This text appeared originally in Chris Marker: Staring Back 2007, the catalogue for Staring Back, an exhibition produced by the Wexner Center for the Arts, curated by Bill Horrigan. The catalogue was co-published by MIT Press, edited by Ann Bremner.
“We are all voyagers, lost between the waves and the clouds; we are eager for sweet water, fresh fruits, firm ground and those others, unknown and like us, who are to be found at the end of every journey. Those fixed points at which one takes breath, and which sailors used to call landfalls, are not the same for everyone and yet are common to all.”
– Dominique Aury
Staring Back brings together about two hundred black-and-white photo portraits produced by Chris Marker from 1952 to 2006. It arose unforeseen (but what route better, given how we believe we’ve come to know him?) from an exchange of letters.
On March 30, 2006, Marker responded to an e-mail I’d sent him about something else altogether, by attaching four photos (see p. 139) he’d just taken of the anti-CPE demonstrations then coursing through Paris and through France generally. Triggered by a remarkably misjudged piece of federal legislation, fronted by Dominique de Villepin and widely taken to diminish further the job security of young people in the first stage of their careers, these demonstrations against the contrat première embauche (CPE) had begun in February and continued for over two months, until the legislation was withdrawn in April. Marker intermittently took to the streets to observe these gatherings, and in his e-mail of March 30, he observed, “We’re far from the joyful mood of Chats perchés.”
The reference is to his then-most-recent film, a documentary for ARTE (the French-German television company), which debuted with considerable fanfare in December 2004. Structured around Marker’s investigation of the sudden appearance throughout Paris of a grinning graffiti cat – “M. Chat” – Chats perchés [The Case of the Grinning Cat] is a deceptively casual interrogation of the national mood of France from shortly after September 11, 2001, through the quickly ensuing run-up to the United States’ war in Iraq, and into 2004.1 It settles on a series of events causing citizens to take to the streets in demonstrations of protest or solidarity, “political” events in the expansive rather than the narrow sense of the term, with politics seen as a species of human affairs. As a participant-witness, Marker moved through these events discreetly armed with a video camera, taking wry measure of the shifting stakes involved, but invariably delighted to see how the figure of M. Chat himself had begun to appear as a Cheshire-like apparition in the passing parade, drawn on placards, worn as a mask, even popping up on television coverage of the presidential election.
Those who love Marker’s work know that in his cosmology, cats and owls are the presiding deities,2 vaunted above mere humans, hence the labors of the self-effacing begetter of M. Chat would have found no fan more ardent. Marker’s pleasure over M. Chat could have been matched only by that of his alter ego, Guillaume-en-Egypte, the companion feline who starred in the artist’s 1985 video Chat écoutant la musique [Cat Listening to Music] and whose cartooned image Marker continues to invoke as the bearer of wisecracking commentary on events of the day, dispatched to the artist’s lucky correspondents in frequent e-mail installments. But Chats perchés offers up considerably more than a salute to the unexpected joy of seeing M. Chat peering down from the roofs of Paris. The film links the unfolding of public events Marker observes– people gathering in public to voice concern about the burgeoning clout of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s right-wing National Front Party, and about George W. Bush’s saber-rattling against Saddam Hussein, and about the rights of Muslim women, and about the territorial integrity of Tibet, and about the chronically contested fact of Israel, and about other matters not smaller in urgency to those who profess them – to produce something like a snapshot of a time and place and of its abiding moods: the nation’s temperature taken, as the nation defined itself through the people drawn onto the streets of Paris.
In that, Chats perchés feels like an epilogue-sequel to Le joli mai, Marker’s dazzling 1962 experiment in direct filmmaking that found him, Pierre Lhomme, and their accomplices dashing around Paris to ask those they encountered their thoughts on politics, work, self-betterment and the meaning of wealth and of poverty, and on France’s recent surrender of Algeria and the prolonged trauma of national self-identity that it triggered. Armed with a then-revolutionary lightweight camera and sound-recording equipment, Marker combined the endlessly surprising “performances” of these ordinary citizens with a voice-over commentary (spoken by his friends – and postwar leftist icons – Simone Signoret in the English version and Yves Montand in the French one) that noted early on, “If we dissect this many-faced crowd, we find that it is the sum of solitudes.”
