It was a Strange Thing by Chris Marker

It was a strange thing. A small box of metal with irregularly rounded corners, with a rectangular opening in the middle and in front of it a tiny lens, the size of a euro. We had to slip a piece of film – real film, with perforations – that was pressed by a rubber wheel, and by turning a button connected to the roulette, the film was unrolled one by one. Actually, each image represented a different scene, so that it seemed more like a slideshow than home theater, but these scenes were beautifully reproduced shots of famous films, Chaplin, Ben Hur, The Napoleon of Abel Gance … If you were rich you could put the little box into a kind of magic lantern and project onto the wall (or onto a screen, if you were very rich). I had to be satisfied with the minimal version: press the eye against the lens, and look. This now-forgotten gizmo was called a Pathéorama. It could be read in gold letters on a black background with the legendary rooster Pathé singing before a rising sun.

objet

The egotistic joy of being able to look at images that belonged to the inaccessible realm of cinema just for myself quickly produced a dialectical by-product. While I could not even imagine having anything in common with the art of filming (whose basic principles were naturally far beyond my comprehension), I grasped something of the film itself, a piece of celluloid not so different from the negatives that came back from the lab. Something I could feel and touch, something of the real world. And why then, (dialectically insinuated my own Jiminy Cricket), could I in turn do something similar? It was enough to have translucent material and the right dimensions. (The perforation was there to be pretty, the roulette ignored it). So, with scissors, glue and crystal paper, I made a faithful copy of the actual Pathéorama reel. After that, frame by frame, I began to draw a series of poses of my cat (who else?), inserting a few comment boxes. In one fell swoop, the cat began to belong to the same universe as the characters of Ben Hur or Napoleon. I was on the other side of the mirror.

Out of my schoolmates, Jonathan was the most prestigious. He had the gift of mechanics and inventiveness, he made models of theaters with moving curtains, flashing lights, and a miniature orchestra that emerged from a pit while a wind-up Gramophone played a triumphant march. It was therefore natural that he should be the first to see my masterpiece. I was quite proud of the result, and by unwinding the adventures of the cat Riri I announced “my movie” (my Movie). Jonathan quickly brought me back to sobriety. “But, silly, movies are moving images,” he said. “You can’t make a movie with still pictures.”

Thirty years passed. Then I made La Jetée.

– Chris Marker


Post-script: Text from the French edition booklet of La Jetée – Sans Soleil DVD, 2003. Translation © Sophie Kovel, 2017.

Many thanks Sofie! The original French piece can be found here: C’était un drôle d’objet.

Another Villeneuve

L’essai proposé ici se prend au jeu de la compagnie des images. Il propose l’invention d’un aller-retour sur Chris Marker. Nous sommes à bord d’un train : les images défilent au rythme de la machine ; elles évoquent d’autres images, des pensées et des souvenirs. Disons, par utopisme, que l’on dispose à volonté de toutes les images de Marker et de leurs commentaires – chose apparemment utopique tant le cinéaste lui-même a contribué à la difficulté de les rassembler. Le compartiment est une salle de projection, là où le défilement du paysage croise une œuvre aussi singulière que nécessaire. Le trajet se découpe en deux temps. Le voyage est éternel.

Excerpt From: Johanne Villeneuve. “Chris Marker.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/dVEAJ.l [also available as kindle book]

The essay proposed here takes on the game of the enterprise [company, club, society] of images. It proposes the invention of a round trip through (the landscape of) Chris Marker. We are on board a train: the images stretch out to the rhythm of the machine; they evoque other images, thoughts and memories. Let us say, as utopianists, that we are in possession at will of all the images of Marker and of their commentaries – a thing apparently utopian not least as the filmmaker himself contributed to the difficulty of assembling them. The compartment is a film theatre, there where the stretch of the landscape crosses a body of work as singular as necessary. The trajectory divides itself into two times. The trip is everlasting.

Le train en marche - Alexandre Medvedkin

Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain @ DOXA

There is a new film out entitled Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain, by Jean-Marie Barbe & Arnaud Lambert. The film is to be shown as part of the 2017 DOXA Festival called “French, French” taking place 4-14 Mai 2017 at the Cinémathèque in Vancouver, BC, and will move to theh Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley after that (not sure of dates yet). For the news and the PDF of the DOXA press booklet I am grateful to Christine van Assche.

The festival will show recent French documentary films alongside a selection of Marker’s work, including Une Journée d’Andrei Arsenevitch, Le Souvenir d’un avenir, Chats perchés, Le Tombeau d’Alexandre, Le Fond de l’air est rouge, and L’Héritage de la chouette.

The program is curated by Thierry Garrel. If you dig a bit, you can find a Marker-related essay by Garrel on the DOXA site called “Two Cats, An Owl and a Lot of Nice Human Beings.” Garell writes:

As an opening to this retrospective, Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain (2016), by Jean-Marie Barbe and Arnaud Lambert, portrays the cinéaste and his works through the testimonies of seven people who knew him and worked with him – including Wim Wenders, Patricio Guzman, and … yours truly, as I had the privilege to collaborate on the production side while working for French Television at INA, La Sept and ARTE, with all the films presented!

