This video, “KINO”—subtitled “A short history of cinema”—appeared on Chris Marker’s Kosinki YouTube channel on October 5th.
Two days later, we receive another Kosinki video, on the mass media response to the bardo-traversing of Steve Jobs. Long live the archive and the archivist.
October 7, 2011 2 Comments
Thus, every self-portrait (unlike autobiography which even when it resorts to a myth such as that of the four ages, is limited to an individual’s memory and to the places where he lived) ceases to be essentially individual except, of course, in a purely anecdotal sense. The writing machine, the system of places, the figures used – everything in it tends towards generalization, whereas the intra-textual memory, that is, the system of cross-references, amplifications, and palinodes that supplants a memory turned towards ‘remembrance,’ produces the mimesis of another type of anamnesis, which might be called metempsychosis; it is, at any rate, a type of archaic and also very modern memory through which the events of an individual life are eclipsed by the recollection of an entire culture, thus causing a paradoxical self-forgetfulness.
Michel Beaujour, Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait
September 19, 2011 No Comments
I had always been convinced that in my small essays, the untold part was more meaningful…”
Chris Marker, Passengers
IMAGINE. Chris Marker’s enigmatic video of August 24, 2011, the day of Steve Jobs’ resignation, sent to some friends and associates without comment, in an email entitled “Guillaume’s Conclusion.”
August 28, 2011 3 Comments
As has become a mini-tradition, we would like to extend a very happy birthday to Chris Marker (a day belated).
Marker is now 90 years old and continues to intrigue and inspire, gather new interest among younger generations, and appear on the cultural radar globally—most recently with Les Rencontres d’Arles’ annual photography exhibition, the release of One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich on DVD, and the Passengers exhibition in New York at the Peter Blum Gallery.
There is so much to say, so much depth and inspiration in this life/work, that somehow the words fail to adequately express our gratitude.
So, we leave it to you, in all your languages, from all your countries… We would again appreciate it if readers could add their birthday wishes and reflections in the comments to this post!
As one of our most long-lasting correspondents just wrote us of some recognitions:
1hr Radio Essay on Chris Marker
(Bayern2 Nachtstudio, Forum Essay 2011, May 17 2011, 20.30 – 21.30) “Wenn ich vier Dromedare hätte” Porträt des Filmessayisten Chris Marker Von Ulrike Haage Podcast (54MB) [link updated 8/1/12 to site of Ulrike Haage]
Another reader says in an email entitled “almost century man”: “ANYBODY NOTICED THAT CHRIS MARKER ACTUALLY REACHED 90 TODAY?” Another commment on a previous post: “I am writing on July 29th, 2011. Chris Marker is 90 today. Bon anniversaire, and long may he live.”
What do you have to say? Feel free to use this space as a canvas of your thoughts on how Marker has touched your life.
July 30, 2011 6 Comments
The release of Chris Marker’s heartfelt, heartbreaking film about Tarkovsky (“le maître” as he once confided), One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich [55 min./2009], is welcome news for both Marker and Tarkovsky fans—who tend to overlap, for reasons that are worth pondering. The film is accompanied by two other films hand-picked by Marker, Three Songs About Motherland by Marina Goldovskaya [39 min./ 2009] and In the Dark by Sergey Dvortsevoy [41 min./2004]. Marker notes that these are “magnificent examples of the present documentary work in Russia.”
