Category Archives: Books

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

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.

Ricardo Greene, Iván Pinto Publish La Zona Marker

la-zona-marker

I received an email from Ricardo Greene with news of a new, important book on Chris Marker in Spanish: La Zona Marker The book is published by Ediciones FIDOCS (Culdoc series) in Santiago, Chile. It presents a collection of essays by Ricardo Green, Iván Pinto, Patricio Guzmán (“Lo que debo a Chris Marker”), Trevor Stark, Carolina Anaral de Aguiar, Chris Marker himself (“El ùltimo bolchevique”), Maria Paz Peirano, Maria Luisa Ortega, Gonzalo De Lucas, Eduardo A. Russo, Raymond Bellour (“Marker Forever” in its first Spanish translation), and Wolfgang Bongers. More information is available on the FIDOCS site at https://www.fidocs.cl/2013/06/18/la-zona-marker/. According to CinemaChile.cl, Ricardo Greene is a director, sociologist and visual anthropologist, and was the director of the 17th version of FIDOCS, a film festival founded by Patrizio Guzman.

The only other book on Marker in Spanish that I know of is Chris Marker Inmemoria, published by Ambulante Ediciones in 2013, edited by Maria Fortes and Lorena Gómez Mostajo, and published in Mexico. I will present the table of contents for that volume in a separate post. Note: Christophe Chazalon wrote me post-post, pointing to some other Spanish language publications on Marker, as listed on this page of chrismarker.ch (section “en espanol”). Thanks CH2!*

For those who wish to take a look at La Zona Marker in pdf format, you can access it on academia.edu at www.academia.edu/12500029/La_Zona_Marker.

Contratulations to Ricardo and Iván and happy reading. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

A post on fidocs.cl clarifies the tripartite organization of the book:

Además de lanzar una nueva competencia de cortometrajes en su honor y de presentar una muestra de sus películas, este año hemos decidido honrar a Chris Marker con La Zona Marker. Dividido en tres capítulos, cada uno de ellos está dedicado a las distintas “vanguardias” que pueden encontrarse en su vida y obra: la primera, sobre el militante comprometido, cuenta con artículos de Trevor Stark, Carolina Amaral De Aguiar y del propio Chris Marker; el segundo, sobre el explorador que se adentra en culturas desconocidas, presenta trabajos inéditos de María Paz Peirano, Maria Luisa Ortega y Gonzalo De Lucas; el tercero, por último, es sobre sus innovaciones en el lenguaje audiovisual y edita artículos de Raymond Bellour, Eduardo Russo y Wolfgang Bongers. A ellos se suma un trabajo introductorio de los editores y una carta de Patricio Guzmán, además de ilustraciones y fotogramas. Una obra dedicada no sólo a especialistas sino a cualquiera que quiera adentrarse en los bordes difusos de su enorme legado.
R.G.

Aside from launching a new short film competition in his honor, and screening a retrospective of his work, this year we have decided to play a tribute to Chris Marker with The Marker Zone. It’s divided in three chapters, each one of them dedicated to a different cutting edge point that can be found throughout his life and works: the first about the committed militant, includes articles by Trevor Stark, Carolina Amaral De Aguiar and Chris Marker himself; the second about the explorer that ventures into unknown cultures, with unedited works by María Paz Peirano, Maria Luisa Ortega and Gonzalo De Lucas; the third and last is about his innovation on the audiovisual language and has edited articles by Raymond Bellour, Eduardo Russo and Wolfgang Bongers. Furthermore, an introductory piece by the editors and a letter by Patricio Guzmán, besides illustrations and video frames. A book not just dedicated to the adept, but to anyone who wants to delve into the vague fringes of his huge legacy.
R.G.

Table of Contents

ÍNDICE
Agradecimientos

La Zona Marker: Preludio en tres actos
Ricardo Greene e Iván Pinto

Lo que debo a Chris Marker
Patricio Guzmán

CAPÍTULO 1: UN GATO CON GARRAS

El Grupo Medvedkine y la División Cinemática del Trabajo
Trevor Stark

El ímpetu revolucionario latinoamericano en el discurso cinematográfico de Chris Marker
Carolina Amaral de Aguiar

El último bolchevique
Chris Marker

CAPÍTULO 2: GATOS ERRANTES

Viaje, romanticismo y crítica cultural: La mirada antropológica de Chris Marker
María Paz Peirano

El coleccionista y sus geografías
María Luisa Ortega

You are my second chance! Composición política de la imagen en Sans soleil
Gonzalo De Lucas

CAPÍTULO 3: “… Y ERA UN GATO, DESPUÉS DE TODO”

Del atalaya al observatorio. El cine desde las instalaciones de Chris Marker
Eduardo A. Russo

Marker forever
Raymond Bellour

Cine expandido en la era de memorias erráticas. Apuntes sobre Immemory
Wolfgang Bongers

Selección de caricaturas

Biografías

Chris Darke Publishes La Jetée

Chris Darke is coming out with a new book on La Jetée and has arranged for chrismarker.org to publish the first chapter. Many thanks to Chris and to the British Film Institute! It’s an honor to get a sneak peak at this important, extremely perceptive take on Chris Marker’s most famous creation. Please click below to read the chapter. If you wish, you can order your copy at amazon.uk. Also now available at amazon.com.