Here’s the text from the program on the new bio-essay-doc:

Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain

Jean-Marie Barbe & Arnaud Lambert, France, 2016, 144mn

La vie et l’oeuvre de Chris Marker pourraient remplir plusieurs volumes — même un train de marchandises ! — mais Jean-Marie Barbe et Arnaud Lambert les brossent allègrement en tout juste 144 minutes. En répondant à la question : “Qui est Chris Marker ?”, chacun de leurs interlocuteurs convoquent à chaque fois un univers et des réalités différentes. Comme Wim Wenders, qui s’est saoulé à mort avec Marker dans un bar de Tokyo : “Cette nuit à La Jetée, nous avons parlé, parlé, mais nous avons bu tant de sake et de vodka… que j’ai presque tout oublié”. Ou André S. Labarthe, qui résume : “c’était un esprit libre.” Ce qui est sûr, c’est que tout au long de sa carrière, Marker ne s’est jamais satisfait de n’être qu’un ni de ne faire qu’une seule chose. Écrivain, cinéaste, photographe, érudit, dessinateur, amoureux des chats – on ne saurait le qualifier en un mot. Sinon peut-être : génie.

The life and work of Chris Marker could easily fill several documentary portraits, maybe even several freight trains, but directors Jean-Marie Barbe and Arnaud Lambert have kept it to a brisk 144 minutes. “Who is Chris Marker?” — is the question posed by the directors/interlocutors, and every answer reveals a different reality. Some of the recollections are funny and bittersweet, such as Wim Wenders getting blind drunk with Marker at a bar in Tokyo. “That night at La Jetée is the time when we talked most, but we drank so much sake and vodka that we forgot most of it,” says Wenders. As André S. Labarthe states simply: “He was a free spirit.” One thing is clear, over the length of his career, Marker was never content to do or be only one thing. Writer, filmmaker, photographer, polymath, cartoonist, cat lover — there is no single term that quite suffices. Except, perhaps, genius. -DW

Download Program (PDF)

Check out the DOXA site for more information.

Here’s the page for the Chris Marker retrospective.

According to the DOXA site, “Jean-Marie Barbe is the president of Tënk, the first online platform dedicated solely to auteur documentary. The goal is to provide access to the very best in nonfiction cinema to the widest possible audience. Tënk’s curatorial team of discerning documentary professionals selects films, drawn from festivals, and organizes them thematically.” [source]

Arnaud Lambert is no newcomer to Chris Marker investigations. He is the author of the brilliant, comprehensive volume – in French despite its English title – Also Known as Chris Marker, published in 2013 by LePointduJour.

The Eloquent No of Chris Marker

Letter from Chris Marker to Paul Chan

Direct link to YouTube video: www.youtube.com

In October of 2010, I emailed Chris to ask him if he was interested in taking part in a special issue of eflux journal that the art critic Sven Lütticken and I were editing. The issue focused on whether contemporary art had or had not addressed the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the US and elsewhere, and how these largely nationalistic, homophobic and xenophobic movements impacted culture and arts. With the ascendency of the Tea Party, Sven and I wondered whether it was possible to chart a genealogy of right-wing groups on both sides of the Atlantic, and to illuminate their familial relations. Anything would do I wrote, I asked Chris – a text, an image, even an animated gif. … Two months later, he replied.

Hi Paul:
Sorry for the delay, I couldn’t have met the deadline anyway. At an age when people care for their eternal salvation or go fishing – which is not incompatible – I have managed to put on my shoulders more daily work than I ever have in my life. But I gave a lot of thought to your proposal, and sadly I must say that it doesn’t make any real sense. For yes, the Tea Party is an isolated event. There’s a mixture of bigotry, estrangement and crass ignorance that is unique in the world, and that is as idiosyncratically American as country music or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

True, there are in Europe movements that are nationalistic, homophobic, xenophobic, etc., and we’re watching their rise with concern. None of them fits the ideological vacuum of the Tea Partiers, characters like Sarah Palin or Glen Beck, who are just as unimaginable in Europe’s politics. In France, the most dangerous leader of the extreme right, Le Pen, a cultured man who can debate geo-political issues on the same level as his opponents. The shroud of religiosity that wraps the whole TP movement, and US politics at large, is something unknown here, where the separation of church and state is the cornerstone of the Republic. Unthinkable to hear a public personality pronounce “So help me God”. Even racism has different roots. It relates here to the colonial empire and the Algerian war, not slavery and Jim Crow, and its expressions are strongly controlled.

I saw plates and badges depicting Obama as a monkey with a banana. Anyone here who would dare use such imagery would be severely punished by law. As if for the main topic of the TPs, the traditional American defiance against central government, it’s in complete contradiction to what the European extreme rightest movements, who without exception are in favor of a stronger state.

