Category Archives: Citation

The Unattainable Text by Raymond Bellour

The Unattainable Text

Raymond Bellour

rue Courat, Chris Marker, M. Chat

That the film is a text, in the sense in which Barthes uses the word, is obvious enough. That as such it might, or should, receive the same kind of attention as has been devoted to the literary text is also obvious. But already not quite so obvious. We shall soon see why.

The text of the film is indeed an unattainable text. In saying this, despite the temptation of a play on words, I do not mean to evoke the special difficulties which very of ten make it impossible to obtain the film in the material sense or the proper conditions to constitute it into a text, ie the editing table or the projector with freeze-frame facility. These difficulties are still enormous: they are very often discouraging, and go a long way to explaining .the com­ parative backwardness of film studies. However, one can imagine, if still only hypothetically, that one day, at the price of a few changes, the film will find something that is hard to express, a status analogous to that of the book or rather that of the gramo­ phone record with respect to the concert. If film studies are still done then, they will undoubtedly be more numerous, more imagina­tive, more accurate and above all more enjoyable than the ones we carry out in fear and trembling. threatened continually with dis­possession of the object. And yet, curious as it might seem, the situation of the film analyst, even when he does possess the film, any film, will not change in every particular.

I shall not linger over the indisputable fact that one does not have the text, the ‘methodological field’, the ‘production’, the ‘traversal’, as Barthes puts it, when one has the work, the ‘fragment of substance’.1 But without going into the theoretical labyrinths opened up by the notion of the text, I shall stress two things. On the one hand the material possession of the work alone permits one full access to the textual fiction, since it alone allows one a full experience of the multiplicity of operations carried out in the work and makes it precisely into a text. On the other, as soon as one studies a work, quotes a fragment of it, one has implicitly taken up a textual perspective, even if feebly and one­-dimensionally, even if in a restrictive and regressive fashion, even if one continues to close the text back onto itself although it is, as Barthes has insisted, and before him, Blanchot, the locus of an unbounded openness. That is why it is possible, in a slide which is both justified and somewhat abusive, like all slides, to speak of quoting the text when by text one means work, even if at a later stage one may be driven, as Barthes has been, to think the literary experience from the starting-point of an opposition between the work and the text. In connection with these terms, but without evading them, I should just like to emphasise here an elementary fatality: the text of the film is unattainable because it is an unquotable text. To this extent, and to this extent only, the word text as applied to film is metaphorical; it clearly pin-points the paradox which inflicts the filmic text and to such a degree only the filmic text.

When one chooses to read, to study a work, to recognize in it the pressure of the text, so close in a sense to what Blanchot has conceptualized as literature, nothing is more immediate, simpler than to quote a word, a phrase, a few lines, a sentence, a page. Omit the quotation marks that signal it and the quotation is invisible, it is quite naturally absorbed into the page. Despite the change of regime it introduces, it does not really break up the reading; it even helps to make description, analysis a special form of discourse, in the best of cases a new text, by a reduplication whose fascination has been fully felt by modern thought. This effect is obviously peculiar to the literary work, more generally to the written work, and to it alone. It lies in the undivided conformity of the object of study and the means of study, in the absolute material coincidence between language and language. That is why only the written work was able to provide, so to speak, a pretext for a theory of the text, or at least for the first effects of its practice. That is why Barthes so strongly distrusts everything that escapes the written, for the meta-language effect is more tangible there, by definition. Indeed, the more one speaks ‘about’ an object the less one can draw it into the material body of the commentary. At the same time this is obviously to emphasise the absolute privilege of written expression in this conversion of the work into a text. The material reality of a commentary which in its turn comes to have more or less the function of a text constitutes the necessary mediation for this transmutation which in the last instance would like to appear in the absolute guise of a play. That is to say that in fact it aims for an integral reconciliation between language and language, and between the subject and the subject, receiving from the exteriority of language the absolution that would restore it to its desire. For clarity’s sake, one thing should be remembered. This idea arises with the joint emergence of the two concepts literature and science of literature. It arose for the first time, in a still uncertain fashion, with romanticism and the beginnings of literary criticism; a second time at the tum of the century in the first great mutual concussion of literature and the human sciences, in Nietzsche and Mallarme, Freud and Saussure; a third time today under the internal and external pressure exercised on literature by what Barthes has called ‘ the conjoint action of Marxism, psychoanalysis and structuralism ‘. To sum up, let us say that the science of literature has enabled us to recognise in the work the reality and the utopia of the text, but this movement has no meaning unless it dissolves the science into the body of its object, to the extent, in the ideal case, of abolishing any divergence between science and literature, analysis and the work.2

