William Gibson, novelist
I first saw La Jetée in a film history course at the University of British Columbia, in the early 1970s. I imagine that I would have read about it earlier, in passing, in works about science fiction cinema, but I doubt I had much sense of what it might be. And indeed, nothing I had read or seen had prepared me for it. Or perhaps everything had, which is essentially the same thing.
I can’t remember another single work of art ever having had that immediate and powerful an impact, which of course makes the experience quite impossible to describe. As I experienced it, I think, it drove me, as RD Laing had it, out of my wretched mind. I left the lecture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, profoundly alone. I do know that I knew immediately that my sense of what science fiction could be had been permanently altered.
Part of what I find remarkable about this memory today was the temporally hermetic nature of the experience. I saw it, yet was effectively unable to see it again. It would be over a decade before I would happen to see it again, on television, its screening a rare event. Seeing a short foreign film, then, could be the equivalent of seeing a UFO, the experience surviving only as memory. The world of cultural artefacts was only atemporal in theory then, not yet literally and instantly atemporal. Carrying the memory of that screening’s intensity for a decade after has become a touchstone for me. What would have happened had I been able to rewind? Had been able to rent or otherwise access a copy? It was as though I had witnessed a Mystery, and I could only remember that when something finally moved – and I realised that I had been breathlessly watching a sequence of still images – I very nearly screamed.William Gibson
Here is the English translation of the recently unearthed ‘Lettre à Alain’, originally published in Libération to highlight the 1991 debut of the film L’Annonce faite à Marie, under the title “Chris Marker: ‘Something of a Miracle’, with the sub-title ‘In 1991, for the release of the first projections of L’Annonce faite à Marie [The Announcement Made to Marie], Chris Marker wrote to the ‘young’ filmmaker.’
I take this moment and this space to offer my deep thanks and ongoing gratitude to Dorna Khazeni, who translated this letter for the site’s (majority) English readers. Thanks Dorna! Dorna is also the translator of Marker’s short story Phenomenon (n.), along with a handful of other materials, including the long post on bringing Dialector, Marker’s human-computer interaction machine, to KansasFest. She is one of the reasons I continue to explore Marker, as we share this dedication to his being and his work. What we admire and handle with care is multiple and does not demand defining; it does, however, certainly come across here in Marker’s revelatory moment of heightened awareness, the expressed transformative power of cinema, and his affirmation of friendship.
Giraudoux wrote that one judges a play (or a film) by how one wakes up the morning after. From this point of view the experience has proven conclusive. But in fact it began as early as yesterday evening when we came back home. How long had it been since I last experienced that sort of physical lightness that surges when something in you has shifted during a screening? And how many films have I seen these last years that I left enumerating, as though for an accounting exam: yes, the director was talented, yes, the actors had been excellent, yes, the images were beautiful, yes, the story was interesting. And so? And so nothing. Nothing had shifted, I had seen a film, that was all, and it was already burying itself in the swamps of forgetting. I knew that ahead of all critique and all compliment, there needed to have been that initial shudder, that takeover over by another by which, in my youth, I used to recognize the works that would mark me for life. I blamed age, the sclerosis of enthusiasm, saturation by television… Know that I am grateful to you for having all at once returned to me the joy in an evening and that flavor of eternity that I sometimes savored on exiting a theater or cinema in the distant times when we had already come to know each other… That you should have arrived in your first attempt at the essential, that you should have (I am sure of this, more instinct than by premeditation) found the precise distance, the perfect distance, with text placed on film like a delicate web (one step to either side is the fall), that you should have, in short, invented the only way of bringing to life and listening to these characters in the booby-trapped universe of the cinematograph, is on the order of a miracle. Just as Violaine’s voice is miraculous. Here we are light-years from the “well-said” or “well-acted.” We are inside inner truth, inside this total correspondence of voice with that of which it speaks which music alone is sometimes capable of constructing: it would not take much for me to say never has a text been the beneficiary of so much rectitude, radiant humility. Humility! Not a quality that overflows in our great craft… Here it underlies every undertaking, it gives its true counterweight to the grandeur. Never is the beauty of the image—and God knows, it is beautiful—exercised at the expense of the text. Costumes, set, music, everything is at its right distance, nothing seeks to shine for itself alone, and this metaphor of the cathedral that holds the whole play in its embrace, here it incarnates itself in the film, itself, like a mise-en-abime, but the abyss opens skyward.