I can go on and on like this on practically every characteristic, so the only possible comparison would be at the lowest levels: all are evil, and all include an impressive number of morons. Not much for food, methinks. Sorry for this long explanation of my own inability to participate — all that representing only my private views of course – and no intent on discouraging anyone to push the comparisons deeper and surely better. But well… all I could do was a frank response. Best wishes on the coming year – the Year of the Cat.
Chris Marker, letter to Paul Chan

“Sharp and generous, even when all he’s saying is ‘No.'” – Paul Chan

paul-chan-brooklyn

“What I liked about it was that someone had taken the time to paint and make owl heads on the cats.”

Sixth Side of the Pentagon Trailer

The image below from Marker’s Staring Back photo collection book was posted to the Chris Marker Facebook page today by Ben McGill. Marker getting the not welcome please cease and desist moves by the US military police… Neither the image nor the film have lost their significance, to say the least, as the resistance to power renews itself after a short nap of reason (that of course produced monsters). As Ben aptly notes, “Perhaps the best place to hide is in your own book.”

Chris Marker accosted by the Military Police Pentagon 1967

Chris Marker, Staring Back, p 10

Note: I have found the page in Chris Marker Staring Back and scanned the image. Not edited at all, so it is still quite blurry, but you can click on it for a larger version. For Ben’s version, see Chris Marker Facebook Group.

On October 21, 1967, over 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C., for the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam. It was the largest protest gathering yet, and it brought together a wide cross-section of liberals, radicals, hippies, and Yippies. Che Guevara had been killed in Bolivia only two weeks previously, and, for many, it was the transition from simply marching against the war, to taking direct action to try to stop the ‘American war machine.’ Norman Mailer wrote about the events in Armies of the Night. French filmmaker Chris Marker, leading a team of filmmakers, was also there, and made THE SIXTH SIDE OF THE PENTAGON.
IMDB

For more information, see Icarus Films video page. They offer the DVD of The Sixth Side of the Pentagon bundled with Marker’s short fiction film 1973 The Embassy.

The original title of the film is La sixième face du pentagone, filmed in 1967 and finished in 1968. It is a collaboration between Marker and François Reichenbach. For a deeper look at Reichenbach and his career, take a look at the article “Francois Reichenbach Dies at 71; Directed Range of Documentaries” in The New York Times, dated 2/3/1993. Among his books is Le monde a encore un visage, a statement certainly given ample life in both Reichenbach’s and Marker’s films and photography.

Robert Goff has written one of the most comprehensive reviews of the film. Here’s an excerpt:

The films of Chris Marker continue to remind us how the history of the twentieth century haunts the present. Few directors alive today have filmed in so many countries, witnessing and commenting on the events of the second half of the century. This prolific French filmmaker has brought a left-wing political vision and a reflective sensibility to the creation of a remarkable body of work. With so few films from his vast archive available in the United States, one is grateful for the release of any of his works, however minor. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967) and The Embassy (1973) are two short films made during the time of the production company, SLON (Société Pour le Lancement d’Oevres Nouvelles [Company for the Launching of New Work]) that Marker founded in 1967 and that lasted until 1977. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon is a documentary on, arguably, the most important anti-Vietnam war demonstration of the 1960s, the march to the Pentagon in 1967, later immortalized in Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer prize-winning The Armies of the Night. The Embassy, shot in Super 8, imitates the form of a documentary but it actually is a fictional work that references the overthrow of President Allende in Chile the same year the film was made.

If the coup in Chile in 1973 influenced the making of The Embassy, the film is also a commentary on French society. Marker’s voice-over suggests that the director is filming left-wing intellectuals taking refuge in the embassy from an unnamed military regime. The voice expresses left-wing ideas about repressive regimes and class struggle but what the viewer seems to be watching is a silent home movie of a wealthy family and their guests. Marker, the viewer realizes, is filming actors and what we see and hear alludes to the privileged but often impotent position of intellectuals in society. One surmises that in 1973 the filmmaker was probably coming to terms with his own feelings about what had just happened in Chile.

The Sixth Side of the Pentagon is the slightly longer and more conventional of the two films. Mostly shot in color, it captures the dramatic events in Washington during October 1967. Marker and his co-director, Francoise Reichenbach (the film is a typical example of the collaborative SLON) share a gift for capturing bizarre confrontations: American Nazis distribute flyers on “gassing the Viet Cong” and try to shout down draft resistors outside the Department of Justice; sinister U.S. military personnel look down from the top of the Lincoln Memorial while below hordes of protestors, many wearing clothing and carrying banners bearing the image of Che Guevara, can be seen thronging the steps and lining the distant reflecting pool; a minister sermonizes against communism from atop a cherry picker while hippies chant pagan incantations below, led by Ed Sanders of the Fugs; middle-aged U.S. Marshals emerge from the Pentagon wearing steel helmets, lashing out with clubs and bloodying very young demonstrators. The film, however, is not just an observational documentary as Marker’s commentary is unequivocally on the side of the protestors in this huge demonstration against the military might of the Pentagon, which in 1967 symbolized the war in Vietnam.

