Category Archives: Politique

Sixth Side of the Pentagon Trailer

The image below from Marker’s Staring Back photo collection book was posted to the Chris Marker Facebook page today by Ben McGill. Marker getting the not welcome please cease and desist moves by the US military police… Neither the image nor the film have lost their significance, to say the least, as the resistance to power renews itself after a short nap of reason. As Ben aptly notes, “Perhaps the best place to hide is in your own book.”

On October 21, 1967, over 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C., for the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam. It was the largest protest gathering yet, and it brought together a wide cross-section of liberals, radicals, hippies, and Yippies. Che Guevara had been killed in Bolivia only two weeks previously, and, for many, it was the transition from simply marching against the war, to taking direct action to try to stop the ‘American war machine.’ Norman Mailer wrote about the events in Armies of the Night. French filmmaker Chris Marker, leading a team of filmmakers, was also there, and made THE SIXTH SIDE OF THE PENTAGON.
IMDB

For more information, see Icarus Films video page. They offer the DVD of The Sixth Side of the Pentagon bundled with Marker’s short fiction film 1973 The Embassy.

The original title of the film is La sixième face du pentagone, filmed in 1967 and finished in 1968. It is a collaboration between Marker and François Reichenbach. For a deeper look at Reichenbach and his career, take a look at the article “Francois Reichenbach Dies at 71; Directed Range of Documentaries” in New York Times, dated 2/3/1993. Among his books is Le monde a encore un visage, a statement certainly given ample life in both Reichenbach’s and Marker’s films and photography.

Robert Goff has written one of the most comprehensive reviews of the film. Here’s an excerpt:

The films of Chris Marker continue to remind us how the history of the twentieth century haunts the present. Few directors alive today have filmed in so many countries, witnessing and commenting on the events of the second half of the century. This prolific French filmmaker has brought a left-wing political vision and a reflective sensibility to the creation of a remarkable body of work. With so few films from his vast archive available in the United States, one is grateful for the release of any of his works, however minor. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967) and The Embassy (1973) are two short films made during the time of the production company, SLON (Société Pour le Lancement d’Oevres Nouvelles [Company for the Launching of New Work]) that Marker founded in 1967 and that lasted until 1977. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon is a documentary on, arguably, the most important anti-Vietnam war demonstration of the 1960s, the march to the Pentagon in 1967, later immortalized in Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer prize-winning The Armies of the Night. The Embassy, shot in Super 8, imitates the form of a documentary but it actually is a fictional work that references the overthrow of President Allende in Chile the same year the film was made.

If the coup in Chile in 1973 influenced the making of The Embassy, the film is also a commentary on French society. Marker’s voice-over suggests that the director is filming left-wing intellectuals taking refuge in the embassy from an unnamed military regime. The voice expresses left-wing ideas about repressive regimes and class struggle but what the viewer seems to be watching is a silent home movie of a wealthy family and their guests. Marker, the viewer realizes, is filming actors and what we see and hear alludes to the privileged but often impotent position of intellectuals in society. One surmises that in 1973 the filmmaker was probably coming to terms with his own feelings about what had just happened in Chile.

The Sixth Side of the Pentagon is the slightly longer and more conventional of the two films. Mostly shot in color, it captures the dramatic events in Washington during October 1967. Marker and his co-director, Francoise Reichenbach (the film is a typical example of the collaborative SLON) share a gift for capturing bizarre confrontations: American Nazis distribute flyers on “gassing the Viet Cong” and try to shout down draft resistors outside the Department of Justice; sinister U.S. military personnel look down from the top of the Lincoln Memorial while below hordes of protestors, many wearing clothing and carrying banners bearing the image of Che Guevara, can be seen thronging the steps and lining the distant reflecting pool; a minister sermonizes against communism from atop a cherry picker while hippies chant pagan incantations below, led by Ed Sanders of the Fugs; middle-aged U.S. Marshals emerge from the Pentagon wearing steel helmets, lashing out with clubs and bloodying very young demonstrators. The film, however, is not just an observational documentary as Marker’s commentary is unequivocally on the side of the protestors in this huge demonstration against the military might of the Pentagon, which in 1967 symbolized the war in Vietnam.

