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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

Coréennes by John Fitzgerald – Chris Marker Photo Exhibition at Peter Blum Gallery

Korean Ballerina, Chris Marker, Peter Blum Gallery

John Fitzgerald is a periodic contributor to chrismarker.org, and we would like to extend our gratitude to him for crafting this piece for us. Previously he has written In a Train of the Métro, Passengers and A Grin Without a Cat, Lincoln Center.

A question that arose toward the end of my recent visit to Peter Blum Gallery in New York to view the Chris Marker “Koreans” exhibition is illustrative of the veil of mystery that hangs over so much of his life and work. Having studied the photos of individual North Koreans hanging on the gallery walls – photos that I had long believed had been incorporated into a film that he had done on the subject – I then came upon a book resting against the wall with all of the same photographs and with an accompanying text written in Korean. Beside this book was a smaller paperback, including an English translation of the text, but without the photographs. So were these pictures in the gallery photographs that had been incorporated into a film? Or were the photographs themselves the main body of work, of which the book was merely a compendium piece? Or was the book that I was holding in fact the principle artistic expression – the words and images playing off of each other, each giving added meaning to the other?

The gallery attendant helpfully added clarity, noting that the photographs originally appeared in the book Coréennes and that what was on display in the gallery were reproductions. What was not in the exhibition, then, was the accompanying commentary that Marker had included in the original book. (An added note of confusion came when I pointed out that the text was written in Korean – a language I was not aware that Marker had been conversant in – and we agreed that the actual text must originally have been in French before being translated into Korean.) She also noted that the photographs on view in the gallery were digital photographs. Marker had digitized, and in some cases altered, the original 35mm photos that appeared in the book.

Between the photographs being set apart from the original text that accompanied them, the digital alteration of the original images, and even the added confusion about what language the text had originally appeared in, the various levels of removal was reminiscent of the first time that I had been introduced to Marker’s work at a screening of Sans Soleil: a French film, dubbed in English, and largely about the Japanese, in which an unnamed woman seems to read letters she has received from an unnamed man across great gaps of distance and time. In everything that Marker touches, there are layers.

In an exhibition of photographs we are only treated to one of those layers. I would compare it to watching Sans Soleil with the sound turned off: the images of sleeping Japanese on the ferry from Hokkaido would not be half so arresting without Marker’s voiceover meditation – “Waiting, immobility, snatches of sleep. Curiously, all of that makes me think of a past or future war: night trains, air raids, fallout shelters – small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life. He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time. Those memories whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories.”

One striking photograph in the exhibition shows a woman dressed in a modern gender-neutral shirt and pants walking down the street and effortlessly carrying a large basket perfectly balanced on her head. Marker captures her as she walks directly under an awning featuring a placard painted with a woman wearing a traditional Western-style white dress. Your eye notes the dualism of the figures in the photograph and you recall Marker’s affinity for contrasts. But divorced from the accompanying text, we miss out entirely on Marker’s poetic meditation of a street in North Korea as a kind of self-contained universe:

head carrying coréenne

A great deal of Korea strolls by on Koreans’ heads. Like those salon magicians hired round the turn of the century – barely introduced beneath a false name before they would begin juggling with the furniture to entertain the guests – the Koreans like to set objects dancing. Baskets, earthenware jars, bundles of wood, basins, all escape the earth’s gravity to become satellites of these calm planets, obeying exacting orbits. For the Korean street has its cycles, its waves, its rails. In this double décor, where hastened ruins and buildings still aborning strike a second’s balance of incompletion, the soldier who (foresightedly) buys a civilian’s sun hat, the worker leaving the construction site, the bureaucrat with his briefcase, the woman in traditional dress and the woman in modern dress, the porter carrying a brand new allegory to the museum of the Revolution with a woman in black following step by step to decipher it – all have their route and precise place, like constellations.

smiling Korean Chris Marker Peter Blum Gallery

In a short notice about the exhibition recently published in The Wall Street Journal, the reviewer’s principle observation comes in the last sentence: “All in all, it looks normal.” The “it” that the reviewer is referring to is North Korea, and, confronted with images of people dancing, practicing ballet, walking to the market, or posing for a photograph, it does seem rather unremarkable. Given the West’s perception of North Korea as an isolated rogue state most commonly associated with newsreels of long columns of soldiers marching in machine-like precision while parading ballistic missiles down the avenue, there is unquestionably inherent value in an exhibition of photographs that shows them in their everyday life, images far removed from the militaristic propaganda with which we are all so familiar. Such images are nearer to the Petit Planète series of travel books to which Marker contributed and that went against the genre’s propensity to Orientalize far-off places. Standing in the gallery, we are not witness to the wretched shackles of communism or the visible consequences of a morally-depraved regime depriving its owns citizens of food. The little ballerina in Untitled #27 more closely calls to mind the world of Edgar Degas than Kim Il-sung.

