Category Archives: Auteurs

Robert Kramer, Point de départ / Starting Place

Robert Kramer tribute to Chris Marker - citation - memory

Take a look at the Marker-inspired Robert Kramer film, Point de départ, from 1993.

“One day or other all these films that I’m making will make up a single long film, a story that is always developing.”
Robert Kramer

The Man with the Movie Camera

Starting Place | Point de Départ
Directed by Robert Kramer
France 1993, 35mm, color, 83 min.
English, French, and Vietnamese with English subtitles

In this film from late in his career, Kramer returns to Hanoi after nearly 25 years to re-envision the city’s struggle through an uncertain and daunting past, present, and future. The Vietnamese characters in the film are diverse: Kramer’s former guide from an earlier visit in 1969; a tight-rope walker in the national circus; a man who took photos of B-52s and another who lost his fingers shooting them down.

[…]

Robert Kramer—who, according to Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “seems incapable of shooting a scene, framing a shot or catching a line of dialogue that isn’t loaded with levels of information one usually finds only in the best, most spare poetry”—died unexpectedly in France this past November at the age of sixty.

He left a singular body of work—as far from Hollywood as it was from underground or experimental films—that eventually, he felt, would “make up one long film . . . one ‘story’ in a continual process of becoming.” A committed leftist who emerged radicalized from his studies in philosophy and Western European history at Swarthmore and Stanford, he worked as a reporter in Latin America and organized a community project in a black neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, before founding the Newsreel movement, an underground media collective which made some sixty documentaries and short films about radical political subjects and the antiwar movement between 1967 and 1971. Kramer made his mark in the 1960s as the great filmmaker of the American radical left with films like The Edge and Ice.

Embraced by the European intelligentsia, he eventually moved to Paris in the early 1980s, where he continued to produce fictionalized and documentary films on a range of subjects from Portugal’s April Revolution and post-independence Angola to the Tour de France—all the while maintaining his “uninterrupted dialogue with America.” Our series offers the opportunity to sample a range of Kramer’s rarely screened work and to pay tribute to this unique cinematic personality.
Harvard Film Archive

Although Mr. Kramer was best known in the United States for his radical early movies, notably The Edge, Ice and Milestones, he remained a prolific filmmaker after he moved to Paris in 1980. Doc’s Kingdom and Route 1/U.S.A. were among his later films that were also released in the United States. At the time of his death, he had just completed a new movie, Cities of the Plains.
New York Times, “Robert Kramer, 60, a Director Of Films With a Political Edge

One of the most insightful essays on Point de départ that I’ve encountered is by Adrian Martin in Rouge, where he discusses orientation and disorientation as a challenge to the spectator. As Adorno reminds us in The Essay as Form, essays start in media res. “It starts not with Adam and Eve but with what it wants to talk about; it says what occurs to it in that context and stops when it feels finished rather than when there is nothing to say.” In Montaigne, there is rarely any beginning, middle and end; the form is more spiral. The point of departure is the crux – it can be anywhere (and any-when), and serves as an initial break from the blank canvas, parchment or page. Its asymmetry and a-systematicity are its strengths, its tactical counter moves to monolithic works of art or philosophy that are enveloped in the mist of completeness, the encyclopedia, the Enlightenment dream. It is, or can be, molecular rather than molar, and to boot in both spatial and temporal dimensions. That may be why space and time often become its internal obsessions, the medium mixing with the message.

From: Adrian Martin, “Robert Kramer Films the Event”, Rouge

We are on the continent of Robert Kramer’s essay-films. What country is this, what year, what time? There are no establishing shots, no introductions to ease us in. Everything is in medias res. Kramer never gives us a superimposed title telling us we are watching ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Paris’ or ‘USA’; he never includes the identifying names of people, typewritten on screen, the first time we see them (and indeed, if we ever do learn this, it is often indirectly, by accident); he rarely introduces a radically different piece of footage into the montage with a reassuring title saying ‘ten years ago’, or a voice-off saying ‘I remember …’.

The challenge thrown out to the spectator is: orient yourself. Just in the same way that Kramer, the man with the movie camera, is forced to orient himself: he looks around, gets his bearings, follows something interesting down the street (a face, a bicycle, a line of tombstones in the cemetery) …

‘Whenever I start something, I always feel like I’m at a point of departure.’ But Kramer is always starting his essay-films, over and over, re-starting them at every new scene, each new plateau, so there is no single starting place (his English title for Point de départ, 1994). When it comes to the ‘problem’ or topic addressed by each Kramer film, there are a hundred places or points to start from; but there is no single origin to that problem. It is like what Barthes wrote: it is a question of ‘pursuing’ the problem, chasing it in flight, and thus ‘”uncoating” it of the finality in which it locks up its point of departure.’

