Matches for: “sans soleil” …

Stranger Than Fiction Screens Sans Soleil

As a friend of a friend used to say of the voices in his head: “THIS JUST IN!”

Stranger Than Fiction (STF)Stranger than Fiction, an exclusive documentary film series followed by live discussions with filmmakers, has just announced its 2014 Spring / Summer lineup. The series begins tonight (May 6) at 8pm, with a screening of Chris Marker’s 1983 classic SANS SOLEIL, followed by a discussion with filmmaker Jem Cohen (MUSEUM HOURS), who cites Marker as a key influence in his own work. Stranger than Fiction takes places every Tuesday night at the IFC Center in Manhattan.

I’m reaching out as you are the best person and place to share Marker screenings. I would appreciate you sharing our screening with your followers who may be in NYC.

May 6: SANS SOLEIL (1983) by Chris Marker
Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum describes Marker’s 1983 masterpiece as “a film about subjectivity, death, photography, social custom, and consciousness itself.”
Tickets here:
Jasmin Chang

Letter to Theresa by Chris Marker – Behind the Veils of Sans Soleil

August 19 – Year: Unknown
Original: Fax

Dear Theresa (and all the gang),

Don’t apologize: perhaps one thousand people wished to ask me these questions, but I never gave them a chance to ask. In fact, the only opportunity where I was in a position to talk about Sans Soleil (I note that, in spite of me putting in the film itself the three titles of the Mussorgsky songs cycle, in Russian Без Солнца, in English SUNLESS and in French, people in US always preferred to use the latest [Sans Soleil] – so in turn one question from me: how come? does it sound that exotic? I was at the San Francisco Festival, after the screening, but I managed to brush aside too direct questions. Nothing nasty, just the deliberate intention to leave the film in a mist, in order that viewers let “their imaginary forces work” as the Chorus says in Henry V. Now perhaps it’s about time to bring some clues, and anyway all this will remain between us, won’t it?

The. only question I confess being unable to cope with is your last: “Why?” If I knew (if we knew) why things are done, this world would look quite different. I’ll just try to deal with the “How?” And for that, the best is perhaps to give you an account of events, starting with the film’s release. First, the text I distributed to the press and professionals :



An unknown woman reads and comments upon the letters she receives from a friend – a free-lance cameraman who travels around the world and is particularly attached to those “two extreme poles of survival”, Japan and Africa (represented here by two of its poorest and most forgotten countries, even though they played a historical role : Guinea Bissau and the Cape-Verde Islands). The cameraman wonders (as cameramen do, at least those you see in movies) about the meaning of this representation of the world of which he is the instrument, and about the role of the memory he helps create; A Japanese pal of his, who clearly has some bats in the belfry (japanese bats, in the form of ‘electrons) gives his answer by attacking the images of memory, by breaking them up on the synthesizer. A filmmaker grabs hold of this situation and makes a film of it, but rather than present the characters and show their relationships, real or supposed, he prefers to put forward the elements of the dossier in the fashion of a musical composition, with recurrent themes, counterpoints and mirror-like fugues: the letters, the comments, the images gathered, the images created, together with some images borrowed, In this way, out of these juxtaposed memories is born a fictional memory, and in the same way as Lucy puts up a sign to indicate that “the Doctor is in”, we’d like to preface this film with a placard: “Fiction is out” – somewhere.

Then followed detailed biographies of the protagonists -Sandor Krasna, cameraman, born in Kolozsvar, Hungary, in 1932, doing his first short film (Erdélyi Táncok) at the Budapest Film School, fleeing Hungary in 1956 for Vienna first, then Paris and USA, and finally settling in Japan. Michel Krasna, his younger brother (Budapest, 1946), studying music at the Kodaly schools, joining Sandor in California but finally choosing Paris to compose film music – Hayao Yamaneko, the video-artist (born Nagoya, 1948), art activist during the Sixties, learning film and electronics at the Nihon Taigaku in Tokyo, artist in residence in Berkeley after his short Boku no shi wo kimeta noha dareka? -and Chris Marker, amateur filmmaker. “It was in Berkeley – at PFA, to be precise – that Krasna, Yamaneko and Marker met” (said the blurb) “and from then on the Sans Soleil project originated.”

