This book consists of 50 categories arranged in alphabetical order centred on film modernism. Each category, though autonomous, interacts, intersects, juxtaposes with the others, entering into a dialogue with them and in so doing creates connections, illuminations, associations and rhymes which may not have arisen in a more conventional framework. The categories refer to particular films and directors that raise questions related to modernism, and, inevitably thereby to classicism. The book is more in the way of questions and speculations than answers and conclusions. Its intention is to stimulate not simply by the substance of what is said, but by the way it is said and structured. Most attention is given to the works of Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Ford, Jean-Luc Godard, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, João César Monteiro, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Nicholas Ray, Alain Resnais, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Orson Welles. The apparent arbitrary order and openness of the book, based as it is on the alphabet is indebted to Jean-Luc Godard’s interrogation of History and of film history especially true in his stunning Histoire(s) du cinema.
Since the 1970s, many academics and teachers have been taking the study of film out of Film Studies by producing curricula and critical literature hostile to notions of artistic endeavour and aesthetic value. Montage simply is the joining together of different elements of film in a variety of ways, between shots, within them, between sequences, within these. This book offers specific experiences of montage. Though there are clusters of experiences and practices that films share in common, each film is specific to itself. The book is led by that specificity towards these clusters and away from them then back to the films once more. Eadwaerd Muybridge's studies of human and animal locomotion consisted of photographed plates that reproduced bodies in movement in a sequence of still photographs he published in 1887. These reproductions, though sequential, were composed of intermittent, discontinuous immobile units, in effect, a linked series of snapshots. The game in Cahiers du cinéma is based on sixty-nine photographs that Kitano took of various subjects at different times and places, mostly in Japan, some in Africa. The notion and practices of the shot sequence were crucial for Pier Paolo Pasolini's formulations. The Kuleshov effect is the effect of desire. No shot in an Eisenstein film is ever complete because it reappears either analogically, or graphically, or in luminosity or by a contrast of beats and movements (the steps, the hammocks, descents, ascents). The book also discusses the works of David Wark Griffith, Eric Rohmer, and Alfred Hitchcock.
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.