After watching these films, the viewer is advised to see Marker’s A Grin without a Cat (also available from Icarus Films). This compilation film is one of Marker’s more important feature-length films but it can also be viewed as a very long DVD commentary on these two short films. Released in 1977 and revised further in 1993, A Grin without a Cat is a meditation on the history of the struggles of the left, particularly over Vietnam, in the 1960s and 1970s, and concludes with a long commentary on the demise of the Allende government. Marker laments he did not notice the rise of the right in his narration of A Grin without a Cat, which incorporates considerable amounts of footage…
Robert Goff, “The Sixth Side of the Pentagon and The Embassy”, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, Volume 39.1 (Spring 2009) pp. 75-76 – as presented on http://muse.jhu.edu/article/375875

Jacques Rancière, In front of the camera lens

Eisenstein, Odessa steps

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

I. In front of the camera lens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eisenstein, Odessa steps

Entering History

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bit more from the Senses of Cinema article:

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

Les Statues meurent aussi - collage by John Coulthart

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

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

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

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

Toute la mémoire du monde, by Alain Resnais

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

L’entretien infini

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.

Trevor Stark Engages Marker & Militant Cinema

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guillaume’s Adieu & the Disorder of Time

Chris Marker Copenhagen 3009

Prompted out of a kind of suspended time of my own by several emails from Christophe Payet, “journaliste pigiste,”  I found my one-d and zeroed way to the above image on poptronics’  site, and thought about the strange swirling of time, the wounds of time as they might possibly exist in the New Year within the being named Chris Marker. I wandered simultaneously upon a passage in Roberto Bolano’s 2066, which has been keeping me company late at night:

And then he spied a tremor in the sea, as if the water were sweating too, or as if it were about to boil. A barely perceptible simmer that spilled into ripples, building into waves that came to die on the beach. And then Pelletier felt dizzy and a hum of bees came from outside. And when the hum faded, a silence that was even worse fell over the house and everywhere around. And Pelletier shouted Norton’s name and called to her, but no one answered his calls, as if the silence had swallowed up his cries for help. And then Pelletier began to weep and he watched as what was left of a statue emerged from the bottom of the metallic sea. A formless chunk of stone, gigantic, eroded by time and water, though a hand, a wrist, part of a forearm could still be made out with total clarity. And the statue came out of the sea and rose above the beach and it was horrific and at the same time very beautiful.

With the aforementioned emails came news of Guillaume’s farewell to poptronical submissions, and a kind of rumor wave of retreat or retirement rushed through the markerian emotional landscape at the speed of telepathy, dotted by these sundry asynchronous dates: 3009, the arrival of Guillaume at a ballardian drowned world in his sleek skimming time-travel merkabah vehicle; 2010 the faux-hollywood poster graphic of a kind of adieu – certainly seeming more that than an au revoir – clearly containing within it a parody of the hypertrophic apocalyptical thunderings of the as yet unseen movie 2012, combined with one interpretation, a hopeful one, of a  feline mutation to fit the times, like the origin of Batman or some other superhero, as if Guillaume’s wit and emblematic wry underminings of power in the form of collage barrage that have graced poptronics’ site were no longer enough, could no longer hold at bay another round of disappointment.

More wounds of history, more memories and more oblivion. And a rising from the ashes, a phoenix move on the part of the cat, or a vacation in time, considering… “Considering”* is a bit like the famous bon mot by André Gide when asked about the greatest French poet, his answer of course being “Victor Hugo, hélas”.  Best wishes, alas. And more dates: 2084, 2066, 4001 (the era of perfect memory). In a way, Guillaume takes off like Pacal Wotan takes off, in his spaceship-for-one. Marker may take off the way the Mayans took off, in mystery and grace and full of traces. Meanwhile, the disappearances continue: the world empties itself out, migrating in the manner of bees to an as-yet undisclosed location, a new world. There is a kind of cultural colony collapse disorder happening, as a Mandelstamian cry of “No!”  against those who would hold the suicidal oligarchy together with string and glue. 2010, alas. Happy New Year, horrific and beautiful.

For further reading:

Après l’adieu aux films (Farewell to movies, 2008), ce départ de Guillaume-en-Egypte nous condamne-t-il à un silence définitif de Chris Marker ? N’ayant jamais été bien loquace, Chris Marker a su se faire maître dans l’art du « silence éloquent ». Guillaume, son « double bavard », à son tour retiré, voilà l’humanité privée d’un précieux observateur. N’allons toutefois pas trop vite en besogne. Notre élégie précoce n’est que souffrance amoureuse. Si à la chute de Guillaume, rien ne succède, alors il y a bien quelque chose qui pour nous s’éteindra.

* Marker explains his choice of the word “Considering”: “…considering est le point d’ironie qu’on ajoute à un bilan par ailleurs catastrophique (exemple : dans “Asphalt Jungle”, Louis Calhern à Marilyn Monroe qui vient de le balancer aux flics “You did quite well, considering”) …” [poptronics]

MoMA To Save and Project Joli Mai

New York’s Museum of Modern Art will show restored versions of both Loin de Vietnam and—wonderful news indeed—the incomparable Le Joli mai, in their upcoming To Save and Project international film preservation festival, which showcases re-releases of recently restored cinematic masterpieces.

