The Owl’s Legacy Chris Marker (France, 1989) Parts 1, 2 and 3 (L’héritage de la chouette).
“He must have been a royal pain in the ass. It’s just unbearable to have a man like that in a city.” This is how George Steiner describes Socrates in one of the many provocative moments in Chris Marker (Sans Soleil)’s latest “cultural documentary,” a television series based on Greek culture and its rich, often troublesome heritage. Topics include the unique nature of Athenian democracy, the grammar of myths, sexuality and pleasure, the invention of the self, music, Pythagoras, and the ever-dominant importance of language. Marker’s ability to document the relatively abstract and often specialized nature of such subjects covered during scores of interviews with scholars, philosophers, artists, scientists, politicians in Athens, Berkeley, Paris, Tbilisi, and sustain it without ever being dull or repetitive is truly remarkable. And alternating with the answers to Marker’s persistant questions are literally hundreds of inserts: montage sequences of statues, film excerpts, computer graphics and landscapes, all illustrating or contextualizing the replies. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect illustration of one of Castoriadis’ final remarks about what he considers one of Greek philosophy’s major contributions: “What should I think?” In its very structure, and the dialectics woven across many thinkers, it is also “a critique of the representation of the tribe,” in this instance, the legacy of Greek culture to the world.–Bertrand Augst
Written by Marker. Photographed by Emiko Omori, Peter Chapell, et al. Edited by Khadicha Bariha, Nedjma Scialom. With Iannis Xenakis, George Steiner, Elia Kazan, Theo Angelopoulos, Cornelius Castoriadis. (In English, and French, Georgian, Greek with English subtitles, Color, 3/4″ Video, projected, Cassettes courtesy Chris Marker with permission of Film International Television Production and La Sept) (Total running time, parts 1, 2, 3: 75 mins)