Mulberry Omelette

Once upon a time there was a king who could call all the power and treasures of the earth his own, but who for all that was not happy and who became more and more despondent from one year to the next. One day he summoned his personal cook and said to him, “You have served me faithfully for many a year and have filled my table with the most marvelous foods, and I am well disposed toward you. Now, however, I wish to make a final trial of your art. You shall prepare for me a mulberry omelette just like the one I enjoyed fifty years ago in my childhood. At that time, my father was at war with his evil neighbour to the east. His neighbour had won and we had to flee. And so we fled day and night, my father and I, until we came to a dark forest. We wandered around in it and were close to perishing from hunger and exhaustion, when at long last we spied a hut. An old woman lived there and cordially bid us rest, while she busied herself at the hearth. It was not long before the mulberry omelette stood before us. Scarcely had I put the first bite in my mouth than I was overcome by a wonderful feeling of solace and new hope. In those days I was still a child, and it was not until long afterward that the memory of the blissful taste of that precious dish came back to me. But when, later on, I had my whole empire combed in search of the old woman, she was nowhere to be found, nor was there anyone who knew how to cook the mulberry omelette. If you are able to satisfy this last wish, I shall make you my son-in-law and heir to my empire. But if you are unable to gratify my desire, you shall die.” The cook replied; “If that is so, Your Majesty, you should summon the executioner without delay. Of course I know the secret of the mulberry omelette and all the ingredients that are required, down to the common cress and the noble thyme. I also know the words you have to say while stirring, and know that you have to whisk the boxwood beater from left to right, for fear otherwise all the labour will prove to have been in vain. But for all that, O King, I shall still forfeit my life. Despite all my efforts, my omelette would not taste right to you. For how could I spice it with all the tastes you enjoyed in it on that occasion: the dangers of battle, the vigilance of the pursued, the warmth of the hearth and the sweetness of rest, the strange surroundings and the dark future.” Thus spake the cook. The king remained silent for a while, but not long afterward he is said to have allowed him to retire from his service, richly laden with gifts. (Walter Benjamin (1930))

Intersections: Histoire(s) du cinéma

The entries set out in this essay belong to a book I am preparing related to Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma. The film-video has no clear beginning nor end, nor apparent linearity. Every shot, indeed every frame, moves in multiple directions suggesting multiple associations. Part of the book will address the configurations that the film creates and dissolves often in the same gesture; part of it will address the forms and structure of the film; the following entries (others will be written) are contexts for the film. Each of these emphases (they are not distinct nor easily set apart) – contexts, configurations, forms – will be interwoven in the book, whose tentative title is Intersections.

Henri Langlois


Henri Langlois: “Le vandalisme consiste à oublier…”[1]  “Indépendamment de la collection…une cinémathèque c’est un musée avec une salle de projection…” [2]  “Pour moi, la diffusion de la culture par les cinémathèques consiste à créer le futur, car une cinémathèque est le musée d’un art vivant, un musée qui n’est pas seulement celui du passé, mais de l’avenir.” [3]


Each section of Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma is dedicated to those who had an important role in shaping the cinema as directors, archivists, producers. Chapter 1, Section A, ‘Toutes les histoires’, is dedicated to Monica Tegelaar, the producer of Raoul Ruiz’s film Het Dak Van Valvis [On Top of the Whale] (1982), an allegory about language, and to Mary Meerson, the companion of Henri Langlois from when they first met in 1938.

Langlois founded the Paris Cinémathèque in 1935 with Georges Franju and Jean Mitry. He was the director and primary force behind it until his death in 1977. He made it one of the richest and most comprehensive film archives in the world, not only important for its collection, but for the fact that from the beginning Langlois insisted that the archived films be screened. It was not a cinémathèque as in Britain for scholars and posterity, but for everyone and everyday, a contribution and shaping of film culture in general, a living archive, not simply an archive for research and preservation.

Meerson was crucial in assuring the existence of the Cinémathèque particularly during the War. She was well-connected to the avant-garde and artistic world of Paris, was captivating, beautiful, insistent, undaunted, indefatigable. With Langlois, she managed to find prints of films, save them from destruction, hide them in occupied Paris, arrange for screenings, charming anyone and everyone who might serve the interests of the Cinémathèque including the German authorities.

For Godard, as for the others of the French Nouvelle Vague, Langlois’ Cinémathèque was their Sorbonne and inspiration. It is present throughout Histoire(s) du cinéma and implicit in all of Godard’s work. Every film, every image in Godard’s cinema positions itself historically in relation to the film museum, to other films and images as if his films consciously are made for the museum, within and for a history. By their relatedness and the film references they contain, they are part of the archive and an archive of the cinema’s past and in dialogue with it.

Direct references to Langlois in Histoire(s) du cinéma are in Chapter 3, Section B, ‘Une vague nouvelle’. Two images of Langlois appear superimposed with the image of the Virgin Mary in Botticelli’s late fifteenth century Annunciation, and it is also superimposed with images of the titles ‘Cinématographe’ and ‘Lumière’. There is another image of Langlois overlaid with an image from Murnau’s Sunrise (USA 1927) and one of superimpositions of Langlois, Godard in his library, the Botticelli Annunciation and the title ‘Lumière’. The announcement by the Angel Gabriel to Mary of the birth of Christ is associated by Godard with the birth of the cinema and its announcement to another Mary (Meerson), the dawn of the cinema and the dawning in the present of its past with Murnau’s Sunrise in a writing on the screen that declares that Langlois had given the past to the Nouvelle Vague, had resurrected it. In a further biblical reference, the filmic image is deemed to have been the redemption of the real, a redemption Langlois helped to bestow with the Cinémathèque.

The associational range in these images and their heterogeneity of substance (painting, film, writing), of time, origin and reference (the late Renaissance, the late 1920s, Langlois of the 1950s, Godard in the present, the biblical and the profane) and of qualities (the real, the fabricated, the original, the reproduced) are characteristic of Histoire(s). What is crucial is not History in the usual sense, but the association of images and phrases from the past without regard to categories or chronology. By this manner, it is reminiscent of Proust, where the narrative is arrested to gather up and compress associations that in turn migrate and regroup forming new associations, pregnant serving girl and the Virtues and Vices on the walls of the Scrovegni chapel in Padua painted by Giotto and a discourse on crushing wine, the relation of the virtues, the fullness of the girl’s belly, her movements, the colours of her skin, the birth of Christ.[4] In passages in Histoire(s) du cinéma, Godard calls out insistently (summons), ‘Albertine’.

Post-war Paris film culture had its beginnings in film clubs and film societies. 3B is dedicated to those, like Langlois, who worked to collect, preserve and exhibit films, preconditions for Godard in the making of them: Frédéric C Froeschel, a film club founder in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1950s, and Nahum Kleiman, founder of the Moscow Film Archive, first housed in the apartment of Sergei Eisenstein.


Histoire(s) du cinéma initially began as a joint project of Godard and Langlois. It had its origins in the dismissal in 1967 of Langlois from the direction of the Cinémathèque by André Malraux, then Minister of Culture in the De Gaulle government.

The Paris Cinémathèque was not a public institution. After the War, it received generous funding from the French government and became, as a consequence, subject to a government appointed board. Langlois regarded the Cinémathèque as his own and though aided by public funding as a means to sustain it, nevertheless to be controlled by him (or so he asserted). The French government thought differently. Problems (and criticisms) arose regarding the safety and state of the collection, Langlois’ personal style of management, his idiosyncratic financial procedures and his lack of accountability and record.

From a bureaucratic governmental public perspective, the Cinémathèque was a nightmare, disorderly, unstructured and too individual as if run on whim and chance (to those who criticised Langlois) and on inspiration (to those who admired him). Langlois was dismissed and a new director appointed to make the Cinémathèque more efficient, transparent, better structured and orderly, the collection carefully administered and protected.

There was an international outcry and protest against his dismissal orchestrated by a committee that included members of the editorial board of Cahiers du cinéma and others of the Nouvelle Vague, like Godard, who took a particularly visible and militant role in defense of Langlois, writing letters, making pronouncements, contacting filmmakers around the world. It was at the forefront of street demonstrations, and subject to police intimidation and violence. (Godard was bloodied). The protests against the dismissal have been seen by some as a prelude-rehearsal to the May Events of 1968 in France, linking politics and anti-authoritarianism to a politics of film and beyond it to a politics of art and culture and a questioning of these.

The French government and Malraux had not reckoned with the ferocity and extent of the indignation that resulted from their action. The Cinémathèque had been the home of the Nouvelle Vague, its Promised Land, and Malraux had been like a father. His dismissal of Langlois was felt as more than an outrage. It was a betrayal of father to his sons. The government relented and Langlois was reinstated. The Cinémathèque remained under its control with reduced funding. Langlois, back at the head of ‘his’ Cinémathéque, was now in need of money.

Between the time of the dismissal of Langlois and his reinstatement, Serge Losique, Distinguished Professor of Film at Sir George William University in Montréal and the Paris Cinémathèque’s ‘correspondent’ there invited Langlois to lecture on the history of the cinema at the University. Langlois, after some hesitation, accepted. The lecture series was organised for the autumn semester 1968. Langlois commuted between Paris and Montréal every three weeks delivering his very popular lectures based on extracts of films that he brought with him from Paris.


In December 1976, Godard and the producer Jean-Pierre Rassam suggested a project to Langlois to make a film on the history of the cinema to be released on film and on video whose aim in part was to generate revenue for the Cinémathèque.[5] Rassam was to finance and produce the film and Langlois and Godard to write and direct it. After Langlois’ death in 1977, Losique, then the Director of the Conservatoire d’art cinématographique de Montréal, asked Godard if he would take up Langlois’ lectures at the Conservatoire. [6] Godard accepted Losique’s invitation as an opportunity to further the project for a history of the cinema on the basis of a partnership deal for a co-production of the history film between Godard’s company, Sonimage, and the Montréal Conservatoire. The scenario was to be divided into ten chapters or voyages with the Conservatoire contributing $CAN10,000 for each chapter. The lectures were to constitute the scenario. They took the form of notes entitled Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma et de la télévision (Introduction to a True History of the Cinema and Television), published in 1980 as volume I of Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma with seven voyages.[7] The notes were transcriptions of taped recordings of Godard’s Montréal lectures. The second volume never appeared. Meanwhile, the Conservatoire, not able to find the money, withdrew from the film project which then became wholly Godard’s.

