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.

Oops, I told Jimmy this was made in 1988. I was a decade off, but we didn’t see any technology that would’ve proved me wrong. Another anarchic exuberant junkpile Yugoslavic film full of accordian music from Kusturica, but this one is a pure comedy (romantic, even) so the only person who dies and stays dead is a bad guy, and in the end everyone is married and the gangsters, scammers, rich old men, dwarf women and everyone else is dancing and happy.

Two who died but did not stay dead:

The main character for the first half hour – is that Matko? – gets scammed by some Russians, borrows money from his dad and from rich (?) Grga and from dangerous coke-fiend party gangster Dadan, buys a train full of oil (?) and loses that along with the money. So as payment for his debts he agrees to have his son marry Dadan’s laughably short daughter.

This guy stayed dead, but his body was used in a Keatonesque comedy bit so it’s allowed:

Smurfette and big Grga:

The son’s grandfather hides his cash in an accordian and keels over – a calculated death to stop the wedding – but Dadan will have none of that, and stashes him in the attic so nobody starts mourning until the wedding is done. The tiny bride flees, runs into Grga’s giant son, and it’s love at first sight followed by a gunfight with her dad. Son marries his crush (below), the giant marries the tiny girl, the two dead old men (I didn’t mention Grga’s dad died a few minutes ago) come back to life, and Dadan falls into a toilet, grossing out Katy who came in to watch the ending.

One of the actresses, possibly this one, was later in Big Love and Public Enemies:

Pitbull! (Terrier!)

Not just cats – movie’s got a pig eating a car, a shrieking peacock, a goose used as a towel, and cute goats. I thought the whole thing was a riot, and excellently filmed & edited, but maybe too silly for the others in the room. There’s no pleasing some people!

Black cat, white cat:

This page from the Catherine Lupton book gives a good intro to this post on three Chris Marker movies I just watched, and this other post on some Chris Marker movies I did not watch.

Marker has also continued to engage directly with contemporary political events and debates. In The Last Bolshevik and in Berliner Ballade (1990), a report produced for a French television current affairs strand, Marker reflects on the political ideals that collapsed at a stroke with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communist rule over the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and attempts to hold open a space for those who still believe in the founding principles of Socialism. Coinciding with this abrupt shift in the political landscape of Europe, the welter of savage inter-ethnic conflicts triggered by ultra-nationalist movements in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s (and again more recently in Kosovo) has focused Marker’s attention through a series of candid engagements with people caught up in the long drawn-out war. Les 20 heures dans les camps (1993, Prime Time in the Camps) focuses on a group of Bosnian refugees who are producing their own television broadcasts. Casque bleu (1996, Blue Helmet) is an extended interview with a French soldier who served with the UN peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia, and now voices his disillusion with UN policy towards the region. Two as yet unreleased works, Un Maire au Kosovo (2000, A Mayor in Kosovo) and Avril inquiet (2001, currently unfinished, Worried April), are built around interviews with Kosovans involved in the most recent stage of the conflict. This cluster of short, pointed, interview-driven videos is the direct descendant of Marker’s unsigned political films of the 1960s and ’70s, and retains the same ambition: to give a voice to people who are spoken about, but never heard, in mainstream news reporting.

Tokyo Days, 1986

Twenty minutes long, seems very much like outtakes from Sans Soleil. We watch people dreaming on the subway, check out Japanese television… all very familiar. Of course I’m not complaining. There’s always room for more Sans Soleil. Wish this had been an extra on its DVD, instead of a hyper-obscure oddity on a bittorrent site.


No dialogue except in this part – French, of course, so I’m not sure what she said. This girl is Arielle Dombasle – an actress in the films of Raoul Ruiz, Eric Rohmer and Alain Robbe-Grillet (she’s the one labeled “one goofy actress” in my La Belle Captive entry), who also appeared in Sans Soleil and The Owl’s Legacy. I think we hear Marker himself talking to her in this segment.





Berlin ’90
I thought this was the same film as Berliner Ballade but apparently this is its sequel which accompanied Tokyo Days in the installation project Zapping Zone. I wasn’t always sure what was going on… yeah, the Berlin Wall and elections, but I didn’t get as much out of it as other viewers have. Nothing wrong with it, just some news/reportage footage.

Berlin 1990 travels the streets and the political landscape of the recently re-unified Berlin. In the tumultuous atmosphere of 1990, we watch Berliners walk through check points manned by soldiers, past street vendors selling sausages and “actual” pieces of the Berlin Wall, and watch as they watch the election results come in for another “new” Germany.”