Which begs the question – if ever so briefly – as to what extent these photographs themselves have elements of propaganda. The photos were taken during a period in which Marker was collaborating on some of his most overtly political films, including Cuba si! and Far from Vietnam, the latter of which was reviewed by Renata Adler in The New York Times as a “rambling partisan newsreel collage.” A filmmaker putting his name to projects featuring interviews with Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh might well be expected to paint a flattering – and perhaps skewed – picture of life in that other workers’ paradise north of the 38th parallel. But we must consider that North Korea in 1957 was not revealed as the human catastrophe that it was later to become under the ensuing decades of rule by the Kims, and we can excuse Marker for seeking out the basic humanity in a communist country that he had hoped – as he noted in a 1997 coda to the Coréennes text – would manifest a break with “the Soviet model” of Marxism. “Those children of Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Bolivar, or Marti had no reason to kneel before dogma elaborated by bureaucrats born from a Leninist host-mother inseminated by Kafka,” he wrote. “The answer is: they did.”

They did, indeed. And perhaps that is the other element that is missing from this exhibition, an exhibition that might have shown pictures of the promise of communism alongside pictures of the consequences of communism, such as borrowed newsreel images of starved bodies or the tens of thousands of political prisoners in forced labor camps. Marker included a powerful postscript to his Coréennes text for inclusion on the Immemory CD-ROM in 1997, a postscript that was shown against a background of newspaper clips of the North Korean famine. “The balance sheet to which most of the texts and images on this disc bear witness is totally disastrous, and I feel neither the right nor the inclination to ignore that,” he wrote. But no equivalent photographic postscript was evident in the exhibition at Peter Blum. As I left the gallery, one of the most striking images I noticed was of a handsome Korean man in Western clothes grinning widely, and I could not help but think of Marker’s Lewis Carroll-esque expression for the illusory hopes of socialist revolutions that never materialized – “a grin without a cat.”

A short 2009 note by Marker that accompanies the exhibition to some extent fills in the gap left by the photographs, observing how “time froze on that country . . . while the megalomaniac leadership of both Kims had proven a disaster.” It also includes a contemporaneous snippet of a communiqué from the country’s state-run news agency touting a much-publicized missile launch, noting that the government’s recent actions had the full support of “the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Marker observes: “Yes, you read correctly. ‘Soviet Union.’ In 2009.”

Satellite Image of Dark North Korea

The difficulty is that these photographs are likewise frozen in time and the overwhelming “normalcy” of the images seems so dissonant with what we actually know about life in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I noted earlier Marker’s description of the “satellites” in a North Korean street, but one of the most compelling recent visuals to emerge of this impenetrable country is the image of North Korean streets seen from the satellites – an entire population literally living in the dark. Photographed intermittently from orbiting satellites over the years, the recurring image is that of the democratic south shimmering in light while the communist north is shrouded in darkness. With his penchant both for technology and juxtaposition, it might have been a fitting image to accompany his postscript to Coréennes, a poignant aria of disillusionment penned toward the close of the 1990s and concluding with a bleak commentary on a century that, “despite all it shams, had so little real existence – which may after all have been nothing but an immense, interminable fade-over.”

John Fitzgerald

Installation Views Courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery, New York
Works Courtesy of the Chris Marker Estate and Peter Blum Gallery, New York

§

Coreennes English

Editor’s Addendum

Coréennes doit s’entendre ici au sens de Gnossiennes ou Provinciales c’est’-à-dire “pièces d’inspiration coréenne”. On y trouvera, outre les dames de Corée (qui à elles seules vaudraient plus d’un long-métrage), des tortues qui rient, des géants qui pleurent, un légume qui rend immortel, trois petites filles changées en astres, un ours médecin, un chien qui mange la lune, un tambour qui fait danser des tigres, plusieurs chouettes, et sur ce décor immortel un pays anéanti hier par la guerre, qui repousse “à la vitesse d’une plante au cinéma” entre Marx et les fées. Vous apprendrez encore que les Coréens ont inventé l’imprimerie avant Gutenberg, le cuirassé avant Potemkine et la Grand Garabagne avant Michaux, dans ce “court-métrage” où l’on souhaite voir apparaître un genre distinct de l’album et du reportage, qu’on appellerait faute de mieux ciné-essai comme il y a des ciné-romans — à une seule réserve près, mais d’importance: les personnages ne s’y expriment pas encore par de jolis phylactères en forme de nuage, comme dans les comics. Mais il faut savoir attendre…Chris Marker, cover of orig. French version of Coréennes, curiously elided in English text version

