For the past four decades, Jean-Luc Godard has pursued a sustained investigation of the theory and practice of audiovisual and multimedia history. At the heart of this project lies one of his most ambitious and significant achievements to date: the monumental, labyrinthine film history series Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1999). This is simultaneously a set of essays on the history of cinema and television; on Godard’s life, and his place within that history; on the history of cinema in the context of the other arts; on the history of film-thinking; on the history of the twentieth century; on the interpenetration of cinema and that century; and on the impact of films on subjectivity. It is also a critique of the longstanding neglect by historians of the value of films as historical documents, and a reflection on the narrow scope and limited ambition of the type of history often produced by professional film historians. In developing his idiosyncratic historiographic method, Godard drew on a number of key guides, including Jules Michelet, Charles Péguy, Walter Benjamin, Élie Faure, Fernand Braudel, Emil Cioran, Henri Langlois, François Jacob, Georges Duby, and André Malraux. This paper sets out Godard’s theorisation of the relationship between cinema and history, and goes on to examine his debt to and dialogue with three particularly significant figures on this list: Péguy, Braudel, and Malraux.
Michael Witt is Reader in Cinema Studies and Co-Director of the Centre for Research in Film and Audiovisual Cultures at the University of Roehampton. He has published in journals such as Screen, Trafic, New Left Review, and Sight and Sound, and has curated film seasons at Tate Modern, BFI Southbank, and the Ciné Lumière. He is the co-editor of For Ever Godard (Black Dog Publishing, 2004), The French Cinema Book (British Film Institute, 2004), and Jean-Luc Godard: Documents (Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2006), and the author of Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian (Indiana University Press, forthcoming 2013). He has recently contributed an introduction to the first publication in English of a series of lectures on cinema and history that Godard delivered in Montreal in 1978: Jean-Luc Godard, Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television (Caboose, forthcoming 2013). He is currently researching recent documentary filmmaking in France, and is preparing an expanded second edition of The French Cinema Book for the BFI.
Contact: Dr Michael Witt ([email protected])