William Gibson on La Jetée

From: ‘Thrilling and prophetic': why film-maker Chris Marker’s radical images influenced so many artists – theguardian.com

William Gibson, novelist

I first saw La Jetée in a film history course at the University of British Columbia, in the early 1970s. I imagine that I would have read about it earlier, in passing, in works about science fiction cinema, but I doubt I had much sense of what it might be. And indeed, nothing I had read or seen had prepared me for it. Or perhaps everything had, which is essentially the same thing.

I can’t remember another single work of art ever having had that immediate and powerful an impact, which of course makes the experience quite impossible to describe. As I experienced it, I think, it drove me, as RD Laing had it, out of my wretched mind. I left the lecture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, profoundly alone. I do know that I knew immediately that my sense of what science fiction could be had been permanently altered.

Part of what I find remarkable about this memory today was the temporally hermetic nature of the experience. I saw it, yet was effectively unable to see it again. It would be over a decade before I would happen to see it again, on television, its screening a rare event. Seeing a short foreign film, then, could be the equivalent of seeing a UFO, the experience surviving only as memory. The world of cultural artefacts was only atemporal in theory then, not yet literally and instantly atemporal. Carrying the memory of that screening’s intensity for a decade after has become a touchstone for me. What would have happened had I been able to rewind? Had been able to rent or otherwise access a copy? It was as though I had witnessed a Mystery, and I could only remember that when something finally moved – and I realised that I had been breathlessly watching a sequence of still images – I very nearly screamed.William Gibson

State of the Estate

Cinematheque francaise

What follows is a rough translation of an online announcement from the Cinémathèque française on the state of a three year inventory of the estate of Chris Marker, contained in 550 boxes initially upon receipt. The original article can be found at Fonds Chris Marker : où en est l’inventaire ?.

§

Estate Chris Marker: Where are we at with the inventory?

In the Spring of 2013, the Cinémathèque française took possession to its archives 550 large moving boxes containing the archives of Chris Marker, deceased during the summer of the preceding year. Under the conduct of a scientific committee of individuals close to the filmmaker and familiar with his work, the inventory of the estate began rapidly. The total duration of the operation was estimated at around three years. So where are we, two years later?

The 550 boxes that make up the estate are divided as follows:

5 boxes of posters; 6 boxes of LP records and musical documents; 15 boxes of photographs; 55 boxes of objects, miniatures…; 66 boxes of audiovisual material (Beta, master…); 98 boxes of archives (press documentation, files & folders); 112 boxes of VHS and DVD edits and personal recordings; 137 boxes of periodicals and books.

At this point in time, the boxes of photographs have been thoroughly inventoried, although not all photographs have been identified. Similarly, the inventory of ‘apparatuses/apparatii’ [appareils] is complete. The library of Chris Marker, rich with some 137 boxes, has been made the object of a deeper study and is approaching completion. An actively used library, as opposed to a collector’s library, it presents a singularity in so far as each work is stuffed with diverse documents: letters, press clipings, etc. Each volume therefore has been the object of a precise description of the elements that it contains. To get an idea of this library, the inventory would be certainly instructive, but evidently insufficient. A virtual library project is therefore being considered.

The inventory continues currently with the objects, posters, audiovisual materials and paper archives. This work should be completed by Fall 2015. The inventory of hard drives, on which Marker worked during the course of the last 20 years of his life, has also begun. These discs contain several million files. To bring to fruition the description of their contents will be a long-term work [‘de longue haleine’, literally ‘of long breath’]. Similarly, initial work on the state of more than a thousand digital diskettes [floppies/zip/flash drives presumably] has begun with the help of a digital conservation specialist [digital archivist]. A work of securing and restoring, an indispensible prior step to taking an inventory, will be conducted in the coming months.

During the course of the Fall, the VHS, DVD, CD and vinyl LPs will be inventoried, permitting thereby, with the horizon of Summer 2016, to have analyzed the sum total of the boxes of the estate and to have arrived at an initial, global view of its coherence and richness. Work on cataloging can then begin, with the objective remaining to place the estate at the disposition of researchers starting in 2018, while presenting it as well in the form of a grand exhibition at the Cinémathèque française. The scientific committee is already working toward this goal.