Coréennes should be understood in the sense of Gnossiennes [Satie] or Provinciales [Pascal], that is to say ‘pieces of korean [fem. – Ed.] inspiration.’ Besides the women of Korea – who themselves would be worth more than one full-length film – one will find tortoises that laugh, giants who cry, a vegetable for immortality, three little girls turned into stars, a doctor bear, a dog who eats the moon, a drum that makes tigers dance, multiple cats, and on this immortal decore a country annihilated yesterday by war, one that regrows ‘with the speed of a plant in the cinema’ between Marx and the fairies. You will learn as well that the Koreans invented the printing press before Gutenberg, the armorplate/breastplate before Potemkine and the Grand Garabagne before Michaux.* In this ‘short film’ one hopes to see revealed a distinct genre of the album or journalism, one will call for lack of a better term ‘essay film’ – like there are novel films [ciné-romans, a sly reference to La Jetée -Ed.] – with one small but important reservation: the people do not express themselves by the amusing bubbles in the form of clouds, as in the comics. But just you wait…Chris Marker, Coréennes

* Henri Michaux’ work Voyage en Grand Garabagne was written in 1936 and later became part of the volume Ailleurs, published in 1948. As one critic puts it, “Voyage en Grande Garabagne présente des peuples inventés avec des moeurs et des coutumes fantastiques. […] la grande sobriété de l’écriture contraste avec l’imagination et l’invention débridées de l’auteur. – overblog. We can’t help but be reminded of Borges and Foucault’s great opening to Les mots et les choses

PASSENGERS

JOHN FITZGERALD

All images courtesy the artist and Peter Blum Gallery, New York.

PASSENGERS is Chris Marker’s second photographic exhibition featuring images from the Paris Métro. These days, if I wanted to somehow meet Chris Marker, I would probably go to Paris and ride the trains all afternoon hoping for a glimpse of him—it is becoming his natural habitat. But why is an artist/filmmaker/writer, whose work has literally taken him all over the entire world, now so intrigued by the transport system underneath the city in which he lives?

PASSENGERS - SOHO

When I first saw Marker’s 1982 essay-film Sans Soleil—a film that defies synopsis—one of the immediate impressions it left me with was the vivid intensity with which the filmmaker was able to process the world around him, even the slightest things. One sequence in the film that lasts several minutes simply focuses on the faces of people riding the trains in and around Tokyo. At various points in the sequence, Marker inserts stills from old Japanese horror films, as if the faces on the train reminded him of the dream-like faces that he remembered from images on late-night television. The sequence thus became not merely a documentary montage of sleeping commuters on their way to the office, but a visual rendering of how the mind works—how memory works.

Marker is at it again in PASSENGERS. Comprised of over two hundred digital photographs taken in the Paris Métro between 2008 and 2010, the exhibition—spanning two galleries in SoHo and Chelsea—illuminates the beauty and poetry that is all around us in our everyday lives, if we only begin to look. Mounted unframed on the gallery walls, the images, predominantly of women, evoke the quality of portraits hanging in a museum. But what this exhibition shows us is that we do not need to take the Métro to the Musée d’Orsay to have the particular aesthetic experience that comes with viewing great art—the Métro itself will do.

Passengers - Nimue

This comparison to art comes across most strikingly in a series of larger images Marker calls “A Subway Quartet” arranged on the back wall of the SoHo gallery, which features insets of famous paintings that each image seems to recall. One photograph of a young woman in profile sitting by herself on the train is paired with an inset showing a detail of Nimue, in profile, from Burne-Jones’s Beguiling of Merlin. The strong jaw line, the pursed lips, the angular nose, the deep-set eyes staring straight ahead with intensity—the images match in almost every particular, right down to the woman’s coiled hair, calling to mind the coils around the hair of Nimue. Marker seems to have altered the image somewhat, imbuing it with a softness that is typical of the atmosphere in Burne-Jones’s dream-like paintings. In another photograph from this series, a young girl whom Marker seems to be sitting across from looks straight into the camera with an almost unsettling directness. Marker pairs the image with a detail from an Ingres portrait—which, again, bears a stunning resemblance to the photograph—though there is also a languidness in her direct gaze that is reminiscent of the barmaid from Manet’s Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère.

Beguiling of Merlin

Of course, that is what is so exciting about Marker’s work. It is hard to view one of his films, or look at his photographs, without seeing connections of your own. There is almost an impatience one feels to leave the movie theater, or the art gallery, and to go out into the streets, or the trains, to begin to capture images yourself. For a full year after seeing Sans Soleil for the first time, a friend and I filmed sequences of daily life all over Manhattan, plummeting the mysteries of the quotidian like visitors from a far-off place. And after seeing this exhibition, I can confess to having photographed—with my cell phone—a couple women standing in a crowd and waiting for the train. Some might dismiss such images as purely voyeuristic, and there is an undeniable boldness in what Marker has done: taking photographs of women on the train, who often are not even aware that they are being photographed, and displaying those images in a New York art gallery and accompanying book. The sleeping woman on the Métro, perhaps coming back from a long day at the office, may have never noticed Marker at all sitting across from her. What would she think to know that her image now hangs in an art gallery juxtaposed to the portrait of the Mona Lisa? But voyeurism is indiscriminate—it is the gaze reacting to an image. Here, it is Marker’s extraordinary gaze that finds the image amid the crowd and isolates it.