I have just reread what I wrote and these words appear vain and empty. What I must communicate to you is that with which I began, that state of physical well-being that defies commentary (in English there is a word for it that is untranslatable: exhilaration). When we left the Vidéotheque with my friend Catherine we were breathing easier, we were breathing rarer air. I met a friend who shared his distress over the fate of Russia, which I share, all the more so as I have Russian blood and am currently working on that particular tragedy. To my surprise, I heard myself answer him in a totally different way than the somber tone in which I would have normally expressed myself. I was going out on more of a limb, I was placing bets with greater (if only this word were not a little comical when applied to me) wisdom… And suddenly I realized I was not placing my bet from the basement of Les Halles, from Paris-France, I was placing my bet from the film. You were lending me, for one instant, a platform of grandeur from where I was seeing all things as we should always see them, if we had that strength and that wisdom. Poets are made to create such moments, moments of borrowing a strength that is not ours. The poet Claudel and the poet Cuny came together so that last night such a moment should take place. It is a gift that cannot be forgotten.
Pleased to see a web presence for the estate of Chris Marker at the Cinémathèque française: www.cinematheque.fr. Here is the current communication available, discussing the reception of 550 large boxes from the Marker’s personal estate, the sum total of his books, harddrives, memorabilia, computers, press clippings, keepsakes from uncountable years of travel. What followed and still follows is an inventory of all these materials. This article represents a ‘state of the estate’ two years in to a three year project of conservation and curation. We will get this translated into English [State of the Estate] as soon as possible.
Fonds Chris Marker : où en est l’inventaire ?
Au printemps 2013, la Cinémathèque française a accueilli dans ses réserves 550 grands cartons de déménagement contenant les archives de Chris Marker, décédé durant l’été de l’année précédente. Sous la conduite d’un comité scientifique composé de personnalités proches du cinéaste et familières de son œuvre, l’inventaire du fonds a débuté rapidement. La durée totale de l’opération était estimée à environ trois années. Où en est-on, deux ans après ?
Les 550 cartons qui composent le fonds se répartissent comme suit :
5 cartons d’affiches ; 6 cartons de disques vinyles, documents sonores ; 15 cartons de photographies ; 39 cartons d’appareils informatiques, vidéo et disques durs ; 55 cartons d’objets, miniatures… ; 66 cartons de supports audiovisuels (Beta, master…) ; 98 cartons d’archives (presse documentation, dossiers) ; 112 cartons de VHS et DVD édités et d’enregistrements personnels ; 137 cartons de périodiques et d’ouvrages.
A ce jour, les cartons de photographies ont été entièrement inventoriés, bien que toutes les photos n’aient pas encore pu être identifiées. De même, l’inventaire des appareils est achevé. La bibliothèque de Chris Marker, riche de quelque 137 cartons, a fait l’objet d’un travail approfondi en voie d’achèvement. Bibliothèque de travail, et non de collectionneur, elle présente la singularité que chaque ouvrage est truffé de documents divers : correspondances, coupures de presse, etc. Chaque volume a ainsi dû faire l’objet d’une description précise des éléments qu’il contenait. Pour rendre compte de cette bibliothèque, le rapport d’inventaire sera certes instructif, mais à l’évidence insuffisant. Un projet de bibliothèque virtuelle est donc à l’étude.
L’inventaire se poursuit actuellement avec les objets, les affiches, les supports audiovisuels et les archives papier. Ce travail devrait être achevé à l’automne 2015. L’inventaire des disques durs, sur lesquels Chris Marker a travaillé au cours des vingt dernières années de sa vie, a également débuté. Ces disques contiennent plusieurs millions de fichiers. Mener à bien la description de ces contenus sera un travail de longue haleine. De même, un premier travail a été mené sur le fonds de près d’un millier de disquettes informatiques, par une conservatrice spécialiste de ce type de support. Un travail de sauvegarde et de restauration, préalable indispensable à l’inventaire des contenus, sera mené dans les prochains mois.
