Ever since I first watched Sans Soleil on VHS (probably by recommendation of John at Videodrome) it’s been one of my very favorite movies. I’d previously seen La Jetee on one of those late-90’s shorts DVDs with a commentary track by the writers of Gilliam’s great adaptation 12 Monkeys. For the next decade, these were almost the only available Marker films on video, but IMDB claimed he’d directed fifty more. With help from the mighty Internet, I set out to find and watch as many of these as possible, reading a couple books and following a few sidetracks along the way. As recently stated in my Post-Dissolve write-up, it’s getting kinda old to make endless projects for myself and finish none of them, so ten years after starting the Chris Marker Completism Project it’s time to declare it a success and organize my mess of Marker posts.

Warning: links go to journal posts… sometimes there are multiple short Marker films per post, or one Marker will be lumped in with unrelated shorts, or I’ll watch the same film twice and write about it in two places. Release years may be wrong, and I’ve chosen English or French titles on a whim.

Thirteen Marker-involved Masterpieces:

Sunday in Peking (1956) / Letter From Siberia (1957) / Description of a Struggle (1960)
La Jetée (1962)
A Valparaíso (1963, dir. Joris Ivens)
The Koumiko Mystery (1965)
If I Had Four Dromedaries (1966)
Far From Vietnam / The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967)
Sans Soleil (1983)
Immemory (1998)
Remembrance of Things to Come (2001, with Yannick Bellon)
Chats perchés / Case of the Grinning Cat (2004)

Three (point one) great filmmaker documentaries:

A.K. (1985)
The Last Bolshevik (1992) / The Train Rolls On (1971)
One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich (2000)

Three more popular features:

Grin Without a Cat (1977)
Le Joli Mai (1963)
Level Five (1997)

Advanced Studies:

Cinétracts (1968) & Blue Helmet (1995)
The Second Trial of Artur London (1970)
Broadway By Light (1958 William Klein) & Eclipse (1999)
Three Video Haikus (1994)
Cuba Si (1961)
Pictures at an Exhibition (2008) & Silent Movie (1995)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Singer (1974)
The Owl’s Legacy (1989)
Junkopia (1981)
Tokyo Days (1986) & Berlin ’90 & Prime Time in the Camps (1993)
Be Seeing You (1968) & 2084 (1984) & We Maintain It Is Possible (1973) & Set Theory (1985)
Matta (1985)
Embassy (1973) & Viva la baleine (1972) & Petit Bestiare (1990)

Also of interest:

The Confession (1970, Costa-Gavras)
It For Others (2013, Duncan Campbell)
Description of a Memory (2007 Dan Geva)
America as Seen by a Frenchman (1960, Francois Reichenbach)
Agnès de ci de là Varda (2011, Agnès Varda)
The Marker Variations (2007, Isaki Lacuesta)
The Battle of Chile (1975-78, Patricio Guzmán)
Happiness (1934, Alexander Medvedkin)
Les Astronautes (1959, Walerian Borowczyk)


There are still some I haven’t found, but none that I’m killing myself to acquire. In this post I looked at some missing films from 1967-1977. I’m also missing subtitles for his Simone Signoret doc from 1986 and La Spirale from 1976, and haven’t bothered with the appalling-looking and untranslated youtube copy of his debut Olympia ’52. I haven’t forgotten the Alain Resnais collaborations, but will get to them in a later post.

Olympia ’52:

Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”

Cluster-bomb:

Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

Cinétracts (1968)

I watched a collection containing roughly half of the Cinetracts, an anonymously-directed series of two-to-five-minute shorts. The first few seemed to be protest-photo montages, and I thought watching a bunch of these in a row would be tiresome so I spaced it out over a few weeks. Some are very different though, telling stories/poems with intertitles or scrawling words directly onto the photos, using different forms of movement and speeds of editing. Some use zooms and dissolves, bringing the photos to life, others are simply long takes of photos interspersed with titles, wordplay, pages from books.

Contributors supposedly included Godard, Marker, Resnais, Gorin, Philippe Garrel (same year he made Le Révélateur), Jackie Raynal (editor on half the Six Moral Tales), Jean-Denis Bonan (Jean Rollin’s editor at the time), Gerard Fromanger and Jacques Loiseleux (later cinematographer for Ivens, Pialat and Yves Boisset). Marker was busy – this project overlapped his SLON collective and Groupe Medvedkine.