Mona Lisa Passenger

“Cocteau used to say that at night, statues escape from museums and go walking in the streets,” Marker notes in a brief comment on the exhibition. “During my peregrinations in the Paris Métro, I sometimes had such unusual encounters. Models of famous painters were still among us, and I was lucky enough to have them sitting in front of me.”

Perhaps Marker’s attraction to the subway lies in the fact that it brings together people from all walks of life and forces them to confront each other, even if only for the length of time between two Métro stations—the Trocadéro and Rue de la Pompe or Pont Neuf and Châtelet. Something about the way that seats are arranged on the subway, how they face each other—unlike on distance trains (with the seats lined up row behind row)—makes the act of looking that much more inescapable. And in that act of looking, the question becomes: what do we see? “I’ve been round the world several times and now only banality still interests me,” Marker says at the beginning of Sans Soleil. “On this trip I’ve tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter.”

Chris Marker Passengers - Necklass + Arms + Pole

In PASSENGERS, Marker has once again tracked his fellow human beings at their most unguarded and banal—nodding off after a hard day’s work, gazing blankly out the window and listening to an iPod, reading a book or a text message—and captured almost iconic images that linger in memory long after you have left the gallery. Anyone who has lived in a major city and taken the subway has seen these images before—but perhaps has never seen them before as images. The girl languidly resting her head against the window does not only exist in the Paris Métro—I have seen her in the subway in New York, I have seen her in a film that Marker made almost thirty years ago in Japan. Like Calvino’s Invisible Cities—in which it is eventually clear that all of Marco Polo’s ponderous descriptions of the cities that he has traveled to are actually descriptions of a single city: Venice—these images from the Paris Métro are truly images that are universal, images from every city. They capture the space in our day when we transition from one place to another, crowded together, but alone with our thoughts—moments that are at once private and public.

One of the most popular features on the Craigslist website is a section called “Missed Connections,” in which individuals write brief descriptions of someone they encountered in the course of the day whom they would like to find and meet again. In an age when technology has increasingly alienated us from real-life contact, these often forlorn messages evince our basic need to connect with someone—and the power of a glance exchanged from across a crowded train. The messages posted to this site are very often of people trying to reach out to someone they noticed, ever briefly, on the subway. The odds of finding the person they are trying to connect with are slight, but every day countless people make the attempt. A trip to Marker’s newest exhibition goes far toward explaining why.

PASSENGERS is on view at Peter Blum Gallery, New York through June 4, 2011. Take the N/R to Prince Street for Peter Blum SoHo (99 Wooster Street) or the 1 train to 28th Street for Peter Blum Chelsea (526 West 29th Street).

In a Train of the Métro by John Fitzgerald

[Guest post by John Fitzgerald. Thanks John! – ed.]

Walking over to Peter Blum Gallery in Chelsea to see the new Chris Marker exhibition, I happened to pass by a section of the newly completed High Line, a pedestrian greenspace retrofitted onto an old elevated train track on the West Side. I stopped to look at a curious feature of the renovation: a glass panel cut into the side of the wall overlooking Tenth Avenue. Behind the glass was tiered seating where people sat and watched the traffic beneath them and the pedestrians walking by. The whole image reminded me of a movie theater—tiered seating all facing a rectangular screen—except instead of a screen, there was glass, and instead of a film, there was The Street. Turning onto 29th Street to go to the gallery, I couldn’t think of a better prelude to Marker’s exhibition about watching people on the trains in Paris.

“Chris Marker: ‘Quelle heure est-elle?’” is a meditation on spectacle. Comprised of pieces selected from the early and latter periods of his career as an artist, filmmaker, and photographer, all are united by Marker’s fierce attention to the world around him, be they images of war or faces in the Métro, pictures in magazines or movie posters of imaginary films. The images that make up the exhibition’s title consist of a series of thirty-six black and white photographs of people riding the Métro in Paris between 2004 – 2008. In order to capture his subjects “truer to their inner selves,” he explains, he used a digital wristwatch camera—thereby coming a long way from the 16mm silent film camera that he boldly employed in the crowded trains of Tokyo for Sans Soleil in 1983. “Here I caught them innocent like animals, in the beauty of the jungle,” he notes.1 And while the people he captures—predominantly women—are certainly less aware of his gaze than in much of his previous work, some of the images, while very beautiful, still seem to fall short of being entirely natural. Perhaps the innocence that Marker has sought in images throughout his career is not necessarily more attainable merely with a new technology. As he acknowledges, in this age of the cellphone camera, we are more cognizant of being watched than ever before, and the subway, with its absence of anything interesting in the windows except mirror-like reflections, only heightens this sense. But Marker, for me, is a writer more than he is anything else, and while these photographs are ponderous to look at, I miss the breathless, evocative commentary that accompanies such images in his films. Commentary, in this instance, may be unnecessary though. Why articulate in prose something already so perfectly expressed by Ezra Pound in his poem, “In a Station of the Metro”: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Petals on a wet black bough”? This was to be Marker’s epigraph in his previous exhibition, “Staring Back,” in 2007. He dropped it at the time, but was struck by how a reviewer, seeing the photographs, began his review by quoting this poem. “So it was true, after all,” Marker writes, “there existed such a thing as poetry, whose ways are by nature different from the ways of the world, that makes one see what was kept hidden, and hear what was kept silent.”

