Level Five Trailer

A woman (Laura), a computer, an invisible interlocutor: such is the setup on which LEVEL FIVE is built. She “inherits” a task: to finish writing a video game centered on the Battle of Okinawa – a tragedy practically unknown in the West, but whose development played a decisive role in the way World War II ended, as well as in postwar times and even our present.

A strange game, in fact. Contrary to classical strategy games whose purpose is to turn back the tide of history, this one seems willing only to reproduce history as it happened. While working on Okinawa and meeting through a rather unusual network – parallel to Internet – informants and even eye-witnesses to the battle (including film director Nagisa Oshima), Laura gathers pieces of the tragedy, until they start to interfere with her own life.

film still

As in any self-respecting video game, this one proceeds by “levels”. Laura and her interlocutor, intoxicated by their enterprise, use this as a metaphor for life itself, and gladly attribute levels to everything around them. Will she attain LEVEL FIVE?

“A mesmerizing fusion of fact and (science) fiction!” —Toronto Star

“A cinematic gem!” —National Post

“A passionate and cerebral science-fiction adventure…there is nothing else in theaters now that feels quite as new.” —The New York Times

“A fascinating glimpse of a historical event that’s still little known in the West.” —Variety

“Its digressive, elliptic, self-referential approach to depicting the atrocities of war feels like the only true response to such unimaginable horrors. At one point the narrator refers to ‘the ethics of imagery’, and few filmmakers have probed this field with such acuity and sensitivity as Marker has.” —Time Out London

“Too complicated for words – yet unforgettable – Chris Marker signs a masterful historic-fantastic thriller, a vital reflection on death and image… A film on memory and the refusal to forget. An unforgettable film.” —Pierre Murat, Telerama

“An exceptional film!” —Jean-Michel Frodon, Le Monde

“A film full of intelligence and generosity.” —Gerard Lefort, Liberation

“A bit in the same way as Resnais’ HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR, LEVEL FIVE unwinds the three entangled threads of a ball of yarn: transmission of History, reflection on image and film matter, intimate dialogue.” —Serge Kaganski, Les Inrockuptibles

“Should rightly take its place among the late director’s best work.” —LA Times

“This is a fin de siècle masterpiece crafted with life-worn hope for the new millennium just around the corner and a rueful awareness that the world remains as evanescent as ever.” —Mubi Notebook
Icarus Films

Monika’s Text Photo – Le Coeur net

Coeur Net extrait

Extract from Chris Marker, Le Coeur net, Paris, Ed. du Seuil, 1950, posted to Facebook by Marker aficionado Monika Dac. Thanks Monika!

Rough translation…

–It’s a little myth of my own… Look, you for example, you still belong to a world without limits, one that is more or less the world of childhood. Your words, your acts, everything comes out of you and dissipates. You can think as you choose, dream of whatever experience, imagine whatever situation. And if in your dreams you always have the becoming role, its much less in response to a life that you do not know, than by the logic of your imagination. If everything is possible for you, why not choose the most pleasant. The day when your actions return to you as if hitting a wall, that is what I call the closing of the trap. Things close in around you. You are a prisoner. Whatever your freedom of spirit, there will be ideas that you will no longer be able to revisit, hopes that you can never envision except by the bias of the soul, almost by force. You will know exactly what you are capable of, all that has been lost for you, definitively, irreperably… I believe that one of the goals of a revolution should be to break these walls. Because then, everything that they teach us to endure and win the prize — constancy, lucidity, even this pride in living, is no longer but a kind of fidelity to the trap…”

When you learn French, you eventually come upon the task of the ‘explication du texte.’ I won’t undertake that exercise again here, but it is worth noting the influence of Sartre here, said to be Marker’s professor. Perhaps Sartre persists in Marker as a kind of superego of the human condition and revolutionary ideal, more and more faded as time goes on… Remember, this novel is very early Marker, a period he disliked revisiting in conversation…

Chris Marker Level Five English DVD Booklet by Christophe Chazalon

Level Five

Chris Marker: In Search of Lost Memory

Christophe Chazalon, www.chrismarker.ch

In February 1997, Level Five was selected to represent France at the Berlin Festival, a few days before it premiered in French theaters. Its critical success was practically unanimous. Yet for the public, it was a flop. A single reason seems to have caused its failure: visual minimalism.

Level Five tells the story of Laura, a woman who must finish off a video-game on the Battle of Okinawa, following the death of its creator, who was the man she loved. A dual story of mourning and memory thus become intertwined. To tell them, Chris Marker chooses simplicity1. Level Five, made with very little means, was filmed by two people. Laura, played by Catherine Belkhodja, is the film’s only protagonist, an exception in the history of cinema. Marker’s love-muse2 plays a role. She is not the privileged witness or narrator of a historical reenactment. In this sense, we are indeed in a fictional world, which is incidentally not the director’s preferred realm. The only fictional stories in his repertoire are the shorts La Jetée (1962) and L’Ambassade (1973).

In Search of Switzerland

In addition to the portion of the film that is dedicated to Laura’s story, Marker adds a part on the Battle of Okinawa in the purest documentary style, which mixes images from archives and personal accounts, and is far from minimalist. The video game is the link between the two. We could speak here of “documented fiction,” as documentary seems to be used as the basis for Laura’s story.

Level Five was born from an encounter. During one of his trips to Japan, Chris Marker met Ju’nishi Ushiyama, founder of the documentary Cinematheque in Tokyo. Ushiyama not only introduced him to the documentaries of Nagisa Oshima3, but even invited him to go the island of Okinawa. Moreover, it was when he made A.K., in 1985, that Marker conceived of Level Five, as he explained in an interview with Le Monde: “the first images of Okinawa were shot in 16mm with cameraman Gérard de Battista in 1985, even then in view of Level Five. I took several other trips to the island after Sans Soleil (a personal fascination,) and I returned there alone with my video camera on several occasions, always thinking of Level Five4.” Marker moreover noted that the images filmed by chief cameraman Yves Angelo “came from an entirely different universe: I had hired Yves Angelo to film a video clip with a British group5. I employed the unused shots when I felt it was necessary to show Laura at least once in another context than the studio, even though I did not want there to be any identifiable reference to place or time.”

If critics went to the trouble of delving into the film, it seemed that viewers were turned off by the part that was devoted to the heroine. In effect, Marker and Belkhodja chose to tell the story in the form of a video journal, like we can do today with a webcam. Laura is only filmed close-up, at a slightly high angle, in the same individual confined space of a tight apartment, between a desk, a computer and a shelf, with just one exception6. It is thus difficult for the viewer, who is used to the camera’s increasingly present movements and the growing trend of editing films, to follow the storyline and identify with the only character, who is only counterbalanced by the director’s voiceover. Yet that’s the opposite effect of what Marker wanted. In a fictitious interview with Dolorès Walfisch, which was written from scratch for the press packet, Marker explains his intention: “as I imagine it is easier for the viewer to see himself in Laura’s suffering than in that of a man who killed his entire family, I’m counting on this recognition to enable viewers to attain the level of compassion that Laura herself achieves by delving into the tragedy of Okinawa.” The film’s failure with the public hinges on this detail: it was too difficult to identify, not because of Catherine Belkhodja’s acting, since it would be difficult to reproach her for anything, given the tough task she was assigned, but due to an aesthetic bias – that it was unglamorous, cold, and far too bare.

