“Why sometimes do images begin to tremble?”

From the film:

1967 saw the arrival of a rather peculiar breed of adolescents. They all looked alike. They would immediately recognize each other. They seemed to posses a silent but absolute knowledge of certain issues but to be totally ignorant about others. Their hands were unbelievable skillful at pasting up posters, handing paving stones, spraying on walls short and cryptic messages which stuck in the memory, all the while calling for more hands to pass on the message they’d received but had not completely deciphered. Those fragile hands have left us the mark of their fragility. Once they even wrote it on a banner. “The workers will take the flag of struggle from the fragile hands of the students.” But that was the following year.

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Watched the 3-hour 2008 edit with English narration. There are so many versions of this out there… maybe next time I can watch the 2008 or 1977 French with subtitles.

I thought I’d have more to say about it… three hours’ worth of Chris Marker’s most celebrated film, but I don’t really. Marker is mainly credited as an editor here, arranging others’ footage to show a bigger picture. There’s no wall-to-wall narration, just pops up occasionally. And I’m starting to notice a real sadness beneath many of Marker’s films… the same feeling in Chats Perches is present here. Glad I prepped a little by watching Sixth Side of the Pentagon and Battle of Chile, but I still had to check on wikipedia to see what exactly happened in Bolivia (Che Guevara killed Oct. 1967) and Prague (Jan-Aug 1968, attempted reform of Czech socialism led to 30 years of Soviet military occupation). The movie isn’t here to teach basic history of revolution – assumes you know something already, and since I quit reading The People’s History of the United States before it reached the 1900’s, I do not. Still, was able to follow the movie, thought lots of the footage was excellent, enjoyed watching and learned a little. Some segments have little gems of Marker wit in their editing or narration, but much of it is making connections between different scenes of revolution, both real and wishful, and thinking about what has been achieved, what might have been achieved. Really have to watch again sometime.

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Either this was an early use of the electronic soundtracks that Marker would use in Sans Soleil and beyond, or the sound on my copy of the movie was pretty badly distorted. Or, more likely, both. The sound got worse during part two – there were some sections when I couldn’t make out any of the (English) dialogue.

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Video and audio footage by: Pierre Lhomme (Mother and the Whore, Le Joli Mai, Army of Shadows), Etienne Becker (The Spiral, Le Joli Mai, Malle’s Calcutta), Michele Ray (Latcho Drom), Francois Reichenbach and his crew, Harald & Harrick Maury (The Owl’s Legacy, Day For Night, In the Year of the Pig), Théo Robichet (Band of Outsiders), Pierre Dupouey (Silence… on tourne), Raymond Adam (Jodorowsky’s Tusk), Paul Bourron of the Dziga Vertov Group, Willy Kurant (Far From Vietnam, Masculin-Feminin, Pootie Tang), Peter Kassovitz (Jakob the Liar), Paul Seban (Welles’s The Trial), Michel Fano (Rivette’s The Nun), Fernand Moskovitz (Last Tango in Paris), Yann Le Masson (Je t’aime moi non plus), Mario Marret & Carlos de los Llanos (À bientôt, j’espère), Jimmy Glasberg (Sans Soleil, Shoah), Robert Dianoux (Africa, I Will Fleece You), Jean Boffety (Thieves Like Us, Je t’aime je t’aime, Adieu Philippine), Robert Destanque (Joris Ivens’s The Threatening Sky), Hiroko Govaers (Terayama’s Fruits of Passion), Michel Cenet (Celine and Julie Go Boating), and an excerpt from Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. That is quite a list of collaborators, though you never hear anyone talking about them.

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English voices: Jim Broadbent (Brazil), Cyril Cusack (Fahrenheit 451), Robert Kramer (dir. Ice, Against Oblivion), Alfred Lynch (The Hill), and numerous British 1970’s TV actors.

“You can never tell what you might be filming.”

Quotes and other reactions:

Icarus Films calls it an “epic film-essay on the worldwide political wars of the 60’s and 70’s: Vietnam, Bolivia, May ’68, Prague, Chile, and the fate of the New Left.”