Letter to Alain Cuny by Chris Marker – Exhilaration

Alain Cuny, various portraits, Google images

Here is the English translation of the recently unearthed ‘Lettre à Alain’, originally published in Libération to highlight the 1991 debut of the film L’Annonce faite à Marie, under the title “Chris Marker: ‘Something of a Miracle’, with the sub-title ‘In 1991, for the release of the first projections of L’Annonce faite à Marie [The Announcement Made to Marie], Chris Marker wrote to the ‘young’ filmmaker.’

I take this moment and this space to offer my deep thanks and ongoing gratitude to Dorna Khazeni, who translated this letter for the site’s (majority) English readers. Thanks Dorna! Dorna is also the translator of Marker’s short story Phenomenon (n.), along with a handful of other materials, including the long post on bringing Dialector, Marker’s human-computer interaction machine, to KansasFest. She is one of the reasons I continue to explore Marker, as we share this dedication to his being and his work. What we admire and handle with care is multiple and does not demand defining; it does, however, certainly come across here in Marker’s revelatory moment of heightened awareness, the expressed transformative power of cinema, and his affirmation of friendship.

§

Dear Alain,

Giraudoux wrote that one judges a play (or a film) by how one wakes up the morning after. From this point of view the experience has proven conclusive. But in fact it began as early as yesterday evening when we came back home. How long had it been since I last experienced that sort of physical lightness that surges when something in you has shifted during a screening? And how many films have I seen these last years that I left enumerating, as though for an accounting exam: yes, the director was talented, yes, the actors had been excellent, yes, the images were beautiful, yes, the story was interesting. And so? And so nothing. Nothing had shifted, I had seen a film, that was all, and it was already burying itself in the swamps of forgetting. I knew that ahead of all critique and all compliment, there needed to have been that initial shudder, that takeover over by another by which, in my youth, I used to recognize the works that would mark me for life. I blamed age, the sclerosis of enthusiasm, saturation by television… Know that I am grateful to you for having all at once returned to me the joy in an evening and that flavor of eternity that I sometimes savored on exiting a theater or cinema in the distant times when we had already come to know each other… That you should have arrived in your first attempt at the essential, that you should have (I am sure of this, more instinct than by premeditation) found the precise distance, the perfect distance, with text placed on film like a delicate web (one step to either side is the fall), that you should have, in short, invented the only way of bringing to life and listening to these characters in the booby-trapped universe of the cinematograph, is on the order of a miracle. Just as Violaine’s voice is miraculous. Here we are light-years from the “well-said” or “well-acted.” We are inside inner truth, inside this total correspondence of voice with that of which it speaks which music alone is sometimes capable of constructing: it would not take much for me to say never has a text been the beneficiary of so much rectitude, radiant humility. Humility! Not a quality that overflows in our great craft… Here it underlies every undertaking, it gives its true counterweight to the grandeur. Never is the beauty of the image—and God knows, it is beautiful—exercised at the expense of the text. Costumes, set, music, everything is at its right distance, nothing seeks to shine for itself alone, and this metaphor of the cathedral that holds the whole play in its embrace, here it incarnates itself in the film, itself, like a mise-en-abime, but the abyss opens skyward.

I have just reread what I wrote and these words appear vain and empty. What I must communicate to you is that with which I began, that state of physical well-being that defies commentary (in English there is a word for it that is untranslatable: exhilaration). When we left the Vidéotheque with my friend Catherine we were breathing easier, we were breathing rarer air. I met a friend who shared his distress over the fate of Russia, which I share, all the more so as I have Russian blood and am currently working on that particular tragedy. To my surprise, I heard myself answer him in a totally different way than the somber tone in which I would have normally expressed myself. I was going out on more of a limb, I was placing bets with greater (if only this word were not a little comical when applied to me) wisdom… And suddenly I realized I was not placing my bet from the basement of Les Halles, from Paris-France, I was placing my bet from the film. You were lending me, for one instant, a platform of grandeur from where I was seeing all things as we should always see them, if we had that strength and that wisdom. Poets are made to create such moments, moments of borrowing a strength that is not ours. The poet Claudel and the poet Cuny came together so that last night such a moment should take place. It is a gift that cannot be forgotten.