La Jetée by Chris Darke, BFI Classics, Chapter One

Chris Darke, La Jetée. BFI Classics. Published July 2016

Chris Darke Biography

Chris Darke is a writer and film critic. For over twenty years his work has been published in newspapers and magazines including: Sight and Sound, Film Comment, Cahiers du cinéma, Trafic, Frieze, Vertigo, and The Independent. He is the author of four books: Light Readings: Film Criticism and Screen Arts (2000); a monograph on Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (2005); Cannes: Inside the World’s Premier Film Festival (with Kieron Corless, 2007); and a study of La Jetée in the BFI Film Classics series (2016). He has contributed essays to catalogues and edited collections, as well as translating texts by Raymond Bellour, Jean-Pierre Oudart, Pascal Bonitzer, and Marc Augé, among others.

He has also made short arts documentaries for British television: his 1999 film about Chris Marker’s La Jetée was included (at Guillaume’s insistence) on French, UK, and US DVD releases of La Jetée and Sans soleil. He was creative consultant on Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012), a feature-length essay-film about W. G. Sebald’s novel The Rings of Saturn. He co-curated the major exhibition Chris Marker: A Grin without a Cat at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 2014, for which he also co-edited the catalogue. He is a Senior Lecturer in Film at Roehampton University, London.

Books

Light Readings: Film Criticism and Screen Arts (London: Wallflower Press, 2000)
Alphaville: French Film Guide (London, IB Tauris, 2005)
Cannes: Inside the World’s Premier Film Festival (with Kieron Corless. London: Faber, 2007)
Chris Marker: A Grin without a Cat (co-editor with Habda Rashid. Whitechapel Gallery, 2014)

Selected essays, articles, reviews, and interviews

Review: Antonioni exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française, Film Comment, July 2015
https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/artform-antonioni-at-the-paris-cinematheque/

Uneasy Listening: Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK, 2012), Film Comment, May-June 2013
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/berberian-sound-studio-uneasy-listening/

Interview with Patricio Guzmán on Nostalgia for the Light (Chile, Spain, Germany, France, 2012), Sight & Sound, August 2012
https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/interviews/desert-disappeared-patricio-guzman-nostalgia-light/

Systems Analyst: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Adam Curtis, UK, 2011), Film Comment, July-August 2012
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/adam-curtis-all-watched-over-by-machines-of-loving-grace/

Interview: Adam Curtis, Film Comment, July-August 2012
https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/interview-adam-curtis/

Antonioni – the afterlife, Sight & Sound (online), March 2011
https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/comment/obituaries/antonioni-afterlife

“Les Enfants et les Cinéphiles” The Moment of Epiphany in The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, Spain, 1973), Cinema Journal, 49, no. 2, Winter 2010, pp. 152-158.
https://muse.jhu.edu/article/373237

On the Threshold: on Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK & Ireland, 2008), Criterion Collection, 2010
https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1375-hunger-on-the-threshold

Three Images of May: Cinema and the Uprising, Vertigo, Vol. 3 Issue 9, Spring-Summer 2008
https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/volume-3-issue-9-spring-summer-2008/three-images-of-may-cinema-and-the-uprising/

Review: Yella (Christian Petzold, Germany, 2007), Film Comment, May-June 2008
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/yella-review/june

First Person Singular: on the essay films of Agnès Varda, Film Comment, January-February 2008
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/first-person-singular-agnes-varda/

Freedom and Dirt: on Vagabond (Agnes Varda, France, 1985), Criterion Collection, 2008
https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/501-vagabond-freedom-and-dirt

Once More … into the Zone: Chris Marker Looks Back, in Wonder, Vertigo, Vol. 3 Issue 6, Summer 2007
https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/volume-3-issue-6-summer-2007/once-more-into-the-zone-chris-marker-looks-back-in-wonder/

Sweet Bird of Youth: Kes (Ken Loach, UK, 1969), Film Comment, July-August 2007
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/encore-kes/

Films of Ruin and Rapture: In Search of Jean-Daniel Pollet, Film Comment, May-June 2007
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/films-of-ruin-and-rapture-in-search-of-jean-daniel-pollet/

Chris Marker: The Invisible Man, Film Comment, May-June 2003
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/chris-marker-the-invisible-man/

Chris Marker: Eyesight, Film Comment, May-June 2003
https://www.filmcomment.com/article/chris-marker-eyesight/

Letter from London (on surveillance and cinema), Senses of Cinema, Issue 25, March 2003
https://sensesofcinema.com/author/chris-darke/

Chris Marker: (Le livre impossible) by Maroussia Vossen

Daughter Owl Chris MarkerOut of the blue, we learned of a new and quite intimate book on Chris Marker (‘un centre mouvant’), written by his adopted daughter Maroussia Vossen.

