Histoire(s) du Cinema

Ever wonder what happened to Jean-Luc Godard?
The idiosyncratic renegade of French New Wave filmmaking, the auteur of Breathless, Alphaville and Hail Mary, is still alive and kicking around the European independent movie scene, even if he's been virtually forgotten here. In 1989 Godard was commissioned by French cable television to make Histoire(s) du Cinema, a proposed ten-part study of the history of cinema. He has completed two segments. Neither perplexing installment portends a Godard revival.

If Godard has a thesis in this dense offering, it's hard to spot. Standing at a bookshelf or typing at his desk, he presents montages of film images -- thousands of them -- plus scores of photographs and artwork, creating visual assaults so quick and disparate that itÕs hard to make consistent sense of them. These are juxtaposed with narration (not necessarily from the clips passing by), voiceovers, captions, chants, songs. Industrious viewers and hardcore fans might try to pull emergent meanings from these intertextual layers, but I for one had my hands full playing "name the clip."

"A film is a girl and a gun," Godard advances in one of the occasional accessible moments. Less clear is when, to newsreel war footage -- and shots of Bela Lugosi -- he says, "The masses love myth, and cinema addresses the masses. But if myths start with Fantasms, they end with Christ." At one point he labels cinema "an industry of escapism" (okay) because "it is the only place where memory is a slave" (huh?), while at another he tries to parallel the railway, Freud, and Lillian Gish.

focusing on the infinite blendings of image and sound and on cinema's relationship to the world, Histoire(s) du Cinema, like other Godard work of late, is an obscure puzzle, abstract and cerebral, playful and obsessional. Forsaking storylines and obvious narratives to exploit jump-cuts and experimental editing, Godard reels off as much essayistic digression as lucid philosophizing.

-- Peter Szatmary

Histoire(s) du Cinema will show Friday, January 7 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, January 8 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, January 9 at 7 p.m., at the Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515.


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