Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

Within these few inches…

Forty Years of Growth

Back to that balcony at the Place de la République where all huge demonstrations have always started or ended. I manage to frame again the top portion of my old photograph. In between I have been in Japan, Korea, Bolivia, Chile. I have filmed students in Guinea-Bisseau, medics in Kosovo, Bosnian refugees, Brazilian activists, animals everywhere. I covered the first free elections in East Germany after the fall of the Wall, and I sniffed the first moments of perestroika in Moscow, when people weren’t afraid to talk to each other anymore. I traded film for video and video for the computer. In the middle, on the balcony, the tree has grown, just a little.

Within these few inches, forty years of my life.

Chris Marker, Staring Back, 43.

Within these other few inches...

They walk. They look at the trunk of a redwood tree covered with historical dates.

Ils marchent. Ils s’arrêtent devant une coupe de sequoia couverte de dates historiques.

Chris Marker, La Jétee ciné-roman.

The small Victorian hotel where Madeline disappeared had disappeared itself; concrete had replaced it, at the corner of Eddy and Gough. On the other hand the sequoia cut was still in Muir Woods. On it Madeline traced the short distance between two of those concentric lines that measured the age of the tree and said, “Here I was born… and here I died.”

He remembered another film in which this passage was quoted. The sequoia was the one in the Jardin des plantes in Paris, and the hand pointed to a place outside the tree, outside of time.

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil,


  • Thank you, BlindLibrarian, for this information concerning the places of Vertigo in San Francisco. It’s interesting to see that, there also, sometimes, the trees have grown. Interesting to see that streets seem finally very common: the envoutement is a question of vision, that of Hitchcock – but thanks to his photographer Robert Burks and his composer Bernard Herrmann. Today, following the streets of San Francisco in search of this majestic film… and we’re as James Stewart trying desperately to find Madeleine under the appearance of Judy. A virtual friend said to me that the white horse which caresses Kim Novak was always in San Juan Bautista. The trunk of a redwood tree covered with historical dates of Vertigo belongs to Muir Woods. But here, in Paris, in the Plant Garden, the trunk of a redwood tree is not any more there. The set is not any more the same. Almost everything disappeared.

    “Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus”
    “The true paradises are the paradises which we lost” – Marcel Proust.

  • Yes, how right you are – the quest to grasp or own the past, or compare present and past, is a snake biting its own tail, an invitation to spiraling out of control and vertigo (“la mémoire folle” as Marker says), and Vertigo the allegory for all such quests. Thank you for the excellent Proust quote. I am sorry the Jardin des plantes no longer has the “cut” of the tree. It has been removed to the zone of paradise of lost things? And what of the strange museum in which the couple of La Jetée wander one day?

  • The Jardin des Plantes is one of my favorites places in Paris. I have never found the trunk of sequoia. It was doubtless removed. In La Jetée, we recognize the central path and the zoo. There are several museums. Those of the movie are probably the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy and the Gallery of Palaeontology. They are always there. A vast landscape of bones. A fabulous collection of fossils, both vertebrate and invertebrate : dinosaurs, mastodons and giant birds. In the presentation of the museum, it’s amusing to read this title : “A mine of information on the past and the future”. Beautiful involuntary evocation of the movie.
    Chris. Marker shot another movie in the Jardin des Plantes : E-clip-se, a variation on the total eclipse of August 11th, 1999. 37 years later having shown the fortuitous encounter between a man of future and a woman of past, he showed, at the same place, the brief encounter between the sun and the moon.

  • Thanks Lucien! Beautifully expressed description. Your note on E-clip-se (which I had not heard of, knowing only the Antonioni film of a similar name) is another little Marker revelation. These revelations are often small spider-like relay lines between films, subliminal puzzles for the future (i guess that’s us, and others to come) to decipher, but puzzles obviously with strange poetic alignments that give them heart and soul. After I wrote about 4001 and 2012, I started thinking about another short, 2084 [Subtitled, according to one source, "Video clip pour une réflexion syndicale et pour le plaisir"]. Another very precise year in the so-called future. A film “d’occasion,” but occasions are also opportunities to say more than dreamed of in the philosophy of the commission – in this case, a meditation on time smuggled into a film about the history of syndicalism in France. My memory of it is vague, as I saw it in 1991 at the then-called “Vidéothèque de Paris,” I think now called the “Forum des images,” where I first met M. Marker – a story for another time. According to

    Chris Marker plans the question in the future and imagines a television news of 2084 for the anniversary of the second centenarian and three possible scenarios: the grey hypothesis, that of the "crisis", "a fearful society which hums and gives itself false safeties in the hope of a balance always questioned"; the black hypothesis, "a world where the technique took the place of the ideologies"; the blue hypothesis, finally, that of the dream and the imagination.

    There is also another interesting interpretation of 2084 on IMDB. The film was made in 1984 and this gloss quotes: "And provide we hurry a little it’ll take just a century.".

  • Funny discovery of the map with “marker predictions” for total solar eclipse of 2084, Stalker. Small signs for future times ? Chris.Marker is a world-citizen, but he’s also a time-traveler. In the same way, he uses various supports (film, video, cd-rom, book, internet), he uses so various durations : very long (Le Joli Mai, Le Fond de l’air est rouge) or very short movies (Junkopia, Leila attacks, Slon tango). Some artists content themselves with staying on a line (x). Others broaden their investigations on a plane surface (x, y). It’s not exaggerated to say that Chris.Marker spreads his mind and his work to the solid geometry of threedimensional Euclidean space (x, y, z). And even non-Euclidean space-time (fourth dimension), of course. Maybe that it’s not intentionel and that he doesn’t know it. It’s better not to say it to him because a worker shouldn’t know the mysteries of his do-it-yourself.

  • Spot on, as the British say. The z-layer is key to his work, and he doesn’t stop there. Got me to thinking of the rare artists who do and seem to also know, perhaps in another galaxy of their consciousness, sub/un/collective consciousness and/or soul consciousness, exactly what they are doing. Just don’t ask them to talk to a journalist about it. Or a blogger for that matter, who is practically a sub-journalist, in the same way the Melville speaks of “sub-sub-librarians,” hopefully, but possibly just someone with an opinion and the means to deliver it to the www. A friend of mine once wrote a book of poems called “Beyond After Pound.” In the same way, can we think of “Beyond After Non-Euclidian?” What would this dimension resemble. Einstein dreaming. Rudolf Steiner has an interesting book called The Fourth Dimension: Sacred Geometry, Alchemy and Mathematics. He writes (in 1922):

    Einstein’s theory of relativity is absolutely correct and irrefutable with regard to three-dimensional, perceived space. It looks different when we make the transition to the etheric domain. The ether body inhabits total space. Through inner vision, we arrive at absolutes. The theory of relativity evalutates everything from the perspective of the observer and cannot be refuted here from that perspective. Its validity ceases, however, when we enter the spiritual realm, where boundaries between object and subject are eliminated. [Summary of lecture in The Hague, April 12, 1922, xi]

Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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