'Chris Marker dislikes making personal appearances (at film festivals and such things) and he has a policy about not doing interviews. It's as if, deep down, he felt he had a better chance of being understood or recognised by the cats and the owls. And these days, knowing the kind of inflated public persona that film-makers seem required to absorb along with mother's milk or their first cocaine, you could begin to get the notion that Chris Marker is just some mysterious if ideal figure, a hope or a dream more than an actual person.
'He is often credited with conceiving the cinematic essay form, with which such disparate filmmakers as Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jon Jost, Chantal Akerman, Wim Wenders, Harun Farocki, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Jonathan Demme, Abbas Kiarostami, Nanni Moretti, Terry Zwigoff, and Agnès Varda have had varying degrees of success. Film school textbooks and books on film history have arrived at a general agreement to treat any French filmmaker working outside of (or alongside) the French New Wave as secondary: exclusions include Jacques Tati – who, like so many other giants in the medium, worked on a wave of his own design – and the filmmakers who belonged to the Left Bank group. While one normally pictures such Cahiers du Cinéma graduates as Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Rivette, and Eric Rohmer when discussing the French cinema of the late ‘50s and early-to-mid ‘60s, there also existed the Left Bank directors, who, according to Richard Roud, included three people: Agnès Varda, Alain Resnais, and Chris Marker.
'La Jetée is Marker’s best-known work, thanks to 12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995), which adapted its premise to suit a 129-minute movie with high-profile stars (Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe) and a 29 million dollar budget. The original film is much more modest, obviously, but also much more graceful. Clocking in at 28 minutes, La Jetée is one of the strangest movies ever conceived, and also one of the most beautiful and sad. It’s made up almost entirely of black and white still photographs, depicting the events of the narrative. (There is one single, haunting exception – the woman, in repose, fluttering her eyelids open.) These stills are governed by a third-party narration – the only voice we hear – as well as music, and sound effects.
'I’m of the mind that art can make the world a better place, that it can create a fertile environment for the human mind to evolve in its sense of self, its environment, and its place in the global culture, and I don’t think it’s naïve to suggest that there are certain great works of art that should be viewed as tainted goods if they in any way promote destructive ways of thinking and acting, like racism, colonialism, sexism, and the preservation of ignorance. How unusual is it, then, that Chris Marker has that rare quality that doesn’t make him more than a journalist as it makes him more of a journalist than his colleagues – the ability to find, extract, reflect upon, and use as the binding element of his theses, the elusive poetic quality, the vital force, of the persons, places, and things he sees.' -- Jaime N. Christley, Senses of Cinema
Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory: Chris Marker Official Website
image = text: transcriptions of Chris Marker's films
JG Ballard reviews 'La Jetee'
The Wexner Center's Chris Marker Store
Chris Marker Section @ Strictly Film School
Chris Marker Page @ MUBI
Chris Marker @ Peter Blum Gallery, NYC
Chris Marker Pages @ Vertigo
'The Business of Mourning: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and Level Five'
'Phenomenon', a text by Chris Marker
Catherine Lupton’s 'Chris Marker: Memories of the Future'
A short documentary about Chris Marker
Tour of a 2007 art exhibition by Chris Marker
Very rare sighting of Chris Marker in a Wim Wenders film
A look through Chris Marker's 'La Jetee' book
Cinema, photo-novels, CD-roms, video installations - is there any medium you haven't tried?
Chris Marker: Yes, gouache.
Does the democratization of the means of filmmaking (DV, digital editing, distribution via the Internet) seduce the socially engaged filmmaker that you are?
