Category Archives: Filmographic

Three Cheers for the Whale

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

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

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

A comment on the IMDB entry for Vive la baleine:

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

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

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

vive-la-baleine-4images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arte to Release “La Trilogie des Balkans” Chris Marker DVD

balkan-trilogy

In an email from April 26th, Sabrina Bendali of Arte France writes of the upcoming release of three Chris Marker films that have been put together into a “Balkan Trilogy.”  The overall title of the DVD is La trilogie des Balkans, set for DVD release on June 7, 2016 and containing the following films:

  • Le 20 heures dans les camps (1993, 26″)
  • Casque Blue (1995, 26″)
  • Un maire au Kosovo (2000, 27″)

Additional materials and details:

  • Slon Tango (4 min. short)
  • interviews with François Crémieux and Jean-Michel Frodon (30 min.)
  • accompanying booklet (20 pages)
  • TRT: 2 hours
  • Language: French with French sub-titles for deaf and hearing-impaired

“Je me permets de vous écrire pour vous signaler la parution le 7 juin prochain du dvd La trilogie des Balkans, dvd qui comprend trois films : Le 20 heures dans les camps, Casque Bleu et Un maire au Kosovo.

Ensemble, ces trois brèves réalisations offrent une perception d’une rare acuité de ce qui s’est joué en ex-Yougoslavie durant la dernière décennie du 20e siècle. […]

Merci et bonne fin de journée.
Sabrina Bendali, Service press ARTE Éditions

More information and purchase are available at boutique.arte.tv/f11125-chris_marker_trilogie_balkans

Here’s an overview from the press release:

À travers les décennies et les convulsions de l’histoire, Chris Marker a toujours fait preuve d’une réactivité sensible et intelligente aux événements de la planète. Ce fut à nouveau le cas avec les guerres balkaniques des années 1990 : 45 ans après la fin de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, la guerre était de retour en Europe, des camps de concentration étaient ouverts à 500 km de Munich. En 1991-1995, une ville d’Europe symbole du multiculturalisme, Sarajevo, subissait le plus long siège de l’histoire moderne, les civils étaient abattus en pleine rue, la purification ethnique justifiait massacres et viols de masse, la communauté internationale prouvait que, malgré les leçons du siècle qui se terminait, elle restait impuissante à empêcher l’horreur, quand elle n’en devenait pas complice comme à Srebrenica. Dès le début des conflits en ex-Yougoslavie, Marker fut l’un des premiers à réagir. Il devait leur consacrer trois films, chaque fois selon une perspective originale qui, décalant l’observation journalistique ou le plaidoyer de principe, approchent davantage la vérité de ce qui est en train de se jouer, et les liens de ces événements avec le reste du monde.

Rough English Translation

Across the decades and the convulsions of history, Chris Marker always proved himself a sensible and intelligent guide to the events of the planet. This was true once again in the case of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Forty-five years after the end of World War II, war returned to Europe. Concentration camps were opened around 500 kilometers from Munich. From 1991 to 1995, the European city Sarajevo, symbol of multi-culturalism, suffered the longest siege in modern history. Civilians were killed in the middle of the street, ethnic ‘purification’ justified massacres and mass rapes. The international community proved that, despite the lessons of the century that was ending, it remained impotent at preventing such horror, even becoming complicit in the case of Srebenica. From the beginning of the conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia, Marker was one of the first to react. He devoted himself to three films, each time following an original perspective which, offsetting journalistic observation or ethical plea, approached the truth of what was unfolding, and the links of these events to the rest of the world.

jaquette-trilogie-balkans

Special thanks to Christine van Assche for the ‘jacquette’ image above. Click to enlarge.

Film Summaries

Le 20 heures dans les camps – 26 min
1993. Au camp de Roska en Slovénie, des réfugiés bosniaques, dépouillés de tout ce qui leur appartenait, entreprennent de se réapproprier au moins l’information, en créant une télévision sur cassettes dotée de tous les éléments de la “vraie” télévision : présentateurs, jingles et piratage des émissions qui parlent d’eux.

Casque bleu – 26 min
Le témoignage d’un jeune médecin conscrit qui s’est engagé en 1994 comme casque bleu pour partir en mission en Bosnie. Après 6 mois dans la poche de Bihac, François Crémieux est de retour en France. Quel bilan tire-t-il de son expérience ? Que reste-t-il de ses attentes, de ses projections, de ses fantasmes d’avant le départ ?

