Focus - Historie(s) du Cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1999, 268') - | Tabakalera - Donostia / San Sebastián

Historie(s) du Cinéma (Jean-Luc Godard, 1999, 268')

Histories du cinema


18:00 Presentation: Santos Zunzunegui

19:00 Histoire(s) du cinéma, Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1999, 268'




Introduction to a true history of cinema. The only one, the real one.

Hoc opus, hic labor est (This is the task, this is the hard work)




The history of cinema, and the histories.

All the stories there will be and have been.

Telling, for example, all the stories of films that haven't been made before those of others that you can watch on TV.

Not showing all facets of things. Leaving margin for vagueness.

Cinema replaces our perspective with a world that matches our desires.

Each eye should negotiate for itself.

The power of Hollywood: Trade follow films. A film is a girl and a gun.

History of cinema, relevance of history, history of hot news.

Images and sounds, like people who meet each other along the journey and can no longer be separated.

If the deaths of Puig and Negus, of Captain de Boieldieu and of the bunny have been inaudible it is because life has not returned to movies what it stole from them. And, because forgetting about extinction is part of extinction itself.




Cinema’s effect, and the very thing that has conserved its hallmark, doesn’t apply anywhere else. Moreover, first and foremost is my history, and what it is that I need to do with all of this clarity and darkness. Sometimes, in the afternoon, someone whispers in my bedroom. I turn off the TV and the whispering continues. Is it the wind [Gone with the WindWritten on the Wind] or is it my ancestors? History of solitude. Solitude of history.

Cinema projected, and men saw that the world was there. A world almost without a history, but a world nonetheless linked with the objective of instilling not uncertainty but an idea and a sensation. The two great ideas have been sex and death. Histories of beauty. In short, beauty and makeup. At its core, cinema is neither part of the communication industry nor of the performance industry. Rather, it is part of the cosmetics industry, of the mask industry which is itself just a small part of the industry of lies.

Like Christianity, cinema is not built upon historical fact. It tells us a tale, a story, and now tells us this: believe. I’m not asking you to accept this tale, this history, the faith that behoves the story. I’m asking that you believe in what happens, that you assign it a different place in your life.

What I’m trying to say is that cinema has never been an art, nor even a technique, but a mystery.




Compiling a precise description of what has not taken place: that is the job of the historian.

The nouvelle vague is, perhaps, the only generation to be at once in the middle of the century and, possibly, of cinema.

The idea that I am now able to express is that cinema was the only way of doing, of relating, of realising that I had a history as I. Without cinema, I wouldn't have known that I have a history.

Only the French have made history (of art, of cinema). They were in two minds about being in a story, and they know what type of story that was. Their story in the big one. The big story in their one. In my case, for example, the great story is that of cinema. It’s bigger than the others because it projects.

Cinema lets Orpheus look back without killing Eurydice.



2b. Fatal beauty

How to tell all these stories that dwell inside me now? Show them, perhaps?

Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.

The invention of the script is the story of a small Mafia accountant who had to bring order to the disorder of the findings of Mack Sennett, Friedrich Murnau and Karl Freund.

The American shot, framing the person at waist height, was like that because of guns. In other words, because of men. All the women were framed at chest height.

 Films are merchandise, and they have to be burned. I had said as much to [Henri] Langlois, “warning! With an internal flame, matter and memory, art is like fire: it rises from the ashes.”

I said before that cinema was neither an art nor a technique but a mystery, and to finish this off it is a simple magical potion for illuminating our magic lamp. Or not? The history of cinema is linked first and foremost to the history of medicine: the tortured bodies of Eisenstein allude, before Caravaggio or El Greco, to the first dissections by Vesalio.

Misery and splendour of cinema.



3a. The currency of the absolute

What is cinema? Nothing.

What does it want? Everything.

What can it do? Something.

It was just lost, as they say, in my thoughts. I was holding a book (Manet by George Bataille): All of Manet's women seem to be saying “I know what you're thinking”, undoubtedly because, until this painter (I knew this thanks to Malraux), internal reality remained more subtle than the cosmos. (…) In Manet, the internal world was united with the cosmos and modern painting was born. That is, film-making. That is, ways of heading towards words. More specifically, a way of thinking. That cinema has been made to make us think will be forgotten very quickly. But that’s another story.

