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Sam Rohdie

In Jean Rouch’s film La Chasse au lion à l’arc, the film begins as a story told to children about their ancestors who hunted lions with bow and arrow. The film is that story (mythological) and its actuality (a documentary, also a document of the telling of the story and of the document being filmed of it, a film and the idea of it, a film and its processes. The story told to the children is of a journey to the African bush in Mali, "Further than far to the Land of Nowhere", the story of Nowhere and its lion hunters and the journey by Rouch to Nowhere in search of the hunters, in a magic land where anything is possible and everything true and imaginary. Paths disappear, are erased or blurred allowing new ones to spring to life, in fact, and in fancy. You have to feel your way, as if in the dark, like a caress. It cleanses the eye to enable pure sight, freshens the ear to enable pure sound, is open to imaginings, lost voices, the whisperings and murmurings of the dead, and it is prompted by desire, liberated from reason.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

Pop Art reached out not to real things but to images of things, and its aesthetic discipline has consisted in seeing objects as images or sculptures, so that the Bowery or the suburban kitchen becomes for the Pop artist an art exhibition ready for shipment to the international chain of art showcases. Basically, Pop Art is ‘found’ art, done over, but preserving its original appearance. Its most potent effect is the hallucination of mistaking the street for a museum or like the astonishment of Molière’s character on learning that he has for a lifetime been speaking prose, but is unaware of it.

All the images in Histoire(s) are almost entirely cited, found images, as are its sounds and speech. There are no real things in Histoire(s), but rather pictures of things, duplicates of things. It is these images and duplicatins, the citations, that are concrete. The close relation in Godard’s films between fiction and the real, the character and the actor, the object and its representation, History and history is like Pop.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

The ‘author - auteur’ appears in the disjunctions and hiatuses not as the artist who creates the complete work, but rather in the formula of Godard, ‘the work and the idea of the work’, ‘the work and the theory of the work’, the presence of the author as critic and as reflecting on the work and its processes, questioning what the work is and so completely as to efface the author - in the tradition of the Nouvelle Vague.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

The cited images and sounds of Histoire(s) du cinéma are both random and ordered. They seem random because their relation to each other is obscure, distant and unpredictable. They seem ordered because there are themes, configurations and regularities, filled with semantic possibilities, that invite interpretation and codification yet frustrate the attempt to do so, because the regularities are tenuous and unstable, in constant transformation.

Any random series can become constrictive. Networks of associations form, necessarily, no matter how ungovernable they may appear. In Histoire(s), because signs multiply and proliferate in abundance, they become dense and opaque.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

Welles’ films have four evident features. They bring together and overlap different techniques and styles either successively or in a single scene and sometimes within a single shot (depth of field and focal distortions in the attempted suicide of Susan in Citizen Kane); shot sequences and excessively detailed montage sequences, for example, the opening of Touch of Evil and its close that create a gap between sounds and images (they have different references, different rhythms and seem to inhabit different spaces as in the scene of the recording by Vargas of Quinlan’s dialogue with Menzies in Touch of Evil).

In Welles’ films there are multiple points of focus in every scene. Welles’ use of depth of field creates different pockets of interest that touch each other, collide or overlap, for example, Thatcher’s visit to the boarding house to take Charles away to be educated in Citizen Kane, or Welles’ play with arrivals and exits (on-screen/off-screen), evident with the arrival of different groups at once scattered, dispersed and criss-crossed after the explosion in Touch of Evil, and in the labyrinth of Cyprus in Othello.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

Welles’ films have four evident features. They bring together and overlap different techniques and styles either successively or in a single scene and sometimes within a single shot (depth of field and focal distortions in the attempted suicide of Susan in Citizen Kane); shot sequences and excessively detailed montage sequences, for example, the opening of Touch of Evil and its close that create a gap between sounds and images (they have different references, different rhythms and seem to inhabit different spaces as in the scene of the recording by Vargas of Quinlan’s dialogue with Menzies in Touch of Evil).