It is from the starting point of this both real and mythical level that the apparently quite secondary fact of the possibility of quotation turns out to assign a paradoxical specificity to the cinematic text. The written text is the only one that can be quoted unimpededly and unreservedly. But the filmic text does not have the same differential relations with the written text as the pictorial text, the musical text, the theatrical text (and all the intermediate mixed texts they give rise to). The pictorial text is in fact a quotable text. No doubt the quotation stands out in its heterogeneity, its difference; no doubt there are many material difficulties in its way, difficulties expressing the specifically material loss undergone by the work from the very fact of its reproduction. The format of the book in particular, always reductive, obviously produces an inevitable distortion through the disproportion between the original and its reproduction. But the quotation is on the other hand perfectly satisfactory, allowing a remarkable play on the detail with respect to the whole. From the critical point of view it has one advantage that only painting possesses: one can see and take in the work at one glance. Which literary analysis cannot do, except when it has as its object short poems in which vision and reading are superimposed (e.g. Ruwet’s, Uvi-Strauss’s and Jakobson’s analy­ses of Baudelaire sonnets). Beyond these, even when it chooses to quote ‘the whole text’ in limit-case experiments like Barthes’s in S/Z, it can only rediscover the inevitable linearity of the written. The musical text, conversely, sets two obstacles in the way of quotation. First, at the level of the score. This is certainly quotable, in whole or in part, like the literary text. But it opposes an infinitely greater heterogeneity to language than that of the picture; that of a specific codification whose extreme technicality marks a break. On the other hand, and much more profoundly (for a society in which everyone could read music is conceivable – was this not the case in the micro-societies of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie?), the musical text is divided, since the score is not the performance. But sound cannot be quoted. It cannot be described or evoked. In this the musical text is irreducible to the text, even if it is, metaphorically, and in reality thanks to the plurality of its operations, just as textual as the literary text. With the one difference that it cannot really be experienced except by hearing it, and never by analysing it, subjecting it to a reading, since then one is no longer hearing it, or only hearing it virtually. Finally, one last problem and not the least: the score is fixed but performance changes. Some more or less aleatoric types of modem music which increase this gap between score and performance take the phenomenon to an extreme, but do not change its terms. The work is unstable. In a sense this mobility increases even further the degree of textuality of the musical work, since the text, as Barthes has said again and again, is mobility itself. But by a kind of paradox, this mobility cannot be reduced to the language which attempts to grasp it in order to bring it out by duplication. In this the musical text is less textual than are the pictorial text and above all the literary text, whose mobility is in some sense inversely proportional to the fixity of the work. The possibility of keeping to the letter of the text is in fact the condition of its possibility.

The theatrical text demonstrates the same paradox and the same division, although in a different way. On the one hand, the work, the text in the ordinary sense of the term, can be reduced un­ equivocally to the problematic of the literary text, except that the play more or less inevitably brings with it the absence of its performance. On the other, the performance creates a mobile text, as open and aleatoric as that of the musical text. A mise-en-scène can be discussed, its principles stated, its novelty, its uniqueness felt, but it cannot really be described or quoted. Its textuality, though indisputable, escapes the text once again through its infinite mobility, the too radical divergence between the text which provides it with a pretext and a material and vocal figurability without any real delimitation. At most, just as the gramophone record has become the fixed memory of the concert, making an end if not of the variety of interpretations, at least of the internal variability of each performance, one might imagine fixing some mise-en-scène, as has been done on all too few occasions, by the only means apt to reproduce it: the film. Which, pushing aside the problem of the theatre, automatically reinforces the paradoxical uniqueness of the cinema.

Indeed, the film presents the remarkable specialty, for a spectacle, of being a fixed work. The scenario, the initial technical cut, are indeed not absolutely comparable with the score or the theatrical play. They are pro-texts, as, without being similar, plans and drafts are for the written work, sketches for a picture. Per­formance, in the film, is annihilated in the same way, to the advantage of the immutability of the work. This immutability, as we have seen, is a paradoxical precondition for the conversion of the work into a text, insofar as, if only by the abutment it constitutes, it favors the possibility of a voyage through language which unties and reties the many operations by which the work is made into a text. But this movement, which brings the film closer to the picture and the book, is at the same time a broadly contradictory one: indeed, the text of the film never fails to escape the language that constitutes it. In a sense one can no more quote a film than one can a musical work or a theatrical production. However, this is not quite true. The analysis of the film suffers the force of this paradox, which derives from the perfect delimit­ ation of the work, but equally from the mixture of materials whose location is the cinema.