And, just as there is no single origin, there is no single destination, either: Kramer’s essay-films map, all at once, a hundred directions, thoughts and associations that cluster around a central idea. But is there one, central idea – and can we tell what it is? It is impossible, for example, to cleanly segment the montage of his essay-films in the way that one can slice up the scenes of a conventional, narrative film. Where does one path start, and where does it end?
Adrian Martin, “Robert Kramer Films the Event”, Rouge

Chris + Andrei

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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

One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich by Chris Marker

Chris Marker writes what is reproduced below in extreme modesty, given the depth of his film: its astute insights into Tarkovsky’s film language & signature motifs, its palpable emotional presence that embues the intimate family scenes, his empathetic camera and commentary. He is not an outsider here; he is family too in Tarkovsky’s largesse as Marker captures a home movie of the reunion of Andrei Arsenevich’s family after five years of implacable bureaucracy – and the nostalghia that forms the atmosphere of exile.

The text appears on the back cover of the US DVD containing his and two other films, Sergey Dvortsevoy’s In the Dark and Marina Goldovskaya’s Three Songs About Motherland, which he places on the DVD with equality and a view to expanding the awareness of contemporary US audiences regarding Russian filmmaking. We know, though, for him, Tarkovsky is in a league of his own. In person, Marker referred to him simply as “le maître.” [Forum des images aka Vidéothèque de Paris café, July 1991]

We add after Marker’s text the summary of the film given by Icarus Films on their site. More material, more quotes will follow, in the minor-key, unsung tradition of bricolage.

THREE SONGS ABOUT MOTHERLAND, the title of Marina Goldovskaya’s inspired wandering throughout her country, could have been used as a general title for this DVD. Each of us in his manner sings the paean or the doom of a place on Earth that defies any rational grasp.

I had the easiest task. Entering Tarkovsky’s world carries you within a sumptuous chorale, a multivoiced fugue that encompasses all that’s Russian. Marina, since years, pursued a patient pilgrimage home, with her unique gift to mix with people and extract the best of them. As for Sergey Dvortsevoy and his blind man, he illuminates the Russian way to embody what has been since Antiquity the natural hobby of sightlessness: prophecy.

The night Stalin died, I was on Times Square, beside another blind man: Moondog, the musician. I couldn’t help feeling something metaphorical in this confrontation between blindness and history. There we were, like the apes at the beginning of Kubrick’s “2001”, facing an opaque, indecipherable monolith. So is the blind man in his basement, facing the enigma of an opaque, indecipherable country which he manages to graze with the help of his companion the cat, the creature who sees what even the seers don’t see.

Sometimes we come to the conclusion that Mother Russia just can’t be analyzed, criticized, dismantled, explained: too complex, too brutal, too elusive, too paradoxical, too cavorting… Sometimes even, to my dismay, she can’t be loved. But still, yes, she can be sung.
Chris Marker, back cover of DVD, One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich

Tarkovsky and Chris Marker on set of The Sacrifice

Through film clips, journal entries, and personal musings, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF ANDREI ARSENEVICH is renowned French filmmaker Chris Marker’s homage to his friend and colleague, Andrei Tarkovsky, who died in 1986.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, and certainly the most important post-War Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky has achieved a mythic status with such visionary masterpieces as Andrei Rublev, Solaris and Stalker. His stylistic idiosyncrasies: minimal plots, fragmented narrative, and long takes have become staples of the modern art film. His confrontations with the Soviet government, the censorship of his films, and his eventual exile only contributed to his mystique.

Through close readings of Tarksovsky’s films – including rare scenes from his student film (an adaptation of Hemingway’s The Killers) and a practically unknown production of Boris Goudonov – Marker attempts to locate Tarkovsky in his work. Parallels drawn by Marker between Tarkovksy’s life and films offer an original insight into the reclusive director. Personal anecdotes from Tarkovsky’s writings – from his prophetic meeting with Boris Pasternak (author of Dr. Zhivago) to an encounter with the KGB on the streets of Paris (he thought they were coming to kill him) – pepper the film.

With behind-the-scenes footage of Tarkovsky obsessively commanding his entire crew (including famed Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist, during the filming of a complicated sequence from his final film The Sacrifice), and candid moments of Tarkovsky with his friends and family, bedridden but still working on the editing of his final film, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF ANDREI ARSENEVICH is a personal and loving portrait of the monumental filmmaker.