The exhibition is also comprised of a series of other outstanding works including Coréennes (1957), photographs of North Koreans going about their largely agricultural daily lives, pictures of what essentially, to this day, remains a hidden society. Though at the time—and even today—they were inhabitants of one of the most isolated countries on the planet, Marker’s images of North Koreans have almost the same nonchalant intimacy of his femmes du Métro on the opposite wall. They are images seemingly suspended in time, and—except for the occasional intrusion of some pre-modern technological advancement like a bicycle—would have been as familiar to a traveler two centuries earlier as they were to Marker during the height of the Cold War. Considering how rare it is to be able to glimpse inside of North Korean society, the mere existence of these images merit their exhibition; that they are meditative on an artistic level as well is only to Marker’s credit. Invited by the country’s communist government in the wake of the Korean War, Marker enjoyed an almost unheard of amount of freedom in documenting the conditions beyond the thirty-eighth parallel. Where, in Sans Soleil, Marker trained his camera lens on a hyperactively open and “connected” Japanese society on the precipice of major economic expansion and found penetrating mysteries and rituals behind the veneer of everyday mundanity, in Coréennes he peers into a fanatically closed world and reveals how truly accessible it seems. We see the women of the countryside, pensive, the schoolgirls holding aloft their fans and preparing for a dance. There are no images of tanks or infinite crowds furiously saluting the Great Leader. Even before the sixties Marker was already post-political. His focus is the people, the daily life. Of the war he only wrote: “When a country is split in two by an artificial border and irreconcilable propaganda is exercised on each side, it’s naïve to ask where the war comes from: the border is the war.”2

The Hollow Men (2005), also on view, is a multi-screen installation depicting images of twentieth-century conflict—beginning with the First World War—against textual interstices of lines variously inspired by, or taken from, T.S. Eliot’s poem of the same name. Here, too, we are spectators, and as in his other works the focus so often is on faces. One passage begins, “’I’LL BE SEEING YOU’ / WAS OUR SONG / LESS THAN 80 SEASONS LATER / FOR EVERY WAR HAS A SONG.”

I’ll be seeing you. The irony, of course, is that a man who has spent so much of his life pointing his camera lens at others should himself remain shrouded in obscurity. The gallery’s artist biography merely indicates that Marker was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France in 1921 and that he “lives and works in Paris.” Though he was a member of the most luminary generation of French auteurs in the history of cinema, he is still sufficiently unknown for a popular New York magazine to confidently claim him as an “avant-garde American filmmaker.”3 Presumably, without this veil of mystery, he would never be able to get as close to his subjects as he does. And while he may not be American, his preoccupation with looking at The Street—in Paris, in Pyongyang, in Tokyo—is literally, in something as small as that viewing area on the High Line, gaining ground in this country. Somehow, I imagine Chris Marker wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon perched up there over Tenth Avenue looking at all the people passing below.

1. Chris Marker, “Quelle heure est-elle?” published on the occasion of the exhibition “Chris Marker: “Quelle heure est-elle?” at Peter Blum Gallery, New York, May 16-July 31, 2009.
2. Chris Marker, Coréenes (1957, Editions du Seuil, Paris)
3. “A wonderfully rich retrospective of the avant-garde American filmmaker . . . .” The L Magazine

The Second Life of Chris Marker

Presented below is the official press release distributed by The Harvard Film Archive for its upcoming film series and live event. You can also view the program at the HFA site.

THE HARVARD FILM ARCHIVE PRESENTS
THE SECOND LIFE OF CHRIS MARKER
MAY 9 – MAY 16, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, MA: The Harvard Film Archive is thrilled to host a virtual event with legendary filmmaker Chris Marker titled THE SECOND LIFE OF CHRIS MARKER, on May 16. The event, which will take place in the virtual world of Second Life, will be preceded by screenings of Marker’s films May 9-11.

