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Cinema: The Archaeology of Film and the Memory of A Century [Paperback]

Jean-Luc Godard , Youssef Ishaghpour , John Howe

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Book Description

March 31 2005 Talking Images
Cinema is quite simply a unique book from one of the most influential film-makers in the history of cinema. Here, Jean-Luc Godard looks back on a century of film as well as his own work and career. Born with the twentieth century, cinema became not just the century's dominant art form but its best historian. Godard argues that - after Chaplin and Pol Pot, Monroe and Hitler, Stalin and Mae West, Mao and the Marx Brothers - film and history are inextricably intertwined. Godard presents his thoughts on film theory, cinematic technique, film histories, as well as the recent video revolution. He expounds on his central concerns - how film can "resurrect the past," the role of rhythm in film, and how cinema can be an "art that thinks." Here Godard comes closest to defining a lifetime's obsession with cinema and cinema's lifelong obsession with history.

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From Publishers Weekly

The most prolific and relentlessly experimental of the French New Wave directors, Godard (b. 1930) broke decidedly with the Hollywood narrative tradition (while simultaneously absorbing its entire history), seeking out a "thinking" form that would speak to and cultivate a critical audience able to join in exposing life's socially and ideologically constructed conventions, including those in the cinema form itself. This quest achieved a sublime end in Godard's Histoire(s) du cinéma, a provocative four-part made-for-television collage of overlaid and treated images, film clips, texts and sound that excavates both the history of cinema and the role of cinema as an inextricable part of modern history. Ironically, the film, said by some to be his masterpiece, is difficult to come by. But even without seeing it, a reader appreciates how its layered, self-referential character makes an ideal basis for the wide-ranging discussion between Godard and French art scholar Ishaghpour that is collected in this volume. Of all the interviews with Godard out there, this is one of the few that reads like an intellectual coffee klatch. Sharp and suggestive points come amid Ishaghpour's ponderous historical-philosophical formulations, as do teasingly half-formed ideas or insights. Cinéastes happy in this rarefied discourse, however, may be frustrated by how little text is actually devoted to Godard's words. Much of the book's material, including its chapter headings, derives from ideas introduced by Ishaghpour, whose accompanying essay expands on what he's brought out in the "interview."
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Review

"[Godard]'s also as independent and provocative as ever, as illustrated by this collaboration with Ishaghpour, which results in a spirited dialog between the men that ranges freely among such subjects as cinema, history, art, music, literature, and philosophy, concentrating in particular on multiple definitions of history and their implications for cinema and the status of cinema as an art." --Library Journal
Praise for Godard's Cinematic Work:
"The greatest living cinematic artist, the wisest, most transformative, most original agent provocateur at work in the fields of cinema? The short answer: sans doute. Godard is to his medium what Joyce, Stravinsky, Eliot, and Picasso were to theirs: rule-rewriting colossi after whom human expression would never be quite the same."--Village Voice

"It's possible to hate half or two-thirds of what Godard does--or find it incomprehensible--and
still be shattered by his brilliance."--Pauline Kael

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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A total misrepresntation representation (A JLG admirerer) June 4 2005
By Michael Jay Sullivan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This small book of dialogues between Godard and Youssef Ishaghpour is, to put it mildly, a total rip off. In their dialogues Godard furnishes us with no more than 20 pages of

comments to Ishaghpour's exceedingly lengthy comments and questions. After just viewing Godard's excellent new film, "Notre Musique" this was a real "downer." The mention of the Archaelogy of Cinema in the the subtitle and "The Gaze" as a chapter title led me to believe this would have a tint of the the thought of the great french social philospher Michel Foulcault (he is mentioned once or twice).

I thought a good interviewer is supposed to evoke meaningful responses from his subject. Ishaghapour doesn't let- or Godard doesn't want to- get more than a few sentence reponse in.