Un maire au Kosovo – 27 min
En 1999 Marker recueille le témoignage de Bajram Rexhepi maire de Mitrovitsa, ville devenue célèbre à cause de son pont qui la coupait en deux et séparait la population albanaise du dernier bastion serbe. Bajram Rexhepi a été engagé comme chirurgien, dans l’Armée de libération du Kosovo. Il parle de son engagement et analyse avec lucidité les circonstances qui l’ont fait maire de Mitrovitsa.

PS: For those in Paris on May 28th, check out this symposium on Chris Marker et la photographie: www.fabula.org/actualites/….

Si j’avais quatre dromadaires

Composed entirely of still photographs shot by Marker himself over the course of his restless travel through twenty-six countries, If I Had Four Dromedaries stages a probing, at times agitated, search for the meanings of the photographic image.MUBI

Avec ses quatre dromadaires
Don Pedro d’Alfaroubeira
Courut le monde et I’admira
II fit ce que je voudrais faire
Si j’avais quatre dromadaires.
Apollinaire

Marker Littéraire: Quoting & Naming

La culture de Marker est grande, qu’il s’agisse de musique ou de littérature, d’art ou de cinéma. Donc rien d’étonnant à ce choix. Mais si ici il donne directement sa source, comme il le fera plus tard pour Une journée d’Andrei Arsenevitch (1999) dont il précisera lui-même le lien avec le premier roman d’Alexandre Soljenitsyne intitulé Une journée d’Ivan Denissovitch, publié dans la revue littéraire Novy Mir pour la première fois en décembre 1962, ou encore avec cette phrase “Je vous écris d’un pays lointain” tirée d’un poème des Lointains intérieurs (1938) d’Henri Michaux et qui ponctue Lettre de Sibérie (1958), la filiation n’est pas toujours évidente ou confirmée, même si on imagine mal une simple coïncidence. C’est le cas de Description d’un combat (Beschreibung eines Kampfes) (1909), le premier écrit conservé de Franz Kafka, une nouvelle entreprise vers 1904 et qui se trouve être le titre du film de Marker sur Israël (1960).Christophe Chazalon, “Courts métrages de Chris Marker”, chrismarker.ch

Marker’s cultural range is great, whether it pertains to music or literature, art or cinema. Therefore there is nothing shocking in this choice [of titles]. But if here he directly cites his source, as he would later for A Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch (1999) – in which he notes himself the connection with the first novel of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn entitled A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, published in the review Novy Mir for the first time in December 1962 – or again with the phrase “I write to you from a distant country”, taken from a poem in Lointains interieurs [Interior Distances] (1938) by Henri Michaux and which punctuates Letter from Siberia (1958), the [literary] connection is not always evident or explicit, even if it’s hard to imagine a simple coincidence. This is the case with Description of a Combat (Beschreibung eines Kampfes) (1909), the first preserved writing of Franz Kafka, a new enterprise around 1904 and one that finds itself as the title of Marker’s film on Israel (1960).

There are other examples: Sans Soleil from Mussorgsky. The Zone from Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Marker’s animated gallery stroll, Pictures from an Exhibition, again from Mussorgsky. The noted references in Coréennes original back cover to Satie’s Gnossiennes and Pascal’s Provinciales… Marker’s abode in Second Life, Ouvroir, contains a subterranean connection to Oulipo, short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (the connotations of work, workshop and opening bouncing off each other). Ouvroir also references Bioy Cesares’ Island of Morel, to which Marker refered interested parties when asked to explain Ouvroir. So it was not just in his own naming and alter egos that Marker played with reference and elision; his works too are haunted, littered, scattered, seeded with unmarked references that make fun work for inquiring minds. Though it has gone more or less unexplored in the growing critical literature, Michaux in particular seems to gaze out from between the lines of Marker’s written work and between the frames of his filmed work.

Structure: The Castle & The Garden

The terrain covered in If I Had Four Camelsis organized in two parts, “The Castle” and “The Garden”. Each explores different facets of human achievement and experience, and revisits the utopian ideals that Marker had admired in the work of Giradoux, and figured through African art and the Olympic Games in his earliest films. “The Castle” leans towards the pinnacles of human culture and civilization: cities, societies, art, religion and commerce. […] The photographer confesses that he cannot resist films that pass from country to country at a single moment in time, and, in narrating his own journey around the world via photographs, nods implicitly at those passages in Le Coeur net, Letter from Siberia and Cuba si that had established the route before it.