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J. Hoberman: “Marker begins by evoking Battleship Potemkin, and although hardly agitprop, A Grin Without a Cat is in that tradition—a montage film with a mass hero. Unlike Eisenstein, however, Marker isn’t out to invent historical truth so much as to look for it. (The untranslatable French title, Le Fond de l’air est rouge, is a play on words suggesting that revolution was in the air but not on the ground.)”

Paul Arthur: “In its rhythms and editing structures, Grin tries to embody the very shape and textures of historical transformation, rendering the abstraction of change as an amalgam of rapid, plurivocal, uneven, and, at times, contradictory forces aligned in provisional symmetries encompassing past, present and future perspectives.”

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Y. Meranda: “The editing de-emphasizes the narrative structure and instead stresses the poetical interrelationships of the sequences by putting almost all of them out-of-context. … Paralleling the visual editing, the sound editing is more based on poetical considerations than on intellectual ones. … Because there is very little attention paid to the intellectual arguments and because the style goes beyond making statements about a political ideology, A Grin Without a Cat becomes much more than a left wing documentary about the left: It achieves to be a poem about revolting against the system (and not just the political system), the conformity and the order. It suggests that it is an eternal struggle that is supposed to fail (as was in the case of the New Left) most of the times. This universality, achieved by Marker’s distinctive style, is what makes the film great.”

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Excerpts from the Lupton book:

“Marker explicitly pitched the film against what he saw as the historical amnesia surrounding the period promoted by its treatment on television, where ‘one event is swept away by another, living ideals are replaced by cold facts, and it all finally descends into collective oblivion.'”

Movie is partially composed of outtakes from other projects. “Introducing the published script, Marker wrote that he had become curious about all the material that had been left out of militant films in order to obtain an idealogically ‘correct’ image, and now wondered if these abandoned fragments might not yield up the essential matter of history better than the completed films.”

“As a groundbreaking work of visual historiography, Le Fond attempts nothing less than to give cinematic form to the chaotic and contradictory movement of world history during the tumultuous decade that it covers.”

“The reappearance of cats, even in this thoroughly politicized context, is a signal that Chris Marker was beginning to re-emerge from the anonymity of unsigned militant productions and to reintroduce into his work the familiar tokens of his own distinct presence.”

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Chris Marker:

Scenes of the third World War 1967-1977

Some think the third World War will be set off by a nuclear missile. For me, that’s the way it will end. In the meantime, the figures of an intricate game are developing, a game whose de-coding will give historians of the future – if they are still around – a very hard time.

A weird game. Its rules change as the match evolves. To start with, the super powers’ rivalry transforms itself not only into a Holy Alliance of the Rich against the Poor, but also into a selective co-elimination of Revolutionary Vanguards, wherever bombs would endanger sources of raw materials. As well as into the manipulation of these vanguards to pursue goals that are not their own.

During the last ten years, some groups of forces (often more instinctive than organized) have been trying to play the game themselves – even if they knocked over the pieces. Wherever they tried, they failed. Nevertheless, it’s been their being that has the most profoundly transformed politics in our time. This film intends to show some of the steps of this transformation.

More images:

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The Chairman:
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Funeral in Prague:
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Last footage ever shot of Salvador Allende:
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Allende’s daughter, who would commit suicide in 1977:
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Fidel in Russia:
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Enormous cats (no owls):
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Nixon looks on:
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A different kind of movie than the other Marker works I’ve seen. Really this is what I’d been waiting for: the politically-engaged street filmmaking of the 60’s and 70’s combined with the travelogue gaze and personal essay style (with distancing commentary) of Sans Soleil. Didn’t fill me with joy like most of Marker’s movies do, however… more contemplative and sadder, takes more time to think about each section and let them all sink in. Uses public artwork of cats to weave from Sept. 11th reactions to political situations in France to the death and imprisonment of friends and entertainers in such a way that, like Sans Soleil, I don’t realize what the film is about until I watch it again. Two versions of the film… first time I played it with English narration, then a couple weeks later I ran the French version with live sound and no narration, just scattered intertitles. Shockingly (since I usually love Marker’s narrations) I liked the second way better. But then, I got more out of it having just seen the English version. So I’d recommend both as a double-feature!
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Quotes below are from the English commentary.

