Echo Chamber: Listening to La Jetée by criterioncollection
I’ve always been fascinated with the soundtrack of La Jetée, and indeed the enigmatic, complex soundtracks Chris Marker crafted throughout his long career. Here’s a short video essay to be found in YouTube’s ‘criterioncollection’ channel that delves into this aspect with insightful detail. The film was written & narrated by Michael Koresky, produced & edited by Casey Moore and audio mixed by Ryan Hullings. As Hillary Weston points out on the Blackbook blog, the music alone is a ‘hall of mirrors.’
Marker’s subliminal audio beds have been one of the least foregrounded elements in the endless reviews and critiques his work has received. The juxtaposition of large musical themes with enigmatic background audio is part of his signature. Consciously, the viewer is drawn to focus on the base relationship between the image stream and spoken text/commentary (already requiring a mental engagement rare in cinema). Secondarily, there is often a emotional wash of the main musical themes. Underneath or at times as counterpoint, we are drawn into an underground audio river by subtle synthesizer sequences, foley sounds, ambient sounds, dreamlike audio collages – unfamiliar audio languages registered perhaps only at a deeper level of the human sensorium.
Thinking along these lines recalls the passage of the image in Marker’s work from the documentary image tout court to the distortions of the Zone, as evoked in Sans Soleil. Long before the image veered into the irreality or surreality of the Zone, Marker had woven layers of his soundtracks into a kind of Aural Zone. La Jetée is a prime example, but also already in Les Statues meurent aussi (1953) and Si j’avais quatre dromedaires (1966) there are enigmatic aspects to the soundtracks. There are hints of time going backwards, or sideways, or looping. There are the musical stairs, dream audio of train sleepers in Sans Soleil. There are whisperings in German in La Jetée by the future captors, almost impossible to decipher. In Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the source of the Zone, there is an extraordinary audio move in the ‘railroad’ sequence from realistic to otherwordly ambient. Take a close listen to this…
In Catherine Lupton’s book Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, there is a whole chapter called "Into the Zone". She traces its inception to Quand le siècle a pris formes (1978). She defines the Zone as “a machine with the power to create a realm outside space and time, designed for the contemplation of images in the form of memories.” We might say that zonal audio is the hypnotizing agent that provides access keys to this machine and its nonlinear domain.
Jean-Louis Schefer writes: "It’s that the subject (I don’t know whether to call him the hero or the narrator), confesses, articulates, discovers something that is the constitutive principle of his soul (and no philosophy stops us from imagining this as the producer of synthetic time, an excess)." This ‘Synthetic time, an excess’ is quite like the Zone, the turn from linearity to the spiral, a dominant motif in La Jetée as it was in Vertigo, Marker’s obsession film that resonates throughout La Jetée before being directly investigated in Sans Soleil.
Some further references:
- A post on The Audio Hive, where reference is made to
Sound Design and Science Fiction by William Whittington.
- Damon & Naomi with Chris Marker: “And You Are There” [The Wire], where Marker is quoted as saying "And thanks for linking me to music, the only real art for me as you know (cinema? you kiddin’…)" This testament is shown so well in the ‘moment of happiness’ that is embodied by Marker’s short Chat écoutant la musique’.
- A soundtrack parody can be heard in Marker’s little thriller Leila Attacks!.
- The Business of Mourning by Andrew Tracy on Reverse Shot
May 25, 2013 No Comments
We just received notice of a unique event from Etienne Sandrin at the Centre Pompidou. If you’re in Paris on Tuesday the 18th of March, be sure to visit. A rough English translation is below the original French. Enjoy!
VIDEO ET APRÈS
CHRIS MARKER VU PAR…
LUNDI 18 MARS / 18H00 / CINÉMA 1
Philosophe, écrivain, musicien, cinéaste, vidéaste, plasticien, computer geek, amis des chats, Chris Marker, disparu en 2012, laisse derrière lui une œuvre unique.
Passionnément curieux, résolument engagé, il a accompagné les évolutions et les révolutions sociales, politiques, techniques, culturelles, esthétiques de son temps avec une inventivité et une intelligence inégalées. Cette séance sera une évocation, évidemment fragmentaire de son œuvre, de la création des ‘Petites Planètes’ aux éditions du Seuil dans les années cinquante jusqu’en 2012, avec l’Ouvroir réalisé sur la plateforme 3D Second Life et Gorgomancy, site internet évolutif qui rassemble plusieurs œuvres de l’artiste.
La séance alternera des projections d’extraits avec une visite du monde de Marker dans Second Life, ainsi que la présentation d’un ensemble de contributions d’artistes réalisées à l’invitation du Centre Pompidou, en écho avec son œuvre.