Marker’s life went into his work, and his personal life remained and remains a mystery to a great many of his fans. This new book, which can be found at Amazon.fr currently, promises to be a welcome respite from scholarly publications, and an insight into the oft-guarded personal side of the auteur. That Marker was loyal to his intimates has been clear, with testimonies coming since his death from many sides, including Pierre Lhomme and Patricio Guzman.

His friends were so numerous, yet each relationship, as attested to by Maroussia, was set in a kind of sacred space – just the opposite of social space with its flattening of relationships into connections, friends, followers… There is in this publication an aura of glimpsing into the center of the storm of a wildly productive life, at the most intimate and non-public relationship perhaps of all.

It is a welcome arrival. As we await its physical arrival from amazon.fr, we can at least ruminate and quote some preliminary texts that are posted on the publisher’s site, le-tripode.net. What was impossible during Marker’s life comes to life here, the impossible book somehow made possible.

Chris Marker (Le livre impossible)

Maroussia Vossen

« Ce texte n’est ni un roman, ni un essai ; encore moins une biographie. C’est le récit fragmentaire de mon lien à Chris Marker, de ma naissance à sa mort. »

L’un est un cinéaste mythique, l’autre sa fille d’adoption. L’un a fait de sa vie un mystère, l’autre en a été le témoin.

Avec justesse et humilité, Maroussia Vossen fait le récit sobre d’une filiation peu banale et révèle le portrait d’un artiste hors du commun, qui s’évertua jusqu’à sa mort à demeurer une énigme.

Artiste et écrivain, Chris Marker est notamment l’auteur d’un film culte : La Jetée.

L’Auteur

Née en 1955. Danse, chorégraphie, enseigne, aime les chats.Le Tripode, Chris Marker (Le livre impossible)

Maroussia Vossen, Chris Marker Le livre impossible

Préambule

Ce texte n’est ni un roman ni un essai; encore moins une biographie.

C’est le récit fragmentaire de mon lien à Chris Marker, de ma naissance à sa mort.

Je n’évoquerai pas le cinéaste, laissant ce travail à ses commentateurs. Je ne peux que restituer quelques instants partagés avec lui, à mesure qu’ils me reviennent en mémoire : plus de cinquante ans de souvenirs.

À peine sortie de l’enfance, je me suis rendu compte qu’il cloisonnait ses relations. Cela lui permettait d’avoir un échange privilégié, un rapport singulier avec l’autre, de construire un cercle dont il serait le centre, mais un centre mouvant. Ainsi, chacun peu aujourd’hui parler de ‘son’ Chris.

Mon point de vue (ou de vie) est fait de plusieurs regards. Celui d’une enfant qui cherche un père ; celui d’une adolescente à la fois rebelle et impressionnée par cet homme qui avait l’allure d’un grand fauve ; celui enfin d’une femme adulte, engagée dans sa propre voie artistique. Ce dernier regard est probablement le plus critique. Mais, quoi qu’il en soit, notre relation ne s’est jamais départé d’une forme de reconnaissance réciproque. On peut dire que notre lien était là et au-delà des mots, comme il était hors de toutes règles conventionnelles.

Chris Marker était un personnage complexe, ses multiples noms d’emprunt sont autant de preuves de son exceptionnelle capacité d’adaptation ; il m’a toujours été difficile d’en cerner les contours. Paradoxal, contradictoire, imprévisible… Ce ne sont que des mots. Immanquablement, il échappait à quiconque voulait l’enfermer dans une définition.

Maroussia Vossen, Chris Marker (Le livre impossible)

Extract published by Le Tripode on Issuu

Full-screen reading enabled

L’An 2000 : Chris Marker Book Design

I betrayed Gutenberg for McLuhan a long time ago.Chris Marker

L'An 2000 design Chris Marker

Thanks to Christophe Chazalon, master archivist over at chrismarker.ch, for Christmas in June; CH2 sent a collection of images – page spreads from a curious volume entitled L’An 2000: une anti-histoire de la fin du monde, published in 1975 by Gallimard.  Like 2084, 4001, 3009, 2058, Bolaño’s 2066 (& La Jetée‘s un-numbered future dates), here we find more time travels from the late 20th c. to alternate epochs to come, an envisioned ‘prospectivist’ Y2K in this case. This book comes to my attention as something completely new, on my radar at least… It is a book where Marker’s roles seem to have been lead photographer and lead book designer. These images are further evidence of Marker as designer – one with a potent combo of wit, dark humor, visual acuity, and the unique application of montage to book design.

