel is a criminal country oppressing the Palestinians in a most disgusting manner.

And for good measure, yes Donald Trump is a bigot.  And he’s horribly wrong about immigration (both in regards to our Mexican brothers and sisters and our Islamic brothers and sisters).  But he’s still the only real choice for President.

Sanders has been right about one thing:  Snowden.  Snowden’s a hero.  But America is not a socialist country.  Sanders would actually be a bigger step backwards than Trump.

The other candidates (Clinton and Cruz) are worthless.

So there you go, Hulu…I need some better circuses here!

To keep me out of the political arena!!

I could use some bread as well 🙂

In any case, I’m sorry for my vile ranting.

But film is my religion.  Through film, omnism.

Stop defiling my religion, Hulu.  Your thoughtlessness is ghastly.

Hire some people who love cinema.

Get your shit together.

 

-PD