IMAGES AND REALITY: THE INFINITE LIE OF THE DIGITAL ERA

Level Five falls within an important period of transition for humanity: the digital era, in which Marker saw prodigious possibilities, along with terrifying dangers, and which subsequently became one of the main subjects of his research.

Everything began in the late 1970s when Marker turned away from the collective cinema he had introduced in 1967 with the creation of the SLON and the making of Far from Vietnam [Loin du Vietnam], Information technology, then in its infancy, drew him in like a lover with all of its related promises.

Marker was no longer just a filmmaker. He is a filmmaker, video maker, artist, programmer, computer engineer, photographer, etc., dividing his life between the real and the virtual. This was how in 1978 he came to make his first video installation. Quand Le siècle a pris forme: guerre et revolution [Mhen the Century Took Shape: Mar and Revolution], at the same time as the 1900-1933 Paris-Berlin Exposition held at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. It was a montage of period film sequences which had been carefully selected from cinematographic archives, and processed using information technology. The final short was projected onto several screens more or less simultaneously.

Through this project. Marker was already trying to modify images, something he would describe nearly four years later in Sans Soleil, a film-balance sheet which marks a turning point in his work. “My friend Hayao Yamaneko found a solution: if the images of the present don’t change, change the images of the past… He showed me the fights from the Sixties processed by his synthesizer. Images that lied less, he said with the conviction of fanatics like the ones you see on television. At least they present themselves as what they are, images, not the transportable and compact form of a reality that is already inaccessible.”7 Yet Hayao Yamaneko was none other than Chris Marker, just like Sandor Krasna, the film’s protagonist or Michel Krasna, his “brother,” in charge of the “electroacoustical soundtrack.” All of Marker’s future installations, from Zapping Zone (1990-1994) to Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollou Men (2005), not to mention Silent Movie (1995) or Immemory (1997: CD-ROM and installation)8, directly process the image, the content, just as much as the container, because the digital era is definitively one of entirely azimuth information, which is conveyed by the image first and foremost. Nevertheless, images never say what they are, but always claim to be what they are not. Image is a fiction, a future recreation of a present moment which was real, but which is no longer nor will it ever be, and this is due to the mere fact of its differed interpretation, its semantic position (be it a film, a book, an exposition…), which is guided by our own cultural baggage and our experiences. Yet, in our modern society, image is the main element of our memory. Due to its concentration of information, its rapidity for reading, its facility for circulation, it is privileged above all other forms of transmission (writing, language, etc.). The main element does not mean the best element, but the one that is most used, because it is the easiest, the most immediate.

Within this framework, the video game is presented as a metaphor for documentary film. In one of his first films. Lettre de Sibérie, Marker had already proposed three different commentaries for a single sequence, just like an exercise in the style of Queneau. All three could be valid, yet ultimately none were. In Level Five, he questions the viewer about images, and their accompanying truth. To do so, he takes three examples, which Laurent Roth describes as follows: “there is this Japanese newsreel where the women of Okinawa are rushing around the top of a cliff. One of them hesitates, yet sees she is being filmed and jumps… There is this American sergeant, decorated as a war hero for having planted the star-spangled banner on Okinawan soil during a staging and under the lens of photographers. He’d been forbidden from revealing the deception, became crazy, committed suicide… There is lastly this death by fire which we find in all cuts on the conflicts in the Pacific. In a drop from the shot (not used in the cut,)Laura shows us that death reveals itself, preferring to live off-camera rather than die sacrificed in the shot…”9.

Marker says nothing but this: that a documentary film is a montage of images which from the time they are taken to their assembly retranscribe a multitude of truths, but never reality. That is moreover why he always refused the term cinema-reality for his film The Lovely Month of May, preferring that of “direct cinema,” invented by Mario Ruspoli. Once people understood that, they could move on to memory and its inscription. Yet in I960, in America as Seen by a Frenchman, François Reichenbach was already emphasizing this strange attitude of modern man.10 “In each American, the commentary said, there is a photographer. And in each photographer, there is always a tourist. If you meet one, don’t be surprised if you see them running through the world without looking. Their roll of film is their memory. Once they’ve returned, to their armchair, the album on their lap, they’ll relax, start loving the world, they’ll begin to travel.” Marker too had photos for memory. In Sans Soleil, he noted: “Lost at the edge of the world, on my island of Sal, accompanied by my entirely pretentious dogs, I remember that January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed that lanuary in Tokyo. They have now taken the place of my memory; they are my memory. I ask myself how people who don’t film, who don’t take pictures, who don’t make tapes remember, what humanity did to remember…” Yet once the film debuted he asked himself another question. “He wrote to me: “I would have spent my life questioning the function of memory, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its reverse. We don’t remember, we rewrite memory like we rewrite history. How do we remember thirst? How do we remember? What do we really remember? What is memory?

REGARDING THE IMPROBABLE TRACES OF MEMORY

In Level Five, Marker again tries to respond through the intermediary of Laura-Belkhodja, still confined in her space, in front of her screen, trying to correspond with the dead, to keep alive what has already withered, blurred, disappeared from her mind. It is then that she wonders: “If I was able to forget the smallest detail of the tent, which was so precise the last time I had come, what details about you will I continue to lose, one by one?”

And the game of associations begins. Her first name evokes that of the heroine of an eponymous film by Otto Preminger, made in the midst of World War II, which was as resounding a success as the melody that accompanied it: Laura (1943). It is not by chance that Marker inserted this film into Level Five. In addition to the desired resemblance between the two Lauras, memory is also in question. Laura-Belkhodja remembers having seen this film with the person she loved, in iapan. And moreover, her first name is actually not Laura; it was him, from that day forward, that gave her that “first name.” She remembers that. And then she remembers the topic of the film, but less clearly. The history of the origin of this topic is still in her memory but the notes, the words, are not. Laura needs to take the sheet music back out in order to be able to hum along and regain a semblance of times lost.

