Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory



A couple of blasts from the past came to town this weekend, one bringing the other. Dirk K., a longtime Chris Marker fan, touched base and we met for extended coffee and cigarettes, like a Jim Jarmusch outtake scene. DK brought a gift of utmost rarity: a hardcover copy of the 1950 Club francais du livre’s reprinting of Le Coeur net (Roman de Chris Marker, Préface de Jean Cayrol), numbered 1618 out of 3000. The novel, Marker’s first (La Jetée, being a hyphenated novel (“photo-roman”), qualifying for the genre as well), was originally published by Editions du Seuil in 1949.

Dirk brings at once a unbridled imagination and a computer scientist’s mind to his Marker fandom. He has been my most long-lasting correspondent about CM. During this visit, he offered a perspective that seemed to suit the spirit of Marker’s work: the best homage to a piece of art that has touched us is to follow it with another act of creation, rather than analysis. So stay tuned; he may have more gifts up his sleeves. We also talked about Berlin before the wall came down (strip searches by the GDR, hitchhiking, bookstores), the potential role of AI in internet security and cinema whose visible and audible skin covers (or is lined with) an invisible core or dimension.

It’s strange to revisit the odd, fatherly preface of Jean Cayrol in light of the 58 years that have passed since it was written. Cayrol writes as a established member of the French literary community welcoming a first-time author into the circle of the blessed. He seems at once alienated by Marker’s youth and – almost despite himself – deeply enamored of the novel.

Ce soir, je viens d’achever la lecture du Coeur Net. On est toujours ému devant un grand livre. Nous nous en détachons avec précaution. Nous mesurons le merveilleux bienfait de son hospitalité. Et nous restons devant le livre fermé avec une folle envie de «sonner à la porte», de nous faire accueillir à nouveau. Nous sentons inexorablement toute la tristesse d’un départ et nous pressons pas de prendre le prochain roman.

Nous restons encore sous le charme de cette étonnante jeunnesse du verbe de Chris Marker, de ces phrases qui ne sont jamais repues de leurs images, de cette grandeur d’un style qui garde «la coupe» juvénile et la métaphore dépeignéee, de ces mots choisis en plein vent, d’une magie personnelle de l’expression qui fait feu de toute son inspiration. Quelle richesse déployée sans vergogne, quel butin rapporté de la solitude!

Looking back from 2008, we can’t help but be struck by the prescience of these impressions / expressions: phrases qui ne sont jamais repues de leurs images; mots choisis en plein vent; and magie personnelle de l’expression—seeds that sprouted, grew and blossomed in the years and media to come. We also know well the “mad desire” to “ring the bell” again at the door of his films. Revisiting Marker is what we do naturally, any chance we get. Who among you has been content to watch La Jetée or Sans Soleil a single time?


  • I think I am up to nineteen times with Sans Soleil, adept enough now to see Marker in a few frames when he is pointing the camera at a monitor attached to another camera that is filming *him*.

  • Nuit et Brouillard (Resnais 1955)
    In a 1995 interview Resnais states that the final version of the commentary was a collaboration between Marker and Jean Cayrol (source: Film Comment).
    – Wikipedia, Chris Marker article

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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