Once it is a talking cinema, it conjoins five matters of expression, as Christian Metz has shown: phonetic sound, written titles, musical sound. noises, the moving photographic image. The first two of these pose no apparent problems for quotation. Nothing is more easily reproduced than the dialogue of a film: publishers know what they are doing when they imply, as they often do, that they are recreating the film for us by printing its dialogue and playing a dubious game with the image to recreate that absolutely illusory thing known as its story. But it is quite obvious that something is lost thereby: written titles belong fully to the written, dialogue both to sound and to the written (it was written before being spoken, and even if it is improvised, it can be transcribed, since it does not change). Thus it undergoes a considerable reduc­tion as soon as it is quoted: it loses tone, intensities, timbres, pitches, everything that constitutes the profound solidity of the voice. The same is true of noises, except that it is much less easy to reduce them to the signified, since this reduction can only be a translation, a kind of paraphrastic evocation. In this respect, what might be called motivated noise, which can always be evoked more or less since it indicates the real, should always be distinguished from arbitrary noise, which can go so far as to serve as a score, then escaping all translatability since it is not even codified as the musical score is (confining ourselves for simplifi­cation’s sake to music in which the score is still truly determinant). Note that these are only two extremes, extremes which can be inverted: an arbitrary, but simple noise can be delimited, while a motivated but over-complex one cannot. How in an analysis is one to deal with the noise band of a film like La mort en ce jardin, for example, made up solely of the noises of the Amazon forest, but so rich that it substitutes more or less for music? The bird calls in The Birds can be thought of in the same way; orchestrated by Robert Burks, thanks to the possibilities of electronic sound, they constitute a true score in this film from which music is apparently absent. In short, noise constitutes a greater obstacle to the textuality of the film the more it is one of the major instru­ments of its textual materiality. Musical sound obviously takes this divergence between text and text to the extreme: given the specifications implied by the phenomenon of combination which makes film music not a work in itself but an internal dimension of the work, we have here again the problems posed in this respect by musical works. With one difference, and by no means a negligible one. If the division between score and performance, code and sound, remains an integral one, here the musical text is received, thanks to a petrifaction seemingly opposed to its very virtuality, in that immutability of the work which defines the film.

There remains the image. And with it, rightly or wrongly, the essential. First for a historical reason: for thirty years, with the indispensable support of written titles (and not counting the inter­ mittent assistance of a music outside the material specificity of the work), it represented the film, all films: the cinema. To the extent that even today it is too of ten confused with it, by an excessive simplification the a priori assumptions of which have been unraveled by Christian Metz. The unique situation of the image among the cinema’s matters of expression will perhaps allow us, if not to excuse this excess, at least to understand it. The image is indeed located, with respect to the echo it might receive from language, half-way between the semi-transparency of written titles and dialogue and the more or less complete opacity of music and noise. Moreover, it is this which quite logically gives the image as such, as a moving image, the highest degree of cinematic specificity among the matters of expression whose combination, on the other hand, creates many more or less specifically cinematic co-ordina­tions. Until very recently, no doubt, this insistence on the specificity of the image was usually a convenient pretext to subtract the film from any true critical undertaking and to negotiate, as it were, the image in terms of the scenario, ie of contents, themes. But over and above its distortions, its inadequacies, which are as negative as they are idealist, this contradiction did confusedly express something absolutely essential: a highly paradoxical relationship between the moving image and the language which seeks to reveal in the film the filmic text itself. This has been clearly seen since the area was turned upside down by the semiology of the cinema and the first true textual analyses. It is no accident that the only code constituted by Christian Metz has been a syntagmatics of the image band, and if most analyses have concentrated, with a kind of quite explicable impatience and fascination, on the textual workings of the image as it were, expressing a voluntarily agreed restriction that clearly never ceases to transgress its limit, since that limit is iliusory.