As it happens, that’s the phrase I recalled when studying the four pictures Marker sent me in March 2006: four images of young people alone in the midst of the multitude, unmindful of his camera’s embrace. In response to my admiring reaction to these images, from which depth had been foreshortened in such a way as to rivet the viewer’s attention on the passionate faces of the beautiful protesters, burning with la raison ardente, Marker offered
“a few words of explanation. These are not bona fide photographs. They’re stills from my video footage, somewhat manipulated thru the jujucraft of Photoshop and Painter. It’s an experiment I conducted for years, in order to extract meaningful images from the inordinate flow of video and television. I developed the concept of ‘superliminal,’ which is a sort of counterpoint to Subliminal. Instead of one frame lost in the stream of other, different frames, Superliminal is one frame lost in the stream of almost IDENTICAL frames, or so it seems, for when you take ’em one by one, one happens to be THE real photogram, something nobody then has perceived, not even the guy who shot it (me, in most cases).” (April 1, 2006).
In truth I’d gone beyond simply musing over these images, but had proposed that the Wexner Center mount an exhibition of them, in short order, bypassing the normal exhibition schedule typically set years in advance. We would have been able to do a show of Marker’s anti-CPE photos within months of the events they were documenting, by using one of the building’s spaces outside the domain of the galleries proper, and as they were digital prints, unbudgeted costs could be relatively easily managed. That said, I wasn’t entirely confident Marker would agree to our showing his photographs at all; as far as we knew, he’d never consented to a public exhibition of his photographs despite the unflagging interest curators, museums, and galleries here and abroad had shown for decades.3
We’d worked with Marker in 1994–95 in commissioning what became Silent Movie, a five-monitor video installation, with accompanying digital photographs of its obligingly photogenic “star,” Catherine Belkhodja, and comically fictitious movie posters he’d conjured, his hypnotic meditation on his own memories of presound cinema. Delicately elaborated yet dense in its visual, graphic, and musical interconnections (one of the five monitors delivered randomly generated silent film–like intertitles, while an evocative selection of piano solos reverberated throughout the gallery), Silent Movie had led a charmed life, leaving Columbus to float to over a dozen other venues around the globe, accompanied by such ancillary merchandise as a T-shirt featuring Guillaume-en-Egypte, bemused at his patron status as “The Silent Movie Cat.”
Marker continued to send images as the anti-CPE gatherings accelerated in Paris (“No, it ain’t a still from Pudovkin. Just today at the Bastille,” ran one e-mail message from April 4), before coming to term in mid-April, as he wrote:
“Back to the demos story: I guess France is the only country on earth where people may battle for two months in order to replace one word by another. And it is precisely the word ‘replacement’ that finally solved the crisis. ‘Modification’ or ‘adaptation’ were too soft for the protesters. ‘Abrogation’ or ‘withdrawal’ made the government lose face. Someone came up with the great idea of ‘replacement’ and in a whiff everything went back to order. Perhaps that’s an homage to literacy, in a sense.” (April 12, 2006)
Meanwhile, we continued to ponder the possibilities for the Wexner Center exhibition, at that point to be presented under his suggested title, Revenge of the Eye:
“If subliminal refers to the object the eye doesn’t catch, yet the brain does, Superliminal is THE REVENGE OF THE EYE...that on slow-motion catches one image among others apparently identical as being THE image ... When one applies this system, as I do here, to his own footage, it may appear just as a refined way of sorting. When applied to alien material, the TV stuff for instance, in pure Duchampesque fashion, the robber becomes the author. Turning to black-and-white and Photoshop manipulations being the last stage of the appropriation.” (May 4, 2006)4
Marker had already acknowledged the specter of Marcel Duchamp in Le Souvenir d’un avenir [Remembrance of Things to Come] – the portrait film he and Yannick Bellon had produced in 2001 about her mother, the pathbreaking photojournalist Denise Bellon – in which Duchamp is credited as the artist with “the gaze which in this century has changed ours the most.” One of the founding members of the Alliance Photo Agency, Denise Bellon was celebrated for her invaluable photo documentation of early surrealist art exhibitions and the first steps of the Cinémathèque Française, no less than for her visual reporting on many of the remembered and erased political crises from the early 1930s into the Cold War, including sobering assessments of Finland’s 1939 prewar mobilization efforts and the legacy of the Nazi concentration camps. Just as Chats perchés uses a succession of public demonstrations over several years to register the mood of France, Le Souvenir d’un avenir regards Bellon’s photo project as a lens to study the political and artistic landscape of Europe before and after the war. In that respect, despite its ostensible subject, it functions as a resonantly personal commentary from Marker. It’s an ordering of an archive – another “refined way of sorting.”