Avec la participation et les contributions d’ Agnès de Cayeux, François Crémieux, Guillaume-en-Egypte, Clarisse Hahn, Isaac Julien, Paul Lafonta, Matthieu Laurette, Pierre Leguillon, Rainier Lericolais, Andrés Lozano, Max Moswitzer, Annick Rivoire, David Sanson, Caecilia Tripp, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.
Here’s a rough translation:
Philosopher, writer, musician, filmmaker, video artist, visual artist, computer geek, friend of cats, Chris Marker, vanished in 2012, leaves behind him a unique body of work.
Passionately curious, resolutely engaged, he accompanied the evolutions and revolutions of his time – social, political, technical, cultural, aesthetic – with an inventiveness and intelligence without equal. This showing will be an evocation, fragmentary of course, of his work, from the creation of the “Petites Planètes” books at Éditions du Seuil in the ’50s all the way to 2012 with Ouvroir, realized on the 3D platform of Second Life, and Gorgomancy, an evolving website that brought together multiple works of the artist.
The showing will alternate screenings of extracts with a visit to Marker’s world in Second Life, along with the presentation of a group of artistic contributions, brought about at the invitation of the Pompidou Center and resonating with Marker’s work.
With the participation and contributions of Agnès de Cayeux, François Crémieux, Guillaume-en-Egypte, Clarisse Hahn, Isaac Julien, Paul Lafonta, Matthieu Laurette, Pierre Leguillon, Rainier Lericolais, Andrés Lozano, Max Moswitzer, Annick Rivoire, David Sanson, Caecilia Tripp, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.
March 13, 2013 1 Comment
An hour-long entretien has been published on France Culture: “Chris Marker (1921-2012),” in the collection “Une vie, un oeuvre” curated by Matthieu Garrigou-Lagrange. This eloquent, personal and erudite conversation is hosted by Virginie Bloch-Lainé; participants include Claude Lanzmann, Régis Debray, Raymond Bellour, Arnaud Lambert, Bruno Muel, Eric Marty and Edourd Waintrop. You can listen to the conversation embedded below or go to www.franceculture.fr to listen, read a summary, and browse selected links and images about Marker.
The arc of the conversation begins with Marker’s origins and early films and concludes with the period where he remained mostly in Paris (with forays into the ‘retreat’ of Second Life) at the helm of his media control center, bringing the world he had traveled to him via global networks and the many monitors that populated his atelier (as shown in several Angès Varda stills). Though his life was both veiled and encrypted in his work, we hear also of the man himself from those who knew and admired him.
December 5, 2012 2 Comments
As many, I am speechless to learn of the passing of Chris Marker. He lives on in our hearts and minds, in his incomparable work, in the inner sanctum of eternity—”au lieu d’un mort, on fait un éternel.” Much will be written; for now we feel.
July 30, 2012 39 Comments
In the recent Winter 2012 issue of October, Trevor Stark has published an impressive essay entitled “‘Cinema in the Hands of the People’”: Chris Marker, the Medvedkine Group, and the Potential of Militant Film.” Thankfully not put behind a pay wall, the article is available for download from mitpressjournals.org.
Stark takes a comprehensive look back at the rencontres of filmmakers and striking workers under the name Groupe Medvedkine, situating Marker’s role and that of many others in the making of À bientôt j’espère (1967-68) and Classe de lutte (1968), while connecting the film-making initiatives to Marker’s personal journey excavating the legacy of Alexander Medvedkine. He also touches strikingly on Godard’s attempts to tackle issues of self-representation of workers in his Groupe Dziga Vertov, “with its parallel but ultimately irreconcilable claims for self-reflexivity, collectivity, and class consciousness” (119).
In the process of reading this piece, we get to know the broad canvas and many fascinating details; its focus includes but is in no way limited to Marker’s involvement. Indeed, we encounter some of the lesser-known activists and their vital roles in a period of strikes, self-education and the realization of cultural production/consumption loops on the part of these engaged workers.
Between 1967 and 1971, a group of workers at the Rhodiaceta textile factory in Besançon, with no prior training or experience in cinema, produced a number of extraordinarily variegated films reflecting what Kristin Ross has called “the union of intellectual contestation with workers’ struggles” that culminated in 1968. (119)
The essay provides historical context and close readings of À bientôt j’espère by Marker, Mario Marret and SLON and Classe de lutte, the Medvedkine Group’s first collective film. Stark relates how, shortly after the occupation of the Rhodiaceta factory, Marker received a letter from René Berchoud informing him what was going on and inviting him to visit personally: “If you aren’t in China or elsewhere, come to Rhodia—important things are happening” (121). In this context, Stark recalls one of Marker’s earliest publications: Regards sur le Mouvement ouvrier, co-authored with Benigno Cacérès. Marker left Loin de Vietman on the editing table to come, accompanied by cinematographer Pierre Lhomme and others.