Here is Marker’s evocation of the two accompanying films, a text that appears on Wexner’s site, where the DVD can be purchased:
THREE SONGS ABOUT MOTHERLAND, the title of Marina Goldovskaya’s inspired wandering throughout her country, could have been used as a general title for this DVD. Each of us in his manner sings the paean or the doom of a place on Earth that defies any rational grasp. I had the easiest task. Entering Tarkovsky’s world carries you within a sumptuous chorale, a multivoiced fugue that encompasses all that’s Russian. Marina, since years, pursued a patient pilgrimage home, with her unique gift to mix with people and extract the best of them. As for Sergei Dvortsevoy and his blind man, he illuminates the Russian way to embody what has been since Antiquity the natural hobby of sightlessness: prophecy. The night Stalin died, I was on Times Square, besides another blind man: Moondog, the musician. I couldn’t help feeling something metaphorical in this confrontation between blindness and History. There we were, like the apes at the beginning of Kubrick’s 2001, facing an opaque, indecipherable monolith. So is the blind man in his basement, facing the enigma of an opaque, indecipherable country which he manages to graze with the help of his companion the cat, the creature who sees what even the seers don’t see. Sometimes we come to the conclusion that Mother Russia just can’t be analyzed, criticized, dismantled, explained: too complex, too brutal, too elusive, too paradoxical, too cavorting… Sometimes even, to my dismay, she can’t be loved. But still, yes, she can be sung.
June 24, 2011 1 Comment
All images courtesy the artist and Peter Blum Gallery, New York.
PASSENGERS is Chris Marker’s second photographic exhibition featuring images from the Paris Métro. These days, if I wanted to somehow meet Chris Marker, I would probably go to Paris and ride the trains all afternoon hoping for a glimpse of him—it is becoming his natural habitat. But why is an artist/filmmaker/writer, whose work has literally taken him all over the entire world, now so intrigued by the transport system underneath the city in which he lives?
When I first saw Marker’s 1982 essay-film Sans Soleil—a film that defies synopsis—one of the immediate impressions it left me with was the vivid intensity with which the filmmaker was able to process the world around him, even the slightest things. One sequence in the film that lasts several minutes simply focuses on the faces of people riding the trains in and around Tokyo. At various points in the sequence, Marker inserts stills from old Japanese horror films, as if the faces on the train reminded him of the dream-like faces that he remembered from images on late-night television. The sequence thus became not merely a documentary montage of sleeping commuters on their way to the office, but a visual rendering of how the mind works—how memory works.
Marker is at it again in PASSENGERS. Comprised of over two hundred digital photographs taken in the Paris Métro between 2008 and 2010, the exhibition—spanning two galleries in SoHo and Chelsea—illuminates the beauty and poetry that is all around us in our everyday lives, if we only begin to look. Mounted unframed on the gallery walls, the images, predominantly of women, evoke the quality of portraits hanging in a museum. But what this exhibition shows us is that we do not need to take the Métro to the Musée d’Orsay to have the particular aesthetic experience that comes with viewing great art—the Métro itself will do.
This comparison to art comes across most strikingly in a series of larger images Marker calls “A Subway Quartet” arranged on the back wall of the SoHo gallery, which features insets of famous paintings that each image seems to recall. One photograph of a young woman in profile sitting by herself on the train is paired with an inset showing a detail of Nimue, in profile, from Burne-Jones’s Beguiling of Merlin. The strong jaw line, the pursed lips, the angular nose, the deep-set eyes staring straight ahead with intensity—the images match in almost every particular, right down to the woman’s coiled hair, calling to mind the coils around the hair of Nimue. Marker seems to have altered the image somewhat, imbuing it with a softness that is typical of the atmosphere in Burne-Jones’s dream-like paintings. In another photograph from this series, a young girl whom Marker seems to be sitting across from looks straight into the camera with an almost unsettling directness. Marker pairs the image with a detail from an Ingres portrait—which, again, bears a stunning resemblance to the photograph—though there is also a languidness in her direct gaze that is reminiscent of the barmaid from Manet’s Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère.