Yours, faithfully.
Chris Marker

Fonds Chris Marker – Estate Update

Pleased to see a web presence for the estate of Chris Marker at the Cinémathèque française: www.cinematheque.fr. Here is the current communication available, discussing the reception of 550 large boxes from the Marker’s personal estate, the sum total of his books, harddrives, memorabilia, computers, press clippings, keepsakes from uncountable years of travel. What followed and still follows is an inventory of all these materials. This article represents a ‘state of the estate’ two years in to a three year project of conservation and curation. We will get this translated into English as soon as possible.

Fonds Chris Marker : où en est l’inventaire ?

Au printemps 2013, la Cinémathèque française a accueilli dans ses réserves 550 grands cartons de déménagement contenant les archives de Chris Marker, décédé durant l’été de l’année précédente. Sous la conduite d’un comité scientifique composé de personnalités proches du cinéaste et familières de son œuvre, l’inventaire du fonds a débuté rapidement. La durée totale de l’opération était estimée à environ trois années. Où en est-on, deux ans après ?

Les 550 cartons qui composent le fonds se répartissent comme suit :

5 cartons d’affiches ; 6 cartons de disques vinyles, documents sonores ; 15 cartons de photographies ; 39 cartons d’appareils informatiques, vidéo et disques durs ; 55 cartons d’objets, miniatures… ; 66 cartons de supports audiovisuels (Beta, master…) ; 98 cartons d’archives (presse documentation, dossiers) ; 112 cartons de VHS et DVD édités et d’enregistrements personnels ; 137 cartons de périodiques et d’ouvrages.

A ce jour, les cartons de photographies ont été entièrement inventoriés, bien que toutes les photos n’aient pas encore pu être identifiées. De même, l’inventaire des appareils est achevé. La bibliothèque de Chris Marker, riche de quelque 137 cartons, a fait l’objet d’un travail approfondi en voie d’achèvement. Bibliothèque de travail, et non de collectionneur, elle présente la singularité que chaque ouvrage est truffé de documents divers : correspondances, coupures de presse, etc. Chaque volume a ainsi dû faire l’objet d’une description précise des éléments qu’il contenait. Pour rendre compte de cette bibliothèque, le rapport d’inventaire sera certes instructif, mais à l’évidence insuffisant. Un projet de bibliothèque virtuelle est donc à l’étude.

L’inventaire se poursuit actuellement avec les objets, les affiches, les supports audiovisuels et les archives papier. Ce travail devrait être achevé à l’automne 2015. L’inventaire des disques durs, sur lesquels Chris Marker a travaillé au cours des vingt dernières années de sa vie, a également débuté. Ces disques contiennent plusieurs millions de fichiers. Mener à bien la description de ces contenus sera un travail de longue haleine. De même, un premier travail a été mené sur le fonds de près d’un millier de disquettes informatiques, par une conservatrice spécialiste de ce type de support. Un travail de sauvegarde et de restauration, préalable indispensable à l’inventaire des contenus, sera mené dans les prochains mois.

Dans le courant de l’automne, ce sont les collections de VHS, DVD, CD et disques vinyle qui seront inventoriés, permettant ainsi, à l’horizon de l’été 2016, d’avoir analysé l’ensemble des cartons du fonds et d’avoir ainsi une première vue globale de sa cohérence et de sa richesse. Le travail de catalogage pourra alors commencer, l’objectif demeurant de mettre le fonds à la disposition des chercheurs à l’horizon de 2018, en même temps qu’il sera présenté sous forme d’une grande exposition à la Cinémathèque française, sur laquelle le comité scientifique commence déjà à travailler.