One of À bientôt j’espère‘s voice-overs—dialed back in this film from Marker’s usual deep weaving of commentary and image, as Stark notes—states: “The tangible result of the strike is not the percentage of pay augmentation achieved but the education of a generation of young workers who have discovered in the identity of their conditions, the identity of their struggle” (123). In the era of Occupy, it is fascinating to read this summation: “As attested by the men interviewed in the film, what was most shocking was the experience of entering the factory and feeling calm, of setting up a cinema in the factory, of dancing, of appropriating the space of dehumanization as a space for community” (123-24). The essay, in dealing with Classe de lutte later, shows how the representation of women, largely missing from the first film, is foregrounded in the second.
There is a kind of historical palimpsest brought to life here too. The essay opens with two quotes, one from 1871 by August Villiers de l’Isle-Adam regarding workers taking on the work of philosophers, the other by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, coming to Besançon to parrot and appropriate the idea of a common culture. In between these citations lie two other eras, the Stalinist era that all but swallowed the creativity of Alexander Medvedkine and Dziga Vertov, and the May ’68 era that brought French filmmakers to the factories and streets. The eras link, but not without friction. The names Medvedkine, Vertov, Marker, Godard are more ciphers than protagonists; they seek, in a sense, to disappear into a collective fabric, never entirely successfully. The real protagonists are the workers, and their encounters not just with film but with film-making.
Stark’s essay, strong on history, has some nice theoretical moments to it as well. He draws on Jean-Luc Nancy’s concept of the “inoperative community” (communauté désoeuvrée), on Guy Debord, Deleuze, Lukács and Lucien Goldman, always tactically and in context, never imposed on top of the main exposition. In addition, the scholarship is patient and exploratory, giving us a sustained feed of context surrounding the strikes, the issues, the films and the times. The background on Pol Cèbe, a key figure in the events chronicled, is in-depth and fascinating. Stark is honest about the workers’ reaction to À bientôt j’espère: one claims they have been exploited, another accuses Marker of being a romantic who “has seen the workers and the union romantically.” Marker responds (in part):
We have also carried out a parallel activity, putting cameras and tape recorders into the hands of young militants, led by a hypothesis that is still evident to me: that we will always be at best well-intentioned explorers, more or less friendly, but from the outside; and that, as with its liberation, the cinematic representation and expression of the working class will be its own work. (126)
We encourage you to read the whole essay to learn more about the Medvedkine Group’s films; Marker’s revelatory discovery of Medvedkine himself; the parallels and disjunctions between Medvedkine’s ciné-train and the work during the French strikes; the factography/operativism movement of Tret’iakov; the work of Godard’s Vertov Group and the gaps both in his films and between the two auteurs; the ensuing bureaucratic interruption of filmmakers and workers by the French Communist Party itself; and the paradoxical and presumptuous philosophy of class consciousness that does not know itself, as seen in Goldman and Godard.
April 30, 2012 6 Comments
As you probably know by now, swimming as we are in era of no news is new news, Chris Marker’s incomparable masterworks La Jetée and Sans Soleil have been released again, this time on Blu-Ray by Criterion. Originally paired on DVD in a French edition by Arte Video in 2003, the films came to Criterion DVD in 2007.
I believe some of the extras on the Blu-Ray edition, released last week on February 7, 2012, are new, others appearing already on the earlier release (and, indeed, some already on the Arte DVD). Junkopia‘s inclusion is, I believe, new. I’m going to have to spend some money to find out for sure. A partial list of extras is presented by Criterion for the GUILLAUME-APPROVED EDITION:
- Restored high-definition digital transfers, approved by director Chris Marker, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
- Two interviews with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin
- Chris on Chris, a video piece on Marker by filmmaker and critic Chris Darke
- Two excerpts from the French television series Court-circuit (le magazine): a look at David Bowie’s music video for the song “Jump They Say,” inspired by La Jetée, and an analysis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and its influence on Marker
- Junkopia, a six-minute film by Marker, Frank Simone, and John Chapman about the Emeryville Mudflats
- PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Marker scholar Catherine Lupton, an interview with Marker, notes on the films and filmmaking by Marker, and more
For a (technical) review of the Blu-Ray with some nice screen captures, see: criterionforum.org. This reviewer, Chris Galloway, is most impressed by the high-definition transfer of La Jetée: “contrast is perfect with rich blacks and distinct gray levels…” He is, however, left wanting to know more about Marker himself. Clearly, that’s going to take more work than viewing the extras. As Montaigne said, “All the world knows me in my book, and my book in me.” The work is the life-mirror. Convex or concave, this mirror is the gateway to the man, biographies be damned.
