Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma is an allusive, operatic video collage of film clips, still photographs, on-screen text, and images of the filmmaker and other performers. This cascade of visuals is matched aurally by a profusion of narration, sound bites, and musical passages, mixed in with other sound devices. Harnessing an array of editing strategies and optical effects, Godard has created a subjective essay born out of his disappointment with cinema’s inability to effect profound revolutionary change and save the world from horror. The theme of Histoire(s) is the death of cinema, and Godard’s analytical use of video to synthesize images from the entire history of the medium results in a requiem for the indelible power of film over our collective subconscious. The French word histoire means both “story” and “history,” and so the work’s title, with its parenthetical “s”, can be read as The History of Film, Histories of Film, The Story of Film, or Stories of Film.
The full cycle of Histoire(s), which is composed of four two-part chapters made over the course of ten years, set a standard for the future of video. Godard had been attracted to the medium since the early 1970s. Because of its flexibility—it lends itself readily to radical editing—he felt that video was closer to writing than celluloid film, and because of its relatively low cost and easy distribution he considered it a more democratic medium. Histoire(s) du cinéma, though rarely screened, is a towering achievement and the artist’s most passionate self-portrait in image and s
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019).
Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma is a video collage of film clips, still photographs, on-screen text, and images of the filmmaker and other performers; its theme, Godard professed, is the death of cinema, with his analytical use of video to synthesize images from its history acting as a kind of requiem for the indelible power of film on our collective subconscious. It is effectively an essay on the filmmaker’s disappointment with cinema’s failure to save the world from horror and lead to profound revolutionary change. The full cycle, comprising four chapters (in eight parts) and completed in 1998, set artistic and technological standards for the future of video, a medium that Godard considered more democratic than celluloid and that he had been attracted to and exploring since the early 1970s. Histoire(s) du cinéma, a rarely screened achievement, remains the artist's mostpassionate self-portrait in image and sound.
Gallery label from Contemporary Galleries: 1980-Now, November 17, 2011-February 17, 2014.