Dans le courant de l’automne, ce sont les collections de VHS, DVD, CD et disques vinyle qui seront inventoriés, permettant ainsi, à l’horizon de l’été 2016, d’avoir analysé l’ensemble des cartons du fonds et d’avoir ainsi une première vue globale de sa cohérence et de sa richesse. Le travail de catalogage pourra alors commencer, l’objectif demeurant de mettre le fonds à la disposition des chercheurs à l’horizon de 2018, en même temps qu’il sera présenté sous forme d’une grande exposition à la Cinémathèque française, sur laquelle le comité scientifique commence déjà à travailler.
Rappelons que ce comité est composé de : Raymond Bellour, écrivain, critique, chercheur et enseignant ; Laurence Braunberger, productrice ; Jean-Michel Frodon, journaliste et enseignant ; Raymonde Morin-Bouche, représentant la succession Chris Marker ; Serge Toubiana, directeur général de la Cinémathèque française ; Christine Van Asche, conservatrice honoraire au Centre Georges Pompidou.Joël Daire, avec le concours de Valérie Sanroma-Kernke et Marie Bergue
Though the context is in absentia, a letter of Chris Marker to Alain Cuny has suddenly appeared on the site www.derives.tv. The letter is from 1991, so the year of Marker’s 70th birthday. The word ‘relics’ somehow comes to mind. It was a Pink Floyd album title, and connotes as well a practice of conserving what remains behind when a great being has departed, often in a saintly or lama-esque context. Somehow the spirit of that being inheres, inhabits the relic. So it is here, though we know that Marker would be the last artist to desire the collection of his own relics. So let us call it a letter, plain and simple, a piece of communication snatched out of time and circumstance. It is a tale in letter form of the magic of cinema, that creates an eternal feeling. Marker had not felt this for a while, then here: an evening of deep emotional engagement in the cinema, triggering all the great films that lived inside him and a moment of heightened awareness that he calls ‘exhilaration’. For he was, like many great filmmakers, a great spectator as well.
Many thanks post-post for an email from one who has done more research on Marker than anyone I can think of – not that it’s a contest, but his work is truly invaluable – Christophe Chazalon. M. Chazalon inquired and received a negative of a page from Libération where this text was originally printed. The film in question turns out to be L’Annonce faite à Marie, directed by M. Cuny. The Libé article’s title: “Chris Marker: ‘De l’ordre du miracle’, with this editorial blurb below: “En 1991, au sortir d’une des première projections de ‘l’Annonce faite à Marie’, Chris Marker écrivait au ‘jeune’ metteur en scène.” I also thank M. Chazalon for delivery of a fully proofed, corrected text of the letter. Merci bien!
