Is Film Art or History?

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Is Histoire(s) du Cinema a history of the cinema? Histoire(s) du cinema is not a conventional film that gives you a narrative to follow, and this creates a problem and even distaste to some on their first viewing. Histoire(s) merely edits films, cited images, and sounds from outside sources in which Godard brings these together into an unlikely combination, a kind of madness, that seems to make no sense(Histoire(s) du cinema)[1]. “It’s a reconstruction of film, where it reshapes images and sounds” in an innovative way to gather and present a history or histoire of film in a new way. It relives the history of film in such a way that raises questions about how a film on history should be. Every representation in the film is a citation to another film. It functions as a kind of archive, where films and images are stored up to be recalled on by an action, event, object, or  thought(Rohdie 1)[2].

In French “Histoire” can be translated as both “History” and “Story”. Histoire(s) du Cinema presents the argument that the cinema is both art and a history. One might say the cinema is the only art form in the history of the world that exists as a living ghost(Keller 1)[3]. The people in these films will come and go, but their story will live forever. This film is not a history alone, but a history in which contains all the films of the cinema, all of the films that have been made, will be made, and that could have been made.

The Film is heavily constructed and manipulated by using montage editing. The Flicker effect is also used by Godard in this film. A good example of it is after you hear Godard’s electric typewriter banging out the titles, then to a close-up on the reel of the editing bay, through which hundreds of feet of film speed then halt. The swift alternations between two clips of film, one fading into another and back give off a flicker effect(Keller 2)[4]. This type of manipulation just adds to the huge amount of montage editing used in this film. The Juxtaposition of the images in this film is more important than in a narrative story. These images show the pure form of movement within the art of film.

Histoire(s) du Cinema asks where the cinema fits into history. The fragments of this film ask to examine where the cinema went wrong, but how it can possibly go right. How film failed to respond to the outside history, the stories are always told from the winners point of view. Godard uses montage editing to bring these images into his film, and it asks more questions than it answers. Histoire(s) du Cinema gives you a history of the cinema, but not in a chronological order, more like a brain, when you begin to think you pull all the images from a story, but they are not always in the correct order. This is how the history of cinema is presented in this film, but never the less it’s a history of the cinema. It’s “the only one that has so completely brought the cinema and its procedures into view and consciousness(Rohdie 2)[5].”

What relations are poised between past and present in Viaggio and in Vertigo? These two films share similar relations between experiencing the past and present. Both Katherine and Scottie go on journeys and things that happen in the present that bring up events, images, or even people from the past. These moments bring the protagonist closer to self-awareness, and further the bond between the past and present. Both films take you from the present to the past, then back again.

In Viaggio In Italia, an English couple, Alex and Katherine Joyce, drive down to the Neapolitan coast to settle an inheritance of a house left to them by their Uncle Homer. When Katherine begins to read the novella The dead, there is a moment when her memories come to the surface in the film. “The juxtaposing of two worlds separated by time and space. She is reminded of a poet she was possibly in love with, Charles Lewington, who was ill and ended up dying of tuberculosis(Rohdie 3)[6].” She is in the present calling up the past and the past is reflecting back on the present.

An example from the film, throughout the film Katherine is on a voyage to study ‘Italy’. We as the audience discover ‘Italy’ with her, sharing the experience. The film takes her to all the obvious sightseeing attractions: famous sculptures, catacombs, to Pompeii. These are things of the past, in which make Katherine recall on more of her memories(Viaggio)[7]. These memories provoked self-awareness about her and began to disrupt and bring jealousy into her marriage with Alex. When you find the couple at a religious festival at the end of the film, where people are being healed all around them, and their own marriage is on the verge of destruction. The film seems to proceed toward the inevitable breakup, but offers no guarantee that the couple’s problems have been resolved, “one might say that the film never really ends: it just stops(Wood 1)[8].”

In Vertigo, it opens to a chase at night on the rooftops of a building in San Francisco, which leads to Scottie suspended above the building hanging on to a gutter. While a police officer tries to help, he falls to his death(Vertigo 1)[9]. This scene you face two realities, one where there is a chase and the death of a police officer. That in turn gives way to the second reality that Scottie has a fear of heights. This is where the film gets its name, Vertigo.

Just like the opening scene the film continues to play with more than one reality, the past and the present. Hitchcock metamorphosis one thing into another then back again, (Just like in Viaggio, when Katherine would experience something in the present that triggered something in the past) “realities into images, events into emotions, duplications and changes of identities, imitations of appearance, and the past in the present. But the one transformation that is used to give the film its richness is the constant play of objectivity and subjectivity until the subject becomes the object and the fictional becomes reality(Rohdie 4)[10].”

A good example of this transformation is the relation to Scottie and the characters Judy/Madeleine/Carlotta while in reality they are all the same women. “This plays with abstract forms and becomes to dissolving every reality(Rohdie 4)[11].” Who is Judy/Madeleine/Carlotta? It presents itself with the relation between past and present because all these women are the same person, just at different times. Scottie desires the image of Madeleine, but it’s a false reality, Madeleine is only an image of a woman he loved, that Judy portrayed.