Another annoying element to this borderline fraudelnt presentation is that the Amazon description gives the impression this is significant tratise on Godard's thoughts on the twentieth century's political and cultural events. Rather Ishagapour is given a forum for his thought and his interpretations of Godard. Worse still, Godard doesn't even

display his critical acumen or irreverance and is led like a lamb by his interviewer,

I'm not saying that Ishaghapour doesn't have some worthwile comment's plus an article at the end of the book. But wasn't this supposed to be about JLG- duh?

I sincerely hope I am wrong. I'm definitely sending this one back. Come on now. How dumb do the publishers think we have become to think that this book is anything but a misuse of the master's name.

There are some intereting testimonials by major figures and institutions on the back of this book by "The Village Voice," Pauline Kael...but none refer to this book.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deceptive Sept. 12 2005
By jon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very quickly- I also bought this for Godard's comments. I would'nt have spend so much for such a brief book otherwise. Strangely almost all of Godard's comments are cut short(lots of ......after his coments). The editor (of the fine journal Trafic) is almost always quoted in total. Also, I found Ishagapours comments predictable. I lost my interest in post structuralist & post colonial theory years ago. Once the post Baudrillard,Virillo, Lyotard generation starts writing it seems "prewritten":all the comments seem no more than illustrative of the various theories assumptions. Godard speaks/writes impressionistically with brilliance. It's a style of writing attacked by the critics who praise his work. Impressionistic writing (also derided by conceptulists like Kosuth earlier) I think allows for novel insights. It's too bad a dazzling impressionist is truncated by a self absorbed editor. Any interview where the subject has 1/5 th space of the interlocutor is odd indeed. Worth buying if you love Godard and can afford so much for only a few pages.Godard's comments get 5 stars. If you can read French there is a brilliant volume of Godard on Godard featuring more recent writings(than the earlier English language volume). Why it is'nt translated is a mystery to me. Why texts like this are instead is also a mystery.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lack of narrative structure a problem for fans of Godard? May 4 2009
By Charles Holden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Shopping for Christmas presents in a book store in the Latin Quarter, I remember leafing through a collection of the century's best photographs as taken by the French Associated Press. In the collection was a shot taken not long after the end of the Second World War, its subject a group of protestors marching in the Paris streets. Together holding a banner in lead of the march were a group of young and well-known French film stars. The cause of their protest was the encroaching American studio system, which, by locking in distribution rights in the lucrative French market, was consequently eliminating jobs for French actors. Their banner indicated the importance of preserving French culture. How surprising, I thought, to view this evidence of perceived Americanization appearing some 60 years ago.

As French cinema culture developed over the coming years, American films remained common fare (though native film made up the bulk of titles) for the French, who would use their own critical standards to judge the successes and failings of Hollywood. As the French New Wave took root in the fifties, the auteurs associated with the movement set out to break Hollywood conventions, and financially supported by the Gaullist government, managed to reclaim for France some of the cultural ground previously held as lost to the studio system. While not overly successful on a commercial level, the French New Wave helped establish cinema as a recognized medium for art, and gave breath to cinematic criticism.

It follows that Jean-Luc Godard, preeminent auteur and co-founder of the French New Wave, is among the best-qualified voices to comment on a century of cinema, to probe its root elements and map its future trajectories. Since the days of Godard's breakthrough À bout de souffle, he has been recognized as a cinematic pioneer, his critical vision already articulated in the Cahiers du cinéma, those blueprints of the New Wave, which he edited. Now, in a conversation with keen critic Youssef Ishaghpour, Godard attempts to get at the artistic potential of audio-visual media. These elucidating conversations draw on the entire canon of film as they critique Godard's own art, a recent project of incredible density entitled Histoire(s) du Cinéma. Cinema: The Archaeology of Film and the Memory of a Century is ostensibly a companion to this difficult and difficult-to-locate series in which Godard once again pushes the accepted boundaries of the cinematic medium.