His idea of a véritable (true) history of the cinema was to be composed of images and sounds only and not an illustration of a text, not a documentary about film but rather a film-poem in praise of it. Whatever else Histoire(s) du cinéma was thought to be, it was intended from the beginning as a celebration in images and sounds of the images and sounds of film in the past but transformed, ‘modernised’ and revivified in the present for the future. The cinema and its history was to be ‘spoken’ by film (in fact by video) rather like photography might ‘speak’ paintings as in Malraux’s Les Voix du silence.[8]  “La possibilité d’archiver le cinéma par la vidéo ressemble à la possibilité d’archiver les oeuvres d’art par la photographie…”.[9] It was not until 1987 that Godard came to an understanding with French television on the basis of his Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma to produce ten ‘voyages’ for transmission. The first two, different in form than he had sketched in the véritable histoire and more complex in structure, were aired on Canal + in 1989. The entire film, eventually consisting of eight episodes, was completed in 1995, shown at the Locarno and Cannes film festivals and subsequently transmitted over some weeks on French television. During the period 1978 to 1995 while preparing Histoire(s), Godard worked on other film projects, some for television. It was time for him of enormous and rapid output.

In 1998, Gallimard-Gaumont published a four volume illustrated ‘book’, Histoire(s) du cinéma, which, though close to the video-film, is not a scenario of it and does not exactly correspond to it. In 2000, the record company, ECM, issued a CD of the soundtrack from Histoire(s). Most recently, in 2006, Gaumont released a DVD of Histoire(s) with English subtitles (the film was earlier available in VHS unsubtitled) that included 2 X 50 ans du cinéma français that Godard made with Anne-Marie Miéville.[10] It is a massive project: a DVD, a book, a recorded soundtrack. The final finished Histoire(s) du cinéma is divided into four chapters each in turn divided into two parts.


Langlois’ Cinémathèque was an archive (a collection of films) and a museum (an exhibition of films). Just as the archive (any archive) is constantly reconstituted by the acquisition of new material (past and contemporary), so the museum reconfigured the history of the cinema at each screening by placing films in new relations with each other, not by category nor by chronology, but by association, less a method of classifying than one of de-classifying, against, not with, the grain. An archive, like all collections, is never complete nor is the museum that depends upon it. Both are constantly open to rearrangement and to a perpetual heterogeneity and what comes with such changes and heterogeneity, a productive disorder. Indeed, the permanent rearrangement of differences is their principle.

Exhibition in the Cinémathèque dislodged a film from one context (time, place, origin, function) to place it in another beside other films of other times. The displacement, disorder, reordering and juxtaposition was constant. It altered every film and altered every context and perspective. With each screening the identity of an exhibited film changed as it entered into relations with the past and thereby with a changing history, not a History of the Cinema then, but impermanent, unstable and multiple, possible histories as in Godard’s film and one in which a present-future forever transformed a fluctuating past that could never be totalised or its essence distilled.

Museums, for the most part, though constituted by the heterogeneity of their collections, deny or reduce such variety by exhibiting works in homogeneous series as if representative of a coherent and stable world on the basis of a system of classification and orderliness (recall the criticism of Langlois’ Cinemathèque as ‘disorderly’), that is, on the basis of some fictional order. Without such an ordering, the museum would be like a junk shop, composed of meaningless fragments, because unclassified, a heap of bric-a-brac, not bound to a precise context. Thereby (and as such disorderliness might be deemed an advantage) all elements of a collection are free to migrate, as in Godard’s voyages, enabled to form unsuspected relations (rather than disabled by being forced into a singular relation), to astound, surprise, provoke, convulse, and by that fact create plural and parallel histories, none lasting or ‘true’ and thereby, by the possibilities and pathways suggested, map out a future by reconfigurations of the past.

In Godard’s véritable histoireNanook of the North (USA/France 1922), Une Femme mariée (France 1964), Persona (Sweden 1966), and Francesco giullare di Dio (Italy 1950) foregather in the second part of La Troisième voyage.[11] Godard’s recent 2005 museum exhibition, Voyage en utopie, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, has the same sense of an apparent hodge-podge with all the surprise and unsuspected dazzling juxtapositions and encounters one might find by chance on the street but never, not usually anyway, in the museum.

Such seemingly unplanned groupings characterised screenings at the Cinémathèque, at least in the 1950s and early 1960s, before Langlois was dismissed.[12]  Rather than producing fictional coherences in his museum-cinémathèque, Langlois created unusual combinations as might occur in a collage or work of montage. These occurrences suggested films as yet unmade and unseen, a cinema yet to be, histories not yet thought or imagined, images seen in the mind’s eye. The Cinémathèque museum then, rather than being a place of context, classification and reasonableness, went outside established boundaries and systems to help produce a new cinema of which the films of the Nouvelle Vague were a stunning example. Godard: “Voilà pourquoi la Cinémathèque est bien. Parce qu’on y voit pêle-mêle beaucoup de films, aussi bien un Cukor de 39 qu’un documentaire de 18.”[13]

Langlois’ programming at the Cinémathèque itself changed the status of each film screened as a painting is altered once it enters the museum as a result of where it is hung and how it is encountered, what its neighbours are and with whom it cohabits. The films become, as paintings do, documents in a history of their respective arts and of the arts in general. Langlois’ screenings combined history (the film as a document from the past) with poetry (their present arrangement). Every screening, like a montage, was a new encounter. The method was indebted to Surrealism in which Langlois was involved. It resulted in a discovery of what the most disparate films might have in common. That discovery was a feature and intent of the film criticism written by the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers and writers on film, evident by their manner of citing films directly in their own films and indirectly, as if the films and their essays on film were meeting grounds for the cinema and that what was important was not this or that film alone and closed, but interconnections. “…Henri Langlois a donné chaque vingt-quatrième seconde de sa vie pour sortir toutes ces voix de leurs nuits silencièuses, et pour projeter dans le ciel blanc du seul musée où se rejoignent enfin le réel et l’imaginaire.” [14]


The film as document in the Cinémathèque had a disruptive effect. Rather than confirming critical or historical categories, they de-formed, reversed and dismantled these and most every tradition and system of classification, still less to the institutional consequences of imposed order. The past was worshipped for the possibilities it offered for interactions while tradition itself was rejected and overturned.

There was the underlying belief by Langlois that films should illuminate and reconfigure each other without the usual critical paraphernalia and scaffolding. In his programmes of films, consciously organised without apparent consecutive logic, each film screened, it was believed, would modify the others rather than becoming an example in a preordained categorical series or framework. Thus, no film could serve as a stable reference nor, more importantly, serve as an object to be subjected to explication, analysis, still less to ‘theory’, all of which seemed unnecessary, even impertinent. Films then, though they were like ideas, were not illustrations of ideas (they created them) anymore than they were illustrations of histories (they created these) or of a category (they confounded these). Langlois placed a ban on discussions, lectures, explanations at the screenings. It was enough for the films to speak.

To enter the Cinémathèque was to enter a place of devotion, not a hall of learning nor even perhaps a theatre of entertainment. The writings in Cahiers du cinéma during the late 1950s and early 1960s had qualities of love (cinéphilie), enthusiasm, passion, even ecstasy, but not theory or critical analysis. The writings were rather like hymns to sacred objects whose words were those of praise and joy not sweet reason, to the contrary.


If Langlois had excised films from their contexts, Godard destroyed the film as context by screening only fragments of films and while there was no apparent historical narrative to confine the films that Langlois screened, there was no film narrative to confine the fragments of film Godard exhibited. In other words, this kind of narrative, from Godard’s perspective belonged to an earlier history of the cinema. His films belonged to a different one where narrative as a consecutive and causal order was not the rule nor desirable. Effectively in his films, he brought one cinema and its time into contact with another and its time. He did not simply dismantle other films so much as reincorporate them (bits of them) and thus reincorporate one history into another. His operation was at once artistic (he fabricated a film) and critical (he questioned images, history).


Godard’s films are dense with citations. If these could all be identified and unravelled, most of his images and scenes probably would be found to be cited. In history, everything begins with a citation.

The citation is a cutting out, a highlighting of certain images or objects that once having been excised are rearranged as in a collage or photomontage. The image that is cut out becomes a ‘fact’ like a ‘document’ and, like it, is out of context. This citing and as a result creation of a document is the central procedure of Histoire(s).

Documents do not produce a history, rather the practice of history produces documents defining and determining what is historical (‘documentable’) and not historical (not to be saved, to be ignored, rejected). Changes in historical perspective usually have to do with a redefinition of what can be considered a document and thereby worthy to enter history, to be deemed historically pertinent or historical at all.

Godard’s films essentially juxtapose and associate such documents (with the added dimension of being remembered) formed from cutting into other films (and other works and texts), citing them and in so doing liberating them from where they once belonged and were positioned, in a narrative, an image, a story, a philosophy, a gesture, a memory, a piece of music, a particular culture and its history. Godard further fragments these fragments, cutting them up by time (flickers, simultaneities, fades) or by space (disjoins, superimpositions) and joining these bits to form entirely new images which do not simply coalesce (because they are joined) but disperse and reassociate (because they issue from elsewheres and the joins between them seem arbitrary or aleatory). The units are often so small (an isolated sound, a light, a small gesture, a flicker, a shadow, a trace) similar to phonemes in language, distinct, migratory, unstable, tempting significance, forever taking shape from within an established word or image and being reshaped as happens in Godard’s frequent anagrammatic play.


A citation is a reproduction, not the original but a copy as in Pop Art, for example Warhol’s Brillo Box displayed on the museum floor, a duplicate of the Brillo Box on the supermarket shelf, a copy of a copy reduplicated by an industrial process that serialises and is parodied in Warhol’s Brillo Boxes and his serialised images of Campbell Soup cans or the screenprinted images of Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor each duplicate slightly recoloured and distorted and each images of already fabricated (film) images.

Godard’s exhibit at the Pompidou is an exhibition of reproductions, a collage-montage of different kinds of materials and images (toys, models, TV images, film images on TV screens, some horizontal, some vertical, of different sizes, of quoted writings, of famous sayings, of everyday objects – like Dada objects, of copies of paintings). It is unlike museum exhibitions that are usually of ‘originals’ classified by theme, era or artist (Dada art was an exception and challenge to the museum but it too is now grouped and exhibited safely as ‘Dada’). Godard’s exhibit is not only of non-originals (duplicates as in Pop Art) but of their placement (and labelling), disjunctive or opaque. It is that placement, more accurately dis-placement, than it is the objects being placed that are of moment, that is, it is the structure and form of the exhibit that tells as an exhibit of relations. Certainly, the objects are not fictively related or homogeneous and classifiable (a rumpled bed, a Matisse reproduction – in a museum? -, pornography in a recurring loop, a model train, a model of an unrealised exhibition, some plants, abandoned steps). His exhibit is the ‘work’ and not, as occurs in the museum, an exhibition of works…though in part it is that too since dissociation and opacity compel. What they compel are questions and what they withhold are replies (categories).

All the objects in the exhibition are copies or reductions and miniaturisations (model trains, kitchens, bedrooms, gardens), that include an elaborate one of a series of gallery rooms like a giant doll-house of an exhibit Godard had planned and was to be called Collage de France, an exhibit that never took place (apparently not feasible financially or spatially, and yet ‘planned’ possibily for its unfeasability). All that is left of the failed exhibition is its lilliputian reproduction, the non-exhibitable, non-existent exhibit of, Collage de France in the midst of Voyage(s) en utopie, one of many.