Berlin (1990) records daily life by the Berlin wall during its dismantling. Formerly capitalism’s outer limit and the most striking emblem of world economic division, the wall itself became just another commodity, as pieces of it sprayed with fake graffiti were sold next to East German police uniforms and frankfurters. Though Marker documents the optimism of the first East German elections, a stunning montage to the lilting melody I Can Hardly Wait for Spring suddenly evokes the darker memories hiding behind German reunification: flowers strewn along the streets for Hitler, and the burning of Berlin.”






Prime Time in the Camps, 1993

In the Bosnian refugee camps during the war in Sarajevo, some amateurs take over a TV station, dedicated to collecting the news, sorting out the truth and re-broadcasting along with their own reportage to fellow refugees. “They are young people who never imagined that one day they’d be behind a television camera or holding a microphone.” One of the reporters: “People had a particular model in their heads of what television was. So we had to make the news look like the news, which meant making it look like what people are used to seeing. It was then that it became credible.”

At the end we see people watching the show that their neighbors had just finished assembling, a la Medvedkin on his train. If there was a topic in ’93 more custom-made for the interests of Chris Marker, I can’t think of it. Peter Watkins should have been there too (see Frieze quote below).

Wikipedia: “The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, conducted by the Serb forces of self-proclaimed Republika Srpska and Yugoslav People’s Army (later transformed to the Army of Serbia and Montenegro), lasting from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996.”

BFI: “Documentary on the Ruska refugee camp in Ljubliana (Slovenia), where a group of Bosnian refugees present news every night on VHS video. Documentary on the making of the news.”

Frieze Magazine: “The amateur journalists sift information from three or four news sources: ‘I ask myself who might want to lie, and who might have the ability.’ Ordinary people, they have slowly come to realise that television news is a vast form of manipulation.”

Frieze 2: “Marker was Resnais’ assistant on Night and Fog (1955), one of the first films to document the Nazi death camps. This early moral imperative to remember is echoed in the Bosnian conflict. News, for those who live within violent struggle, is part of the work of mourning.”




Katy asked why I like Chris Marker movies so much. I told her that Sans Soleil is one of my very favorite movies, and that everything else he has made connects with it in some way, that more than most other filmmakers he seems to be making one long work, rather than a bunch of disconnected movies, and I hope to see as much of that work as possible.

Songs heard:
Tokyo Days: Good Morning from Singin’ in the Rain
Prime Time in the Camps: Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows
Berlin ’90: The Air That I Breathe

Unfortunately I returned this before I could get screen captures.

Lots of new-age philosophy collides with commentary on communist Yugoslavia in a way that doesn’t make much sense but involves much nudity.

Seems like this would be a fun movie, but I’m alarmed to say that I enjoyed watching critically-derided El Topo a second time more than I enjoyed seeing this acclaimed masterpiece once. This felt like a dated study or presentation, an essay of some sort. Ugly, non-sexy nude scenes in ugly, non-sexy locations, stock or documentary footage, handheld graininess and a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand. I must have missed a lot… didn’t check out Raymond Durgnat’s mash-up commentary or J. Rosenbaum’s booklet essay, so I don’t know what to do with this one, other than to compare it unfavorably to Jodorowsky and Underground and maybe rent Sweet Movie sometime to give the filmmaker another chance. Senses of Cinema: “Makavejev’s stated aim in Sweet Movie was to combine Eisensteinian montage with Buñuelian imagery.”

The film starts out talking about Wilhelm Reich, a therapist whose methods didn’t make much sense to me… his life, his followers and family, and how he was mistreated and ultimately died in prison. Blends into a tale of two women (roommates) and their chosen lovers and sexual politics. One of them is dating a stand-in for Lenin, an ice skater who finally beheads her and then sings a nice song to close out the film.

SoC: “The discontent of the New Wave auteurs was often toward the construction of fixed meanings through the approved systems of film language: Socialist Realism, Left-approved ‘orthodox’ Neo-Realism after 1948, wartime propaganda. Film should remain open to reality, be an aspect of that reality, and so incorporate the paradoxical, the contradictory, the ambiguous. In the East Bloc, this was a return of the repressed: the bourgeois “mystification” and dissembling that A. A. Zhdanov had railed against in 1935 at the First Soviet Writers’ Congress and the establishment of Socialist Realism. New Wave films should be, in Umberto Eco’s term, ‘Open Works’.”