Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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Tombeau Chris Marker

I would like to thank Etienne Sandrin for sending this photograph of Chris Marker’s gravesite in the Montparnasse cemetary. He wrote on April 2, 2014: “We have put – last Monday – Chris’s ashes in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris.”

chris-marker-grave-main

Christian BOUCHE-VILLENEUVE dit Chris MARKER 29.7.1921 – 29.7.2012

Christian Bouche-Villeneuve dit Chris Marker 29.7.1921 - 29.7.2012

Here is a link to the pdf map of the Cimetière du Montparnasse, and below an image (click to enlarge). Guillaume stands at his master’s spot.

Emplacement_Montparnasse-resize

I have also made available a printable pdf of another excellent photograph taken by Laurence Braunberger of Films du Jeudi. Many thanks to Laurence.

Chris Marker Tombeau taken by Laurence Braunberger

The maneki-neko (Japanese: 招き猫?, literally “beckoning cat”) is a common Japanese figurine (lucky charm, talisman), usually made of ceramic in modern times, which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner. The figurine depicts a cat (traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw… The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat, or fortune cat in English.Source

Chris Marker postcard, Roma 1956, card 5 of 15
Roma, 1956, Chris Marker postcard series, v.Zona5/15

April 5, 2014  9:11 am   3 Comments

Etienne Sandrin & Catherine Belkhodja to Perform Chris Marker’s Le Dépays

Lecteurs : Etienne Sandrin, Catherine Belkhodja
Musique Live : Rainier Lericolais – Piano : David Sanson
Texte et photos : Chris Marker

10 Avr. 2014 : 20h | Grand auditorium, Collège des Bernardins

Etienne Sandrin and Catherine Belkhodja

Disparu l’été dernier à 91 ans, Chris Marker demeure une figure majeure de la modernité depuis les années cinquante. Dans son œuvre immense, il y a, outre maints films marquants (La Jetée, Sans Soleil, Level five, Chats Perchés) des pièces multimédias, des photographies, des collages, ainsi que des livres.

Parmi ceux-ci, Le Dépays, presque introuvable aujourd’hui, est un livre de photos et de textes consacrés au Japon, dans lequel, selon les mots de Marker, le texte ne commente pas plus les images que les images n’illustrent le texte.

En accord avec l’artiste, Etienne Sandrin a mis en place une version scénique de ce livre, qui a été présentée au Japon en 2012. Il s’agit d’une lecture à deux voix, qu’il présentera à Paris avec Catherine Belkhodja, actrice pour Chris Marker notamment dans Level Five et Silent Movie. La lecture s’accompagne d’un ‘slide show’ des photos du livre, ainsi que du piano et des sons – enregistrés à Tokyo – retravaillés en direct par Rainier Lericolais, compositeur et plasticien.

Une belle – et interdisciplinaire – manière de célébrer ce grand artiste, qui n’a cessé de remuer dans son travail des questionnements essentiels…www.collegedesbernardins.fr

Desceased last summer at age 91, Chris Marker remains a major figure of modernity since the fifties. In his immense work, there are, in addition to many memorable films (La Jetée, Sans Soleil, Level Five, Chats Perchés), multimedia pieces, photographs, collages, as well as books.

Among these, Le Dépays, almost unfindable today, is a book of photos and texts devoted to Japan, in which – in the words of Marker – the text comments on the images as much as the images illustrate the text.

In agreement with the artist, Étienne Sandrin has implemented a stage version of this book, which was presented in Japan in 2012. The piece is a reading for two voices, which he will present in Paris with Catherine Belkhodja, actress for Chris Marker notably in Level Five and Silent Movie. The reading is accompanied by a slide show of photos of the book, as well as piano and sounds recorded in Tokyo, reworked live by Rainier Lericolais, composer and visual artist.

A beautiful – and interdisciplinary – way to celebrate this great artist, who has continued to stir in his work some very essential question(ing)s…

ledepays

April 4, 2014  9:44 am   6 Comments

Image Indexing: High Speed Scan of Remembrance of Things to Come – Fandor

Warning: Semi-heavy rock and roll soundtrack with crunchy guitars.