As many have pointed out, Marker’s passionate engagement with the biases and byways of memory has a physical correlative in the existence of the archive – whether a literal one or in such domesticated forms as the family or vacation photo album or in advanced forms of digital storage and delivery systems. It’s by no means reductive to say that Marker’s artistic odyssey and vocation, his calling, consists of making and looking at photographed images and of using words to puzzle what they mean, and of showing how their meaning can be made to change. The instantly classic version of this (recognized as such by no less than his postwar mentor André Bazin) comes as early as 1958 in Lettre de Sibérie [Letter from Siberia], with its triple-repetition of identical footage joined to leftist, rightist, and “balanced” voice-over commentary describing what we’re seeing in, roughly, the idioms of Pravda, the Voice of America, and UNESCO, respectively. But the passionate curiosity leading him to ponder the evidence of his eyes (it’s the essayist in him) and of what the still or film camera has captured is there as early as Olympia 52 (1952), which charmingly prefigures in film form the entire Petite planète publishing enterprise that produced the now highly coveted series of travel books he edited for Éditions du Seuil from 1954 to 1964. In those volumes photos, archival imagery, commentary, and quotation embark on an interchange at once learned and lighthearted – and certainly then-alien to that utilitarian genre. Similarly, his own two volumes of Commentaires (1961 and 1967), scripts for films both made and unrealized, deploy photographs not only in the service of the essay-as-scenario but as cross-referencing elements at once illustrative and allusive.5
Short works like Si j’avais quatre dromadaires [If I Had Four Camels] (1966) and the Photo Browse section of Zapping Zone, his 1990 installation, are essentially ordered ransackings of his own photo archives, offering up still images in ever-varied sequences and combinations. For Marker, it is clear that no image is ever lost but simply bides its time while waiting to be called forth to testify. Photos migrate from a lonely self-containment, to the printed page where they converse with text, into the montage factory of film, with each migration bringing additive resonance and keeping the archive alive through the belief that to plunder is to replenish. In Si j’avais quatre dromadaires, the proxy photographer and his two friends riff in voice-over to images gathered around the globe (26 countries over a decade), often leavening or disputing the others’ interpretations of what they’re all seeing. Photo Browse, arranged to a wistful Bill Evans tune (“Where has the time all gone to / Haven’t done half the things we want to / Oh well, we’ll catch up some other time...”), opens with extreme close-ups of contact sheets that Marker’s video camera virtually grazes upon. It then pulls back as hundreds of individual prints pass beneath our eyes, mainly randomly sequenced but occasionally organized according to subject (including a set related to his film portrait of Akira Kurosawa, 1985’s A.K., and ones from the events of May 1968 in Paris, some of which will reappear in Staring Back). In declaring the still photograph as the central standard, the works harken back inevitably to 1962’s La jetée – that film within cinema history having the cut-glass precision of intent and execution one finds in Mozart – and forward to Le Souvenir d’un avenir. The entire confrontation with the archive finds its most unfettered rendition in the CD-ROM Immemory (1997), whose form accommodates still photos (both as inherited and altered), moving images (his own and others’), and textual commentary (mostly his alone). Poetically conceived as an autobiographical exercise ruled by the solemn mandate of digression, Immemory pulverizes linearity. Guillaume-en-Egypte, our on-screen Virgil, constantly encourages detours, skipping ahead and folding back, encouraging associative logic, the logic of the heart, this in the interest of sharing if only briefly, if only lightly, the surface of Marker’s memory, the cat’s paw loosening the skein. And as we continued to correspond, in spring 2006, about the photo exhibition, the eruption of memory again suggested that we take broader measure of where we’d found ourselves.