Gary Elshaw has by far the most useful work on the Cinetracts online, even if it’s only about Godard’s contributions.

The purpose of the Ciné-Tracts, as with most of Godard’s 1968 film projects, was to offer a critically alternative source of ‘news’ or information in contrast to the commercially offered mediums available. … The state censorship of the media throughout the events of May necessitated communication along different lines than had existed before.

Other online writing on these tends to focus on determining which ones Godard made (and they can’t seem to agree).


Casque Bleu (1995)

Info dump by a cynical Frenchman who acted as a UN peacekeeper during one of the Yugoslav wars. He speaks rapidly in close-up, with occasional title cards for different topics and cutaways to a photo album.

“When you’re in a country at war, armed, and you have orders not to use weapons, in actual fact you are on the side of the aggressor, the one who’s trying to conquer the land.”


Description of a Struggle (1960)

Watched this again with much improved picture quality and English voiceover. Had been burning to see it again since watching Dan Geva’s Description of a Memory. Still great, but I think I prefer Sunday in Peking. Noticed this time when the voiceover said “bar kokhba,” which is apparently not only the name of a John Zorn music project.

Same director, star, writer, editor, cameraman as Z. New still photographer Chris Marker and assistant director Alain Corneau. Instead of communists being attacked by the fascists in charge, this time a group of communists is destroyed by their own party. It’s a depressing slog of a movie, a feature-length torture session ending with the men delivering their well-rehearsed but completely false “confessions” and being sentenced to death.

This time we’re in Czechoslovakia in 1951-1952. Yves Montand plays one of the three who only got long prison sentences, Simone Signoret (a year after the even more depressing Army of Shadows) his wife, and Gabriele Ferzetti as his interrogator Kohoutek (not the subject of the R.E.M. song).

Haunting flash-forwards – the worst of which comes during the trial, when the fourteen men on trial enjoy a hearty laugh and the image bleeds into their ashes being scattered on a frozen road weeks later.

Warok, as always:

D. Iordanova:

The film was an important step in the public expression of Western leftist intellectuals’ disillusionment with Soviet Communism … The Confession was the first film that zeroed in on torture as a seemingly endless ordeal, a systematic and relentless process aimed at delivering a specific outcome.

The Second Trial of Artur London (1970, Chris Marker)

Marker was on-set during the making of The Confession, as was London, portrayed by Yves in the film. Marker focuses on the idea that the book and film can weaken the communist movement by showing horrid things done in its name. Obviously the participants in the film’s production would disagree, and Marker lets them explain why. Unbelievably, after the film’s completion, London is again accused of being a spy and stripped of his Czech nationality. But he is defended: “The witnesses who remained silent in 1952 speak up today.”

My favorite line about the film sets: “A retirement home, unmodified, becomes a prison.”

London:

Watched a couple new Marker-related shorts,
and rewatched some older ones in shiny new copies.


Sunday in Peking (1956) in lovely high definition


Letter from Siberia (1957)

Forgot how amazing this one is.
Songs and animation and opera, owl-led advertisements and imaginary newsreels.

“Since you can never tell how a bear will react to a camera, we were offered the protection of an armed policeman. But since we’re much more frightened of policemen than we are of bears, we politely declined.”

The Irkutsk Dam, “sitting on its own reflection like a station in outer space”:


Le Chant du Styrene (1958, Alain Resnais)

Mostly shots of the factory, with few humans.
Forgot about the rhyming voiceover.


Broadway By Light (1958, William Klein)

From Marker’s intro: “Each evening, in the centre of New York, an artificial day rises. Its purpose is to announce spectacles, sell products, and the producers of these adverts would be amazed to know that the most fascinating spectacle, the most precious product made by them, is the very street transformed by their signs.” Klein shoots the lights of Broadway, scored by cartoon-jazz music that matches the editing and light movement. Wonderful, would like to put this and some Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra shorts on an infinite loop in my office. Klein’s first film (I only knew his Mr. Freedom before), edited by Alain Resnais.


A Valparaiso (1963, Joris Ivens) from the 2008 restoration


Junkopia (1981)

Uses the sort of electronically-processed sound he’d be featuring in his next full-length film, Sans Soleil.