Godard’s Pompidou exhibit, Langlois’ Cinémathèque and Malraux’s Le Musée imaginaire all belong to museums of reproductions, in Malraux’s case, reproductions of art works by photographs in a book (a museum without walls).[15] By the fact that they are museums of copies based on technologies of reproduction and of fragments of works and objects from diverse origins, they relate to practices of Pop art. Like Pop, they raise the questions: What is art? What is the real? What is an original? What is the relation between fabrication and duplication? What might constitute a history of art? and specifically, they raise the unanswered and perhaps unanswerable question posed much earlier by André Bazin: Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? (What is the cinema?)

Godard’s real and Warhol’s real are an effect of assemblage, of a montage of reproduced images not of real things. The works are fabricated (they are works of art), but their basic operation is to imitate and serialise what already is, to copy these and then rearrange and distort them. By such operations, what is put into question is not only past procedures and the status of works of art and films, their originality, uniqueness and authorship, but the status and ways of working based on reproduction (duplication) and rearrangement (montage, collage, serialisation, superimposition). To that extent and by means of a montage whether serialised or juxtaposed these works are a discourse on art.

Their means include the parody of other works and other images and self-parody that crucially depend on duplication, on everything being a parodic or a deceptive effect of mirroring and doubling of the same rather than the effect of the window (onto a unique reality) characteristic of a naturalistic tradition. Perhaps, it is a reason for Godard’s fondness for and citations of the paintings of Edward Hopper in Histoire(s) whose paintings are structured, classically, like windows, but through which you see a distortion, a misrepresentation, a dream, a mirror-effect noticeable as an effect, a gaze returned (as in Hitchcock), a kind of uncanny doubling, as if the window rather than being transparent is reflective, not a life-like illusion of what is there but its deceit.

Aby Warburg


Philippe-Alain Michaud wrote a study of Aby Warburg in 1998.[16] In 2005, Michaud curated a major exhibition on an upper floor of the Centre Pompidou, Le Mouvement des images,[17] at the same time as Godard’s exhibition, Voyage en utopie,[18]  was taking place in a gallery on the mezzanine.[19] Michaud’s exhibition was organised to illustrate an aesthetic commonality between the interests, concerns and procedures of film and other arts of past and present. Some of the pieces were pictures on a wall, some sculptures, some installations and some film. They were grouped around shared concepts and practices: défilement/unwinding,projection/projection, récit/narrative, montage/montage.

Michaud’s book on Aby Warburg was introduced by the art historian and philosopher, Georges Didi-Huberman. In 2003, Didi-Huberman wrote a book, Images malgré tout,[20] centring on four photographs of the exterminations at Auschwitz taken by Sonderkommandos and smuggled out of the camp. Sonderkommando swere prisoners who participated in the extermination process, themselves killed in turn to efface all traces of what had occurred. The photographs were their testimony.

The experience of the Holocaust is central to Histoire(s) du cinéma. Godard constantly returns to it in his film and to other massacres for which images (film, photographs, paintings and narratives) survive. Though Didi-Huberman does not comment particularly on this concern of Godard’s, he writes extensively in his book about Histoire(s) du cinéma and its montage and citational structures. What links Didi-Huberman’s book to Godard’s film is not primarily the Holocaust but a concern with images and memory: how to address, interrogate and organise these and how best to explore their relation to words and as evidence and testimony to the past. The Didi-Huberman link to Godard is with montage, Godard’s beau souci (fine care) [21] . Didi-Huberman’s book and Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma are montages of historical periods, materials, means of representation that also characterise the structure of Godard’s exhibit at the Pompidou and Michaud’s exhibition a few floors above, and, to go further, the method and organisation of Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas project at the centre of Michaud’s study of Warburg.


Aby Warburg was a German-Jewish art historian. He revolutionised the study of art history in the 1920s by approaching art works, in his case the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, through association, memory and a community of forms between past and present and between different practices in which memories and past forms and other times were embedded. As a result, paintings and sculpture of the Renaissance or photographs and films in the present became for Warburg, if only momentarily and partially, the embodiment of other works by an empathetic projection. In Warburg’s studies, in particular his concentration on movement and its forms, echoing the title of Michaud’s study and his exhibition, Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is brought into a relation with Hopi Indian dances of the American Southwest, early anthropological films that recorded these, hence with the history of film and of anthropology and the social sciences, Étienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotographs and Renaissance theatre in Florence.

The notion of forms as containers of the past, Warburg called Pathosformel, a sign of what had been and a prelude for the future, and that he related to emotion.


Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin admired the montage compositions of Dada and their unlikely and often devastating combinations. Benjamin was equally impressed by Warburg’s historical method, itself a montage. Benjamin attempted on a number of occasions to enter Warburg’s circle but was rebuffed, nevertheless the work of the two is extremely close and Benjamin’s unfinished Arcade Project (a writing) and Warburg’s unfinished Mnemosyne Atlas (images) were similar in their uncustomary associations of heterogeneous elements, references and times, a modernism of method (montage, collage) and of scope (the compression of past and present). Both works sought out a pre-history of the modern as association and juxtaposition, rather than as chronology. For Benjamin the sudden encounters of past and present, the irruption of the past, created a spark that ignited and formed a constellation (a montage). Warburg’s history, like Benjamin’s history, was precious, tenuous, fragile and subject to seemingly infinite reconfigurations and displacements.

Warburg was wealthy, a son of a German-Jewish banking family. He gave up his share in the business in exchange for a permanent allowance from the family and from his other brothers to enable him to pursue his scholarly interests. He built an elaborate and extensive library devoted to art history and the range of areas and ideas that he connected to it. The connections were constantly being reconstructed and shifted. Warburg forever reclassified his collection and repositioned its books and other materials. His library, like his Atlas which he displayed there and like Benjamin’s Arcade Project, were necessarily unfinished, true of most collections, not only because of frequent additions, but in his case, because of an awareness of new and multiple paths that might make themselves felt and thereby require the revision of former categories, classifications, pathways such that no work or text had an immutable place or could be thought of as complete. The lack of conclusiveness and stability were crucial to the library’s structure and to the Atlas. In it, the meaning of everything was positional, a montage idea basic to early modernism and what has succeeded it: for example, Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotics, the Constructivism of Vertov, the Futurism of Eisenstein, the collages of Cubism, the montage structures of Dada and Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, the Combines of Robert Rauschenberg. It also resembles the structure and multiplicity of Michaud’s Le Mouvement des images, a study of these processes of juxtaposition and an exhibition and exemplification of them, an unfinished, incomplete combining of heterogeneous artistic traces and fragments without regard to historical period and whose order would remain always tentative.

In Godard’s Histoire(s), each image and sound as it appears, though belonging to the structure of the film, alters it continually, thus endangering coherence, placing it at risk, exposing whatever order to a perpetual restructuring.

Nothing in the film is fixed. Singular elements, by their capacity to join with others become multiple, as does time and space, hence the expansive, seemingly limitless aspect of the film. For example, the same image or sequence is often repeated and each repetition, because of its altered position transformed, the same becoming different, as in Warburg’s library. There is no set narrative, nothing merely consecutive or causatively contiguous, but instead a constant rethinking, ever new constellations and configurations. In fact, rethinking is the basic thought of Histoire(s).


The citations that compose Histoire(s) du cinéma function less as an archive of works from the past – they are only fragments and remnants – than an archaeology in the sense that Histoire(s) bears within it the imprint of other works as presences. The imprints are of three kinds: the specific citation, the fact that the manner of citing and structuring (montage) is itself historical, an imprint from the past (a history of the avant-garde, for example), and that every combination and juxtaposition reveals secret presences that only, in the Benjamin sense, can ignite on contact. The layered fragments in the film, ever being uncovered, unearthed and recombined by juxtaposition are its body and soul. Each citation is a container of forms from elsewhere and other times and the Histoire(s) the container of these. Montage is a means for revelation of what is hidden and of the redemption of what has been forgotten. Each citation is a compressed montage, a container, a Pathosformeln, and the Histoire(s), a montage of montage, in which past and present, forms and motifs from different places and times and of different substances encounter one another and by doing so create something new as yet unheard and invisible, thereby project futures.

Godard in his Histoire(s) frequently cites Walter Benjamin. There is no direct evidence, however, that Godard was influenced by the work of Aby Warburg. Nevertheless, there is much of Warburg in the Godard film. That presence, albeit unconscious, is explicitly acknowledged by Didi-Huberman in Images malgré tout. The correspondences of place, interest and reference are irresistible between Warburg, Michaud, Didi-Huberman, Benjamin and Godard in their practices of montage.


In the paintings of Sandro Botticelli, his Birth of Venus for example, Warburg found a number of contradictory elements in its composition and details that overlapped and were co-present: the classical and the mythological with the experience of everyday existence, aristocratic culture with popular culture, poetry with theatre, music, painting, sculpture, fashion, hair style. Each were pathways and Warburg, rather than rejecting their multiplicity for the sake of a teleology or schema of evolution, still less for a fiction of unity, followed the logic of their presence, a logic that opened the work to become an amalgam of inexhaustible elements in held tension rather than a closed limited unity.

The view of a single work as composed of fragments, each the starting point of a more vast fabric, canvas or narrative never complete nor concluded, was the object of Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas which, in photographs, titles and excerpts of texts, displayed such multiple, overlapping directions, more by the form of the Atlas than by the objects represented in it. And though the order of placement was necessarily consecutive (as in the unwinding, défilement of a spool of projected film images), their material order did not correspond to a diachronic one, the usual form of a history or narrative.

Warburg’s historical perspective was echoed in literary and artistic experiments of the avant-garde of the 1920s exemplified perhaps best in the collage-montage works of Cubism, Constructivism, Surrealism, and, radically of Dada, in film, photography and art works. This manner of presentation was a way of thinking whereby linearity, causation, consequence and transparency were displaced by the vagaries of the multi-directional and by mechanisms of memory, dream, association, the unconscious, serialisation, repetition, simultaneity, lack of finish and conclusiveness and a confounding of the logical by the poetic. The cinema, best of all perhaps, was suited to this way of thought: film as an assemblage-montage, the pictorial surface of its images cut into and fragmented, dimensions of objects contrasted, shots overlaid with others, a play between the transparent and the opaque, the illuminated and the shaded, the veiled and the exposed, contrasting and contradictory points of view, simultaneities and overlappings. In short, film in its images and by their conjunction, was, and is, a perfect instrument of montage in the most general sense. Godard maintained that position of the centrality of montage for the cinema as early as the 1950s in the midst of the Bazinian emphasis on a mise en scène on behalf of the wholeness of the image and its reproduction of reality and its consequences in the rejection of Soviet Eisensteinian montage and the dramatic-action montage-découpage of Hollywood films.