Speaking of biography, Marker fans will perhaps know of the far-ranging new website on Marker located at chrismarker.ch (sub-titled “On a Quest from Switzerland”). It’s quite an experience—full of arcane research, humour and crazy little graphics, hard on the eye and surely subject for a different post—but en bref, directly on the home page we’re presented with a wild ride of phantasmagorical biography, that goes from Mongolia to Chinese pirates to the Himalaya, then Argentina (“pour ses études, en échange Nostradamus des écoles primaires”), before arriving in Paris. If you read French, definitely take this new site for a weekend Harley (or Ducati) ride through the Alps. Don’t miss the great page on censorship and the fascinating one on music in Marker’s films.
But back to the Blu-Ray. You can get a look at the packaging on a different page of the Criterion Forum. Guillaume holds a sign above the Blu-Ray mark on the sticker, partially obscuring a revered Japanese cat (the nerve).
The Criterion Collection is known to cinéphiles throughout the world. I was curious how they summarized their work, and found this passage on their site, criterion.com:
Each film is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen. Every time we start work on a film, we track down the best available film elements in the world, use state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then take time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound. Whenever possible, we work with directors and cinematographers to ensure that the look of our releases does justice to their intentions. Our supplements enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director’s cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards.
So, what exactly is Blu-Ray? Guillaume may know more than we do, but maybe it’s worth defining a term once in a while. So off to Wikipedia:
Blu-ray Disc (official abbreviation BD) is an optical disc storage medium designed to supersede the DVD format. The plastic disc is 120 mm in diameter and 1.2 mm thick, the same size as DVDs and CDs. Blu-ray Discs contain 25 GB per layer, with dual layer discs (50 GB) being the norm for feature-length video discs. Triple layer discs (100 GB) and quadruple layers (128 GB) are available for BD-XL re-writer drives.
The name Blu-ray Disc refers to the blue laser used to read the disc, which allows information to be stored at a greater density than is possible with the longer-wavelength red laser used for DVDs.
So now you know nothing new about the films themselves, but suffice to say they will look as good as it gets outside of real screenings (real reels, real projectors, real audience, fake popcorn). Enjoy, and let us know what you think. O, and one more thing: have you noticed how Chat écoutant la musique has begun to go viral? 44,272 views (and counting) on YouTube in this upload. If you search twitter for Chris Marker, you’ll see what I mean. Even Criterion tweeted about it recently. Maybe this short, exquisite rêverie is on its way to becoming the 3rd most famous film by the most famous of unknown filmmakers.
February 12, 2012 No Comments
From Chris Marker’s collection Bestiaire aka Petit Bestiaire (1990), consisting of three ‘video haikus’:
Chat écoutant la musique – 2:47 min, color, sound
An Owl is an Owl is an Owl – 3:18 min, color, sound
Zoo Piece – 2:42 min, color, sound
January 29, 2012 No Comments
The tradition continues. Last year—it seems like yesterday—we received the Year of the Cat virtual postcard, with the Wikileaks theme. In 2010, it was the Year of the Tiger, as the beast came after a fleeing flying Guillaume, with the tagline “Best Wishes, Considering.” In 2009, it was a crocodile surfacing from a drowned future Copenhagen of 3009 and the failure to deal with global warming, with Guillaume flying by in a mini time-travel ship. This year to come, the message is Occupy, with Guillaume sitting firmly on the tail of the dragon. The email subject line, by the way: OCCUPY THE WORLD!
We see these as part of the long history of emblems, visual crystallizations of concepts. Marker’s wry humor, political ire and digital composition skills create a personal greeting combined with a global summary of the Situation. We’re glad Guillaume doesn’t have to be wikiproofed or on the run in 2012. He’s holding his ground, as many are (even the girl with the dragon tattoo, which has walked off her back and on to this enigmatic rock against the apocalyptic sky).
December 28, 2011 No Comments
“He always said that even the best actor knows that the camera is pointed at him, and that the spontaneity, the innocence, the beauty of expression on a face cannot be truly captured except when the person is not conscious of being photographed.”