CM: A necessary caution: the "democratization of tools" entails many financial and technical constraints, and does not save us from the necessity of work. Owning a DV camera does not magically confer talent on someone who doesn't have any or who is too lazy to ask himself if he has any. You can miniaturize as much as you want, but a film will always require a great deal of work - and a reason to do it. That was the whole story of the Medvedkin groups, the young workers who, in the post-'68 era, tried to make short films about their own lives, and whom we tried to help on the technical level, with the means of the time. How they complained! "We come home from work and you ask us to work some more. . . ." But they stuck with it, and you have to believe that something happened there, because 30 years later we saw them present their films at the Belfort festival, in front of an attentive audience. The means of the time was 16mm silent, which meant three-minute camera rolls, a laboratory, an editing table, some way of adding sound - everything that you have now right inside a little case that fits in your hand. A little lesson in modesty for the spoiled children of today, just like the spoiled children of 1970 got their lesson in modesty by putting themselves under the patronage of Alexander Ivanovitch Medvedkin and his ciné-train. For the benefit of the younger generation, Medvedkin was a Russian filmmaker who, in 1936 and with the means that were proper to his time (35mm film, editing table, and film lab installed in the train), essentially invented television: shoot during the day, print and edit at night, show it the next day to the people you filmed (and who often participated in the editing). I think that it's this fabled and long forgotten bit of history (Medvedkin isn't even mentioned in Georges Sadoul's book, considered in its day the Soviet Cinema bible) that underlies a large part of my work - in the end, perhaps, the only coherent part. To try to give the power of speech to people who don't have it, and, when it's possible, to help them find their own means of expression.
Do you prefer television, movies on a big screen, or surfing the Internet?
CM: I have a completely schizophrenic relationship with television. When I'm feeling lonely, I adore it, particularly since there's been cable. It's curious how cable offers an entire catalog of antidotes to the poisons of standard TV. If one network shows a ridiculous TV movie about Napoleon, you can flip over to the History Channel to hear Henri Guillermin's brilliantly mean commentary on it. If a literary program makes us submit to a parade of currently fashionable female monsters, we can change over to Mezzo to contemplate the luminous face of Hélène Grimaud surrounded by her wolves, and it's as if the others never existed. Now there are moments when I remember I am not alone, and that's when I fall apart. The exponential growth of stupidity and vulgarity is something that everyone has noticed, but it's not just a vague sense of disgust - it's a concrete quantifiable fact (you can measure it by the volume of the cheers that greet the talk-show hosts, which have grown by an alarming number of decibels in the last five years) and a crime against humanity. Not to mention the permanent aggressions against the French language. . . . And since you are exploiting my Russian penchant for confession, I must say the worst: I am allergic to commercials. In the early Sixties, making commercials was perfectly acceptable; now, it's something that no one will own up to. I can do nothing about it. This manner of placing the mechanism of the lie in the service of praise has always irritated me, even if I have to admit that this diabolical patron has occasionally given us some of the most beautiful images you can see on the small screen (have you seen the David Lynch commercial with the blue lips?). But cynics always betray themselves, and there is a small consolation in the industry's own terminology: they stop short of calling themselves "creators," so they call themselves "creatives."
And the movies in all this? For the reasons mentioned above, and under the orders of Jean-Luc, I've said for a long time that films should be seen first in theaters, and that television and video are only there to refresh your memory. Now that I no longer have any time at all to go to the cinema, I've started seeing films by lowering my eyes, with an ever increasing sense of sinfulness (this interview is indeed becoming Dostoevskian). But to tell the truth I no longer watch many films, only those by friends, or curiosities that an American acquaintance tapes for me on TCM. There is too much to see on the news, on the music channels or on the indispensable Animal Channel. And I feed my hunger for fiction with what is by far the most accomplished source: those great American TV series, like The Practice. There is a knowledge in them, a sense of story and economy, of ellipsis, a science of framing and of cutting, a dramaturgy and an acting style that has no equal anywhere, and certainly not in Hollywood.
