Category Archives: Video

No Complaints, More Explanations on Chris Marker: Never Explain, Never Complain

Chris Marker Never Explain Never Complain

Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain
Un film documentaire de Jean-Marie Barbe et Arnaud Lambert

146 MIN | 16/9 | COULEUR | FRANÇAIS, ANGLAIS | SOUS_TITRES FRANÇAIS

The French film about Chris Marker, realized in 2016, has been released on DVD (docnet.fr), in docnet films’ “Collection Lumière de Notre Temps” series.

It will be shown, among other venues, at the Cinémathèque française during their comprehensive exhibtion–retrospective Chris Marker: Les 7 vies d’un cinéaste, opening in May. The auteurs will present the film there on May 21st, 2018 in the Salle Georges Franju. A previous post here discusses last year’s screening at DOXA.

Résumé

Écrivain, cinéaste, essayiste, grand voyageur, photographe, un peu pianiste, un peu peintre, ami des bêtes, intellectuel engagé et chantre de l’imaginaire, Chris Marker a, soixante ans durant, exploré la plupart des moyens d’expression.

Mêlant les témoignages de certains de ses plus proches compagnons à de nombreux extraits de ses films, Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain retrace les grands temps de cette cinématographie unique, épousant à travers elle, les formes et les questionnements de l’engagement cinématographique et politique de la seconde moitié du vingtième siècle.

Marker on the monitors

Summary

Writer, cineaste, essayist, great traveler, photographer, a bit of a pianist, a bit of a painter, friend to animals, an engaged intellectual and bard of the imaginary, Chris Marker has, for sixty years, explored almost all means of artistic expression.

Mixing the testimonies of a number of his closest companions with numerous extracts from his films, Chris Marker, Never Explain, Never Complain retraces the high points of this unique cinematography, marrying through it the forms and the questioning of cinematic and political engagement in the second half of the twentieth century.

The Motto

According to a Quora answer, the motto in its reverse form, “Never complain; never explain” comes Benjamin Disraeli: “This pithy little maxim was first coined by the British politician and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, and adopted as a motto by many other high-ranking Brits — from members of royalty, to navy admirals, to fellow prime ministers Stanley Baldwin and Winston Churchill.” One can only imagine the degree of irony impressed in Marker’s own use of this maxim. Consider the following.*

In the book Imagining Reality, Kevin Macdonald and Mark Cousins pose two questions to documentarists: 1. What in the most general terms do you try to achieve in your documentaries? 2. What is the future of the documentary?

Chris Marker’s answer – as often – questions the questions, evades while diving into the heart of the matter, mercilessly… including the détournement of the book title itself:

Writing is always a nightmare for me. Writing about my difficulty to write doubles the nightmare, especially when I’m supposed to express it in a polite way. So I warmly thank you for making matters easier for me by asking questions I simply can’t answer (frankly, I doubt that anyone could answer the first question sincerely). I practised cinema just as I practised other, less visible, things, and I never thought it necessary to brood over them. Never explain, never complain

Besides, I don’t feel I belong to the realm of documentaries.

Sorry to disappoint you… But I’m sure you’ll understand. My best wishes for your book: rarely has Reality needed so much to be imagined.

Biographical

Jean-Marie Barbe is the president of Tënk, the first online platform dedicated solely to auteur documentary. The goal is to provide access to the very best in nonfiction cinema to the widest possible audience. Tënk’s curatorial team of discerning documentary professionals selects films, drawn from festivals, and organizes them thematically.
(Source: doxafestival.ca)

Arnaud Lambert is the author of the book Also Known as Chris Marker (Le point du jour, 2013). He earned a Masters degree in Art History, writing on Chris Marker. Lambert is both cineaste and critic. Member of the collective simple appareil that unites writers, artists, videographers, he has published in the reviews Éclipse, Images de la Culture, and Vertigo.
(Source: back cover of Also Known As Chris Marker)

* For a dialectical wrangling with the antinomy of irony, see Adorno’s “Juvenal’s error”, aphorism 134 in Minima Moralia. Writing is a nightmare? Difficile est satyras non scribere.

The Eloquent No of Chris Marker

Letter from Chris Marker to Paul Chan

Direct link to YouTube video: www.youtube.com

In October of 2010, I emailed Chris to ask him if he was interested in taking part in a special issue of eflux journal that the art critic Sven Lütticken and I were editing. The issue focused on whether contemporary art had or had not addressed the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the US and elsewhere, and how these largely nationalistic, homophobic and xenophobic movements impacted culture and arts. With the ascendency of the Tea Party, Sven and I wondered whether it was possible to chart a genealogy of right-wing groups on both sides of the Atlantic, and to illuminate their familial relations. Anything would do I wrote, I asked Chris – a text, an image, even an animated gif. … Two months later, he replied.

Hi Paul:
Sorry for the delay, I couldn’t have met the deadline anyway. At an age when people care for their eternal salvation or go fishing – which is not incompatible – I have managed to put on my shoulders more daily work than I ever have in my life. But I gave a lot of thought to your proposal, and sadly I must say that it doesn’t make any real sense. For yes, the Tea Party is an isolated event. There’s a mixture of bigotry, estrangement and crass ignorance that is unique in the world, and that is as idiosyncratically American as country music or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

True, there are in Europe movements that are nationalistic, homophobic, xenophobic, etc., and we’re watching their rise with concern. None of them fits the ideological vacuum of the Tea Partiers, characters like Sarah Palin or Glen Beck, who are just as unimaginable in Europe’s politics. In France, the most dangerous leader of the extreme right, Le Pen, a cultured man who can debate geo-political issues on the same level as his opponents. The shroud of religiosity that wraps the whole TP movement, and US politics at large, is something unknown here, where the separation of church and state is the cornerstone of the Republic. Unthinkable to hear a public personality pronounce “So help me God”. Even racism has different roots. It relates here to the colonial empire and the Algerian war, not slavery and Jim Crow, and its expressions are strongly controlled.