So the scene was set to create. confusion, and reactions were interestingly chaotic. I knew some people wouldn’t pay attention : they see a movie, they don’t care about who did what. Others, more familiar with my works, would identify my style in the letters and assume I had done the principal photography (you girls shouldn’t ask if I shot “all of the footage” : the final credits are quite clear for attributing at least what I didn’t shoot…). But I was aiming at the center of the target : people unfamiliar enough not to take for granted that I was the unique author, and yet clever and curious enough to raise questions about letters and shooting. You proved you belong to that category. So I guess it’s only fair to give you a honest answer : yes, all four “characters”, even the fourth, amount to be just one, namely your humble servant. But you shouldn’t think all that was just a game, or a series of private jokes. I had good reasons – or so I thought – to devise that crooked set-up. Here they are :

For Michel Krasna “the musician”, a simple case of good manners. I hate seeing one name more than once on the credits (you know “a picture by Jonathan, after an idea by Jonathan Rumblefish, scenario and dialog by Jonathan Rumblefish, edited by Jonathan Rumblefish, etc”, I see it as extremely pedestrian. So even if I frequently do my own music, I would have felt preposterous to sign it along my director’s credits. So I invented Michel, and I established a parental link with Sandor in order to give more flesh to the “parallel” story.

Hayao Yamaneko was more meaningful. I was very conscious of the limitations that plagued the first image synthesizers, and inserting these images in the editing, like that, could create some misunderstanding, as if I boasted “this is modernity” when those were the first stumbling steps on the long road that would lead to the computerized and virtual world. I just wanted to stress the point that such images were possible, and would change our perception of the visual – in which I wasn’t totally wrong. So I thought of a fictional character, Hayao Yamaneko, technaholic and treated with some irony, to deliver the message. without solemnity. Naturally again those who knew something about Japan and myself, as “yamaneko” means “wildcat”, could have suspected something, er… fishy, but most people didn’t. I even had some small gratifications about both my characters, when folks congratulated me for using Michel Krasna’s music – someone they had spotted since long – and some others remembering clearly having seen Hayao’s works in Japan. Such anecdotes make my week.

As for Sandor Krasna, I suppose you caught the idea, which was to use some degree of fiction to add a layer of poetry to the “factuality” of the so-called documentary. From the start I had always refused the omniscient, anonymous “voice” of the classical travelogue, and I had bluntly used the first-person. For that I was sometimes reproached, accused of pretension. I sincerely think that’s wrong. If you allow me to quote myself, this is how I put it (in Level Five’s pressbook) in an interview with Dolores Walfisch for the Berkeley Lantern (the what ? Come on, now I guess you’re familiar with my fantasies) “I use what I have got. Contrarily to what people say, the use of the first person in films tends to be a sign of humility: all I have to offer is myself”. Also I loved the form of the “letter”, for the freedom and flexibility it allows. Letter from Siberia was a real letter, addressed to a real person. But I didn’t wish to lock myself in such a system, and I came to consider that a fictional character could bring a more interesting dimension. Then the idea of having another voice, that of the addressee, establishing a new distance. The audience would be free to imagine whatever they wanted between those two, in a more creative way than if I had told their story myself. And funnily the real starter was grammatical, when I realized that I would rather use the past tense instead of the present. “He writes me… He writes me…” didn’t give me the rhythm I longed for. When I phrased for the first time “He wrote me…” the last obstacle fell, and the text came fluently, leaving me the luxury to turn back to the present tense at the very last paragraph of the film, thus establishing a new frontier in time, and the possibility for the viewer (or rather then for the listener) to identify differently with the Voice, itself from then on provided with a future : “Will there be a last letter?” (With Level Five, I went one. step further, by establishing the physical presence of one of the correspondents, the woman, but this time she’s the one who “writes” – and myself as the exterior witness. I’m not sure that I was fully understood.)

I don’t know if this answers really your questions, but at least you have an idea of the process. On a more matter-of-fact level, I could tell you that the film intended to be, and is nothing more than a home movie. I really think that my main talent has been to find people to pay for my home movies. Were I born rich, I guess I would have made more or less the same films, at least the traveling kind, but nobody would have heard of them except my friends and visitors. Camera was a little 16mm Beaulieu with 100 feet reels, silent (which means noisy) – the sound was made separately on one of the first small cassette recorders (not yet the Walkman), there isn’t one synch take in Sans Soleil. I was naturally alone from beginning to end, but with some exceptions that’s my usual way to work. I couldn’t find the words to “explain” to an editor, for instance, operations that come instinctively to my mind when I’m at the editing table. The 16mm editing was transferred on 35mil for theater release. The shooting extended from 1978 to 1981, following haphazardly my alternate trips to Japan and Bissau (where I helped to build a cinema/video training center whose results were utterly destroyed this year by the civil war there, but that’s another story…) and I couldn’t tell at what moment these bits and pieces started to shape up into a real movie, that also belongs to the mysteries of existence.

