You need to have the sense of the history of the cinema even if you know it only imperfectly so that every shot you take, every cut you make has the sense of the presence of the past and that sense of the past is what constitutes it. This work, a work Godard calls ‘documentary’ has been lost or abandoned and the American cinema is particularly guilty of that.
Most of the images and scenes in Histoire(s) du cinéma are citations. If their origins cannot be found, it is probable, nevertheless, that in time they will be. Some scenes in the film are staged, for example, monologues by professional actors: The monologues are quotations from philosophy and poetry either directly or in a collage of phrases from different sources.
Alain Bergala distinguishes between the disposition (the arrangement of a scene) and the attaque (the shooting of it in the choice of angle, distance, perspective, focal length). For the most part, in most fiction films, these two elements come together. In Godard’s case (and also in painting), the two procedures are usually disjoined so that the disposition and the attaque are at odds with one another. - allowing for improvisation, a sudden sight, the invisible becoming visible, an inspiration, a matter of an instant, a moment. In most films the scene is derived from its function in the script and the shot from its function in the scene, and the disposition from its function in the shot and the shooting from the readability of the disposition. Godard is resistant to this logic.
Godard’s cinema was a model for Bertolucci and his Prima della rivoluzione (1964) is Bertolucci’s most godardian film. It has Godard’s looseness, openness and sense of the casual, his episodic structures, jump cuts that compromise continuity creating associations and rhymes and doublings rather than a narrative of consequence, linearity and causation. Classical cinematic rules are overturned and violated. The Bertolucci film, like Godard’s films, digress from a centre, deviate, wander, migrate.
There are no essential images in Histoire(s) du cinéma. Every image in it has a certain irresoluteness. Every image can be undone and often is undone by the next. Generally, Godard does not distinguish in this way between ‘essential’ and ‘inessential’ images. Unlike most film directors, he doesn’t use some images as weak links in a narrative chain leading to strong ones, but only images which, in addition to serving a narrative function, also have independent value.
When Athos, the son, comes to Tara to investigate the life of his father, he discovers that his father was not the hero that the town seems to have believed he was and that it had so honoured with plaques, engravings, speeches, place signs, celebrations, but instead a traitor, the negative of what appeared to be, where the negative is real and the positive an illusion. Like his father, the son chooses to defend the myth of the father as hero as concocted by the father, that is not the fact, but the fiction, despite what the son discovers to be the truth.
If nothing is fixed, nothing made permanent, nothing irretrievably connected, joined, made to function and signify, then any number of new relations become possible and the film and the lives within its fiction are opened up and liberated. The price of that liberation for the characters is the dissolution of relations, the realisation of separateness, seeing the gap, perceiving the banalities and emptiness; the price of that liberation for the film is the breaking of representational and narrative ties whose yield is the possibility for images to freely relate
There is not one but three ‘languages’ in play in Luchino Visconti’s La terra trema. The first and most obvious is the Sicilian of Aci Trezza spoken by the men and women who act as themselves in the film; the second is Italian spoken within the fiction of the film by the members of the Church, the benefactors of the boats, the employees of the bank and is also the language spoken in the narrative summaries by an outside narrator and in three voices (that of Visconti, Pietrangeli and a Sardinian actor); the third is literary from the novel by Giovanni Verga Il Malvoglia on which La terra trama is based. The three languages are always present in the film in various combinations and intensities essentially transposed one upon the other.
Like Rivette, Renoir is a director of scenes, rather than of continuity. His films appear to be a mix of scenes rather than a combination of shots and each scene is relatively independent of the other not in the sense that there is no link (thematic or narrative) between scenes, but rather that there is no evident linear accord between them. It is for these reasons that Renoir’s films (and Rivette’s) are often described as ‘theatrical’ which is not to suggest that they are either primarily concerned with dialogue or that gestures and attitudes are exaggerated and false, on the contrary, what marks the theatricality of Renoir’s films (and Rivette’s) is the naturalness of their scenes and especially of the performances of the actors.
Masquerade in Bertolucci’s cinema is paradoxical, not only with regard to character, but with regard to setting, plot, drama, citation. Masquerade becomes evident, displays its artifice. A citation is always on the outside, referring to what is beyond itself, external to it. In so doing, what is referred to seems to swell, to be itself and, simultaneously, to be more than it is, a double and an other. The expansion crosses a line that had kept it within boundaries. The inside that has been expanded and invaded by whatever is cited and added to, incorporates what is outside of it, takes possession of the citation, and is also incorporated by it, as if in two places at once, within and without the film. Bertolucci is a master of such formations, reminiscent of Pasolini