This restriction and fascination derive from the paradox introduced by the moving image. On the one hand it spreads in space like a picture; on the other it plunges into time, like a story which its serialisation into units approximates more or less to the musical work. In this it is peculiarly unquotable, since the written text cannot restore to it what only the projector can produce; a move­ ment, the illusion of which guarantees the reality. That is why the reproduction even of many stills only ever reveals a kind of radical inability to assume the textuality of the film. However, stills are essential. Indeed they represent an equivalent, arranged each time according to the needs of the reading, to freeze-frames on the editing table, with the absolutely contradictory function of open­ ing up the textuality of the film just at the moment they inter­ rupt its unfolding. In a sense it is really what is done when stopping at a sentence in a book to re-read it and reflect on it. But then it is not the same movement that is frozen. Continuity is suspended, meaning fragmented; but the material specificity of a means of ex­pression is not interfered with in the same way. The cinema, through the moving image, is the only art of time which, when we go against the principle on which it is based, still turns out to give us something to see, and moreover something which alone allows us to feel its textuality fully: a theatrical play cannot be stopped, unless it has been filmed, nor can a concert, and if a gramophone record is stopped there is simply nothing left to hear. That is why it turns out that despite what it does allow, the gramo­phone record (or the recording tape), which might seem the magical instrument of musical analysis, only apparently resolves a basic contradiction, that of sciund. The frozen frame and the still that reproduces it are simulacra; obviously they never prevent the film from escaping, but paradoxically they allow it to escape as a text. Obviously the language of the analysis is responsible for the rest. It attempts to link together the multiplicity of textual opera­tions between the simulacra of the frozen images 1ike any other analysis. But the analysis of the film thus receives its portion of an inevitability known to no other: not to literary analysis, which constantly makes language return freely to language; nor to the analysis of the picture, which can partly or wholly re-establish its object in the space of the commentary; nor to musical analysis, irreducibly divided between the accuracy of a score and the other­ ness of a performance; nor to that of theatrical representation, where the same division is at once less complete and less precise. In fact, filmic analysis, if it is to take place at all, must take upon itself this rhythmical as well as figurative and actantial narrative component for which the stills are the simulacra, indispensable but already derisory in comparison with what they represent. Thus it constantly mimics, evokes, describes; in a kind of principled despair it can but try frantically to compete with the object it is attempting to understand. By dint of seeking to capture it and recapture it, it ends up always occupying a point at which its object is perpetually out of reach. That is why filmic analyses, once they begin to be precise, and while, for the reasons I have just suggested, they remain strangely incomplete, are always so long, according to the extent of their coverage, even if analysis is, as we know, always in a sense interminable. That is why they are so difficult, or more accurately so ungrateful to read, repetitive, complicated, I shall not say needlessly so, but necessarily so, as the price of their strange perversity. That is why they always seem a little fictional: playing on an absent object, never able, since their aim is to make it present, to adopt the instruments of fiction even though they have to borrow them. The analysis of film never stops filling up a film that never stops running out: it is the Danaids’ cask par excellence. This is what makes the text of the film an unattainable text: but it is so surely only at this price.

Although it would already be to go much further, we might change our point of view completely and ask if the filmic text should really be approached in writing at all. I think a contrario of the wonderful impression I received on two occasions, to cite only these two, when confronted with two quotations in which film was taken as the medium of its own criticism. This was in two broadcasts in the series ‘Cineastes de notre temps‘, on Max Ophiils and Samuel Fuller. One saw, and then resaw while a voice off emphasized certain features, two of the most extraordinary camera movements in the history of the cinema, in which such movements are by no means uncommon. The first in the ball in Le Plaisir, just as the masked figure more and more unsteadily crosses the length of the ball room, then collapses in a box where, beneath the mask of a young man an old one is revealed; the second, in Forty Guns, follows the hero from the hotel he is leaving to the post office to which he goes to send a telegram, and saves for the end of a long dialogue his meeting in a single continuous field with the • forty guns ‘ who race past on horseback on the left side of the frame. Here there is no longer any divergence., no need of narration. A true quotation, in all its obviousness. But this sudden quotability which film allows to film (and in the same way sound to sound) obviously has its other side: will oral language ever be able to say what written language says? And if not, at the price of what changes? Beneath the appearances of an answer a contrario, this is a serious question, economic. social. political, profoundly historical. since it touches on the formidable collusion of writing and Western history in which the written alternately or even simultaneously performs a liberating and repressive function. Can or should the work, be it image or sound, in its efforts to accede to the text, ie to the social utopia of a language without separation, do without the text, free itself from the text?