This presentation of post-metabolic image indexing is best viewed by your subliminal senses, or your android enhancements if you have connections at the Tyrell Corporation, where a watchful AI owl presides over the spacious dystopic empire of terraced architecture and vast wealth. We are several years in the future of that future, and Fandor has scanned Chris Marker’s Remembrance of Things to Come for our viewing pleasure. The accompanying article, “Chris Marker’s Image Index: As Europe’s grasp on the early 20th-century globe tightens into a death grip in REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS TO COME”, offers a review of his “last work” that is also well worth reading.

This video essay attempts to give a sense of his strategy in organizing hundreds of Bellon’s images into a narrative. As the name most associated with the essay film, Marker is celebrated for having a free-flowing, discursive narration that seems to generate insights on the fly. But by speeding this film up to 14x normal speed and noting the thematic phases that guide his movement through the photographs, one gets a sense of how he pieced together Bellon’s oeuvre to construct both a story of her life and an image collage of modern dystopia.Kevin B. Lee

On another page at Fandor, we find a cogent summation of the film:

Fascinated with the effect of photography on memory (and on the future), Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon look at the work of Bellon’s mother, photojournalist Denis Bellon in this, one of Marker’s final film essays. With a title reminiscent of Marcel Proust’s tome on memory, REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS TO COME uses Bellon’s journalism from 1935-1955, to prove her images of the first post-world-war phase forecast the second. Bellon’s friendship with the Surrealists lends her a unique relationship to the history of recording through images. Despite the paradoxes and puns elegantly expressed by narrator Alexandra Stewart, photography remains prosperous, “used to refresh failing memories or convince nonbelievers.” Some images, this film posits, accomplish more.Sara Maria Vizcarrondo

March 23, 2014  2:17 pm   1 Comment

Rick Poynor Reviews Chris Marker’s Commentaires

Commentaires 1The Design Observer Group published an excellent review by Rick Poynor of Marker’s two volume Commentaires yesterday. The article explores the books, now out of print and – as noted in the article – exceedingly hard to find, from the perspective of book design.

Marker was an editer at Editions du Seuil for part of his career, and was responsible for the innovative design of the Petite Planète series. He brought this expertise to the making of his own books, which are characterized by customized layouts and a dialogic juxtaposition of text and image.

These characteristics are of course the basis for the essay film as well. While he claimed to have abandoned Gutenberg for McLuhan, Marker was clearly also a bibliophile and a book designer – as if he needed more titles to add to his resumé… The style of Commentaires (1961, 1967) is also on display most prominently in the earlier Coréennes (1959).

Rick Poynor’s review is a highly intelligent opening of a design perspective on Marker that has been missing in the voluminous commentary around his work. So please check out The Filmic Page: Chris Marker’s Commentaires.

Some books are magnetic, by their fluctuation in relation to and through the image, maintaining between words and images a vibration… They swarm with meaning, move, as if beyond themselves, become testaments.
Raymond Bellour, Between the Images, JRP | Ringier & Les Presses du Réel [French orig. L' Entre-images: Photo. Cinéma. Vidéo., Éditions de la Différence, 1990, rev. ed. 2002, English trans. 2011]

commentaire-spread

Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, media, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design.The Design Observer Group

Here’s Rick’s Amazon page.

March 23, 2014  11:54 am   No Comments

Entering History

Quand les hommes sont morts, ils entrent dans l’histoire. Quand les statues sont mortes, elles entrent dans l’art. Cette botanique de la mort, c’est ce que nous appelons la culture.
Les Statues meurent aussi

Alain ResnaisI’d like to thank Christophe Crison for alerting me to this rare footage of the young Alain Resnais – whose death two days ago is still sending out shockwaves – and (a glimpse of) Chris Marker, recently published at www.ina.fr. The footage was shot on February 1st, 1954 on the occasion of Jean Vigo Prize, awarded to Resnais and Marker for Les Statues meurent aussi, a film that practically single-handedly inaugurated the essay film, opened a long-needed public conversation about colonialism, racism and the politics of the museum, and was promptly banned by the Centre National de la Cinématographie. Single-handedly? More like à quatre mains, but who’s counting…

