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.”

America as seen but not heard – the soundtrack seems like a post-sync invention, with a fun Michel Legrand score (one of his first films, the year before Lola). Reichenbach spent a year and a half in the States, filming everyday scenes (carnivals, prisons and churches) and special events, including a prison rodeo, a festival for identical twins, a hula hoop contest, horse diving and striptease school.

“This man committed two murders. He is in for a hundred years.”

Is this illegal yet?

A cool movie as travelogue, anthropology and time capsule. Chris Marker wrote a full narration, but reportedly this was adapted by Reichenbach, who considered it too harsh, so Marker’s name barely appears in the film’s credits and he published his own version in Commentaires as L’Amerique Reve, film imaginaire (American Dream). No hard feelings, I guess, since Marker and Reichenbach later collaborated on The Sixth Face of the Pentagon. Produced by new-wave kickstarter Pierre Braunberger, with an introductory note by Jean Cocteau.

Part 1: The Castle

“The photo is the hunt. It’s the instinct of hunting without the desire to kill. It’s the hunt of angels… you track, you aim, you fire and–clic! Instead of a dead man, you make him eternal.”

A slideshow of photographs with a voiceover discussion about the nature of photographs, flipping rapidly all over the globe. Familiar sights: streets of Cuba, “commuter trains full of sleeping Japanese,” an owl in a flight museum, that shot I love of the Russian woman holding a turtle. Many references to things I don’t follow, but because of the great photos and the 50-minute length, this would make a great Intro to Marker – especially if there was better-quality video available.

They fawn over Russia for a while, moving to to lonely monasteries in Greece, then the first day of Algerian independence (below).

“One instant of happiness paid for with seven years of war and one million deaths. And the following day, the Castle was still there. And the poor are still there, day after day. And day after day, we continue to betray them.”

Part 2: The Garden

A montage of animal shots, then a tour of a Korea, and on to Scandinavia.

Different kinds of music, including bits of the electronic effects and percussion that would become more prominent in his later films.

“One needs to look closely at this Scandinavian man. He has everything, truly everything that nine tenths of humanity doesn’t dare to imagine in their wildest dreams. It’s for his standard of living that the Black, the Arab, the Greek, the Siberian and even the Cuban militiamen are striving. He has everything the revolutions promised. And when one shows him some Brecht – free moreover – in the Stockholm gardens, he doesn’t really get the message.”

How do you say elephant in Russian? Slon.

Then a tour of tombs and discussion of death. “I met a man who lived his own death” sounds like an alternate intro to La Jetee.

A yugoslavian hog considers the day to come:

After a wordless musical section, all fades out, but returns for a strange coda, a montage of torn posters with the sound of a screaming monkey, then final voiceover, which seems lovely when it accompanies the images, but didn’t make sense when I tried to transcribe here.

Varda films her own travels for a year or so, as she visits old friends and new, goes to lots and lots of art exhibits and museums, and attends retrospectives of her work. “Now that I’m old, everyone tends to give me awards and trophies.”

I didn’t get tired of the framing story: a tree at her offices is severely pruned, all shot in still photographs. And speaking of photographs, the main excitement in episode one is that she visits Chris Marker at his studio. She shoots the cables behind his computers, “the secret threads of the labyrinth of his art.” A Demy-fest celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lola, featuring Aimee, Piccoli and Varda’s children. Lots of exciting artwork.

Manuel de Oliveira attends Varda’s screening in Lisbon. Somebody explains Oliveira’s cinema: “He says reality is merely the result of certain conventions. It’s very important in Manoel’s films to understand that society becomes the artifice. Cinema is not the artifice. Manoel’s films help us get some distance from this reality imposed on us, so we can interpret it in another way.” Then Oliveira clowns around for Varda, doing his Chaplin impression and miming a fencing match, and my understanding of him changes. When he was a piece of trivia, The Oldest Working Filmmaker, it always seemed like he had very little time left, that each film might be his last (a review I found of Non, over two decades and thirty films ago, suggested that it would be his last), but seeing him in action I suddenly realize that he may live forever.

