Monthly Archives: July 2012


est mort.

“PARIS — France’s Culture Ministry has confirmed that award-winning French filmmaker Chris Marker has died, one day after his 91st birthday.
Many critics count Marker, with his experimental documentary style, as among the most influential French filmmakers of the post-war era.
His 1962 classic La Jetee — a 28-minute post-apocalyptic movie comprised almost entirely of stills — is often ranked among the best time-travel films ever made.
It was the inspiration for Hollywood’s Twelve Monkeys, which Marker co-wrote.
Cannes Film Festival President Gilles Jacob called Marker an “indefatigable filmmaker,” paying homage to a director who was still active into his 80s.”

To begi with he didn’t “co-write” 12 Monkeys. Direcotr Terry Gilliam quite properly gave Marker credit as his film, which was written by David Webb People and janet Peoples, was based on Marker’s film. But that’s the ort of thing that happens with a person who has pointedly declined to turn himself into a ‘personality” much less a ‘celebrity” for public consumption. The photograph at the top of this blog entry is one of the very few available of Marker. it was taken surreptitiously when he was visiting the set of Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. Ordinarily when asked for a picture of himself Marker would send one of a cat.


To say that Marker loved cats gets nowhere near describing his relationship to them.

Here’s a rather nice, fairly recent, little documentary about him.

As for the Wiki, it’s surprisingly rather helpful

“Chris Marker (29 July 1921 – 29 July 2012) was a French writer, photographer, documentary film director, multimedia artist and film essayist. His best known films are La jetée (1962), A Grin Without a Cat (1977), Sans Soleil (1983) and AK (1985), an essay film on the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Marker is often associated with the Left Bank Cinema movement that occurred in the late 1950s and included such other filmmakers as Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, Henri Colpi and Armand Gatti.
His friend and sometime collaborator Alain Resnais has called him “the prototype of the twenty-first-century man.” Film theorist Roy Armes has said of him: “Marker is unclassifiable because he is unique…The French Cinema has its dramatists and its poets, its technicians, and its autobiographers, but only has one true essayist: Chris Marker”


“Marker was born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve on July 29, 1921. Always elusive about his past and known to refuse interviews and not allow photographs to be taken of him, his place of birth is highly disputed. Some sources and Marker himself claim that he was born in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Other sources say he was born in Belleville, Paris, and others, in Neuilly-sur-Seine. The 1949 edition of Le Cœur Net specifies his birthday as July 22. Film critic David Thomson has stated: “Marker told me himself that Mongolia is correct. I have since concluded that Belleville is correct- but that does not spoil the spiritual truth of Ulan Bator.” When asked about his secretive nature, Marker has said “My films are enough for them (the audience).”
Marker was a philosophy student in France prior to World War II. During the German occupation of France he joined the Maquis (FTP), a part of the French Resistance. At some point during the war he left France and joined the United States Air Force as a paratrooper, although some sources claim that this is a myth. After the war he began a career as a journalist. He first wrote for the journal Esprit, a neo-Catholic, Marxist magazine where he met fellow journalist André Bazin. At Esprit, Marker wrote political commentaries, poems, short stories and (with Bazin) film reviews. He would later become an early contributor to Bazin’s Cahiers du Cinéma.
During this time period, Marker began to travel around the world as a journalist and photographer, a vocation that he would continue for the rest of his life. He was hired by the French publishing company Éditions du Seuil as editor of the series Petite Planète (Small World). This collection devoted one edition to each country and included information and photographs. In 1949 Marker published his first novel, Le Coeur net (The Forthright Spirit), which was about aviation. In 1952 Marker published an illustration essay on French writer Jean Giraudoux, Giraudoux Par Lui-Même

His love of Giraudoux is truly telling.

“During his early journalism career, Marker became increasingly interested in filmmaking and experimented with photography in the early 1950s. Around this time Marker met and befriended many members of what would be called the Left Bank Film Movement, including Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, Henri Colpi, Armand Gatti and the novelists Marguerite Duras and Jean Cayrol. This group is often associated with the French New Wave directors who came to prominince during the same time period, and indeed both groups were often friends and journalistic co-workers. The term Left Bank was first coined by film critic Richard Roud, who has described them as having “fondness for a kind of Bohemian life and an impatience with the conformity of the Right Bank, a high degree of involvement in literature and the plastic arts, and a consequent interest in experimental filmmaking”, as well as an identification with the political left. Many of Marker’s earliest films were produced by Anatole Dauman.
In 1952 Marker made his first film, Olympia 52, a 16mm feature documentary about the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. In 1953 Marker collaborated with Resnais on the documentary Statues Also Die. The film examines traditional African art such as sculptures and masks, and its decline with coming of Western colonialism. The film won the 1954 Prix Jean Vigo, but was banned by French censors for its criticism of French colonialism.”