Opens with a flash mob in Paris. People mill around opening and closing umbrellas, to music from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
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November 2001 Paris. September 2001 New York.
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Cats on a roof, on buildings high and low, hidden in a tree.
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The metro, a bridge, signs of Paris from long ago. Presidential election at the end of year… the left is split, so the far-right candidate Le Pen comes close to challenging the incumbent Chirac, who is defensively re-elected after protests in the streets against Le Pen.
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“Let’s face it: these girls with their war paint are lovely, but the fascist legions are not besieging our gates. And if Le Pen is a dictator, it’s mainly against his own people. Yet what we see here coming onstage is an entire generation that was spoken of as being apolitical.”
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More about the cat, appearing in the evening news and all over the internet.
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March 19th, Bush (backed by Blair) declares war on Iraq, but UN inspectors find no weapons. More street protests in Paris, but as with the American protests of the time, they’ve splintered into hundreds of mini-demonstrations. “Why should the streets of Paris be less chaotic than the rest of the world.”
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The plundering of Iraqi museums in April, a “die-in” for the victims of AIDS in June. “In these times, we the people gathered to watch eleven billionaires kicking a ball. What about the French team? Stalinesque-sized posters, as we had never seen the like of in Paris – and not one goal recorded.” More about street demonstrations with “a certain fuzziness in the symbols.” “It’s a great asset in life, not to know what you’re talking about. Marker follows political and popular developments with great interest but without total enthusiasm, removed from it all. Seems like he’s either saying “it’s nice that they’re trying, but their struggles are shadows of the struggles I lived through” or “this is what I was once like, with the same futility and wasted energy.”
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Sees a personal friend (below) in a street crowd, then records news footage relaying that friend’s death at age 79 soon afterwards. Flashback to 1999, at a concert benefitting a cause that same activist friend had supported, Marker had filmed a young singer, who five years later had become famous for accidentally killing his actress girlfriend. “And you wonder why the Cats abandon us?”
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What if they left us for good?”
‘We were the Freedom Cats. If you didn’t catch the message, just move on!’
And then – comes a sign.
The same unknown hand has painted circles of Cats on the sidewalk, to watch over our sleep.
Thank you, Cats.
We will badly need you…
…wherever we go.

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This film is dedicated to M. Chat and those who, like him, are creating a new culture.
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Embassy, 1973
When I first watched Embassy in February, I didn’t like it very much, and never dreamed I’d be watching it again in three months on a commercial U.S. DVD… but here we are! Nice of First Run/Icarus to release it, but it would’ve been even nicer to provide a translation for the opening titles that claim the film was found in an embassy. Maybe it’s mentioned in the packaging. Anyway, clearer image for this not-clear-at-all film, and after watching The Battle of Chile this one is making more sense, since I know what Marker was reacting to. It’s still never gonna be a favorite film, but it’s a cool idea to make something that immediate as a reaction to current events.

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The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, 1967
Filmed during “World War III: Vietnam, Bolivia, Israel” on October 15-16, 1967, a recording of the anti-war march on the Pentagon in which Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies participated. Marker gets to combine his budding obsession with anti-authoritarian political protest with his love for filming faces of people on the street. One of his most famous images was in here – an angry man shouting, his head covered in blood – I always thought that was from Grin Without a Cat. Co-director François Reichenbach would later act as cinematographer and producer on F For Fake.

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Vive la baleine [Long Live The Whale], 1972
A short film about and against industrialized whale-hunting using mostly illustrations with some archive footage, saving the gruesome modern footage for the last few minutes.

Petit bestiare
Cats and owls! In and out of zoos, off and on pianos. Bullfight and the reminder that these animals are behind bars bring a touch of darkness to otherwise straightforward set of nice animal shorts.