Of course, that is what is so exciting about Marker’s work. It is hard to view one of his films, or look at his photographs, without seeing connections of your own. There is almost an impatience one feels to leave the movie theater, or the art gallery, and to go out into the streets, or the trains, to begin to capture images yourself. For a full year after seeing Sans Soleil for the first time, a friend and I filmed sequences of daily life all over Manhattan, plummeting the mysteries of the quotidian like visitors from a far-off place. And after seeing this exhibition, I can confess to having photographed—with my cell phone—a couple women standing in a crowd and waiting for the train. Some might dismiss such images as purely voyeuristic, and there is an undeniable boldness in what Marker has done: taking photographs of women on the train, who often are not even aware that they are being photographed, and displaying those images in a New York art gallery and accompanying book. The sleeping woman on the Métro, perhaps coming back from a long day at the office, may have never noticed Marker at all sitting across from her. What would she think to know that her image now hangs in an art gallery juxtaposed to the portrait of the Mona Lisa? But voyeurism is indiscriminate—it is the gaze reacting to an image. Here, it is Marker’s extraordinary gaze that finds the image amid the crowd and isolates it.
“Cocteau used to say that at night, statues escape from museums and go walking in the streets,” Marker notes in a brief comment on the exhibition. “During my peregrinations in the Paris Métro, I sometimes had such unusual encounters. Models of famous painters were still among us, and I was lucky enough to have them sitting in front of me.”
Perhaps Marker’s attraction to the subway lies in the fact that it brings together people from all walks of life and forces them to confront each other, even if only for the length of time between two Métro stations—the Trocadéro and Rue de la Pompe or Pont Neuf and Châtelet. Something about the way that seats are arranged on the subway, how they face each other—unlike on distance trains (with the seats lined up row behind row)—makes the act of looking that much more inescapable. And in that act of looking, the question becomes: what do we see? “I’ve been round the world several times and now only banality still interests me,” Marker says at the beginning of Sans Soleil. “On this trip I’ve tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter.”
In PASSENGERS, Marker has once again tracked his fellow human beings at their most unguarded and banal—nodding off after a hard day’s work, gazing blankly out the window and listening to an iPod, reading a book or a text message—and captured almost iconic images that linger in memory long after you have left the gallery. Anyone who has lived in a major city and taken the subway has seen these images before—but perhaps has never seen them before as images. The girl languidly resting her head against the window does not only exist in the Paris Métro—I have seen her in the subway in New York, I have seen her in a film that Marker made almost thirty years ago in Japan. Like Calvino’s Invisible Cities—in which it is eventually clear that all of Marco Polo’s ponderous descriptions of the cities that he has traveled to are actually descriptions of a single city: Venice—these images from the Paris Métro are truly images that are universal, images from every city. They capture the space in our day when we transition from one place to another, crowded together, but alone with our thoughts—moments that are at once private and public.
One of the most popular features on the Craigslist website is a section called “Missed Connections,” in which individuals write brief descriptions of someone they encountered in the course of the day whom they would like to find and meet again. In an age when technology has increasingly alienated us from real-life contact, these often forlorn messages evince our basic need to connect with someone—and the power of a glance exchanged from across a crowded train. The messages posted to this site are very often of people trying to reach out to someone they noticed, ever briefly, on the subway. The odds of finding the person they are trying to connect with are slight, but every day countless people make the attempt. A trip to Marker’s newest exhibition goes far toward explaining why.
PASSENGERS is on view at Peter Blum Gallery, New York through June 4, 2011. Take the N/R to Prince Street for Peter Blum SoHo (99 Wooster Street) or the 1 train to 28th Street for Peter Blum Chelsea (526 West 29th Street).
April 22, 2011 6 Comments
The following is a press release we received from the Peter Blum Gallery in New York. If you’re in the Big Apple, enjoy!
April 2 – June 4, 2011
Peter Blum is pleased to announce the exhibition Chris Marker, PASSENGERS. This exhibition, opening on April 2, 2011, will be presented at both Peter Blum Soho (99 Wooster Street) and Peter Blum Chelsea (526 West 29th Street). This will be Chris Marker’s third solo exhibition with the gallery.
