In the ’50s, Jean-Luc Godard was a penetrating, iconoclastic critic for the film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma (along with François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol). In 1960 his debut feature Breathless (along with Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Chabrol’s Les bonnes femmes) brought the French new wave of moviemakers crashing on international shores. In the half-century since, Godard has kept on astounding and confounding movie lovers. This show-and-tell lecture on film history — first conceived in 1978 and presented on French TV from 1987 to 1998 — is the creative capstone of Godard’s career. Histoire(s) crams the grand, sleazy spectacle of world cinema into a 4-hr., 24-min. love letter, an eloquent rant, a majestic atonal symphony. In his editorial hands, hundreds of film snippets collide: a few frames of a European or Hollywood masterpiece may run next to a shot of Hitler or Stalin or a porno clip, while quotes from Dante or Virginia Woolf flash on the screen. A snatch of the “Girl Hunter” ballet from The Band Wagon, with Cyd Charisse vamping Fred Astaire, plays over the lover’s monologue from Last Year at Marienbad. And throughout is Godard’s craggy voice, sometimes capricious, occasionally confessional — as when he says that making movies “was the only way of making, telling, realizing, that I have my own story. Without cinema, I wouldn’t exist; there would be no me.” Histoire(s) du Cinéma, which means both the history and the stories of movies, is a daunting, enthralling experience that turns all films into one giant Godard epic.
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