(read the entirety)
10 of Chris Marker's 37 films
La Jetee (1962)
'Viewers emerge from Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962), a film made almost entirely of still photographs, marked for ever by its imagery yet somehow unsure exactly what they have seen. It is a film that mines deep seams of memory, but whose surface, though hardly forgettable, remains enigmatic in retrospect. After almost half a century, it is still hard to say what Marker achieved in his masterpiece. On the face of it, the half-hour film ought to be easy to précis, because its futuristic plot is familiar to the point of banality. (In Twelve Monkeys, Terry Gilliam's hyperactive "remake" of La Jetée, it's only the clichés that remain.) In the aftermath of a nuclear war that has destroyed his native Paris, a prisoner is dispatched across time to secure the resources that the present lacks. Chosen for his attachment to a childhood memory - the image of a man shot dead on the observation pier at Orly airport - he spirals inevitably back to that moment, which is revealed as the scene of his own death.' -- Brian Dillon
A Grin Without a Cat (1977)
'One of the most towering and extraordinary films to grace the screen! Staggering in its depth and scope. The subject at hand is how, in the sixties, the 'universal standard of civilization' assumed from the fifties began to collapse. The war in Vietnam - that 'nation placed at the convergence of the world's contradictions' - was the watershed, and Marker skillfully and hauntingly depicts its effect. He goes on to show the many civilian-police battles throughout Europe; the revolution within the revolution in Asia, South America, and Czechoslovakia; the space between the police and union stewards into which the French Left rushed in May '68; the assassination of princes (Che Guevara) and the deposing of kings (Richard Nixon); and those Cheshire Cats commonly known as politicians who cannot explain why what was in the air never quite materialized on the ground.' -- Pacific Film Archives
from Sans Soleil (1983)
'It would take a book to unravel all the strands of Marker's work. He's a master editor, and his images and sequences rush by propulsively, often with playful connections: Japanese girls dancing; rituals for the repose of the souls of broken dolls and later for broken scraps of things; prayers for departed animals at a Tokyo zoo followed by a giraffe being clumsily shot in Africa; Krasna attempting to get women of some African islands to gaze back at his camera as he records them; a sequence of faces that stare out at the viewer from Japanese television. In one spectacular sequence, Marker edits footage of a Japanese train, a cartoon of a train, and video-treated images of samurai, horror, and sex films that isn't just a virtuoso display but a key to perception.' -- Henry Sheehan
'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 technique took the place of ideologies "; the blue hypothesis, finally, that of the dream and the imagination.' -- Art Torrents
from A.K. (1985)
'A.K. is a French documentary film directed by Chris Marker about the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Though it was filmed while Kurosawa was working on Ran, the film focuses more on Kurosawa's remote but polite personality than on the making of the film. The film is sometimes seen as being reflective of Marker's fascination with Japanese culture, which he also drew on for one of his best-known films, Sans Soleil. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.' -- Wiki
from The Owl’s Legacy (1989)
'Chris Marker’s epic series The Owl’s Legacy is neither a deeply ‘auterist’ work nor a brilliant piece of Cinema. It is, plainly, the documentation of a thirteen-part symposium on Ancient Greece enabled by the Onassis Foundation and conceptualized by Marker. However, the amount of ground it covers and the number of new directions it opens up for us to think about cotemporary politics, science, culture, law, economy and art (specifically, cinema) makes it one of the richest works of criticism that I’ve come across.' -- The Seventh Art
from The Last Bolshevik (1992)
'One of the major essays of Chris Marker--which automatically makes this one of the key works of our time--this remarkable video (1993) is provisionally about his friend and mentor, the late Soviet filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin (1900-1989), in the form of six video "letters" sent to him posthumously. More profoundly, this is about the history of Soviet cinema and the Soviet Union itself, about what it meant to be a communist, about what these things mean now.... Eloquent and mordantly witty in its poetic writing, beautiful and often painterly in its images, this is as moving and as provocative in many respects as Marker's Sans soleil (1982), which places it very high indeed.' -- Jonathan Rosenbaum