“**** (4 stars). A masterpiece! Marker’s ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF ANDREI ARSENEVICH [is] the best single piece of Tarkovsky criticism I know of, clarifying the overall coherence of his oeuvre while leaving all the mysteries of his films intact. The video interweaves biography and autobiography with poetic and political insight in a manner that seldom works as well as it does here.”
—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

“A brilliant appreciation of the last great Soviet director, Andrei Tarkovsky. No less then Jean-Luc Godard or Martin Scorsese, Marker is an original and perceptive exegete of other filmmakers…. The most sustained and heartfelt tribute one filmmaker has paid another.”
—Jim Hoberman, Village Voice

“A sublime meditation on the poetic, surreal universe of Tarkovsky.”
—Los Angeles Times

“Fascinating! What makes Chris Marker’s documentary such an invaluable gift is that his insights into the director are so accessible – and so provocative. Not only is it a remarkable analysis of Tarkvosky’s brilliance; it’s also a showcase for Marker’s.”
—Time Out New York

“A superb analysis of Tarkovsky’s lyrical vocabulary. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more thorough explication of Tarkovsky’s vision than the one provided by Marker here.”
—Dallas Observer

“A film that defies categorization as a documentary, or even as a ‘film essay’ …A love letter is more like it: personal, passionate, unguarded. The meat of the film is a dazzling montage, drawn mostly from Tarkovsky’s work, but reorganized into illuminating new patterns… inspiring us to make our own observations and connections.”
—LA Weekly

“Even those of us who find Tarkovsky’s films more tedious than tantalizing will appreciate the care and love that went into this reflection on the man and his work. I can’t remember any film capturing an artist more intimately…”
—Detroit Free Press

“Chris Marker’s informative tribute to the late Andrei Tarkovsky is an important contribution to film scholarship.”
—Variety

“Chris Marker’s ‘One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch’ is perhaps the best film yet made by one (great) film-maker about another. A revelatory document, loving, lucid and lyrical, on the elemental structuring of Tarkovsky’s work, it marries moving footage of the terminally ill director shooting and struggling to finish his final film ‘The Sacrifice’ with an exemplary assessment of the films and their importance, humane, humble and always open. In its own essential way, it too is a masterpiece.”
—Gareth Evans, The Andrei Tarkovsky Companion

2001 DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival
2000 Berlin Film Festival
2000 San Francisco Film Festival
2000 Toronto Film Festival
2000 Telluride Film Festival

Icarus Films

André Bazin on Chris Marker (1958)

lettre-de-siberie-bazin

Trans. Dave Kehr, © Cahiers du Cinéma, published in Film Comment, 2003.

Chris Marker, as you may remember, wrote the narration for Bibliothèque Nationale (Toute la mémoire du monde) and Statues Also Die (which the public still has only been able to see in a version cut to half its length by the censorship board). These incisive, powerful texts, in which cutting irony plays hide and seek with poetry, would be enough to secure their author a privileged place in the field of short filmmaking, currently the liveliest fringe of the French cinema. As the writer of the narrations for these films by his friend Resnais, with whom he shares a marvelous understanding, Chris Marker has already profoundly altered the visual relationship between text and image. But his ambition was obviously even more radical, and it became necessary for him to make his own films.

First there was Sunday in Peking, which justly won a prize at the 1956 Festival of Tours, and now, at last, there is the extraordinary Letter from Siberia. Admirable as Sunday in Peking was, it was also slightly disappointing, in that the restrictions of the short format seemed inadequate for such a big subject. And it also has to be said that the images, while often very beautiful, did not supply sufficient documentary material in the end. It left us wanting more. But the seed of the dialectic between word and image that Marker would go on to sow in Letter from Siberia was already there. In the new film, it grows to the dimensions appropriate to a feature film, and takes the weight.

“A Documentary Point of View”

How to describe Letter from Siberia? Negatively, at first, in pointing out that it resembles absolutely nothing that we have ever seen before in films with a documentary basis – films with “a subject.” But then it becomes necessary to say what it is. Flatly and objectively, it is a film report from a Frenchman given the rare privilege of traveling freely in Siberia, covering several thousand kilometers. Although in the last three years we have seen several film reports from French travelers in Russia. Letter from Siberia resembles none of them. So. We must take a closer look. I would propose the following approximate description: Letter from Siberia is an essay on the reality of Siberia past and present in the form of a filmed report. Or. perhaps, to borrow Jean Vigo’s formulation of À propos de Nice (“a documentary point of view”), I would say, an essay documented by film. The important word is “essay,” understood in the same sense that it has in literature — an essay at once historical and political, written by a poet as well.