In June, Marker wrote,
“Funny you mention Le joli mai, for I came upon it too, but in a different way. As for the whole thing (The Revenge) calls for a sort of archeology of the image, I was wondering if I’d go as far as point what was the real trigger for me: the demo of Feb. 8, 1962, remembered as ‘Charonne’ by the contemporaries, in relation to the Metro station where 8 people choked to death. It’s there that for the first time, in face of senseless police brutality, I decided to use my 16mm camera as a substitute for the gun my primary instincts would have preferred ... That short footage, not too good (the whole thing happened in the dark) was in fact my first step toward a new way to consider filmmaking, and also the origin for Le joli mai, in which I used it, and everything that followed on the same path until Chats perchés. Hence the idea you may brood about, starting the exhib with a few small prints of these first steps, Charonne and later the Pentagon, as reminders of where I come from, filmwise. Here, some stills. Just an idea, out of the blue, but it’s comforting to have a sparring partner.” (June 19, 2006)6
Whereas I’d been timorous in suggesting a grounding for the 2006 anti-CPE photos anywhere other than in Le joli mai, Marker clarified in turn the catalyst for Le joli mai itself, in the so-called Charonne Massacre. The reference is to an event in the waning months of France’s war over Algerian independence: the Left had called for a rally to denounce the right-wing Organisation armée secrète (which used the methods of terror to oppose France’s withdrawal), and the Paris police’s brutal response to the gathering had forced demonstrators to flee down the stairs of the Charonne Metro stop, resulting in eight people being killed in the ensuing stampede. Along with a still from the Charonne event, Marker attached two from 1967, when he’d participated in an epochal antiwar demonstration at the Pentagon.7
My wish from the start had been to shepherd Marker’s photos into public light and to offer them as a heretofore cloistered form of communication from an artist who for decades has been sharing the world as he’s sought and found it with readers and viewers around the globe – the photos providing, as it were, “another likeness,” as I titled the essay I wrote to introduce Silent Movie. While he continues to move with virtuosic alacrity among words (in his and others’ native tongues), moving images, music, still images, drawings, and digital domains, those who cherish his voice sense that it’s all a dazzling, ungraspable work in progress. The contingencies of genre are merely (alas) those that material time and space impose on him, and the essential nature of his achievement can only be begun to be glimpsed when embraced as a perpetually reconstituting web of word-and-image cells, a life-lasting undertaking as time-defiant as Joyce’s, yet having in its individual articulations the clarifying directness of the midday sun.
As Marker continued to dispatch photo-graphs, the enveloping pleasure in viewing them grew to feel like gazing through a family photo album, some pictures instantly reminding us of people we had seen before, others drawing tantalizing scenarios, others still simply moving in the face of such improbable beauty. From a photo archive as vast and labyrinthine as Marker’s obviously is, when every direction is in truth a detour, the some two hundred images he chose for Staring Back became even more provocative as a deliberate gesture; judging, for example, from Photo Browse (not to mention his own books and those of others to which he has contributed photos over the years), there could have been hundreds if not thousands more available for inclusion. The basic binary structure of the exhibition became modified over the next several weeks. Although the full range of photographs included dozens produced from camera negatives, Marker chose to deliver all of them in digital form. He would also periodically indulge my questions about the provenance of specific images within his earlier work, as, for example, when he wrote,
“the bloodied demonstrator was originally in The Sixth Face (shot from the steps of the Pentagone, when I gloriously occupied them), then re-used in Le fond de l’air. [Le fond de l’air est rouge – A Grin without a Cat, 1977/1988/1993] The cellist was in an orchestra pit in Stockholm.” (July 14, 2006)
Similarly, precise sequencing and pairing began to emerge:
“... the editor’s syndrome functioned automatically, and ‘pairs’ materialized, some graphic, some geographic, some geometric, some thematic (French cop vs. Japanese protester, seated Chinese boy in Canton vs. seated top model in Paris, Greek monk on Mt. Athos vs. Buddhist monk with cat, sad German activist – that was the night of the first free elections in East Berlin, a disaster for the extreme Left – vs. ko’d Thai boxer, etc.). I give that for what it’s worth, but sometimes instinct has its merits.” (July 23, 2006)
And, as he had compiled what he called “an ‘atmospheric’ soundtrack” for the Silent Movie exhibition (about twenty piano solos in the favored keys of Satie and Mompou to course through the gallery), so Marker has provided for Staring Back an extraordinarily varied collection of CDs and music files to play in random rotation, shuffle mode, ranging from Bill Evans and Kurt Weill, to John Cage and Bach, to Moondog and William Walton.