Chris Marker's OuvroirChris Marker (b. 1921) has been a source of continual fascination and endless speculation since he first emerged in the 1950s as one of the most original and elusive voices of the post-World War II French cinema. A brilliant practitioner and early pioneer of the essay film (In a revision of this text Marker was careful to assert that he did not “invent” the essay film and points to Nicole Védrès and her 1949 La Vie Commence Demain as a major influence upon his embrace of the essay form), Marker’s best known works are animated by a simultaneously playful and philosophical intertwining of documentary and fiction filmmaking techniques and traditions. The dense yet lyrical poesis of montage and voice created across Marker’s films found its fullest expression in Sans Soleil (1982), his celebrated meditation on travel, memory and cultural difference. Among the most politically committed and perceptive European directors, Marker has also created a series of pointed documentary interventions recovering repressed and repressive histories of dissent, whether locally, as in The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967), or globally, as in his tragic, sweeping magnum opus A Grin Without a Cat (1978).

Marker has remained famously indifferent to the popular spotlight – leaving all public appearances to Guillaume-en-Egypte, the ginger cat who serves as his pseudonym, mascot and muse – and adamant about his need for unmitigated independence as an artist (while not ruling out occasional work with select collaborators). Marker’s desire for a fully self-sufficient means of production, together with his search for a liberated narrative form to explore the slippages and superimpositions of individual and collective memory has drawn him to experiment with an incredible range of image technologies, from the photo book in his early years to small gauge 16mm and Super-8 cinema and then to video and video games and, most recently, the CD-ROM and Internet. Marker, whose work from as early as La jetée (1962) is deeply informed by science fiction, has an uncanny ability to predict the future and to be there already. In 2008, a commission for the Design Museum in Zürich gave way to the landmark exhibition Chris Marker. A Farewell to Movies, for which Marker, together with Viennese architect Max Moswitzer, created a cyber museum in the virtual world Second Life in order to reexamine and share examples of his photography, films and installation work. The Harvard Film Archive is proud to join Marker for an extremely rare live tour of his Second Life museum, Ouvroir, on Saturday, May 16th and, as a prelude, to present a focused retrospective of his films.

This program is co-presented by Icarus Films on the occasion of their release on DVD of nine Chris Marker films. Special thanks: Jonathan Miller and Lori Fried, Icarus Films; Lucien Bookmite; Max Moswitzer; Naomi Yang, Exact Change Press; Brigitte Bouvier and Eric Jausseran, Consulate General of France, Boston.

Chris Marker Screening Schedule

The Case of the Grinning Cat (Chats perchés)
Saturday May 9 at 7pm
In his latest film Chris Marker offers a lively, roaming examination of political dissent in 21st century France and an energetic return to the film essay form that he pioneered. Intrigued by the enigmatic appearance of an insouciant graffiti cat, grinning from ear to ear, perched defiantly high across the walls of Paris, Marker set out to track the feline pattern and the broader mood of the post-9/11 city. Marker’s search eventually leads him to discover a sudden reassertion of political voice by Parisian youth, a spirited defiance to the American invasion of Iraq and the insurgent French ultra-right, with the grinning cat an icon and emblematic participant.
Directed by Chris Marker.
France 2004, video, color, 58 min. French with English subtitles
Followed by
Sans Soleil
Marker’s ruminative, melancholy masterpiece channels the imagination of a lonely traveling cameraman—evoked in letters from distant Africa and Japan—into a profound meditation on the creative conjuring powers of memory, place and image. Among the most brilliant examples of the essay film, Sans Soleil uses a lyrical, associative structure to transform modern Japan into a vivid metaphor for the scintillating mosaic of fact, fiction and fantasy that defines the increasingly mediated image world in which we live. A crucial bridge between Marker’s adventurous earlier travel films and his growing interest in media and technology, Sans Soleil is one of Marker’s most dazzling and inexhaustible works.
Directed by Chris Marker.
France 1982, 16mm, color, 100 min. With English narration

A Grin Without a Cat (Le fond de l’air est rouge)
Sunday May 10 at 7pm
Marker’s incomparable editing skills attained a new level of sublimity and subtlety in his epic chronicle of the international New Left’s spectacular rise and fall. At turns mordant and mournful, A Grin Without a Cat uses an extraordinary range of source material – newsreels, propaganda films and Marker’s own footage – to construct a polyphonic, immersive and critical history of political struggle. “I am not boasting that I made a dialectical film. But I have tried for once (having in my time frequently abused the power of the directive commentary) to give back to the spectator, through the montage, “his” commentary, that is, his power.” – C.M.
Directed by Chris Marker.
France 1978, 35mm, color, 180 min. French with English subtitles