UPDATE DEC. 2008: Wow, check out these stills from the new restoration. DVD box set will be out soon – check http://www.ivens.nl/ for updates.

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—————
Directed by Ivens, narration written by Chris Marker, assistant camera by Patricio Guzman. Wow! Not to discount Ivens’s achievement, but this plays just like Marker’s travel documentaries. Definitely belongs with that group in some imaginary DVD box set, hopefully with far improved image quality over the awful version I just watched. I want to say this had better camera work than the Marker docs, but in this state, it is hard to tell.

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A decade before the Battle of Chile events would begin, Ivens and crew give us an overview of life in this port city built on a series of steep hills. Focus is on things that affect the residents (like the funicular system) and events they participate in (huge annual fireworks show, a kite flying festival), not the popular tourist sites and historic buildings mentioned on wikipedia. Or maybe Ivens just hired a local tour guide and didn’t check wikipedia before going over there. A humorous tone to the commentary (when appropriate), shots of penguins, seals, pelicans and cats (no owls in town), a fire, some jump-cutting in line for the funicular. One very non-Marker-esque bit when a staged (I assume) bar-fight shatters a mirror and leads to a splash of blood, audio dissonance, a kaleidoscopic shot cutting to a burning pirate flag to introduce a history of colonialism in the state… awesome.

buildings that look like ships:
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Wikipedia: The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a staggering blow to Valparaíso, though the city has staged an impressive renaissance in recent years.
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Senses of Cinema gives a shout out to Ivens:

… à Valparaiso has regularly been regarded as more of a Marker film than one truly belonging to Ivens. This reading prioritises and favours sound over image – a common mistake even when reading Marker’s wholly “owned” work – and fails to recognise the range and often explicitly lyrical nature of Ivens’ broader filmography.

“Popular unity against the criminal bourgeoisie!”
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Other street protest chants:
“Bourgeois shit, the street belongs to the left!”
“We need an iron hand!” (?!)

I alternately see this referred to as an epic 1979 movie, a long two-parter with a third-part postscript, or three separate movies. I guess they were presented theatrically in different ways in different countries. The 2/1 split seems right to me, as I’ll explain.

Part one drops me into the middle of an election in March 1973, which I didn’t understand until towards the end of the movie. I wondered why nobody was saying Salvador Allende’s name – turns out it was a senate election, and either the pro-Allende party lost, or they just did not gain enough seats in congress to prevent the opposition from holding a majority. So for the rest of Allende’s short reign as president, the country’s senate is mostly against him, undermining his authority. Movie is on the street, taking opinions from everyone, kind of slow at the start since I don’t know what’s happening, but excitement is in the air, and things straighten out soon enough. Cameraman is terrific, patient but curious, always looking for the best thing to shoot even if it means wandering off the person talking. I can’t believe the sound guy can keep up with him, but he does.

Salvador Allende:
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A politician:
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Part two picks up right where the first one ends, with an attempted military coup on June 29 1973, and part two ends Sept. 11 1973 with the successful coup that killed Allende and instated General Pinochet as ruler. In between those dates, Guzmán covers everything that happens in the whole country, it seems, with access to the marches, the debates, worker meetings, everything but the secretive military that turns against its country (with help and provocation, it turns out, from the U.S. government). This is by far my favorite of the three parts, and could easily work as a standalone movie… I see the Film Forum in NYC thought so as well. The events themselves, a democratic country swerving communist then falling military-dictatorship, is the best movie material you could hope for and Guzmán and his crew make the best of it, watching from ground zero as history is made, producing one of the best docs I’ve ever seen.

