‘Chris Marker dislikes making personal appearances (at film festivals and such things) and he has a policy about not doing interviews. It’s as if, deep down, he felt he had a better chance of being understood or recognised by the cats and the owls. And these days, knowing the kind of inflated public persona that film-makers seem required to absorb along with mother’s milk or their first cocaine, you could begin to get the notion that Chris Marker is just some mysterious if ideal figure, a hope or a dream more than an actual person.
‘He is often credited with conceiving the cinematic essay form, with which such disparate filmmakers as Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jon Jost, Chantal Akerman, Wim Wenders, Harun Farocki, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Jonathan Demme, Abbas Kiarostami, Nanni Moretti, Terry Zwigoff, and Agnès Varda have had varying degrees of success. Film school textbooks and books on film history have arrived at a general agreement to treat any French filmmaker working outside of (or alongside) the French New Wave as secondary: exclusions include Jacques Tati – who, like so many other giants in the medium, worked on a wave of his own design – and the filmmakers who belonged to the Left Bank group. While one normally pictures such Cahiers du Cinéma graduates as Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer when discussing the French cinema of the late ‘50s and early-to-mid ‘60s, there also existed the Left Bank directors, who, according to Richard Roud, included three people: Agnès Varda, Alain Resnais, and Chris Marker.
‘La Jetée is Marker’s best-known work, thanks to 12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995), which adapted its premise to suit a 129-minute movie with high-profile stars (Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe) and a 29 million dollar budget. The original film is much more modest, obviously, but also much more graceful. Clocking in at 28 minutes, La Jetée is one of the strangest movies ever conceived, and also one of the most beautiful and sad. It’s made up almost entirely of black and white still photographs, depicting the events of the narrative. (There is one single, haunting exception – the woman, in repose, fluttering her eyelids open.) These stills are governed by a third-party narration – the only voice we hear – as well as music, and sound effects.
‘I’m of the mind that art can make the world a better place, that it can create a fertile environment for the human mind to evolve in its sense of self, its environment, and its place in the global culture, and I don’t think it’s naïve to suggest that there are certain great works of art that should be viewed as tainted goods if they in any way promote destructive ways of thinking and acting, like racism, colonialism, sexism, and the preservation of ignorance. How unusual is it, then, that Chris Marker has that rare quality that doesn’t make him more than a journalist as it makes him more of a journalist than his colleagues – the ability to find, extract, reflect upon, and use as the binding element of his theses, the elusive poetic quality, the vital force, of the persons, places, and things he sees.’ — Jaime N. Christley, Senses of Cinema
Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory: Chris Marker Official Website
image = text: transcriptions of Chris Marker’s films
JG Ballard reviews ‘La Jetee’
The Wexner Center’s Chris Marker Store
Chris Marker Section @ Strictly Film School
Chris Marker Page @ MUBI
Chris Marker @ Peter Blum Gallery, NYC
Chris Marker Pages @ Vertigo
‘The Business of Mourning: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and Level Five’
‘Phenomenon’, a text by Chris Marker
Catherine Lupton’s ‘Chris Marker: Memories of the Future’
A short documentary about Chris Marker
Tour of a 2007 art exhibition by Chris Marker
Very rare sighting of Chris Marker in a Wim Wenders film
A look through Chris Marker’s ‘La Jetee’ book
Cinema, photo-novels, CD-roms, video installations – is there any medium you haven’t tried?
Chris Marker: Yes, gouache.
Does the democratization of the means of filmmaking (DV, digital editing, distribution via the Internet) seduce the socially engaged filmmaker that you are?
CM: A necessary caution: the “democratization of tools” entails many financial and technical constraints, and does not save us from the necessity of work. Owning a DV camera does not magically confer talent on someone who doesn’t have any or who is too lazy to ask himself if he has any. You can miniaturize as much as you want, but a film will always require a great deal of work – and a reason to do it. That was the whole story of the Medvedkin groups, the young workers who, in the post-’68 era, tried to make short films about their own lives, and whom we tried to help on the technical level, with the means of the time. How they complained! “We come home from work and you ask us to work some more. . . .” But they stuck with it, and you have to believe that something happened there, because 30 years later we saw them present their films at the Belfort festival, in front of an attentive audience. The means of the time was 16mm silent, which meant three-minute camera rolls, a laboratory, an editing table, some way of adding sound – everything that you have now right inside a little case that fits in your hand. A little lesson in modesty for the spoiled children of today, just like the spoiled children of 1970 got their lesson in modesty by putting themselves under the patronage of Alexander Ivanovitch Medvedkin and his ciné-train. For the benefit of the younger generation, Medvedkin was a Russian filmmaker who, in 1936 and with the means that were proper to his time (35mm film, editing table, and film lab installed in the train), essentially invented television: shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show it the next day to the people you filmed (and who often participated in the editing). I think that it’s this fabled and long forgotten bit of history (Medvedkin isn’t even mentioned in Georges Sadoul’s book, considered in its day the Soviet Cinema bible) that underlies a large part of my work – in the end, perhaps, the only coherent part. To try to give the power of speech to people who don’t have it, and, when it’s possible, to help them find their own means of expression.