Level Five, even though it was not made directly after it, is a sequel to Sans Soleil. And there, another reference becomes clear to anyone who has seen Sans Soleil, a film through which Marker sets off on the tracks of another film that is essential to him: Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo (1958). Yet this film, whose story indeed points to that of Preminger-’s Laura, in turn echoes another key work: In Search of Time Past (1913-1927) by Marcel Proust. The threads are relentlessly intertwined. Indeed anyone who speaks of Proust remembers his famous madeleine, which is also the first name of the heroine in Vertigo. Yet for Proust, what best triggered the mechanism of memory was not the gaze. He wrote: “And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.[TN: Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: Vintage, pp. 48-51 11

FROM MEMORY TO “IMMEMORY”

It’s here that the video game intervenes and takes on its full meaning. Of course in Sans Soleil, Yamaneko-Marker says that “electronic matter is the only thing that can process feeling, memory and imagination.” Yet there is one fact that is way more important: the computer does not forget, especially since it has no humor. Also, once Laura tries to ask it foolish questions, the answer is always the same – cold and biting. The evidence: to get good answers, you need to ask good questions. The difficulty: to get good answers, you need to ask good questions. Therein lies the entire principle of this game and for Laura, the impossible task, because this video game does not, like the majority of video games, aim to reinvent, to rewrite History, arriving at new aims, but to strictly and correctly rewrite the true history of the Battle of Okinawa. Hence the levels. Level Five is ultimately not Laura’s story. It is firstly the untold history of a massacre, and above all a reflection on Human History. The massacre is one of the most important of the 20th century. Marker provides clues in his press packet. The debut of an American CD-ROM on World War II is one of the film’s points of departure. It concluded, in speaking of the Battle of Okinawa, that there were approximately 100,000 deaths, including numerous civilians, which Marker emphasizes is doubly false. There were indeed 100,000 Japanese soldiers killed, but in addition 12,000 American soldiers, and above all 150,000 Okinawan civilians, that is, a third of the island’s population, the majority of whom committed suicide. And therein lies the drama. Yet this battle was the source of an even bigger drama, since its result led to the Americans dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. Yet not only do Americans make no mention of these Okinawan civilian deaths; even the Japanese keep this fact completely silent. It is a silence which Marker finds shameful, because it ends up eradicating the event from the collective memory. It is for this reason that he decided to highlight it in his film. And to do so, he did not make a fictional film retracing the battle, but went out to look for direct witnesses, who participated in the collective suicides, or indirect ones, who were trying not to forget, and to pay homage to the victims.

Human History and collective memory are ultimately not very different from history and individual memory. They are incomplete, due to the inevitable succession of events, to forgetting, whether voluntary or not, to the multiplicity of entries and points of view. In order to really portray that, at the same time as he was making Level Five, Marker created a CD-ROM which is nothing less than his autobiography, entitled Immemory. Just as the video game has several possible points of entry for arriving at gradually reconstituting the actual Battle of Okinawa, a reader of Immemory has several points of entry for discovering Marker’s life – except for one thing: the data entered into the CD-ROM is mainly the pure invention of the author. That’s the lesson to be drawn from Level Five. In order to reach Level Five, all of the correct data must be entered into the machine. But that’s impossible. So Level Five is unattainable! Nevertheless, it remains the level to achieve to be able to better envision the future – our future.

Christophe Chazalon / www.chrismarker.ch

  1. This choice was as much a personal desire as a budgetary constraint.
  2. During this period she was Marker’s muse. We find her in L’Héritage de La chouette (1989) or The Last BoLshevik (1993), in the video clip Getting away with it (1989), the haiku video Owls gets in your eyes (1994) or even in the Zapping Zone (1990-1994/Zone TV) and Silent Movie (1995) installations.
  3. Two films by Nagisa Oshima are listed in the credits: The Sunken Tomb (Ikiteru umi no bohyô) from 1970, which literally translates to “The tomb of the living sea,” and The Dead are Always Young (Shisha wa itsudemo wakai) from 1977.
  4. Chris Marker, “I never ask myself if, why, how…” (interview by Dean-Michel Frodon), Le Monde, February 20, 1997, p. 31. In fact, we find images of Okinawa as early as in Sans Soleil (1982).
  5. This is Getting away with it (1989) by the group Electronic, produced by Michael H. Shamberg.
  6. In La Jetée too, there was an exception to this genre. Comprised of photographs, the film only contained one filmed sequence.
  7. Consequently, in all of his photographic work, Marker would process the images by blurring them or adding in effects, even with his previous series, such as Coréennes (1959) which he reedited in 1989, in Korean, and again exhibited in Arles, in its blurred version, 2011.
  8. The same is true for the series of photographs he did from that from that point forward.
  9. Laurent Roth, “LeveL Five, un film de Chris Marker. Okinawa, l’amour et l’ordinateur” [“LeveL Five, a film by Chris Marker. Okinawa, love and the computer,”] Le Monde diplomatique, February 1st, 1997.
  10. The commentary to this film was written by Chris Marker.
  11. In his autobiography Immemory (in CD-ROM format), Marker debuts the section “Mémoire” with portraits of Proust and Hitchcock, followed by this extract from Swann’s Way.

Stream Level Five from Amazon

Afrique 50 by René Vautier

René Vautier was a part of Chris Marker’s Groupe Medvedkine and a famous/infamous director whose film Afrique 50 prefigured in some ways Marker and Resnais’ Les Statues meurent aussi, and offered a convex mirror in other ways to the work of Jean Rouch.

Vautier just passed away. This film was banned for many years, many of its reels held by customs and Vautier even sentenced to a year of prison for violations against the state for its depiction of colonialism.

I learned of his passing via a post to the Facebook Chris Marker group by another great filmmaker, John Burgan, earlier today.

I know very little of Vautier and am kicking myself for that (how can this happen!), but I’ll let this film speak for itself, with a little help from a wonderful article Burgan points us to by Sara Thelle: News from Paris: René Vautier 1928-2015, published by filmkommentaren.dk.

Grand old man and enfant terrible of French militant cinema René Vautier died Sunday January 4th in his home in Cancale, Brittany, at the age of 86. Originally from Brittany, René Vautier fought the Germans as a very young member of the French Resistance during the Second World War, at 16 he was decorated with the Croix de Guerre and honoured by de Gaulle. After the war he wanted to pursue the combat but not with arms and his friends then encourage him to take up a new weapon: the camera. His battle was to last a life long.

Vautier graduated in 1948 from the film school IDHEC in Paris. In 1949 he gets a command to make a film for the Ligue de l’enseignement about the benefits of the French educational mission in the West African colonies. The result, Afrique 50, became, on the contrary, a violent critique of the French colonial system. Vautier’s first film was also the first anticolonial film ever to be made in France and the reaction was violent in return: Vautier was faced with 13 charges and sentenced to one year of prison!