Ossip Mandelstam evidently knew that poetry was above all a form of resistance. But nowadays, it’s fashionable to forget about the Russians. (…) The point is that between 1940 and 1945 there were no resistance films, neither right-leaning nor left-leaning, neither here nor there.  The only film that resisted American cinematic occupation—a certain standardisation of cinema—was an Italian film (...) called Rome, Open City made, for once, by people not in uniform. The Russians have made films about martyrdom, the Americans publicity films, the English what they've always done in cinema (nothing), Germany didn’t have a film industry and the French shot Sylvie et le fantôme. The Polish made two films about atonement (The Passenger and The Last Stage) and one about memories (Kanal), lastly embracing Spielberg when “never again” has turned into “always this”.

A thought which forms a form that thinks.



3b. A new wave

Film makers wanted the right to film boys and girls in a real setting and that, in doing so, these were astonished to be themselves in the world.

Equality and fraternity between the real and the fictitious.

The identity of cinema, of the nouvelle vague: one afternoon, we went to the home [the Cinémathèque Française] of Henri Langlois and all became clear. (…) It transpired that we discovered cinema through Canudo or Delluc, but without ever having seen it, and this cinema had nothing to do with Saturday cinema because these films were for everyone. Those shown by Langlois were for us, just for us because true cinema cannot be seen, and that was just what was there. (…) That was our cinema, and Langlois confirmed it for us: the image belongs to the order of redemption. But pay heed: redemption of what is real (...) and the man of Avenida de Messine gifted us that metamorphosed past in the present, at the height of the Indo-China War, at the height of the Algerian War. When L’espoir [Sierra de Teruel] was screened for the first time, it wasn’t the Spanish Civil War that frightened us but the solidarity of the metaphors.

At least you met Becker, Rossellini, Melville, Franju, Jacques Demy, Truffaut. They were my friends.



4a. Control of the Universe

Some think, some talk, while others do. They true condition of man is to think with his hands.

Love spills out of the spirit, and loving thy neighbour is an act. A hand outstretched.

Introduction to Alfred Hitchcock's method: Why Joan Fontaine leans over the cliff edge and what Joel McCrea was going to do in the Netherlands has been quite forgotten. Also forgotten is why Montgomery Clift maintains an eternal silence, and why Janet Leigh stops at the Bates Motel (…) but we remember a handbag, a car in the desert, a glass of milk, the blades of a windmill, a comb. We remember a row of bottles, a music manuscript, a bunch of keys, because, through these, Alfred Hitchcock triumphed where Alexander, Julius Caesar and Napoleon failed: taking control of the Universe. (…) If Alfred Hitchcock was the only goddam poet to achieve success it’s because he was the greatest creator of forms of the 20th century. In the end, it is forms that tell us what lies in the depths of things. In other words, what is art if not the means through which forms become style? What is style without the man?

Cinema was the only art that remained present in everything he saw, the only art that enabled him to mix mud with the light of eyes, to bring fire out of the ashes, to make a rose or a pale blue as fresh as a rose shine on a fabric (...) it’s there when we grow old and stare into the falling night, and it will be there when we are dead.


4b. The signs between us

Only, only, only.

Only cinema. The signs between us.

In the school of tyrants. Odysseus of utopia. Monopoly on suffering. Crossed without a cross. Pain of the revolution.

What I like in cinema is a saturation of magnificent signs bathing in the light of an absence of explanation.

This isn't said, it is written, Flaubert, No Pushkin, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. This is composed, Gershwin, Mozart. This painted, Cezanne, Vermeer. This is recorded, Antonioni, Vigo.

There was a book by Ramuz that told the story of a travelling salesman who arrived one day in a village. He made friends with everyone because he knew how to tell a thousand and one stories. A storm fell, lasting days and days, and the seller told that the end of the world was coming. But the sun came out again, and the village inhabitants banished the poor salesman. This travelling salesman was cinema.

But what is at the bottom of the story? Right at the bottom, in the depths. Malraux: We all felt that the bet belonged to a darker place than the political domain. Braudel: Take into account the multitude who deny their misery. The number of hearts that want to be themselves, to live their life despite everything. As though our life were our own. As though it were at our disposal. And that damned phrase of Cioran's: Nothing of what we know exempts us from atonement. Sooner or later, we pay a high price for any bravery of thought or spiritual indiscretion. And the young Péguy: Ah, history! A cheerless loyalty to things which are gone. What always happens, friend? Evening falls. Holidays end. I need a day to write the history of one second. A year to write the history of one minute. A life to write the history of one hour. And an eternity for the history of one day. Anything is possible, except the history of what one has done.

The humblest of moments has an illustrious past.

If a man, if a man travelled through Paradise in his dreams and received a flower as proof of his crossing, and upon waking found that flower in his hands, what is there to say then? I was that man.



* This is not a synopsis in the traditional sense of the word. All texts included here come from the images and soundtrack of Jean-Luc Godard’s Historia(s) del cine.


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