“After working as assistant director on Resnais’s Night and Fog in 1955, Marker made Sunday in Peking, a short documentary “film essay” that would characterize Marker’s unique film style for most of his career. The film was shot in two weeks by Marker while he was traveling through China with Armand Gatti in September 1955. In the film, Marker’s commentary overlaps scenes from China, such as tombs which, contrary to Westernized understandings of Chinese legends, do not contain the remains of any Ming Dynasty emperors.
After working on the commentary for Resnais’ film Le mystère de l’atelier quinze in 1957, Marker continued to form his own cinematic style with the feature documentary Letter from Siberia. An essay on the gradual destruction of Siberia’s culture and individuality, the film combines footage that Marker shot in Siberia, old newsreel footage, cartoons, stills and, at one point, an illustration of Alfred E. Neuman from Mad Magazine, all accompanied by Marker’s signature commentary, which takes the form of a letter from the director to his audience. In one sequence, Marker repeats the same collection of shots three times with different commentary: the first one praising the Soviet Union, the second denouncing it, and the third taking an objective stance.
In 1959 Marker made the animated film Les Astronautes with Walerian Borowczyk. The film was a combination of traditional drawings with still photography. In 1960 Marker made Description d’un combat, a documentary on the State of Israel which reminisces on the country’s past and future. The film won the Golden Bear for Best Documentary at the 1961 Berlin Film Festival.
In January 1961, Marker traveled to Cuba and shot the film ¡Cuba Sí!. The film promotes and defends Fidel Castro and includes two interviews with the Comandante. The film ends with an anti-American epilogue in which the United States is embarrassed by the Bay of Pigs Invasion fiasco, and was subsequently banned. The banned essay was included in Marker’s first volume of collected film commentaries, Commentaires I, published in 1961. The following year Marker published Coréennes, a collection of photographs and essays on the conditions of Korea
Marker became known internationally for the short film La jetée (The Pier) in 1962. It tells of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel by using a series of filmed photographs developed as a photomontage of varying pace, with limited narration and sound effects. In the film, a survivor of a futuristic third World War is obsessed with a distant and disconnected memories of a pier at the Orly Airport, the image of a mysterious woman, and a man’s death. Scientists experimenting in time travel select the man choose him for their studies, and the man travels back in time to contact the mysterious woman, and discovers that the man’s death at the Orly Airport was his own. Except for one shot of the woman mentioned above sleeping and suddenly waking up, the film is composed entirely of photographs by Jean Chiabaud and stars Davos Hanich as the man, Hélène Chatelain as the woman and filmmaker William Klein as a man from the future.”

La Jetée was the inspiration for Mamoru Oshii’s 1987 debut live action feature The Red Spectacles (and, later for, parts of Oshii’s 2001 film Avalon as well) and also inspired Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995)

“It also inspired many of director Mira Nair’s shots for the 2003 film The Namesake.
While making La Jetee, Marker was simultaneously making the 150-minute documentary essay-film Le joli mai, released in 1963. Beginning in the Spring of 1962, Marker and his camera operator Pierre Lhomme shot 55 hours of footage interviewing random people on the streets of Paris. The questions, asked by the unseen Marker, range from their personal lives, as well as social and political issues of relevance at that time. Like he had with montages of landscapes and indigenous art, Marker created a film essay that contrasts and juxtaposes a variety of lives with his signature commentary (spoken by Marker’s friends, singer-actor Yves Montand in the French version and Simone Signoret in the English version). The film has been compared to the Cinéma vérité films of Jean Rouch, and criticized by its practitioners at the time.It was shown in competition at the 1963 Venice Film Festival, where it won the award for Best First Work. It also won the Golden Dove Award at the Leipzig DOK Festival.”

What Wiki doesn’t mention is that Le Joli Mai was inspired by one of the most horrendous incidents in modern French history which took place at that time. A group of politically active Algerians were rounded up by the police and drowned in the Seine. Marker’s film does not actually depict this. It’s the film’s “structuring absence.” It’s referenced explicity in Michae Haneke’s Cache.

“After the documentary Le Mystère Koumiko in 1965, Marker made Si j’avais quatre dromadaires, an essay-film that, like La jetée, is a photomontage of over 800 photographs that Marker had taken over the past 10 years from 26 countries. The commentary takes on a slightly different dimension than his previous commentaries by using a fictitious photographer have a conversation with two friends to discuss the photos. The film’s title is an allusion to a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire. It was the last film in which Marker includes “travel footage” for many years.

A Grin Without a Cat, released in 1977. The film’s title refers to the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The metaphor compares the promise of the global socialist movement before May 1968 (the grin) with its actual presence in the world after May 1968 (the cat). The film’s original French title is Le fond de l’air est rouge, which means “the air is essentially red”, or “revolution is in the air”, implying that the socialist movement existed only in the air”

Here’s part one of that remarkable film

there are 9 more parts at You Tube.

Sans Soleil stretches the limits of what could be called a documentary. It is an essay, a montage, mixing pieces of documentary with fiction and philosophical comments, creating an atmosphere of dream and science fiction. The main themes are Japan, Africa, memory and travel. A sequence in the middle of the film takes place in San Francisco, and heavily references Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Marker has said that Vertigo is the only film “capable of portraying impossible memory, insane memory.”

“The film’s commentary are credited to the fictitious cameraman Sandor Krasna, and read in the form of letters by an unnamed woman. Though centered around Japan, the film was also shot in such other countries as Guinea Bissau, Ireland and Iceland. Sans Soleil was shown at the 1983 Berlin Film Festival where it won the OCIC Award. It was also awarded the Sutherland Trophy at the 1983 British Film Institute Awards.”

And here it is.

To close us out a sequence from Le Joli Mai with music by Michel Legrand.