1. ‘De l’reuvre au texte,’ Revue d’Esthetique n 3, 1971. The quotations that follow are taken from this same article.

2. ‘In its own way the text shares in a social utopia; before History (always supposing the latter does not choose barbarism), the Text achieves, if not the transparency of social relations, at least that of relations of language: it is the space in which no language has an edge on any other, in which languages circulate (retaining the circular sense of the term)… A theory of the Text cannot be satisfied with a metalinguistic exposition; to destroy metalanguage, or at least (for it may be necessary to resort to it for the time being) to cast suspicion on it, is part of the aim of the theory itself : discourse about the Text should never be anything but text itself, textual research and travail, since the Text is that social space that allows no language any shelter outside it, nor any subject of enunciation in the position of judge, teacher, analyst, confessor, decipherer: the theory of the Text cannot but coincide with a practice of writing.’

Further Reading: Raymond Bellour by Michael Goddard, academia.edu

Camel Crossing

Bellour + Beaujour on the Self-Portrait

If we must finally find one word to describe what Odenbach makes, let us use ‘self-portrait’—as literary tradition conceived it, as it has been redefined by a certain auteur cinéma, and as today’s video permits in a clearer, more natural way. The self-portrait is this idiosyncratic literary genre whose logic has been described, and genealogy traced, in a book by Michel Beaujour. Unlike autobiography, which tells the story of a life, the self-portrait tells only the story of an I: it is less interested in events, and its progression is defined by a single movement around the endlessly repeated question, “Who am I?” The self-portrait was born, in Montaigne’s Essays (1580), from a transformation of classical rhetorical procedures that had organized the representation of the world and discourse and set the rules for invention and memory. All of this, in the self-portrait, is redirected toward the person who writes to know him or herself better—only to discover in the act of writing a mere fleeting proof of his or her identity. The system of places and images and the analogical and encyclopedic functions that are so powerful in classical rhetoric are always at the origin of the text: but they exist autonomously, and the book somehow becomes an end in itself. Even if the self-portrait has changed only minimally (Beaujour dwells on its value as a transhistorical model), it thus becomes a highly modern genre, which, from the 19th century on, embraces all the avatars of the crisis of representation, and triumphs in today’s literature from Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, to Michel Leiris’ The Rules of the Game, André Malraux’s Anti-Memoirs, and Roland Barthes’ Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. In a way it even partakes of its own definition: the self-portrait is not really a genre, since it is more than a genre.
Raymond Bellour, Between-the-Images, trans. Allyn Hardyck, JRP|Ringier Kunstverlag AG and Les presses du réel, 2012, 295

Self-Portrait - Bellour + Beaujour

Warranting special attention among the typical texts of the sixteenth century are those that, not classified under any recognized genre, overflow the bounds of literary art: the miscellanea and diverse and motley compilations share at least one feature: they gather fragments under more or less traditional headings. All these texts are premature products: they give the public raw or barely processed materials. Their role is to mediate between a producer – classical antiquity – and a user – the modern poet, the orator. The semiprocessed state is the result of a set of activities: reading/writing (copying), grouping together (collecting or collating), and sometimes commentary (intercalated text, moralization, philology). These works, though not designed to persuuade, praise, or blame, still serve to instruct and also to please and surprise by the variety and strangeness of the examples they assemble. They are not intended for aesthetic, hedonistic, or consecutive reading, since they are readymade commonplace books whose function is transitive and instrumental. Constituting a pseudomemory, or an exomemory, like a reference library, they furnish the raw material for a second-degree intervention, for a secondary elaboration aimed at producing literary works of art, which, in principle, would usually be subject to rhetorical, stylistic, and generic imperatives, as well as to criteria such as the verisimilitude of mimesis. According to Quintilian’s metaphor designating rhetorical memory, these centos form “treasure houses of eloquence.” They are not themselves eloquent, nor do they contain writing as presence unto itself, but they are easily accessible, and as they handily substitute for individual memory and its vagaries, they are emblematic of the new typographic age. Individual memory stopped serving a crucial function in the production of discourses when two cultural conditions were met:

1. When the solitary writer had within arm’s reach a reference library complete enough to form, virtually at least, an encyclopedia. Montaigne’s library combines the metaphorical circularity of the encyclopedia with the circular bookshelves along the walls of his round tower. One need only be adept at looking up data, but as every user of the dictionary, encyclopedia, compilation, index, bibliography, and library knows (as opposed to the user of much more specifically programmed electronic memories), there occurs a dispersion, whether because his attention is deflected by something for which he is not looking, or because he finds, next to what he was searching for, more pertinent data. From the end of the sixteenth century on, the writer becomes accustomed to leafing through printed books, to consulting indexes and tables of contents; even if Montaigne does not use a card index, at least he is already in the position of a modern researcher prior to the introduction of electronic memories. With this exception however: Montaigne claims to find what he needs without looking for it.