In Warburg, and in Eisenstein, rather than continuities, there are instead leaps, blows, cuts, sudden breaks where nothing exactly follows anything else causatively, and instead what is felt are intervals rather than continuities that allow room to imagination, unplanned occurrences and a multiplicity of affiliations akin to Benjamin’s constellations. The stress in Warburg, in Benjamin and in Godard is on an art not simply of contemplation rather than drama, but of a liberation to dream, to associate, to wander.


Godard began his film-making by openly exceeding and thereby violating the traditional rules of film construction. And, insofar as he did so, his work was a break with the history of film and that break made the historical apparent in its institutional necessity, its artistic compromises and the possible other histories and paths not taken or having been neglected. His excess was dangerous, fresh and essentially critical. Its yield was to elucidate the history of film and the conditions of possibility for film. The transgression of the traditions and history of cinema and his irreverence towards its rules redefined film, both materially (the film strip, projection, the screen, the shot, the image, sound, the theatre) and procedurally. His work of interrogation, reformulation, reconfiguration has always been, and necessarily so, an historical undertaking. His originality is to take what is already there and reposition everything, in effect, a montage. Perhaps most importantly – the point of his exhibition at the Pompidou and that of Michaud’s – is that the materiality of film and its processes are seen to be shared and experienced not only with the other arts but with philosophy, social theory, politics…and History. And, in another Warburgian association, precisely because Godard’s work is a work of ideas and forms, it is not only possible but appropriate and incumbent to bring together Godard and Warburg.

The illusionism of traditional film is constructed upon the effacement of the inscription of the images on behalf of what is projected. It is the traces left on the surface of the work by the techniques that have produced it that Godard made visible by his eclecticism, fragmentations, contradictoriness and the scandal of the discontinuity of his images that caused these (and thereby all images) to be interrogated. By posing questions, concluding nothing, Godard helped to make the cinema and its histories visible, current, new and exciting.

Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas was a montage album or collection. Like the album, linear chronology was not a particular feature. The Atlas included the classical in its terminology and reference (Mnemosyne is a goddess and a river in Hades from which dead souls drink to remember) and a mapping of something entirely different where the traces of the past left behind in the work of art and the traces of its means of production are the details that lead the art historian to go beyond the frame of the work and are like the traces deposited on film by its techniques and forms that Godard pointed to (the shot, movement, colour, screen, frame, timing, juxtaposition, discontinuity) and which by calling attention to the language and forms of the cinema has charted a new course for it beyond itself.


Godard: “Pour moi l’Histoire est l’oeuvre des oeuvres, si vous voulez, elle les englobe toutes, l’Histoire c’est le nom de la famille, il y a les parents et les enfants, il y a la littérature, la peinture, la philosophie…l’Histoire, disons, c’est le tout ensemble. Alors l’oeuvre si elle bien faite relève de l’Histoire…il me semblait que l’Histoire pouvait être une oeuvre d’art.”[22]

It is not that History can be a work of art, but rather that it must be. Godard’s all is not a possibility for the historian. How could it be possible to have all the histories, all events, all times, all variations and pathways, together and at once? A complete history would always be incomplete, insufficient and unsatisfactory. And what could be more incomplete, untrue and fictionalised than a history (or film) where every event succeeded every other consequentially and causatively, a beginning, a middle, an end, and where everything would be concluded and unified and explicated and finished? The Godard all, and I think the unceasing, unfinished Warburg all is, as Warburg said, in the details. (“God is in the details.”).

A complete history, the history of all, would be one whose details would lead beyond any given framework that might include them and would maintain the present as being open at every moment. Such openness is accomplished by the montage of Histoire(s) du cinéma and of Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas. Godard has transgressed the rules of histoire (story) and in so doing of Histoire (History). The all is in the expansion and inclusiveness of both.

André Malraux


Malraux is cited frequently in Histoire(s) du cinéma and especially in section 1A, Toutes les histoire(s) (All History(s)). Section 2B, Fatale beauté (Deadly Beauty) is an exception. In it there is no direct reference to Malraux though his ideas concerning the Beautiful in painting and aesthetics are close to those in Fatale Beauté. Beauty in painting, for Malraux, was, historically either an ideal to be depicted (attained) or, later in time, a quality of the work. In either case a quality to captivate a viewer, that is, belonging to desire, the imaginary, to culture and founded on a fiction.[23] Malraux and Godard hold the notion of beauty up to scrutiny as either what is represented (a beautiful woman or view) or as a goal of the work (a beautiful image). For Godard, beauty is a fatal trap because it instrumentalises, turning the work from one of discovery and exploration of forms to a servant of cultural and realistic ends, in short, of illusions, a position that resonates with Walter Benjamin’s comments on photography:

The creative in photography is its capitulation to fashion. The world is beautiful – that is its watchword. In it is unmasked the posture of a photography that can endow any soup can with cosmic significance but cannot grasp a single one of the human connections in which it exists, even when this photography’s most dream-laden subjects are a forerunner more of its saleability than of any knowledge it might produce. But because the true face of this kind of photographic creativity is the advertisement or association, its logical counterpart is the act of unmasking or construction….A further stage in this context between creative and constructive photography is typified by the Russian film. It is not too much to say that the great achievements of Russian directors were possible only in a country where photography sets out not to charm or persuade, but to experiment and instruct.[24]

The citations related to Malraux are in images, sounds and images of writing. Some images are no more than a photograph of Malraux; some are fragments of scenes from Malraux’s film set during the Spanish civil war, L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel.[25]  The sound citations are various: the invocation of a title of a Malraux work (of fiction, criticism and art history), a musical passage from L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel, lines of dialogue recited from his novel L’Espoir (Man’s Hope), a passage from Esquisse d’une psychologie du cinéma (Sketch for a Psychology of the Cinema). The title of a section from Malraux’s Les Voix du silence (The Voices of Silence)La Monnaie de l’absolu (The Currency of the Absolute) – the title (and subject) of 3A of Histoire(s). In themselves, none of these citations are important or indicate anything particular beyond the presence of Malraux in Histoire(s). What is important is their place and configuration in the film, how they function.

Godard is interested in Malraux for a number of reasons. Malraux was a man of action, a military hero in the civil war in Spain and in the French Resistance, a committed (engagé) intellectual on the Left, a historian of art, an archaeologist, a novelist, an essayist, a philosopher, a politician and a recipient of national distinctions for his work. His novels combine new forms with revolutionary political themes and subjects. His views on the cinema, particularly his understanding of film as belonging to a wider world of the arts, is close to Godard’s view of film and especially evident in Histoire(s) so filled as it is with citations from the cinema and from painting.

Godard’s work echoes Malraux’s concepts of art history expressed in various essays by Malraux on the psychology of art (and of cinema), in his Musée imaginaire (The Museum Without Walls) and his Les Voix du silence, that of a sodality of forms between art works of different periods, the metamorphosis of works by time, and a comparative timeless achronological history based on formal associations and affinities, rather than on historical context or social and cultural function, like ideals of beauty. Malraux, in his art historical and critical writings and in his novels is a montageur, bringing together works and events by juxtapositions of their forms rather than by historical, thematic continuities or the content of their fictions and stories.

However politically committed Malraux was, and Godard is, their primary loyalties are to their art, not to the world outside. For Malraux, the essence of the modern arts is their concern with formal procedures, art as a discourse on itself. Effectively, Malraux read modernism back into the past and in so doing transforming and resurrecting the art of the past, making it present and contemporary on the basis of forms, a position central to Godard’s Histoire(s).


Pablo Picasso in 1945:

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he’s a painter, or ears if he’s a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he’s a poet, or even, if he’s a boxer, just his muscles? On the contrary, he’s at the same time a political being, constantly alive to heart-rending, fiery or happy events, to which he responds in every way. How would it be possible to feel no interest in other people and by virtue of an ivory indifference to detach yourself from the life which they so copiously bring you? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.[26]


Sergei Eisenstein speaking at the Sorbonne in 1930:

We had to create a series of images composed in a way that they provoke an affective movement which in its turn awakens a series of ideas. From image to feeling, from feeling to thesis. Obviously this procedure means we risk becoming self-consciously symbolic. But no one should forget that cinema is the only concrete art which is dynamic at the same time, which can unleash the operations of thought. The march of thought cannot be excited in the same way by the other arts, which are static and which can only give a cue to thought without truly developing it. I think that this task of intellectual excitation can be accomplished by film. This will also be a historic work of art of our time because we are suffering from a terrible dualism separating thought, pure philosophical speculation, from feeling, emotion.[27]


In an article in a Soviet arts journal in May 1929, Ilya Ehrenburg praised Malraux’s novel, Les Conquérants(The Conquerors) (1928), set during the Communist revolution in China, as a model for a revolutionary literature. He compared it to the novels of André Maurois and François Mauriac, to Eisenstein’s Potemkin and Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Storm over Asia. In the same article, Ehrenberg referred appreciatively to an essay by Vladimir Aleksandrovich Pozner who addressed himself to what he called a ‘literature of montage’. To that end Pozner cited Konstantin Fédine, Boris Pilniak, Boris Pasternak and Maksin Gorki all of whom, he remarked, worked “exactly like a film director who joins frames of film together.”[28]

In 1933, Malraux published his novel,La Condition humaine (Man’s Fate). It centred on a Communist uprising in Shanghai during the civil war. Malraux, having previously visited the Soviet Union where he formed contacts with Soviet artists and intellectuals including Isaac Babel and Vsevolod Meyerhold, met with Eisenstein in Moscow with a script Malraux had drafted for a film to be based on his La Condition Humaine and which Malraux hoped Eisenstein would direct. Meyerhold gave the project his support. In the event, nothing came of it. Stalin vetoed the project. Meyerhold and Babel would subsequently be put on trial and executed for espionage.

Malraux’s novels exemplified Pozner’s ‘literature of montage’ by their stuctural discontinuities and elisions and their mix of the fictional and the actual. His ‘revolutionary’ novel was revolutionary from the point of view of its forms and not simply of its subject.


What these incidents and statements have in common is a link between avant-garde art and political events, a juxtaposition of two independent spheres, the universe of art and its forms, on the one hand, and life and history, on the other. The artists mentioned (Meyerhold, Babel, Eisenstein, Picasso, Malraux, Pasternak, Gorki) were part of the modernist artistic movements of the 1920s and early 1930s that included Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, Dada, Surrealism and Expressionism. These movements existed within and related to a situation of war and revolution to which they responded in various ways. What marked these movements as well and inspired them to varying degrees were recent technologies in the reproduction of images (photography and film) and the recording and reproduction of sound, processes connected to mechanisation and industrialisation, that suggested constructions which compressed and overlapped time and space, images with sound and both with writing. In literature, film, photography, painting, sculpture, theatre, design and dance, techniques related to the machine were evident: ellipses, collage, montage, a new ‘objectivity’ and concern with reality, a materialism documenting ‘things’ and objects, and a formality that sometimes veered towards abstraction. Perhaps, the most exemplary work that combined these concerns and influences was Vertov’s The Man With a Movie Camera (Soviet Union 1929) and in literature the writings of Dos Passos. The work of Walter Benjamin that described and theorised these new tendencies was of crucial and acknowledged importance to Malraux.