After, Madeleine faked her own death, Scottie runs into Judy shortly after. He soon begins to desire her to dress like Madeleine, and notices she looks awful close to that image he so desires, but he doesn’t know that Judy once played that role. Then once Judy ventures back into the past, to become Madeleine once more, to reproduce herself and to bring back the dead she changes reality again(Vertigo 2)[12]. This going back resonates between these two films, where one reality is quickly changed by the present to bring back memories of the past that thrust you back into the present. In Viaggo, its places and a novella that make her recall on the past that give her insight on the present. And in Vertigo, it’s an image of a woman, portrayed by Judy. These show the relation between the past and present in Viaggio and in Vertigo.

Are The End of St. Petersburg and October ‘History’ films? Both films were officially commissioned by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in order to honor “the Bolshevik completion of the Russian Revolution.” And actually, both of these elaborate productions were shot simultaneously in the city to dramatize the triumph of the masses. Even at one point, Pudovkin’s crew was bombing the palace from the Aurora battleship, while Eisenstein’s team bombed it from the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul on the opposite side(Keser 1)[13]. These two films were in close competition with one another to best show the “Russian Revolution, but they are like fairy tales with their morality and object lessons engineered to teach”, not ‘History’ films. Though these two films “display immense artistry and are very inventive”(Rohdie 5)[14], this gives them a huge spot in film history, and Russian Film history.

These films truly highlight some of the best examples of Soviet cinema. The nation’s film industry, which was fully nationalized throughout most of the country’s history, was guided by philosophies and laws propounded by the monopoly Soviet Communist Party which introduced a new view on the cinema. Socialist realism, they used this type of art form that realistically depicts subjects of social concern, in a way to make realistic art. Dziga Vertov’s newsreel series Kino-Pravada, the best known of these, lasted from 1922 to 1925 and had a propagandistic edge. Vertov used the series to promote socialist realism. These newsreels and documentaries, were often used in the early Soviet cinema to promote socialist views(Socialist Realism)[15]. “In The End of St. Petersburg, and in October, the peasants learn that happiness is in unity, common effort and obedience to the national needs and Communist ideology(Rohdie 6)[16].” This example explains how these films were influenced by its country to promote their national needs.

In The End of St. Petersburg, “Pudovkin has these great mob scenes(The End of St. Petersburg 1)[17], though obviously staged for ultimate dramatic impact are so persuasive that they have frequently been excerpted for documentaries about the Russian Revolution, and are accepted by some impressionable viewers as the real thing(Erickson 1)[18].” Though it’s a great achievement for Pudovkin to manage such a feat, his intentions were for dramatic impact, not make it actual history, even if people accept these excerpts as real.

In October, Eisenstein utilizes montage to glorify the power of the masses(October)[19], but in Pudovkin’s film he preferred to concentrate on the courage and resilience of individuals. Does manipulation of history, count as a history film. Eisenstein believed that editing could be used for more than just explain a scene or moment, through a linkage of related images. He felt if you could mesh the shots together it could be used to manipulate the emotions of the audience and create film metaphors. That an idea should be derived from the juxtaposition of two separate shots, bringing an element of collage into film, what he called “methods of montage” (Eisenstein)[20]. These two powerful films, celebrate the Russian Revolution of the Bolshevik, and the courage that those individuals faced every day.

What is the difference between Proces De Jeanne D’Arc, the Bresson film, and La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc, the Dreyer film, in their construction of the historical past? Bresson was born in France, 1901. His early life seems to have left a huge mark on this film, which shows his influences in Catholicism, art, and his experiences as a prisoner of war. He is often remembered for his infamous ‘actor-model’ methods of directing, where he almost exclusively used non-professional actors. This ‘actor-model’ technique, requires the actor to repeat multiple takes of each scene until all semblances of ‘performance’ were stripped away, leaving a stark effect that registers as both subtle and raw, something not often found in the cinema(Bresson)[21].

Bresson’s Proces De Jeanne D’Arc is considered a historical film. There are no stars or professional performers, and is filmed in an extremely spares, restrained style that is often found in Bresson’s films. The screenplay is drawn from the transcripts of the trial and rehabilitation, and is often compared to Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne D’Arc, because they both draw on the same material to construct the historical trial of Jeanne.

Carl Dreyer is Danish, and was born in 1889. La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc was his first film made in France. France in the 1920’s was the world capital of avant-garde ‘modern-art’ in all areas: music, painting, film, photography, theatre, dance and poetry. Some say his film can be related to paintings of Paul Cézanne and to early Cubist works of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. In particular, the Cubists painters, had a number of characteristics evident in La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc.(Rohdie 7)[22]

Cubist used in their works many different materials in addition to paint: stencils, paper, oil-cloth, cardboard, tin, collages, also sand and sawdust: and they combined techniques, such as, pencil with oil-paint, oil and gouache. “Dreyer’s actors did not use makeup and by using a combination of harsh lighting, angularity of framing, and held close-ups , there is a sense of reality, presence, and the actual flesh is stressed on his actors(Rohdie 7)[23].”