Oh, and did the film change me? Well, perhaps you remember the moment when I mention the Year of the Dog. I was just sixty then, which means that the different combinations between the twelve animals of the year and the four elements have been exhausted, and you’re in for a brand new life. I didn’t realize that when I began, but at that moment I understood that the whole film was a kind of exorcism for sixty years on this dubious planet, and a way to take leave of them. You could call that a change.

Chris Marker c/o KMS 5 rue Courat 75020 PARlS Fax (331) 4009 9525 [email address redacted – ed]

Thanks to Emiko Omori for sending this wonderful document. Though it pulls back the curtain on some of the mysteries of Sans Soleil, I felt it ultimately too compelling and could not refrain from reproducing it here, for which I take the blame. – blind librarian

Purchase Sans Soleil & La Jetée DVD in the Criterion Collection via Amazon

Criterion Releases La Jetée & Sans Soleil on Blu-Ray

Criterion Collection La Jetee + Sans SoleilAs you probably know by now, swimming as we are in era of no news is new news, Chris Marker’s incomparable masterworks La Jetée and Sans Soleil have been released again, this time on Blu-Ray by Criterion. Originally paired on DVD in a French edition by Arte Video in 2003, the films came to Criterion DVD in 2007.

I believe some of the extras on the Blu-Ray edition, released last week on February 7, 2012, are new, others appearing already on the earlier release (and, indeed, some already on the Arte DVD). Junkopia‘s inclusion is, I believe, new. I’m going to have to spend some money to find out for sure. A partial list of extras is presented by Criterion for the GUILLAUME-APPROVED EDITION:

  • Restored high-definition digital transfers, approved by director Chris Marker, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
  • Two interviews with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin
  • Chris on Chris, a video piece on Marker by filmmaker and critic Chris Darke
  • Two excerpts from the French television series Court-circuit (le magazine): a look at David Bowie’s music video for the song “Jump They Say,” inspired by La Jetée, and an analysis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and its influence on Marker
  • Junkopia, a six-minute film by Marker, Frank Simone, and John Chapman about the Emeryville Mudflats
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Marker scholar Catherine Lupton, an interview with Marker, notes on the films and filmmaking by Marker, and more

For a (technical) review of the Blu-Ray with some nice screen captures, see: This reviewer, Chris Galloway, is most impressed by the high-definition transfer of La Jetée: “contrast is perfect with rich blacks and distinct gray levels…” He is, however, left wanting to know more about Marker himself. Clearly, that’s going to take more work than viewing the extras. As Montaigne said, “All the world knows me in my book, and my book in me.”  The work is the life-mirror. Convex or concave, this mirror is the gateway to the man, biographies be damned.

Speaking of biography, Marker fans will perhaps know of the far-ranging new website on Marker located at (sub-titled “On a Quest from Switzerland”). It’s quite an experience—full of arcane research, humour and crazy little graphics, hard on the eye and surely subject for a different post—but en bref, directly on the home page we’re presented with a wild ride of phantasmagorical biography, that goes from Mongolia to Chinese pirates to the Himalaya, then Argentina (“pour ses études, en échange Nostradamus des écoles primaires”), before arriving in Paris. If you read French, definitely take this new site for a weekend Harley (or Ducati) ride through the Alps. Don’t miss the great page on censorship and the fascinating one on music in Marker’s films.

But back to the Blu-Ray. You can get a look at the packaging on a different page of the Criterion Forum. Guillaume holds a sign above the Blu-Ray mark on the sticker, partially obscuring a revered Japanese cat (the nerve).

The Criterion Collection is known to cinéphiles throughout the world. I was curious how they summarized their work, and found this passage on their site,

Each film is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen. Every time we start work on a film, we track down the best available film elements in the world, use state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then take time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound. Whenever possible, we work with directors and cinematographers to ensure that the look of our releases does justice to their intentions. Our supplements enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director’s cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards.