There was an unresolved and productive tension in these movements between what belonged to life and what to art, what to the personal and what to the social and historical. In practice, and necessarily, life was turned into art, appropriated not imitated. On the other hand, the concern with the real, and a real in a period of political, social and cultural crisis, brought art into question, as Lyotard remarked regarding Malraux, “in which the fact that we die and write for nothing can be felt”. The techniques of montage and “the elliptical turn” create in their clash of differences and avoidance of explanation and motive, entanglements of opposites and an ambivalence and opacity from which there is no exit or conclusion, nothing at least definitive.[29]


The citational density of Godard’s films (and writings), that is, the substance of his forms, depend on the reproduction of what already exists. He shares with the historical avant-gardes artistic strategies and approaches, evident and explicit in Histoire(s) du cinéma. They involve a concentration on the everyday and on new forms, on the interconnection and overlap of the artistic with the political, on the convergence of the personal with the historical through a common source in dream, memory, myth and narrative, and above all on techniques of montage creating discontinuities and also being dependent upon them.

His art, like theirs, is an art of the interval and the gap, to be filled, or at least met, not by the artist but by the spectator, in short, an art of openness, infinitude, lack of finish, contradiction, difficulty where images function as facts and as documents and all, however analogous or associated, are made independent and distinct by being fragments placed in opposition and contrast, that is, as differences. It is also an art where polarities of experience and commentary are in play, the work as simultaneously aesthetic object-construction and a reflective discourse about its procedures and the procedures of art more generally and thereby a meditation on the traditions and histories evoked and, most importantly, transformed (Malraux would use the term ‘metamorphosis’), as if by the newness and break with the past exemplified by the methods of Histoire(s), the historical is a concept of a new beginning not a practice of continuity, a break in tradition and in time and a condensation of spaces. Time is disrupted, the chronological challenged and historical time diverted. The sense of new beginnings is not a rejection of the past but its resuscitation and conversion, therefore the promise of other beginnings and possibilities.

Nevertheless, Godard’s work can be situated within an artistic tradition, which, however familiar from the other arts, is new for the cinema. What is new in Godard’s work is the explicit relation he makes to the past (toutes les histoires), in particular to the other arts rather than exclusively to film and above all, the thoroughness and passion of Godard’s means, a montage conceived as discontinuous and not only between shots (and frames), but within these (like Eisenstein) and of vastly different and varied levels of reproduced realities. His citations are more instruments and forms and less reproductions.


The Spanish civil war began with an attempted military coup on 17 July 1936 against the elected government of Spain and ended on 1 April 1939 with the victory of the rebel Nationalists. The Nationalists had been supported with arms, supplies and money by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. A Fascist government under General Francisco Franco was formed in Spain. Malraux went to Spain on 22 July, one week after the outbreak of the war, returning to France some days later to raise funds in support of the Spanish Republic particularly to help form an air squadron of fighters and bombers for the Republican air force. Malraux was successful. He returned to Spain with the squadron of which he was given command despite not having military or aerial experience. He was made a colonel in the Spanish air force and joined the International Brigades.

Malraux was one among many writers and artists in Europe and the United States who supported the Republican cause and were associated with socialist, anarchist and communist groups before and during the War in Spain. European countries in the 1930s were socially, ideologically and politically divided along lines marked out by Fascism (in Italy and Germany) on the one hand, and the Communist Revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union and its international arm, the Comintern, on the other. The Comintern helped to recruit for the International Brigades in Spain.

In France and in Spain in 1934, anti-fascist Popular Fronts were formed (also in the United States and Great Britain). The formation of the Popular Fronts in Europe with the support of the Soviet Union marked a considerable change in Soviet international policies. No longer was revolution and class conflict the first item on the agenda of international communism. Instead, to further an anti-Fascist struggle, the Comintern cooperated with anti-Fascist and liberal and patriotic groups even if deemed “bourgeois”. Cultural Fronts were also organised and conferences and meetings held that aimed to produce socially radical art in subject, form and constitution.[30]  In France and Spain, the Popular Front won parliamentary elections in 1936 and both assumed government. The Front was a coalition of parties, ideologies and differing political and class positions. Though they had in common their anti-Fascism, and a vague humanism that everyone could agree to, because of fundamental social and political differences, the Popular Fronts were inherently unstable. The attempted coup in Spain and the subsequent civil war were a direct result of the 1936 parliamentary victory of the Spanish Popular Front.

As Malraux had written of the Communist uprisings in China in two earlier novels, in 1937, he published L’Espoir, a novel about the Spanish civil war that centred particularly on the Spanish Republican air force and thereby Malraux’s direct experience of the war as a participant. Soon after, Malraux went to the United States (including to Hollywood) on a speaking tour to raise money for the Republican cause. L’Espoir was his calling card, a work of literature and political propaganda, what Eisenstein might call intellectual-artistic excitation, not exactly agit art, but in its spirit. In Hollywood, Malraux sketched out the idea for a film based on L’Espoir. It would be called Sierra de Teruel. Eisenstein is among the influences on the film whose presence is visible in entire sequences, for example, the massing of the villagers at the end of Malraux’s film to salute the return of the injured and the dead Republican pilots, is close in theme, organisation and structure to the scenes in Eisenstein’s Potemkin of the show of solidarity by the citizens of Odessa to the sailors of the Battleship Potemkin and their gathering together to salute the dead mariner, Vakulinchuk. There is no Odessa steps sequence, no slaughter of the innocents in Malraux’s film, but it would come soon enough in reality.

Malraux’s film was shot in 1938 in the months just preceding the end of the Civil War in the towns of Tarragon in Catalonia and Montserrat and Colibatò near Barcelona. It was financed partly with private money but mostly by the Spanish Republican government.[31] The film was made on behalf of the Spanish government. In it were traces of Murnau and Eisenstein and also traces of what would a few years later mark Rossellini’s war trilogy made for the Italian fascist government:[32] the documentary-like films of Francesco De Robertis with whom Rossellini worked (De Robertis scripted Rossellini’s 1941 La nave bianca)[33] and Rossellini’s later anti-fascist war trilogy made after the war in Italy had ended.[34] Malraux’s film resembles all these in appearance and by the conditions of their production.

The staging and shooting of Malraux’s film encountered considerable difficulties, some due to inexperience (it was Malraux’s first and only film), but largely to do with the circumstances of war. The Nationalist troops were literally at the threshold of the film crew and set. Final scenes and editing, of necessity, took place in France. When the film was released in 1939, the Nationalists had already won, and World War II begun. The propaganda function of the film had been nullified by the reality it depicted. The film was not shown again until 1945 after the Liberation of Paris.


“For him…the human condition of hope is despair…”[35]

“Incomplete as it is, the resulting film compels us to admiration. Its style is forceful…The work signs the writer’s farewell to the novel. In 1967, Malraux will tell Greshoff that ‘as narrative technique, writing doesn’t exist.’ To narrate is in no way to tell a story; it is rather to reveal a scene – the only scene – one in which baseness and insurrection both confront and embrace one another simultaneously. This scene is torn from the raw material of fact and worked by filmic technique such that its metaphysical truth may be snatched from the course of things and fixed permanently in that same instant.

Through art, the devil’s gold was thus transsubstantiated. The demon nevertheless goes on spreading his shadows over things and men.”[36]


L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel is a film of relatively disconnected episodes. André Bazin remarked, “…l’esthétique de Malraux procède par un choix discontinus des instants. La chaîne du récit est volontairement rompue.”[37]

A Republican village is surrounded by Nationalist troops. On the outskirts of a neighbouring village, Linas, the Nationalists have established an air base. The Republicans, poorly equipped and outnumbered, have three missions, two depending on aircraft: to bomb a strategic bridge held by the Nationalists and to destroy their air base and planes, a third involving crossing the Nationalist lines to reach and support the peasants of Linas.

Each of the missions is accomplished though with heavy losses and sacrifice. The film ends with the recovery by the peasants of Linas of the dead and the survivors of the crash of one of the Republican bombers in the mountains of Teruel (the other bomber safely returns).

Intertitles connect the various events and ‘explain’ action, more precisely describe action about to take place. But these connectives are incomplete. The episodes, as Bazin noted, are elided and the intertitles do not particularly help to create continuity. The central narrative figuration of the film, the ellipse, is familiar from Malraux’s novels. Narrative transitions are weak to non-existent. The ellipses involve point of view shifts, shifts in tense, changes of place and context and temporal disconnections. The overall sense of the film and the effect of its elliptical construction, where no consequence or cause is clearly related and every event caught and entangled, is of a labyrinth with no outlet or resolution. In fact, the film is a picture of entanglement and confinement as much real as metaphysical. Planes crash, hunting rifles contend with machine guns, pocket knifes with combat rifles, motor cars challenge cannon. In reality, and historically, the Republicans are defeated and sacrificed, Lilliputians against Giants. Spiritually, the film celebrates a victory. Though it depicts realities, it is on the other side of them, and however base, awful and cruel the events it describes, the film, as a monument, snatches the events of history from time and eternalises them.

The ellipse is the instrument to fix what has been carved out of time. What you see are fragments of places and persons so arranged and with such excess of precision (realism), that the film is less fictional in the sense of creating a fictional world than it is the performance and enactment of a reality and by such means the film takes distance from itself, locating itself on the other side of its depictions. In so doing, it establishes an unresolved tension between the fiction it creates and the historical reality from which it does so.


Malraux’s view of the history of art, reiterated in Les Voix du silencePsychologie de l’artLe Musée imaginaire, Anti-critique is, in part, a standard, chronological historical view, charting the gradual progression of painting from serving fictions, narrative, the incident, the anecdote, theatre, spectacle, the illustration of beauty to becoming a plastic language of its own. (The progression is not narrated progressively by Malraux – although you know that Rembrandt comes before Manet, and Uccello before Picasso, they are not related in that order).

What is new in Malraux is that with the establishment of modernism, its achievement is read back into the past, revitalising it, literally redeeming it, enabling associations between the most remote and the most contemporary works, the most exotic and the most familiar on the basis of their artistic forms and language. As a result, chronology is inverted. The construction of Malraux’s writing, like a collage, is the measure of the inversions, surprising juxtapositions and associations of works remote to each other in time and place. A new term appears, metamorphosis, whereby what comes after is seen to refashion what had been before. Rather than a teleology of development, Malraux configures groupings by affinities irrespective of time, or at least of its advance.

The Orpheus of art history can look back like the mythological Orpheus but unlike him, savee Eurydice for eternity. The backward glance, however, is not free of a loss. The Eurydice Orpheus seeks and saves is no longer what she had been. By the action of resuscitation, of bringing her into light and life from the Underworld of art, she is transformed.

