Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Chat écoutant la musique (Entr’acte)


For me, this priceless gem of a video (a lightly edited recording leaning, like a cat’s paw on a keyboard, on the playback of another recording) takes us, as the image of the three children in Iceland that commences Sans Soleil, into another moment of happiness, or more than a moment—a lazy, timeless dream-stretch of happiness. Happiness here is stretched out over the length of a treasured song, the unclockable duration of a catnap, the extent without end of a loving gaze that could go on forever and yet is somehow captured in time. Time is marked by the pulsing of the lights, the periodic twitching of Guillaume-en-Egypte’s ears during particular sonic surges, the languid shifting of position, the stretching of a paw in a miniature feline yoga.

Whereas the children in Iceland were placed at the beginning of a film to represent happiness, a happiness both eclipsed and preserved by the blackness that follows, this piece is placed as the entr’acte in a film about filmmaking, creativity truncated on all sides by the State and a man who once-upon-a-time made a film called Happiness.

It is an intermission as détente, but one during which you won’t want to leave your seat. It is nested, an homage within an homage, in the eye of the storm. It is a light step taken out of history and into memory, where time loses its linearity and events dissolve into dreamtime. It is the record of two beings in absolute accord with each other.

History of a Gem

The video [Chat écoutant la musique] is actually one of three parts to a ten-minute video anthology called Bestiaire. I haven’t seen the other two segments that follow this one. The middle piece deals with owls (cats with wings) and the final bit apparently shows animals in a zoo, gradually revealing their sad situation. Bestiaire itself was used by Marker as part of a larger video installation piece called Zapping Zone (Proposals for an Imaginary Television), in which Bestiaire and many other short video pieces (including excerpts from Marker’s longer films) played simultaneously on various TV screens stationed throughout the Pompidou Center. ZZ was mounted in 1990, and I believe Bestiaire was compiled in 1988. I’ve seen various resources cite the taping of this particular segment as taking place in 1985. [...] I took the video from the European DVD for Marker’s The Last Bolshevik (1992), which uses the three minutes as an intermission [Entr'acte], of sorts, between the feature’s two halves.


  • That is a gem. Guillaume-en-Egypte snoozing on the DX7 keyboard listening to Mompou piano music in the safe confines of Marker’s studio does seem to be a “happy” picture, with no ironic inflection at all; serene, dreamy and banal. But in spite of Marker’s ironic insistence that the children in Iceland represent happiness, “Sans Soleil”, with it’s great introductory line, “if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black. . .” seems to me to be one of the bleakest openings you could imagine. How do the children in the intro shots of “Sans Soleil” represent happiness? Even though Marker’s narration tells us they do, when I look closely at the children they appear to be cringing and clinging together in a bleak landscape, they look tentative, anxious if not scared, perhaps about the guy (Marker/Krasna) following them with the camera. Marker/Krasna maybe the only one happy at that desolate Iceland location. He may be happy like a stalker who has got his prey “fixed” with the camera, but the children always appear terrified to me. Perhaps I’m one of those who can’t see the happiness in that picture.

  • So it is as anticipated in the checkmate chess game of the opening (not to mention all bracketed by the conditional tense or hypothetical scenario of “another movie” that will never be realized): if they don’t see happiness, at least they’ll see the black. Even if the black is bled back or read back into the image of happiness itself, perhaps… What you’re seeing may not be the black that he thought you might see, and bleakness may not be blackness either, granted. It is certainly, as explicitly and ironically shown in Lettre de Sibérie, easy to “color” the image by the commentary, and true too that the act of recording elides its own predation, tries to cover its tracks, erase its presence – which no doubt in most cases does have an effect on the observed (or captured, if you prefer). Stalker has negative connotations in English but I prefer to think of it as Tarkovsky’s character – a seeker, a hunter yes but for the invisible.

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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