Staring Back ultimately resolved into four sections: “I Stare 1,” “They Stare,” “I Stare 2,” and “Beast of...”. The largest section, “I Stare 1,” consists of about seventy-five images, ordered chronologically into six subsections corresponding to the succession (presumably edited from a larger set) of political demonstrations in which Marker has intervened, beginning with Charonne in 1962, to the Pentagon in 1967, to May 1968 in Paris, to demonstrations in Paris in 2002 (some rendered in Chats perchés), to miscellaneous Parisian demonstrations, and concluding with the anti-CPE pictures of 2006. In an exceedingly rare exception to the rule against his own representation being placed on view, Marker himself figures in an image from the Pentagon series, captured in medium shot as the bare-headed man flanked by two uniformed MPs escorting him into custody. The entire “I Stare 1” section is suspended between two further images: “Once more, a small memory cell. Same location, place de la République, where all major demos start or finish. Same camera angle. And same tree, 40 years older.” (July 16, 2006)
“They Stare” is the exploded counter-shot to “I Stare,” the two sequences facing each other on opposing walls. Marker has sequenced this series not in chronological fashion but in couples joined vertically, about fifty of them. These are the faces of people who looked upon Marker as he took their measure through his lens: the faces that have seen his face, and taken it with them as he has taken theirs with him. A broad register of gazes meet his, from a passing glimpse to what must have been longer exchanges, from the fortuitous interaction to the studio-like portrait, from fellow passengers on the Metro to such longtime accomplices as the actress Alexandra Stewart (peering through a porthole) and film editor Christine Aya (caught gamine-like, cigarette in hand).
For a man whose legend includes a prohibition on having his own photo rendered, the “They Stare” pictures are a profoundly poignant relaxation of that embargo, as moving in its way as the moment in La jetée when the protagonist points to the cross section of the sequoia tree and tells his companion, “This is where I come from.” Each of the “They Stare” images captures a face turned in curious, pleased recognition to the face of the man at that second beholding them, proof (if photos must be importuned to prove) not simply of the anecdotal coordinates of his global wanderings but of his will, which is his fate, to remember, and to have it remembered, that these are some of the humans with whom he shared a moment of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. They are the residents of Zone Marker, friends over time alongside beauties glimpsed perhaps a single time, but all intent on meeting the photographer’s gaze with mutual and varying intimations of empathy, forbearance, and love in its variegated descents.
As Sans soleil’s narrator remarks about a bar he finds in Tokyo, “It’s the kind of place that allows people to stare at each other with equality...the threshold below which any man is as good as any other, and knows it.” For those who’ve not had the fortune ever to meet the artist or who’ve seen him only in the samizdat-like photos of him surfacing now and again, the portraits of “They Stare” coalesce into a reflected, refracted image of the man: bemused, direct, more than a mild aesthete, and passionately driven to human engagement; a man who, in his first encounter with you, wants to hear the news from the corner of the world you call home. And here we meet the woman first seen, and then to be remembered, in the Praia market in Cape Verde, assuming status as an icon of late twentieth-century global wandering; she who, in Sans soleil, with a turn of her head could stop a motion camera in its tracks, the forward march of film surrendering to the power of the quietly directed gaze.