Histoire(s) du Cinéma remains unavailable in the U.S. due to the nature of the work, which layers image upon image, often combining the overlay with text (in French) slogan-like admonitions or references to cinema, literature, and popular culture. Though almost impossible to translate, an abbreviated version of Histoire(s) has made its way onto screens in a select few American fine arts museums. However, even if you never have the chance to see the work (I count among my friends only one lucky viewer), it remains in many ways remarkable to glimpse in the readily available paperback version of Cinema, Godard's unfolding vision, his preconceptions and limits, and his constant challenges to the current and long-established commercial hierarchy.

Setting out to read Cinema can be slightly jarring at first, as the book is laid out in the form of a conversation between artist and critic. For fans of Godard, however, a lack of narrative structure is presumably not a problem, and Ishaghpour does an excellent job shepherding the conversational flow toward key ideas, probing the sometimes recalcitrant Godard on significant points. As in such chapters as "Only Cinema Narrates Large-scale History by Narrating its own History," the dialog plunges into some depth, "excavating", in this case, various historical traditions to get at cinema's unique societal commentary. Ishaghpour and Godard point out the strange reciprocation between the history that frames film and the film that frames history:

"YI: You say Italian cinema is the identity of Italy, because Italy's new identity was formed at that time, formed in the Resistance.

"JLG: In the French Resistance as it really was, they were all men and women. I'd rather say boys and girls because they were all very young. They all had lovers or sweethearts. None of that exists for historians; they don't mention it. You don't imagine things like that in daylight; only cinema could do it. There must have been betrayals, jealousies, stuff like that. But for historians none of that exists, so it's pretty weird history they write about..."

As in any extended and authentic conversation, Cinema contains the occasional non sequitur, and the spontaneity and verbal nature of the exchange occasionally make for some challenging reading. But the main attraction of the book is revealed in its ideas, which repay rereading with a rare profundity. Godard and Ishaghpour go back and forth at the significance of philosophic and poetic tradition to cinema, playing devil's advocate to history and each other in wondering what a transcription to film of various thinkers might be like. Ishaghpour plays a strong counter-balance to Godard and is unafraid to challenge his ideas or probe the validity of his contentions.

"YI: These days there's no discussion between philosophers, painters, or writers...

"JLG: It's because of television and computers. It's the triumph of Edison, because Edison wanted cinema for one person at a time, while Lumière...All those philosophers, it's a pity they didn't make cinema... Deleuze was tempted, but instead of making a film, he wrote `a book about'...

"YI: Oh come on, that's not how films are made. Deleuze could never have made films. You don't cobble yourself into a philosopher or film maker just like that, it takes years and years of work, and gifts as well.

"JLG: But he could have collaborated...

"YI: But the results of such a collaboration would have been appalling! There's no shortage of examples...."

Godard contends that the French make the best critics, because they're so argumentative, a statement that would be tough for anyone who isn't French to find a counterpoint to, at least on the basis of this book. Though questions often lead to more questions, the arguments made throughout the book are generally well-formed, salient, and accessible. Picking Godard's brain, and gaining a window into his art, is a real pleasure and one that will necessarily lead to further investigation of the artist's striking statements. Ultimately, Cinema is a rigorous and timely discussion that will appeal to artists of all stripes, especially those interested by the development of film's perspective, technique, and idealistic spirit. However, if you are looking to agree with everything you read, I would suggest that Hollywood studio execs might further peruse.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real dialogue June 19 2005
By Franck Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
All along his life, Jean-Luc Godard has looked for interlocutors, partners. The form of the speach, discourses and specifically dialogues (exchanges, dialectics, maieutic...) is a seminal research in his work and his global practice. Several of his best films are only dialogues, as "France Tour Détour" to name only one. But he rarely met people who dare to act as full interlocutors, not as disciples or as simple fans. Ishagpour, a very acurate, cultivated, elegant French-Aegyptian critic, expert on Welles and modern cinema, is one of these rare persons, and the result is excellent.

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