Le Joli Mai, Chris Marker Pierre Lhomme 1963

Le Joli Mai (Chris Marker, Pierre Lhomme, 1963, 163 min.) will screen Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 1:30 p.m., while Loin de Vietnam will screen Friday, November 13, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. and Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

MoMA’s site offers the following cogent synopsis of this pioneering work in the then nascent genre of so-called cinéma vérité (not a term we can see Marker embracing then or now, probably). In fact, Marker is known for the variation “ciné-ma-vérité”, foregrounding the personal and provisional approach to any claims to ‘truth’ in the documentary realm.

Le Joli mai
1963. France. Chris Marker, Pierre Lhomme. 163 min.
Saturday, November 14, 2009, 1:30 p.m.
Theater 1 (The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 1)

Le Joli mai
1963. France. Directed by Chris Marker, Pierre Lhomme. Marker had recently made essay films about contemporary Israel and Cuba—films with a decidedly revolutionary bent—when in the spring of 1962 he decided, for the first time, to take the pulse of his own country. With the French-Algerian War coming to a bitter and brutal end, Marker joined now-legendary cameraman Pierre Lhomme in conducting hours of interviews on the streets of Paris. The result is a fascinating political and social document, a snapshot of French citizens reflecting on the meaning of happiness, whether personal or collective, even as they confess anxiety about the future of their families and their nation. Restored by the Archives françaises du film du CNC, this original French release version features voiceover narration by Yves Montand, through which Marker offers his own wry and poignant commentary—as he does with some cleverly revealing interpolations of image and sound—and music by Michel Legrand. Courtesy Sofracima. In French; English subtitles. 163 min

For more information, see the New York Times article Prints That Shine Anew: Cassavetes, Bergman and More at MoMA and, at the MoMA site, To Save and Project: The Seventh MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation. The festival runs October 24, 2009 through November 16, 2009.

Stream Joli Mai via Amazon

Sandor Krasna’s Photostream

Thanks to Tyler Beaman for pointing us to this growing archive of Chris Marker aka Sandor Krasna photography. No stranger to new media, Marker’s pseudonymous forays into social media sites are atypical not only of his generation, but several following ones. An artist of many media, an Eye with many names, a being of “unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen,” out of or beyond time yet always keenly in the present, he retains his inimitable interest in the conjunction of the human visage and the display of resistance to power that can still, at times, leave the screen-world and take to the streets. Check out the Sandor Krasna Flickr photostream at flickr.com.

Lecture-marathon de la Princesse de Clèves par de jeunes chercheurs en grève, devant le Panthéon

Icarus Releases, Wexner Debuts Grin Without a Cat DVD

Icarus Releases Grin Without a Cat

Dog Without A GrinA GRIN WITHOUT A CAT is Chris Marker’s epic film-essay on the worldwide political wars of the 60’s and 70’s: Vietnam, Bolivia, May ’68, Prague, Chile, and the fate of the New Left.

Released in France in 1978, restored and “re-actualized” by Marker fifteen years later (after the fall of the Soviet Union), we are proud to release the film now for the first time in the United States.

Described by Marker as “scenes of the Third World War,” the film (the original French title is virtually untranslatable) is divided into two parts, each weaving together two strands:

Part 1: Fragile Hands
  1. From Vietnam to Che’s death
  2. May 1968 and all that
Part 2: Severed Hands
  1. From Spring in Prague to the Common Program of Government in France
  2. From Chile to – to what?

Icarus Films

Wexner Center Store Exclusive

The Wex has a special, long term relationship with French filmmaker Chris Marker, and the Wexner Center Store is, for a limited time, the exclusive outlet for the DVD release of A Grin Without a Cat, Marker’s magnum opus—a three-hour overview of the political turmoil around the world during the ’60s and ’70s. On the occasion of its release, director of media arts Bill Horrigan offers his thoughts.

Wexblog

The Struggle for Memory

A GRIN WITHOUT A CAT (its title refers to Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat) is Marker’s magnum opus: a three-hour overview of the worldwide political upheavals during the Sixties and Seventies.Grin Without a Cat - DVD (English)

Marker interweaves footage from the Vietnam War and the antiwar protests in the U.S., May 68 in Paris, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Salvador Allende and the coup in Chile, Che Guevara and Regis Debray in Bolivia, the Shah of Iran, Fidel Castro, et alia.

Official images, film clips, news coverage trims and neglected reels comprise the basic materials of this major fresco, which concludes with the following credit: “The true authors of this film are the countless cameramen, technical operators, witnesses and activists whose work is constantly pitted against that of governments, who would like us to have no memory.”