The film has an incredible story. To escape the limitations of the 1934 decree of the Minister of the Colonies Pierre Laval (forbidding any filming in the colonies without the presence of a an administration official) Vautier went on to film in secret. He almost got his film rolls confiscated for destruction in Africa but managed to get his work back to France where he finally had to illegally retrieve the reels kept under seizure by the board of censors (he got 17 of 50 reels). The film was finished in secret and stayed censured in France for over 40 years though it was awarded as one of the best documentaries of the year at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Warsaw in 1955 (with Joris Ivens as president of the jury). In 1996, a copy of the film was finally handed over to Vautier by the Foreign Ministry during the first official screening in France and only in 2003 the film was broadcasted on French television. The Cinémathèque française has recently made new copies of the film as part of their effort to safeguard the entire oeuvre of René Vautier initiated in 2007.

Afrique 50 is a short powerful outburst, a rhythmic pamphlet, swiftly edited with an attacking voice-over. Playing with the genre of educational state propaganda documentary but turning it against the government, the film pinpoints, with humour and great seriousness, the link between capitalism and racism. Film historian Nicole Brenez, specialist of avant-garde cinema at la Cinémathèque française, has called it the greatest film in the history of cinema. Go see it, it’s on YouTube!
Sara Thelle, filmkommentaren.dk

Chris Marker Dialector Reloaded by André Lozano – English Translation

Many thanks to Dorna Khazeni for translating André Lozano’s interesting tale of bringing Chris Marker’s Dialector to the annual Appel II Convention @ KansasFest last summer. The original article in French appears in another post here, Dialector Reloaded, or We Aren’t In Kansas City Anymore.

§
André Lozano headed to Kansas City (USA) July 22-27 for the annual Apple II Convention, KansasFest, and to present “Dialector,” the original, previously unpublished program by Chris Marker, reactivated through his efforts, with the collaboration of artist Agnes de Cayeux, and the founder of Poptronics, Annick Rivoire. Back in France, he recounts the event, the ambiance, and ponders the retro-computing phenomenon.

How I reloaded Chris Marker’s Dialector at KansasFest

So, I took off with my 5 1/2″ “Dialector” diskette in my bag, headed to Kansas City, USA, to “reload” the program that Chris Marker had written in his spare time in the 1980s. This was going to take place not just anywhere, but in a singular technological and sociological environment: at KansasFest, the rendez-vous of Apple II enthusiasts.

What Annick Rivoire, Agnes de Cayeux and myself mean by “reload” is the reactivation, using period computer equipment, of the “Dialector” program written 30 years ago by the documentary filmmaker and multimedia artist. As “Dialector” is a program intended to make it possible to hold a conversation with the machine, we were inviting volunteers to activate it, we would then conserve the subsequent emotions and dialogue.

Arrival in Kansas City

Seventeen flight hours after my take-off from Luxembourg, via Munich and Philadephia, I landed in Kansas City, “the City of Fountains.” and found I had moved back thirty years on the computer science timeline.

Immediately upon my arrival at the University of Rockhurst, barely after I’d passed the threshold of the main entrance, I stumbled upon a mountain of cumbersome computer equipment. It’s a sort of tradition here: every year generous donors part with their collections. It’s a free-for-all cum yardsale for the cognoscente. This year Eric is parting with his equipment with a note of sorrow as he’s not sure, in view of his very advanced age, that he will be returning to KansasFest. Everyone helps themselves to the equipment and the sentimental patrimony according to their needs, and shares according to their means. In this trove, I came away only with a working joystick, the rest of it was either too voluminous, or was incompatible with European electronic standards.

I experienced a strange feeling at being here, 7500 kilometers from where I live, in this improbable place, a deserted Jesuit university, lost in a city in the middle of the United States, among 70 to 80 “attendees,” (participants), all of them fervent first generation Apple computer users. I wondered, “What is obsolescence exactly? Should one resign oneself to ever-changing equipment? What if the resilience of innovation were actually possible? Right here maybe, with Dean, Vince, Andrew and Quin? Young and old, initiated or debutants, a counter-innovation was set into motion.

“Apple II forever”

Let us resists the sirens of novelty, bye bye Ipod, Iphone and MacBook! Here it was “Apple II forever,” and everyone could marvel at an MOS 6502 processor. There reigns a sort of febrility among the participants that I imagine must resemble what animated those who conceived of computers toward the end of the 1970s, before the San Francisco West Coast Computer Fair. It’s easy to identify with the two Steves assembling the Apple I in Jobs’ father’s garage: that “garage” spirit reigns here. A digital environment that’s more bermuda shorts and t-shirts than business suits. The most incredible part of it is that the adventure carries on each year, growing even (some are happy to note there’s a greater number of participants in 2014) and it along with it, a trove of new computers, new equipment, and the craziest developments for a platform, namely the Apple II, production for which ceased… over 20 years ago. Respect!

They come almost every year from the four corners of the United Stated, from Nebraska, from New York, from California, by plane, by car, by truck even (more practical for transporting equipment). The first edition took place in 1989. At the time, Apple shifted its focus to the Macintosh, abandoning the pioneers Basic, l’Assembleur and the small companies that produced all sorts of peripheral electronics. A turning point for micro-informatique: the artisans were swept away by the industry, and Apple, Microsoft and company were the new IBM.

8bit fidelity

I am still surprised at this fidelity in Apple’s first generation. So, I put the question to those around me. When I asked George Elmore why he was passionate about these old machines, he confided this: “Nothing can replace a first love, you remain faithful to it your whole life, that’s just how it is.” Dave Schmenk, who develops the integration of Raspberry Pi in Apple, begrudges today’s machines their coldness. They are too “antiseptic” for his taste, whence his attachment to these old machines that are “warmer.” It’s often a matter of finding the “gameplayer” of their youth. And actually a lot of KFest is about playing. Better yet, new games are created for the Apple II, like the RPG “Lawless Legends,” presented as a world exclusive at Kansas City.

Still… how can one account for the attraction? The title of the book by Steven Weyhrich about the history of Apple, Sophistication and Simplicity, is perhaps a good shortcut for understanding what this generation of computers represents. As Apple’s first ad proclaimed, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” At once simple and sophisticated with its 64 kilobytes of memory, this micro-computer was open to all modifications and all development, an ingenious system that generated a true ecosystem around itself with large and small enterprises daily developing software, games, peripherals, hardware, etc. for it.

Climate and Air-conditioning

You’d have to be mad to look for 35 degree © weather with a relative humidity of 80%, the average in July in Kansas City, but in the United States, no worries! Cars, buses, shops, everything or almost everything is air-conditioned, cool and pleasant nights await us in the dormitories at Rockhurst. Except that KansasFest is a sort of marathon and sleeping is out of the question: at all hours of day and night, in rooms, their doors ajar, interminable discussions, improvised workshops and other demos are underway. Certain rooms are veritable digital gloryholes, my neighbor across the way is surfing the net with his Apple II GS, the one next door is composing music on a IIc, and a little further away, I don’t know but there’s people chatting till there are no more hours left in the night.