Rappelons que ce comité est composé de : Raymond Bellour, écrivain, critique, chercheur et enseignant ; Laurence Braunberger, productrice ; Jean-Michel Frodon, journaliste et enseignant ; Raymonde Morin-Bouche, représentant la succession Chris Marker ; Serge Toubiana, directeur général de la Cinémathèque française ; Christine Van Asche, conservatrice honoraire au Centre Georges Pompidou.

Chris Marker Archives Postcard

Letter à Alain de Chris Marker – Exhilaration

Though the context is in absentia, a letter of Chris Marker to Alain Cuny has suddenly appeared on the site www.derives.tv. The letter is from 1991, so the year of Marker’s 70th birthday. The word ‘relics’ somehow comes to mind. It was a Pink Floyd album title, and connotes as well a practice of conserving what remains behind when a great being has departed, often in a saintly or lama-esque context. Somehow the spirit of that being inheres, inhabits the relic. So it is here, though we know that Marker would be the last artist to desire the collection of his own relics. So let us call it a letter, plain and simple, a piece of communication snatched out of time and circumstance. It is a tale in letter form of the magic of cinema, that creates an eternal feeling. Marker had not felt this for a while, then here: an evening of deep emotional engagement in the cinema, triggering all the great films that lived inside him and a moment of heightened awareness that he calls ‘exhilaration’. For he was, like many great filmmakers, a great spectator as well.

Many thanks post-post for an email from one who has done more research on Marker than anyone I can think of – not that it’s a contest, but his work is truly invaluable – Christophe Chazalon. M. Chazalon inquired and received a negative of a page from Libération where this text was originally printed. The film in question turns out to be L’Annonce faite à Marie, directed by M. Cuny. The Libé article’s title: “Chris Marker: ‘De l’ordre du miracle’, with this editorial blurb below: “En 1991, au sortir d’une des première projections de ‘l’Annonce faite à Marie’, Chris Marker écrivait au ‘jeune’ metteur en scène.” I also thank M. Chazalon for delivery of a fully proofed, corrected text of the letter. Merci bien!

You can download the pdf of this newspaper negative here. En plus, Dorna Khazeni has kindly agreed to translate the letter to English, so stay tuned, same cat channel…

§

Cher Alain –

Giraudoux écrivait qu’on jugeait une pièce (ou un film) à la façon dont on se réveillait le lendemain matin. De ce point de vue, l’expérience est concluante. Mais en fait elle a commencé dès hier soir quand nous sommes rentrés. Depuis combien de temps n’avais-je pas éprouvé cette espèce d’allégresse physique qui surgit quand quelque chose a bougé en vous pendant le temps d’une projection ? Et combien de films ai-je vus ces dernières années, dont je sortais en égrenant une espèce d’examen comptable : oui, le metteur en scène avait du talent, oui, les acteurs étaient excellents, oui, l’image était belle, oui, l’histoire était intéressante… Et puis ? Et puis rien. Rien n’avait bougé. J’avais vu un film, voilà tout, et il s’enfonçait déjà dans les marécages de l’oubli. Je savais qu’en amont de toutes les critiques et de tous les compliments, il aurait dû y avoir cet ébranlement initial, cette prise de possession par un autre à quoi, dans ma jeunesse, je reconnaissais les œuvres qui me marqueraient pour la vie. J’accusais l’âge, la sclérose de l’enthousiasme, la saturation de la télé… Voyez si je peux vous être reconnaissant de m’avoir rendu d’un coup la joie d’une soirée, et ce goût d’éternité que je savourais quelquefois à la sortie d’un théâtre ou d’un cinéma dans les temps lointains où nous nous étions déjà rencontrés… Que vous soyez arrivé du premier coup à l’essentiel, que vous ayez (j’en suis sûr, d’instinct plus que méditation) trouvé la distance juste, parfaite, avec un texte qui est posé sur le film comme un fil-de-ferriste (un pas de côté, c’est la chute), que vous ayez en somme inventé la seule manière de faire vivre et écouter ces personnages dans l’univers piégé du cinématographe, c’est de l’ordre du miracle. Comme est miraculeuse cette voix de Violaine. Là, nous sommes à des années-lumière du bien dit ou du bien joué. Nous sommes dans la vérité intérieure, dans cette adéquation totale de la voix avec sa parole que seule quelquefois la musique est capable de construire : il ne faudrait pas me pousser beaucoup pour me faire dire que jamais un texte n’a été servi avec autant de droiture, de rayonnante humilité. L’humilité ! Pas une qualité qui déborde dans notre beau métier… Ici elle sous-tend toute l’entreprise, elle donne son véritable contrepoids à la grandeur. Jamais la beauté de l’image (et Dieu sait qu’elle est belle) ne s’exerce aux dépens du texte. Costumes, décor, musique, tout est à sa bonne distance, rien ne cherche à briller pour soi tout seul, cette métaphore de la cathédrale qui embrasse toute la pièce, la voilà qui s’incarne dans le film lui-même, comme une mise en abîme qui s’ouvre vers le haut.