The exhibition is comprised of more than two hundred photographs taken by Marker between 2008 and 2010. The series, which is Marker’s first in color, are images of passengers traveling on the Paris Métro.
PASSENGERS captures the many private actions and gestures that take place daily in the public sphere. Mothers cradling their children, couples whispering intimately, women wistfully staring out the window or into the middle distance, engrossed in their own personal thoughts. In several of the shots, we see whole train cars filled with similarly disengaged people. Taken as a complete body of work, this series very clearly illustrates the various ways in which people create invisible walls and boundaries in order to cope with modern urban life. Chris Marker further to the photographs he takes, enhances, changes or colors his images on the computer, giving them often an eerie, almost otherworldly presence.
All of the images will be reproduced in a book published by Peter Blum Edition, which will be released in conjunction with the exhibition. The book will feature over two hundred color images with texts by Chris Marker and Peter Blum.
The exhibition will travel to France where it will be included as part of the internationally renowned Les Rencontres d’Arles Photographie Festival in the Summer of 2011.
You can visit the Peter Blum Gallery’s Chris Marker page at www.peterblumgallery.com/artists/chris-marker.
April 8, 2011 No Comments
Avec ses quatre dromadaires
Don Pedro d’Alfaroubeira
Courut le monde et l’admira.
Il fit ce que je voudrais faire
Si j’avais quatre dromadaires.
– Apollinaire [+ epigraph to Si j'avais quatre dromadaires]
On the YouTube channel that goes by the name of Kosinki, Chris Marker has posted an enthralling montage video of photographs from the recent protests (or should we say revolutions?) in the Middle East. You can view this presentation, the fruit no doubt of much paying attention, hours of archiving and arranging here: TEMPO RISOLUTO.
The images fly on to the screen like people emerging on the street. The soundtrack takes you on a journey, paced and tuned to the meter of accelerating change. And of course there are animals…
February 23, 2011 No Comments
Thanks to some enigmatic clues that have surfaced in a Japanese Twitter account and a comment on an earlier post here on L’Héritage de la chouette, we have stumbled upon (or been inexorably led to) a site, gorgomancy.com, that bears the imprint of Guillaume and offers to the woefully deprived seekers of a viewing of Marker’s 1989 television series on classical Greek thought and cultural practice a chance to view it, all 13 chapters, online. The site, designed in Flash, has four items on the menu: the recent movie Ouvroir: A Second Life Wandering with Guillaume-en-Egypte, taking us on an adventure into Marker and Guillaume”s home away from home in the Archipelago of Second Life; the monumental port to Flash and thereby the Internet (sorry, iPad fanatics) of the CD-ROM Immemory; the entirety of L’Héritage de la chouette (with the ability to jump to specific chapters); and finally a strange, chilling retrieved footage documentary of a reconstructed murder called Stopover in Dubai.
In fact, there is more: when you click on the title GORGOMANCY itself, two further and very poignant items are revealed: Pour Elle and Pour Lui. You’ll see…
We would have to speculate that these are all parts of Marker’s oeuvre that he wished, without any fanfare, as is his custom, to offer to the public at this time, in one location. The caméra stylo strikes again. The choice of domain names of course relates somehow intimately with the idea of a dangerous spectatorship, the Gorgon being the mythological order of beings that, gazed upon, turn the gazer to stone. Medusa is the most famous of the Gorgons, but not the only one. In fact, it is a topic in the Heritage of the Owl, as discussed by Jean-Pierre Vernant in the Cosmogony episode:
Le grand problème, c’est le regard de la Gorgone. La question que pose cette espèce de face monstrueuse, c’est que, la voir, c’est toujours la regarder en face. Elle représente, si vous voulez, dans le divin, une puissance qu’on ne peut aborder qu’en la regardant dans les yeux, et en même temps, la regarder dans les yeux, c’est être dèja mort, c’est en quelque sorte prendre sa place, c’est être changé en pierre, c’est-à-dire, rentrer dans un domaine où il n’y a plus ni voix, ni transparence, ni luminosité. Le monde de la nuit. C’est ça que ça veut dire, cette espèce de… La face de Gorgô, dans ces positions, sur les vases, traduit figurativement cette expérience, absolument bouleversante, d’une puissance surnaturelle que… qui vous fascine, et qui en croisant son regard avec vous, en devançant toujours votre regard, vous livre à la mort. Et en même temps, elle est comme une espèce de miroir, parce que, quand vous la regardez, ce que vous voyez en elle, c’est ce que vous allez devenir, une face de mort, un être monstrueux, une tête entourée de ténèbres. Il y a donc, entre l’oeil de Gorgô et vous, quand vous le regardez, une espèce d’échange en miroir, qui fait que vous entrez, fascinés, dans le domaine qui est le sien. Et que, tout d’un coup, vous vous changez vous-mêmes en une espèce de masque, d’invisibilité, de chose monstrueuse.