In L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel, the elided incidents do not confirm a narrative, but rather escape it, become literally incidental, and the film, on the other side of its representations, asserts its independence from these despite its propagandist intentions, despite the fact that it inevitably recalls the French Popular Front in the experience of the Spanish Popular Front. And later, in 1945, when the film is projected after the Liberation of Paris, it recalls, by its portrayal of the Spanish Resistance, the French Resistance in which Malraux heroically fought.

Malraux never forgets, anymore than he did in his novels of social and political revolution, that novels and films are their own realities, their own worlds and that he is a novelist. He constructs his works that they may take their place alongside each other in the museums and archives of art, cinema and literature. Nevertheless…



We learn a lot by projecting a new genre into the past, such as a nineteenth century novel into the seventeenth century, a Phèdre by Balzac rivalling a Princess de Clèves. Or the book that a collection such as this would have devoted to…Laclos. An interesting idea: here we have the author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and of virtuous notes on the upbringing of young ladies, the duc d’Orléans’ political agent, the inventor of the bomb…[38]

This way of writing: by juxtapositions, a melée of differences in period and place, a citational depth and overload, the fragmentation, the superimpositions, the simultaneities, the obscurity and tangled matting, recalls Godard’s Malrauvian style of critical writing and commentary particularly of the 1950s and the sometimes impenetrable density of his statements. It also recalls his films. This passage of association, for example, in Histoire(s), 1A: an image of the hanging in Minsk by the Nazis in 1941 of the Resistance fighters Masha Bruskina and Volodia Shcherbatsevich; monsters from Goya’s Caprices (1799) that dissolve into an image of bodies piled up in the opening of a railroad car, part of a convoy to Buchenwald-Dachau, filmed by George Stevens in 1945, recoloured in red by Godard, that alternates with an image of Elizabeth Taylor, from Steven’s film A Place in the Sun (1951), leaning over Montgomery Clift whom she embraces; that image is superimposed and dissolved by one of an angel from Giotto’s Noli me tangere fresco (1304-1306) in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua whose position Godard shifts 90? to have the angel hover over Christ as Taylor hovers over Montgomery Clift.

The differences, clash, unlikeliness, elisions, retouching, fragmentations, excisions, in short, the montage, give each element their force and precision, creating an association by means of a stress on difference. By such pathways, Giotto, Elizabeth Taylor and Masha Bruskina enter History together and History, made new, is freshened by their company and companionship, their mutual surprise and delight.



…Creator of one of the most highly developed styles that Europe has known, Piero [della Francesca] was also one of the first artists to use aloofness as the ruling expression of his figures and, like Uccello’s, his statuesque forms come to life in the measures of a sacred dance…What does Vermeer’s Young Girl express? From Georges de Latour to Greco, even up to Chardin’s day, all the painters we have resuscitated show the same indifference to making faces “expressive”. Piero, indeed, might be the symbol of our modern sensibility, our desire to see the expression of the painter, not that of the model, in his art.[39]

There was another reason for Malraux’s interest in the representation of faces that relate less to painting than to the cinema. There is the passage in his Esquisse d’une psychologie du cinéma repeated in his Musée imaginare concerning (imagining, speculating upon?) Griffith’s discovery of the close-up:

…Griffith…was so much struck by the beauty of a girl at a certain moment of the action that he had the cameraman take a series of shots of her, coming closer and closer each time, and then intercalated her face in the appropriate contexts. Thus the close-up was invented…seeking less to operate on the actor (by making him play differently, for instance) than to modify the relations between him and the spectator (by increasing the dimensions of the face)… [40]

The context for these remarks is Malraux’s emphasis in his essay that the cinema becomes an art by the joining of different shots together rather than of reproducing a scene as if in the theatre or as an animated photograph, that is, by the invention of montage, and along with it the possibility of a play of perspectives, dimensions, scale, temporality and points of view.

The close-up of the face is particularly important because it can enlarge what is small, alter proportions, events, bodies, figures and gestures. In effect, and by the mechanism of montage, the close-up is a distortion, a violence done to undifferentiated space and an unmediated unified body. It creates a hiatus in continuity and a difference to homogeneity.

On the one hand, for Malraux, the inexpressive face in painting calls attention to painting rather than to the reality of the model and by that fact is a sign of the modern for Malraux and that occurs at an historical distance sometimes as great as that to Piero della Francesca, Vermeer, Goya, Rembrandt or Manet. On the other hand, the close-up in film, whose purpose is most often affective, physical and emotional, an intensification and excess of expression not its indifference, is equally a sign of art insofar, like the indifference of Vermeer’s figures, as it is a disruption of the homogeneous and the conventional, the opening of some kind of gap between the real and its representation. Like the ellipse, it is a break, and often ambiguous as in some scenes in L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel, often the most realistic and documentary-like, where there are few reverse shots to confirm and normalise what you see. In this case (and it has been the case historically in the history of the cinema), the real is a confrontation with fiction, opening it up, revealing it.


One of the most notable scenes in L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel is of a sacrifice by two Republican partisans to divert the attention of Nationalist soldiers at an artillery emplacement that blocks a path that crosses enemy lines to the village of Linas. The diversion enables other partisans to reach the other side unharmed. The two partisans drive an open top car at full speed down and up a narrow street leading to the castle and town gates where the artillery piece is manned by the Nationalists. As the car speeds towards it, the cannon is turned around to meet its assault. One of the partisans leans out of the car firing a machine gun against the cannon. As he does so, the artillery fires on the car. The car is hit, turns over and the two partisans die, one face down in the dirt bleeding from his neck. The scene is presented from the view point of the artillery, as if sighted along its muzzle following the car as it approaches. The shot alternates with a close moving shot at the side of the car registering the action of the partisan firing (ineffectively) at the cannon. The crash of the car is heard rather than seen (like the first car crash in Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar). Among other things, Malraux’s film is a complicated experiment with natural sounds and of sounds with or instead of images, like a screen or a backdrop. What is seen rather than the crash is a flock of birds in the sky taking flight at the firing and its consequence.

Godard cites the sequence twice in Histoire(s) du cinéma, once in 1A again in 3B: Une vague nouvelle (A New Wave). The citation in Histoire(s) 1A ‘begins’ with an engraving (1820-1824) by Goya of Saturn devouring his children to prevent them from usurping his power as he earlier had castrated and murdered his father Uranus in order that he could take power. The image is accompanied by the sound of machine-gun fire from the soundtrack of L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel. Superimposed upon the Goya image, as if coming from within it as a parade of shadows, are the Spanish partisans fleeing the machine-gun fire of the Nationalists.

It is difficult to specify beginnings or ends in Godard’s film whose strategies involve dissolves, superimpositions, flickerings, repetitions, juxtapositions between diverse levels and material. Every image and all sounds and writing in Histoire(s) are plural and overlaid, therefore subject to and made dense by multiple beginnings.

The flight of the partisans occurs after, not before, the cannon sequence. The image of Saturn devouring his children is displaced by the image of the partisans’ car approaching the cannon which, because the cannon is in the foreground and because the car is made small in the background, seems like a large mouth, like the mouth of Saturn, and the car, like one of his hapless children.

The scene is followed by Goya’s 1814 painting, The Fusillades of 3 May, an execution of Spanish prisoners in 1808 by Napoleonic French soldiers. That same painting is reproduced by Godard as a living tableau in his Passion (1981). (The Goya was a model for Manet’s 1869 painting, The Execution of Maximilian.) An image of Goya himself is superimposed on his 3 May painting, in turn followed by an etching of Rembrandt’s: The Descent from the Cross by Torchlight (1654). At this point the sounds of the machine-gun fire are replaced by bars of music from Hindemith’s Sonata for Viola n1 (1922). Over and above all these citations can be heard the voice of Godard speaking these lines:

Parce que l’écran n’est-ce pas la même toile blanche que la chemise du samaritain? Ce que retiendront les caméras légères inventées par Arnold et Richter pour ne pas être prises de vitesse par les cauchemars et le rêve ce n’est pas sur un écran qu’on le présentera mais sur un suaire…et si la mort de Puig et du Négus, la mort du capitaine de Boïeldieu, la mort du petit lapin ont éte inaudibles c’est que la vie n’a jamais redonné aux films ce qu’elle leur avait volé et que l’oubli de l’extermination fait partie de l’extermination.[41] 

Alongside the images, sounds and voice is the written title, La Guerre est là (The War is There), from Malraux’s L’Espoir repeated a number of times, that is, the Spanish civil war is the unnoticed rehearsal for a later, more vast and imminent war. The images that follow and keep company with the words by Godard are the intercut images of the partisans’ car racing toward the Nationalist cannon in Malraux’s films with two paintings by Uccello: Saint Georges and the Dragon (1460) and The Battle of San Romano (1456). Superimposed on the soundtrack of Godard speaking are a few repeated lines of an Italian Resistance song, “la violenza…la violenza” What follows are a series of intercut images of the flock of birds in the sky, of Malraux and a close-up of Ingrid Bergman from Sam Woods’ Spanish civil war film of 1943 based on the Hemingway novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and with the same title. The monologue by Godard then concludes to be followed by a reading of lines spoken by Garcia in Malraux’s L’Espoir as the three images continue to alternate of Malraux, Bergman and the birds.

Les communistes veulent faire, vous, et les anarchistes, pour des raisons différentes, vous voulez êtrequelque chose; c’est le drame de toute révolution comme celle-ci.

Les mythes sur lesquels nous vivons sont contradictoires, nous devons les ordonner, transformer notre apocalypse en armée ou crever, c’est tout.[42]

The ‘Malraux’ L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel sequence from Histoire(s) is a collage bundle of citations relating to civil war and artistic representations of struggles that devour its own children. And it relates to sacrifice (Puig and Negus, the partisans, the Goya and Rembrandt etching, the rabbits, Boieldieu, Christ, the attack on the children by the birds in Hitchcock’s The Birds). Insofar as it does, it pertains to the sacred, though a sacred that is not religious except that it shares in common with truly religious representations, for example, Byzantine icons, a divorce from the real world.

Godard’s collage is an exchange between artists and art works, as if together in the same place, as they are in Godard’s film, they speak to one another, exchange glances, in the House of Art: Goya to Uccello to Rembrandt to Malraux to Renoir to Rossellini to Hemingway to Hitchcock. The setting and the choice of participants are close to those present in Malraux’s world. Goya, Uccello, Rembrandt are central to his notion of the metamorphosis and transformation of painting by later works into an autonomous world of art. These artists, along with Piero della Francesca and Giotto, are precursors of Malraux’s idea of a distinct artistic world because their work is less illustrative of a reality than it is painterly and thereby discrepant to reality and a world of appearances. It is not that discrepancy which makes these paintings beautiful, but rather makes them sacred.