Military man who shot and killed Argentine cameraman Leonard Hendrickson at the end of part one:
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Salvador Allende, file photo:
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Bombing of the presidential palace:
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Pinochet addressing the nation on TV:
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Military rule:
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Pinochet: “After three years of support for the Marxist cancer we have been given a disaster that is economic, moral and social, that could not continue to be tolerated by the sacred interests of the mother country.” (or something like that – I think it’s all amateur-translated)

Guzmán: “From the 11th of September, all resources of the Chilean army are mobilized to repress the popular movement with the compacency of the North American government. The first armed resistance offered by some industrial cords, agricultural populations and student centers are squashed quickly in unequal fight. Thousands of people are killed and the main sport fields become concentration camps. The longest democracy in the history of Latin America ceases to exist.”

I don’t exactly wish I’d skipped part 3, but it would’ve made a nice recap six months later instead of watching it right after 1 and 2. Filmmaking in Chile wasn’t easy during Pinochet’s rule, since Pinochet was killing and imprisoning everyone who disagreed with him, including the cameraman of Battle of Chile (to whom the completed work was dedicated), so Guzmán backs up and shows further details of the workers’ movements during Allende’s presidency, not again mentioning Pinochet or the violence. The many worker meetings and the creation of multi-factory blocs and the attempted attack on Allende’s credibility by the “Christian Democrats” (his primary opposition) via a U.S.-funded transportation strike had all been covered in the previous films, but now we see them in greater depth… “depth” meaning lots of guys with sideburns talking into microphones at meetings. Since I’m not personally interested in creating a communist worker’s paradise in my own neighborhood, part three wasn’t of much use to me, but I’ll bet it’s exactly what Chris Marker was hoping for when he helped fund Guzmán’s efforts to document what was happening in the country. Marker’s own angry reaction to the coup is documented in his short Embassy, which I’ll have to watch again now that it’s on a new, clean DVD.

The transportation strike:
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The people:
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The sideburns:
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The revolution:
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MAR 20, 2008
————–
Saw on 35mm for the first time. I do not know this movie as well as I think I do… lots of forgotten parts (the town in Iceland buried in ash) and mis-remembered bits. I was grateful to see it projected, but don’t feel that it loses too much on television – gonna keep happily watching the DVD for years to come. If I have a favorite movie right now, this is it.

A new favorite line: “At nightfall the megalopolis breaks down into villages, with its country cemeteries in the shadow of banks, with its stations and temples. Each district of Tokyo once again becomes a tidy ingenuous little town, nestling amongst the skyscrapers.” This is the impression I got from some Japanese movies.

Checked out the DVD again and watched some of the extras. The Chris Darke short didn’t teach me much, just strengthened my belief that nearly all video-art installations consist of too-small TV screens in too-large white rooms full of uncomfortable folding chairs.

DEC 30, 2006
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A reminder of the attempted Chris Marker Marathon begun in late August. Showed it off to Jimmy & Dawn.

A movie about memory, images, directing and editing, making pictures, turning life into art and vice versa.

“I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten.”

Explanation for the electronically processed images: “He showed me the clashes of the sixties treated by his synthesizer: pictures that are less deceptive he says—with the conviction of a fanatic—than those you see on television. At least they proclaim themselves to be what they are: images, not the portable and compact form of an already inaccessible reality.”

Owls and cats! Digitally processed images. Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Three children on a road in Iceland. Apocalypse Now. Sacred symbols at Macy’s. Teens dancing in the streets. The same scene in Vertigo that Marker references in La Jetee. Kamikaze. An image. A memory. A glance.

Even better than I remembered, and I remembered it as a masterpiece. Such a good documentary that it may not be a documentary at all. The best travelogue ever.

If this site didn’t already exist, I may have felt compelled to create it myself.

Dawn loved it. Jimmy too, I hope?

The Chris Marker Marathon will continue someday. Got some Rivette to watch first, I think.