Recent and needed devotion of attention to Marker’s editorial and design role at Seuil has come out of late surrounding the Petite Planète travel book series. It is in this vein that we can perceive Marker’s mastery of layout, via which he brings the Trojan horse of his unparalleled visual & political wit. The spreads seen here are witty, yes, but not whimsical; some heavy political narratives live within the image concatenations.

To touch on the opening quote, despite the extreme aptness & quotability of the line, Marker was as intimate with Gutenberg as he was with McLuhan. The vast majority of his ‘estate’ consists of books. And he knew how to make them too. He weaves the two ciphers for media stages/epochs, over and over again, into rare media fabrics and a new temporal praxis for media. The book form of La Jetée is the most shining example, truly a ciné-roman (and one that was dear to his heart – he absolutely loved the book). Then we have the two volume Commentaires, the book Le Dépays, the out-of-print book of Le fonds de l’air est rouge, and Staring Back. Perhaps the magnum opus of Marker’s book design is Corréennes. I can’t think of any other cinéastes with this impressive skill set and printed oeuvre.

Marker’s layout genius is linked to the true métier of film editing, the cuts and splices, the choices and juxtapositions that make of Sans Soleil such an invitation au voyage. Gutenberg in motion, if you will, with Baudelaire sulking in the background. The tradition of emblems and ‘world turned upside down’ in French literature & publishing would be well-worth exploring in this connection, as it links Marker with a deeper anti-authoritarian artistic tradition, a grand example of which can be found in the hilarious Le Monde à l’envers carnivalesque visual genre of early modern Europe (18th/19th centuries, though examples date much further back).

For further reading, check the “Related Posts” links below, as well as Rick Poynor’s excellent article on book design & Marker’s Commentaires. For an overview of the life and works of André-Clément Decouflé, ‘sociologue, historien et prospectiviste’, consult this French Wikipedia article.

Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 09 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 08 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 07 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 06 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 05 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 04 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 03 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 02 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 01 Decoufle - An 2000 (1975) 10

La prospective, qu’il contribua à largement à faire reconnaître en France par ses ouvrages et ses interventions à la télévision, fut progressivement délaissée parce qu’il estimait s’être complètement trompé sur sa vision de l’an 2000, vingt cinq ans avant l’avènement du troisième millénaire.André-Clément Decouflé, fr.wikipedia.org

Finally, let’s not forget the unforgetable publication – with Marker’s aid – of William Klein’s Life is good & Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels (1956). Subject for another post. Again here, we are witness to the revolution of layout and photography, in a much more extreme manner than Marker’s own work, but certainly not unrelated.

L’idée d’« Album Petite Planète » séduira les patrons du Seuil mais n’aboutie qu’à la sortie d’un volume de photographies de William Klein, Life is good and good for you in New York (1956). L’exceptionnelle qualité des images, de la mise en page et de l’impression singularisent ce livre.Chris Marker au Seuil, Hervé Serry

William Klein, New York New York

Jacques Rancière, In front of the camera lens

Eisenstein, Odessa steps

I’m still seeking to understand this piece of writing, which forgoes a close reading of Marker’s The Last Bolchevik for something else, something akin to thinking out loud in a somewhat associative manner, while using a film – a moment of a film removed from context – for purposes having only tangential connections with the film itself. It strikes me as the philosophical opposite of letting the object speak that Benjamin practiced beautifully and Adorno celebrated but, in the final analysis, failed to achieve in concrete terms (except in his music criticism, of course). It is not all Rancière’s fault, as philosophy struggles on a regular basis with use and abuse of cultural artifacts; either they are subsumed as paradigmatic or used as merely illustrative decoration on the conceptual inner architecture of a system or a way of seeing. This piece tries to be an essay, but it is something else. I haven’t figured out what genre of writing this piece belongs to. I’m reproducing it here to help myself figure this out, in part. If you understand Rancière’s ‘project’, please don’t hesitate to write and clarify things for me, for I feel in a fog after reading this and can only blame it on the author preliminarily, as a knee-jerk reaction. But I can’t stay there. This cannot be my final word, nor hopefully Rancière’s final word on Marker.

I. In front of the camera lens

Jacques Rancière, Figures of HistoryIt is an image from turn-of-the-century Saint Petersburg, both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. The imperial family is passing by, surrounded by an escort of officers and dignitaries. The crowd gathered there, at the side of the road, is addressed by an officer with an imperious gesture: when the Tsar passes, the thing to do is to remove your hat. The commentator’s voice is heard: I don’t want this image to be forgotten.