The great problem is the gaze of the Gorgon. The question posed by this sort of monstrous face consists in the fact that to view it is to always look it in the face. It represents, if you will, a power within the realm of the divine that one can only access by looking it in the eye, while at the same time to look it in the eye is to already be dead, to in a sense take its place, to be turned to stone—to return, in other words, to a domain where there is no longer a voice, nor transparency, nor luminosity. This is the world of night. The face of the Gorgon, in these positions, on these vases, translates figuratively a totally overwhelming experience, that of a supernatural power that fascinates you and that, in crossing eyes with you, in becoming your view, delivers you to death. At the same time, it’s like a kind of mirror; when you look at it, what you see in it is what you will become: a facet of death, a monstrous being, a head enveloped in darkness. There is therefore, between the eye of the Gorgon and you, as you watch it, a kind of mirrored exchange, to the effect that you enter, fascinated, into the domain that is this other’s. And suddenly, you change yourself into a type of mask, an invisibility, a monstrous thing.
This ancient myth is, in a way, the Ur-figure of the idea that lives and breathes throughout Marker’s work, that of “Staring Back.” It is the 1/24th of a second, the single frame that turns you to stone. It is the breaking of the fourth wall, a place where the voyeur, the ‘man with the camera’ becomes trapped by the returned gaze and descends to darkness, to the other side of the camera—and the captured gaze in turn becomes a new species of Gorgon, a mask within the labyrinth of faces entered into the archive across decades, from Koumiko to the Paris Métro, turned to light.
With that, we leave you to enjoy Marker’s GORGOMANCY.
February 6, 2011 9 Comments
We keep one cheshire eye open on the blogosphere and notice lots of people in the first flush of their discovery of the New World of Chris Marker. Usually they are trying to get across some very impressed first impression of either La Jetée or Sans Soleil. There are so many blogs, so many opportunities to self-publish, and so much in Marker that appeals to the current Zeitgeist too that he truly has become “le plus célèbre des cinéastes inconnus.”
“Cheshire Cat,” Sergey Tyukanov
While there are gems to be found in the wild, there is also much unedited thought thrown out willy-nilly on the web. We’re reminded of Marker’s warning, in his Libération interview from 2003, about noise becoming a monopoly. In this as in much else, Marker was prophetic; the noise monopoly has spread, replicated, mutated. At times, it is as if some mesmeric force had stopped people from thinking for themselves but at the same time glued their hands to the keyboard. Marker’s concern at the time was both a cultural landscape over-supplied with mediocrity and the concomitant overlooking of the gems—the diamonds in the rough—by a media sphere on auto-pilot.
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.
It’s that the noise, in the electronic sense, just gets louder and louder and ends up drowning out everything, until it becomes a monopoly just like the way supermarkets force out the corner stores.