The collage-montage of the sequence is a means for bringing together unlikely combinations and though the glue that joins them seems to be the violence and sacrifice of war and civil war, the more permanent glue is their art that Godard reiterates since any ‘real’ reproduced in his montage is doubly distanced, a reproduction of a reproduction and fragment traces whose original context is literally left behind as the price for bringing anything at all forward and into the present, an extreme of metamorphosis. It is a lesson learned from Hitchcock whom Godard salutes in a lengthy sequence in Histoires(s) as one of the greatest inventors of form in the cinema for his ability to create forms of ordinary and innocent objects: keys, a glass of milk, a ring, a diamond necklace, a cooked egg, a windmill, a pair of spectacles, a rope.[43]

Godard’s film does not merely cite works of Malraux, Goya and Rembrandt, but takes its place alongside them. If, for Malraux, what is required of works for them to enter the sacred whose absolute is not God, but artistic forms, Godard’s Histoire(s) gains entry to the absolute (La Monnaie de l’absolu) by its departure from ordinary experience and its insistence on its own autonomy and self-sufficency and on the autonomous realm created by his film in which it is both context and document not despite the heterogeneity of its references and citations, but rather because of these.


In the second citation in Histoire(s) of the sequence of the car and the cannon from L’Espoir: Sierra de Teruel(3B: Une vague nouvelle), it is accompanied by images from Hitchcock’s The Lodger (UK 1926), The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca (1463-1465), Christ Insulted by Fra Angelico (1440-1441), a sculpted hand by Giacometti (1917) and an image of the back of two lovers holding hands in shadow before the Cathedral in Milan from De Sica’s Miracolo a Milano (Italy 1951). The sound over the images is from the Sanctus of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (1819-1823) and of sirens and machine-gun fire from the Malraux film. And Godard speaks a passage essentially devoted to Langlois in the midst of these images and sounds:

…invisible toujours, tel était notre cinéma et cela m’est resté, et Langlois nous le confirma. C’est le mot exact. Que l’image est d’abord de l’ordre de la rédemption attention, celle du réel nous fûmes donc, eblouis davantage que le Greco en Italia et que Goya, aussi en Italie et que Picasso devant Goya. Nous étions sans passé et l’homme de l’avenue de Messine [Langlois] nous fit don de ce passé métamorphose au présent en pleine Indochine en pleine Algérie et lorsqu’il projeta L’Espoir pour la première fois, ce n’est pas la guerre d’Espagne qui nous fit sursauter mais la fraternité des métaphores.[44]

Walter Benjamin

“Try to ensure that everything in life has a consequence.” This is without doubt one of the most detestable of maxims, one that you would not expect to run across in Goethe. It is the imperative of progress in its most dubious form. It is not the case that the consequence leads to what is fruitful in right action, and even less that the consequence is its fruit. On the contrary, bearing fruit is the mark of evil acts. The acts of good people have no ‘consequence’ that could be ascribed (or ascribed exclusively) to them. The fruits of an act are, as is right and proper internal to it. To enter into the interior of a mode of action is the way to test its fruitfulness. But how to do this? [45]

The majority of films, it can be said, have followed what Walter Benjamin calls “one of the most detestable maxims” that of Goethe’s “…ensure that everything in life has a consequence”. Films of this sort can be taken as the embodiment of the maxim of consequence insofar as the rationale of logical continuity is directed to what is represented (an illusion of life) and not to the images that create such continuity (an aesthetic question). The images of a film (almost in every case) are discontinuous and fragmented. The line of the plot, the story, the drama, the characters and their emotions function to mask, to the point of effacement, not only the gap between images, but, as a result of that gap, a far greater one between the images and what they represent. The illusion then presented (perpetrated?) by such films is twofold: the illusion of life in its representation (the false as true) and the illusion that its cinematic expression is continuous (a denial of the truth and of the reality of film).

It could be argued that Godard’s overwhelming care (mon beau souci) for montage is a care for film (an aesthetic concern) rather than a concern for the narratives it illustrates and the stories it tells. Insofar as this is true (and I believe it largely is), Godard’s work returns (like a boomerang or a catapult) to the earliest of films and to the essentials of its substance, namely, the discontinuities between and within images on the film strip. A narrative tradition was soon established in the cinema (Griffith was its first pioneer and earliest historical hero) whose object was to overcome the inherent discontinuity of cinematic expression by establishing an invisible continuity in which the theoretical logic of a narrative superimposed its own syntax over the true language of cinema, a syntax of that most detestable idea of consequence. Audiences were trained to forget the breaks between shots in order to reconstruct, through the succession of images, the linear evolution of a character or an action.

Over images from Godard’s Alphaville (France/Italy 1965), Fritz Lang’s Der mûde Tod (Germany, 1921), archive footage of a body being thrown into a pit (Aushwitz?), couples dancing and fragments of dialogue from Alphaville in 3B, Anne-Marie Miéville (I believe it is her voice) says “Le perspective fut le péché originel de la peinture occidentale. Niepce et Lumière en furent les redempteurs. Et quand j’admire un film on me dit: oui, c’est très beau mais ce n’est pas du cinéma. Alors je me suis demandé ce que c’était.[46] Perspective was a temporal ordering of space where everything along a receding line had its place and every place connected to every other on the line. Rather than painting being what it truly is, only surface, it became a narrative scene in a constructed depth. At the moment of the invention of photography (Nièpce) in the 1830s and of cinema more than a half century later in 1895 (Lumière), Western painting was already renouncing the historical heritage of painting centred on perspective. It reasserted instead its surfaces, lines, space, volumes, colours as independent of illustration and not its servant. Painting distanced itself thereby from theatre (the scene) and narrative (the story) and the fictions of culture (beauty) that it had expressed and to which it had been enthralled, to become itself. Modern cinema, of which Godard’s films are exemplary, is still undertaking the transformation accomplished by painting and literature more than a century ago.

Montage is not Godard’s invention. It has been an aspect of the cinema from its early beginnings, the great master being Griffith, and the great force the American cinema that codified, developed and institutionalised what Griffith had done for it to become the cinema. Nevertheless, montage is central to Godard’s work, but used differently, emphasising not continuity editing that effaces itself for the sake of dramatic effect, but rather editing that asserts itself to reveal and underline a material discontinuity and the opportunities it offers, in short, Godard’s montage proposes a new aesthetic, literally a new cinema in which a shot or a sound following another shot or sound consecutively is not by that fact a “detestable” consequence, but only succession and not logical motive, linear progress or dramatic necessity.

About halfway in 3B, is a black and white image of Sergei Eisenstein at his editing table and within that image, as if forcing itself to the surface, intruding, insinuating, is one in colour of Anna Karina’s head from Godard’s Une Femme est une femme (Italy/France 1961). It appears, impossibly, that the image of Anna Karina is the image that Eisenstein is regarding on the film strip. 3B (as is all of Histoire(s)) is made up of similar combinatories: Murnau and Eisenstein, Bresson and Godard, Jerry Lewis and Godard, Bergman and Jerry Lewis, Becker with Dreyer and Pasolini, God and Money, Abel Gance and Nicholas Ray, Truffaut and Demy, Daumier and the Nouvelle Vague, films and photographs, paintings and films, documentary and fiction, History and story (histoire). Such pairings, achieved by overlaps, fades, alternations, parallels, sounds from one place and images from another, two images as one based on the rhyme of a movement or a gesture or even subject as in the opening shot (shot?) of 3B, the Florentine episode from Rossellini’s Paisà (Italy 1946), Guido and the English nurse, running along a corridor in the Uffizi gallery and a similar movement of a women gliding along a corridor from Cocteau’s La Belle et la bête (France 1946). Such achievements are the work of a montage between and within shots that emphasise difference, distance, discord, an absence of continuity, an assault on totality, a disjointed, disjunctive logic, an anti-meaningfulness.

Une Femme est une femme is like a musical or as Godard remarked, “not a musical, but the idea of a musical.” It is so and all his films are so, like musicals, and in multiple ways. The musical, especially the American musical, try as it might to link its ‘numbers’ to a narrative, is a film of constant interruptions and intermezzi. Ordinary life and drama (as in opera) is seemingly underlined by an exaggerated expression that (magically?) intrudes as characters begin to dance and to sing, to perform, in short to break a narrative pattern and by so doing enhance the independence, the aesthetic pleasure of the number and its diversity from what it had interrupted in the drama. The number thus is not the consequence of an action, its fruit, but, to follow Benjamin, its fruitfulness is internal to itself, to its colour, rhythms, movement, joy (or sadness), energies and release. It is, to go back to the practices and roots of the original cinema, an “attraction”. And attractions, in order to be themselves, are disjunctive, independent of all that might surround them, and yet they are never so completely, not only do they rejoin with each other, other ‘numbers’, other ‘attractions’, but they reflect on the narrative, highlight it in its purity as artifice, invention, in short as formality, as aesthetic procedure.

Walter Benjamin on the theatre of Bertolt Brecht:

I remind you here of the songs, which have their chief function in interrupting the action. Here – according to the principle of interruption – Epic Theatre…takes up a procedure that has become familiar to you in recent years from film and radio, literature and photography. I am speaking of the procedure of montage: the superimposed element disrupts the context in which it is inserted. But here this procedure has a special right, perhaps even a perfect right…The interruption of action, on account of which Brecht described his theatre as ‘epic’, constantly counteracts illusion on the part of the audience.[47]

3B is concerned with the necessity (ethical) of the Nouvelle Vague, and with the contingency (historical) of that necessity, the necessity of a new aesthetic characterised by the idea of the shot as no longer in the role of an intermediary in a succession of shots, but instead, by the renunciation of transitions, explanations and motives, in order that it might become only itself, as if purified, saved by juxtaposition. It might seem that Godard is seeking the purification of the cinema by what appears as a negation of continuity and the interests it serves, beginning with the massive decontextualisation exemplified in Histoire(s) entirely (or almost entirely, or seemingly entirely) made up of citations, a cutting out of fragments from the totalities in which they once belonged.

The ‘disengagement’ of fragments either from other works or as shots serving explicative, logical relations to other shots, was not only purification, but liberation and not only of film, but of audiences (an institutional change) since the gaps so created were opportunities and the opportunities invitations to collaborate and form new combinations. Godard’s montage is based on disjunction but only initially. It is an ethical project, as Benjamin has reminded us.