Je viens de me relire, et ces mots me paraissent vains et vides. Ce qu’il faudrait que je vous communique, c’est ce par quoi je commençais, cet état de bien-être physique qui défie le commentaire (l’anglais a un mot pour ça, intraduisible, exhilaration). Quand nous sommes sortis de la vidéothèque, avec mon amie Catherine, nous respirions mieux, nous respirions plus haut.

A vous, fidèlement
Chris Marker (1991)

Alain Cuny, L’Annonce faite à Marie

Finally, here is the film in question, on YouTube, hélas.

2084 Remix

Just realizing now how much Dialector appears as the UI of this future imagined by Marker as a commissioned piece for syndicalism. More in a bit. For now, here is a strange remix of the short film of Marker’s, 2084. We also see Hayao, the Zone man, credited – Marker’s reality distortion engine taken here to another level, in homage… It’s called 2084 “Through the mirrorshades glasses of Chris Marker” REMIX .

2084 Info by Chazalon

1984 – France – 9’46 – vidéo / 16 et 35mm – Couleur
A travers 2084, video clip pour une réflexion syndicale et pour le plaisir, court métrage collectif réalisé à l’occasion des 100 ans du syndicalisme en France, Chris Marker et le groupe confédéral audiovisuel CFDT ne choisissent pas tant de retracer l’histoire d’un siècle d’action syndicale que de lui signifier, par trois hypothèses, ce qu’il lui reste à entreprendre. Ils imaginent la fiction d’une émission de télévision intergalactique qui, en 2084, ferait un sujet sur le deuxième centenaire du mouvement syndical.
Cette commande de la CFDT a été diffusée sur Antenne 2, le 29 mars 1984.

Générique (fin, dans l’ordre de d’apparition)
2084
Une réalisation de Chris. Marker et du Groupe Confédéral Audiovisuel CFDT
avec: Sophie Garnier, Bibiane Kirby, Atika Tahiri
Image: Robert Millie, Christian Bordes, Pascal Le Moal
Assistant: Pierre Camus
Directeur de production: Claude Gilaizeau
Effets spéciaux: Hayao Yamaneko
Ordinateur Sinclair
Avec la voix de François Perier
… un raton laveeur (sic)!

Distribution: ISKRA

Commentaire / scénario: en allemand, dans Revolver, n° 27 (automne 2012), n.p.

2084 CH2_2013.pdf

Bibliographie

Eric HASSAN, “Et-vive-le-vidéo-syndicalisme”, Libération, n° 889 (29 mars 1984), p. 37
* Liù CHAMORIN, “Clermont-Ferrand 1986″, Positif, n° 302 (avril 1986), p. 61Christophe Chazalon, chrismarker.ch

L’Original 2084

Si j’avais quatre dromadaires

Composed entirely of still photographs shot by Marker himself over the course of his restless travel through twenty-six countries, If I Had Four Dromedaries stages a probing, at times agitated, search for the meanings of the photographic image.MUBI

Avec ses quatre dromadaires
Don Pedro d’Alfaroubeira
Courut le monde et I’admira
II fit ce que je voudrais faire
Si j’avais quatre dromadaires.
Apollinaire