It is interesting how much noise comes from both the traditional media and the new media. They form the two Janus heads of the monopoly of noise. The means of reproduction sold en masse as product to the jumpstart artist (or given away with advertising space attached); the public sphere with the volume of the Babel channel of social media maxed; the traditional media, print and television, screaming for attention, in the death throes of empire and ‘repositioning’; the absorption of brick and mortar into the digital; the schizophrenic consumer caught in the spider’s web at the crossroads of the monopoly of noise. This is, roughly, our enigmatic cultural scene today.
Given the era of the monopoly of electronic noise, it’s nice (inevitable, really, given some patience) to come across a well-rounded, useful piece of writing on a subject of interest. That is the case with the article on “The Voice Imitator” blog reviewing Catherine Lupton’s book on Marker, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future. You can read the piece at voiceimitator.blogspot.com. The author, Brian Rajski, gives quite a useful summary of Lupton’s book and in doing so one of the better short introductions to Marker, one that certainly goes beyond the usual repetition of repetitions we have become so used to seeing.
He quotes Lupton extensively, but also summarizes well, and manages to cover the arc of Marker’s career without too much effort and with no pretense.
One thing that was illuminating for me in reading this book review was the reminder of Lupton’s insight into how Le joli mai and La Jetée were made in the same year and about the same city—that they are connected in a subterranean way, two inspections of Paris 1962, one in the mode of “ciné / ma vérité”, the other the scifi “unconscious” of the documentary film, exploding Paris through WWIII and into an experiment of memory, time travel and the fragile extraction of happiness. It is interesting how the two vectors of these films—Le Joli mai being in some ways the most non-fictional film Marker ever made and La Jetée the most fictional—create in a sense two poles between which the essay film can find its path of synthesis and signature. In fact, the essay film is in full flower already in Les Statues meurent aussi: this is the 1953 river that divides in 1962 to test the extremes of the mode, before flowing back together, renewed. Coincidentally, the genesis of La Jetée is also revealed in the Libération interview:
It was made like a piece of automatic writing. I was filming Le Joli mai, completely immersed in the reality of Paris 1962, and the euphoric discovery of “direct cinema” (you will never make me say “cinéma vérité”) and on the crew’s day off, I photographed a story I didn’t completely understand. It was in the editing that the pieces of the puzzle came together, and it wasn’t me who designed the puzzle.
I was also reminded how Marker’s early film criticism and work on the Petite Planète book series serve as inaugural forays into the essay mode that would become over time a whole new genre of filmmaking, ever more influential on those expressing thought through visual means (Marker would no doubt defer the origins to Vertov, Eisenstein and Medvedkin). Lupton is quoted:
‘This developed sense of the physical world in film as the bearer of an inner imaginative reality sheds light on the way that Marker’s own films have used documentary footage of the actual world to map a subjective consciousness, via incisive dialogues between the spoken commentary and the assembled images. Even Marker’s engagements with political and historical subject matter would uphold this principle of revelation, by scrutinizing archival images for evidence of hidden historical realities.’
The review also reminds us of three components of Marker’s work as brilliantly laid out by André Bazin: (1) intelligence as the primary matter; (2) the personal essay as the operative mode; and (3) the multiplication & diversity of media: typewriter, Rolleiflex, 16mm film camera, Sony Handycam, Apple Mac. When Marker in recent years cuts to the chase and just says he’s a bricoleur (Lupton says ‘image-scavenger’), he is perhaps just crystallizing Bazin’s original insights, that have held true to this day.*
From this combination, we see how Marker involves himself all the more fully in his work as he sets up mediating personas and distancing effects. He does not speak in the I, but in transposed voices, the voice of the object, the empathic voice, the alias of the cameraman, the cat or the owl. The personas become as multiplied in the essay film as the media types listed above. Just as Marker was more than ready to give up Gutenberg for McLuhan, he is also seemingly always willing to say farewell to a medium, an apparatus if another suits his current purpose. And these farewells are always provisional, for writing returns in film, photography in the CD-ROM, film in the installation.
January 22, 2011 1 Comment