I saw plates and badges depicting Obama as a monkey with a banana. Anyone here who would dare use such imagery would be severely punished by law. As if for the main topic of the TPs, the traditional American defiance against central government, it’s in complete contradiction to what the European extreme rightest movements, who without exception are in favor of a stronger state.

I can go on and on like this on practically every characteristic, so the only possible comparison would be at the lowest levels: all are evil, and all include an impressive number of morons. Not much for food, methinks. Sorry for this long explanation of my own inability to participate — all that representing only my private views of course – and no intent on discouraging anyone to push the comparisons deeper and surely better. But well… all I could do was a frank response. Best wishes on the coming year – the Year of the Cat.
Chris Marker, letter to Paul Chan

“Sharp and generous, even when all he’s saying is ‘No.'” – Paul Chan

paul-chan-brooklyn

“What I liked about it was that someone had taken the time to paint and make owl heads on the cats.”

Cuba Si! by Chris Marker (1961)

Cuba Si!, Chris Marker’s 1961 film about the late Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution, was produced by Pierre Braunberger and banned in France. It contains much original footage of Castro speaking, and is one of a handful of films not available, to my knowledge, on DVD. It is rarely shown and was not considered by Marker himself as part of his oeuvre that he wished to have projected. He talked about his early films as ‘sketches’ of what was to come, of their being preludes to his later work (post 1962 I believe was his internal dividing line, expressed publicly from time to time). Nonetheless, it is unmistakably a Marker film, bearing his signature, his political engagement, his humour and his curiosity.

And indeed, we witness in the evolution of his work an interesting tendency to revisit topics in a more full-bodied manner, transitioning often from court-métrage to long-métrage.* In this line of thinking, Le Mystère Koumiko (1965) forms a prelude to the more wide-ranging Sans Soleil in its more thorough treatment of Japanese culture. His first film on Alexandr Medvedkin, The Train Rolls On (1972), become the masterpiece letter-film The Last Bolshevik two decades later (1992). Cuba Si! found itself incorporated in part in Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977), itself expanded and revised for the English version Grin Without a Cat in 1988.

La Jetée (1963) also found itself inhabiting – in nuanced references – the expanded space of Sans Soleil, though this case is different, for this film begins the period that Marker embraced and encouraged to be shown, inaugurating what he apparently viewed as his mature period and willing the earlier works to the ‘dustbin of history’ – though there was by then already a sizable and wonderful oeuvre, especially when one considers his collaborative work with Resnais. The same year brought Le Joli mai, Marker’s exploration of Paris and the Parisian Zeitgeist using the new technique of ‘direct cinema’ in the wake of the French war in Algeria (1954 to 1962), and Marker oversaw its remastering and re-release before the end of his life.

With Cuba Si!, La Jetée and Le Joli mai, in effect we have portraits of the aftermaths of three wars, with three wildly different approaches – documentary, science fiction and direct cinema. The subject is omnipresent in Marker’s work, returning forcefully again in Level Five‘s treatment of Okinawa and the brutal end of WWII in the Pacific.

Of course, Marker fans would wish to salvage all of Marker’s films, and have in large part been granted that wish with the ongoing releases on DVD in French and English – though English-speaking fans and followers still await the big-yet-incomplete step towards an Oeuvres complètes of the magnificent Planète Chris Marker collection, still available only in French. Instead, we have the rich Chris Marker Collection, published by Soda Pictures (following the impetus of the Whitechapel exhibition), and many individual releases.

For a inventive thematic look at Marker’s work circa 1963 (but before La Jetée and Joli Mai), take a look at the essay Markeriana by Roger Tailleur, newly added to the site’s core content.

In any case, it seemed like the right moment for this site to track down this YouTube version of Cuba Si!, despite the poor quality and the ads, alas, as Fidel Castro has now passed, and with him the era whose inception this film documents, when Marker was 40 and the Sixties were just beginning their wild inscriptions into history and memory.

Marker, in the “Sixties” essay mentioned above, recollecting 1967, riffs on Cuba and Castro in what could stand as an interesting postscript to Cuba Si!:

Chance having made me born a bit restless and gifted with the insatiable curiosity of the Elephant’s Child, when I browse mentally my diary of 1967 I think on the contrary that one had to be pretty dumb not to catch a glimpse of what was already cooking. Springtime: a trip to Cuba, at its heretic best (to the extent that the sheer name of Cuba never appeared any more in L’Humanité, the French communist newspaper), Fidel thundering against the dogmatism of the Marxist-Leninist manuals, severing ties with all the communist parties in South America, explaining to us that the time had come for ‘non-Party people, new people, who break with that tepid, weakly, pseudo-revolutionary model of some who boast to be revolutionaries …’, wrong-footing his Russian allies in such a way that one year later, on the verge of delivering the famous speech in which he would align with the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, everybody in Havana was certain that he was to announce the split with the USSR (the icy shower would be but icier, but so goes History).

En France, selon les textes en vigueur du Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, la durée d’un long métrage est supérieure à une heure, plus exactement à 58 minutes et 29 secondes, c’est-à-dire l’équivalent d’une bobine de film de 35 mm standard de 1 600 mètres.
Wikipedia.fr

Three Cheers for the Whale

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

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

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

A comment on the IMDB entry for Vive la baleine:

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

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

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

vive-la-baleine-4images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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