After watching these films, the viewer is advised to see Marker’s A Grin without a Cat (also available from Icarus Films). This compilation film is one of Marker’s more important feature-length films but it can also be viewed as a very long DVD commentary on these two short films. Released in 1977 and revised further in 1993, A Grin without a Cat is a meditation on the history of the struggles of the left, particularly over Vietnam, in the 1960s and 1970s, and concludes with a long commentary on the demise of the Allende government. Marker laments he did not notice the rise of the right in his narration of A Grin without a Cat, which incorporates considerable amounts of footage…
Robert Goff, “The Sixth Side of the Pentagon and The Embassy”, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, Volume 39.1 (Spring 2009) pp. 75-76 – as presented on http://muse.jhu.edu/article/375875

Fandor also has the film available online, though only the trailer in front of the paywall: www.fandor.com, in a very clean video with good resolution. This is the English dubbed version. On the Pentagon: “It is a place with the greatest concentration of military men per square mile, cemeteries excepted.”

Colin MacCabe Visits the Atelier

Chris Marker studio door

Visiting rue Courat
Colin MacCabe

It was early 2002 and people still used answering machines rather than mobile phones. The recording clicked in and an extraordinary voice that sounded as if it had been mechanically produced asked the caller to leave a message “if you have something interesting or amusing to say”. I was already nervous that I was cold calling Chris Marker, legendary recluse and indeed general artistic legend. My anxiety intensified and I started to stutter out my message. “I am in Paris and I have a VHS copy of a film called The Magic Face and…” The receiver was picked up (I learned later that Chris screened all his calls) and a very human voice said, “You are the Messiah”. I have never been more startled by any single sentence addressed to me.

If I was the Messiah then John the Baptist was Tom Luddy. It was a few days earlier that I had seen Tom in Berkeley and asked him if he could get me an introduction to Marker. “I have the perfect calling card”, he said. “Chris has been looking for a copy of a film called The Magic Face for 50 years and I have just found a poor VHS copy. Here – deliver it.” And deliver it I now did. Marker said that he would be in the Latin Quarter, where I was living, the next Tuesday but his enthusiasm for the film was so overpowering that I insisted that I would bring it immediately to him. His instructions were both precise and disorienting. I had to go to a Metro station I had never heard of, cross under a disused railway I had never seen, walk down a narrow street, the rue Courat, find a huge house with an array of bells and names. Then I was to choose the bell without any name and ring three times.

The Metro was Maraichers and over the next decade I was to come to know it and that part of the 20th arrondissement well. No tourist has ever set foot there and it corresponds to none of the conventional pictures of Paris but with its completely mixed and relatively poor population it is as good an image of contemporary France profonde as you can find. But that first day it was terra incognita. As I stood at the door of the house I wondered if I had wandered into a parallel universe.

Of course I had and in time I would feel at home there. But, for now, I felt extremely uncomfortable and slightly terrified as I waited for the door to open. Everybody knew Marker’s name (although Marker wasn’t his real name) but unlike almost any other twentieth century name there was no accompanying image. I had no idea what to expect. Suddenly, bounding down the steps came what at very first impression was a huge and agile monkey. Indeed I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been a long and bushy tail to go with the completely bald head. Certainly he bounded back up the stairs with long agile leaps leaving me, thirty years his junior, toiling in his wake.

And then we were in his studio …
Colin MacCabe, www.orbooks.com

Colin MacCabe is a British academic, writer and film producer. He has published books on a variety of subjects, including Jean Luc Godard, James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, and has produced many films, among them Young Soul Rebels, Seasons in Quincy, and Caravaggio. He is currently distinguished professor of English and film at the University of Pittsburgh.

For a rare interview of Marker by MacCabe, see 80:81 Chris Marker Speaks with Colin MacCabe.

For pre-orders and additional information on the book and its three authors, navigate to OR Books | Studio: Remembering Chris Marker.

For more information on the forthcoming book Studio by OR Books, of which the MacCabe remembrance is an excerpt, see our initial post Studio: A Remembrance of Chris Marker – Bartos, McCabe, Lerner.

10:04 | 4001

FYI, Ben Lerner’s novel 10:04, which I had the pleasure of reading this year, is a fantastic novel. Lerner contributes the Introduction to Studio. Some things are definitely worth waiting for, down to the minute. It strikes me now that 10:04 reversed is 4001, the year of perfect memory in Sans Soleil:

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

[…]

As we await the year four thousand and one and its total recall, that’s what the oracles we take out of their long hexagonal boxes at new year may offer us: a little more power over that memory that runs from camp to camp—like Joan of Arc. That a short wave announcement from Hong Kong radio picked up on a Cape Verde island projects to Tokyo, and that the memory of a precise color in the street bounces back on another country, another distance, another music, endlessly.