2. Memory becomes less important when texts, not being designed to praise or blame, to persuade, exhort, or preach, no longer has to obey rhetorical codes of composition and style, one of whose functions in scribal culture was to make it easier for the listener-reader to understand and remember data by introducing a coded redundance, or copia, which was moreover the object of an aesthetic appreciation. So great is the disdain of Montaigne’s task for these obsolete imperatives that the reader has difficulty in remembering the order and tenor of the Essays’ long chapters. The Essays are indeed, in this sense, antimemoirs.
Michel Beaujour, Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait, trans. Yara Milos, New York: New York University Press, 1991, 111-113. [orig. Miroirs d’encre: Rhéthorique de l’autoportrait, Paris: Seuil, 1980]

Appreciations

Appreciations of Chris Marker

Source: www.huffingtonpost.com, 2012

Chris Marker by Jean-Michel Folon
Chris Marker by Jean-Michel Folon, 1972 via Monika Dac

“[La Jetee] was very possibly the greatest science-fiction movie yet made.”
Critic Pauline Kael

A political leftist free of didacticism, his works roam the world with curiosity, wit, and a poet’s nose for injustice.
Ty Burr, Boston.com‘s Movie Nation

His sprawling and constantly evolving body of work…was at once fragmentary and cohesive, united by an abiding interest in the nature of time and memory and by a strong physical and intellectual wanderlust.
Dennis Lim, The New York Times

I cannot be sure whether I can separate out various memories of watching the film, because what binds them all is a gasp, a collective bodily intake of breath in every auditorium and theater and lecture hall, when a woman on the screen opens her eyes, looks at us and blinks, when the film slips from still images to a brief sequence of movement. It is a gasp close to an experience of the erotic or the religious or possibly both.”
Janet Harbord, author of Chris Marker: La Jetee

Marker’s creative use of sound, images and text in his poetic, political and philosophical documentaries made him one of the most inventive of film-makers.
Ronald Bergan, The Guardian

Exploring themes of memory, time, and history, Marker’s time-travel tale is loved for its ability to effortlessly combine poetry and philosophy with science fiction; two seemingly oppositional themes that marry in many of Marker’s other films.
Leighann Morris, Art Fag City

…He left on the history of cinema, and on history as such, a mark more enduring and decisive than that of mere personality. He made his own conscience, of the cinema as the living embodiment of history, into the conscience of his time – and, now that he’s not here, of future times already.
Richard Brody, The New Yorker

There are great filmmakers and then there are filmmakers whose work is so singular that it changes the way we look at the medium. French New Wave semi-experimental director Chris Marker falls into the latter category.
Scott Tobias, AV Club

He was one of the first documentary-essayists who could make seemingly casual personal musings the subject of his movies. But what musings! “Sans Soleil” is but one example of his brilliance, originality, humor, and humanity. A great light has gone out.
Karen Cooper, director of Film Forum

The principal theme of “La Jetée” is the inability to escape time, and so there is, sadly, perhaps no more fitting occasion to watch “La Jetée” than today.
Forrest Wickman, Slate


Chris Marker by Jean-Michel Folon

1962 Before and After

1962

On the question of retrospectives and his choice not to participate in or promote the projection of works preceding the year 1962 (Joli Mai and La Jetée), Chris Marker writes:

Quand à mes propres films, je n’ai pas envie d’en dire grand’chose. Depuis longtemps je limite le choix des programmes qu’on a la bonté de me consacrer aux travaux d’après 1962, année du Joli mai et de La jetée, et comme cette préhistoire inclut des titres concernant l’URSS, la Chine et Cuba, j’ai capté ici ou là, avec l’émouvante empathie qui caractérise la vie intellectuelle contemporaine, l’idée qu’en fait c’était une manière de faire oublier des enthousiasmes de jeunesse – appelons les choses par leur nom : une autocensure rétrospective. Never explain, never complain ayant toujours été ma devise, je n’ai jamais cru utile de m’expliquer là-dessus, mais puisque l’occasion se présente, autant le dire une bonne fois : je ne retire ni ne regrette rien de ces films en leur temps et lieu. Sur ces sujets j’ai balisé mon chemin plus clairement que l’ai pu, et Le fond de l’air est rouge tente d’en être une honnête synthèse. Mais ici c’est de cinématographie qu’il s’agit, et dire de la mienne qu’en ces temps anciens elle était rudimentaire serait une litote digne du Général de Gaulle. D’où le piège : pour bien montrer que je ne retire ni ne regrette rien, infliger mes brouillons à un public qui se fiche complètement des règlements de compte historique ? La réponse est non. Personne ne fait grief à Cocteau de ne pas avoir republié La lampe d’Aladin, ni à Zemlinski d’avoir mis au rencart sa première symphonie après une seule exécution… On a le droit d’apprendre, il n’est pas indispensable d’étaler les étapes de son apprentissage. Même si – et c’est la seule chose que j’espère encore – on n’a jamais fini d’apprendre.Chris Marker, Image documentaires, n° 31 (1998), p. 75-78

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

Monika’s Text Photo – Le Coeur net

Coeur Net extrait

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

Rough translation…

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

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

Chris Marker Level Five English DVD Booklet by Christophe Chazalon

Level Five

Chris Marker: In Search of Lost Memory

Christophe Chazalon, www.chrismarker.ch

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

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

In Search of Switzerland

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

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

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

IMAGES AND REALITY: THE INFINITE LIE OF THE DIGITAL ERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

REGARDING THE IMPROBABLE TRACES OF MEMORY

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

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

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

FROM MEMORY TO “IMMEMORY”

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

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

Christophe Chazalon / chrismarker.ch

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

Access


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

From the New York Times, 1 December 2014:

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

From The Guardian, 1 December 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

About Duncan Campbell

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

Filming Das Kapital

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

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

It By Others by Duncan Campbell Responds to Marker & Resnais’ Statues Also Die

Dublin-born artist Duncan Campbell has been nominated for his contribution to Scotland’s 2013 Venice Biennale pavilion. The feature work is a film entitled “It for Others” which responds to Chris Marker and Alan Resnais’ 1953 film essay about historical African art and colonialism, “Statues Also Die.”Who Will Win Tate’s Turner Prize in 2014?

For more on Duncan Campbell, including a gallery and video interviews, see Generation Arts Scotland. Another piece of interest comes from the Guardian, Artist of the week 163: Duncan Campbell.

Dialector Reloaded, or We Aren’t In Kansas City Anymore

Dialector on Monitor at KansasFest

This just in, or rather just in to my brain running one month behind, on the Dialector front – Chris Marker’s human-computer conversation program – from poptronics.fr. We’ll get the whole article translated asap. Vivent les rétrogeeks! Who knew that Marker’s resurrected early digital interactive creation DIALECTOR starred in a geekfest in Kansas City over the Summer?

14’08’14
andré lozano
poptronics.fr

Comment j’ai reloadé Dialector de Chris Marker au KansasFest

Donc voilà, je suis parti avec ma disquette 5 pouces 1/4 de « Dialector » dans le sac à destination de Kansas City, Etats-Unis, pour « reloader » le programme que Chris Marker a écrit au mitan des années 1980. Et ce dans un environnement technologique et sociologique unique en son genre, le KansasFest, le rendez-vous des « enthousiastes » de l’Apple II.

Ce que Annick Rivoire, Agnès de Cayeux et moi-même désignons par « reload » est une réactivation, sur du matériel informatique d’époque, du programme « Dialector » écrit par le cinéaste documentariste et artiste multimédia il y a 30 ans. Comme « Dialector » est un programme de conversation avec la machine, nous invitons des volontaires à l’activer puis nous en conservons l’émotion et le dialogue.

Arrivée à Kansas City

Après avoir décollé du Luxembourg en passant par Munich et Philadelphie, j’atterris à Kansas City, « la ville des fontaines ». Dix-sept heures de vol plus tard, je me retrouve trente ans plus tôt sur la ligne du temps informatique.