Pretzel, Feather, Pause, Lament, Clowning

Such unconnected words are the starting point of a game that was very popular during the Biedermeir period.[48]  What you had to do was link them up meaningfully, without changing their order. The shorter the sentence and the fewer the intervening clauses, the more the solution was admired. This game produced the most wonderful discoveries, especially among children. To children, words are still like caverns, with the strangest corridors connecting them. Now, however, imagine this game being turned back to front: think of a sentence as if it had been constructed according to these rules. This would, at a stroke, give it a strange, exciting meaning for us. In reality, something of this perspective is contained in every act of reading. It is not just ordinary people who read novels in this way – that is to say, for the names or formulas that leap out of the text at the reader. The educated person, too, is constantly on the look out for turns of phrase or striking expressions, and the meaning is merely the background on which rests the shadow that they cast, like figures in relief. This is particularly apparent with texts that are regarded as sacred. The commentaries designed to serve such texts fix on particular words, as if they had been chosen according to the rules of the game and assigned to each reader as a task. And in fact the sentences that a child will compose from a group of words during a game really do have more in common with those in sacred texts than with the everyday language of grownups. Here is an example that shows how a child of twelve joined up some prescribed words: ‘Time sweeps through nature like a pretzel. The feather paints the landscape, and if a pause ensues, it is filled with rain. No lament is heard, for there is no clowning around.[49]


[1]  “Vandalism is to forget…” Eric Rohmer et Michel Mardore “Entretien avec Henri Langlois” Cahiers du cinéma n135 septembre 1962 p. 3.
[2] “Independently of the collection…a cinémathèque is a museum with a projection theatre…” Ibid. p. 21.
[3] For me, the cultural role of the cinémathèques consists in creating the future, because a cinémathèque is a museum of a living art, a museum not only of the past, but of the future.” Ibid. p. 23.
[4] Marcel Proust Du côté de chez Swann Paris: Librairie Générale Française 1992 pp. 121-124.
[5] Rassam was a producer of new films in France in the 1970s. He produced works by Robert Bresson, Marco Ferreri, Godard, Maurice Pialat, Roman Polanski, Dino Risi and Jean Yanne among others.
[6] In 1988, the Conservatoire merged with the Canadian Film Institute (CFI) to establish the Canadian Cinémathèque. The CFI was formed in 1950 growing out of the Canadian Film Society movement established in 1935 modelled on the film societies of Paris and London that had been founded in the mid-1920s.
[7] Jean Luc-Godard Introduction à une véritable histoire du cinéma Paris: Albatros 1980.
[8] André Malraux Les Voix du silence Paris: Gallimard 1956.
[9] Youssef Ishaghpour: “The possibility of archiving the cinema by video is like the possibility of archiving works of art by photography.” Jean-Luc Godard et Youssef Ishaghpour Archéologie du cinéma et mémoire du siècle Tours: Farrago 2000 pp. 30-31.
[10] Histoire(s) du cinéma contains many languages spoken and written. Besides French, there is Latin, English, German, Italian, Spanish. The subtitling is confined to the voice-over in French, sometimes, but not exclusively, spoken by Godard. There is some subtitling of dialogue in cited French films though this is not consistent, nor is the voice-over titling consistent since repetitions are often ignored and emphases and whisperings often neglected as are lyrics for French songs. None of the written titles are subtitled.
[11] In the first part of that Voyage was FaustRancho NotoriousLa Belle et la BêteL’Année dernière à Marienbad and Alphaville.
[12] After Langlois was reinstated his programmes of screenings became more conventional.
[13]  “This is why the Cinémathèque is so good. There you can see films pell-mell, a 1939 Cukor alongside a documentary from 1918.” Jean-Louis Comolli, Michel Delahaye, Jean-André Fieschi, Gérard Guégan “Entretien avec Godard” Cahiers du cinéma n171 octobre 1965, reprinted in Alain Bergala ed Jean-Luc Godard parJean-Luc Godard v1 1950-1984 Paris: Cahiers du cinéma 1998 p. 268.
[14] “…Henri Langlois has given every twenty-fourth of a second to release all those voices from their silent obscurity and project them on the white sky of the only museum where the real and imaginary finally meet.” “Grace à Henri Langlois” Le Nouvel Observateur n61 12 janvier 1966, reprinted in Alain Bergala ed Jean-Luc Godard par Jean-Luc Godard v1 1950-1984 Paris: Cahiers du cinéma 1998 p. 283.
[15]  André Malraux Le Musée imaginaire Paris: Gallimard 1965. The first edition of the essay appeared in 1947; a second edition formed the first part of Malraux’s Les Voix du silence published in 1951. The 1965 edition is a reworking of the original essay.
[16]  Philippe-Alain Michaud, Aby Warburg et l’image en mouvement Paris: Éditions Macula 1998.
[17] Moving Images.
[18] Journey to Utopia.
[19] Philippe-Alain Michaud, Le Mouvement des images Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou 2006. See also his Sketches: Histoire de l’art, cinéma Paris: Kargo & Éclat 2006.
[20] Images Despite Everything.
[21] Jean-Luc Godard “Montage mon beau souci” Cahiers du cinéma no65 décembre 1956.
[22]  “For me History is the work of works, if you like, it encompasses everything. History is the name of the family; there are the parents and the children, there is literature, painting, philosophy…History, shall we say, is everything together. Thus the work if it is well done reveals History…It seems to me that History could be a work of art.”
[23]  André Malraux The Voices of Silence New York: Doubleday 1953 pp. 87-88, 92-97, 112-113 and his Le Musée imaginaire Paris: Gallimard 1965 p. 87.
[24] Walter Benjamin “Little History of Photography” in Michael W Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith eds Selected Writings v2, part 2 1931-1934 Cambridge: Belknap Press 1999 p. 526.
[25] After the Second World War, Malraux renamed the film L’Espoir, the same title as his 1937 novel. We will refer to the film by its original title, Sierra de Teruel to distinguish it from the novel.
[26]  Requoted in John J Michalcyzk André Malraux’s Espoir: The Propagandist/Art Film and The Spanish Civil War Oxford: University of Mississippi Romance Monographs 1977 p. 124.
[27]  Ibid. p. 134.
[28] See Jean-Claude Larrat introduction, “Présentation”, to André Malraux Esquisse d’une psychologie du cinéma Paris: Nouveau Monde 2003 p. 13. Malraux’s Esquisse was written in 1939, first published as an essay in Verve n8 1940. It was the last of four essays on the Psychology of Art that Malraux undertook in 1935. The other essays, all of which appeared in Verve, were “La Psychologie de l’art” (n1 décembre 1937), “Psychologie des Renaissances” (n2 mars 1938), “De la représentation en Occident et en Extrême-Orient” (n3 juin 1938). See pp. 6-7 of Larrat’s “Présentation”.
[29] Jean-François Lyotard Soundproof Room: Malraux’s Anti-Aesthetic Stanford University Press 1999 pp. 66-68.
[30] See the fascinating study of the Cultural Front in the United States by Michael Denning The Cultural Front London: Verso 1997.
[31]The Republican government provided 100,000 French francs and 750,000 pesetas. Michalcyzk op cit. p. 29.
[32] La nave bianca (1941), Un pilota ritorna (1942), L’uomo della croce (1943).
[33] Uomini sul fondo (1941), Alfa Tau! (1942), Marinai senza stelle (1943).
[34] Roma città aperta (1945), Paisà (1946), Germania anno zero (1947).
[35] Jean-François Lyotard Signed Malraux Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1999 p. 180.
[36] Ibid. pp. 189-190. C.J. Greshoff has written extensively on Malraux, Eugène Ionesco and on André Gide to whom he was particularly close.
[37]André Bazin “André Malraux” Le Cinéma français de la Libération à la Nouvelle Vague Paris: Cahiers du cinéma 1998 p. 228. “…the aesthetic of Malraux is based on a selection of discontinuous moments. The continuity of the narrative is intentionally broken.”
[38]André Malraux “Anti-critique” in Martine de Courcel ed Malraux: Life and Work New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1976 p. 224.
[39]André Malraux The Voices of Silence New York: Doubleday 1953 p. 89.
[40] Ibid. p. 124. See also his Le Musée imaginaire Paris: Gallimard 1965 p. 86 and his Esquisse d’une psychologie du cinéma Paris: Nouveau Monde 2003 p. 42.
[41] Because the screen is it not the same white canvas as the Samaritans shirt? What the lightweight cameras invented by Arnold and Richter preserve in order not to be outdone by nightmares and dreams will not be shown on a screen but on a shroud…and if the deaths of Puig and of Negus, the death of Captain Boieldieu, the death of the little bunny have been inaudible it is because life has never returned to films what it stole from them and to forget extermination is part of extermination. [Puig and Negus were Spanish Resistance fighters who were killed during the civil war in Spain; Boieldieu was the upper class Captain in Renoir’s La Grande illusion (1938) who sacrificed himself so that Maréchal and Rosenthal might make their escape. The ‘little bunny’ are the rabbits slaughtered during the hunt in Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (1939). These deaths, for Godard, were all signs of a coming war and disaster, but “inaudible”.]
[42] The communists want to do something, you, and the anarchists, for different reasons, want to be something. It is the drama, like this one, of all revolutions.
The myths by which we live are contradictory, we need to put them in order, transform our revelations into an army or die. There is no other alternative.
[43] The salute to Hitchcock by Godard is a citation from a study of Hitchcock by Claude Chabrol and Éric Rohmer Hitchcock Paris: Éditions Ramsay 2006 p. 134. “Et Hitchcock….est l’un des plus grands inventeurs…de formes, que l’écran ait connu.”
[44]…our cinema was always invisible and so it was for me and Langlois confirmed it. It is the right word. The image above all belongs to the order of redemption. We were more amazed than El Greco was in Italy and also than Goya was in Italy that Picasso came before Goya. We were without a past and the man of the Avenue Messine [Langlois] gave us this gift of the past metamorphosed in the present during the war in Indochina, during the war in Algeria. And when he projected L’Espoir for the first time it was not the war in Spain that struck us but the fraternity of metaphors.
[45] Walter Benjamin Try to Ensure that Everything in Life Has a Consequence (1932) Selected Writings v2, part 2, 1931-1934, Cambridge: Belknap Press 2005 p. 686.
[46] Perspective was the original sin of Western painting. Niepce and Lumière were its redeemers. And when I admire a film, I am told: “Yes, it is very beautiful, but it isn’t the cinema.” I then ask myself, what was it.
[47] Walter Benjamin The Author as Producer (1934) in Selected Writings v2, part 2, 1931-1934, Cambridge: Belknap Press 2005 pp. 778-779.
[48] An aesthetic style of the first half of the nineteenth century in Germany particularly related to design: furniture, porcelain, fabrics, architecture.
[49] Walter Benjamin Thought Figures (1933) in Selected Writings v2, part 2, 1931-1934, Cambridge: Belknap Press 2005 pp. 726-727.

Created on: Wednesday, 1 October 2008

About the Author

Sam Rohdie

About the Author

Sam Rohdie

Sam Rohdie (1939 – 2015) was Professor of Cinema Studies in the Department of Film at the University of Central Florida. He has held the Chair in Film Studies at The Queens University of Belfast and before that was Professor of Film Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He also held academic posts in universities in England, Ghana, Italy and the United States and was an original member of the Cinema Studies Program at La Trobe University, Melbourne. Sam was the editor of Screen in the United Kingdom from 1971 to 1974. His work was widely published in academic film journals and books. His books include Antonioni (1990), Rocco and His Brothers (1993),The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1996), Promised Lands: Cinema, Geography, Modernism (2001), Fellini Lexicon (2002), Montage (2006) and Film Modernism (2015).View all posts by Sam Rohdie →