Born in Paris (France), 1921Lives & works in (France) Very active in: 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, Current decade
So goes the introduction to one of Chris Marker's most important and famous works. A line that might very well describe his own extraordinary story, the one we are about to tell.
The Past: Chris Marker, born as Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve. Nile Valley, Egypt. A young filmmaker is wandering down the riverbank atop his trusty steed, wobbling along in search of images to trap and adventures to pursue. He is later mesmerized by an object aglow from within a cave not far from the river. It beckons him into the dark, lures him into its depths, leads him to the sacred tombs, and eventually to the secrets of the ancient kings. There, amongst precious treasures, he meets Guillaume, a mysterious feline who claims to have come from a time yet unknown to the young wanderer. A world too fantastic to be believed. They instantly form a unique friendship, one of special company and unspoken trust that would deepen further as they journey together through life, death, truth, memory, and time.
They shall go like this, meet on several occasions, in many different places. No memories, no plans. Just travels that would allow them to see countless truths, ones that they will ultimately feel compelled to tell. Only later would they realize that what they've chosen to share would create obsessions in those who beheld those images, an uncontrollable compulsion to go back and experience those moments again and again.
The present: Chris Marker is somewhere in France, or elsewhere in the world. He is filming, or writing, creating; or perhaps wondering, wandering. He refuses to be interviewed, and during a rare meeting once mentioned that he would prefer the writer to invent his own story. His own truth. This comes from Marker's own fascination with the nature of truth, how it is created and perceived by each individual, and not because he supports lies and deceit. This, along with memory, death, life, and time, are just some of the themes that flood his films and visual works. Mostly reflections of his meandering thoughts and obsessions, but more importantly they are his versions of the reality that is out there, waiting to be told.
FROM THE PAST: EARLY WORKS AND INFLUENCES:
Marker was once fascinated by a simple contraption called the Pathéorama. It was a small tin box with a rectangular aperture and a small lens that functioned as a viewer for films; a private slideshow of images on celluloid that unrolled, frame by frame. For him, this turned out to be a very useful way of bridging the gap between the world of film and the real world, between fiction and the truth. And so he used this contraption to create his then masterpiece- drawings of his cat with captions in between on a Pathéorama model tape. It was like entering another world. He said it made him feel as if he'd finally gone through the looking glass. When he presented "his movie" to one of his most inventive school buddies, he was immediately told that movies are supposed to move, that nobody can do a movie with still images. This sobered him up. Thirty years later, he made La Jetée.
La Jetée is Chris Marker's most famous and influential film. A 29-minute science-fiction masterpiece from 1962, the film's premise was later adapted for Terry Gilliam's 1995 high-profile film 12 Monkeys. Having nothing to do in form and budget with the Hollywood blockbuster, La Jetée is much more moving and beautifully sad. A story in black and white still images about apocalyptic Paris and what's left of its citizens then living underground, government scientists struggle to find a way to survive and restore the world to its former condition. These scientists conduct several experiments on these human remnants, survivors of World War III. Many of them die, others simply go mad. The experiments prove to be too harsh for these men... except for one, he who appears at the very beginning of the film as a boy, now a man with a memory unusually strong. The scientists use his mind's images as a means of reaching out to the past and the future in order to help the desperate present. In the past, he meets a woman, or remembers her. They develop a relationship that is to become key to this experiment, and thus to human survival, and ultimately, to a death forgotten. A narrator accompanies these images, the only voice heard throughout the film, along with music and sound effects.
Though Chris Marker has carved himself a most notable niche in the science fiction genre through La Jetée, his early works mostly delved in reality and its representation on film. In fact, he has been credited for conceiving the cinematic essay, an early example of which is his film Lettre de Siberie (1957). It is a precedent to what is to become his trademark narrative style. He was known for developing this form, much used by filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jon Jost, Wim Wenders, Harun Farocki, Werner Herzog, Abbas Kiarostami, and Agnès Varda, among others, all with his own degree of success. Marker is also a key figure in the development of the cinéma vérité movement, often mentioned alongside Jean Rouch whose Chronique d'un eté (1961) is said to be the key work that gave birth to the movement. Rouch's film focused on daily street scenes and the ordinary man, veering away from fiction and allowing the audience a different perspective on a life they are all too familiar with. Man-on-the-street interviews litter both his works and Marker's film Le Joli Mai (1963), a film with an unusually objective tone compared to Marker's later works, making them the 2 primary specimens of this movement.
After this period, Marker would then move on to create the SLON (Societe pour le Lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles), an erratic filmmaking collective principally dedicated to making socially and politically conscious works. Marker also collaborated with Godard and Resnais during this time in producing and distributing "cinétracts," 16mm pieces meant to be "news bulletins" for and about students and workers around the time of the May 1968 revolt in France.
Another Chris Marker masterpiece, more in line with his cinéma vérité roots than