Jenny Chamarette, in an article on sensesofcinema.com, summarizes these circumstances:

This 30 minute short film has a chequered history of censorship that at one time elevated it to a somewhat mythical status, and which prevented it from being brought into the wider public eye until some 16 years after it was completed. After its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, and in spite of winning the Prix Jean Vigo in 1954, Les Statues meurent aussi was banned in France by the Centre National de la Cinématographie between 1953 and 1963 owing to its controversial anti-colonialist stance. While a truncated version was made available in 1963, the unabridged film only became available in 1968.
Jenny Chamarette, Les Statues meurent aussi, Sept. 2009 (Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 52)

Here is the fragment of what seems to be a jumpcut celebration combined with a game of cards. If anyone can help identify the others that appear here, please do so in the comments section. I would also welcome reflections on what Alain Resnais means to you personally.

Producteur ou co-producteur: RADIODIFUSION TELEVISION FRANÇAISE
Générique: journaliste, Pierre Tchemia
Mots clés: Resnais Alain Marker Chris prix-recompense film Cinéma

A bit more from the Senses of Cinema article:

Les Statues meurent aussi was commissioned by the literary review and publishing house, Présence Africaine, which was set up in 1947 in Paris as a quarterly literary review for emerging and important African writers. Founded by the Senegalese thinker Alioune Diop, it housed the writings of some of the most important francophone thinkers in the latter half of the 20th century, such as Aimé Césaire, Ousmane Sembene, Léopold Sédar Senghor, in addition to French metropolitan writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The journal also translated groundbreaking works by Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka into French for the first time. Having emerged so soon after the new French Constitution of 1946 had declared a “French Union”, Présence Africaine’s publications signalled a new, post-colonial status for French and francophone thought, embracing what was then a key notion: that of négritude. It is this notion that the second half of Les Statues meurent aussi engages with most deeply, and perhaps most controversially, especially as it strives to connect the death of the statue with the rise in the commercialisation of African art for the pleasure of the colonial classes. Indeed, it is against the backdrop of a France that had so recently lost its colonial power, but which still retained many of the quasi-Manichean distinctions between white, Western culture and black, African culture, that (and in spite of their claims to the contrary) Resnais and Marker’s film projected its passionately anti-colonial, anti-racist, even anti-capitalist audio-visual collage. It is little wonder then that such a film should have been censored until the late 1960s, by which time it might have lost some of its topicality, but none of its political vigour.Jenny Chamarette, Les Statues meurent aussi, Sept. 2009 (Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 52)

Les Statues meurent aussi - collage by John Coulthart

Collage of Les Statues meurent aussi photograms from John Coulthart’s { feuilleton }

According to a 1961 interview with Resnais in the French film journal Premier Plan, it proved impossible merely to censor the film rather than ban it, as the censors claimed that any cuts made would run the risk of them effectively re-editing for their own ends. In effect, what this double-edged and ambiguous comment on the part of the censors suggests, is that the censors at the time were unable to extricate the insidious, intelligent and deeply controversial implications of the film from its patient, attentive visual aesthetic and complex, lyrical voiceover, soundtrack and musical score. Marker also critiqued the censor’s reluctance to make clear what their objections were, and in fact published the full details of their letter in an appendix to his written volume Commentaires in 1961. Commentaires also contains the full poetic commentary of Les Statues meurent aussi, in addition to four of his other early works: Dimanche à Pékin (1956); Lettre de Sibérie (1958); Description d’un combat (1960) and Cuba Si! (1961). That said, the written text only echoes, rather than replicates the extraordinary contribution that Marker’s authorial poesis makes to the film as a whole. A generous interpretation might suggest that, for the censors in 1953, the powerful sound and image track of Les Statues meurent aussi proved impossible to untwine in a way that would not simply present a brutal butchery of the film’s aesthetic.Jenny Chamarette, Les Statues meurent aussi, Sept. 2009 (Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 52)

