Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

What do you mean… Gérard de Battista on Filming in Okinawa


What do you mean, you never know?

By Gérard de Battista, AFC
Thanks to AFC

Forwarded by Gérard de Battista

Tuesday 11 September 2012

May 1985, filming Level Five on Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost island. Extremely small team: Marker and me, him with a Walkman-style tape recorder modified by Antoine Bonfanti, and me with an Arri 16 SR, a Zeiss 11-110mm zoom lens, a backpack containing a magazine, film, and changing bag.

Level Five

It was the fortieth anniversary of the American landing on the island and the battle that followed. The film talks about the war in general and we filmed the different battlefields, ceremonies, families visiting the battlefields and cemeteries (there were many deaths at Okinawa, American and Japanese soldiers and civilians killed in the bombings, or collective suicides by entire families…). We generally managed to get around using taxi drivers who spoke English, and so filming was both discreet and mobile.

One day, he asked the taxi to stop on a road in the middle of the forest and asked the driver to come back in an hour. He told me to follow him, and there we were on a path through the jungle. We walked for half an hour and the path led us right up to the sea, there was no shore. Off in the distance was a little islet covered in trees.

He said to me, “You see, on that island lives a race of wildcats that can only be found there. So set your zoom to 25, film the sea there, film steadily for five seconds, then pan over to the left until you reach the island, hold for five seconds, cut, and let’s get out of here.” I do the shot, it takes me about twenty seconds, and I cut. And there, I let out one of those unfortunate and stupid lines that years of reading TV magazines had drilled into my head: “Don’t you want me to pan in the other direction, to the right? You never know!” And the moment I said it, I realized the tremendous idiocy of what I had just said…

Suddenly all of these memories came flooding through my head: who I was speaking to, the high-school theatre where I had presented Un dimanche à Pékin (Sunday in Peking) and La Lettre de Sibérie (Letter from Siberia) when I was sixteen, Marker’s voice on my message machine asking me to come… He turned around to face me, stared into my eyes, and enunciating each word clearly and slowly, said, “What do you mean, you never know?”

Okinawa in the month of May has a Polynesian climate. And yet I felt cold all over. The dailies of that shooting stayed in the cutting room for ten years. The film was assembled and released in 1995. Of course, the shot is there, and, of course, it is exactly as it was shot. Since then, when I hear the words “You never know,” for a shot, a lens, a light, a scene, and even for a film, I think about that island with the cats.

Chris Marker loved cats, and owls.
Adios, Maestro.

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
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