If “The Castle” leans toward culture, “The Garden” focuses upon human nature, treated as a native impulse towards fulfilment and happiness. Children and animals are shown as ideal representatives of ‘the law of the garden’, but the desire to achieve balance and satisfaction in the human condition is also expressed through the aspirations of revolutionary politics.Catherine Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, 103-104

Credits

Director
Chris Marker

Cinematography
Chris Marker

Editing
Chris Marker

Sound
Antoine Bonfanti

Music
Lalan
Trio Barney Wilson

Narration
Pierre Vaneck
Nicolas Yumatov
Catherine Le Couey

Production
Norddeutscher Rundfunk
Apec, Slon

Further Reading

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

Afrique 50 by René Vautier

René Vautier was a part of Chris Marker’s Groupe Medvedkine and a famous/infamous director whose film Afrique 50 prefigured in some ways Marker and Resnais’ Les Statues meurent aussi, and offered a convex mirror in other ways to the work of Jean Rouch.

Vautier just passed away. This film was banned for many years, many of its reels held by customs and Vautier even sentenced to a year of prison for violations against the state for its depiction of colonialism.

I learned of his passing via a post to the Facebook Chris Marker group by another great filmmaker, John Burgan, earlier today.

I know very little of Vautier and am kicking myself for that (how can this happen!), but I’ll let this film speak for itself, with a little help from a wonderful article Burgan points us to by Sara Thelle: News from Paris: René Vautier 1928-2015, published by filmkommentaren.dk.

Grand old man and enfant terrible of French militant cinema René Vautier died Sunday January 4th in his home in Cancale, Brittany, at the age of 86. Originally from Brittany, René Vautier fought the Germans as a very young member of the French Resistance during the Second World War, at 16 he was decorated with the Croix de Guerre and honoured by de Gaulle. After the war he wanted to pursue the combat but not with arms and his friends then encourage him to take up a new weapon: the camera. His battle was to last a life long.

Vautier graduated in 1948 from the film school IDHEC in Paris. In 1949 he gets a command to make a film for the Ligue de l’enseignement about the benefits of the French educational mission in the West African colonies. The result, Afrique 50, became, on the contrary, a violent critique of the French colonial system. Vautier’s first film was also the first anticolonial film ever to be made in France and the reaction was violent in return: Vautier was faced with 13 charges and sentenced to one year of prison!

The film has an incredible story. To escape the limitations of the 1934 decree of the Minister of the Colonies Pierre Laval (forbidding any filming in the colonies without the presence of a an administration official) Vautier went on to film in secret. He almost got his film rolls confiscated for destruction in Africa but managed to get his work back to France where he finally had to illegally retrieve the reels kept under seizure by the board of censors (he got 17 of 50 reels). The film was finished in secret and stayed censured in France for over 40 years though it was awarded as one of the best documentaries of the year at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Warsaw in 1955 (with Joris Ivens as president of the jury). In 1996, a copy of the film was finally handed over to Vautier by the Foreign Ministry during the first official screening in France and only in 2003 the film was broadcasted on French television. The Cinémathèque française has recently made new copies of the film as part of their effort to safeguard the entire oeuvre of René Vautier initiated in 2007.

Afrique 50 is a short powerful outburst, a rhythmic pamphlet, swiftly edited with an attacking voice-over. Playing with the genre of educational state propaganda documentary but turning it against the government, the film pinpoints, with humour and great seriousness, the link between capitalism and racism. Film historian Nicole Brenez, specialist of avant-garde cinema at la Cinémathèque française, has called it the greatest film in the history of cinema. Go see it, it’s on YouTube!
Sara Thelle, filmkommentaren.dk

Icarus, Arte and Argos Release Four Chris Marker Films on iTunes

iTunesThe last few years have seen a growing availability of Chris Marker’s films, initially via pirate uploads to YouTube and an underground culture in subtitles, Criterion’s essential pairing of La Jetée and Sans Soleil, then online at streaming sites like MUBI, followed more recently by the great coffret of Planète Marker by Arte (to complement the Pompidou exhibition & retrospective). Other French DVD releases were unveiled, such as the remastered Le Joli Mai (Arte again), Argos’ Level Five, Lettre de Sibérie and Dimanche à Pékin, and the remastered Loin de Vietnam (Arte). Icarus had also done a great job with Grin Without a Cat, Remembrance of Things to Come, The Case of the Grinning Cat, The Last Bolshevik and The Sixth Side of the Pentagon.

Still, English speakers had discovered and embraced Marker, and wanted more. Then came Whitechapel. The current exhibition in London has prompted the box set of films by Soda Pictures, a most welcome release just shy of a month away. And now news has surfaced of the release on iTunes of some key Marker films, the details of which are below. It is said of American tourists that the first thing they ask of hotels in Paris is a WiFi connection, so it is fitting that we get – setting aside the indispensable Criterion & Icarus releases – our media via broadband. Before too long and before any eschatelogical events, we hope to have within reach of our eyes and ears a more complete collection of the many masterpieces by Marker, in English, German, Spanish, Japanese, Hungarian, Tibetan, Mongolian… Prais the digital dieties and the Babel of languages and enjoy!

