Visconti’s intense realism touched on an extreme of spectacle and hence the unreal. Thus, there were two realities that interested Visconti: a cultural one (the text) and a performative one (setting and action). What made Visconti one of the greatest metteurs en scène of theatre and opera also made him one of the greatest metteurs en scène of the cinema: he imitated realities and brought them to life on stage or in front of a camera, putting them ‘in scene’, not exactly documenting them so much as spectacularising them, transfiguring them. This apparent opposition or mélange that mixed realism with theatricality, a punctilious concern with the real side by side with the artificial, are central to all his works and single him out, not only in Italy, but globally.
The stories, as narrated by Bresson, only appear to be predestined after the fact, not before. Nothing that comes before determines the final outcome until the outcome is reached and then as a consequence can be read back into the events that preceded it. The outcome is neither logical nor exactly linear. It simply arrives. It arrives because it is in the nature of things, but that nature is an illumination, not a causal chain. If, indeed, Bresson repeats the story of the Passion, returns to it, his loyalty to it, as is his loyalty to the novels of Bernanos, is literal and redundant. He does not adapt the literary text or illustrate it. He repeats it. Particularly, in Le journal, each act you see is the repetition of the act that has been spoken in the narration.
The radicalism of the theatre compared to the conservatism of the cinema in the early 1930s mirrored a situation that was true in the first few years of the cinema’s history. The term mise en scène began to be used in France for new theatrical practices in the late nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth to denote a more ‘naturalist’, sensual, physical and visual theatre than the theatre of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is in this period that filmed theatre became particularly evident in the French cinema (Film d’art): the staging of famous literary and classical works. Filmed theatre was in essence a caricature of the theatre - exaggerated gestures, an immobile camera, long takes, dull sets. It is not difficult to understand in this context the revolution in cinema marked by the films of Griffith and Eisenstein for their fluidity, movement, energy and realised with specifically cinematic means.
Griffith’s editing spatialised time and Griffith established a tension between the temporal linearity of the narrative and the spatial simultaneity of his parallel alternating editing. One of the interesting aspects of F for Fake is the circularity and overlapping of the editing as if the film was a spatial surface upon which various temporalities were edited together, the case with Griffith.
It is as if Godard is intent not only to break apart things but to break them apart at the very line that was instituted by the first films (and is a constant in every film), namely, that between the chaos of reality and the desire for orderliness in the film. If something is established in a Godard film, it is almost always interrupted, intruded upon, broken into, dismantled as if the messiness of reality (however conceived) is integral to the orderliness of the film and that this messiness inevitably makes its presence felt and in such a way - and it is a way out of an historical problem as posed by Bazin and Malraux - that Godard’s films never settle on one side or the other of this historical divide, but instead gain strength and fascination by their between-ness, a between-ness that his films carefully cultivate and at the same time carelessly allow.
The juxtapositions of fragments in Histoire(s) are of various kinds accomplished by various means. They involve angles, light, surface, depth, duration (acceleration, slow motion, flickering), graphic lines (verticality, horizontality), scale and dimension. Some are rhetorical, poetic or musical: condensations, inversions, correspondences, contraries, dissonances, contrasts, rhythms, pauses, repetitions, refrains, rhymes, succession, tempo, conflation. Some, while formal and rhetorical, specifically involve recurrent motifs and subjects: hands, eyes, monsters, aircraft, bestiality, savagery, executions, heroism, innocence, dance, war, slaughter, the Holocaust, Hitler, Mussolini, Hitchcock, Rossellini, John Ford, Jean Renoir, Nick Ray, D W Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin.
Some paintings at the end of the nineteenth century, the work of Manet, for example, became what Foucault called, ‘museum paintings’, paintings for other paintings, both contemporary and of the past. The historical dimension was not particularly chronological. The museum painting related to other paintings not by geography, time, or subject, but as form and its transformation: light, brushstroke, colour, composition, surface. The museum was not primarily educational, nor there to conserve and preserve works of art, but rather to exhibit art as sacred for admiration and worship. Two things were necessary, that the work be truly a work, that it was fabricated and that it was exceptional (beautiful, skilful). These qualities defined what art was. A question arose about how works were to be exhibited. As with libraries, classification systems were instituted which had little to do with aesthetic value, but everything to do with place, subject, artist, genre, and later, movements.
Ford is a film-maker of dawn, dusk and night. Even in his brightly lit scenes, shadows intervene. His images are muted, on a shadow-line, depicting subjects from the past in the tones and atmosphere of the past, like old photographs, repetitions of earlier images, of what has been, memory not actuality, and like memory, immobilised in time. If, in the stories told by Ford, events succeed each other and are consequent upon each other, the whole of the story issues from a frozen, eternal past. It is not only his characters who commune with the dead at a graveside, but the audience watching his films. Like the classical films of Hollywood, Ford’s films transform realities of place, setting and persons into fictions, with the difference that his fictions are memorials, detached from the present and from history. Like the dead, Ford’s images are eternal, caught in a time of perpetuity, his Young Mr Lincoln for example.
Narrative is the consequence of an historical situation largely codified in the nineteenth century in the novel and in History writing, though also in painting and in theatre, and after the turn of that century, in film. Godard’s films, from his first to his most recent, dismantle that tradition. His work is less a rejection of narrative as it had been practised (and largely still is), as it is a fragmentation and reordering of it, subjected to insistent interruptions, like a bell sounding or a telephone ringing in its midst. In a Godard film, interruptions are not less important than what is interrupted, indeed the distinction between major and minor, representation and punctuation, the narrative and digressions from it, have little sense. All elements are equal (equally forms) and there is no classification system with all that implies of order and illustration. If his films, and especially his Histoire(s) du cinéma, are dense with citations and examples from the past, these are more like a collection or artistic options than a museum or archive ordered by fictions of classification. The combination of the indifference of elements to hierarchy, their resistance to a fixed order and place and their apparent equality in Godard’s work establishes each element as autonomous and particular and also as available for rearrangement hence the instability, circularity and sense of possibility in his films, their lack of finish and their energetic ceaselessness, porosity and meandering and thereby also the problem of speaking about them. How do you get hold of, begin to possess a Godard work which is so unfixed and opaque?
Histoire(s) is a network of groupings and possible connections all of them in movement. The networks are of two kinds. One is spatial and topological, an effect of layering where points of contact as well as gaps, emptiness and breaks are visible. The vertical layers tend to be transparent, like fades and superimpositions. The layering is a matter of positions, even the slightest change or variation alters everything. The other network is temporal, not progressive as in a narrative dependent on the development of a drama, scene, character, or theme as consequence or causation, nor progressive simply by the linearity inherent in the projection of a film. The sense of succession is instead primarily one of possible connectives, sometimes horizontal, more often circular and associative, frequently returning, retracing, interrupting, digressing, in any case, constantly reconfigured.