Four in the morning, prey to the inevitable jet-lag, I went downstairs to stroll through the “lobby,” thinking I’d get something from a vending machine, and came across ten or so Apple lovers in animated conversation. Geeks never sleep at KansasFest. Just as well, me neither, I’m no longer sleepy, the next day I’m giving my “Dialector” presentation.

“Dialector”, Chris Marker and Retrogeeks

KansasFest is the dream place and event for reloading “Dialector.” Putting aside the temporal jump of 30 years that puts us back exactly at the moment the program was written by Chris Marker, the Anglophone environment is perfect for a program that speaks English. Besides, this is the only place, with all these Applesoft Basic and Apple II specialists, where you can not only play with “Dialector,” but also analyze all its algorythmic subtleties. Together with Annick and Agnes, we have done everything to re-situate “Dialector” within its historic and technological context, so as to better seize its impact and pertinence. Here at KansasFest, it is the ultimate test. If tomorrow, the program meets with success, then Chris Marker will merit, more than ever, our profound admiration as a digital pioneer.

At the end of my introduction, it was Sarah who volunteered to talk to “Dialector,” on an Apple IIc original—and a Qwerty keyboard this once. Naturally, the dialogue was more animated than it usually is since so many of the puns are directly related to the wit of early days Apple Users. A great burst of laughter erupts when “Computer,” (the interlocutor’s name in “Dialector”) says “NEVER TRUST ANYONE OVER 256K” or “DO YOU PUT A ‘K’ ON YOUR SHIRT?”—geek humor impenetrable to non-initiates.

Throughout the presentation, the audience reacted perfectly, with their questions and their suggestions, to the artistic quality of “Dialector,” and to the sense of humor that is so specific to Chris Marker. Mission accomplished when the “Dialector” session ended in the public’s applause.

Apple Forever

Here we are Apple fans, but we don’t necessarily like Macintosh. Margot Comstock, at the end of her inaugural talk, confides in us that she stopped her magazine “Softalk” once the Macintosh arrived. Apple, under Steve Jobs’ impulsion, toward the end of the 1980s, turned toward ready-to-use machines, that required only the slightest understanding of computer science, rendering the community of users and their clubs, their magazines and their knowledge base completely obsolete.

When it came out, I was a big fan of the Mac’s graphic interface. However, when you think about it, that interface was at once the best and the worst thing that could have happened to computer technology. By making the computer as easy to use as a children’s toy, Apple made its users even more ignorant and dependent. Thirty years ago, 5% of us owned a computer but almost 95% of owners were technically capable of programming or modifying their machines. Today, we are going to suppose 95% of us own a computer and that we are no more than 5% who are technically capable of programming code or of transforming a machine.

Live video conferences from Kansas Fest

When I arrived here, I met Olivier, a Frenchman originally who had become American, who was also experiencing his first KFest. He had offered to do a daily write-up for the French Facebook page set up by fans of first generation Apple. He interceded on my behalf throughout my KansasFest sojourn. I was the only participant to have come from another continent.

It’s all about holding your own… We organized, broadcast and recorded four Google HangOuts meetings that we put on a dedicated YouTube channel, with the aim of allowing Americans and French to meet and converse. Each day after lunch in Kansas City and around 8 p.m. French time (technical conditions permitting), we had leisurely and good-natured exchanges of ideas with Annick, Agnes, Dean, Ken, Olivier, Stephane, and our friend Antoine Vignau, at their stations. A great occasion for soldering new transatlantic ties.

Bouquets of sessions

Each day, KFest sessions follow one another according to a well-established calendar. The offerings are highly diversified between the conferences, demos, workshops… There are “classic” talks like Margot Comstock’s about the adventure of the publication “Softalk,” a leading light of early 1980s computer publications, or Jason Scott from Archive.org’s presentation about the issue of archiving. Then there was my own on “Dialector.”

Numerous demos also took place: Peter Neubauer revisited the emulator GSPort’s latest developments, Ivan Drucker presented A2Cloud and A2Server (A2Cloud allows an Apple II to connect to the internet via a Raspberry Pi), Charles Mangin did a 3D printing demo for us to replace certain plastic parts, David Schmenk managed to fuse an Apple II to a Raspberry Pi…

There was no shortage of workshops either: Sarah Walkowiak traded the soldering iron for a needle and thread to make a cross stitch Apple out of thread; Vince Briel, already known for recreating the Apple I or Altair, reproduced the mythic Ohio Scientific Superboard II (OSI 600) with soldering irons and electronic components; the Hogans, father and son (11 years old), invited us to make rockets propelled by compressed air, piloted by the Apple II Joystick port.

A singular presentation by Quinn Dunki, a blond Canadian woman, who told us the story of how, over the course of four years, following in the footsteps of Steve Wozniak, she created her own computer, “Veronica.” Built from scratch, around the MOS 6502 processor. As a dare, with no end in mind other than mastering the hardware and software, propelled by playfulness and a wish to go beyond her own comfort zone, since she is not a computer scientist.

Meaning one does not get bored at Kansas Fest. Not to mention the games. For the five days of this gathering, we often had a chance to play, be it at “Structris” competitions—a sort of inverted “Tetris,”—or at “Lawless Legends,” just created this year, or, at more singular forms like “Jungle Adventure,” at its origin an interactive text game transposed as a collective society game by Ken Gagne, who himself incarnates the computer to which to give instructions (“human interface”).

The future of Apple II

During his presentation, Ken Gagne, the editor of Juiced.GS, surprised us by his presentation that made use of graphics that conveyed the growth in the numbers of his subscribers over the last five years. After a logical drop in the magazine’s distribution, linked to the obsolescence of the machines, it found a veritable resurrection which can be attributed to the emergence of retro-computing.

Ever since the computers created 30 years ago entered museums, they have become of historic interest to a whole new generation that is passionate about preserving its computer science patrimony. Ken tells us he is surprised by the ever greater amount of information there is to publish around Apples: each day brings its lot of new equipment and software.

Enthusiasm

In the course of my stay at Kansas Fest, I often heard the term “Apple enthusiast,” or “computer enthusiast.” I really like this expression because it turns its back on “nostalgia,” and immunizes us against the “melancholy” that accompanies the disappearance of machines that have fascinated us. In this enthusiasm resides a joy and a trust in the future, as if the past were still capable of surprising us and teaching us new wisdoms.

§

A few retrogeek links

The last word where news concerning first generation Apple is concerned can be found here:
http://a2central.com

Building a computer from the ground up, by Quinn alias Blondie Hack.
http://quinndunki.com/blondihacks/

Converting one’s venerable Apple II into a sort of vintage Arduino.
http://www.ivanhogan.com/kfest

The “Softalk” project set up by some fans that aims to digitize all the issues of the publication.
http://www.softalkapple.com

One of the first and famous sites for the conservation of digital memory and its best text files:
http://textfiles.com

The French site dedicated to the world of Apple is here.
http://www.brutaldeluxe.fr

This is the site where you can find replicas of the famous Apple I and the Altair:
http:.brielcomputers.com

“Structris,” the inverted “Tetris” game for Apple II:
https://bitbucket.ort/martin.have/structris/downloads

“Sophistication and Simplicity: The Life and Times of the Apple II Computer,” the indispensable book by Steven Weyhrick on the history of Apple.

