The long-awaited continuation of my Marker-a-thon!

Dedicated “to the happy many”

“The Lovely Month of May”, in two parts:
Part 1, “prayer from the top of the eiffel tower”
Part 2, “the return of fantomas”

“It happened in may 1962. For some it was the first springtime of peace.”

A series of interviews with Parisians at/about the end of the Algerian War. A little provocative, but more of an inquisitive survey than a personal statement.

Marker as interviewer recommends Cleo from 5 to 7 to a guy who sells suits, then tries recommending Marienbad. Guy replies “but it’s something you’ve gotta understand.” “Don’t you understand things?” “Sure, but why should I take the trouble? I pay, don’t I? Sitting in a movie to rack my brains?”

Narration: “The mayor of Paris would have a lot to do, but there is no mayor of Paris”

Someone petting the head of a baby owl, narration untranslated.

Sometimes there are whole sections that aren’t subtitled or translated. Sigh…

The interviewees are asked about money, politics, world events, their daily lives. Some prodding to get the more apolitical citizens to talk about politics, or to talk about why they don’t want to. There’s a shift to more specific issues in part two. More about racism and prejudice, poking around about the Algerian War. This is the same year Alain Resnais was making a very different film concerning the Algerian War, Muriel.

Not very cinematically interesting, I guess, but today it’s a fascinating look back at a certain time and place (May ’62, Paris) and a general survey on people’s thoughts, hopes, fears and prejudices. I wonder what Parisians thought when the film came out. Can’t imagine they raved about it. He’s asking questions that lots of people didn’t want to be asked, seems like he’s throwing social problems into the faces of the Parisian viewer. I’ll bet foreigners were more intrigued.

A long interview with an Algerian ends with spoken statistics about that particular May over time-lapse photography of the busy streets. “But for the 5,056 people in the prisons of Paris, each day of May was exactly the same.”

“As long as poverty exists, you are not rich. As long as despair exists, you are not happy. As long as prisons exist, you are not free.”

A surprisingly affecting movie… I liked it more than I thought I would. Movie ran only 1:58, forty-five minutes shorter than the IMDB runtime, so that’s further incentive to see a more complete and better translated version if/when I can find one.

Marker: “What I wanted to come out of the film is a sort of call to make contact with others, and for both the people in the film and the spectators, it’s the possibility of doing something with others that at one extreme creates a society or a civilization… but can simply provide love, friendship, sympathy.”

From Catherine Lupton’s book:
“Immersing himself in groundbreaking new developments in camera and sound equipment that allowed human encounters to be filmed with greater ease and spontaneity, Marker brought the interview centre stage in the filming of Le Joli Mai, a less-than-flattering depiction of French social attitudes at the close of the Algerian War.”

“Marker stated that one of his ground rules was to avoid selecting the participants or manipulating the interviews… in order to confirm a ready-made conclusion… Another was to refuse to regard participants as stock examples of social or character stereotypes. ‘People exist with their complexity, their own consistency, their own personal opacity and one has absolutely no right to reduce them to what you want them to be.’ Le Joli Mai does grant its participants the space to be themselves, and to speak fully on the topics and questions proposed by the interviewer, without reducing their contributions to caricatured soundbites. Even when the film makes pointedly critical montage interventions into a discourse that it evidently regards as misguided or fatuous, it still retains the texture and substance of the interviewee’s speech, so that it is possible for the spectator to measure Marker’s reaction against the statements or attitudes that have prompted it.”

Marker produced this film and Le Jetee simultaneously, a film which turned “the documentary adventure of Le Joli Mai inside-out, distilling its subterranean fears and anxieties about the future into an elegaic masterpiece of speculative fiction.” His new filmmaking identity “might be the critical conscience of contemporary France, or the cosmonaut of human memory.” “In his self-curated retrospective at the Cinematheque Francaise in 1998, the earliest of his films that Marker elected to show were La Jetee and Le Joli Mai. He went on record to state that he regards his earlier films as rough and rudimentary drafts and no longer wishes to inflict them on the cinema-going public.”

“The camera operator Pierre L’homme is credited as co-director in recognition of his central role in creating the film’s mobile, responsive visual images.” Pierre later shot Army of Shadows, Mr. Freedom, a Bresson feature, a Godard short, and The Mother and the Whore before working with Marker (and Yves Montaud) again on The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer in 1974. Narrator Yves was in Let’s Make Love, The War Is Over, Tout va bien and Le cercle rouge, and narrator Simone Signoret I know from Army of Shadows and La Ronde. Composer Michel Legrand did a James Bond movie, F For Fake, some Jacques Demy (incl. the musicals!), some Varda and Godard.