Cuba Si! by Chris Marker (1961)

Cuba Si!, Chris Marker’s 1961 film about the late Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, was produced by Pierre Braunberger and banned in France. It contains much original footage of Castro speaking, and is one of a handful of films not available, to my knowledge, on DVD. It is rarely shown and was not considered by Marker himself as part of his oeuvre that he wished to have projected. He talked about his early films as ‘sketches’ of what was to come, of their being preludes to his later work (post 1962 I believe was his internal dividing line, expressed publicly from time to time). Nonetheless, it is unmistakably a Marker film, bearing his signature, his political engagement, his humour and his curiosity.

And indeed, we witness in the evolution of his work an interesting tendency to revisit topics in a more full-bodied manner, transitioning often from court-métrage to long-métrage.* In this line of thinking, Le Mystère Koumiko (1965) forms a prelude to the more wide-ranging Sans Soleil in its more thorough treatment of Japanese culture. His first film on Alexandr Medvedkin, The Train Rolls On (1972), become the masterpiece letter-film The Last Bolshevik two decades later (1992). Cuba Si! found itself incorporated in part in Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977), itself expanded and revised for the English version Grin Without a Cat in 1988.

La Jetée (1963) also found itself inhabiting – in nuanced references – the expanded space of Sans Soleil, though this case is different, for this film begins the period that Marker embraced and encouraged to be shown, inaugurating what he apparently viewed as his mature period and willing the earlier works to the ‘dustbin of history’ – though there was by then already a sizable and wonderful oeuvre, especially when one considers his collaborative work with Resnais. The same year brought Le Joli mai, Marker’s exploration of Paris and the Parisian Zeitgeist using the new technique of ‘direct cinema’ in the wake of the French war in Algeria (1954 to 1962), and Marker oversaw its remastering and re-release before the end of his life.

With Cuba Si!, La Jetée and Le Joli mai, in effect we have portraits of the aftermaths of three wars, with three wildly different approaches – documentary, science fiction and direct cinema. The subject is omnipresent in Marker’s work, returning forcefully again in Level Five‘s treatment of Okinawa and the brutal end of WWII in the Pacific.

Of course, Marker fans would wish to salvage all of Marker’s films, and have in large part been granted that wish with the ongoing releases on DVD in French and English – though English-speaking fans and followers still await the big-yet-incomplete step towards an Oeuvres complètes of the magnificent Planète Chris Marker collection, still available only in French. Instead, we have the rich Chris Marker Collection, published by Soda Pictures (following the impetus of the Whitechapel exhibition), and many individual releases.

For a inventive thematic look at Marker’s work circa 1963 (but before La Jetée and Joli Mai), take a look at the essay Markeriana by Roger Tailleur, newly added to the site’s core content.

In any case, it seemed like the right moment for this site to track down this YouTube version of Cuba Si!, despite the poor quality and the ads, alas, as Fidel Castro has now passed, and with him the era whose inception this film documents, when Marker was 40 and the Sixties were just beginning their wild inscriptions into history and memory.

Marker, in the “Sixties” essay mentioned above, recollecting 1967, riffs on Cuba and Castro in what could stand as an interesting postscript to Cuba Si!:

Chance having made me born a bit restless and gifted with the insatiable curiosity of the Elephant’s Child, when I browse mentally my diary of 1967 I think on the contrary that one had to be pretty dumb not to catch a glimpse of what was already cooking. Springtime: a trip to Cuba, at its heretic best (to the extent that the sheer name of Cuba never appeared any more in L’Humanité, the French communist newspaper), Fidel thundering against the dogmatism of the Marxist-Leninist manuals, severing ties with all the communist parties in South America, explaining to us that the time had come for ‘non-Party people, new people, who break with that tepid, weakly, pseudo-revolutionary model of some who boast to be revolutionaries …’, wrong-footing his Russian allies in such a way that one year later, on the verge of delivering the famous speech in which he would align with the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, everybody in Havana was certain that he was to announce the split with the USSR (the icy shower would be but icier, but so goes History).

En France, selon les textes en vigueur du Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, la durée d’un long métrage est supérieure à une heure, plus exactement à 58 minutes et 29 secondes, c’est-à-dire l’équivalent d’une bobine de film de 35 mm standard de 1 600 mètres.
Wikipedia.fr

Chris + Andrei

file-nov-06-5-28-06-pm

Chris Marker at the funeral of Andrei Arsenevich Tarkovsky. Les deux maîtres. It is au revoir not adieu, one may only hope. If rockstars can reunite in heaven, why not filmmakers? Imagine a film that combines the already fathomless treasures of La Jetée and Stalker

Studio: A Remembrance of Chris Marker – Bartos, McCabe, Lerner

Ben Lerner, Chris Marker studio

Marker Studio, 2007 © Adam Bartos

He inferred that persons desiring to train this faculty (of memory) must select places and form mental images of the things they wish to remember and store those images in the places, so that the order of the places will preserve the order of the things, and the images of the things will denote the things themselves, and we shall employ the places and images respectively as a wax writing-tablet and the letters written on it.Cicero, De oratore [on Simionides discovery of the art of memory], quoted Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, 2