Varda chills in Marker’s world:


Ep. Two, she goes to Brazil and meets Glauber Rocha’s daughter and Jeanne Moreau for the Rio film festival. A chair in a gallery prompts a montage of chairs Varda has photographed. Stockholm, and an Ingmar Bergman auction. Agnes is so fascinated by her interviewer, they end up swapping jobs. She calls gallery director Hans Ulrich a “contemporary art detector.” Varda meets Jonas Mekas and Yoko Ono while dressed as a potato. Flashbacks to Vagabond and Beaches. An elephant upon its trunk announces an exibition.

Agnes Potato with Mekas:

Ep. Three: igloos in Basel. Varda’s installation film Patatutopia is a triptych of potato images. Another installation of interviews, each one playing on its own television in front of its own easy chair. “A piece by George Segal attracts my attention. I didn’t know how to film my distress when Jacques died. So I wrapped myself in white, like plaster, and imitated Alice. I listened to music we both loved. Artists invent ways for us to express our emotions.” At the Alliance Francaise she attends a presentation of Beaches and a photo exhibit, including portraits she took of filmmakers (Demy, Visconti, a superb shot of Fellini). She visits the Hermitage and flashes back to Russian Ark, then back in Paris has a fascinating chat with artists Annette Messager and Christian Boltanski.

the Segal piece:


Boltanski’s holocaust-metaphor used-clothing installation:

Ep. Four: setting up a Beaches installation, with sand and her shack made of filmstrips. Some visitors to the shack: “Their interpreter murmurs ‘New Wave'”. Digital beaches, a man who collects buttons (and button stories), then a return to La Pointe Courte, where she films the 2010 version of the same jousting tournament she shot in 1954 for her first feature. A Marker grinning cat leads to more museums, including an exhibit by a painter who works only in black. I liked how he displays his paintings, suspended in the middle of a room instead of upon the walls, so you can look past one to compare it with another in 3D. Jean-Louis Trintignant recites poetry in the park – this kind of thing never happens where I live.

Varda street on la pointe courte:


Ep. Five: a visit to her buddy Zalman King, Richard Pryor’s costar. Towers built by a “hero of outsider art.” Interview with a reluctant participant at the gang violence memorial. She talks about Jim Morrison and visits her old beach house, presumably during the Lions Love era, then toys with blue screens on the beach. Some 15th century angel/Jesus paintings then, more fun, skeletons in Mexico City. Agnes gets her interpreter to play piano and her assistant to pose nude for a photograph. Interview, with clips of Japon, with Carlos Reygadas, before visiting Frida Kahlo’s house. A juice factory that also houses a massive collection of modern art. Matthew Barney, Marina, Abramovic, and the best molé in town.


Agnes and Mexico interpreter Elodie, not nude:

And the series ends with no grand sweeping statement on the travels, just a series of sketches accumulated over a year or two, the time it took for the tree in her courtyard to completely re-grow.

Largely consisting of footage filmed in the mid-80’s, a reunion (after five years apart) of Andrei Tarkovsky and his family as the director lay deathly ill, also supervising final picture and edit on his final film, The Sacrifice, and earlier behind-the-scenes footage of the making of that film’s most impressive single shot seven months earlier in Sweden, as the house burned down.


Rivette/Daney reference: “The tracking shot is no longer a moral issue but a metaphysical one.” Marker also delves into Tarkovsky’s films (including the student short of The Killers), discusses the Russian mysticism and other elements, but goes way beyond showing a bunch of images and telling us how beautiful they are, which would be incredibly easy to do with Tarkovsky films. It’s under an hour long but with plenty of room to breathe – not cramming in as many facts about Tarkovsky as the hour would allow, which would reduce his work to trivia.

Tarkovsky directs, with an inset of what he’s directing: three figures in Sweden, bringing briefly to mind the opening of Sans Soleil

Rosenbaum called it “the best single piece of Tarkovsky criticism I know of, clarifying the overall coherence of his oeuvre while leaving all the mysteries of his films intact.”