Do you prefer television, movies on a big screen, or surfing the Internet?
CM: I have a completely schizophrenic relationship with television. When I’m feeling lonely, I adore it, particularly since there’s been cable. It’s curious how cable offers an entire catalog of antidotes to the poisons of standard TV. If one network shows a ridiculous TV movie about Napoleon, you can flip over to the History Channel to hear Henri Guillermin’s brilliantly mean commentary on it. If a literary program makes us submit to a parade of currently fashionable female monsters, we can change over to Mezzo to contemplate the luminous face of Hélène Grimaud surrounded by her wolves, and it’s as if the others never existed. Now there are moments when I remember I am not alone, and that’s when I fall apart. The exponential growth of stupidity and vulgarity is something that everyone has noticed, but it’s not just a vague sense of disgust – it’s a concrete quantifiable fact (you can measure it by the volume of the cheers that greet the talk-show hosts, which have grown by an alarming number of decibels in the last five years) and a crime against humanity. Not to mention the permanent aggressions against the French language. . . . And since you are exploiting my Russian penchant for confession, I must say the worst: I am allergic to commercials. In the early Sixties, making commercials was perfectly acceptable; now, it’s something that no one will own up to. I can do nothing about it. This manner of placing the mechanism of the lie in the service of praise has always irritated me, even if I have to admit that this diabolical patron has occasionally given us some of the most beautiful images you can see on the small screen (have you seen the David Lynch commercial with the blue lips?). But cynics always betray themselves, and there is a small consolation in the industry’s own terminology: they stop short of calling themselves “creators,” so they call themselves “creatives.”
And the movies in all this? For the reasons mentioned above, and under the orders of Jean-Luc, I’ve said for a long time that films should be seen first in theaters, and that television and video are only there to refresh your memory. Now that I no longer have any time at all to go to the cinema, I’ve started seeing films by lowering my eyes, with an ever increasing sense of sinfulness (this interview is indeed becoming Dostoevskian). But to tell the truth I no longer watch many films, only those by friends, or curiosities that an American acquaintance tapes for me on TCM. There is too much to see on the news, on the music channels or on the indispensable Animal Channel. And I feed my hunger for fiction with what is by far the most accomplished source: those great American TV series, like The Practice. There is a knowledge in them, a sense of story and economy, of ellipsis, a science of framing and of cutting, a dramaturgy and an acting style that has no equal anywhere, and certainly not in Hollywood.