Cher Alain –
Giraudoux écrivait qu’on jugeait une pièce (ou un film) à la façon dont on se réveillait le lendemain matin. De ce point de vue, l’expérience est concluante. Mais en fait elle a commencé dès hier soir quand nous sommes rentrés. Depuis combien de temps n’avais-je pas éprouvé cette espèce d’allégresse physique qui surgit quand quelque chose a bougé en vous pendant le temps d’une projection ? Et combien de films ai-je vus ces dernières années, dont je sortais en égrenant une espèce d’examen comptable : oui, le metteur en scène avait du talent, oui, les acteurs étaient excellents, oui, l’image était belle, oui, l’histoire était intéressante… Et puis ? Et puis rien. Rien n’avait bougé. J’avais vu un film, voilà tout, et il s’enfonçait déjà dans les marécages de l’oubli. Je savais qu’en amont de toutes les critiques et de tous les compliments, il aurait dû y avoir cet ébranlement initial, cette prise de possession par un autre à quoi, dans ma jeunesse, je reconnaissais les œuvres qui me marqueraient pour la vie. J’accusais l’âge, la sclérose de l’enthousiasme, la saturation de la télé… Voyez si je peux vous être reconnaissant de m’avoir rendu d’un coup la joie d’une soirée, et ce goût d’éternité que je savourais quelquefois à la sortie d’un théâtre ou d’un cinéma dans les temps lointains où nous nous étions déjà rencontrés… Que vous soyez arrivé du premier coup à l’essentiel, que vous ayez (j’en suis sûr, d’instinct plus que méditation) trouvé la distance juste, parfaite, avec un texte qui est posé sur le film comme un fil-de-ferriste (un pas de côté, c’est la chute), que vous ayez en somme inventé la seule manière de faire vivre et écouter ces personnages dans l’univers piégé du cinématographe, c’est de l’ordre du miracle. Comme est miraculeuse cette voix de Violaine. Là, nous sommes à des années-lumière du bien dit ou du bien joué. Nous sommes dans la vérité intérieure, dans cette adéquation totale de la voix avec sa parole que seule quelquefois la musique est capable de construire : il ne faudrait pas me pousser beaucoup pour me faire dire que jamais un texte n’a été servi avec autant de droiture, de rayonnante humilité. L’humilité ! Pas une qualité qui déborde dans notre beau métier… Ici elle sous-tend toute l’entreprise, elle donne son véritable contrepoids à la grandeur. Jamais la beauté de l’image (et Dieu sait qu’elle est belle) ne s’exerce aux dépens du texte. Costumes, décor, musique, tout est à sa bonne distance, rien ne cherche à briller pour soi tout seul, cette métaphore de la cathédrale qui embrasse toute la pièce, la voilà qui s’incarne dans le film lui-même, comme une mise en abîme qui s’ouvre vers le haut.
Je viens de me relire, et ces mots me paraissent vains et vides. Ce qu’il faudrait que je vous communique, c’est ce par quoi je commençais, cet état de bien-être physique qui défie le commentaire (l’anglais a un mot pour ça, intraduisible, exhilaration). Quand nous sommes sortis de la vidéothèque, avec mon amie Catherine, nous respirions mieux, nous respirions plus haut.
A vous, fidèlement
Chris Marker (1991)
Finally, here is the film in question, on YouTube, hélas.
If we must finally find one word to describe what Odenbach makes, let us use ‘self-portrait’—as literary tradition conceived it, as it has been redefined by a certain auteur cinéma, and as today’s video permits in a clearer, more natural way. The self-portrait is this idiosyncratic literary genre whose logic has been described, and genealogy traced, in a book by Michel Beaujour. Unlike autobiography, which tells the story of a life, the self-portrait tells only the story of an I: it is less interested in events, and its progression is defined by a single movement around the endlessly repeated question, “Who am I?” The self-portrait was born, in Montaigne’s Essays (1580), from a transformation of classical rhetorical procedures that had organized the representation of the world and discourse and set the rules for invention and memory. All of this, in the self-portrait, is redirected toward the person who writes to know him or herself better—only to discover in the act of writing a mere fleeting proof of his or her identity. The system of places and images and the analogical and encyclopedic functions that are so powerful in classical rhetoric are always at the origin of the text: but they exist autonomously, and the book somehow becomes an end in itself. Even if the self-portrait has changed only minimally (Beaujour dwells on its value as a transhistorical model), it thus becomes a highly modern genre, which, from the 19th century on, embraces all the avatars of the crisis of representation, and triumphs in today’s literature from Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, to Michel Leiris’ The Rules of the Game, André Malraux’s Anti-Memoirs, and Roland Barthes’ Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. In a way it even partakes of its own definition: the self-portrait is not really a genre, since it is more than a genre.