from One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevitch (1999)
'Master documentary filmmaker Chris Marker directs this loving tribute to the late great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, who made such classics of art cinema as Andrei Rublev (1966) and The Sacrifice (1986). The film opens with documentary footage of the tearful reunion between the director and his son, after the latter finally got an exit visa from Soviet officials. Though he was ailing from the cancer that would eventually kill him, Tarkovsky cheerfully talks with his family while drinking champagne. Relying on Marker's lyrical commentary, the film juxtaposes sequences of Tarkovsky on his deathbed, footage on the set of The Sacrifice, and material from his many films.' -- allrovi.com
from Remembrance of Things to Come (2001)
'Remembrance of Things to Come may sound from its title like a cute turn on Proustian concerns, but it is actually a haunting examination of another photographer's work, a body of pictures that Marker seems to conclude reflect the parallel existence of past and future in much the same way he earlier proposed via sci-fi parable. Marker sees Denise Bellon (whose daughter Yannick Bellon co-directed this film with Marker) not quite as a photojournalist, not quite as a documentarian, not quite as an aesthetician. ellon's work coincided not only with her association with the rise of surrealism, but also the false sense of social and political lull that assuaged Europe between the two World Wars. Marker thoroughly mines her photography for all the ethnographic, artistic, historic and philosophical merit it's worth, and if the sensory results are, typical of Marker, more difficult to explain than most other films, the implications he suggests (without ever actually outright pushing) have an intimidating clarity.' -- Slant Magazine
Pictures at an Exhibition (2008)
'Cinema's best known film essayist is still alive and kicking, at age 88, living quietly in Paris. Chris Marker's Pictures at an Exhibition is a walk through a gallery of his photoshopped détournements commenting on art and world history. This is, of course, poles apart from agitprop. The combination of rich and affectively engaging imagery (with a kind of cross-historical hyperlinked quality), subtle humor and light-footed pacing, sutured together with Pärt's delicately uplifting music, moves me into the kind of heartfelt meditative space the Buddha would approve of -- as if we're walking alongside Paul Klee/Walter Benjamin's angel of history, in a space capsule hovercraft scanning its monuments, but with humor and gentle compassion and curiosity, coming so close to the bodies lying on the battlefield we can touch them, feel their breath, and maybe give them some solace with our touch.' -- Immanence
p.s. Hey. ** Brendan, Hey, man. Saw the email, and I'll dig into it and set the Day up in the next day or so. Thanks a ton. I can't wait to lay my eyes on the new work! ** Wolf, Okay, that kind of wins the DC's Nobel Prize for post-centric comments. Cyber-glory is yours, and, not to mention, ours. This is so 'me', granted, but I'm going to vote for a tie. I know, I know. How are you? ** Bollo, Hey. Oh, yeah, you should come over for the festival. I think it lasts three weeks. It's still very tentative, but, last I heard, two of the three other festival curators are at least likely to be Guy Maddin and Christian Marclay, but don't quote me. Soft Pink Truth, mm, that's a nice idea. Not to mention Matmos. ** David Ehrenstein, Joan Didion's face has become very David Lynch as it has aged. ** Postitbreakup, Bummer posts are okay. No sweat. Yeah, you never know. Times are rough, but things can and do come through. I'll wish very big in that regard to help compensate for your medium dreaming. And I'll preserve some wishing for the fiction contest. Don't count on it, obviously, 'cos contests are crapshoot city, especially when it involves something as subjective as fiction's quality, but, yeah, that would be awesome. The French idea of consumer level, pre-existing pasta sauce is seven or eight slight variations on tomato sauce and one basil-based sauce. Given that France = food, it's weird. ** MANCY, Hey. Gosh, it's none of my business, but you and Mark should hang, no? ** Alan, That Naipaul thing is fascinating. Thanks much