Dreyer’s film, is primarily shot in close-ups. So to make her emotions register fear, uncertainty, loneliness, and abandonment. What’s important to Dreyer is as much the speaking, as it is the emotions on the faces of his characters, to dramatize. Added that the film has few locations, such as: the cell, torture room, court room, outside, and the stake. However you never witness the whole location, and “the juxtaposition is in a sense brought together in a series of abstract and odd relations(Rohdie 8)[24]” rather than in a more classical or Hollywood approach. This makes the film much more of an abstract film than Bresson’s, Proces De Jeanne D’Arc.

“Bresson’s film is a contradiction to Dreyer’s film. Bresson’s, Jeanne is seen in extreme detail, but is seen expressionless, much more difficult to interpret. Even, small objects in Dreyer’s film, are filled with emotion, and importance, though Bresson’s they are neutralized, given no added importance.” Jeanne in this film “could also be stated as predestined, and has accepted her fate(Rohdie 8)[25]”. But Dreyer’s, Jeanne is more dramatic and less predictable, and her fate is not as certain, even if you know the ending.

One key difference between the two films is how different the role of Jeanne is portrayed. Dreyer’s, Jeanne, was trained in dramatic expression, to react and weep. She is often trying to impersonate the original Jeanne, to express what she might have felt during these trials. As Bresson’s, Jeanne never tries to impersonate, but merely recite the lines. The Character never attempts to know Jeanne D’Arc or pretend to know her. This is what Bresson’s goes for, to present the trial of Jeanne D’Arc in as much of a neutral way as possible. He gives you the trial with no attempt to dramatize it, whereas Dreyer’s film dramatizes the whole trial, almost to demand emotion. These two films tell the same historical story, but in two very different ways.

 

Bibliography

 

Histoire (s) du cinema. Dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Perfs.  1978-1990. DVD.

Viaggio in Italia. Dir. Roberto Rossellini. Perfs. 1953. DVD.

Vertigo. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perfs. 1954. DVD.

October. Dir. Sergei Eisenstein. Perfs. 1927. DVD.

The End of St. Petersburg. Dir. Vladimir Pudovkin. Perfs. Alexander Christiakov, Vera Baranovskaya, Ivan Chuvelev. 1927. DVD.

The Passion of Joan of Arc. Dir. Carl Dreyer. Perfs. 1928. DVD.

The Trial of Joan of Arc. Dir. Robert Bresson. Perfs. 1962. DVD.

Rohdie, Sam(1). “Worksheet 2”. UCF. 2009.

<http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheettwo.htm&gt;. 2, December 2009.

Rohdie, Sam(2). “Worksheet 5”. UCF. 2009.

<http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheetfive.htm&gt;. 3, December 2009.

Rohdie, Sam(3). “Worksheet 7”. UCF. 2009.

<http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheetseven.htm&gt;. 3, December 2009.

Rohdie, Sam(4).  “Worksheet 8”. UCF. 2009.

<http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheeteight.htm&gt;. 3, December 2009.

Rohdie, Sam(5). “Worksheet 13”. UCF. 2009.

<http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheetthirteen.htm&gt;. 3. December 2009.

Rohdie, Sam(6). “Worksheet 17”. UCF. 2009. <http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheetsixteen.htm&gt;. 4, December 2009.

Rohdie, Sam(7). “Worksheet 18”. UCF. 2009.

<http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheetsixteen.htm&gt;. 4, December 2009.

Rohdie, Sam(8). “Worksheet 19”. UCF. 2009.

<http://historyucf.webs.com/worksheetsixteen.htm&gt;. 4, December 2009.

Keller, Craig. “Jean-Luc Godard”. 2003. Senses of Cinema.com. 1999. 2, December 2009. <Http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/godard.html>.

Wood, Robin. “Viaggio in Italia”. 2007. Filmreference.com. 2007-2009. 3, December 2009. <http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Tw-Vi/Viaggio-in-Italia.html#ixzz0YdvYY3QO&gt;

Erickson, Hal. “The End of St. Petersburg.” 2000. Allmovie.com. 1995. 3, December 2009.

<http://www.allmovie.com/work/end-of-st-petersburg-15807&gt;

Socialist realism. “Socialist Realism Wikipedia.” 26 November 2009. Wikipedia.org. 2001.

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_realism&gt;. 3 December 2009.

Eisenstein, Sergei. “Sergei Eisenstein Wikipedia.” 28 November 2009. Wikipedia.org. 2001.

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Eisenstein&gt;. 3 December 2009.

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