“Chris Marker’s Animated Owls: Affects of Estrangement” by Julia Alekseyeva
The films of Chris Marker integrate a rich mixture of forms and media within each production. Films such as Letter from Siberia (1957), The Last Bolshevik (1992), Sans Soleil (1983), La Jetée (1962), The Astronauts (1959), or Level Five (1997) use celluloid film alongside digital media, actuality newsreels, photographs, video games, still drawings, and, importantly, animation techniques. Although the use of drawings, photographs, or other still images within a film became more common with the films of Jean-Luc Godard in the mid-1960s, the use of animated techniques was still rather rare for this period. Chris Marker’s use of animation techniques was therefore rather unique for an art film of this time. The lack of discussion of animation within Marker’s works, then, is a curious omission. Indeed, although Chris Marker’s films are often described in the context of cinematic movements such as the Nouvelle Vague and cinéma vérité, no study has yet analyzed Marker’s idiosyncratic use of the animated form.
In an effort to remedy this lack of scholarship, this paper analyzes two rarely-discussed films by the rive gauche filmmaker: Letter from Siberia, one of Marker’s first productions, and The Astronauts, created with the Polish animator and filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. While the former uses short animated asides throughout, the latter is entirely animated; curiously, both incorporate the animation of an owl: famously, one of Marker’s favorite creatures. Although Marker’s many films might not be explicit works of stop-motion or drawn animation, I argue that the tendency to animate is in fact notable throughout Marker’s filmography, and is consistent with his filmmaking style. Indeed, animation is ideally suited to Marker’s idiosyncratic blend of affective, playful, and defamiliarizing techniques. Animation allows Chris Marker to make the familiar strange, thus exemplifying the concept of estrangement as described by Soviet formalist Victor Shklovsky. In this way, Marker’s use of animation creates new ways of viewing old, familiar things, and therefore allows a deeper, more affective, and more reflective, approach to documentary cinema.Julia Alekseyeva, The Cine-Files