We have seen some photos on the net of late taken at Chris Marker’s atelier, showing the wealth of memorabilia, books, and technologies of a life of creation & travel that made up the precious space of his atelier, most of which we assume is now in the hands of the Cinémathèque française. It turns out that the photos are by Adam Bartos, and the Paris Review article where they were first glimpsed is just a hint of what is to come – a full book of his photos of Marker’s studio: Studio: A Remembrance of Chris Marker. The book will be published in 2017, so we have to be patient, but it promises innovative layouts including gatefold images, a text by Colin McCabe and an introduction by Lerner. Here’s the information I’ve been able to gather to date:

OR Book Going Rouge

Studio: A Remembrance of Chris Marker

ISBN 9781682190807
$40.00

OR Books
Photographs by Adam Bartos. Text by Colin McCabe. Introduction by Ben Lerner.
Hbk, 6.5 x 9.5 in. / 96 pgs / 21 color.
Pub Date: 5/23/2017 | Awaiting stock
U.S. $40.00 CDN $52.50

Chris Marker (1921–2012) was a celebrated French documentary film director, writer and photographer, best known for his films La Jetée, A Grin Without a Cat and Sans Soleil. He was described by fellow filmmaker Alain Resnais as “the prototype of the 21st-century man.” In this highly original book, Adam Bartos’ exquisite photographs of Marker’s studio, a workspace both extraordinarily cluttered and highly organized, appear alongside a moving reminiscence of his friend by the film theorist, Godard biographer and practitioner Colin MacCabe. The novelist and poet Ben Lerner provides a fulsome introduction to the work of Marker, Bartos and MacCabe. The physical structure of the book, incorporating an array of gatefold images, echoes Marker’s own commitment to radical, innovative form. The result is a compelling homage to one of the most important and original talents in modern cinema.
www.artbook.com

Chris Marker’s Studio – Adam Bartos and Ben Lerner

Chris Marker, whose name was not “Chris Marker,” was a play of masks and avatars, an artist who leapt, like one of his beloved cats, from medium to medium. If, as Walter Benjamin said, a great work either dissolves a genre or invents one, if each great work is a special case, Marker produced a series of special cases. He invented the genre of the essay film; he composed what is widely considered the greatest short film ever made, La Jetée, in 1962; in the late nineties, he issued one of the first major artworks of the digital age, the CD-ROM Immemory. Even Marker’s relation to his own celebrity was an evasive masterpiece: until his death in 2012, at ninety-one, he was everywhere and nowhere, refusing both the haughty fantasy of nonparticipation and the seductions of spectacle. How do you ­memorialize an artist who refused to remain identical to himself? How do you remember one of the great philosopher-artists of memory?

Adam Bartos’s photographs of Marker’s Paris studio offer a powerful answer; they are beautiful portraits from which the subject has gone missing.
www.theparisreview.org

Ben Lerner, Chris Marker studio

Marker Studio, 2007 © Adam Bartos

Ben Lerner, Chris Marker studio

Marker Studio, 2007 © Adam Bartos

Marker’s studio is a kind of (light-flooded) darkroom located off a Parisian boulevard and is as full of formerly futuristic keepsakes as a cosmonaut’s yard sale—that is to say, Bartos has been preparing, without knowing it, to shoot Marker’s studio for decades. The studio is both remarkably cluttered and remarkably clean. There is no trash (although there is plenty of kitsch), no dust; the thousands of books, VHS tapes, and CDs, the multiple computers, monitors, keyboards, and other production technologies all seem in their place. A sense of highly personal order prevails; Marker, I feel, would have just the right texts and images and totems at hand, but anyone else would be at a loss regarding how to navigate his systems. And while Marker isn’t at home, from every corner something gazes at us: his cats and owls, Kim Novak in a signed photograph (Vertigo was Marker’s favorite film), the paused image of an actress on a monitor (in these images, Marker will forever almost be right back), masks of various sorts, stuffed animals, et cetera. Marker’s mind seems spatialized here, as though we were looking into his memory palace, an elaborate, idiosyncratic mnemonic become a memorial. But a joyous memorial: joyous first, because Marker’s signature mix of seriousness and playfulness is palpable—we see a thousand grins and winks—and second, because Marker, instead of becoming the fixed ­object of elegy, has again given us the slip, allowing us an intimate glimpse, but of privacy.
Ben Lerner, Paris Review, No. 218 (Fall 2016).

For those interested in the idea of the memory palace, take a look at Jonathan Spence’s The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. The introduction to Marker’s Immemory is also invaluable, as he articulated there his concepts of mnemonics as an architecture of memory, linking it to a long European tradition most famously explored in Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory. Another great resource on medieval practices of the art of memory can be found in Mary Carruthers’ books: Carruthers, Mary. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990 & Carruthers, Mary. The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Other sources can be found on our page DocuMemory: A Bibliography.