So, what exactly is Blu-Ray? Guillaume may know more than we do, but maybe it’s worth defining a term once in a while. So off to Wikipedia:

Blu-ray Disc (official abbreviation BD) is an optical disc storage medium designed to supersede the DVD format. The plastic disc is 120 mm in diameter and 1.2 mm thick, the same size as DVDs and CDs. Blu-ray Discs contain 25 GB per layer, with dual layer discs (50 GB) being the norm for feature-length video discs. Triple layer discs (100 GB) and quadruple layers (128 GB) are available for BD-XL re-writer drives.

The name Blu-ray Disc refers to the blue laser used to read the disc, which allows information to be stored at a greater density than is possible with the longer-wavelength red laser used for DVDs.

So now you know nothing new about the films themselves, but suffice to say they will look as good as it gets outside of real screenings (real reels, real projectors, real audience, fake popcorn). Enjoy, and let us know what you think. O, and one more thing: have you noticed how Chat écoutant la musique has begun to go viral? 44,272 views (and counting) on YouTube in this upload. If you search twitter for Chris Marker, you’ll see what I mean. Even Criterion tweeted about it recently. Maybe this short, exquisite rêverie is on its way to becoming the 3rd most famous film by the most famous of unknown filmmakers.

Sans Soleil Geo-temporal Map

Sans Soleil Geo-temporal Map

This enigmatic diagram was found at the Pacific Film Archive in 1990. It seems to provide a kind of map for the locations and temporal flow of Sans Soleil. We welcome your interpretations. Click the image for a larger view.

CinémAction n°165 – Chris Marker : pionnier et novateur

CinemAction 165 Chris MarkerThanks to Chris Darke for alerting us to this new publication with some familiar names contributing articles to CinémAction 165: Chris Marker: pionnier et novateure.

L’interactivité filmique, initiée de manière radicale dès 1950, permet d’appréhender une démarche polyphonique qui n’a cessé de montrer et commenter l’histoire du XXe siècle. Ciné-voyageur, Chris Marker reste, de fait, pionnier et novateur dans toute une série de domaines ici explorés. L’originalité de ce numéro s’est construite autour de ces pistes et de ces regards pluriels.


Préambule : Chris Marker, pionnier et novateur, Kristian Feigelson

I. Pionnier

  • Magicien du flou, Christophe Chazalon
  • Le fond de l’air est rouge : Le NU et les morts. Et l’espoir, Jean-Michel Frodon
  • Un producteur franc-tireur : l’expérience coopérative SLON (1968-1973), Catherine Roudé
  • Du temps des images à l’écriture mémorielle, André Habib

II. Filiations

  • Marker et le revue Esprit. A l’origine du film-essai, Sylvain Dreyer
  • Rive droite, rive gauche : face à la « Nouvelle Vague », Vincent Lowy
  • Du chat percheur aux chats marqueurs, Louise Traon
  • Les villes, itinéraires de chiffonnier : De Chats perchés à L’OuvroirShiho Azuma
  • La voix des autres, Johanne Villeneuve

III. Ciné-voyageur

  • Lettre de SibérieKristian Feigelson
  • Description d’un combatRégine-Mihal Friedman
  • Les filiations à l’Amérique latine, Maria Luisa Ortega
  • On vous parle de Tchécoslovaquie, David Cenek
  • Le tombeau d’Alexandre : la fin du cinéaste rouge, François Lecointe
  • Les images fantômes du Japon, Emi Koide

IV. Novateur

  • Sans soleil : une phénoménologie des apparences, Jarmo Valkola
  • L’héritage de la chouette : une matrice sérielle, Barbara Laborde
  • Story tellings : cinq installations, Etienne Sandrin
  • L’utopie électronique : une nouvelle mobilisation, Bamchade Pourvali


  • Anagramme, Catherine Belkhodja

Bibliographie sélectiveKristian Feigelson et Bamchade Pourvali
FilmographieChristophe Chazalon et Kristian Feigelson

For more information, go to CINEMACTION-COLLECTION.COM.

On CinémAction

CinémAction : une collection thématique de parution trimestrielle

Défrichant de manière le plus souvent collective de nombreux thèmes, la collection CinémAction explore les liens du cinéma avec la société et les évènements historique. Elle fournit une véritable boite à outils pour l’étude du cinéma : histoire, théories, scénario, décors, genres, enseignement, liens avec les autres arts. Elle dresse le portrait de nombreux cinéastes et explore la production mondiale.

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.


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.

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,

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.

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

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.

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.

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.]