Raymond Bellour, Between-the-Images, trans. Allyn Hardyck, JRP|Ringier Kunstverlag AG and Les presses du réel, 2012, 295
Warranting special attention among the typical texts of the sixteenth century are those that, not classified under any recognized genre, overflow the bounds of literary art: the miscellanea and diverse and motley compilations share at least one feature: they gather fragments under more or less traditional headings. All these texts are premature products: they give the public raw or barely processed materials. Their role is to mediate between a producer – classical antiquity – and a user – the modern poet, the orator. The semiprocessed state is the result of a set of activities: reading/writing (copying), grouping together (collecting or collating), and sometimes commentary (intercalated text, moralization, philology). These works, though not designed to persuuade, praise, or blame, still serve to instruct and also to please and surprise by the variety and strangeness of the examples they assemble. They are not intended for aesthetic, hedonistic, or consecutive reading, since they are readymade commonplace books whose function is transitive and instrumental. Constituting a pseudomemory, or an exomemory, like a reference library, they furnish the raw material for a second-degree intervention, for a secondary elaboration aimed at producing literary works of art, which, in principle, would usually be subject to rhetorical, stylistic, and generic imperatives, as well as to criteria such as the verisimilitude of mimesis. According to Quintilian’s metaphor designating rhetorical memory, these centos form “treasure houses of eloquence.” They are not themselves eloquent, nor do they contain writing as presence unto itself, but they are easily accessible, and as they handily substitute for individual memory and its vagaries, they are emblematic of the new typographic age. Individual memory stopped serving a crucial function in the production of discourses when two cultural conditions were met:
1. When the solitary writer had within arm’s reach a reference library complete enough to form, virtually at least, an encyclopedia. Montaigne’s library combines the metaphorical circularity of the encyclopedia with the circular bookshelves along the walls of his round tower. One need only be adept at looking up data, but as every user of the dictionary, encyclopedia, compilation, index, bibliography, and library knows (as opposed to the user of much more specifically programmed electronic memories), there occurs a dispersion, whether because his attention is deflected by something for which he is not looking, or because he finds, next to what he was searching for, more pertinent data. From the end of the sixteenth century on, the writer becomes accustomed to leafing through printed books, to consulting indexes and tables of contents; even if Montaigne does not use a card index, at least he is already in the position of a modern researcher prior to the introduction of electronic memories. With this exception however: Montaigne claims to find what he needs without looking for it.
2. Memory becomes less important when texts, not being designed to praise or blame, to persuade, exhort, or preach, no longer has to obey rhetorical codes of composition and style, one of whose functions in scribal culture was to make it easier for the listener-reader to understand and remember data by introducing a coded redundance, or copia, which was moreover the object of an aesthetic appreciation. So great is the disdain of Montaigne’s task for these obsolete imperatives that the reader has difficulty in remembering the order and tenor of the Essays’ long chapters. The Essays are indeed, in this sense, antimemoirs.
Michel Beaujour, Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait, trans. Yara Milos, New York: New York University Press, 1991, 111-113. [orig. Miroirs d’encre: Rhéthorique de l’autoportrait, Paris: Seuil, 1980]
I just published a text sent by Chris Darke, who has seen to its translation and encouraged its publication here, for which I am profoundly grateful. The text is one Marker wrote at the request of Jean-Jacques Birgé, answering the question Images gravitate around music. Which has marked you the most? You can find the text as An Image Just Appeared by Chris Marker.
The text shows the remarkable blend of keen memory, eye for emblematic images, and historical consciousness that we find inscribed in many of Marker’s films and installations (Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men comes to mind, for one). Once again, as in Sans Soleil, the wounds of history meet the compassionate gaze of memory. En plus, the text reminds us of Marker’s deep attachment to music – in this case, jazz. It is an attachment that works subliminally in many of his films to deepen the emotional reach of the projection and audition for the spectator. It’s what made Chat écoutant la musique possible: another treasure of memory and music.
In prefacing his remarks, Marker hints at how large ‘memory’ can become – stretching space and time like an expanding universe, an impossible architecture – within a single lifetime.
The image below is of one of the ships that Marker references in this memory text.
ça fait longtemps
que l’on a visité
le salle Roxie
à San Francisco
et s’est trouvé
sous le charme
ça fait longtemps
trente ans aujourd’hui
que le temps
ça fait longtemps
comme le bon vin
qui chaque année
Here is the full commentary in the original French for Chris Marker, Sans Soleil:
For English and Japanese versions, please visit markertext.com, where you can also find commentary/voice-over texts for À Valpariso, Description of a Struggle, La Jetée and Letter from Siberia, as well as the English version of the text for Marker’s book Coréennes.