It is hard yet to speak of Resnais, like Marker a true genius of cinema, but completely unique. Both were fascinated by memory; Resnais’ best films are enigmas of memory and time. It occurs to me that there was, in the making of Les Statues meurent aussi, some discovery made à deux that was to follow both filmmakers throughout their careers, whatever the genre. Resnais, like Marker, created films that asked the spectator to view them not once or even twice, but many times – as if the films were changing, mutating between viewings – and changing the viewer each time as well. Toute la mémoire du monde, Hiroshima mon amour, Nuit et brouillard, Muriel and the incomparable Last Year in Marienbad come to mind for me, for I have viewed them many times.

I can only wish that the two French innovators of the 7th art are convening now wherever they are, and picking up effortlessly where they left off, making films beyond culture, outside of history, inventing higher dimensional arts…

Toute la mémoire du monde, by Alain Resnais

Toute la mémoire du monde, dir. Alain Resnais, 1957

March 3, 2014  12:37 am   6 Comments

Time Travel Specialist

chat2000v2

I’m working – and reaching out once again to a friend better qualified – on translating a fine story involving the encounter of Chris Marker and Thoma Vuille, awesome street artist and creator of M. CHAT. The story, “Chats percheurs – La rencontre entre Chris Marker et M. CHAT racontée par Louise Traon,” appears currently in French on Arte.tv’s Creative site, and is accompanied by a short documentary well worth watching, as the story is well worth reading. For now, let’s start with a mysterious quote from Marker. I’m not sure yet if it is an excerpt of a letter to M. Vuille or not, but I presume so.

First we must fill in some background. You may recall that in Sans Soleil, the date 4001 is introduced and has special signifcance:

That’s for a start. Now why this cut in time, this connection of memories? That’s just it, he can’t understand. He hasn’t come from another planet; he comes from our future, 4001: the time when the human brain has reached the era of full employment. Everything works to perfection, all that we allow to slumber, including memory. Logical consequence: total recall is memory anesthetized. After so many stories of men who had lost their memory, here is the story of one who has lost forgetting, and who—through some peculiarity of his nature—instead of drawing pride from the fact and scorning mankind of the past and its shadows, turned to it first with curiosity and then with compassion. In the world he comes from, to call forth a vision, to be moved by a portrait, to tremble at the sound of music, can only be signs of a long and painful pre-history. He wants to understand. He feels these infirmities of time like an injustice, and he reacts to that injustice like Ché Guevara, like the youth of the sixties, with indignation. He is a Third Worlder of time. The idea that unhappiness had existed in his planet’s past is as unbearable to him as to them the existence of poverty in their present.

Sans Soleil, trans. courtesy of markertext.com

Fast forward to 2038, several years before the loss of forgetting and a lone Third Worlder of time, to the epistolary fragment quoted on arte’s page:

« daté du… 19 janvier 2038 à 4h14 du matin.

Pour un spécialiste des voyages dans le temps, c’est impressionnant. Ce serait d’ailleurs une bonne illustration du paradoxe temporel. Si je vous disais (puisqu’il y a de fortes chances que vous passiez un jour par cette date et cette heure) de veiller à ce qui s’y passera, ce serait une façon d’y attirer votre attention, et par conséquent c’est moi qui déclencherais dans le futur l’événement du présent… Encore un anneau de Moebius dont on ne sort pas. »

Chris Marker

The gist of this quote in English:

“dated … January 19th, 2038 at 4:14 a.m.”

“For a specialist in time travel, it’s impressive. This would be moreover a good illustration of temporal paradox. If I told you (because there’s a strong likelihood that you will pass through this date and this hour) to look out for what will happen then, this would be a means of drawing your attention to it, and consequently it is I who would unleash in the future the event of the present… Once again a Möbius strip without exit.”

Chris Marker

I hope to present you with the full story soon. À bientôt!

February 25, 2014  8:21 pm   No Comments