On Level Five by Whiteny Mallet


On Level Five

nplusone magazine
21 august 2014

THE FIRST IRAQ WAR earned the nickname “the video game war.” During the conflict, night-vision green footage of desert bombing campaigns was broadcast on the evening news: when the war was made visible, it was made visible digitally. But even those images looked worlds away from the first-person shooter games little boys from Berkeley to Baghdad were playing on their X-Box consoles by the time the second Iraq War rolled around. Instead, that grainy aerial footage from the first Gulf War was closer to what a drone operator sees from his desk in New Mexico: the figures indistinct, the details blurred. As real life war becomes more like video games and video games look more like real life, screens have become mediators of history and our collective efforts to remember it. There are increasingly better graphics, but no less alienation. It is worth noting that a drone operator has a higher risk of PTSD than his counterparts who fly planes.

Around the time video games were to coming to define the memory of Operation Desert Storm, Chris Marker made a movie about a video game that depicted a forgotten battle of a well-remembered war. The heroine in Marker’s 1997 film Level Five is working on a Macintosh, writing a game to reconstruct the Battle of Okinawa, at the tail end of World War II. The Battle of Okinawa was dizzying in its loss of human life, but in the West today, hardly anyone knows it happened. In Level Five, Marker’s subject is as much the conflict as our technologies of remembering it. The focus might be predictable from the experimental filmmaker, who is best-known for his meditations on memory in La Jetée and Sans Soleil—though Level Five is structured more like the latter, an essay film that challenges easy categorization as either fiction or non-fiction. Nearly two decades after the film was made and two years after Marker’s death, Level Five is having its first theatrical release at a moment when wars are not just being remembered in digital arenas, but are increasingly being fought in them too.

In Level Five’s fictional frame, Laura, played by Catherine Belkhodja, is making a video game to tell the true story of the U.S. Army’s invasion into the Japanese island and of the subsequent mass suicide that claimed a huge portion of civilian life. Together with the casualties of war, 150,000 men, women, and children died in the battle, roughly a third of the island’s entire population. Before killing themselves, many of them killed loved ones who were too weak to take their own lives. The tragedy meant husbands killed wives. Parents killed children. Sons killed mothers. Marker’s film includes docu-style interviews and vérité footage, sandwiched within the game-writer protagonist Laura’s monologues. The juxtaposition suggests that shared histories are impossible to parse from subjective, lived experience. Laura has chatroom run-ins; survivors describe the violence they witnessed in unforgettable and specific detail.

Shigeaki Kinjo, an aging survivor of the Battle of Okinawa, gives a first-hand account of the tragedy, explaining how the Japanese army persuaded civilians it was better to die than to be taken prisoner by the Americans: “We were told if US troops captured us, they’d cut off our noses and ears, cut off our fingers. They would drive tanks over our bodies, and rape our women.” The army even distributed grenades to assist civilians in their self-annihilation, but there weren’t enough to go around. Kinjo watched a village elder snap off a tree-branch and “beat the life out of his wife and children whom he loved.” Together with his brother, Kinjo followed the example and beat his mother, younger brother, and sister to death. “All of us thought this was the thing to do.” He was 17.

To have the memory of the mass suicide preserved in the national consciousness is complicated. Memorials, for one, are always imperfect. Marker’s intimate camcorder footage shows a local museum, the Himeyuri Peace Museum, on the island, where a diorama attempts to recreate the horrors of the caves where many hid and died. But the site of the memorial, a former girls college, is controversial. “Was too much made of girls from Okinawa elite when others were forgotten? As if there were privileged martyrs,” Marker asks in his narration. But beyond this competition for memory, there’s a complicated relationship between Okinawa and the rest of Japan. Okinawa was its own independent kingdom until Japan annexed it in the late 19th century. The disposability of Okinawans to the imperial government, and the degree to which their loss of life is or isn’t remembered in Japanese schoolbooks today, dredges up the island’s lesser-than status as a colonized territory. “The islanders weren’t true Japanese but were Japanese enough to die,” explains Marker. In 2008, there was even an effort to revise textbooks and excise that the mass suicide had been coerced by the Japanese military.

