Marker, Chris: Innovative French Director

The Harvard Film Archive will host a virtual event with legendary filmmaker Chris Marker titled THE SECOND LIFE OF CHRIS MARKER, ON MAY 16. The event, which will take place in the virtual world of Second Life, will be preceded by screenings of Marker’s films May 9-11.

Chris Marker (born 1921) has been a source of continual fascination and endless speculation since he first emerged in the 1950s as one of the most original and elusive voices of the post-World War II French cinema.

A practitioner and early pioneer of the essay film (In a revision of this text Marker was careful to assert that he did not “invent” the essay film and points to Nicole Védrès and her 1949 La Vie Commence Demain as a major influence upon his embrace of the essay form.), Marker’s best known works are animated by a simultaneously playful and philosophical intertwining of documentary and fiction filmmaking techniques and traditions. The dense yet lyrical poesis of montage and voice created across Marker’s films found its fullest expression in Sans Soleil (1982), his celebrated meditation on travel, memory and cultural difference. Among the most politically committed and perceptive European directors, Marker has also created a series of pointed documentary interventions recovering repressed and repressive histories of dissent, whether locally, as in The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967), or globally, as in his tragic, sweeping magnum opus A Grin Without a Cat (1978).

Marker has remained famously indifferent to the popular spotlight – leaving all public appearances to Guillaume-en-Egypte, the ginger cat who serves as his pseudonym, mascot and muse – and adamant about his need for unmitigated independence as an artist (while not ruling out occasional work with select collaborators). Marker’s desire for a fully self-sufficient means of production, together with his search for a liberated narrative form to explore the slippages and superimpositions of individual and collective memory has drawn him to experiment with an incredible range of image technologies, from the photo book in his early years to small gauge 16mm and Super-8 cinema and then to video and video games and, most recently, the CD-ROM and Internet. Marker, whose work from as early as La jetée (1962) is deeply informed by science fiction, has an uncanny ability to predict the future and to be there already. In 2008, a commission for the Design Museum in Zürich gave way to the landmark exhibition Chris Marker. A Farewell to Movies, for which Marker, together with Viennese architect Max Moswitzer, created a cyber museum in the virtual world Second Life in order to reexamine and share examples of his photography, films and installation work. The Harvard Film Archive is proud to join Marker for an extremely rare live tour of his Second Life museum, Ouvroir, on Saturday, May 16th and, as a prelude, to present a focused retrospective of his films.

 

The Case of the Grinning Cat (Chats perches)

In this film Chris Marker offers a lively, roaming examination of political dissent in 21st century France and an energetic return to the film essay form that he pioneered. Intrigued by the enigmatic appearance of an insouciant graffiti cat, grinning from ear to ear, perched defiantly high across the walls of Paris, Marker set out to track the feline pattern and the broader mood of the post-9/11 city. Marker’s search eventually leads him to discover a sudden reassertion of political voice by Parisian youth, a spirited defiance to the American invasion of Iraq and the insurgent French ultra-right, with the grinning cat an icon and emblematic participant.

Directed by Chris Marker.

France 2004, video, color, 58 min. French with English subtitles
Sans Soleil

Marker’s ruminative, melancholy masterpiece channels the imagination of a lonely traveling cameraman—evoked in letters from distant Africa and Japan—into a profound meditation on the creative conjuring powers of memory, place and image. Among the most brilliant examples of the essay film, Sans Soleil uses a lyrical, associative structure to transform modern Japan into a vivid metaphor for the scintillating mosaic of fact, fiction and fantasy that defines the increasingly mediated image world in which we live. A crucial bridge between Marker’s adventurous earlier travel films and his growing interest in media and technology, Sans Soleil is one of Marker’s most dazzling and inexhaustible works.

Directed by Chris Marker.

France 1982, 16mm, color, 100 min. With English narration
A Grin Without a Cat (Le fond de l’air est rouge)

Marker’s incomparable editing skills attained a new level of sublimity and subtlety in his epic chronicle of the international New Left’s spectacular rise and fall. At turns mordant and mournful, A Grin Without a Cat uses an extraordinary range of source material – newsreels, propaganda films and Marker’s own footage – to construct a polyphonic, immersive and critical history of political struggle. “I am not boasting that I made a dialectical film. But I have tried for once (having in my time frequently abused the power of the directive commentary) to give back to the spectator, through the montage, “his” commentary, that is, his power.” – C.M.

Directed by Chris Marker.

France 1978, 35mm, color, 180 min. French with English subtitles
The Embassy (L’Ambassade)

A potent study of political disorientation, state terrorism and exile, Marker’s “anonymous” 1973 Super-8 film reads as an allegory and vivid evocation of the violent paroxysms and unrest roiling Latin America and much of the world at the time.

Directed by Chris Marker.

France 1973, video, color, 21 min. French with English subtitles

The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (La sixième face du Pentagone)

Marker’s charged rendering of the October 21, 1967 march on the Pentagon was made for a French “television magazine” and later distributed by the Franco-Belgian film collective, SLON). Integrating still photographs, voiceover commentary and dramatic actuality footage, Marker’s hard-hitting short represents a forcible mode of alternative reportage, a type of counter-newsreel made during a period of intense distrust of the mainstream media.

Directed by Chris Marker, François Reichenbach.

France 1967, video, b/w and color, 26 min. French with English subtitles
 

Chris Marker’s Second Life, A Live Event

Saturday May 16 at 7pm

In conjunction with the 2008 exhibition Chris Marker. A Farewell to Movies at the Design Museum in Zurich, Chris Marker presented a series of exhibits of photography, film clips, video installations and other media work, all contained within a radically futuristic museum created in the popular virtual world and free Internet portal, Second Life. Designed and frequently updated by Viennese architect and computer guru Max Moswitzer and Margarete Jahrmann, Marker´s museum hovers motionless above the virtual archipelago Ouvroir, a creative geography of mysterious islands, sculptures and uncanny architecture. Over time, Ouvroir has continued to transform and expand as an interactive environment with new structures and exhibition spaces appearing regularly and often containing content related to Marker’s work.

 

Always at the very cutting edge of technological innovation, Marker long ago fully embraced the digital and virtual, producing in 1996 perhaps the only lasting and artistically ambitious CD-ROM, the fabulous Immemory, which expanded Marker’s fascination with the playful mirages of memory, history and the moving image into a nonlinear and engrossingly interactive environment. In 2006, Marker premiered a new film, the one minute Leila Attacks, on YouTube (where it can still be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=iParBp8cS0w). Marker has also been working for many years in digital photography, with a new exhibition, Quelle heure est-elle? opening in May at New York’s Peter Blum Gallery.

 

The Harvard Film Archive is pleased to host a truly historic live encounter with Chris Marker’s Second Life. Marker, who has often been sited – in the form of his avatar – in Ouvroir, has generously agreed to lead a guided tour and offer commentary on his latest creation, including special single-channel presentations of his video pieces Silent Movie and The Hollow Men, an occasion made all the more meaningful by the recent announcement that the museum will be dismantled later this year.