A Short History of Cahiers Du Cinema

Jonathan Romney writes:

The history of Cahiers, as recounted by Emilie Bickerton, might be imagined as a series of ‘as if’ wagers: if a critical position can be taken through argumentation, its premises might become truths.

The magazine was effectively founded, in 1951, on just such an ‘as if’, with critics writing as if films – not just self-evidently artistic statements, but also seemingly disposable Hollywood genre movies – could be taken as seriously as classical tragedy. And by doing so, these critics proved it was so. They wrote as if Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Nicholas Ray et al were as sophisticated and as consistent in their styles, worldviews, personal ‘signatures’ as, say, William Faulkner – and thanks to Cahiers, few cinephiles would today think of disputing that. They were, however, less successful in their wager in the 1960s and 1970s, at the height of modern French radicalism, that film criticism should be written ‘as if’ it could transform real-world politics. The moment passed and they retreated, after which Cahiers underwent what Bickerton regards as a long and ignominious decline.

(LRB 24 September 2009)

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