Please note: all plot summaries below reproduced from Apple’s site. Sosume.

Class of Struggle

itunes.apple.com…class-of-struggle

Plot Summary

Class of StruggleIn 1967, Chris Marker and Mario Marret (under the aegis of SLON) produced À Bientôt J’espère, which documented a strike and factory occupation—the first in France since 1936—by textile workers at the Rhodiaceta textile plant in Besançon, the goals of which prefigured many of the demands that would come to define May 1968. Many of the Rhodiaceta workers who had collaborated with Marker and Marret on the film were unhappy with the final production. In response, Marker and other SLON filmmakers reorganized their efforts to begin training workers to collaboratively produce their own films under the name “The Medvedkin Group,” after the Russian filmmaker Marker would later memorialize in The Last Bolshevik. Class of Struggle is their first production. Picking up in Besançon a year after the events depicted in À Bientôt J’espère, the film focuses on agitation by workers at the Yema Watch Factory, particularly the efforts of one recently radicalized worker, Suzanne Zedet. Zedet describes her political activity, and the punishments issued in response by the factory management. She also articulates the radical scope of her and her fellow workers’ demands, which go beyond higher wages and better benefits, and reflect a desire to reorganize the country’s economy and social order. One of those demands is access to culture and to the tools of cultural production. The film itself is one attempt to meet this demand, and we see the workers editing and developing film under a banner that reads: “Cinema is not magic; it is a technique and a science, a technique born from science and put in service of a will: the will of workers to liberate themselves.” One of the most radical films produced in an era defined by radicalism, Class of Struggle reflects this will to liberation.

Far From Vietnam

Distributor: Icarus Films
itunes.apple.com…far-from-vietnam

Plot Summary

Initiated and edited by Chris Marker, Far from Vietnam is an epic 1967 collaboration between cinema greats Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, and Alain Resnais in protest of American military involvement in Vietnam – made, per Marker’s narration, “to affirm, by the exercise of their craft, their solidarity with the Vietnamese people in struggle against aggression.” A truly collaborative effort, the film brings together an array of stylistically disparate contributions, none individually credited, under a unified editorial vision. The elements span documentary footage shot in North and South Vietnam and at anti-war demonstrations in the United States; a fictional vignette and a monologue that dramatize the self-interrogation of European intellectuals; interviews with Fidel Castro and Anne Morrison, widow of Norman Morrison, the Quaker pacifist who burned himself alive on the steps of the White House in 1965; an historical overview of the conflict; reflections from French journalist Michèle Ray; and a range of repurposed media material. Passionately critical and self-critical, and as bold in form as it is in rhetoric, Far from Vietnam is a milestone in political documentary and in the French cinema.

La Jétee

itunes.apple.com…la-jetee
Chris Marker, filmmaker, poet, novelist, photographer, editor, and now videographer and digital multimedia artist, has been challenging moviegoers, philosophers, and himself for years with his complex queries about time, memory, and the rapid advancement of life on this planet. Marker’s La Jetée is one of the most influential, radical science-fiction films ever made, a tale of time travel told in still images.

Le Joli Mai

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Plot Summary

Le Joli Mai is a portrait of Paris and Parisians during May 1962. It is a film with several thousand actors including a poet, a student, an owl, a housewife, a stockbroker, competitive dancer, two lovers, General de Gaulle and several cats.Filmed just after the March ceasefire between France and Algeria, Le Joli Mai documents Paris during a turning point in French history: the first time since 1939 that France was not involved in any war. Part I, “A Prayer from the Eiffel Tower,” documents personal attitudes and feelings around Paris. A salesman feels free only when he is driving his car, and then only if there is not too much traffic. A working-class mother of eight has just gotten the larger apartment that she had been wanting for years. The space capsule of American astronaut John Glenn is examined by a group of admiring children. Two investors talk about their careers and adventures. A couple who have been in love since their teens discuss the possibility of eternal happiness. At a middle class wedding banquet, the guests are raucous while the bride is quiet, dignified and reserved. Part II, “The Return of Fantomas,” is an investigation of the political and social life of the city. Marker and Lhomme alternate between public events and private discussions: the former focusing on the Algerian situation, such as a funeral for people killed in Paris street demonstrations after the Algerian settlement. Meanwhile, the latter includes a conversation with two girls about the state of France; a meeting with a pair of engineers who describe the potential of the current technological revolution; an African student who discusses his own response to the French and the Parisians’ reaction to his skin color; a worker-priest forced to choose between the Church and his fellow workers; and an Algerian worker describing conflict he has experienced with native Frenchmen. The film ends with sweeping views of Paris, the façades of its prisons, and the faces of its people as they struggle to make sense of their moment in history.

