A day after his 91st birthday, the French Ministry of Culture announced yesterday morning that pioneering filmmaker and essayist Chris Marker had passed away. His career spanned over 60 years.
Chris Marker was most famous for his 1962 iconic feature-length film, La Jetée, which won the filmmaker the Prix Jean Vigo for short film, and brought him international recognition. La Jetée tells the tale of a man haunted my memory in post-apocalyptic Paris. The entire 28 minutes of La Jetée is composed from photographs, apart from a single shot, showing the female protagonist of the film blink and wake up suddenly. Exploring themes of memory, time, and history, Marker’s time-travel tale is loved for its ability to effortlessly combine poetry and philosophy with science fiction; two seemingly oppositional themes that marry in many of Marker’s other films.
Marker also made numerous award-winning documentaries that were banned and censored in France and the United States because of politically sensitive content. Marker made films that criticised French colonialism (Statues Also Die, 1954), made a mockery of American politics (Cuba Si!, 1961), and protested against the Vietnam War (Loin du Vietnam, 1967). The latter was produced with members of the French New Wave movement and other experimental filmmakers whom he befriended early in his career. These included Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda, and longtime collaborator Alain Resnais.
In the 1982, Marker released his acclaimed Sans Soleil. Much like La Jetée, the experimental film explores the ability to remember and forget. Narrator Alexandra Stewart reads: “He wrote me: 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. How can one remember thirst?” With a lack of distinct narrative, Sans Soleil is an example of Marker’s “essay-film” genre. The film is a montage of letters read aloud, accompanied by haunting imagery that explores how memory distorts our perception of history.
Marker continued to work until the end of his life, experimenting with digital technology. In 1998, he produced Immemory, an interactive CD-ROM commissioned for the Centre Pompidou, and in 2005, Marker created at 19-minute multimedia piece for the Museum of Modern Art titled Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men. AFC also discovered Marker’s active YouTube channel, last updated 3 months ago.