What is Chris Marker trying to tell us by placing this image at the opening of his 1993 film, The Last Bolshevik? Is he trying to say that the people really were oppressed and humiliated in Russia in the early twentieth century and that, in today’s latest round of score-settling with the communist era, we should not forget what came before that era and justified its coming? The objector will swiftly reply that the evils of the day before yesterday do not justify those of yesterday, which, in any case, were worse. What is can never be justified by what was, no matter what conclusions we draw about the past. Or, rather, such conclusions belong entirely to the realm of rhetoric. It is only there that images suffice as evidence. Elsewhere, they merely show, merely provide a record for posterity. The image of General Orlov and his men imposing a duty of respect on the crowd doesn’t tell us that, all the same, the Bolsheviks had their reasons and their excuses. It tells us both less and more: this was, it is part of a certain history, it is history.

This was. Our present is not beset by skepticism, as people often claim, somewhat superciliously. It is beset by negation.’ If the provocation of denying the Nazi extermination camps has resisted attack and is even gaining ground, this is because it is synchronous with this spirit of the times, a spirit of resentment, ressentiment, not just resentment of the ideals of the new man which people believed in, or resentment of the people who got you to believe in those ideals or the people who destroyed them and brought about the general loss of faith. The object of resentment, Nietzsche tells us, is time itself, the es war: this was. Resentment is sick of hearing about this past of the future, which is also a future of the past. It has had it with those two tenses, which are so good at conjugating their double absence. Resentment is only interested in knowing time without the trickery: the present and its conjoncture, its conjunction of circumstances, as a present that we go on counting endlessly to reassure ourselves that it is woven out of the real and nothing but the real: the time involved in ratings that are expected to recover next month or polls that are supposed to track the same trend one month later. Just as resentment abhors the times and tenses of absence, so it abhors images, which are always of the past and which have probably already been doctored and trafficked by the false prophets of the future.

But the camera lens is indifferent to all that. It doesn’t need to insist on the present. It cannot not be in it. It has neither memory nor ulterior motive and, so, no resentment, either. It records what it has been told to record: the imperial family’s royal procession at the beginning of the twentieth century; or, thirty or forty years later, mobile human pyramids in Red Square bearing vast effigies of Stalin at their apex, which pass before Stalin himself, who applauds his image (Rothschild’s Violin). Someone in power not only allowed images to be made of these parades, which look so damning to us; he ordered that they be made. Just as some other authority, in Indonesia, commissioned those images of local children twisting their mouths in an effort to learn to speak the language of the colonizer properly; or those images of faces in tears before a portrait of Stalin in Prague in 1953. The camera has captured these images faithfully. But, of course, it did so after its own fashion, as a double agent faithful to two masters: the one behind the camera who actively directs the shot, and the one in front of the camera who passively directs the camera’s passivity. In Jakarta, the camera recorded the rapt attention of a child who is so much more anxious to do well than the cameraman is (Mother Dad). In Prague, it not only noted the faces saddened by the death of the Father of the People. It also noted how the photo of Stalin sat behind a glass pane, in a little niche similar to the ones where people used to put statues of the Virgin Mary in the recent past and where they may well put them again in the near future. (Words and Death. Prague in the Days of Stalin). And so faithfully did it reproduce the defendants in the Prague trials, confessing and explaining their guilt, that the rolls of film had to be consigned to the cupboard and concealed even from those who had attended the trials and been convinced by what they had heard. The mechanical eye of the camera calls for an ‘honest artist’ (Epstein) and unmasks the one who has only learned his role for an occasional audience.

This was. This is part of a story. To deny what was, as the Holocaust deniers are still showing us, you don’t even need to suppress many of the facts; you only need to remove the link that connects them and constitutes them as a story. A story, une histoire, is an arrangement of actions according to which there has not simply been this and then that, but a configuration that fits the facts together and allows them to be presented as a whole: what Aristotle calls a muthos — a storyline, or plot, in the sense in which we speak of the plot of a play. Between the image of General Orlov and the images of the Soviet epic and its disastrous collapse, there is no causal link that could legitimate anything whatsoever. There is simply a story that can legitimately include them both. For example, the story entitled The Last Bolshevik, which ties all sorts of other images into the official image of the royal procession: images such as those from the rediscovered footage of Alexander Medvedkin’s films which, in various modes, accompanied the different phases of the Soviet epic. These range from the surrealist images of Happiness, whose burlesque lightness of touch seems mockingly to undermine the promises of the official version of happiness, despite the conformism of the script, to the militant images produced by the cine- train, rolling across Russia to shoot from life and immediately relay to the interested parties the debates of people taking control of factories, land or housing; from official images made surrealist — or surrealist images made official? — produced to celebrate the work of the architects of the New Moscow, to interviews with people close to the filmmaker or researchers busy reviving his oeuvre and status, to images that speak volumes about the Russia of today, such as parties held by merry — and, Marker would have us believe, gilded — youth toppling statues. They range from images of the renewed pomp of religion, similar to that staged by the man who made Ivan the Terrible, perhaps to embrace, in a single sweeping glance, the Russia of the Tsars and the priests and the Russia of the Soviet dictator, and to the enigmatic image of an old man with an inscrutable face taking part in a ceremony. He turns out to be Ivan Koslovsky, the Russian tenor par excellence, a man who traversed the torments of the century imperturbably singing the muted melody of the Indian merchant in Sadko or Lensky’s farewell lines in Eugene Onegin:

Where, oh where have you gone,
Golden days of my youth?

