While Daniel Morgan’s fantastic 2012 book Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema devotes a significant portion of its pages to Histoire(s) du Cinéma, Michael Witt’s Jean-Luc Godard: Cinema Historian offers a book-length study of this singular work, filled with color still frames and images, in what’s unquestionably the most comprehensive English-language examination of Godard’s endlessly complex work of video historiography.
Such comprehension doesn’t solely result from close readings, however, as Witt goes to extensive lengths to tease out the theoretical, historical, and even autobiographical details which enveloped Godard during the film’s construction. In taking his study to these lengths, Witt probes the ontology of Godard’s work, suggesting the film as a work of film history, above all else. That is, Witt seeks to legitimate Godard’s role as a cinema historian, even at the expense of elevating him as a “cinema poet,” as has often been the claim. Godard, himself, rejects the notion that Histoire(s) du Cinéma is an “audiovisual poem,” and has remained insistent that his work is more concerned with the intersection of poetry and history, rather than being exclusively a work of either. Witt carefully examines Godard’s claims in this regard, the film’s use of montage, and even Godard’s vehement hatred for television (he once referred to it as “absolute evil”) as a means to move past simply an identification of references within the film and toward a polyvalent illumination of Godard’s multifaceted intentions.