Marker Littéraire: Quoting & Naming

La culture de Marker est grande, qu’il s’agisse de musique ou de littérature, d’art ou de cinéma. Donc rien d’étonnant à ce choix. Mais si ici il donne directement sa source, comme il le fera plus tard pour Une journée d’Andrei Arsenevitch (1999) dont il précisera lui-même le lien avec le premier roman d’Alexandre Soljenitsyne intitulé Une journée d’Ivan Denissovitch, publié dans la revue littéraire Novy Mir pour la première fois en décembre 1962, ou encore avec cette phrase “Je vous écris d’un pays lointain” tirée d’un poème des Lointains intérieurs (1938) d’Henri Michaux et qui ponctue Lettre de Sibérie (1958), la filiation n’est pas toujours évidente ou confirmée, même si on imagine mal une simple coïncidence. C’est le cas de Description d’un combat (Beschreibung eines Kampfes) (1909), le premier écrit conservé de Franz Kafka, une nouvelle entreprise vers 1904 et qui se trouve être le titre du film de Marker sur Israël (1960).Christophe Chazalon, “Courts métrages de Chris Marker”, chrismarker.ch

Marker’s cultural range is great, whether it pertains to music or literature, art or cinema. Therefore there is nothing shocking in this choice [of titles]. But if here he directly cites his source, as he would later for A Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch (1999) – in which he notes himself the connection with the first novel of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn entitled A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, published in the review Novy Mir for the first time in December 1962 – or again with the phrase “I write to you from a distant country”, taken from a poem in Lointains interieurs [Interior Distances] (1938) by Henri Michaux and which punctuates Letter from Siberia (1958), the [literary] connection is not always evident or explicit, even if it’s hard to imagine a simple coincidence. This is the case with Description of a Combat (Beschreibung eines Kampfes) (1909), the first preserved writing of Franz Kafka, a new enterprise around 1904 and one that finds itself as the title of Marker’s film on Israel (1960).

There are other examples: Sans Soleil from Mussorgsky. The Zone from Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Marker’s animated gallery stroll, Pictures from an Exhibition, again from Mussorgsky. The noted references in Coréennes original back cover to Satie’s Gnossiennes and Pascal’s Provinciales… Marker’s abode in Second Life, Ouvroir, contains a subterranean connection to Oulipo, short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (the connotations of work, workshop and opening bouncing off each other). Ouvroir also references Bioy Cesares’ Island of Morel, to which Marker refered interested parties when asked to explain Ouvroir. So it was not just in his own naming and alter egos that Marker played with reference and elision; his works too are haunted, littered, scattered, seeded with unmarked references that make fun work for inquiring minds. Though it has gone more or less unexplored in the growing critical literature, Michaux in particular seems to gaze out from between the lines of Marker’s written work and between the frames of his filmed work.

Structure: The Castle & The Garden

The terrain covered in If I Had Four Camelsis organized in two parts, “The Castle” and “The Garden”. Each explores different facets of human achievement and experience, and revisits the utopian ideals that Marker had admired in the work of Giradoux, and figured through African art and the Olympic Games in his earliest films. “The Castle” leans towards the pinnacles of human culture and civilization: cities, societies, art, religion and commerce. […] The photographer confesses that he cannot resist films that pass from country to country at a single moment in time, and, in narrating his own journey around the world via photographs, nods implicitly at those passages in Le Coeur net, Letter from Siberia and Cuba si that had established the route before it.

If “The Castle” leans toward culture, “The Garden” focuses upon human nature, treated as a native impulse towards fulfilment and happiness. Children and animals are shown as ideal representatives of ‘the law of the garden’, but the desire to achieve balance and satisfaction in the human condition is also expressed through the aspirations of revolutionary politics.Catherine Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, 103-104

Credits

Director
Chris Marker

Cinematography
Chris Marker

Editing
Chris Marker

Sound
Antoine Bonfanti

Music
Lalan
Trio Barney Wilson

Narration
Pierre Vaneck
Nicolas Yumatov
Catherine Le Couey

Production
Norddeutscher Rundfunk
Apec, Slon

Further Reading

Jim Jarmusch Met Chris Marker

Jim Jarmusch Chris Marker echo

From: truthandmovies.tumblr.com

JIM JARMUSCH ON THE TIME HE MET CHRIS MARKER

There were a lot of things that I couldn’t fit into my recent interview with Jim Jarmusch (which you can read at The Guardian). This is one of them.