Thanks to CMontel & ac-nancy-metz-fr’s servers & the Pacific Film Archive
As twilight passes into night on the left coast of an increasingly hysterical nation, I find somehow my browser has arrived, as if of its own volition, at amazon.fr. I had received an odd email re. a company trying to brand the word “chrismarker” and my thoughts turned toward the still very much missed bricoleur. I was wondering if someday some entity would trademark everything or if it might be a new line of perfume. A visitor had commented on Marker’s Bestiary and I found that these short films had been assembled on a DVD by Icarus Films. Thanks John. I wondered what else might be happening in markerland. I reset my password to amazon.fr, as my login management machine seemed to have let it fall into the moss of time.
My search revealed some soon to be released products. First, a mysterious “coffret” of 8 Marker films: “Coffret Planète Chris Marker” with this meager summary: “Retrouvez une grande partie de l’oeuvre de Chris Marker en 8 films.” If you use the zoom tool on amazon.fr, there actually seem to be 10 total films included: La jetée, Le joli mai, Loin du Vietnam, La solitude du chanteurd du fond, Le fond de l’air est rouge, Sans soleil, A.K., Mémoires pour Simone, Le tombeau d’Alexandr et Chats perchés.”
1200 minutes of Chris Marker. Wow! Thanks ARTE. Release date: November 19, 2013. Bear in mind that when I first saw it and drafted this post, there was no branding, no image, now it looks elegant, like an auteur’s Oeuvres, and resonates in title with the exhibition upcoming at the Centre Pompidou. Reality is shifting daily in front of my eyes – same for you? OK then.
Second, a DVD that brings together two crucial films: Lettre de Sibérie bundled with Dimanche à Pékin. Exciting, but not available until October, and only in the original French. Hopefully this pairing will find its way to an English release before too long. Details list Studio as Tamasa Distribution and release data as October 15, 2013. Here’s the description:
Ce DVD contient 2 films :
– Lettre de Sibérie :
Je vous écris d’un pays lointain. On l’ appelle la Sibérie. A la plupart d’entre nous, il n’évoque rien d’autre qu’une Guyane gelée, et pour le général tsariste Andréiévitch, c’était “le plus grand terrain vague du monde”. Il y a heureusement plus de chose sur la terre et sous le ciel, fusssent-ils sibériens, que n’en ont rêvées tous les généraux…
– Dimanche à Pékin :
“Rien n’est plus beau que Paris, sinon le souvenir de Paris. Et rien n’est plus beau que Pékin, sinon le souvenir de Pékin. Et moi, à Paris, je me souviens de Pekin et je compte mes trésors” Chris Marker.
I found myself finally on a page called “Les Zones”, which conveyed information about encoding of DVDs by geographical zone (Pal vs. NTSC). Again, misty hints of Marker. These how did I get here moments are re-traceable, but only to a degree – which is good, as we don’t want to know what I had for dinner. Maybe Proust wants to know that. The moss of time is a preservation zone too. I don’t want Total Recall, just the soft covering of old stones that stay out of the sun. Room for new things. Room for some new DVDs of old movies that are precious.
An hour-long entretien has been published on France Culture: “Chris Marker (1921-2012),” in the collection “Une vie, un oeuvre” curated by Matthieu Garrigou-Lagrange. This eloquent, personal and erudite conversation is hosted by Virginie Bloch-Lainé; participants include Claude Lanzmann, Régis Debray, Raymond Bellour, Arnaud Lambert, Bruno Muel, Eric Marty and Edourd Waintrop. You can listen to the conversation embedded below or go to www.franceculture.fr to listen, read a summary, and browse selected links and images about Marker.
The arc of the conversation begins with Marker’s origins and early films and concludes with the period where he remained mostly in Paris (with forays into the ‘retreat’ of Second Life) at the helm of his media control center, bringing the world he had traveled to him via global networks and the many monitors that populated his atelier (as shown in several Angès Varda stills). Though his life was both veiled and encrypted in his work, we hear also of the man himself from those who knew and admired him.