The Embassy (L’Ambassade)
Monday May 11 at 7pm
A potent study of political disorientation, state terrorism and exile, Marker’s “anonymous” 1973 Super-8 film reads as an allegory and vivid evocation of the violent paroxysms and unrest roiling Latin America and much of the world at the time.Directed by Chris Marker.France 1973, video, color, 21 min. French with English subtitles
Followed by
The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (La sixième face du Pentagone)
Marker’s charged rendering of the October 21, 1967 march on the Pentagon was made for a French “television magazine” and later distributed by the Franco-Belgian film collective, SLON). Integrating still photographs, voiceover commentary and dramatic actuality footage, Marker’s hard-hitting short represents a forcible mode of alternative reportage, a type of counter-newsreel made during a period of intense distrust of the mainstream media.
Directed by Chris Marker, François Reichenbach.
France 1967, video, b/w and color, 26 min. French with English subtitles
And
Sans Soleil
[see description above]

Special Event Tickets $10
Chris Marker’s Second Life, A Live Event
Saturday May 16 at 7pm

In conjunction with the 2008 exhibition Chris Marker. A Farewell to Movies at the Design Museum in Zurich, Chris Marker presented a series of exhibits of photography, film clips, video installations and other media work, all contained within a radically futuristic museum created in the popular virtual world and free Internet portal, Second Life. Designed and frequently updated by Viennese architect and computer guru Max Moswitzer and Margarete Jahrmann, Marker´s museum hovers motionless above the virtual archipelago Ouvroir, a creative geography of mysterious islands, sculptures and uncanny architecture. Over time, Ouvroir has continued to transform and expand as an interactive environment with new structures and exhibition spaces appearing regularly and often containing content related to Marker’s work.

Always at the very cutting edge of technological innovation, Marker long ago fully embraced the digital and virtual, producing in 1996 perhaps the only lasting and artistically ambitious CD-ROM, the fabulous Immemory, which expanded Marker’s fascination with the playful mirages of memory, history and the moving image into a nonlinear and engrossingly interactive environment. In 2006, Marker premiered a new film, the one minute Leila Attacks, on YouTube (where it can still be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iParBp8cS0w). Marker has also been working for many years in digital photography, with a new exhibition, Quelle heure est-elle? opening in May at New York’s Peter Blum Gallery.

The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to host a truly historic live encounter with Chris Marker’s Second Life. Marker, who has often been sited – in the form of his avatar – in Ouvroir, has generously agreed to lead a guided tour and offer commentary on his latest creation, including special single-channel presentations of his video pieces Silent Movie and The Hollow Men, an occasion made all the more meaningful by the recent announcement that the museum will be dismantled later this year.

Harvard Film Archive
24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 495-4700
https://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa
Tickets for regular screenings are $8 General Admission, $6 Harvard faculty and staff, seniors and non-Harvard students. Harvard students free to regular events. Tickets to special event screenings are $10.
Tickets go on sale 45 minutes prior to show time. The HFA does not do advance ticket sales.

Press Contact:
Brooke Holgerson
Publicity and Outreach
Harvard Film Archive
24 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-496-3211
holgers {at} fas.harvard.edu

Discoveries

Catkins Valasquez, courtesy fogblogWe received a thoughtful note from Don Livoni @ fogblog regarding his recent discovery of Chris Marker. Crafting a haunting film from stills is a discovery that evidently can be made without prior knowledge of La Jetée. It’s a bit like Leibniz and Newton, albeit with a time “differential,” if you like ;). While Mr. Livoni’s films (for example, “Rosie’s Girls” and “DNYK Dreamer”) evoke La Jetée by the skillful sequencing of stills, they also display a stunning sense of chromatic hypersensitivity and palimpsest layering. Meanwhile, the site’s motto – it is without sun, it is memory – aptly summons the spirit of Sans Soleil. Here’s a bit of the note we received, a brief homage to Chris Marker’s sensibilities by a new-found fan:

i love his sense of wonder at what the camera sees and what we remember. i so admire the enigmatic intellect of the narrations, the beauty of the images and the sound juxtaposition, the economy of the technique. it’s all so personal and masterful, mysterious yet historically mindful. i’m looking forward to “discovering” more of his work.

If that were not enough, fogblog presents a stunning set of faux High-Renaissance portraits of (in large part) aristoc(r)atic felines: “L’Histoire des Grands Chats—Religious Leaders, generals, courtesans and clowns” which would no doubt offer a pleasing Sunday afternoon virtual museum expedition for M. Marker himself.

Homages

A couple of blasts from the past came to town this weekend, one bringing the other. Dirk K., a longtime Chris Marker fan, touched base and we met for extended coffee and cigarettes, like a Jim Jarmusch outtake scene. DK brought a gift of utmost rarity: a hardcover copy of the 1950 Club francais du livre’s reprinting of Le Coeur net (Roman de Chris Marker, Préface de Jean Cayrol), numbered 1618 out of 3000. The novel, Marker’s first (La Jetée, being a hyphenated novel (“photo-roman”), qualifying for the genre as well), was originally published by Editions du Seuil in 1949.

