The Last Bolshevik (1992, Chris Marker)

Marker’s most traditional, talking-head-style documentary since Le Joli Mai still has its fanciful Marker-moments, such as an intermission called “Cat listening to music,” which I believe is the same as the segment in his Petit Bestiare, and some graphics created in HyperStudio on his Apple IIGS

Guillaume-en-Egypte, dreaming images from Japanese television:

Computer camel:

Even though it’s mostly interviews on the topic of Alexander Medvedkin, and not Marker’s missive narration, the film is still structured with chapter headings “first letter, second letter,” etc. Aelita (the Queen of Mars) is shown watching scenes from Happiness. Marker visits Medvedkin’s grave, notes that he was born in 1900 and so his life can be used as a measuring stick for the century. But the metaphor is underused since his recorded life largely consists of the flurry of activity around the cine-train and Happiness, then a long silence until his rediscovery in France in the 70’s.

A.M.’s daughter:

Marker met Medvedkin while in Russia with Costa-Gavras and Yves Montand for The Confession, then Marker made The Train Rolls On, which he excerpts here. “He wouldn’t give people films; he would give them cinema.” The cine-train was fascinating, even if it didn’t ultimately lead to more efficient production and a communist worker’s utopian cinema of the people.

A camera that is aimed like a rifle – I WANT one:

“When Vertov was using studio lights on the extras he mixed with real mourners at Lenin’s funerals it was said he betrayed kino-pravda, film truth. But once you see the same kind of lights in the courtroom, you realize that life itself has become a fiction film, a film noir, filled with suspense, where some actors applaud their own condemnation in advance.”

Insight on Vertov and Eisenstein, giving context to Medvedkin’s work. He says Battleship Potemkin was not successful in its own country. “While European film buffs reveled in the sight of the Potemkin sailors, Russian audiences were dreaming of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.” An interviewee tells us that Stalin used to watch every movie made in the country – impressive if true. Best of all is when Marker watches long-lost films from the 1920’s cine-train and finds the birth of moments in the 1932 Happiness – images and editing techniques discovered or invented on the train reused in the feature.

I wonder if interviewee Viktor Diomen was coached when he said A.M. is “outside time. On the one hand, his own time has left very distinct marks on him. He’s like a big tree with its growth rings and its bark marked by the carvings of passers-by.” One thinks of the Vertigo reference in La Jetee, the woman pointing off the edge of the tree, “outside time.”

“Only later did I understand his tragedy – the tragedy of a pure communist in a world of would-be communists.”

The movie gets increasingly interesting and freeform as Marker sets his rifle sights on Russia’s recent past – a very good final chapter, leading to the greatest final paragraph/shot of any Marker film.

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