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After publishing this post, I read the reflections of on bfi.org.uk in the article “The owl’s legacy: in memory of Chris Marker“, by Catherine Lupton, Thom Andersen, Chris Petit, Jem Cohen, John Gianvito, Patrik Keller, Sarah Turner, Kudwo Eshun, José Luis Guerin and Agnès Varda. A thought of Thom Anderson’s struck me in relation to the distribution of Marker’s films in the US. It goes against the grain of this celebratory post, as does our first comment regarding the lack of availability of the iTunes releases in the UK. Here is Mr. Anderson’s thoughts, thoughts that make one wonder about the political backdrop of Marker’s limited presentation in this country historically:

I only had that one chance to see A Valparaiso projected. I’ve never had a chance to see most of his films, and others only many years after their original release. The political censorship we face in the United States has allowed only his more melancholy films, such as Sans soleil, to pass, while stopping his optimistic films, such as Sunday in Peking, If I Had Four Camels and Cuba Sí!. Others were delayed until their usefulness had vanished.

I read a review of Le fond de l’air est rouge in Variety in 1977; I first saw it in 2002, when it was finally released in the US with a new title, A Grin Without a Cat, that reversed the connotations of the original. The grin is the armed revolutionary vanguard, and the cat is the people. The disillusioned leftist has for many years been a sympathetic figure in American culture. Marker, of course, didn’t choose this role – it was falsely imposed on him in the US by selective sampling of his work.Thom Anderson

Chris Marker holding small award

Entering History

Quand les hommes sont morts, ils entrent dans l’histoire. Quand les statues sont mortes, elles entrent dans l’art. Cette botanique de la mort, c’est ce que nous appelons la culture.
Les Statues meurent aussi

Alain ResnaisI’d like to thank Christophe Crison for alerting me to this rare footage of the young Alain Resnais – whose death two days ago is still sending out shockwaves – and (a glimpse of) Chris Marker, recently published at www.ina.fr. The footage was shot on February 1st, 1954 on the occasion of Jean Vigo Prize, awarded to Resnais and Marker for Les Statues meurent aussi, a film that practically single-handedly inaugurated the essay film, opened a long-needed public conversation about colonialism, racism and the politics of the museum, and was promptly banned by the Centre National de la Cinématographie. Single-handedly? More like à quatre mains, but who’s counting…

Jenny Chamarette, in an article on sensesofcinema.com, summarizes these circumstances:

This 30 minute short film has a chequered history of censorship that at one time elevated it to a somewhat mythical status, and which prevented it from being brought into the wider public eye until some 16 years after it was completed. After its first screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, and in spite of winning the Prix Jean Vigo in 1954, Les Statues meurent aussi was banned in France by the Centre National de la Cinématographie between 1953 and 1963 owing to its controversial anti-colonialist stance. While a truncated version was made available in 1963, the unabridged film only became available in 1968.
Jenny Chamarette, Les Statues meurent aussi, Sept. 2009 (Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 52)

Here is the fragment of what seems to be a jumpcut celebration combined with a game of cards. If anyone can help identify the others that appear here, please do so in the comments section. I would also welcome reflections on what Alain Resnais means to you personally.

Producteur ou co-producteur: RADIODIFUSION TELEVISION FRANÇAISE
Générique: journaliste, Pierre Tchemia
Mots clés: Resnais Alain Marker Chris prix-recompense film Cinéma

A bit more from the Senses of Cinema article:

Les Statues meurent aussi was commissioned by the literary review and publishing house, Présence Africaine, which was set up in 1947 in Paris as a quarterly literary review for emerging and important African writers. Founded by the Senegalese thinker Alioune Diop, it housed the writings of some of the most important francophone thinkers in the latter half of the 20th century, such as Aimé Césaire, Ousmane Sembene, Léopold Sédar Senghor, in addition to French metropolitan writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The journal also translated groundbreaking works by Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka into French for the first time. Having emerged so soon after the new French Constitution of 1946 had declared a “French Union”, Présence Africaine’s publications signalled a new, post-colonial status for French and francophone thought, embracing what was then a key notion: that of négritude. It is this notion that the second half of Les Statues meurent aussi engages with most deeply, and perhaps most controversially, especially as it strives to connect the death of the statue with the rise in the commercialisation of African art for the pleasure of the colonial classes. Indeed, it is against the backdrop of a France that had so recently lost its colonial power, but which still retained many of the quasi-Manichean distinctions between white, Western culture and black, African culture, that (and in spite of their claims to the contrary) Resnais and Marker’s film projected its passionately anti-colonial, anti-racist, even anti-capitalist audio-visual collage. It is little wonder then that such a film should have been censored until the late 1960s, by which time it might have lost some of its topicality, but none of its political vigour.Jenny Chamarette, Les Statues meurent aussi, Sept. 2009 (Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 52)