for that. If there's a way to pry your you-know-what loose, and there must be, I will. ** Sypha, Oh, $90 for 'Strange Landscape' is about right based on the prices I've seen out there. Hm, I know I've paid heavily for books that I've really wanted in the past, but I'm blanking on what books and for how much. One time when I was really broke and when I still had a handful of copies, I sold a copy of my extremely terrible first poetry book 'The Terror of Earrings' to a guy for about $700. That was trippy. ** Mark Gluth, Yesterday ruled, sir, as the comments and FB 'likes' prove(d). Thank you again so much! ** Bill, When do you head off exactly? And when do you get to Paris again? I think the volcanic cloud is sliding into some fairly non-disruptive place, or it was the last time I checked the news, so you should be okay as long as you're not flying to Iceland. ** Casey McKinney, Yep, way cool that the Paris stuff is all lined up. I'm looking for extracurricular sightseeing suggestions. Yippee! ** Steevee, Oh, cool, I'll go listen to the Pitchfork Weeknd booty. Thanks! Any luck on the music/ computer stuff? I haven't seen 'Midnight in Paris' yet, but I think a viewing is imminent. That's really good to hear. Yeah, over here the response to it has been very positive, and even though I live here, I still love seeing Paris in movies. Anyway, I'll go into it with increased hopes. Thank you a lot for sharing your always great opinion here. ** Jon Reiss, Hi, John. Diddy, ha ha, nice. Yeah, she's something else. Coop's good. I like that one, so thanks. I'm good-ish, doing and/or trying to do things that are not bad things. You've got the 'Swarm'? Yikes, I hope you like it. My editor Michael is a super awesome guy. It's a very 'lucky me' situation. Ultra-best of luck with those two agents. Let me know how it goes. Lovely to see you! ** Schoolboyerrors, All so extremely true and wonderfully said about the great Mark Gluth and his great tome. Thank you for the words, man. ** Andrew, Well, most short lived rock stars seem to disappear until the inevitable reunion gigs wherein they so often spoil their former magic with the cold, hard truths that accompany the aging process. Yeah, I read that Oprah just sat there solo pushing the sentimental angle on her 'last' show, which I guess is what her devoted crew would most have wanted? ** _Black_Acrylic, I liked your grad show piece very much. Kudos. The move is this weekend? Wunderbar! Well, there'll be the moving hassles, but there's nothing like having a new, better apartment surrounding you. Man, that is a busy weekend you've got there. Good luck with that, and enjoy as much of it as you can, and I'll look forward to your mid-weekend update. ** Chilly Jay Chill, Hi, Jeff. I'm glad you finally made it back. David E was having problems posting too, so maybe something was up (or rather down) technically on Blogger's end. That's a lot of home problems. At first I thought maybe one of those vaunted tornado swarms had passed through your hood. Yeah, I sent the 'Jerk/TTT" thing ages ago. You didn't get it?! Jesus Christ, I really don't understand what the problem is with France to US mail. I swear stuff like this happens more often than not. Hunh, well, let me wrangle another copy from DisVoir, which should be easy, and I'll try again, maybe with a tracking option this time. Man, I'm sorry for the hassle. Let me sort that out. ** Chris Cochrane, Hey, C. I sent you an email this morning about all that, so I'll leave it there as far as here goes. We should be able to do the Paris without big problems given the actual situation, but we will see. ** Katalyze, Hey, Kat! Yeah, 'Goblin' is really good, I think. Interesting stuff. Super wonderful if you can be around here more, that's for sure! I too so wish you could be there for the London show, but I'll document it for the blog as thoroughly as I can without boring everyone to death, ha ha. That's great about your new place to live! Forgive me, but where exactly in Canada are you living because I'm blanking out on the location? ** L@rstonovich, That was the first time you and Stamm got together? Wow, I'd had this image in my head of you guys as real world buds, but I guess that was just speculative fiction. Cool. How's writing and music and everything else, man? ** Killer Luka, Hey. Wow, I'm running out of superlatives re: this new work, but I think I love this new one especially much. Incredible, maestro! Everyone, Killer Luka aka the artist's artist CL Martin has another amazing new drawing to show us, and it's here, and it's called 'Boy With Eagle', and it's a stunner, so definitely head over there now or asap. Deep bow. ** Schlix, Hi, Uli! How are you doing, man? What's going on? ** Ken Baumann, Ken! Yes, I got and devoured your Mark Leidner book, and it's fantastic, my friend! A 'books I love' post re: it is in the works. 