17 of Chris Marker’s 62 films
La Jetee (1962)
‘Viewers emerge from Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), a film made almost entirely of still photographs, marked for ever by its imagery yet somehow unsure exactly what they have seen. It is a film that mines deep seams of memory, but whose surface, though hardly forgettable, remains enigmatic in retrospect. After almost half a century, it is still hard to say what Marker achieved in his masterpiece. On the face of it, the half-hour film ought to be easy to précis, because its futuristic plot is familiar to the point of banality. (In Twelve Monkeys, Terry Gilliam’s hyperactive “remake” of La Jetée, it’s only the clichés that remain.) In the aftermath of a nuclear war that has destroyed his native Paris, a prisoner is dispatched across time to secure the resources that the present lacks. Chosen for his attachment to a childhood memory – the image of a man shot dead on the observation pier at Orly airport – he spirals inevitably back to that moment, which is revealed as the scene of his own death.’ — Brian Dillon
w/ Pierre Lhomme Le Joli Mai (1963)
‘In “Le Joli Mai,” Marker and Lhomme offer longer interviews than those in “Chronicle”; they present a wider range of characters, in more varied circumstances, and they delve more deeply into the expressly political aspects of their participants’ daily lives. They make more explicit reference to such significant and shocking events as a police massacre, on February 8th of that year, of anti-O.A.S. protesters. The filmmakers’ intervention—whether by way of editing, titles, or voice-overs (spoken by Simone Signoret and Yves Montand)—is more modest, more recessive. Yet Marker and Lhomme made a more determined, more doctrinaire film. When they question stockbrokers, they seem to restrain themselves from pushing the camera into their teeth; when they speak with a priest who has become a factory worker and a Communist, there is a virtual halo over his head; when they speak with three unemployed women, or a sentimental soldier and his young fiancée, their sympathy and their tenderness blend with pity.’ — Richard Brody
‘1967 was also the year an important strike broke out at Rhodiaceta, a textile plant owned by the Rhone-Poulenc trust in the city of Besançon, France. The strike was unusual in character because the workers refused to disassociate the industrial conflict from a social and cultural agenda. The workers’ demands concerned not only salary and job security, but also the very lifestyle imposed on them by society. So it was only natural that Chris Marker, along with other technicians and members of SLON, would visit Besançon to document the strike, and the lives and attitudes of the workers. The film’s most important moments are composed of conversations with workers and their wives. They believe the working class is increasingly at the mercy of a system that gives them no power, a system that would like them to remain powerless. And so it was that their local demands grew into questions about the larger political system.’ — Icarus Films
Puisqu’on vous dit que c’est possible (1973)
‘In 1973, after the failure of wage negotiations with the management of the Lip factories, the workers decided to take over the factory and take over the work in self-management.’ — IMDb
the entire film
A Grin Without a Cat (1977)
‘One of the most towering and extraordinary films to grace the screen! Staggering in its depth and scope. The subject at hand is how, in the sixties, the ‘universal standard of civilization’ assumed from the fifties began to collapse. The war in Vietnam – that ‘nation placed at the convergence of the world’s contradictions’ – was the watershed, and Marker skillfully and hauntingly depicts its effect. He goes on to show the many civilian-police battles throughout Europe; the revolution within the revolution in Asia, South America, and Czechoslovakia; the space between the police and union stewards into which the French Left rushed in May ’68; the assassination of princes (Che Guevara) and the deposing of kings (Richard Nixon); and those Cheshire Cats commonly known as politicians who cannot explain why what was in the air never quite materialized on the ground.’ — Pacific Film Archives
Sans Soleil (1983)
‘It would take a book to unravel all the strands of Marker’s work. He’s a master editor, and his images and sequences rush by propulsively, often with playful connections: Japanese girls dancing; rituals for the repose of the souls of broken dolls and later for broken scraps of things; prayers for departed animals at a Tokyo zoo followed by a giraffe being clumsily shot in Africa; Krasna attempting to get women of some African islands to gaze back at his camera as he records them; a sequence of faces that stare out at the viewer from Japanese television. In one spectacular sequence, Marker edits footage of a Japanese train, a cartoon of a train, and video-treated images of samurai, horror, and sex films that isn’t just a virtuoso display but a key to perception.’ — Henry Sheehan
‘Chris Marker plans the question in the future and imagines a television news of 2084 for the anniversary of the second centenarian and three possible scenarios: the grey hypothesis, that of the “crisis”, ” a fearful society which hums and gives itself false safeties in the hope of a balance always questioned “; the black hypothesis, ” a world where technique took the place of ideologies “; the blue hypothesis, finally, that of the dream and the imagination.’ — Art Torrents