Chris Marker studio door with cat drawing

Marker Studio Front Door, 2008 © Adam Bartos

Art of Memory – From Chris Marker, Immemory

“L’Art de la Mémoire’ est […] une très ancienne discipline, tombée (c’est un comble) dans l’oubli à mesure que le divorce entre physiologie et psychologie se consommait. Certains auteurs anciens avaient des méandres de l’esprit une vision plus fonctioinnelle, et c’est Filippo Gesualdo, dans sa Plutosofia (1592) qui propose une image de la mémoire en termes d’«arborescence» parfaitement logicielle, si j’ose cet adjectif.”

[‘The art of memory’ is a very ancient discipline, fallen (that takes the cake!) into oblivion as the divorce between physiology and psychology came to pass. Certain antique authors had a more functional vision of the twists and turns of the mind, and it is Filippo Gesualdo, in his Plutosofia (1592) who proposes an image of memory in terms of ‘branching’ that is perfectly “softwary”, [softwarian?] if I dare use this adjective.]

Three Cheers for the Whale

Over the next two decades, Chris and I spoke on the phone periodically and I attended several of his rare public presentations. In 2007, Jon Miller, president of our mutual distributor Icarus Films, contacted me to see if I would be willing to assist Chris in the making of a new English version of his 1972 film “Vive la Baleine”, a passionate, collage-based essay film on the plight of the whales. Of course, I was honored and immediately said yes. For one whole year, Chris and I corresponded weekly as we re-wrote and updated the narration and I searched for a male and a female voice-over actor to read the two parts. He renamed the new 2007 version of his film “Three Cheers for the Whale”. It is distributed with other “bestiary” films he has made including “The Case of the Grinning Cat”.
Lynne Sachs, LynneSachs.com

With Lynne Sachs’ moving post on meeting Marker in Berkeley and San Francisco, starting a correspondence with Marker and eventually working with him on an English version of Vive la baleine, I felt I would be remiss to not fill in this blank on the site. The topic is as important as ever, Marker’s heart in the right place as ever, his use of images of the past a propos as ever. What more can we say? The post also gives a sense of the scale and relentlessness of the work this one person undertook to make films in the mode of the caméra-stylo (without assistants). So busy but never too busy to make a new friend, and to put that friend eventually to work. He didn’t forget, he had her filed in his library of babel for contact when the moment was right. There is much to admire here.

Unfortunately, I can’t find an online copy of the English remake Three Cheers for the Whale. It seems to have been up on YouTube and then taken down again. Let us know in the comments if you find a version that can be embedded here. I will also work to translate the essay in French by François Giraud into English and add it to this post.

A comment on the IMDB entry for Vive la baleine:

Chris Marker’s usual mix of “borrowed” pieces of different film textures (film, video, animation, photographs, paintings) serves as a poetic, passionate and very sound warning against the widespread, business-like, matter-of-fact killing of whales around the world. If today its message may sound obvious to most of us — almost everybody is aware of the danger of whale extinction, though of course there are still killings out there — it can still be enlightening as to the appalling methods of whale-hunting worldwide through the ages, as well as the very special place that this big cetacean has occupied in human mythology, history, economics and art, the “challenge” of little men killing the biggest animals on the planet, and making the mo$t of it.

The quality of the images vary tremendously, and for sure there are scenes that will make you cringe with horror (not unlike Geroges Franju’s 1949 one-day-in-a-slaughterhouse “Le Sang des Bêtes”). Marker’s incomparable talent for weaving his commentary with creative insight, historical research, wit, irony and common sense elevates this short film above the routine ecological documentary.www.imdb.com

More material on Vive la baleine:
Par François Giraud – le 11 février 2014

vive-la-baleine-4images

Au cours de sa longue carrière, et surtout dans sa période militante, Chris Marker a souvent collaboré avec d’autres cinéastes. Cette pratique participe à l’éclectisme et à la complexité de son œuvre pléthorique. Avec Mario Ruspoli, documentariste d’origine italienne mais parlant couramment le français, Chris Marker a fait deux films, sur un thème commun, à seize ans d’intervalle : Les Hommes de la baleine en 1956 et Vive la baleine en 1972. Pour être tout à fait juste, Les Hommes de la baleine est entièrement réalisé par Ruspoli, tandis que Vive la baleine est le fruit d’une co-réalisation entre les deux hommes. Pour autant, Chris Marker a signé le commentaire, sous le pseudonyme de Jacopo Berenizi, du court-métrage de 1956, jouant ainsi un rôle déterminant dans la réussite artistique de ce film.

Tourné aux Acores, Les Hommes de la baleine commence par le dépeçage d’un géant des mers. Cette séquence forte est accompagnée d’un commentaire qui dénonce le massacre des baleines à des fins purement industrielles. Pour autant, Mario Ruspoli cherche surtout à montrer comment les populations pauvres de ces îles continuent de pratiquer avec authenticité la chasse au cachalot et risquent leur vie pour subvenir à leurs besoins. A la manière d’un documentariste ethnographique, le cinéaste s’intéresse aux techniques traditionnelles de la chasse au harpon et aux conditions de vie rustiques de ces pêcheurs.

