Film and Philosophy


published on March 6, 2021

Steven G. Smith

Historical Realization in Godard’s Histoire(s) Du Cinéma

Based on a bold equation of cinema with history, Jean-Luc Godard’s essay-film Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1988–1998) provokes new thoughts about what historical understanding involves and how cinematic revelation can happen. This paper discusses how Histoire(s) engages conventional standards of historical understanding while also taking us into uncharted depths of historical realization, examining the undeniable historical evidence presented in the film (mainly documenting the content of Hollywood and European films along thematically suggestive lines), undismissable insights into relations among historical data, and possibly valid judgments of historical truth (notably that cinema failed in its essential mission by not filming the Holocaust). Reaching for non-obvious connections, Godard risks misleading decontextualization of his materials. But by stocking our minds with pertinent film selections, new treatments of those images, and various writers’ musings he draws us into his quest for a practically decisive realization of the significance of the recent history of our civilization.