Medvedkin:

[working on the film train] I came across a very interesting type of peasant, the sort who’d entered a kolkhoz [communal farm] but didn’t feel the true power of it and wasn’t happy there. For such a peasant, life was hard. No one liked him much, he was laughed at, and he was very unhappy. I was thinking of him when I made Happiness. Every man is seeking happiness. Some see it in wealth, but the Russian peasant who struggled in poverty dreamt of it in his own way. … I tried to show the tragedy of such a man, and the effort he makes to find his ideal life. His dreams couldn’t be very elaborate, of course, they were on his own scale but in his own way he was looking for happiness. And in this film I tried to tell a story that’s funny, sad and tragic, the story of a peasant like him, Khmyr, for whom nothing goes right. His life is a struggle… and totally unexpected to him, at the end of the film he finds that there are others who care about him, friends, neighbors, the government too. And in a collective farm he comes close to happiness.

Funny movie, with good performances by the lead actors (first screenshot), some real surprising moments (second screenshot), some scenes that deserve to be well-known Classic Moments in film-school montages (third screenshot) and a good Ivan The Terrible beard shot (fourth screenshot).

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It’s the late 60’s, early 70’s, and Chris Marker has got himself a Great Cause. Inspired by Aleksandr Medvedkin (Alexandre Medvedkine) and by political and social unrest in France and elsewhere, Marker and his friends have decided to read lots of Lenin, to try to make films that change the world, and ultimately to try putting film production into the hands of the people, the workers.

Marker hadn’t been greatly involved with the French New Wave movement, but he was present at the end of it, contributing to the 1967 omnibus film Far From Vietnam, wherein Marker, Resnais, Godard, Ivens, Lelouch, Varda and Klein voiced their support for the communist north vietnamese, while Rohmer, Rivette, Truffaut and Demy stayed out of it, pursuing their own romantic ideals.

Marker, Godard and others started making purely political works and stopped putting their names on their films, using collective names. I can’t find copies of some of these films (Cinetracts, Battle of the Ten Million) and can’t find English subtitles for most others (Far From Vietnam, Sixth Face of the Pentagon, À bientôt j’espère, Les Mots ont un sens), so it’s pretty much just these two, The Train Rolls On and Embassy. I’m filling out the rest of the timeline by quoting heavily from Catherine Lupton‘s amazing book on Marker.

1967-1977
Marker goes “beyond the privileged status of the auteur-director into the humbler and less visible functions of producer, fund raiser, editor, facilitator and general fixer, ensuring the exposure through [production company] SLON of other people’s work while continuing to make his own (unsigned) films.”

FAR FROM VIETNAM, 1967
“Under the auspices of SLON (which also happens to be the Russian word for elephant), Marker instigated, edited and wrote the commentary for Far From Vietnam, a collective portmanteau film made to protest against American military interventionism in Vietnam.”

A BIENTOT, J’ESPERE, 1968
In support of striking workers in southeast France, they started on “a film about the strikes, entitled A Bientot, j’espere (‘Hope To See You Soon’).” Workers complained that the film was pessimistic, that they came off as victims. “Marker’s response to these criticisms was that he and Marret would always be outsides to the workers’ lives, and that the logical step forward was for them to begin making their own films.” And so the Medvedkin group was born.

CINETRACTS, 1968
After the May ’68 business, “The Estates General of the Cinema sponsored a series of collective short documentaries recording the May events from the perspective of students and striking workers. Following an idea suggested by Chris Marker it also produced the Cinetracts. These were a series of anonymous, combative and often strikingly eloquent visual pamphlets, filmed on silent black and white 16mm-negative stock using easily assembled materials – still photographs, collages and texts – in order to respond quickly to unfolding events. Marker, Godard, Resnais, Jean-Pierre Gorin (who formed the Dziga Vertov Group with Godard), Philippe Garrel and Jackie Raynal were among the better-known contributors to the series alongside young militants with no prior experience of film.”

LES MOTS ONT UN SENS, 1970
“Number 5 in the [SLON counter-information newsreels] series, On vous parle de Paris: Maspero, les mots ont un sens (‘Maspero, Words Have Meaning’), is an affectionate portrait of the left-wing publisher and bookshop owner Francois Maspero, who was a contributor to Far From Vietnam and would later publish the commentary to Le Fond de l’air est rouge. Maspero is one of the most satisfying and likeable of Marker’s films from this period, achieving an exemplary balance of quirky human warmth with a clear and inventive form of political argument.”