In Welles’ films there are multiple points of focus in every scene. Welles’ use of depth of field creates different pockets of interest that touch each other, collide or overlap, for example, Thatcher’s visit to the boarding house to take Charles away to be educated in Citizen Kane, or Welles’ play with arrivals and exits (on-screen/off-screen), evident with the arrival of different groups at once scattered, dispersed and criss-crossed after the explosion in Touch of Evil, and in the labyrinth of Cyprus in Othello.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

Italian neo-realism, best represented perhaps by the films of De Sica (not Rossellini) had two characteristics. One was the conventionality of its narratives and other its rigorous objectivity. It told stories that directly reflected social situations and depicted men and women caught up in these situations. The stories were stories of how they coped with these social realities and in part of the characters as representative of these realities. Antonioni had a different interest and it is from that difference that the whole of his cinema derives. It is, in one sense, a simple proposition, yet characteristic of the modern cinema and perhaps of modernism more generally, namely that reality is a relation and that involves our view of things (not simply as they are, but as they are imagined and felt to be) and that view is necessarily personal and shifting. Fundamentally, for Antonioni, objective reality and thereby a stable reality were false and part of their falsity the sense of their singularity and homogeneity.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

Passion is characteristic of Godard’s work whereby what is given is in fragments and everything seen and heard made subject to dismantling by citation, parody, juxtapositions of apparently unrelated objects, settings and periods. For example, a television a crew filming the tableaux of paintings being filmed by the film; Fauré’s Requiem and a scenic filmic reproduction by actors of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, all simultaneously on different registers and overlapped. Lines and differences are emphasised rather than hidden nor is the film hidden. The relation between film and what is filmed is not transparent, the filming not effaced for the benefit of the represented. Such differences are not effaced, so too nothing that is presented therefore is false or illusory or strictly speaking make-believe. Make-believe, the putting into scene, the act of filming are indicated for what they are, in their separateness and difference. It is representational illusions, above all of relatedness, consequence and homogeneity that the film exposes. Everything is true and real. What is witheld are the strategies and rules of a verisimilitude. The fiction of the film is so underlined that the film seems to be citing itself as if it is its own subject.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

The citations in Histoire(s) are not its models, nor exemplary, but simply material, elements in a surface assembly like a collage. The movement of the film forward is also a movement in reverse. Godard’s montage transforms a previous image by a subsequent one such that the future does not come after but before. In general, and in its details, and at each moment, the film is a return to overlapping past(s) of the cinema, of the film, of Godard’s own past. The returns are like memories, incursions into an unconscious depth that comes to the surface unannounced.

Literally, and constantly, the past is subjected to unforeseen transformations heading toward an unknown future. It is not that the past, is the future but rather that the future is a rearrangement of returns. Such returns are neither stable nor controlled, but perpetual, shifting and open.

Every film of Godard’s is so structured and though, often, there is a principal underlying text, the films are not imitations or adaptations, but a recycling of them as one element among others, recalled to be dismantled, dismembered, reconstructed and questioned, a return that moves forward.

in Film modernism
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Sam Rohdie

There are three film-makers that are present in every Rivette film: Renoir (for the sense of theatre and improvisation and the idea that the entry into the false, into play and theatre and roles, is a path to the truth of things), Rossellini (for the virtues of the imperfect, the heterogeneity and mismatch of different realities, to chance and the arrival of the miraculous, the secret, the mystery...suddenly, without apparent cause as the source of the energy and delight of cinema) and Bresson (for the purity of cinematic forms, mise en scène as an instrument to order space and time, to seek out and discover what the reality of things might yield, every film then, an experiment).

These are less influences than presences. It is as if the cinema is a vast house and in the house a family and as you go about your business, you encounter the other members of the family and they remind you of things, and you chat with them, and you remember.

in Film modernism