“I had a great chance to meet Chris Marker, once. I got to go outside of Paris, he was in a little editing room in it, I think? And this guy Anatole Dauman was a big producer, and he said ‘I pay for Chris to have this little editing room, would you like to go visit him, he would love it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’. And I went there, not with this guy, and Chris Marker was in a room about the size of this booth, and he was editing, and he was starting to work in video, early video.

So he took a camera and he filmed me for a while, and he had all these trims in a bin, and he said ‘This is a film project I’m working on, but I don’t touch it, because look inside.’ And inside the bin was a mother cat with her little newborn babies, and he said ‘I leave them alone, they are a priority. So now I work on the video until she takes them out and then I can go back to the film project.’

He was strange and particular and so nice. It was fantastic.”
David Ehrlich

François Maspero Passes

Finally, I cannot forget to mention Chris Marker, without whom, quite simply I would not have become what I am. Among others, it was he who shared with me the ideal that was then behind Peuple et Culture, and much besides: a whole vision of the world where dreams were always at the heart of reality; for without dreams (unlike utopia) you can only live life as a vegetable. He, too – even more so – gave me this love for life, this life force, not to give up on what you have committed to doing.
François Maspero, “An interview with François Maspero: ‘A few misunderstandings'”, versobooks.com

Thanks to John Burgan, posting to the Chris Marker group on Facebook, I have learned of the death of François Maspero, radical French publisher and subject of Chris Marker’s 1970 film Les mots ont un sens. He was born 19 January 1932, grew up in the Resistence during the war that took his parents (his father at Buchenwald), became an estimed and controversial publisher, then author, and passed on 11 April 2015.

François Maspero

François Maspero, the French publisher, bookstore owner and writer who published much of the great leftwing writing of the ‘sixties—authors like Frantz Fanon and Louis Althusser, writings against torture, against Stalinism, against the Algerian and the Vietnam War—died today at age 83. His bookstore was occasionally bombed and his publications banned, perhaps most famously when he published Alleg’s “La Question,” which made public the systematic use of torture by the French in Algeria.John Burgan, Filmmaker

DISPARITION Indépendance de l’Algérie, révolution cubaine : l’éditeur et libraire engagé, devenu écrivain sur le tard, est mort samedi à 83 ans.

L’éditeur et écrivain François Maspero est mort à Paris le 11 avril. Son ami médecin, le rhumatologue Marcel-Francis Kahn, raconte dans quelles conditions sur le site de Mediapart, où il a annoncé le décès le soir même : «Alerté par une fuite d’eau, on l’a découvert dimanche mort dans sa baignoire. Il avait passé la journée du vendredi 10 avec moi, qui l’avais amené dans une clinique de banlieue où il a subi un examen radiologique demandé par le spécialiste qui le suivait. Il avait 83 ans. Hier, on honorait la libération de Buchenwald où est mort son père. Je connaissais François depuis près de quarante ans et, au fil des ans, il était devenu mon meilleur ami.» Tous ceux qu’il a édités entre 1959 et 1982, à l’enseigne des éditions Maspero, tous les militants qu’il a soutenus, tous les lecteurs de l’œuvre personnelle qu’il a entreprise à partir des années 80 : il y a beaucoup de monde dans la cohorte de ceux qui se souviennent de lui.
Claire Devarrieux, “François Maspero, héraut de toutes les luttes“, Libération, 13 avril 2015

Here is Marker’s film via dailymotion.com.