In part, the Japanese military had hoped that Okinawa might have been a sacrifice that prevented even more loss of life. “If the price was high enough, the US would shrink from invading Japan’s main island and peace could made,” says Marker, explaining their logic. But the casualties during the battle only gave the U.S. a humanitarian justification for using the Atom Bomb. President Truman claimed he was saving lives, preventing “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.” In the film, Marker waxes poetic on the battle’s ghostly presence in our collective and individual narratives. “Without Okinawa’s resistance,” he hypothesizes, “Hiroshima would not have been, and the century would’ve been different.”

Marker questions the ethics of representation, and he is wary of memorializing bleeding into objectification. Level Five is horrifying without becoming cheap disaster porn; it is moving without becoming manipulative. Marker reminds us that as images are circulated, people can too easily be reduced to symbols. The little girl waving a white flag from the Battle of Okinawa became an emblem, like the marines raising the American flag over Iwo Jima. The film also stresses that images have a complicated relationship with the truth. That iconic photo of the marines raising the flag was a fake, re-staged after the original flag-planting soldiers perished in combat. Marker knows his fakes. There’s a video from the Vietnam War of a man burning alive, but part at the end where he gets up is typically cut out. “[The burning man] testifies against war, you cannot weaken his testimony for the sake of a few frames,” explains Marker, probing, “Truth? . . . The truth is, most didn’t get up. So what’s so special about this one? The ethics of imagery?”

Marker’s digressions weave in and out of this meditation on artistic ethics. More questions are asked than answered. Along the way, he suggests that the truth of an image is manipulated by viewership itself. He slows down video footage from the Marines’ invasion of Saipan, the year before the Battle of Okinawa, where thousands jumped from cliffs to avoid being taken prisoner. Slowed down, you can see one woman turn back and see the camera before she leaps to her death. “Do we know she would have jumped if at the last minute she hadn’t known she was watched?” asks Marker. “The woman in Saipan saw the lens and knew that foreign devils would show the world she hadn’t had the guts to jump. So she jumps.” Marker is caustic and quick to jump to conclusions, which would be irritating if they weren’t usually the right ones. Marker’s sentimentality, too, is partially redeemed by the director’s rigorous self-awareness. Marker knows that images lack. “The smell of battle is missing,” he notes, ceding Level Five’s own limitations as a memorializing project. “Until we get smellies, like talkies, war films don’t exist.”

Laura, a surrogate for Marker, feels a futility of her own as she grapples with the impossibility of properly representing the Battle of Okinawa in a video game. “Did you really believe a player would be capable to spend his nights watching history repeating itself, and convincing himself that his own history would also just have a single way to be played?” For all Marker’s talk of the ethics of images, there is little lip service given to the difference between gamifying history and presenting it as a linear slideshow. “Strategy games are made to win back lost battles, aren’t they?” Laura asks in a rare moment where we get some attention paid to the unique character of games and their ability to make multiple endings possible. Because the resolution of Laura’s video game is not necessarily regimented by history, it can operate less like memory than like dreams, creating an arena where what is done can be undone, what is lost can be retrieved, and players are liberated from the need to let go of what’s gone.

Video games, after all, do not just have viewers: they have players who are actively positioned within the story evolving on screen. But the real potential in this never seems to be fully explored. Laura never suggests the perspective from which her Okinawa game will be played. To win, will you have to beat your mother to death with a tree branch? Instead Marker concludes, “Laura saw the Game couldn’t change history. It would repeat it, in a loop, with an obstinacy that was as respectable as it was futile.” There is something to be said for Marker’s meandering, self-conscious exploration of the way that memory becomes it’s own art form. But the most interesting questions asked in Level Five about representation could just as easily be raised in a film about making a film.

Which is unfortunate, because if there is anything that has been necessitated by the nearly two decades since the release of Level Five, it’s a more imaginatively critical engagement with the way that video games shape our wars. Today, most commercial war video games are reductive and ethically problematic. In the popular WWII video games like Wolfenstein and Medal of Honor, the goal is just to slaughter any German-speaking person. The Gulf and Iraq War games are mostly the same, except with Arabs between the crosshairs. There are, however, select independent games that are doing something more. Unmanned for example, by Molleindustria, is self-referential in its meditation on games and the gamification of war. You play a drone operator who pilots an unmanned aircraft all day long, then you drive home from work, then you play video games with your autistic son because that’s the only way to connect with him. Games can be smart. They make meaning in different ways than linear films, but they have a lot of potential to make us think about war, especially as it becomes more and more mediated and alienating. In Level Five, Chris Marker says, “Storing the past in order not to revive it was so 20th century.” The same could be said of the film’s approach.