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer (1974, Chris Marker)

It’s not a short (an hour long), but I have little to say about it, so this is a short entry. The movie’s probably of more interest to fans of Yves Montand’s singing career than of Marker’s filmmaking or their shared politics. Marker focuses on Montand’s rehearsals for an upcoming concert benefitting Chilean refugees and he cuts to clips from the concert itself, and clips from Montand’s political films (Z, The Confession, The War Is Over).

Shot by the IMDB-credited Pierre Lhomme (Mr. Freedom, Army of Shadows) as well as Jacques Renard (Celine & Julie Go Boating) and Yann Le Masson. A nicely put-together little movie, but more like your standard fly-on-wall doc mixed with a celebrity personality piece than Marker’s usual style. Montand is passionate about the details, but it’s not my kind of music so I’m not sure what he’s going for. M. Legrand was involved somehow.

Some dude on the sidelines sports a Flo & Eddie shirt:

Lady Blue Shanghai (2010, David Lynch)

Plays like a total Inland Empire outtake (or Darkened Room 2). A confused Marion Cotillard calls security on an expensive handbag (the short was commissioned as a handbag advertisement) found in her room. She grabs it and half-remembers some alternate-existence romantic rooftop chase scene, featuring herself, an attractive man from Shanghai, and an expensive handbag.

My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (2002, Chris Morris)

An unstable Paddy Considine is left in charge of the dog, but can’t manage it. Dog dies, Paddy ends up at the pond screaming at ducks. Nice Warp-sounding music from the director. I enjoyed it.

Mermaid (1964, Osamu Tezuka)

Katy likes when I show her movies I haven’t already watched, then criticizes this one for being depressing and My Wrongs for being unfunny. None of Tezuka’s shorts have been sad before (well, Male has a murder scene), so how was I to know? A re-run of Haanstra’s Glas was better-received. This one’s a 1984/freedom-of-thought parable about a boy who catches a fish and imagines its a mermaid, until the thought police imprison him and try to brainwash away his imagination so he’ll see the fish as a fish. Naturally it ends with the boy freeing his fish and either becoming a merman or drowning himself.

The Uneasy Three (1925, Leo McCarey)

A Hal Roach short starring Charley Chase as a wannabe thief who, with his girl and her brother, pretends to be a musical trio to gain entry to a high-society party and steal a valuable brooch. That’s such a generic-sounding description that now I can’t recall if I wrote it or I copy/pasted it from somewhere. Anyway, they successfully fake being musician/entertainers and frame the real musicians for the crime.

Bull Montana, harpist:

Winston Tong en studio (1984, Olivier Assayas)

A studio recording of a silly-sounding song. I missed the vocalist’s interview in French, but enjoyed Jah Wobble’s rant against commercialism. Also liked the filmmakers’ sound mix, keeping bits of the last take in the mix over the interview, dialing up and down the backing music while Tong is singing. Besides Assayas it’s got Nicolas Klotz (La Blessure, La Question Humaine) editing.

Hokusai: An Animated Sketchbook (1978, Tony White)

Tony, an assistant on Richard Williams’ A Christmas Carol brings acclaimed Japanese woodcut artist Hokusai’s drawings wonderfully to life for a five-minute short. Not having any previous Hokusai exposure myself, I can’t tell which drawings are his and which are interpreted by White. Teshigahara had also made a short doc on Hokusai, and a few years after this Kaneto Shindo would make a feature with the great English-language title Edo Porn.

Endangered Species (2006, Tony White)

I found Tony’s other short on YouTube – a eulogy for the lost art of hand-drawn animation, made in collaboration with Roy Disney. So ol’ Walt is championed at the expense of his competitors at Warner Bros. Also parodied: Roger Rabbit, Fritz the Cat, Beavis & Butthead, artistic diversity, and corporations that would cruelly try to control independent animators and diminish their freedom. Seems weird that a pro-Disney film would be against huge companies. Seems to have mixed feelings about Pixar, and tags Hayao Miyazaki as animation’s hope for the future.

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.