Peter Blum on Chris Marker
First off, there’s the lingering taste of an assumption that borders on what once was called by the dialecticians of enlightenment the ‘jargon of authenticity.’ The mind drifts around the thought eddy that the human photographic subject as actor, by the mere conscious knowledge of being filmed or photographed, loses something ineffable, some bit of truth in self-presentation to the world. Clandestine documentary, on the other hand, offers heroically to capture this lost parcel of authenticity (the long lost Benjaminian aura?), the subject unaware of the means of reproduction that causes, if even minimally, a change in visual self-presentation.
One could surmise that, following Foucault’s ‘panoptism’, the world of the photographic unconscious—that is, the pristine subject—may actually have to a large degree disappeared; there is now, especially in urban zones, always the presumption of the camera—not the camera of the clandestine artist, but the surveillance apparatus: ubiquitous, proliferating, causing adjustments of behavior by its very presence, as did the central tower of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, whether occupied by an agent of surveillance or unoccupied and merely virtually present as visual threat, implied in the very design that strips one of privacy. The Eye of Mordor, always searching for the Ring, and its bearer.
One might go further and think that the very proliferation of cameras in public spaces gives rise to a kind of disinterest or banality of the quotidian, such that the modification of one’s own comportment in public space undergoes a subtle reversal. The subject, in this scenario, grows so accustomed to the idea of being captured (literally and figuratively), inscribed into the machinic memory system, that it is no longer necessary to internalize the surveillance apparatus, no longer necessary to adjust one’s behavior always already towards auto-surveillance and self-policing.
One can see this small thought of liberation from panoptism play out in the occupy movements, as they escalate a reclaiming of public space to promote a disregard for the old kafka-type spys and the Panopticon in favor of a new modality. This new modality takes the means of reproduction available on cell phones, plugged as they are into the social media machine, and turns it against power, forcing the police into their own situation of panoptism, of the eternal possibility of being recorded, posted to a viral social media machine that propagates a kind of anti-panoptism, without central tower, without Castle, without Eye.
However, with these thoughts we are still in the mode of duality, of power and resistance—but the moment for this paradigm, long pronounced dead, to truly disappear may not yet have come, simply because the still somehow Empowered, fully equipped with their police forces, armies and crumbling economies, while certainly on their way out, have maddeningly not quite gone away. The King may be dethroned but then one has to deal with the military, as in Egypt.
Nonetheless, the Kafka informants, perhaps epitomized best in the DDR Stazi (that is, Stalinist) system of syping and informing on your neighbor, may have jumped ship and come to work for another, masterless enterprise that itself is less capable of or interested in hierarchical control due to its rhizomatic and viral nature—and for those very reasons baffling to the older machines of technology (panoptism) and social paranoia (informants).
For documentary theory, the real has long been suspect and documentarists, including Heisenberg and ‘reverse ethnographers’ (like the unsurpassed Jean Rouch), have long known that the camera trained on a subject changes the subject. Marker himself shows back in Lettre de Sibérie how montage of documentary footage combined with commentary can present a potentially endless series of possible realities, each virtually co-existing, products of choices of mise-en-scène, montage and the vital, flexible relations of voice/text and image. The old Kuleshov effect fed into a fractal generator…
Our thoughts here, laid out in some haste and worthy someday of greater elaboration, are triggered by this video (below) and in particular the quote (above) in which Peter Blum speaks of Marker’s photographs on the occasion of the recent exhibition at Arles. Revisiting Marker’s old metaphor of photography as a hunt: “La photo, c’est la chasse, c’est l’instinct de chasse sans l’envie de tuer. C’est la chasse des anges… On traque, on vise, on tire et — clac! au lieu d’un mort, on fait un éternel.” There is as much a recognition of the primordial violence of photographic inscription here as there is the dream of its transformation into an art of peace.
Video Source: Arte.tv: Arles : les portraits numériques de Chris Marker
December 21, 2011 No Comments
Episode 1 of “Agnès de ci de là Varda” on arte.tv gives viewers a rare glimpse into Chris Marker’s atelier, replete with audio-visual & computer equipment, books, clippings, cats & owls, totemic miscellanea, and a bit of the voice-off of Marker himself. Here is an endless sprawl of creation out of the personal archive, the living space of the magnetic bible continuously remembering itself. Here the traces of travel, of nomadic photo- and cinematography—come to some sort of slow-spiraling gravitational orbit in the artist’s loft, a kind of ground zero of the mnemonic.
Agnes de ci de là Varda
Série documentaire réalisée et commentée par Agnès Varda
(France, 2011, 45mn)
Thanks to japanese forms for the letting us know about this fascinating mini-doc by Marker’s longtime friend and fellow filmmaker.
December 19, 2011 2 Comments