Our friends at MUBI are putting on a Chris Marker retrospective this Summer, giving UK members the ability to see Chris Marker films online for a small monthly fee. I’m trying to get more details on the programming & country limitations, so please check back here. Note 7/28/15: I’ve confirmed that the retrospective is limited to the UK site.
We’ve been adding one title a week for the past three weeks, and from tomorrow July 29th (and as I’m sure you know, the anniversary of Marker’s birth and death) the four of them will be live.
IN CELEBRATION OF CHRIS MARKER
This summer we’ll be hosting a retrospective on one of our all-time favourite auteurs, Master film & video essayist Chris Marker. Each week we’ll play one of his most iconic works.MUBI Marker Month
MUBI is known for its informed, eclectic and globe-spanning programming. The site has a large archive of films known and unknown, a selection of which are available live at any given time. MUBI screens classics and obscure indie films alike, all curated by people with great taste & wide-ranging interests. You won’t find this cinéphilic catalog on Netflix. In addition, extensive user-contributed lists, ratings, favorites & following functionality add a social media dimension to the site.
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.
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!
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)
Alain Cuny, L’Annonce faite à Marie
Finally, here is the film in question, on YouTube, hélas.
On the question of retrospectives and his choice not to participate in or promote the projection of works preceding the year 1962 (Joli Mai and La Jetée), Chris Marker writes:
Quand à mes propres films, je n’ai pas envie d’en dire grand’chose. Depuis longtemps je limite le choix des programmes qu’on a la bonté de me consacrer aux travaux d’après 1962, année du Joli mai et de La jetée, et comme cette préhistoire inclut des titres concernant l’URSS, la Chine et Cuba, j’ai capté ici ou là, avec l’émouvante empathie qui caractérise la vie intellectuelle contemporaine, l’idée qu’en fait c’était une manière de faire oublier des enthousiasmes de jeunesse – appelons les choses par leur nom : une autocensure rétrospective. Never explain, never complain ayant toujours été ma devise, je n’ai jamais cru utile de m’expliquer là-dessus, mais puisque l’occasion se présente, autant le dire une bonne fois : je ne retire ni ne regrette rien de ces films en leur temps et lieu. Sur ces sujets j’ai balisé mon chemin plus clairement que l’ai pu, et Le fond de l’air est rouge tente d’en être une honnête synthèse. Mais ici c’est de cinématographie qu’il s’agit, et dire de la mienne qu’en ces temps anciens elle était rudimentaire serait une litote digne du Général de Gaulle. D’où le piège : pour bien montrer que je ne retire ni ne regrette rien, infliger mes brouillons à un public qui se fiche complètement des règlements de compte historique ? La réponse est non. Personne ne fait grief à Cocteau de ne pas avoir republié La lampe d’Aladin, ni à Zemlinski d’avoir mis au rencart sa première symphonie après une seule exécution… On a le droit d’apprendre, il n’est pas indispensable d’étaler les étapes de son apprentissage. Même si – et c’est la seule chose que j’espère encore – on n’a jamais fini d’apprendre.Chris Marker, Image documentaires, n° 31 (1998), p. 75-78
Opening speech by Christine Van Assche, Curator at Large at Centre Pompidou, Paris, and Artistic Director, Mats Stjernstedt
Guided tour in the exhibition on Saturday, 1 November, 2 pm, by Christine Van Assche and Mats Stjernstedt
Kunstnernes Hus presents the first Scandinavian retrospective of visionary French filmmaker, photographer, writer and multimedia artist Chris Marker (1921 – 2012). His films lace realism with science fiction and lyricism with politics. Changing his name, declining to be photographed or interviewed, Marker is both enigma and legend. His influence extends across art, experimental film and mainstream cinema.
Marker is widely acknowledged as the finest exponent of the essay film and is known as the director of over 60 films, including Sans soleil (Sunless, 1983) and A Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de l’air est rouge, 1977). His most celebrated work La Jetée (The Pier, 1962) imagines a Paris devastated by nuclear catastrophe and is composed almost entirely of black-and-white still photographs, which informed the narrative of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995).
Marker was an inveterate traveler – his camera was his eye. His astonishing range of images can encompass a temple in Tokyo devoted to cats, to frozen flowers in a Siberian science station. Marker pictures our cultural rituals, ancient and modern – visiting a shrine, playing videogames, protesting on the streets. He splices his images with found footage, including fragments of movies, cartoons, ads, and news reels. Musical scores are interwoven with the noises of everyday life; haunting commentaries are narrated as if from the future, meditating on history and memory.
Darkness also underlines Marker’s portrayal of planetary cultures – memories of war ravaged France, the brutalities of colonialism, the failures of revolution.
A Grin Without a Cat is co-curated by Christine Van Assche, Curator at Large, Centre Pompidou, Paris, writer and film critic Chris Darke, and Magnus af Petersens, Curator at Large, Whitechapel Gallery/Curator, Moderna Museet. The exhibition tours to Lund Konsthall in 2015.
Kunstnernes Hus er en av Norges vakreste bygninger og et av de tidligste eksempel på norsk funksjonalisme. Huset har en spennende historie som et sentralt visningssted for norsk og internasjonal samtidskunst. Foruten faste utstillinger og en flott matservering med utsikt over Slottsparken kan vi tilby ulike arrangement både på dag- og kveldstid.
The Kunsternes Hus (Artists’ House) is one of Norway’s most beautiful buildings, and one of the earliest example of Norwegian functionalism. The House has an interesting history as a central viewing place for Norwegian and international contemporary art. In addition to permanent exhibitions and great on-site dining facilities with views of the Palace Gardens, we can offer various events both on the day and evening time.