Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Jean-Pierre Gorin reflects the mirror house of Sans Soleil


Last Updated on January 16, 2021 by bricoleur

From describing visits to Krazy Katovich Chris Marker’s atelier to a wide-ranging, associative reflection on Sans Soleil, Jean-Pierre Gorin travels through the cuts, sequences, illusions, allusions, sign-systems, methodology, non-methodology, historical moments from Sei Shōnagon to Rousseau to the very present NOW of a baby Martian girl learning the rituals of this planet. He explores the Zone, the references to Rousseau, the magician’s craft, and the hallucinatory dive into the empire of signs in Tokyo that condition the human psyche, not to mention the dance of the film, its paces, its acceleration, its repetitions. The documentary, published under the YouTube account named lachambreverte, succeeds all the more so as it visually and sonically quotes Sans Soleil in a manner that corresponds superbly with the vocal commentary by Gorin. My thanks go out to Gavin Keeney for correcting the initial draft of the transcription below. As he surmised, ‘my hands were trembling.’

A partial transcription...

Who is Chris Marker? First, you have to describe Chris’s place. You come in, you take off your shoes, as a good Japanese that you should be in Chris’s presence. You enter a room; the first thing that’s striking is the number of video screens that there are. And there will be piles of videotapes and films, and suddenly you’ll hear a Toucan, and then you’ll hear a Japanese voice that tells you it’s 7:15 Tokyo. You enter this room, and it’s like the cabinet of Krazy Chris Katovitch Marker. It’s a place of work that is so idiosyncratic, and so magical in some fashion. And he’ll start talking. You don’t exactly know when it starts and where it ends. You don’t exactly know why it starts and why it ends, and you’ll be traveling.

It’s playful, it’s manipulative; he engages you to play with the thousand and one elements that are at your disposal.

This is a voice, this is an author, this is a gesture that is so idiosyncratic, marked by the sleight of hand of the maker. You don’t learn something specific about the author; you learn something about the act of authorship itself. The act of appropriation, the act of celebration, the fact of being the archeologist of the terrain… He works very hard at creating a fictional machine, a fictional persona.

Within the first five seconds of the film, nothing is what it seems, and Chris is the one person of all filmmakers who looks at life as a system of illusions. Like a good magician, he’s blatantly telling you what he’s going to do, and then he does it, and he does something else on top of that. So the magic is both constantly explained and constantly reaffirmed. He’s telling you in some ways how the film is going to move—and of course, it’s saying very openly it’s going to be very surprising.

Sans Soleil is a kind of voracious enjoyment of both high and low from the culture. The influences of Chris range from Jules Verne to Krazy Kat to Mussorgsky, and a whole series of things in literature—to Diderot, to Stendhal. In a way it’s like Montaigne; there’s a quotation a second in Chris.

Nobody spends much time with Rousseau, who is constantly in that film. Not the Rousseau of the social contract (might be, because Chris constantly thinks about history), but the Rousseau of Les rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire. The Rousseau who writes this book about taking strolls and that is one of the great books about imagination. Chris makes all the references, he tells you exactly what he’s doing—he’s doing a grand map about how the imaginary functions.

There’s a sense that we function in a hall of mirrors.

It’s a switcher.

It’s a secret map that constantly reinvents itself in front of you.

What is Chris obsessed with? He’s obsessed with what cinema has always been obsessed with, which is carbon dating. You say ‘this is a place and a time, and this is the way people in that place and that time lived.’ And you’re fascinated by it every time, because there is this strange enterprise of constituting yourself a memory that technology was able to bring. And Chris is interested in how do you place yourself in the chain.

You can’t move yourself through [Sans Soleil] without being seduced.

Your capacity for attention or inattention is at the center of this film, in a different [way] than any other film can have.

It has moments where you blank out.

You come back because you have a sense that you haven’t finished with it yet, and the film hasn’t yet finished with you.

He’s showing you many things that quicken the heart, and I think what’s implicated in that is: what about your heart?

Stendhal defined the work of art as a promise of hope, and I think that’s what Sans Soleil is…

Jean-Pierre Gorin
Sans Soleil — wounded time, japan, ritual, history, memory
Sans Soleil — Japan

J’ajoute qu’il m’a paru amusant de faire se retrouver l’espace d’un instant (et sans tricher sur le thème : l’épisode Logos de L’Héritage de la ChouettePoto et Cabengo de Gorin et Puissances de la parole tiennent fort logiquement ensemble) les deux complices de ce qui fut aux années glorieuses de l’après-68 le Groupe Dziga Vertov. Gorin, exfiltré aux Etats-Unis, a suivi une trajectoire originale qui l’a mené des cuisines d’Apocalypse Now à une chaire [universitaire] de San Diego, d’où il nous envoie maintenant ses propres essais, rarement montrés à la télévision. Encore un qui travaille sur l’intelligence. Poto et Cabengo, c’est l’invention du langage par les Katzenjammer Kids sous l’œil de Lewis Carroll.

Chris Marker, Marker Mémoire (S’exposer à une rétrospective)

Jean-Pierre Gorin was a student of Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan. He was a radical leftist well before meeting Godard in 1966. Godard relied on some of his discussions with Gorin while writing the script of 1967’s La Chinoise. Gorin played a role in making Le Gai Savoir, which was released in 1969. In 1968, Gorin and Godard founded the collective Dziga Vertov Group and together produced a series of overtly political films, including Vent d’est (1970), Tout va bien (1972), and Letter to Jane (1972).

Gorin left France in the mid-1970s to accept a teaching position at the University of California, San Diego, at the urging of the film-critic and painter Manny Farber. Gorin remained on the Visual Arts faculty thereafter, teaching film history and film criticism. He continued to make films—most notably a “Southern California tetralogy” of essay films: Poto and Cabengo (1978), Routine Pleasures (1986), My Crasy Life (1991), and Letter to Peter (1992). Gorin describes his concept of Poto and Cabengo in 1988:

“The film is about an unstructured discourse—the language of the twins—surrounded by structured discourses—the discourse of the family, the discourse of the media, the discourse of therapy, the discourse of documentary filmmaking…. [The twin’s language] erupts as a subversive act that has not been authorized by any social or ideological establishment. In a sense, its special threat is that its “unauthorized” nature relativizes the arbitrary nature of those institutionalized discourses. The singsong of the twins reveals the shaky grounds of institutional power. It relativizes discursive authority from the family to the scientific community in their competitive and ineffectual attempts to “define” the twins who spontaneously flit about the screen exceeding any definition.

Jean-Pierre Gorin

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Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
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