1970-71
Marker worked as a still photographer on Costa-Gavras’s film The Confession, then made a film about the shoot called Jour de Tournage, and a film on the controversy surrounding The Confession, number 6 in the newsreel series, Le Deuxieme proces d’Artur London.

BATTLE OF THE TEN MILLION, 1970
“Both [Les mots & Artur London] consider the question of how committed socialists and revolutionaries can acknowledge past mistakes, undergo productive self-criticism and still maintain their basic political beliefs, in a climate where their political opponents on the right take such criticism as proof of the total failure of communism. … This dilemma comes sharply to the fore in The Battle of the Ten Million, a clear-eyed account of the failure of Fidel Castro’s ambitious project for Cuba to achieve a 10-million-ton sugar-cane harvest in 1969-70.”

LE TRAIN EN MARCHE, 1971
“The French version of Happiness was accompanied in cinemas by Le Train en marche, an introduction to Medvedkin, Happiness and the film-trains based around an animated interview with Medvedkin filmed in a train depot in the Paris suburd of Noisy-le-Sec. Its core motifs are the eye, the hand and the train.”

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A 10-min intro about trains in the 1920’s traversing russia/asia acting as bookmobiles, then a change of narrator voice when Medvedkin is introduced, and his story takes us away. His crew watched and filmed the techniques of successful and unsuccessful farmers and showed the films to each other to help increase production, then moved on to steel plants.

Medvedkin: “We realized that the cinema could be not just a means of entertainment, a way of arousing aesthetic emotions, but also a great and forceful weapon capable of reconstructing factories, and not just factories but the world, making it a better place. Such a cinema in the hands of the people was a powerful weapon.”

In the last bit, he talks about his motivation for filming Happiness, which makes sense now that i know Le Train en marche was screened as an introduction to that film.

A pretty straightforward documentary with english voiceover rather than subtitles on my copy, using archive footage (but none from the actual cine-trains, which had all been lost). No cats or owls or tricks, though halfway through the movie, Marker reveals the camera crew filming Medvedkin.

From the sound of it, Marker’s Medvedkin Group has at least partially succeeded. In CM’s own words: “I think that it’s this fabled and long forgotten bit of history… that underlies a large part of my work – in the end, perhaps, the only coherent part. To try to give the power of speech to people who don’t have it, and, when it’s possible, to help them find their own means of expression. The workers I filmed in 1967 in Rhodesia, just like the Kosovars I filmed in 2000, had never been heard on television: everyone was speaking on their behalf, but once you no longer saw them on the road, bloody and sobbing, people lost interest in them. To my great surprise, I once found myself explaining the editing of Battleship Potemkin to a group of aspiring filmmakers in Guinea-Bissau, using an old print on rusty reels; now those filmmakers are having their films selected for competition in Venice.”

VIVA LA BALEINE, 1972
“Ecological politics are not usually mentioned as being among Chris Marker’s preoccupations, but they are at the heart of a short film he co-directed with Mario Ruspoli in 1972, Viva la baleine / Long Live The Whale… a sharply politicized re-take on Ruspoli’s anthropological study, which now sets the archaic practices of the Azores whaling communities in the context of a pointed condemnation of industrialized whaling.”

CHILE & PATRICIO GUZMAN, 1973-75
Marker traveled to Chile to make a film about the new socialist government under Salvador Allende but “discovered that the Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman and his colleagues already had the job in hand” so CM instead helped bring their films to France and contributed financial assistance for Guzman’s later three-part The Battle of Chile, 1975, after the government’s 1973 takeover by a military dictatorship.

EMBASSY, 1973
In late ’73, “Marker transposed recent events in Chile into a remarkable fictional document, L’Ambassade (Embassy). As a fictional commentary on the contemporary political world, Embassy invites comparison with La Jetee. Despite their evident differences, the films share a measured, inexorable narration, and a catastrophic transformation of Paris that leaves a small group of survivors trapped.