Les Statues meurent aussi - collage by John Coulthart

Collage of Les Statues meurent aussi photograms from John Coulthart’s { feuilleton }

According to a 1961 interview with Resnais in the French film journal Premier Plan, it proved impossible merely to censor the film rather than ban it, as the censors claimed that any cuts made would run the risk of them effectively re-editing for their own ends. In effect, what this double-edged and ambiguous comment on the part of the censors suggests, is that the censors at the time were unable to extricate the insidious, intelligent and deeply controversial implications of the film from its patient, attentive visual aesthetic and complex, lyrical voiceover, soundtrack and musical score. Marker also critiqued the censor’s reluctance to make clear what their objections were, and in fact published the full details of their letter in an appendix to his written volume Commentaires in 1961. Commentaires also contains the full poetic commentary of Les Statues meurent aussi, in addition to four of his other early works: Dimanche à Pékin (1956); Lettre de Sibérie (1958); Description d’un combat (1960) and Cuba Si! (1961). That said, the written text only echoes, rather than replicates the extraordinary contribution that Marker’s authorial poesis makes to the film as a whole. A generous interpretation might suggest that, for the censors in 1953, the powerful sound and image track of Les Statues meurent aussi proved impossible to untwine in a way that would not simply present a brutal butchery of the film’s aesthetic.Jenny Chamarette, Les Statues meurent aussi, Sept. 2009 (Cinémathèque Annotations on Film, Issue 52)

It is hard yet to speak of Resnais, like Marker a true genius of cinema, but completely unique. Both were fascinated by memory; Resnais’ best films are enigmas of memory and time. It occurs to me that there was, in the making of Les Statues meurent aussi, some discovery made à deux that was to follow both filmmakers throughout their careers, whatever the genre. Resnais, like Marker, created films that asked the spectator to view them not once or even twice, but many times – as if the films were changing, mutating between viewings – and changing the viewer each time as well. Toute la mémoire du monde, Hiroshima mon amour, Nuit et brouillard, Muriel and the incomparable Last Year in Marienbad come to mind for me, for I have viewed them many times.

I can only wish that the two French innovators of the 7th art are convening now wherever they are, and picking up effortlessly where they left off, making films beyond culture, outside of history, inventing higher dimensional arts…

Toute la mémoire du monde, by Alain Resnais

Toute la mémoire du monde, dir. Alain Resnais, 1957

Pierre Lhomme

Pierre Lhomme discusses the origins, awards and remastering of Le Joli mai (1963) with Chris Marker. He calls attention, during the remastering process, of Chris Marker’s sense that the film would be difficult if not impossible to decipher by today’s youth – that they may not comprehend that the moment of the film was directly related to, as Lhomme puts it, “the end of French colonialism.”

Thanks to japanese forms for letting us know about a recent article on Le Joli mai in Libération:
«Le Joli Mai» a la mue gaie par Gérard Lefort, published June 4th, 2013. Pardon the obnoxious advertisement that has no off switch.

Film Comment has an excellent article online as well: “Chris Marker: The Truth About Paris” by Sam Di Iorio.

You can also check out another recent post on Le Joli mai on Arun with a View, featuring what looks like the original poster for the film (with some sly cats overlooking the expanse of Paris).

Trevor Stark Engages Marker & Militant Cinema

In the recent Winter 2012 issue of October, Trevor Stark has published an impressive essay entitled “‘Cinema in the Hands of the People'”: Chris Marker, the Medvedkine Group, and the Potential of Militant Film.” Thankfully not put behind a pay wall, the article is available for download from mitpressjournals.org.

Stark takes a comprehensive look back at the rencontres of filmmakers and striking workers under the name Groupe Medvedkine, situating Marker’s role and that of many others in the making of À bientôt j’espère (1967-68) and Classe de lutte (1968), while connecting the film-making initiatives to Marker’s personal journey excavating the legacy of Alexander Medvedkine. He also touches strikingly on Godard’s attempts to tackle issues of self-representation of workers in his Groupe Dziga Vertov, “with its parallel but ultimately irreconcilable claims for self-reflexivity, collectivity, and class consciousness” (119).

In the process of reading this piece, we get to know the broad canvas and many fascinating details; its focus includes but is in no way limited to Marker’s involvement. Indeed, we encounter some of the lesser-known activists and their vital roles in a period of strikes, self-education and the realization of cultural production/consumption loops on the part of these engaged workers.