Eclipse (1999)

On a day when everyone is looking at a solar eclipse through special glasses, Marker watches the watchers instead. First half has live sound at a hippo sculpture park, then he switches to slow motion and electronic music and goes elsewhere (the zoo? there are owls).


Description of a Memory (2007, Dan Geva)

I didn’t rewatch my terrible-quality copy of Marker’s Description of a Struggle, but instead tried this doc, the second feature-length film I’ve seen this year made in response to a Chris Marker-related film. Geva shows the Marker film and stills to locals, asks about the people who appeared in the original. Reminds me of Marker’s friend Agnes Varda, her periodic returns to previous films through documentaries and shorts and DVD extras. Geva is investigating images and memories a la Marker and Varda, turning out a worthy follow-up to the original feature.

Of the happy kid riding a cart down a hilly street: “British policeman bashed his head with an iron rod. Gone a bit mad since.

“Noah Rosenfeld, who fulfilled his dream to become a chess champion.”


More Marker:
Far From Vietnam is out in HD. The Confession is also out, and includes the Arthur London short. Mémoires pour Simone still lacks subtitles, as do most of the 1969-1970 shorts. Oh, and it looks like new copies of Description of a Struggle and Blue Helmet just came out – will save those for another day.

“This is a film about objects. It refers to another film about objects.”

“Negritude is an anti-racist racism. It is memory and imagination.”

We used to have this bowl!

“Western countries routinely deny Africans access to these artworks through enforced localization – no western country will grant an African a visa merely to visit a museum in Europe or America.”

Wanted to like this because of the Marker connection – it’s a response film to Statues Also Die. But it’s not for me (it’s for others!). Perhaps these others are people in the art world or postcolonialist academics with a high tolerance for black screens and long pauses.

And whatever this is:

The movie devises itself as it goes, lists off its theories and experiments. Not as elegant as a Marker film. Wonder what Campbell thinks of the opening of Timbuktu.

Incoherence (1994, Bong Joon-ho)

Bong’s half-hour student short has been on my laptop for ages, and since I’d just watched Coherence, I couldn’t resist pairing these. I’m guessing it’s closer in tone to his unseen Barking Dogs Never Bite than his more sinister features of the 2000’s. Three comic chapters, each featuring a man in a position of power doing something immoral (professor reading porn in his office, business exec stealing milk from stranger’s front step, lawyer getting drunk and belligerent) with an epilogue of the three appearing on a panel show to discuss morality and self-control. The drunk prosecutor would go on to play a detective in Memories of Murder.

Light Is Calling (2004, Bill Morrison)

Like a Decasia outtakes short. Scenes from The Bells (1926, James Young), destroyed and decayed, set to serious violin music. The director of Begotten probably cries himself to sleep watching this.

Three Video Haikus (1994, Chris Marker)

Firstly, some manipulated digital video of a river under a bridge.

Catherine Belkhodja from Level Five smokes a cigarette, each exhale punctuated with superimposition of an owl in flight. I think the smoking is the same footage from Marker’s Silent Movie. These first two were set to piano music.

The third has opening and closing titles, static shot of railroad tracks, and electronic sfx, and I think was supposed to be humorous?

Tomatoes Another Day (1930, James Sibley Watson)

I didn’t know indie goof-off sound shorts existed in 1930. Where’d they get the equipment? Oddball talkie featuring a wife, her husband and her lover playing out a predestined scene while flatly speaking their every thought (“You are my husband”). The second half is full of punny wordplay like the title line, which the Portuguese subtitles on Youtube faithfully translate as “outro dia de tomates”.

This is Watson of Watson & Webber, following up their Fall of the House of Usher. A. Grossman, who brought the movie to my attention with a Bright Lights article, calls it a “satire of the redundancy of talkie cinema, in which image and sound are inflexibly congruent” … “a revelation that the silent trance, when granted sound, becomes embarrassingly demystified.”

On Departure (2012, Eoin Duffy)

The Missing Scarf finally showed up online, so after failing to impress Katy with that, I watched Duffy’s other popular success. Depressed alien goes on a business trip… then, as tends to happen at the end of his movies, the world ends. Actually I read an interview with Duffy, and this is about something else entirely, but I’m gonna gonna stick with my interpretation.