Les mots ont un sens de Chris Marker

There is a transcript of the film’s commentary (French only) at www.chrismarker.ch (PDF). I have also exported this document to Rich Text format, which can be opened in Word, Pages, and other word processing programs: Les mots ont un sens – François Maspero (RTF)

It strikes me – and I may well be wrong here – that this court métrage may be the last film of Marker’s that we hear his own voice supplying the commentary. For a non-native speaker, Marker’s voice is difficult to parse, quite different from the narrator voices that came before in La Jetée and later in Sans Soleil, to give but two examples. Maspero, for his part, speaks extremely quickly. The film comes across as a conversation between peers rather than taking the more journalistic interview approach we saw in Le joli mai, where Marker is perceivably less comfortable in asking questions of his subjects (while avoiding being filmed himself). Voix off, toujours…

Here’s some additional background on Marker’s film on Maspero, from Catherine Lupton:

Number 5 in the series, On vous parle de Paris: Maspero, les mots ont un sens (1970, ‘Maspero, Words Have a Meaning’), is an affectionate portrait of the left-wing publisher and bookshop owner François Maspero, who was a contributor to Far From Vietnam and would later publish the commentary to Le Fond de l’air est rouge. Maspero is one of the most satisfying and likeable of Marker’s films from this period, achieving an exemplary balance of quirky human warmth with a clear and inventive form of political argument. Premised on the idea that ‘for Maspero, words have a meaning’ – or expressed differently, that books have an active role to play in the global revolutionary movement – the film is divided into seven sections: Quotation, Introduction, Selection, Definition, Information, Recuperation and Contradiction, each prefaced by an image of the word torn from a dictionary and placed on a black ground. Catherine Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, 122-123

Works of François Maspero

  • Le Sourire du chat, roman, 1984.
  • Le Figuier, roman, 1988.
  • Les Passagers du Roissy-Express, 1990, photographies d’Anaïk Frantz. Prix Novembre.
  • Paris bout du monde, 1992, texte de l’album de photographies d’Anaïk Frantz.
  • L’Honneur de Saint-Arnaud, chronique historique, 1993.
  • Le Temps des Italiens, récit, 1994.
  • La Plage noire, récit, 1995.
  • Balkans-Transit, photographies de Klavdij Sluban, chronique d’un voyage, 1997. Prix Radio France internationale, « Témoins du monde ».
  • Che Guevara, introduction aux photographies de René Burri, 1997.
  • Les Abeilles et la Guêpe, 2002.
  • Transit & Cie, récit, La Quinzaine, 2004.
  • Le Vol de la mésange, nouvelles, 2006.
  • L’Ombre d’une photographe. Gerda Taro, biographie, Fiction et Cie, 2006.
  • Des saisons au bord de la mer, roman, Seuil, 2009.

The Cat’s Grin

One other item of interest linking Maspero and Marker is the book The Cat’s Grin by Maspero (in its English translation). This book is still available, for instance here at amazon.com. A reader offers the following cogent review:

Cat's Grin by François MasperoCat’s Grin is an extremely personal and profound look at the Occupation and Liberation of France through the eyes of a boy plowing through both adolesence and this tumultuous time period. Cat (Luc) recalls pre-war France and his family life so precisely that the reader lives it too. As his life begins to unravel, Cat responds in his typical hilarious and wise fashion. He goes on a brave, desperate search for his beloved brother, Antoine, a fighter for the Resistance; leads his fellow schoolboys in paper airplane flying adventures in the Luxembourg gardens; and finally must come to terms with the unendurable impacts of the war. With writing that is both stark and eloquent, Cat’s Grin will sneak into your heart and stay there for a long time.Erin Byrne, amazon.com, April 13, 2007

Marker, of course, went on to give the name “Grin Without a Cat” to the English version of Le fond de l’air est rouge, in which he traces the origins, events and viscissitudes of the radical politics and protest in the 60s and 70s. The French original appeared in 1977, with the revised, expanded – and retitled – English version arriving 1988.

Obituaries & Further Reading

The Verso piece is particularly fascinating, as Maspero gives us a great gift, his own perspective on himself and his times. It serves in a way as a fascinating sequel in words to Marker’s film, across the years.

François Maspero, 2006