Dès mon arrivée à l’université de Rockhurst, à peine l’entrée principale franchie, je trébuche sur une montagne d’encombrants informatiques. C’est une sorte de tradition : chaque année de généreux donateurs se séparent de leur collection. C’est une sorte de vide-grenier entre connaisseurs. Cette année Eric se sépare de son matériel avec une note de tristesse parce qu’il n’est pas certain, vu son âge très avancé, de revenir à KansasFest. Chacun se sert selon ses besoins et partage selon ses moyens son patrimoine matériel et sentimental. Je ne rapporterai de cette manne qu’une joystick fonctionnelle, tout le reste étant ou trop volumineux ou incompatible avec les normes électriques européennes.

J’éprouve un étrange sentiment en me retrouvant ici, à 7500 km de chez moi, dans ce lieu improbable, une université jésuite déserte, perdue dans une ville au centre des Etats-Unis, parmi 70 à 80 « attendees » (participants), fervents utilisateurs d’ordinateurs Apple première génération. Je m’interroge : c’est quoi au juste l’obsolescence ? doit-on se résigner à changer de matériel constamment ? et si la résilience à l’innovation était possible ? ici-même, avec Dean, Vince, Andrew et Quin ? Jeunes et vieux, initiés ou débutants, une contre-innovation s’ébauche.

« Apple II for ever »

Résistons aux sirènes de la nouveauté, bye bye Ipod, Iphone et MacBook ! ici c’est « Apple II for ever ! » et tous de s’émerveiller devant un processeur MOS 6502. Il règne une sorte de fébrilité parmi les participants que j’imagine semblable à celle qui animait les concepteurs d’ordinateurs de la fin des années 1970, avant la West Coast Computer Fair de San Francisco. On s’identifie facilement aux deux Steve assemblant leur Apple I dans le garage du père de Jobs : l’esprit « Garage » règne. Une atmosphère informatique davantage bermuda et tee-shirt que costard cravate. Le plus incroyable, c’est que l’aventure continue chaque année, voire se développe (certains se réjouissaient de voir plus de participants en 2014), et apporte son lot de nouveaux logiciels, de nouveaux matériels, de développements les plus fous pour une plate-forme, l’Apple II, dont la production a cessé… il y a plus de 20 ans. Respect !

Ils viennent presque chaque année des quatre coins des États-Unis, du Nebraska, de New York, de Californie, en avion, en voiture, même en camion (plus pratique pour transporter le matériel). La première manifestation s’est déroulée en 1989. A l’époque, Apple se focalise sur le Macintosh en abandonnant les pionniers, le Basic, l’Assembleur et les petites compagnies fabriquant toutes sortes de périphériques électroniques. Un tournant pour la micro informatique : les artisans balayés par l’industrie, et les Apple, Microsoft and co. en nouveaux IBM.

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« Dialector », Chris Marker et les rétrogeeks

KansasFest est le lieu et l’événement rêvé pour reloader « Dialector ». Hormis le saut temporel de 30 ans qui nous situe exactement au moment où le programme a été écrit par Chris Marker, l’environnement anglophone est parfait pour un programme qui parle anglais. Par ailleurs, il n’y a qu’ici, avec tous ces spécialistes en Applesoft Basic et en Apple II, que l’on peut non seulement jouer avec « Dialector » mais encore en analyser toutes les subtilités algorithmiques. Avec Annick et Agnès, nous avons tout fait pour replacer « Dialector » dans son contexte historique et technologique, pour mieux en saisir la force et la pertinence. Ici à KansasFest, c’est le test ultime. Si demain, le programme rencontre le succès, alors Chris Marker méritera, plus que jamais, notre profonde admiration en tant que pionnier de l’art numérique.

À la fin de mon introduction, c’est Sarah qui s’est proposée pour converser avec « Dialector », sur un Apple IIc original –et clavier Qwerty pour une fois. Naturellement, le dialogue s’est animé plus qu’à son habitude, puisque de nombreux jeux de mots ont un rapport direct avec l’esprit des Apple Users de la première heure. Grand éclat de rire lorsque « Computer » (le nom de votre interlocuteur dans « Dialector ») a dit « NEVER TRUST ANYONE OVER 256K » ou « DO YOU PUT A ’K’ ON YOUR SHIRT ? » –de l’humour geek impénétrable pour les non initiés.

Durant toute la présentation, l’audience a parfaitement réagi, par ses questions et ses suggestions, à la qualité artistique de « Dialector » et au sens de l’humour propre à Chris Marker… Mission accomplie quand la « session » « Dialector » s’acheva sous les applaudissements du public.
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Further Reading