Sausage (2013, Robert Grieves)

Local craft food sellers work together to defeat mustache-twirling corporate foodlike-product manufacturer. Populace is easily distracted by whatever shiny new thing tries to catch their attentions. Movie shows the public swayed by price and spectacle (true) and turning up their noses at gross combinations of things like hotdog-in-a-donut (sadly not true).

Three Little Bops (1957, Friz Freleng)

I’d planned to follow up Shocktober with Animation November but cancelled… still watched a few Looney Tunes, though. Wolf vs. Three Pigs story retold in the jazz age. At the end, the wolf dies, goes to hell, returns as a ghost sitting in with the pigs on trumpet. Could they not get a vocalist who could sing on the beat… or is that jazz? Great line: “The Dew Drop Inn did drop down.”

Duck Soup to Nuts (1944, Friz Freleng)

Porky goes duck hunting. Daffy does his thing, gets away.

Ali Baba Bunny (1957, Chuck Jones)

Bugs and Daffy are buddies on vacation together until Bugs digs ’em into an Arabian treasure cavern and DD gets greedy. Showdown with the Sultan’s enforcer follows. DD gets shrunk by a genie. Stereotypes abound, but this is all better than it sounds.

Transylvania 6-5000 (1963, Chuck Jones)

The one with the two-headed bird-witch. Bugs stays at a vampire’s castle, learns some useful magic words. Remade in the 80’s with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis,

Vampire vs. umpire:

Porky in Wackyland (1938, Robert Clampett)

Katy’s first time in Wackyland – she seemed annoyed at just how wacky this was, decried the “darkest africa” bit, asked if that’s what dodos really looked like, and claims scientists are trying to clone new ones.

Boop-Oop-a-Doop (1932, Dave Fleischer)

Less nuts than my favorite Boops can be. A couple terrific visual gags, some good cartoon weirdness (sinister circus ringmaster has a mighty morphing mustache, empty seats applaud on their own) and one song (“don’t take my boop-oop-a-doop away”) but Betty’s act only amounts to whipping lions, and her standard damsel-in-distress scene (saved by Koko the Clown) is uninspiring.

Arcana (2011, Henry Hills)

A half hour of zen based on a “treatment” by John Zorn (a numbered list of things) and featuring his music. I always love Hills’s editing (less extreme here than I’ve seen before), so this is enjoyable and relaxing, with seemingly no rhyme or reason to the order of events. I fell asleep to this a couple times in Georgia but only now watched it all the way through. Katy also praised the movie when I used it once as a kitchen screensaver.

As soon as Castro took over after the communist revolution, Marker went to document the experience, producing a jubilant propaganda film in the style of his recent travel essay films. Not sure if he met and interviewed Castro directly, or is using stock footage – my trusty Catherine Lupton book would tell me, if I had it here.

“Castro has betrayed the revolution,” said the U.S. State Dept. And we know how the State Dept. jealously protects the purity of the revolution. We hesitate to believe this is the main concern of the USA’s avatars of democracy in Cuba. There must be something else.

The same week, I read Susan Howe’s book Sorting Facts, or Nineteen Ways of Looking at Chris Marker, an unusually well-informed (mentions of Tarkovsky and Cuba) poetic examination of Marker’s works.

Pictures at an Exhibition (2008)

Tour through a simple 3D computer gallery, stopping to view each of Marker’s mash-up portraits, some of which I’ve seen before in Immemory. Posted on Marker’s youtube page a few years ago. Gentle, repetitive piano music by Arvo Part. Probably named after the piano suite by Mussorgsky.

Silent Movie (1995)

Nine minutes of classical-Hollywood-evoking footage of a glamorously-lit, black-and-white Catherine Belkhodja, star of Level Five, first in motion smoking a cigarette in different poses, then as a series of stills. The stills of Catherine with eyes closed then open can’t help but evoke La Jetee. This was part of a video installation for the Wexner Center in Ohio, along with essays and photos and posters and more videos – “a highly personal response to the one-hundredth anniversary of the invention of cinema.”

I also rewatched We Maintain It Is Possible, and liked it better than last time, and the English version of Chats Perches.

“The owl is to the cat as the angel is to the man.”