Juiced.GS,” the trimestrial news publication about first generation Apple.

The Apple II France Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/a2france/

André Lozano

Duncan Campbell – Essay Film Homage to Marker & Resnais Wins 2014 Turner Prize

From the New York Times, 1 December 2014:

Inspired by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’s 1953 film, “Statues Also Die,” which was shown alongside “It for Others,” Mr. Campbell mixed images of African artifacts, consumer items and a dance work by the British choreographer Michael Clark in which the performers trace words and equations from Marx’s “Das Kapital” with their bodies. Mr. Campbell’s film, like “Statues Also Die,” tackles cultural imperialism: the appropriation of African artifacts by Western institutions. But the film, about an hour long, also suggests, in a section on an uprising during the Irish Troubles in the early 1970s, that the ownership and manipulation of images are not confined to the art world.Roslyn Sulcas, Innovative Filmmaker Wins Turner Prize for Art, nytimes.com

From The Guardian, 1 December 2014:

Turner prize 2014: Duncan Campbell wins Britain’s prestigious art award

Irish favourite takes prize for ‘essay film’ It for Others, which uses dance, the IRA and Marxism to explore the value of art

The judges called Duncan Campbell’s work ‘an ambitious and complex film which rewards repeated viewing’.

A 54-minute “essay film” that refers to IRA martyrdom, Marxist theory and anthropomorphic ketchup dispensers as it explores the value of art won its maker Duncan Campbell the 2014 Turner prize.

It was by no means a surprise. Campbell, aged 42 and probably the best known of the four artists shortlisted, had been the bookmakers’ favourite all along to take a prize created 30 years ago to “promote discussion of new developments in contemporary British art”.

His film, It for Others, was first seen at the Scottish pavilion of the Venice Biennale in the summer of 2013.

The Turner prize judges called it “an ambitious and complex film which rewards repeated viewing”. They also “admired his exceptional dedication to making a work which speaks about the construction of value and meaning in ways that are topical and compelling”.

The film was inspired by a 1953 work by Alain Resnais and Chris Marker called Statues Also Die, which explored and lamented the colonial commercialisation of African art.Mark Brown, Turner prize 2014: Duncan Campbell wins Britain’s prestigious art award, theguardian.com

CNN, seemingly unfamiliar with Chris Marker, contributes this take and goes on to discuss a controversy surrounding the reception; as Marker and Resnais’ film was banned upon release, the controversial nature of Campbell’s work is fitting.

His film, It For Others, which was described by the panel as “an ambitious and complex film which rewards repeated viewing”, is a response to a “film essay” from 1953 about African art and colonialism.

This archive footage is interspersed with new material, including a dance routine based on the equations in Karl Marx’s seminal work, “Das Kapital,” created by the choreographer Michael Clark.

All of this is overlaid with a voiceover that imitates the style of a lecture.

[…]

Digby Warde-Aldam, the art critic for the UK’s Spectator magazine, said: “Surely no arbiter in their right mind could have let such hectoring, cultural studies-sanctioned guff slip through the net?”

“If you’re serious about the rubbish on show this year, you are insulting every artist working in Britain today,” he said.

Jake Wallis Simons, Turner Prize 2014 won by Irish film artist Duncan Campbell, cnn.com

About Duncan Campbell

Campbell, who lives in Scotland, is a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. He is the fourth alumni of the school to have won the prize in the last 10 years. For more on Campbell and the GSoA, see scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk.

Filming Das Kapital

Karl Marx’ seminal work has been back in the spotlight of late, due of course to the success of French scholar Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century [orig. Le capital au XXIe siècle, Paris, Seuil, 2013). Campbell’s work is not the first attempt to draw Marx’ masterwork into filmic expression. Eisenstein worked on a version of the book as film in 1927-1928, after the completion of October and while working on The General Line (1929).

Eighty years later, Alexander Kluge – the wunderkind polymath pupil of T.W. Adorno, a political philosopher, filmmaker, television producer and prolific short story writer – produced a monumental 9 1/2 hour film entitled Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike – Marx/Eisenstein/Das Kapital (News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx/Eisenstein/Capital. For more on Kluge’s production, see Julia Vassilieva, “Capital and Co.: Kluge/Eisenstein/Marx”, Screening the Past.

Chris Marker Coréennes – English Text

Is there no one
to keep the
moon from
disappearing,
to tie the morning
sun beneath
the horizon?
Then I would live
one more day.
(Story of Sim Chon)

Due to the out of print status of the English translation of Chris Marker’s Coréennes, I have scanned my copy to make this text available to English readers. The photographs from the original French and, subsequently, Korean editions were recently on display at Peter Blum’s Gallery in New York. For those who had the chance to visit the exhibition, this text will prove illuminating. It is also now a piece of rare Marker memorabilia. This edition includes Marker’s 1997 postscript from “Port-Kosinki.”

You may download the pdf here: Chris Marker, Corénnenes, English Text

Our next step will be to provide the OCR scanned text (thanks to ABBY Fine Reader technology) in html format as a page on this site, so stay tuned!

Translation: Brian Holmes
Produced by: Wexner Center Store, 2009
Manager: Matt Reber

Note 11.15.14: PDF updated with cover and table of contents.

Coreennes English

The first Korean girl descended from the heavens. A friendly rose, flat and rather far from the archetype (Indigenae candidi sunt, el procerae staturae, says Mercator’s Atlas), she alone among her sisters betrayed the far-off Tunguskan origins that the anthropologists ascribe to her ancestor, the demi-god Tangun (2332 B.C.). No doubt it was this blend of traits that led the Korean employment counselors to glimpse her vocation, the same as the Druggist’s in Giraudoux’s Intermezzo: the gift for transitions. The Far East lines are guarded by young women: Olga in Omsk, a shepherdess of Tupolcv- Macha in Chita, leading the twin-engines out to pasture in the violet dawn of Mongolia. The last relay, the Air-Eastess, skewered us through China: congregations of incredulous camels startled by the shadow of the Ilyushin, squares of Tartar silk drying alongside the yurts, the petrified thunder of the Great Wall to which a train, silent for our ears, laid siege with its white cry. Kalmuki murus contra Tártaros. Another wall of pink and white dust, brick and mercury: on the Taedong river, before the bridge rebuilt by the Chinese volunteers, a fisherman let his net slip between his fingers, grain by grain, like a rosary. Soft morning, city. Tolerant even toward its clichés, Korea greeted us… with morning calm.Chris Marker, Coréennes

Chris Marker Exhibition Opens in Oslo

Chris Marker TBD

Kunstnernes Hus Chris Marker Exhibition

Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat

31 October 2014 – 11 January 2015

Opening Friday, 31 October 2014, 7pm.