This makes a story. But also a history of a certain era: no longer just an arrangement of actions in the Aristotelian manner, but an arranging of signs in the Romantic manner: signs that immediately talk and fall into place in a meaningful storyline; signs that don’t talk, but merely signal that there is history-making material there; or signs that, like Koslovsky’s face, are undecidable — like the silence of an old man, meditative as a person is at that age, or like the muteness of two centuries of history, the history of the Russia of Pushkin and Tchaikovsky within the history of Soviet Russia.

So, we are talking about a history of a certain era, a story from the time of history. That expression, too, is suspect these days. The current Zeitgeist assures us that all our troubles stem from the malevolent belief in history as the process of truth and the promise of completion. It teaches us to separate the task of the historian (doing history) from the ideological mirage according to which mankind or the masses would supposedly make history. But doesn’t this convenient dissociation obscure the very thing that makes for the peculiarity of the image with which we started this essay — namely, the way the princes passing by and the crowd which parts for them as they pass share the same light and the same image? Maybe this is what the ‘age of history’ is, quite simply, at least to begin with. Long ago, in the days of history painting, people painted images of the great and their deeds. Of course the hordes and humble people could be in the picture, too. It would be hard to conceive of a general without troops or a king without subjects. Occasionally, the hero would address them. Occasionally, the roles might actually be reversed and the old soldier, in great distress at the sight, would recognize his general, the Byzantine General Belisarius, in the beggar crouching at his feet. But there was nevertheless no common fate, shared between the man of glory subject to glory’s reversals and the ‘ignoble’ man, excluded from glory’s order; between generals fallen on hard times and the ill-born, who had already ‘sunk into anonymity’, in Mallarme’s phrase. The old soldier’s image could share the canvas with that of Belisarius. But he did not share the story of the honest Belisarius’s greatness and decline. That particular history belonged to Belisarius’s peers alone, and lor them it was supposed to recall two things that were of interest only to them: that fortune is inconstant, but that virtue, on the other hand, never fails the man who has cultivated it. The name ‘history’ was given to the anthology of such great examples, worthy of being learned, represented, meditated upon, imitated. Each one taught only its own lesson, unchanging over time, and intended only for those whose vocation it was to leave behind a memory of their actions and accordingly draw an example from the memorable deeds of other men worthy of being remembered.

But the image of General Orlov offers instruction of quite a different kind, precisely because it wasn’t made in order to provide anything whatsoever to meditate upon or imitate. The person who took it was not intending to remind us of the respect due to royalty. He took it because it is only normal to get down all that the great and the good do when they’re putting themselves on show, and since machines can do this automatically, these days. Yet the machine makes no distinction. It doesn’t know that there are genre paintings and history paintings. It takes both the great and the small and it takes them together. It doesn’t make them equal by virtue of who knows what mission of science and technology to bring about a democratic reconciliation between noble and humble ranks. It simply makes those ranks liable to share the same image, an image of the same ontological tenor. It does so because, for the image itself even to exist, those disparate ranks had to have something in common already: they belonged to the same period of time, to precisely that time we call ‘history’ – a time that is no longer an indifferent anthology of memorable actions, intended for those who are supposed to be memorable too, but the very stuff of human action in general; a time that is qualified and oriented, that carries promises and threats; a time that levels all those who belonged to it — those who belonged to the order of memory and those who did not. History has always been the story of the people who ‘make history’ exclusively. What changes is the identity of the ‘history makers’. And the age of history is the age where anyone at all can make history because everyone is already making it, because everyone is already made by it.

History is that time in which those who have no right to occupy the same place can occupy the same image: the time of the material existence of the shared light of which Heraclitus spoke, the sun of judgment none of us can escape. It is not a matter of any ‘equality in rank’ in the eyes of the camera. It is a matter of the twin mastery the camera prompts, the mastery of the operator and that of his ‘subject’. It is a matter of a certain sharing of the light, a sharing whose terms Mallarmé undertook to define, a few years before the image we’re dealing with here was taken, in the extraordinary prose poem entitled ‘Conflict’. This is about the conflict between the poet and those bores, the railway workers who, laid out by heavy Sunday drinking sessions, ‘close off, by their abandon, the vespertine distance’. It’s about an internal conflict as well, over the duty incumbent upon the poet not indecorously to step over the ‘carpet of the scourge’ of which he must ‘understand the mystery and judge the duty’.