Level Five (1997)

La Jetee is often called Chris Marker’s only fictional film, but others have fictional frameworks or false narrators. This one is the prime example, casting actress Catherine Belkhodja (weirdly – thanks, IMDB – her daughter played the Diva in Fifth Element this same year) to play a fictional narrator before the cameras, not just in voiceover. She writes a book on a computer which is shared with her man, who is writing a video game based on the battle of Okinawa. They both research on an internet-like computer system called (what else?) OWL. Sometimes Chris speaks in his own voice, which seems unusual – is he supposed to be the never-seen game programmer?

Some philosophy about the nature of communication and computers – she feeds her antique Mac nouns as commands to see its response (“I don’t know how to sardine”) – and about the permanence of the past. No matter what variables you change in the Okinawa simulator, the results are the same. She says computers have become her memory, which obviously strikes a chord with me, sitting here typing about movies I’ve seen so I don’t forget them. Besides Catherine and her OWL, most of the movie is devoted to exploring the story of Okinawa, a Japanese island where a large portion of the rural locals committed suicide for fear they’d fall into the hands of barbarian Americans during a brutal WWII battle.

Okinawa memorial footage shot by Nagisa Oshima:

My favorite bit, about a man filmed falling to the ground engulfed in flames:

I know where Gustave is from. You told me his name was Gustave. I’d seen him a hundred times. Nobody had ever filmed a man burning alive so close, a lulu for war documentaries. The unknown soldier, in full kit, holding his own flame. He was carted around battlefields, like a war-artist on tour with a unique act. Gustave in the Philippines, Gustave in Okinawa. I even saw him in a Vietnam movie, still burning 20 years later. I viewed so much newsreel I knew Gustave at birth. Filmed in Borneo, by Australians. The interesting thing is that, at the end of the original shot, you can tell he doesn’t die. He gets up again. You feel he’ll get over it like the napalm girl in Saigon. That ending has always been cut in all documentaries. A born symbol doesn’t get out of it so easily! He testifies against war, you cannot weaken his testimony for the sake of a few frames. Truth? What is truth? The truth is, most didn’t get up.

Catherine dancing with an emu:

Immemory (1998)

I watched a nice transfer of Level Five on my laptop, and there are few movies that would seem more appropriate to view as a computer file rather than in cinemas or on television. But Immemory isn’t a movie at all – a CD-Rom with photos and collages, writings, articles and film clips, meant to be navigated instinctually, like a memory. There’s an index in case you want to cheat and view it exhaustively. I tried to read it like a book, going to each section in turn and reading forward through them all, taking side trips when I felt like it, but then returning where I left off. Really wonderful and fun, with more straight autobiography than you usually get from a Marker film – I enjoyed it more than Level Five.

Some choice pages:

“It all began on a summer night in 1987. The idea for a television series based on Greek culture had just crystalized and we were facing a spectre which haunts the realm of the cultural documentary and that Chekhov defined for eternity: to say things that clever people already know and that morons will never know.”

Marker hosts banquets across the world and interviews subjects one-on-one (in front of giant pictures of owls), discussing Greece. Mostly it’s school, like a PBS doc without the music or the constant zooming around ancient photographs. Hard to stay interested, since I had no real curiosity about Greek culture, only a curiosity about Chris Marker’s movies (in the credits he’s listed as “skipper” and producer Jean-Pierre Ramsay is listed as “long-distance calls”).

Each episode is preceded by a disclaimer from the billionaire Greek funding agency distancing themselves from its content… way to go there, Chris. Something must have upset the rich people who thought ancient Greece would be a harmless, noble topic. Maybe it’s when Richard Bennett in episode six says: “Pythagoras was a great man. He was in the same league – I may shock some people here – as Moses, Buddha and Jesus Christ.”

1. Symposium, or Accepted Ideas

Droney keyboard sounds behind scenes from Olympia mixed with war films. One minute later we are looking at a storehouse of sculptures, supposedly underneath the roundtable discussion, and I’m already put in mind of Statues Also Die.

“This was an extreme example, but the fact remains that Greece, or at least the idea of Greece, has been used to fuel the spirit of totalitarianism, and it still does now and then. All the more need, then, to look for that Greek word which is theoretically the safest antidote to totalitarianism… the word “democracy.”