‘A.K. is a French documentary film directed by Chris Marker about the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Though it was filmed while Kurosawa was working on Ran, the film focuses more on Kurosawa’s remote but polite personality than on the making of the film. The film is sometimes seen as being reflective of Marker’s fascination with Japanese culture, which he also drew on for one of his best-known films, Sans Soleil. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.’ — Wiki
The Owl’s Legacy (1989)
‘Chris Marker’s epic series The Owl’s Legacy is neither a deeply ‘auterist’ work nor a brilliant piece of Cinema. It is, plainly, the documentation of a thirteen-part symposium on Ancient Greece enabled by the Onassis Foundation and conceptualized by Marker. However, the amount of ground it covers and the number of new directions it opens up for us to think about cotemporary politics, science, culture, law, economy and art (specifically, cinema) makes it one of the richest works of criticism that I’ve come across.’ — The Seventh Art
The Last Bolshevik (1992)
‘One of the major essays of Chris Marker–which automatically makes this one of the key works of our time–this remarkable video (1993) is provisionally about his friend and mentor, the late Soviet filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin (1900-1989), in the form of six video “letters” sent to him posthumously. More profoundly, this is about the history of Soviet cinema and the Soviet Union itself, about what it meant to be a communist, about what these things mean now…. Eloquent and mordantly witty in its poetic writing, beautiful and often painterly in its images, this is as moving and as provocative in many respects as Marker’s Sans soleil (1982), which places it very high indeed.’ — Jonathan Rosenbaum
Le tombeau d’Alexandre (1993)
‘This documentary tells the story of film director Aleksandr Medvedkin, throughout his life a sincere believer in communism, whose films were repeatedly banned in the Soviet Union. Modern Russian film students express their excitement at seeing his film HAPPINESS for the first time, and his contemporaries shed light on his life and work.’ — IMDb
Level Five (1997)
‘If Level Five, originally released in 1996, could be reduced to essentials, the pungent, bracing ingredients of its perfect Crème de la Chris Marker recipe would include: virtual realities and the immaterial figurations of the Internet, the fateful Battle of Okinawa in 1945 (as concrete history, as disremembering, and as a potential video game), mass suicide and cultural dictation (vis-à-vis the shifting meanings of “sacrifice”), a fable-like tale behind David Raksin’s composition of the theme from Laura, a terrifying bullfight (two bulls roped together head to head, goaded on by grunting trainers), tourists guided through the bunkers of Okinawa like chattering lemmings, Yves Klein blue horizons, computer- generated voices reminiscent of Alphaville and Stephen Hawking, prophetic networks of knowledge and (dis)information, masks/avatars draping counterfeit skin over old ceremonies, grainy footage of women jumping off cliffs like people leaping from the Twin Towers…’ — Howard Hampton
One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch (1999)
‘Master documentary filmmaker Chris Marker directs this loving tribute to the late great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, who made such classics of art cinema as Andrei Rublev (1966) and The Sacrifice (1986). The film opens with documentary footage of the tearful reunion between the director and his son, after the latter finally got an exit visa from Soviet officials. Though he was ailing from the cancer that would eventually kill him, Tarkovsky cheerfully talks with his family while drinking champagne. Relying on Marker’s lyrical commentary, the film juxtaposes sequences of Tarkovsky on his deathbed, footage on the set of The Sacrifice, and material from his many films.’ — allrovi.com
‘Thus, every self-portrait (unlike autobiography which even when it resorts to a myth such as that of the four ages, is limited to an individual’s memory and to the places where he lived) ceases to be essentially individual except, of course, in a purely anecdotal sense. The writing machine, the system of places, the figures used – everything in it tends towards generalization, whereas the intra-textual memory, that is, the system of cross-references, amplifications, and palinodes that supplants a memory turned towards ‘remembrance,’ produces the mimesis of another type of anamnesis, which might be called metempsychosis; it is, at any rate, a type of archaic and also very modern memory through which the events of an individual life are eclipsed by the recollection of an entire culture, thus causing a paradoxical self-forgetfulness.’ — Michel Beaujour
the entire film
Remembrance of Things to Come (2001)
‘Remembrance of Things to Come may sound from its title like a cute turn on Proustian concerns, but it is actually a haunting examination of another photographer’s work, a body of pictures that Marker seems to conclude reflect the parallel existence of past and future in much the same way he earlier proposed via sci-fi parable. Marker sees Denise Bellon (whose daughter Yannick Bellon co-directed this film with Marker) not quite as a photojournalist, not quite as a documentarian, not quite as an aesthetician. ellon’s work coincided not only with her association with the rise of surrealism, but also the false sense of social and political lull that assuaged Europe between the two World Wars. Marker thoroughly mines her photography for all the ethnographic, artistic, historic and philosophical merit it’s worth, and if the sensory results are, typical of Marker, more difficult to explain than most other films, the implications he suggests (without ever actually outright pushing) have an intimidating clarity.’ — Slant Magazine