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“Wednesday, 2 days after the coup”

Lupton’s notes: “An unexpected response to Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’etat in Chile. A Super-8 film apparently found in an embassy -as it’s written in the original title-, where political activists had taken refuge after a military coup d’état. But the events -and their setting- are not what they first appear to be.”

8mm film with no direct sound. Also English voiceover rather than subs on this one, a bored-sounding reporter voice.

“You are all motherfuckers as dumb as corpses quarrelling in the grave. The only lesson to draw is that all political directions have gone bankrupt.”

I admit I snickered at the ending. Shades of Cradle Will Rock as the “truth” behind the film is revealed: “From a window of the embassy I took my last shot, the van that was leading them into exile from that city we had known when she was free: Paris.”

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE SINGER, 1974
La Solitude du chanteur de fond fused personal friendship and the pressing political concern of the moment by filming the rehearsals and final performance of [Yves] Montand’s one-man benefit concert for Chilean refugees, held at the Paris Olympia on 12 February 1974 and his first stage appearance for six years. … [Loneliness] was released in December 1974 with the dormant If I Had Four Camels [completed in ’66], but it was the Montand film that attracted critical accolades, as a fond and revealing homage to one of France’s best-loved film actors and popular entertainers. … Loneliness is a minor masterpiece of observational documentary…”

SPIRAL, 1975
Marker helped initiate and wrote the commentary for the film Spiral, helmed by a French sociologist expelled from Chile, Armand Mattelart, and editors Jacqueline Meppiel and Valerie Mattelart. “The title of the film, Spiral, derived from its proposed spiral structure of seven successive phases of right-wing reaction leading up to the coup of 1973, many of which also delved back in history to consider, for example, the past roles of the military and the United States in Chilean affairs.” The film was largely edited from archive footage, then matched to a 3-hour Marker-written commentary and edited to 155 minutes for final release. “Although Marker was not involved at every point of the film’s production, Spiral nonetheless stands as an instructive precursor to Le Fond de l’air est rouge. It develops the same intricate marshalling of archive resources as Marker’s later film, representing the arraignment of conflicting social forces at a given moment in history by playing off film extracts informed by different political perspectives against each other.”

Hope I’m able to see more of the above films sometime. Learning French would help. Meanwhile I’m either tackling Grin Without a Cat next, or taking a Patricio Guzman or Alexander Medvedkin sidetrack before heading boldly forth into the 1980’s.

Starts with a Jean Cocteau quote and animated/drawn images on TV. It’s “un film de Chris Marker”, no fooling around with that. Music by Toru Takemitsu (uncredited on IMDB) who scored a bunch of classics like “Double Suicide”, “Kwaidan”, “Pitfall” and “Ran”. Co-produced by “Le chat Pompon” (hmmm).

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Marker meets “by chance” a young girl at the ’64 Tokyo Olympics, quickly loses interest in the Olympics themselves and instead follows her around the city, pondering shops and trinkets, symbols and national and personal identity as in Sans Soleil. Halfway through the picture, Marker “disappears”, goes back to France, and the narration is taken over by Koumiko, tape-recordings of her answers to his interview questions about current events, beauty, love, animals, and finally WWII. Catherine Lupton’s book notes that “this premise enables Marker to synthesize all the widely disparate methods and idioms explored in his films so far: a light-hearted personal travelogue, the investigative interview and the melancholy and disquieting fiction.”

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Koumiko stops under a billboard for “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, then the camera follows pedestrians with umbrellas while the theme song from that film plays… nice.

Marker’s trademark animal appearances: a googly-eyed owl on an outdoor sign, a whole cat montage, and Koumiko imitating both animals.

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Beautiful movie, just as essential as the other Marker films I’ve managed to see. I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would, despite the horrid video quality.

“Marker’s fond and playful homage to the French New Wave… The fluid roles that Koumiko plays for the camera mesh with the presentation of Japan as a ‘world of appearances,’ as Marker would later call it in Sans Soleil”.

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