A film by Thom Andersen
2015, 108 minutes
No. 020

Described in an opening text as a “personal history of cinema, partially inspired by Gilles Deleuze,” The Thoughts That Once We Had from master cinematic essayist Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself, Red Hollywood) is a richly digressive journey through cinema.

A found-footage film composed entirely of unidentified, yet often recognizable, film clips and concise intertitles written by Andersen, Thoughts leaps associatively, like Deleuze, across a vast territory spanning from Griffith to Godard, using dynamically cinematic images and sequences not to explain, but to embody Deleuzian ideas in all their rich ambiguity and nuance. Andersen strikingly avoids his now signature voiceover, instead assembling synoptic flash frames and lengthy sequences into a rhythmic and meditative experience designed to engage a thinking and emotional viewer, one not necessarily versed in Deleuzian theory. Indeed, some of the most powerful moments in the film are personal intertitle statements that break from clearly Deleuzian themes, most strikingly to give lasting emotional resonance to images of war and destruction, North Korea, and Hiroshima, with Andersen at one point interrogating and expanding upon Hiroshima Mon Amour.

These are moments that ask the viewer to reconsider the historic tragedies of the age of cinema as “moving images” in all senses of the term. Like Deleuze, Andersen’s infectious cinephilia is a love for cinema—a life in cinema—and is grounded in an ethical and philosophical understanding of film that describes a clear trajectory across all of his major films.

Official Selection, CPH: DOX

“One of the most important cinematic essayists of our time.” - Artforum

Critic's Pick! "A deeply personal, cheekily digressive dance through most of movie history. Even if you don’t recognize the majority of the unidentified clips assembled here, or the quotations that divide and guide them, the fascination they exert is all their own... The film's emphasis on movement and emotion, music and humor, reminds us repeatedly that when the lights go down, the heart lifts." - The New York Times

"A don't-miss-t cine-essay beguilement. An elliptical, non-chronological, sometimes hilarious, sometimes shocking, and always puzzling montage of scenes spanning a hundred years. Andersen's restless yet scholarly methods are contagious: He makes you want to become more well-rounded." - Village Voice

“A wordless, associative, haunted journey – sometimes rueful and sobering, sometimes very funny – not just through the history of cinematic innovation, but through the 20th century itself. What makes Thom Andersen’s work so potent and enduring is not just its formal control and analytical acuity, but its passionate belief that, against the odds, cinema can be a tool of imaginative restitution.” - The Guardian

"Indeed, like Godard, Andersen offers us not just an alternate history of cinema, nor a historiography (as in Los Angeles Plays Itself), but at his best a philosophy of film history. Even when it lays bare some of cinema’s more vulgar tendencies, it exhibits a stirring faith in the medium and its ability to inspire new thought-images." - Brooklyn Rail

“Powerful… Incisive… As in his prior films, there’s a joy to be had in simply watching the clips unfold and comment on each other.” – Notebook