‘The constellations begin to shine: how I’d like it if in the darkness that runs over the blind flock, points of light, like that thought just now, could be fixed, in spite of these sealed eyes not making them out — for the fact, for the exactness, for it to be said.’ The French poet wanted to steal from the brightly shining stars the right light not only for illuminating the workers’ faces, but to consecrate the shared sojourn. To that dream, as to all dreams, a German philosopher had already responded, some little time before, in his taunting way: ‘Human beings only ever ask themselves questions they can answer.’ Fixing points of light over the ill-born, sunk into anonymity — that had already been done, technically, routinely. It was called photography, which is writing with light; and with the advent of photography, all lives entered the shared light of a writing of the memorable. But the idealist poet, who dreamed of new ‘acts of worship’ by and for the community, may well have seen the central point more clearly than the materialist philosopher of the class struggle: light itself is an object of sharing and distribution, partage, but it is only conflictually common. The equality of all before the light and the inequality of the little people as the great pass by are both written on the same photographic plate. This is why we can read, on that plate, what it was actually pointless looking for in the painting of Belisarius as a beggar: the commonality of two worlds in the very gesture of exclusion; their separation in the commonality of one and the same image. This is why we can also see there the commonality of a present and a future, the future Mandelstam was to celebrate in 1917 in two deliberately ambiguous lines:

O Sun, judge, people, your light is rising over sombre years.

But the sentence of light is not only, as some would have it, the history of the new myths of the red sun and the bloody catastrophe they led to. It may, more simply, be the ‘justice’ that the images from Mother Dao do to the colonized of the recent past. Dutch colonizers in Indonesia took those images to celebrate their work civilizing the natives. In the forest where wild creatures once lived, a humming hive of industry now rose and in it their sons gained skill, dignity and a salary by extracting and forming metal. At school, in the dispensaries, grown-ups and children consented to the teaching that elevated them, to the hygiene of showers, to the vaccinations that saved their bodies and to the signs of the cross that saved their souls. These images of the recent past have been organized differently by Vincent Monnikendam. And the underlying principle of their reorganization is not to show the dark underside of oppression beneath this civilizing parade, to move from the ‘happiness’ pictured by the colonizer to the unhappiness and revolt of the colonized. No doubt the poetic voice off that accompanies the images voices the suffering of the earth and of a life that aspires to resume the ‘course of its thoughts’. But this very accompaniment is not so much a counterpoint to that suffering as the manifestation of a capacity for voicing the situation, for turning it into fiction. What it thereby accompanies on screen is a minute yet decisive change in the appearance of the faces and attitudes of the colonized, in the ‘happiness’ they express: they respond to the surprise of these imposed exercises with attention, with a certain pride in playing the game, as perfectly as possible, before the blackboard at school or the iron at the forge. They quietly assert their equal aptitude for all kinds of learning, for all the rules and every kind of contortion; they assert their equal intelligence. And watching the face of the little girl who takes such pains to spell the master’s language correctly, we seem to catch an echo of a moment of sentimentality on the part of the ironist Karl Marx, when he recalls the gatherings of the League of the Just and celebrates the ‘nobility of man that ‘shines from the workers’ brows’. It is a nobility of the same kind that makes the eye of the camera wielded by the colonizer shine. Consciously or unconsciously. Intentionally and beyond what was intended.

Translator’s note: The French word for Holocaust denial or revisionism, is négationnisme. A revisionist is a négationniste.
Jacques Rancière, “I. In front of the camera lens”, Figures of History, Wiley, 2014.

Eisenstein, Odessa steps

Chris Marker Commentaires : English Translation Coming

I’m not sure of the publisher or publication date, but I learned today via the following essay of this project, which is a joy to contemplate. More as more is revealed, bien sûr, and heartfelt congratulations to Sergey Levchin, yet another longtime Chris Marker fan emerging with an essential project. Scanned copies of the out-of-print originals are available at the end of the post for download.

chris marker commentaires spread

Levchin’s article on the translation project was published on 2.20.15 in Pen America (pen.org).

Intuition and Reflection: On Translating Chris Marker

Sergey Levchin is the recipient of a 2014 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant for his translation of Commentaires by Chris Marker.

Chris Marker is a famous unknown, a cinephile shibboleth, his banal pseudonym perhaps first among the names that divide the pearl diver from a mere wader; a relentlessly self-effacing self-mythologizer, whose meandering, globetrotting, paradoxically personal philosophical essay-film about Japan-time-memory Sans Soleil (1983) is still the inevitable offering of any Intro to Film course, inevitably reserved for the make-up day. He is also said to have made a short film entirely out of still photographs that later inspired Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. Little more is generally known of the eccentric Parisian, whose remarkably extensive body of work includes some sixty films, hundreds of essays and articles, and dozens of avatars.