Opening speech by Christine Van Assche, Curator at Large at Centre Pompidou, Paris, and Artistic Director, Mats Stjernstedt

Guided tour in the exhibition on Saturday, 1 November, 2 pm, by Christine Van Assche and Mats Stjernstedt

Kunstnernes Hus presents the first Scandinavian retrospective of visionary French filmmaker, photographer, writer and multimedia artist Chris Marker (1921 – 2012). His films lace realism with science fiction and lyricism with politics. Changing his name, declining to be photographed or interviewed, Marker is both enigma and legend. His influence extends across art, experimental film and mainstream cinema.

Marker is widely acknowledged as the finest exponent of the essay film and is known as the director of over 60 films, including Sans soleil (Sunless, 1983) and A Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de l’air est rouge, 1977). His most celebrated work La Jetée (The Pier, 1962) imagines a Paris devastated by nuclear catastrophe and is composed almost entirely of black-and-white still photographs, which informed the narrative of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995).

Marker was an inveterate traveler – his camera was his eye. His astonishing range of images can encompass a temple in Tokyo devoted to cats, to frozen flowers in a Siberian science station. Marker pictures our cultural rituals, ancient and modern – visiting a shrine, playing videogames, protesting on the streets. He splices his images with found footage, including fragments of movies, cartoons, ads, and news reels. Musical scores are interwoven with the noises of everyday life; haunting commentaries are narrated as if from the future, meditating on history and memory.

Darkness also underlines Marker’s portrayal of planetary cultures – memories of war ravaged France, the brutalities of colonialism, the failures of revolution.

A Grin Without a Cat is co-curated by Christine Van Assche, Curator at Large, Centre Pompidou, Paris, writer and film critic Chris Darke, and Magnus af Petersens, Curator at Large, Whitechapel Gallery/Curator, Moderna Museet. The exhibition tours to Lund Konsthall in 2015.

The exhibition is organized by Whitechapel Gallery.
Kunstnernes Hus

Kunsternes Hus

Kunstnernes Hus er en av Norges vakreste bygninger og et av de tidligste eksempel på norsk funksjonalisme. Huset har en spennende historie som et sentralt visningssted for norsk og internasjonal samtidskunst. Foruten faste utstillinger og en flott matservering med utsikt over Slottsparken kan vi tilby ulike arrangement både på dag- og kveldstid.

The Kunsternes Hus (Artists’ House) is one of Norway’s most beautiful buildings, and one of the earliest example of Norwegian functionalism. The House has an interesting history as a central viewing place for Norwegian and international contemporary art. In addition to permanent exhibitions and great on-site dining facilities with views of the Palace Gardens, we can offer various events both on the day and evening time.

Coréennes by John Fitzgerald – Chris Marker Photo Exhibition at Peter Blum Gallery

Korean Ballerina, Chris Marker, Peter Blum Gallery

John Fitzgerald is a periodic contributor to chrismarker.org, and we would like to extend our gratitude to him for crafting this piece for us. Previously he has written In a Train of the Métro, Passengers and A Grin Without a Cat, Lincoln Center.

A question that arose toward the end of my recent visit to Peter Blum Gallery in New York to view the Chris Marker “Koreans” exhibition is illustrative of the veil of mystery that hangs over so much of his life and work. Having studied the photos of individual North Koreans hanging on the gallery walls – photos that I had long believed had been incorporated into a film that he had done on the subject – I then came upon a book resting against the wall with all of the same photographs and with an accompanying text written in Korean. Beside this book was a smaller paperback, including an English translation of the text, but without the photographs. So were these pictures in the gallery photographs that had been incorporated into a film? Or were the photographs themselves the main body of work, of which the book was merely a compendium piece? Or was the book that I was holding in fact the principle artistic expression – the words and images playing off of each other, each giving added meaning to the other?

The gallery attendant helpfully added clarity, noting that the photographs originally appeared in the book Coréennes and that what was on display in the gallery were reproductions. What was not in the exhibition, then, was the accompanying commentary that Marker had included in the original book. (An added note of confusion came when I pointed out that the text was written in Korean – a language I was not aware that Marker had been conversant in – and we agreed that the actual text must originally have been in French before being translated into Korean.) She also noted that the photographs on view in the gallery were digital photographs. Marker had digitized, and in some cases altered, the original 35mm photos that appeared in the book.

Between the photographs being set apart from the original text that accompanied them, the digital alteration of the original images, and even the added confusion about what language the text had originally appeared in, the various levels of removal was reminiscent of the first time that I had been introduced to Marker’s work at a screening of Sans Soleil: a French film, dubbed in English, and largely about the Japanese, in which an unnamed woman seems to read letters she has received from an unnamed man across great gaps of distance and time. In everything that Marker touches, there are layers.

In an exhibition of photographs we are only treated to one of those layers. I would compare it to watching Sans Soleil with the sound turned off: the images of sleeping Japanese on the ferry from Hokkaido would not be half so arresting without Marker’s voiceover meditation – “Waiting, immobility, snatches of sleep. Curiously, all of that makes me think of a past or future war: night trains, air raids, fallout shelters – small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life. He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time. Those memories whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories.”

One striking photograph in the exhibition shows a woman dressed in a modern gender-neutral shirt and pants walking down the street and effortlessly carrying a large basket perfectly balanced on her head. Marker captures her as she walks directly under an awning featuring a placard painted with a woman wearing a traditional Western-style white dress. Your eye notes the dualism of the figures in the photograph and you recall Marker’s affinity for contrasts. But divorced from the accompanying text, we miss out entirely on Marker’s poetic meditation of a street in North Korea as a kind of self-contained universe:

head carrying coréenne

A great deal of Korea strolls by on Koreans’ heads. Like those salon magicians hired round the turn of the century – barely introduced beneath a false name before they would begin juggling with the furniture to entertain the guests – the Koreans like to set objects dancing. Baskets, earthenware jars, bundles of wood, basins, all escape the earth’s gravity to become satellites of these calm planets, obeying exacting orbits. For the Korean street has its cycles, its waves, its rails. In this double décor, where hastened ruins and buildings still aborning strike a second’s balance of incompletion, the soldier who (foresightedly) buys a civilian’s sun hat, the worker leaving the construction site, the bureaucrat with his briefcase, the woman in traditional dress and the woman in modern dress, the porter carrying a brand new allegory to the museum of the Revolution with a woman in black following step by step to decipher it – all have their route and precise place, like constellations.

smiling Korean Chris Marker Peter Blum Gallery

In a short notice about the exhibition recently published in The Wall Street Journal, the reviewer’s principle observation comes in the last sentence: “All in all, it looks normal.” The “it” that the reviewer is referring to is North Korea, and, confronted with images of people dancing, practicing ballet, walking to the market, or posing for a photograph, it does seem rather unremarkable. Given the West’s perception of North Korea as an isolated rogue state most commonly associated with newsreels of long columns of soldiers marching in machine-like precision while parading ballistic missiles down the avenue, there is unquestionably inherent value in an exhibition of photographs that shows them in their everyday life, images far removed from the militaristic propaganda with which we are all so familiar. Such images are nearer to the Petit Planète series of travel books to which Marker contributed and that went against the genre’s propensity to Orientalize far-off places. Standing in the gallery, we are not witness to the wretched shackles of communism or the visible consequences of a morally-depraved regime depriving its owns citizens of food. The little ballerina in Untitled #27 more closely calls to mind the world of Edgar Degas than Kim Il-sung.