Dirk brings at once a unbridled imagination and a computer scientist’s mind to his Marker fandom. He has been my most long-lasting correspondent about CM. During this visit, he offered a perspective that seemed to suit the spirit of Marker’s work: the best homage to a piece of art that has touched us is to follow it with another act of creation, rather than analysis. So stay tuned; he may have more gifts up his sleeves. We also talked about Berlin before the wall came down (strip searches by the GDR, hitchhiking, bookstores), the potential role of AI in internet security and cinema whose visible and audible skin covers (or is lined with) an invisible core or dimension.

It’s strange to revisit the odd, fatherly preface of Jean Cayrol in light of the 58 years that have passed since it was written. Cayrol writes as a established member of the French literary community welcoming a first-time author into the circle of the blessed. He seems at once alienated by Marker’s youth and – almost despite himself – deeply enamored of the novel.

Ce soir, je viens d’achever la lecture du Coeur Net. On est toujours ému devant un grand livre. Nous nous en détachons avec précaution. Nous mesurons le merveilleux bienfait de son hospitalité. Et nous restons devant le livre fermé avec une folle envie de «sonner à la porte», de nous faire accueillir à nouveau. Nous sentons inexorablement toute la tristesse d’un départ et nous pressons pas de prendre le prochain roman.

Nous restons encore sous le charme de cette étonnante jeunnesse du verbe de Chris Marker, de ces phrases qui ne sont jamais repues de leurs images, de cette grandeur d’un style qui garde «la coupe» juvénile et la métaphore dépeignéee, de ces mots choisis en plein vent, d’une magie personnelle de l’expression qui fait feu de toute son inspiration. Quelle richesse déployée sans vergogne, quel butin rapporté de la solitude!

Looking back from 2008, we can’t help but be struck by the prescience of these impressions / expressions: phrases qui ne sont jamais repues de leurs images; mots choisis en plein vent; and magie personnelle de l’expression—seeds that sprouted, grew and blossomed in the years and media to come. We also know well the “mad desire” to “ring the bell” again at the door of his films. Revisiting Marker is what we do naturally, any chance we get. Who among you has been content to watch La Jetée or Sans Soleil a single time?

Guest Post—A Grin Without a Cat, Lincoln Center

by John Fitzgerald

Grin Without a CatI didn’t see A Grin Without A Cat when it first came out in 1977. My first encounter with it was this past year on a small monitor in a university library – even Kim’s in the East Village didn’t have a copy. From the first few frames I could sense what a monumental film it was: shots of people in the streets, on the march, all over the world. But, being so monumental, I realized also it was something that really needed to be seen in the dark, in a theater, on a big screen. Marker has said: “The reception of a film on television and in a movie theater is quite different. The difference is more or less the same between thinking and dreaming. In that sense, I compare dreaming to cinema…”

So we went to see it on Tuesday at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York as part of their 1968 cinema retrospective. The turnout was surprisingly good – at least fifty or sixty people, probably more. Part of me felt like we all should have just exchanged numbers and formed our own little film society right there. How often are you in a room with fifty other people who have even heard of Chris Marker? Many, no doubt, had gone to the Film Forum screening last summer of Sunless, which also had an excellent turnout (though the fact that Werner Herzog was there to introduce the film probably had some effect on attendance). Of the film itself, what can one say? Who else but Marker could collect all the collapsed hopes of socialism’s success in China in an evocative dance sequence layered over echoes of music from La Jetée? Or capture the Soviet Union’s totalitarianism in another sequence that showed Castro’s penchant for moving around the microphones at the lectern during speeches, and how the microphones, during an address in Moscow, wouldn’t budge? Of Watergate, Marker notes that by the seventies no one marched in the streets any more; the nation experienced it through a series of congressional hearings on television, thrown into the network lineup with sitcoms like All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but in response I might point out that at least then we had congressional hearings. For the crimes being committed in Washington today go well beyond Watergate, and we don’t even have those…

Manette Gallery writes from Portland…

Manette Gallery

We received this nice & informative note from the breathtaking Manette Gallery in Portland regarding their Chris Marker exhibition/installation coming up in July 2008:

We hope our humble gallery will be a good nook in which to enjoy these works. The walls will have various stills to look at, I have several books about CM guests can look at, a vintage powerbook 5300 kiosk with headphones running the Immemory CD-ROM, and at least a dozen films shown throughout the month via video projector, including all or most of these:

The Sixth Side Of The Pentagon / The Embassy, Remembrance Of Things To Come (both from Wexler DVDs), Le Fond de l’air et rouge, Le Train en marche, One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich, Level Five, Le Tombeau d’Alexandre, Le Mystère koumiko, Chats perchés, Le Joli Mai, A.K., La Jette, Sans Soleil… this is off the top of my head. […]

So for anyone who happens to be in Portland, Oregon in July, check https://manettefinearts.com for updates and a definite schedule of the screenings.

Elliott Wall
Manette Gallery
820 Nw 21st Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97209
https://manettefinearts.com