'A Thousand Plateaus', cool. Gosh, I don't think I've ever read more than an excerpt from that, actually. I'll rectify that. You good, buddy? ** Inthemostpeculiarway, Hey. I didn't get to 'Tourist Trap' yesterday due to impinging life stuff, but I have part 1 bookmarked, and hopefully I'll start that journey today if possible. I get this feeling that making Alfredo sauce is no easy task, but maybe I'm wrong, and I admit I'm a bit of microwave-centric kind of 'cook'. I think I'll try a couple of more supermarkets first then look for recipes if need be. Spiders are so weird. Suddenly they're in your pad or car or whatever, but it's like you never see them enter. It's like they aren't born. It's they're sculpted by the breeze out of dust balls or something. People put no smoking stickers on the backs of their cars? I thought it was sort of assumed that you can't smoke in people's cars without asking their permission, but maybe that's an LA thing. A couple of years ago, I saw an American tourist here in Paris wearing a t-shirt that said 'No Smoking Within 50 Feet', and he must have had to walk down the middle of streets here to pull that off given Parisians' smoking habits. Anyway, he was your classic asshole American tourist type incarnate. I can totally see why you kept that card. How curious. Yeah, I read a wrap up on Oprah's last show, which goes to show you the power of Oprah since I don't think I've ever watched her show in my life other than a few youtube clips of Tom Cruise and James Frey making asses of themselves. I thought your day was kind of nice, actually. Mine: Hm, let's see ... oh, K&O and I decided to go the Musee d'Orsay, which is the big sort of impressionist and post-impressionist themed museum here, and whose building, a former train station, is my favorite building in all of Paris, so it's great to be there whatever they're showing. So, we metroed to the Tuilleries, and walked through it to then over the Seine to get there. The weather was perfect, and that area of Paris is so beautiful and is cure for everything that ails one. At the museum, we saw a show of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and photos, and that was interesting, and a show about Gustav Mahler that was mostly a memorabilia show, but it was good too. We were going to see the big Manet show there as well, but we were short on time and it cost extra, so maybe next time. Then we retraced our steps and returned here. They head off to Italy today for five days of wedding preparations, so we said our temporary farewells. I've mentioned that we're trying to set up a Paris gig for 'Them', and, to do that, we need to keep costs at a minimum, and yesterday I talked to the Recollets about the possibility of housing everyone (11 people) here for the duration of the shows, and they not only agreed but gave us a totally incredible deal on the rate, so that's one more obstacle out of the way, and I was very happy about that. I talked to Gisele who's in Utrecht for the 'TIHYWD' shows there about our festival plans-in-progress. She told me that Jonathan Capdevielle, the star of our work and our buddy, is going to be a star of the new film by Philippe Grandieux, who is one of the most genius French film directors, so that's very exciting, and I guess Grandieux really likes our theater pieces, which is very exciting too. In the evening there was a bunch of emailing back and forth about the 'Them' Paris gig, and that was kind of stressful, but we'll see. I guess I watched some TV, hm, yeah, I did, but just this kind of crappy reality show called 'Peking Express' which is the French version of that American reality show where people race around the world. I forget its name. I listened to some music. I'm kind of obsessed right now with this teenaged experimental hardcore Danish band called Iceage, so I mostly listened to them. Uh, and then sleepiness got me. How the heck was your Thursday, man? ** Misanthrope, Basketball can bring out the best in certain people, it's true. Not out of the Lakers however. Cool, so you take Tom, and I'll take Bill, and then we can compare notes over breakfast. ** Math, Hi, Math! You're back in SF now, no? You good? ** Right. Chris Marker is awesome, and I finally got around to using my blog help prove that fact today, and that's the deal, and enjoy, and I'll see you tomorrow.