Leila Attacks (2007)
‘LEILA ATTACKS is at once a parody of the faux gigantism of blockbuster PR and a morality tale (it’s tempting to say allegory) of a surprising turnabout in power relations. It is not without self-parody either, as one of the Soviet-meets-grunge style opening titles declares Chris Marker “the best-known author of unknown movies.” It seems Marker’s “farewell to movies” lingers on, ever more whimsical, practically aphoristic.’ — blindlibrarian
the entire film
Pictures at an Exhibition (2008)
‘Cinema’s best known film essayist is still alive and kicking, at age 88, living quietly in Paris. Chris Marker’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a walk through a gallery of his photoshopped détournements commenting on art and world history. This is, of course, poles apart from agitprop. The combination of rich and affectively engaging imagery (with a kind of cross-historical hyperlinked quality), subtle humor and light-footed pacing, sutured together with Pärt’s delicately uplifting music, moves me into the kind of heartfelt meditative space the Buddha would approve of — as if we’re walking alongside Paul Klee/Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, in a space capsule hovercraft scanning its monuments, but with humor and gentle compassion and curiosity, coming so close to the bodies lying on the battlefield we can touch them, feel their breath, and maybe give them some solace with our touch.‘ — Immanence
p.s. Hey. ** H, Hi, h. Thanks. It’s quite an antique post from long ago, so it’s quite possible you never saw it. Glad to hear you’re happy through all of that. Me too, similarly. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. It’s too lengthy and boring to explain, but I inadvertently caused the erasure by entering the blog through an old bookmark that very strangely caused the blog to save at the time of the bookmark, erasing everything that came after. I’m told there’s about 1 in a 1000 chances that could happen, but, sure enough, it happened to me. I sometimes wish I found ‘Performance’ more interesting than I do. ** Keabton, Confounded me, technically. Well, that is great news! And you’re headed beachward or are even plunked down on the sands right the fuck now! ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks. Hopefully everything is sorted now. Well, excellent about the Cerith Wyn Evans honor. And nice, and not entirely surprising, that the Mike Kelley related talk was fascinating. I’m seeing a recreation of a performance Mike made in collab. with Franz West at the Pompidou next week. Cold and desolate, yum. Great luck with the homework and the work. ** Steve Erickson, Like I said, the last two days’ posts were denuded of comments and p.s.es and reverted to drafts for some hours there. Strange goings on. Seeing Slayer in a seated auditorium situation sounds completely weird, but I think they’re playing an all-seated venue here when they get here. Look forward to your review. Everyone, Mr. Erickson’s treat for you this weekend is a review of the Syrian documentary OF FATHERS AND SONS. ** Dominik, Hey, D! No, my cold has turned worse and I’m suffering, but I’m guessing/hoping it’ll run its course by weekend’s end. So I hope to join you in the mild ending phase of my illness any second, although I think my fade out will be sniffling rather than coughing. Due to said cold, I had to take a break from the TV script, but I have to restart today no matter what. Initial drafts of the first two episodes are finished, and now it’s on to the third. Interesting, yes, your restlessness. I’ll definitely be curious to hear what ends up sating it. I know of ‘The Wire’, and everybody always says it’s so great, but I’ve never watched it. I think I was already in my non-TV watching phase by then. My weekend will depend on how I feel. TV work pretty much for sure. I’m going to see a lecture by the American theorist Avital Ronell on Sunday, and I’m excited about that. Might finally see the new Claire Denis movie, which my cold has kept me from doing. Probably not a wildly inventive weekend, but I hope yours is! See you on Monday indeed! ** Corey Heiferman, Thanks. I think everything is okay here now, but we will see. That Eliza thing looks most curious. I’ll check it out in depth, thank you. Yeah, leave that baggage in the States. A giant move like yours to there or mine to here is too golden of a remake/remodel opportunity to merely sip from. Or something. (Head cold). You don’t need to pitch me a syllable further because I would really love a guest-post from you about Scott Ross. Fascinating! At your convenience. Thank you so much! ** Misanthrope, I’m the opposite. I started with CD-rom games and didn’t go console until CD-roms were pretty much dead. In fact, I really wanted to make a CD-rom game. I even had my agent make queries for me. But it never happened, thank god, because it would have been dead as a doornail by the time it came out. Like I said up above, I apparently innocent caused the blog problem by some fluke. Presumably it’s back to being the usual very glitchy place again. Hope you get beaucoup sleep this weekend, bud. ** Okay. This weekend is given over to the great, great Chris Marker, occasioned by my recently having rewatched his film ‘Level Five’, which is in the post and is super great, as are pretty much all of his films. Anyway, enjoy the ride. See you on Monday.