Marker’s third movie, the one he made right before “Letter From Siberia”.


Nice to have a fast-paced English voiceover so I can actually tell what is being said, unlike with the washed-out subtitles of “letter from siberia” and “description of a struggle”.

Movie is short, poetic and comical. We reeeally needs a nice dvd set of these travelogues to go with the great current releases of “Sans Soleil.”

“this isn’t an absent-minded surgeon; it’s a townsman protecting himself against the dust

The narrator remarks that dust, germs and flies are the enemies of the revolution, so there may still be capitalists in China, but there are no more flies. Catherine Lupton: “This remark neatly commends the energy put into overcoming problems, while taking ironic note of the obstacles that may have been overlooked in the rush to cleanliness. This hint of light-hearted subversion wholly escaped the selection committee for the Berlin Film Festival of 1957, who refused to screen Sunday In Peking unless the comment about the vanquished flies and a number of other remarks deemed to be Communist propaganda were removed.”

“shops covered with characters as if they were huge boxes of tea”

Nice line: “the harsh price of the picturesque”… and history remembers “legendary wars that still resound through the peking opera house today.” Images and writing about the past and future, history meeting present day, the nature of time.

“the chinese people celebrating their bastille day, their day of revolution”

I don’t remember any owls, and cats were (entirely?) restricted to the title cards, but there was a Siberia-reminiscent bear:

These movies are all still good, worth watching for enjoyment, not just as academic exercise to probe Chris Marker’s beginnings in film. Wish they’d get a little more attention.


Senses of Cinema:

In describing Peking/Beijing, Chris Marker understands that, no matter how sincere his intentions may be he will never be more than an outside observer to this or any other culture he visits. Rather than ignore or disguise this problem, he runs with it. Literal performances and cultural displays are made the dominant subject of Dimanche á Pekin’s assembled footage. Gymnasts, dancers, shadow puppets, acrobats all feature to such a degree that, if the film was the viewer’s first exposure to Chinese culture, they could begin to imagine a kind of circus-nation, one in which performance was as common a means of communication as writing or speaking.

Catherine Lupton says the film “examines the identity of the state of Israel by reading it as an accumulation of signs, marks of the multiple conflicts that have carved out its twelve years of existence as a nation.”


Movie is a “Letter From Tel-Aviv” then, exploring Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem, Haifa, with the humorous and intelligent commentary as in Marker’s other early docs. Of course I’ll need to see it again sometime whenever possible, since my copy has nearly unreadable white subtitles and tiny, crappy picture quality. I’m not even sure what language is being spoken by the narrator.

Marker’s owls are present:

And cats as well… a man who feeds them calls in hungarian “to all hungarian-speaking cats”

Electronic sound effects and filming an oscilloscope predate the technological curiosity in Sans Soleil by more than 20 years.

Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet, who later shot Mouchette, Balthazar and Jacques Demy films, won an Oscar for a Roman Polanski film, then died during the production of Sans Soleil.

“born in camps, crushed by camps… us, germany, with our crimes,” fragments of a whole unexpected section of accusatory comments against Europe. This could be a more-hopeful sequel to “Night and Fog.”

Store signs at the beginning read: samson, delilah, varda and ali baba

Definitely some plays on words like in Letter From Siberia but harder to tell what’s being said… some play with editing and sound effects (announcer and crowd cheering while camera follows a kid skating downhill through the streets, as if he is inaugurating a new Olympic sport).

A scene of quiet study brings to mind the library short Toute la mémoire du monde.

I miss every third or fourth line so not always sure what points he’s trying to make, especially during a section composed of stills and zooms in the orthodox quarter.

We get a favorite theme from Sans Soleil discussing pictures/images vs. reality in the photographs taken home by tourists and in the ancient biblical paintings of this land.

The Jewish Saturday has a “mood of general strike”… he calls the kibbutz meeting an “absolute democracy” then describes a communist “Utopia”. His purposely combining terminology of communism and democracy during the kibbutz meeting scene must’ve incensed some people when this came out.