Between 1967 and 1971, a group of workers at the Rhodiaceta textile factory in Besançon, with no prior training or experience in cinema, produced a number of extraordinarily variegated films reflecting what Kristin Ross has called “the union of intellectual contestation with workers’ struggles” that culminated in 1968. (119)

The essay provides historical context and close readings of À bientôt j’espère by Marker, Mario Marret and SLON and Classe de lutte, the Medvedkine Group’s first collective film. Stark relates how, shortly after the occupation of the Rhodiaceta factory, Marker received a letter from René Berchoud informing him what was going on and inviting him to visit personally: “If you aren’t in China or elsewhere, come to Rhodia—important things are happening” (121). In this context, Stark recalls one of Marker’s earliest publications: Regards sur le Mouvement ouvrier, co-authored with Benigno Cacérès. Marker left Loin de Vietman on the editing table to come, accompanied by cinematographer Pierre Lhomme and others.

One of À bientôt j’espère‘s voice-overs—dialed back in this film from Marker’s usual deep weaving of commentary and image, as Stark notes—states: “The tangible result of the strike is not the percentage of pay augmentation achieved but the education of a generation of young workers who have discovered in the identity of their conditions, the identity of their struggle” (123). In the era of Occupy, it is fascinating to read this summation: “As attested by the men interviewed in the film, what was most shocking was the experience of entering the factory and feeling calm, of setting up a cinema in the factory, of dancing, of appropriating the space of dehumanization as a space for community” (123-24). The essay, in dealing with Classe de lutte later, shows how the representation of women, largely missing from the first film, is foregrounded in the second.

There is a kind of historical palimpsest brought to life here too. The essay opens with two quotes, one from 1871 by August Villiers de l’Isle-Adam regarding workers taking on the work of philosophers, the other by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, coming to Besançon to parrot and appropriate the idea of a common culture. In between these citations lie two other eras, the Stalinist era that all but swallowed the creativity of Alexander Medvedkine and Dziga Vertov, and the May ’68 era that brought French filmmakers to the factories and streets. The eras link, but not without friction. The names Medvedkine, Vertov, Marker, Godard are more ciphers than protagonists; they seek, in a sense, to disappear into a collective fabric, never entirely successfully. The real protagonists are the workers, and their encounters not just with film but with film-making.

Stark’s essay, strong on history, has some nice theoretical moments to it as well. He draws on Jean-Luc Nancy’s concept of the “inoperative community” (communauté désoeuvrée), on Guy Debord, Deleuze, Lukács and Lucien Goldman, always tactically and in context, never imposed on top of the main exposition. In addition, the scholarship is patient and exploratory, giving us a sustained feed of context surrounding the strikes, the issues, the films and the times. The background on Pol Cèbe, a key figure in the events chronicled, is in-depth and fascinating. Stark is honest about the workers’ reaction to À bientôt j’espère: one claims they have been exploited, another accuses Marker of being a romantic who “has seen the workers and the union romantically.” Marker responds (in part):

We have also carried out a parallel activity, putting cameras and tape recorders into the hands of young militants, led by a hypothesis that is still evident to me: that we will always be at best well-intentioned explorers, more or less friendly, but from the outside; and that, as with its liberation, the cinematic representation and expression of the working class will be its own work. (126)

We encourage you to read the whole essay to learn more about the Medvedkine Group’s films; Marker’s revelatory discovery of Medvedkine himself; the parallels and disjunctions between Medvedkine’s ciné-train and the work during the French strikes; the factography/operativism movement of Tret’iakov; the work of Godard’s Vertov Group and the gaps both in his films and between the two auteurs; the ensuing bureaucratic interruption of filmmakers and workers by the French Communist Party itself; and the paradoxical and presumptuous philosophy of class consciousness that does not know itself, as seen in Goldman and Godard.

Plato’s Cave as Kino: Owl’s Legacy Excerpt & Becoming Imperceptible

The blog Found Objects notes the current availability of a clip from Chris Marker’s The Owl’s Legacy:

An extract from Chris Marker’s TV series on the culture of ancient Greece, The Owl’s Legacy, featuring contributions from Iannis Xenakis, George Steiner, Cornelius Castoriadis and Elia Kazan. Recently unearthed from obscurity as part of the Otolith Group’s room at Tate Britain for the Turner Prize. As the Otolith Group write in their accompanying artist book, this is exactly the sort of TV programme that simply wouldn’t stand a chance of being made today.

"It all began on a summer night in 1987. The idea for a television series based on Greek culture had just crystalized and we were facing a spectre which haunts the realm of the cultural documentary and that Chekhov defined for eternity: to say things that clever people already know and that morons will never know."

The original title of the television series is L’Héritage de la chouette. Here are some production details reproduced from the Pacific Film Archive, which seems, along with the Otiolith Group, to be one of the few institutions to possess a copy:

‘Written by Chris Marker. Photographed by Emiko Omori, Peter Chapell, et al. Edited by Khadicha Bariha, Nedjma Scialom. With Iannis Xenakis, George Steiner, Elia Kazan, Theo Angelopoulos, Cornelius Castoriadis. (In English, and French, Georgian, Greek with English subtitles, Color, 3/4″ Video, projected, Cassettes courtesy Chris Marker with permission of Film International Television Production and La Sept).”

You can also consult our older post, “Inner Time of Television” and the full post of the PFA’s notes on The Owl’s Legacy.

One of the great reflections in 20th century philosophy on Plato’s cave and its myriad implications is Hans Blumenberg’s Höhlenausgänge [Exits from the Cave], which opens with an epigraph quoting a journal entry of Kafka’s: “Mein Leben ist das Zögern vor der Geburt.” [My life is the hesitation before birth]. Blumenberg, known for his work on metaphorology and myth but really an astounding polymath of many interests whose posthumous work continues to amaze (as it continues to go largely untranslated), produces in this work perhaps the most rigorous expedition into the many ramifications of the idea of the cave as it flows in and out of Plato’s Republic.

Blumenberg discusses in one chapter the “Escapes from Visibility,” a notion that resonanates for me with the transposition in Sans Soleil of Japanese television images into the dreams of sleeping commuters – creating a kind of cinema of the invisible within an object- and visibility-oriented documentary tradition. Of course the Zone of the same film, already making its presence known in the earlier Le fond de l’air est rouge, serves to de-realize the visible. But a documentary cinema of the invisible seems another thing entirely.

Der Mensch ist das sichtbare Wesen in einem emphatischen Sinne. Er ist betroffen von seiner Sichtbarkeit durch die Auffälligkeit des aufrechten Ganges und durch die Wehrlosigkeit seiner unspezifischen-organischen Ausstattung. Das macht ihn anfällig für die Lokung der Rückkehr in die Höhle. Sie ist die einzige Erfüllung seines tief in dieser Gattungslage verwurzelten Wunsches nach Unsichtbarkeit. [Blumenberg, Höhlenausgänge, 15]

[Man is the visible being in a most emphatic sense. He is struck by his visibility through the very appearance of his upright stance and the defenselessness of his unspecific organic configuration. That makes him susceptible for the seduction of the return to the cave. The cave is the singular fulfillment of his wish, buried deep in his genetic situation, for invisibility.]

Of interest in this regard – and to be explored further in future we hope – is the latest masterpiece of another great thinker who’s work deserves more translation: Raymond Bellour’s Le Corps du cinéma: hypnoses, émotions, animalités, in which he treats the notion of hypnosis in relation to spectatorship – a concept close to Plato’s parable. Bellour’s book is full of references to Marker, exploring most fundamentally the plethora of animality in Marker’s work.

M. Le Chat + GuillaumeIndeed, though Bellour does not go there, we might see the latest phase of Marker’s fun, willing usurpation by Guillaume, including but not limited to Second Life, as a kind of devenir-animal as discussed in Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille Plateaux [Chapter 10. 1730 – Devenir-intense, devenir-animal, devenir-imperceptible…]. For it seems that in becoming-animal there is somehow an additional process in motion, that of becoming-imperceptible. Could this be what Blumenberg had in mind in his evocation of the desire to return to the cave? To become, in an era of surveillance and omnipresent visibility, still present but in another guise? To mutate into something that can’t be recorded, or, if recorded, leaves traces that are on the side of disinformation rather than that of the archive, the state, the systematic digital privacy-stripping machine?

Long controlled and entertained by the caves of cinema and television, enmeshed now seemingly irrevocably within the digital screen, how do we forgo outright exit from the cave and find its internal exits, as it were? And how, as we are finding – or better, creating – these backdoors and Escher landscapes of paradoxical architecture within the greater media enclosure, do we prevent ourselves from becoming hypnotized – imprisoned within a state of control and occlusion without access to the demiurge projecting the film – and/or completely invisible, i.e. self-erased, excluded from the process of our own productions and projections?

Humor and transmutation (a concept familiar to neo-Platonists, as transmigration was familiar to Plato) rather than solipsism or hypnotic stasis seem more viable and life-affirming tactical options in response to the new sets of caves we have come to inhabit. It is along these lines (lignes de fuite?) that we perceive the ever-elusive Marker stepping lightly. Once again, he is no doubt one step ahead.

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