It is difficult if not impossible to know how Histoire(s) du cinéma was made. Certainly it is not a film in the ordinary way which follows a plan, still less a script, not at all a story or a narrative and it is hardly an essay, and it destroys most systems of reference in the usual sense. What then determines not simply the images and sounds that appear but their relations to each other? Much of these seem illogical, undirected, and though it is possible sometimes to perceive an association for the most part these are extremely distant and obscure even if these remote elements ‘suddenly’ fuse and coalesce. The film is not a representation but a manifestation, a demonstration (but of what?), a collection of documents whose order can be stated but whose significance is hard to discern. Above all, the film seems to be a record of the direct experience of making the film itself, an immediacy which results in an abundance of metaphors and signs but outside of the logical or the significant, even beyond control as if the film, in the instantaneities of its associations and linkages, has written itself.
A series of likenesses are posed in the film between unlike things: the delinquent, confused, miserable Ettore, child of the borgate and Christ the Saviour; the whore, Mamma Roma, and the mother of Christ; the present of Italy and the past of Italy (the Renaissance) and further back a classical past at the time of Christ; a film image and a painting; low culture and high culture; the profane and the sacred. The pattern of placing one type of text (painting, literary, musical) against one from another time is familiar in Pasolini’s films. The films, taken as a whole are extended allegories in which a narrative and all it includes of objects, gestures and actions is equated with meanings outside the narrative.
There are two symmetrical spaces in the film and a space between them. The spaces are the other side of each other and the contrary of one another: the interior is closed, social (meetings, eroticism, conversations), the exterior is open and anti-social (private, hostile and misanthropic). Between the two is the bus that he travels in from one space to another. Monteiro plays within this simple structure where things become very complicated. Each space has its own rhythms and music through the editing and the shooting. Monteiro plays upon, as one might play with a poem or a piece of music, with the fixed and the passing, with duration and tempo, with rhymes and counterpoints.
Jean-Luc Godard tends to break up any pattern or configuration he gives shape to in his films or whose shape he happens to encounter or discover as it is being formed or perceived through the lens of the camera or at the editing table. The images and sounds in Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98) are mostly fragments from other unities cut out from an original context and, even if recognisable, something new.
Bernardo Bertolucci’s films can be divided roughly into two categories. One operatic: spectacular, melodramatic, colourful, passionate, that takes place in multiple settings often in exteriors and with large casts. Time in these films is historical time, inexorable, moving forward.The other category is chamber music and chamber theatre.
The American cinema is first and foremost an industry producing goods for mass consumption and profit. Filmmakers, like Orson Welles and John Cassavetes, who experimented with new forms of film outside the conventions of Hollywood, were not welcome in Hollywood. Though Hollywood has always supported innovations that its commercial system could make profitable, it has not welcomed innovations with limited appeal to audiences, innovations that went too far.
What is important in the doubling of Bacon’s paintings by Bertolucci in Last Tango is less the specific duplications in his work and their re-creation in film, than a more general practice in Bertolucci’s work at once classical and resistant to classicism. Bertolucci’s narratives turn back on themselves, are enigmatic and elliptical, sometimes obscure, often unresolved, as in Ingmar Bergman’s films, especially Bergman’s Persona where identity and doubling are central as they are in the films of Orson Welles
The make-do, hodge-podge, bricolage quality of his films was not simply a consequence of conditions of production in his non-Hollywood work, but also a quality in his Hollywood productions, one reason his films were unfamiliar to audiences and not successful. Rather than sketchiness, fragmentation, lack of finish and heterogeneity being merely a result of economic difficulties, they were characteristic of Welles’ style.
The classical cinema was marked by technical procedures related to the industrial nature of its production. There was a clear division of labour and a division of stages in the making of a film: from idea, to treatment, to script, to filming, to editing, to distribution, to marketing.