“We have this horrid image of Greece as a land of light and harmony. Abysmal nonsense. Greece is a land of incest, murder, where Oedipus blinded himself … In Greece, moderation and order are won against reality and not as their birthright, hence their obsession with aphorisms. ‘Be moderate.’ ‘Do not exaggerate.’ I can’t imagine a Swiss or a Dutch with such obsession for moderation. The Greeks are obsessed with it, obsessed with going too far, because it’s their natural tendency.” – Cornelius Castoriadis

2. Olympics, or imaginary Greece

It’s not in fact about the olympics, but about modern Germany’s relationship to and interpretation of Greek culture. The series can’t go on like this for eleven more episodes, can it? Interviews of people speaking in general terms about Greece and its perceived contributions to the current world? I will get bored.

Film clip of naked rituals from Paris 1900, a documentary which young Alain Resnais and Yannick Bellon both worked on, produced by Pierre Braunberger

Renate Schleisser:

Manuela Smith:

3. Democracy, or the city of dreams

Democracy vs. oligarchy, and the terrible truth behind greek democracy. Nice cut to a clip of George Bush Sr. right as a guy says “the large amount of hypocrisy.” Nostalgia for when people were passionate about participation in the system.

Clips from the Greek episode of Marker’s 1969-71 On vous parle series – I didn’t know there was a Greek episode. It’s not on IMDB.

John Winkler and Elia Kazan at a dinner party:

philosopher/economist Cornelius Castoriadis:

4. Nostalgia, or the impossible return

Much talk about Greek identity, nostalgia and homeland. I think I dozed off. Clips from a 1911 film and from Kazan’s America, America.

George Steiner: “The Greeks are nostalgic. Nostalgic for what? For everything and nothing. They have nothing left – it’s all in their heads.”

musician Angelique Ionatos:

5. Amnesia, or history on the march

About Greece’s sense of history vs. our own. A segment on the person (and the film) Z. Jean-Pierre Vernant mentions that the word autopsy means “the act of seeing with one’s own eyes”. Vassilis Vassilikos says the country has always been a battleground because it links Africa, Asia and Europe. And I got hooked on the story of the first king of independent Greece after 1820, a Bavarian who didn’t speak any Greek.

author of Greek and Roman histories Oswyn Murray:

director Elia Kazan:

6. Mathematics, or the empire counts back

All about logic and mathematics, with graphic examples in hyperstudio. Scenes from a Norman McLaren film and from something called Avant-Poste, featuring a totally-80’s feathered-hair blonde (it’s Arielle Dombasle, who I’ve seen in La Belle Captive) in closeup with tubular music playing telling us about Greek mathematics.

Daniel Andler gets brownie points for using owls in his example about uncertainty. I haven’t seen the dinner party for a few episodes now.

Michael Serres: “I wish the scientific heritage could recover its humanistic trail. I wish the humanistic heritage, also a bit lost at the moment, could recover its scientific trail. It’s one and the same heritage, but we are mediocre inheritors.”

The controversial Richard Bennett:

There’s more (I only watched half of the series) but I’m stopping here for now. I tried to struggle through for the sake of Marker completism but I’m not terribly interested in Greek culture at the moment and can’t imagine that three more hours of this will help. Maybe I’ll pick it up again sometime.

Credits: Co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière was Buñuel’s co-writer for some of his best work, then worked on The Tin Drum and Godard films, and recently on Birth. Some of the cinematographers would work with Angelopoulos, Youssef Chahine, Jean-Jacques Beineix. Other interview participants included Catherine Belkhodja (star of Level Five), director Theo Angelopoulos, artist Matta, Arielle Dombasle (star of movies by Terayama Shuji, Eric Rohmer, Raoul Ruiz and Alain Robbe-Grillet), Yukio Ninagawa (Funeral Parade of Roses), Alex Minotis (Howard Hawks’ Land of the Pharaohs), Melina Mercouri (Jules Dassin’s wife/lead actress), computer-music pioneer Iannis Xenakis and Vasilis Vasilikos (writer of Z). André Dussollier (Love on the Ground, Wild Grass) apparently narrated the French version, but not the version that I’ve got.