Which begs the question – if ever so briefly – as to what extent these photographs themselves have elements of propaganda. The photos were taken during a period in which Marker was collaborating on some of his most overtly political films, including Cuba si! and Far from Vietnam, the latter of which was reviewed by Renata Adler in The New York Times as a “rambling partisan newsreel collage.” A filmmaker putting his name to projects featuring interviews with Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh might well be expected to paint a flattering – and perhaps skewed – picture of life in that other workers’ paradise north of the 38th parallel. But we must consider that North Korea in 1957 was not revealed as the human catastrophe that it was later to become under the ensuing decades of rule by the Kims, and we can excuse Marker for seeking out the basic humanity in a communist country that he had hoped – as he noted in a 1997 coda to the Coréennes text – would manifest a break with “the Soviet model” of Marxism. “Those children of Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Bolivar, or Marti had no reason to kneel before dogma elaborated by bureaucrats born from a Leninist host-mother inseminated by Kafka,” he wrote. “The answer is: they did.”

They did, indeed. And perhaps that is the other element that is missing from this exhibition, an exhibition that might have shown pictures of the promise of communism alongside pictures of the consequences of communism, such as borrowed newsreel images of starved bodies or the tens of thousands of political prisoners in forced labor camps. Marker included a powerful postscript to his Coréennes text for inclusion on the Immemory CD-ROM in 1997, a postscript that was shown against a background of newspaper clips of the North Korean famine. “The balance sheet to which most of the texts and images on this disc bear witness is totally disastrous, and I feel neither the right nor the inclination to ignore that,” he wrote. But no equivalent photographic postscript was evident in the exhibition at Peter Blum. As I left the gallery, one of the most striking images I noticed was of a handsome Korean man in Western clothes grinning widely, and I could not help but think of Marker’s Lewis Carroll-esque expression for the illusory hopes of socialist revolutions that never materialized – “a grin without a cat.”

A short 2009 note by Marker that accompanies the exhibition to some extent fills in the gap left by the photographs, observing how “time froze on that country . . . while the megalomaniac leadership of both Kims had proven a disaster.” It also includes a contemporaneous snippet of a communiqué from the country’s state-run news agency touting a much-publicized missile launch, noting that the government’s recent actions had the full support of “the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Marker observes: “Yes, you read correctly. ‘Soviet Union.’ In 2009.”

Satellite Image of Dark North Korea

The difficulty is that these photographs are likewise frozen in time and the overwhelming “normalcy” of the images seems so dissonant with what we actually know about life in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I noted earlier Marker’s description of the “satellites” in a North Korean street, but one of the most compelling recent visuals to emerge of this impenetrable country is the image of North Korean streets seen from the satellites – an entire population literally living in the dark. Photographed intermittently from orbiting satellites over the years, the recurring image is that of the democratic south shimmering in light while the communist north is shrouded in darkness. With his penchant both for technology and juxtaposition, it might have been a fitting image to accompany his postscript to Coréennes, a poignant aria of disillusionment penned toward the close of the 1990s and concluding with a bleak commentary on a century that, “despite all it shams, had so little real existence – which may after all have been nothing but an immense, interminable fade-over.”

John Fitzgerald

Installation Views Courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery, New York
Works Courtesy of the Chris Marker Estate and Peter Blum Gallery, New York

§

Coreennes English

Editor’s Addendum

Coréennes doit s’entendre ici au sens de Gnossiennes ou Provinciales c’est’-à-dire “pièces d’inspiration coréenne”. On y trouvera, outre les dames de Corée (qui à elles seules vaudraient plus d’un long-métrage), des tortues qui rient, des géants qui pleurent, un légume qui rend immortel, trois petites filles changées en astres, un ours médecin, un chien qui mange la lune, un tambour qui fait danser des tigres, plusieurs chouettes, et sur ce décor immortel un pays anéanti hier par la guerre, qui repousse “à la vitesse d’une plante au cinéma” entre Marx et les fées. Vous apprendrez encore que les Coréens ont inventé l’imprimerie avant Gutenberg, le cuirassé avant Potemkine et la Grand Garabagne avant Michaux, dans ce “court-métrage” où l’on souhaite voir apparaître un genre distinct de l’album et du reportage, qu’on appellerait faute de mieux ciné-essai comme il y a des ciné-romans — à une seule réserve près, mais d’importance: les personnages ne s’y expriment pas encore par de jolis phylactères en forme de nuage, comme dans les comics. Mais il faut savoir attendre…Chris Marker, cover of orig. French version of Coréennes, curiously elided in English text version

Coréennes should be understood in the sense of Gnossiennes [Satie] or Provinciales [Pascal], that is to say ‘pieces of korean [fem. – Ed.] inspiration.’ Besides the women of Korea – who themselves would be worth more than one full-length film – one will find tortoises that laugh, giants who cry, a vegetable for immortality, three little girls turned into stars, a doctor bear, a dog who eats the moon, a drum that makes tigers dance, multiple cats, and on this immortal decore a country annihilated yesterday by war, one that regrows ‘with the speed of a plant in the cinema’ between Marx and the fairies. You will learn as well that the Koreans invented the printing press before Gutenberg, the armorplate/breastplate before Potemkine and the Grand Garabagne before Michaux.* In this ‘short film’ one hopes to see revealed a distinct genre of the album or journalism, one will call for lack of a better term ‘essay film’ – like there are novel films [ciné-romans, a sly reference to La Jetée -Ed.] – with one small but important reservation: the people do not express themselves by the amusing bubbles in the form of clouds, as in the comics. But just you wait…Chris Marker, Coréennes

* Henri Michaux’ work Voyage en Grand Garabagne was written in 1936 and later became part of the volume Ailleurs, published in 1948. As one critic puts it, “Voyage en Grande Garabagne présente des peuples inventés avec des moeurs et des coutumes fantastiques. […] la grande sobriété de l’écriture contraste avec l’imagination et l’invention débridées de l’auteur. – overblog. We can’t help but be reminded of Borges and Foucault’s great opening to Les mots et les choses