Generally, even in politically engaged documentaries or those with a specific point to make, the image (which is to say, the uniquely cinematic element) effectively constitutes the primary material of the film. The orientation of the work is expressed through the choices made by the filmmaker in the montage, with the commentary completing the organization of the sense thus conferred on the document. With Marker it works quite differently. I would say that the primary material is intelligence, that its immediate means of expression is language, and that the image only intervenes in the third position, in reference to this verbal intelligence. The usual process is reversed. I will risk another metaphor: Chris Marker brings to his films an absolutely new notion of montage that I wall call “horizontal,” as opposed to traditional montage that plays with the sense of duration through the relationship of shot to shot. Here, a given image doesn’t refer to the one that preceded it or the one that will follow, but rather it refers laterally, in some way, to what is said.

From the Ear to the Eye

Better, it might be said that the basic element is the beauty of what is said and heard, that intelligence flows from the audio element to the visual. The montage has been forged from ear to eye. Because of space limitations, I will describe only a single example, which is also the film’s most successful moment. Marker presents us with a documentary image that is at once full of significance and completely neutral: a street in Irkutsk. We see a bus going by and workers repairing the roadway, and then at the end of the shot a fellow with a somewhat strange face (or at least, little blessed by nature) who happens to pass in front of the camera. Marker then comments on these rather banal images from two opposed points of view: first, that of the Communist party line, in the light of which the unknown pedestrian becomes “‘a picturesque representative of the north country,” and then in that of the reactionary perspective, in which he becomes “a troubling Asiatic.”

This single, thought-provoking antithesis is a brilliant stroke of inspiration in itself, but its wit remains rather facile. Its then that the author offers a third commentary, impartial and minutely detailed, that objectively describes the unhappy Mongol as ‘”a cross-eyed Yakout.” And this time we are way beyond cleverness and irony, because what Marker has just demonstrated is that objectivity is even more false than the two opposed partisan points of view: that, at least in relation to certain realities, impartiality is an illusion. The operation we have observed is thus precisely dialectic, consisting of placing the same image in three different intellectual contexts and following the results.

Intelligence and Talent

In order to give the reader a complete sense of this unprecedented enterprise, it remains for me to point out that Chris Marker does not restrict himself to using documentary images filmed on the spot, but uses any and all filmic material that might help his case—including still images (engravings and photos), of course, but also animated cartoons. Like McLaren, he does not hesitate to say the most serious things in the most comic way (as in the sequence with the mammoths). There is only one common denominator in this firework display of technique: intelligence. Intelligence and talent. It is only just to also point out that the photography is by Sacha Viemy. the music the work of Pierre Barbaud. and that the narration is excellently read by Georges Rouquier.

Andre Bazin, 1958

Further Reading:  Chris Darke, “Chris Marker Eyesight,” Film Comment, 2003.

Johan van der Keuken on Free Composition

Johan van der Keuken

An excellent article on Johan van der Keuken’s The White Castle has been published on sabzian.be. The author is Gerard-Jan Claes, and the article In Search of the White Castle. Claes writes:

Rather than talking about film as a language, van der Keuken understands it as a condition, an état or a state of being, as something which defies easy definition and which can rather be approached in terms of becoming and movement. It’s a space of experience, a way of standing within the world. Maybe that also explains the appeal of his films. His films are all spaces in which you can wander, which envelop you, which stick with you and are hard to shake off.

He quotes van der Keuken on the tightrope walk of free composition, a method that creates associative rhizomes between heterogenous materials in an essay film. Editing creates a kind of connective tissue and prismatic relationship between places, topics, images, words. The inner connections are joined by the film’s outer connection, its placement within a triptych focusing on North-South political & economic disparities, within the system of production/labor that van der Keuken calls ‘the conveyor belt’. Van der Keuken’s White Castle forms the second part of his North-South triptych: Dagboek / Diary, 1972; Het witte kasteel / The White Castle, 1973; and De nieuwe ijstijd / The New Ice Age, 1974.

I think it’s fascinating to build within a free form, but a classical form needs to underlie it. The paradox is that if you want to make a free composition, you have to proceed in a stricter way than you would in a conventional film. You namely have to make it plausible to implicate certain things which don’t seem to have anything to do with each other at a first glance. It is my task to prove that, for the duration of the film, they do have something to do with one another. I propose that everything goes with everything, but everything doesn’t go with everything beforehand, but only after modification. Everything only goes with everything if you think about it carefully.
Johan van der Keuken, quoted Gerard-Jan Claes, In Search of the White Castle, sabzian.be

van der Keuken collage

Image courtesy Sabzian

Jim Jarmusch Met Chris Marker

Jim Jarmusch Chris Marker echo

From: truthandmovies.tumblr.com

JIM JARMUSCH ON THE TIME HE MET CHRIS MARKER

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

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

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

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