In the past decade or longer, longer certainly than I would like to admit, I have delved on and off into Marker’s filmography—tantalizing in sheer volume as much as rarity. In that time I learned to make films, to speak French, to translate … and the master himself had died. That was when we finally learned his name and birth date (91 years prior, to the day), both engraved on the casket.

Of course, by then “my” Marker was no longer a shimmering cipher: from his many works I had been able to tease out bits of biography, distinct stages of his long career, affinities and affiliations, artistic roots, circumstances, trajectories—all the things that strip away the veneer of mystery and reveal (in the best cases) a far deeper mystery.

The “essay film” is Marker’s invention and natural element, its best specimens brilliant orchestrations of image and text and sound, of intuition (the snapped photo—and Marker’s images are nearly always still, even when they are moving) and reflection (the commentary).

The two Commentaires volumes, published in France in 1961 and ’67, respectively, are a summing up of the essay-film phase of Marker’s career, which would hibernate for the next 15 years to re-emerge as the masterpiece Sans Soleil. These are the founding texts of the genre, print variants of nine early essay-cum-travelogues, two of which were never filmed. The title is deceptive—these are not merely “commentaries” or voice-over scripts torn from the fabric of the films, not the films’ pale shadows. Generously supplied with images, dynamically and idiosyncratically laid out by Marker himself, they become photo-essays, works of art—both visual and literary—in their own right.

And while the photos mercifully speak for themselves in any language, it is both remarkable pleasure and cringing toil to attempt to recreate Marker’s playful idiom and verbal pyrotechnics in English. I am deeply grateful to PEN for supposing I may be up to the task.
Sergey Levchin

This piece is part of PEN’s 2014 translation series, which features excerpts and essays from the recipients of this year’s PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants.

Chris Marker Commentaires spread

For those who read French, we offer scanned PDFs of the originals here for the first time. These pdfs have been reduced in size as much as possible, and are compatible with Acrobat 9.0 and later. Still, they will take some time to download… Enjoy!

  1. Commentaires, 1961 [15MB]
  2. Commentaires 2, 1967 [17MB]

You can also refer to the cult knowledge/document sharing site aaaaarg.org [google it, the url is unstable] for the generous uploads, curation and downloads of all sorts of arcane literary, theoretical & philosophical materials. Chris Marker, Commentaires + Chris Marker, Commentaires 2. While you’re there, check out the rubric I curate on Essay Film: Essay Film, aaaaarg.org. Sign up and join the erudite fun, from ‘A Genealogy of Bibliographies’ to ‘Zone Books’.

NB: This post is being updated with new links for aaaaarg, which has moved now to https://aaaaarg.fail/

Chris Marker Commentaires 1961

Chris Marker Coréennes – English Text

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

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

You may download the pdf here: Chris Marker, Corénnenes, English Text. For another, less typo-prone version, check out the always helpful markertext.com.

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

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

Coreennes English

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

A Grin Without a Cat – Whitechapel Catalogue Arrives

The Whitechapel catalogue has arrived. It is a wonderful work of art and scholarship. For now, here is a scan of the cover along with the table of contents, plus a pdf of front and back covers and a link to Whitechapel’s shop.

Chris Marker, A Grin Without a Cat, Whitechapel Catalogue

Table of Contents

  • Forward by Magnus af Petersens and Iwona Blazwick
  • Chris Marker, the Time of the World by Christine Van Assche
  • Statues Also Die: THE MUSEUM
  • Petite Planète: TRAVELOGUES
  • At the Sign of the Black Cat by Chris Darke
  • Memories of Things to Come: THE FUTURE-PAST OF FILM
  • La Jetée by Nicola Mazzanti
  • Marker Forever by Raymond Bellour
  • Image (journey) by Arnaud Lambert
  • When the Century Took Shape: WAR AND REVOLUTION
  • Quand le siècle a pris formes by Christine Van Assche
  • Orphée by Chris Marker
  • Till The End of Time by Chris Marker
  • List of works
  • Filmography, multimedia and installations, bibliography, exhibitions
  • Acknowledgements

You can download a pdf of both front and back covers.

For purchase information, you can access the Whitechapel online store, Chris Marker, Grin Without a Cat. [link updated 6/2015]

Marker worked as a journalist, essayist and editor before becoming a filmmaker as part of the so-called Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) in the late 1950s. He is often given credit for renewing cinema, not least for his innovations in the genre of the ‘essay-film’, a hybrid of documentary and personal reflection and the style in which he became an acknowledged master. Such hybridity and restless crossing between media and forms were emblematic for Marker. His work is poetic and humorous, analytical, political and philosophical, a reflection of the complexity of the world. This exhibition shows him as a multifaceted artist and intellectual, working as an editor, writer, filmmaker, photographer and pioneer of new media and installation art. In many ways it is his way of working – as much as the result of that work – that has been such an inspiration to younger generations of artists.Magnus af Petersens, Curator at Large Iwona Blazwick, Director

Whitechapel Catalogue - Back Cover