Wexner Center for the Arts, Chris Marker Store

Bill Horrigan on Chris Marker [excerpt]

One of the unexpected pleasures of Icarus’s DVD of Chris Marker’s Grin Without A Cat comes from reading the essay Marker produced for the disk’s accompanying booklet. Writing in May, 2008, Marker looks back upon the political turmoil of the 1960s that GRIN is grounded in, averring that it’s 1967 (rather than 1968) that ought to be regarded as seminal. […]

Reading this essay reminded me of how relatively little of Marker’s writing is available in English, the most glaring gaps being the justly legendary volumes of Commentaires, the script of the original version of Le Fond De L’Air Est Rouge (Grin’s French title), and the countless shorter articles he’s been writing for over five decades now, no end in sight. Fragments of these materials appear within Marker’s CD-ROM, Immemory (principally, the text from his book on Korea, Coreennes), but vastly more awaits translation.

Bill Horrigan, quoted on Wexblog

A propos de l’a propos

“Monkeys have evolved. The censors? That remains to be seen.”
Chris Marker

“Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate.”
William of Ockham

A “pièce d’occasion” by Chris Marker entitled A propos du clip «Stress» has appeared on the horizon, or more specifically on the site poptronics.fr, to which Marker’s alter ego Guillaume has been a frequent contributor. It concerns a so-called “clip” by the enigmatic pop group Justice.

Why do we call Justice a pop group, and enigmatic to boot? Well, to our minds their chosen territory is the viral delivery of simulacra – via music video “products” with a sense of graphical finesse approaching that of Kraftwerk – of the whole mesmerizing, gnostic façade-world of Branding. Justice’s own branding is a cross between a black cross and a tomb. It doesn’t get much more iconic than that.

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It seems that Justice’s video “Stress” has caused a fair amount of stress, and even a formal complaint by MRAP (Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les peuples). Certainly, if you know Marker, he represents in and unto himself a force majeure against racism and for friendship between people(s). But he uses this occasion to take exception to MRAP ascribing authorial intention to the piece,* and to ruminate on genre. Striking the word “clip” with the essay equivalent of a two-handed backhand winner down the line, Marker perceives “Stress” instead as a poem, whose role was once to show “what no one wants to see”:

Mais d’abord, marre de ce terme de « clip » pour désigner n’importe quel très court métrage. Tant de longs métrages aujourd’hui ressemblent à des clips étirés qu’il est permis de saluer un clip qui ressemble à un film. Je risque un autre mot, en m’amusant d’avance de l’incrédulité qu’il va susciter chez certains : un poème. Un poème noir, violent, sans concession, sans alibi, magnifiquement « écrit » (encore faudrait-il qu’on s’intéresse à l’écriture cinématographique, vaste débat) et dans la ligne d’un certain nombre de ces poèmes qui dans toutes les langues, à un moment donné, ont dérangé et troublé, et dont certains en effet ont fini devant les tribunaux.

Montrer ce que personne ne veut voir, c’était en d’autres temps une fonction de la poésie. Cet objet non identifié qui tombe dans un paysage audiovisuel où par ailleurs la violence est partout présente, mais avec assez de roublardise et de complaisance pour être acceptée sans états d’âme, j’aurais tendance à le comparer au parallélépipède que Kubrick dresse, dans « 2001 », près d’un troupeau de singes endormis. Incongru, incompréhensible au point que c’est à force de n’y rien comprendre que s’éveillera l’idée qu’il y a quelque chose à comprendre. Les singes ont évolué. Les censeurs, ça reste à voir.

Into the world of the “sleeping apes” – watchdogs, censors, talking heads employed by media machines to chitchat ceaselessly and aimlessly about whatever has most recently caused a stir within the mass of viral carriers – suddenly comes this enigmatic object. “Incongruous, incomprehensible to the point that it is due to the very fact of understanding nothing that arises the idea that there is something to understand.” Bon mot, and applicable well beyond this particular occasion. Was not La Jetée too a kind of “unidentified object fallen into the audiovisual landscape” whose enigmatic effects are still playing out on us? Luckily, its impression wasn’t counted in “impressions,” hits, views, pay-per-clicks and eye-share. Yet no matter the medium, the poems seem to eventually rise to the top, pushed up geomorphically like the Himalaya by the Indian subcontinent once upon a time.

You can find the entire text of the article here: www.poptronics.fr/A-propos-du-clip-Stress-par-Chris

* Cut to: Wimsatt, Beardsley, Jauss, Iser, Barthes, Bloom, de Man, Derrida, Foucault – the whole damn trans-generational posse of intentional fallacists and authorial pallbearers – nodding thoughtfully in the background.

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