The young artist who Marker chooses to represent the Israeli state in the final scene:


Cat windows:


A pretty goofy look at space travel. A precursor to Terry Gilliam (the animator) and Asteroids (the video game). Awesome movie, funny. Would show this one off to other people. There’s a snail (escargot de venus) and an owl (movie is “in collaboration with” Chris Marker).


Our guy, with hat and pipe, examines the designs of different inventions and creatures and builds himself a spaceship. He and his pet owl go for a little ride. Of course the first thing he does is stop at an apartment tower and peep on some woman. He visits space, saves a troubles spacecraft, eventually gets shot down and possibly dies, but it’s all in good fun. All done with cut-out animation. Won a bunch of awards.


Same old gorgeous La Jetee. No longer makes me think of 12 Monkeys while watching it (a good thing). I spotted cats and a bird (below), but no owls. Watched out on the porch – Katy enjoyed it, but never mentioned the motion part. Thanks again for my poster.

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One of my favorite movie stills ever:
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Great picture quality on my downloaded copy, but forgot it had no subtitles. Movie seemed to show statues and masks in a museum setting, then as part of daily life, and finally in a large storeroom in a government building. Half an hour long.


Harvard Film Archive, or someone they’ve quoted, says: “This collaborative film, banned for more than a decade by French censors as an attack on French colonialism (and now available only in shortened form), is a deeply felt study of African art and the decline it underwent as a result of its contact with Western civilization. Marker’s characteristically witty and thoughtful commentary is combined with images of a stark formal beauty in this passionate outcry against the fate of an art that was once integral to communal life but became debased as it fell victim to the demands of another culture.”

Chris Marker wrote the commentary, not a bit of which I understood. Actually I got the word “mask” a few times. Don’t think this will help Katy’s research any, but she graciously watched it with me anyway.


More straightforward and less poetic than it usually gets credit for, pretty much a straight half-hour documentary about the holocaust.

More educational, more heartbreaking, more shocking, more horrible and a far better movie than any of the 60-minute PBS documentaries I’ve seen on the subject, any two-hour fictionalized concentration-camp movie, any three-plus-hour Steven Spielberg feature.

The poetic parts are mostly at the start and end, and in the juxtaposition between the 50’s color film and the 30’s-40’s b/w stock footage. Must be hard to craft an artistic film against this sort of imagery. Jean Cayrol (Muriel ou Le temps d’un retour) wrote the commentary and Chris Marker was assistant director.

Katy, if I seemed a little depressed on Sunday night, this is why.



Yes, Chris Marker Fest is off! Even though I’ll never actually finish it, it’s nice to begin.

Hour-long documentary of Marker’s travels in Siberia. Messes with the documentary format by incorporating cartoons, opera, lots of anthropomorphic animals, and Marker’s usual poetry and humorous narration.


Piss-poor picture quality on the copy I saw, but clearly a great movie. English spoken narration with subtitles in the opera parts.

References to cats and owls:
– talking owl wearing “I Hate Elvis” button
– from a plane, “silver birches look like owls’ tracks in the snow”
– “cars wend their way between the trains like cats playing hide and seek in a railway depot”
– song about a reindeer: “oh reindeer, sweet and just / friend of the birds and owls / they nest in your branches / happy he who has ideas in his head / happier still, he who has birds”


Made me wish I was in Siberia with the talking owls and leashed bears, the gold rush, the reindeer races, the underground laboratories, the frontier towns and endless birch forests. Funny, I think this is one of the early movies that Marker has disowned. I’ll take it if he doesn’t want it.

A fox yawning:

“All the memory of the world”. Twenty minute short on the French National Library. The long middle section is a class-filmstrip-type movie in that it tours the facility and shows how everything works, but with the gliding hallway cameras and poetic narration of a Resnais or Marker film. Posits the library as man’s collective memory, sort of like the library in that guy’s head in Dreamcatcher. Credits say “with the collaboration of… Chris and Magic Marker” and Agnes Varda, among many others. At the end, after comparing people to insects, over a shot of a hundred library visitors reading the books they’ve selected, it closes: “Astrophysics, physiology, theology, taxonomy, philology, cosmology, mechanics, logic, poetics, technology. Here we catch a glimpse of a future in which all mysteries are resolved. A time when we are handed the keys to this and other universes. And this will come about because these readers, each working on his slice of universal memory, will lay the fragments of a single secret end to end, a secret with a beautiful name, a secret called happiness.” Nice little movie.

Chris Marker’s book:

Hiding in the stacks, a guard attacks: