Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

picaresque ≈ ⊕ panoptique


My constant comings and goings are not a search for contrasts; they are a journey to the two extreme poles of survival.
Sans Soleil


Wandering about the web jump-started by my daily Google Alert that had done its little job of combing the blogosphere for newly birthed Chris Marker reflections, I found a LiveJournal entry by a certain Clifford that just sort of summed up, elliptical and on the mark, that ineffable, je ne sais quoi quality of the essay film, the signature of the “editor of ideas.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but this is something that is very important when you are making a film…there is only one rule to the best kind of filmmaking: what you think you see and hear is not really the thing you see and hear. It’s most clearly that image from the magic trick–the magician says, hey, I will make this disappear, it disappears, and then I will make it return, and then it returns. This trick never fails to wow someone who is watching a film. But it is ambitious of Marker to do this every time…he is a fantastic editor of ideas…like the shots of the dying Giraffe that pop up well before it arrives at that topic, a subliminal inkling of what Marker achieves….

Read the whole entry, which is short and worth it and also delves into Alan Moore and an inkling of the future of what Foucault calls “le panoptisme,” here.

Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir - Discipline and Punish
Michel Foucault, Surveiller et Punir

Panoptism is the apparatus of centralized control, where the Eye of Mordor looks out along all vectors for transgressions in the cells of circular prisons. It is an architecture and a technology of control, the institutional and strategic mode of over-sight.

The picaresque might be seen as a gathering of impressions by wandering, an itinerant or even nomadic mode of assembling images and sounds, experiences and ideas. It is there at the birth of the novel, in Don Quixote and on through Tristam Shandy or On the Road, mutating in film into the road movie (Easy Rider and much of Wim Wenders) and the essay film as exemplified by Sans Soleil (though the elided “hero” of the latter is admittedly far from the rogue that typically defines the genre). It is there in the meandering brilliance of Montaigne’s Essais. In truth, its origins lie much further back, in Homer, Virgil and Dante. Nel mezzo del camin, di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, che la diritta via era smarrita. Sounds like a wandering rogue to me…

It is also, on the level of personal filmmaking – whose full flowering emerges in Marker and full banality in YouTube – there in tactical mode in the editor’s station, where all the gathered images are assembled, ordered, juxtaposed, compressed, engaged in dialogue. Some are thrown in the virtual trash can; others live on an unsung life in the archive; others emerge into the light of day of a final edit. When too many come to light, nothing is seen at all anymore; a kind of post-optical blindness ensues. The caméra-stylo represents, among other things, a tactical move to take the picaresque recording series through the personal panopticon, transforming it in the process into an anti-prison, the reverse of the Jeremy Benthem’s ahrimanic invention. Clifford again:

That against the panoply of vision, this barrage of watching he will be able to extract something not there, something that is concealed with futurity.

People have wondered in recent weeks about the source of the runaway box office success of the new Batman movie Dark Knight. Strange how this Knight uses a panopticon-inspired technology to find a needle in a haystack, rather than gather data on all civilians per se, and uses it only to destroy it. It may be a weak critique of the Bush-era stripping of civil rights (mired, as many Hollywood productions that take on the evil eschatology of technology by using those same means of technology, in a spiraling contradiction) through surveillance, and it may not be in any way related to the fascination this movie has produced, but it remains interesting to reflect on the fact that millions upon millions of viewers have seen the panopticon in its 21st century incarnation, and seen it destroyed ensuite, for all the right reasons.

The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight
Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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