En 1972, le ton a changé, le style également. Ce qui a motivé la réalisation de cette “suite” est la décision, en 1972, de la Commission baleinière internationale d’arrêter la chasse pendant dix ans. Comme le précise le commentaire de Chris Marker, cette réglementation est ignorée par le Japon et l’U.R.S.S., deux pays qui pratiquent la chasse à la baleine de manière industrielle, sans se préoccuper de la survie de l’espèce. Vive la baleine s’ouvre ainsi sur ce cri du cœur : « Car vous vous éteignez, baleines ! Comme de grosses lampes. Et si vous n’êtes plus là pour nous éclairer, vous et les autres bêtes, croyez-vous que nous y verrons dans le noir ? » La voix-off condamne le passage d’une lutte naturelle entre l’homme et la baleine à une lutte d’ordre exclusivement industriel qui ruine l’équilibre de la planète. Le court métrage abonde en références littéraires – Moby Dick bien sûr -, et en références picturales.

A l’inverse des Hommes de la baleine, cette suite est presque intégralement illustrée par un corpus d’œuvres d’art, dans son ensemble très varié, qui témoigne de l’évolution et de l’internationalisation de la chasse à la baleine à travers l’Histoire. Ces œuvres, japonaises, européennes ou américaines offrent une représentation esthétique du génie de l’homme qui a su redoubler d’ingéniosité technique pour mettre à mort ces gigantesques mammifères marins. La chasse à la baleine accède ainsi à un niveau symbolique et révèle la volonté de puissance de l’homme. Conquête du monde, impérialisme, colonialisme : la baleine devient l’allégorie de la folie des grandeurs de l’Humanité. Très acide, le texte de Chris Marker, non sans une pointe d’amertume, n’épargne rien, même pas le cinéma : « Vous êtiez une nourriture. Vous êtes devenues une industrie. Comme le cinéma ! Et à vous non plus, ça n’a pas réussi. » Ce genre de pique prouve bien que le discours de Marker va bien au-delà de la chasse à la baleine. Il s’attaque au cynisme des puissants qui n’hésitent pas à sacrifier l’équilibre de la nature à des fins économiques, il pointe du doigt un monde qui s’industrialise au point d’en perdre la raison, il s’attaque à l’embourgeoisement de l’art, lorsque celui ne sert qu’à flatter l’orgueil des hommes : « Pour les Hollandais, vous n’étiez qu’une ressource. Mais plus encore : une gloire. Savez-vous que les riches amateurs emmenaient sur leurs bateaux des peintres pour prendre sur le vif des scènes de chasse, qui plus tard, orneraient leur salon ? »

Le commentaire, qui multiplie les jeux de mots et les piques humoristiques, n’est pas sans évoquer la cinécriture d’Agnès Varda qui se plait elle aussi à écrire des textes rythmés, aux références abondantes et aux sonorités très marquées pour illustrer ses documentaires. Le texte est riche, peut-être trop, et s’égare parfois dans un humour sardonique qui aujourd’hui paraît quelque peu démodé.

En revanche, la conclusion implacable et très markerienne conserve tout son impact : « Pendant des siècles , les hommes et les baleines ont appartenu à deux camps ennemis qui s’affrontaient sur un terrain neutre : la Nature. Aujourd’hui, la Nature n’est plus neutre. La frontière s’est déplacée. L’affrontement se fait entre ceux qui se défendent, en défendant la Nature, et ceux qui la détruisant, se détruisent. Cette fois, les hommes et les baleines sont dans le même camp. Et chaque baleine qui meurt nous lègue comme une prophétie l’image de notre propre mort. » Ce basculement est illustré, non plus par des œuvres du passé, ni même par des extraits des Hommes de la baleine, mais par des images documentaires crues qui exposent toute la cruauté et la barbarie de la chasse au lance-harpon : l’océan se transforme en un écœurant flot de sang, la baleine paraît d’une vulnérabilité déconcertante à côté des immenses navires japonais. Le court métrage se clôt sur la représentation d’une déshumanisation désespérante.

Comme toujours dans les films de Chris Marker, le montage et l’association du texte et de l’image sont d’une grande efficacité. Même si Mario Ruspoli est crédité à la réalisation et à l’image, Vive la baleine porte surtout l’empreinte du savoir-faire de Chris Marker. Mieux que quiconque, il sait dramatiser les images fixes et leur donner du mouvement. De même, son texte demeure une composante essentielle de ce court métrage. Il est difficile d’évaluer l’impact qu’a eu Mario Ruspoli sur ce court métrage. Son style, influencé par l’ethnographisme, ressortait de manière bien plus évidente dans le court métrage de 1956. Vive la baleine ne se caractérise pas par une démarche anthropologique. L’homme est toujours montré à distance, il n’a pas droit à la parole. C’est la baleine qui est l’héroïne de cette histoire tragique, même si en filigrane se dessine une évolution des techniques et des rapports de l’homme avec la nature. Vive la baleine est un documentaire politique et militant qui cherche à dénoncer. Et il le fait de manière convaincante.
Par François Giraud – le 11 février 2014