The “I Stare 2” section, produced in the gallery as oversized contact sheets, contains Staring Back’s earliest photos, including that of the Czech triple gold medalist Emil Zátopek triumphing in the Helsinki Olympics, from Olympia 52. It’s also the section enlivened by portraits of public figures and fellow-travelling artists whose company Marker shared: Simone Signoret, his childhood friend from Neuilly-sur-Seine, and the Russian directors Alexander Medvedkin and Andrei Tarkovsky (all of whom he’s also portrayed on film: in 1986’s Mémoires pour Simone, 1993’s Le tombeau d’Alexandre [The Last Bolshevik], and 1999’s Une journée d’Andrei Arsenevich [One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich], respectively); the cosmopolitan Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens (whose 1962 A Valparaiso he wrote); composer Michel Legrand (collaborator on Le joli mai); the axiomatic Salvador Dali; Fidel Castro in full action mode (from 1961’s Cuba si); and actress Delphine Seyrig, here in maquillage to perform in Samuel Beckett’s 1964 film, Comédie.
Staring Back’s concluding section, its valedictory gesture, consists of eleven portraits of animals granting us a berth among them, some zoo-enclosed and some freely ranging. Realizing that animals were “conspicuously absent from the ‘Stare’ walls,” (July 28, 2006), Marker suggested we give them pride of place within the installation by being placed at the very end, the animals pondering God-only-knows-what as they indulge the curious photographer standing in deference before them, a gesture of envoi concluding the photo journey: “Cat, wherever you are, peace be with you.”8
Like all of Marker’s film work prior to Le joli mai in 1962, Olympia 52 is rarely seen, especially outside France, and dozens of short and collaborative works subsequent to it remain virtually impossible to view. This is partly through Marker’s own disinterest in remaining attached, on some level, to what for him are things of the past (Marker, in 2003: “Twenty years separate La jetée from Sans soleil. And another 20 years separate Sans soleil from the present. Under the circumstances, if I were to speak in the name of the person who made these movies, it wouldn’t be journalism, rather spiritism.”), and partly through the probably more deciding vagaries of international film/video distribution (involving ownership, rights holders, etc.).9 Fragments from some of those fugitive works surface in “I Stare 2,” including the lovely, swan-like Israeli woman posed at the easel from Description d’un combat [Description of a Struggle] (1960) and the bespectacled sun-gazers from Eclipse (1999), not to mention images from Chats perchés and La jetée (the photographer William Klein and his wife, Janine, posing as messengers from the evolved wreckage beyond World War III), and the glamorous, vamping Catherine Belkhodja from Silent Movie.
As I’ve noted, punctuating the entirety of Staring Back are images one recalls from Marker’s film, video, and book projects, and from Immemory, here regrouped by their creator for this occasion: an elegant reshuffle of the deck, portraits reclaimed from the printed page, from the trove of moving images, from the ever-morphing digital vault. Staring Back is, at that, an image archipelago, dispersed over continents horizontally and demolishing time vertically; the owners of its faces are souls encountered perhaps once, or embraced for years by members of the clans who claim as an intimate the man who in stabilizing them as memories now offers them to us – Marker as both confrère and begetter, the sender and the suitor.
For this gathering of those clans, it feels like coming home, not for the first time, but again. As Judy says to Scottie, in Marker’s most cherished Vertigo, “It’s our place.”
- 1. M. Chat’s fame was such that by the time Chats perchés premiered in December 2004, the Centre Pompidou, which hosted multiple screenings of the film, also authorized its creators to produce an enormous drawing of him, measuring over 80 by 160 feet, on the building’s plaza. The left-leaning daily, Libération, produced a special supplement (December 4–5, 2004) acknowledging the joint phenomenon of M. Chat and Marker’s commentary on it, with every page of the issue graphically marked by M. Chat’s image, and including a conversation between Marker and M. Chat’s primary begetter, Thomas Vuille. (M. Chat is joined on the cover by Guillaume-en-Egypte, above the headline “Chris Marker and M. Chat put their paw on Libé.”) Credited to the collective known as CHAT (La Communauté Harmonieuse des Artistes Taciturnes), M. Chat, frequently accompanied by screenings of Chats perchés, has since migrated to such other locales as Sarajevo (where he adorned tramcars), Hong Kong, and New York (where the American debut of Chats perchés in 2006 included a gathering of fans wearing M. Chat masks).
- 2. Owls at Noon is the overarching title Marker has given to an ongoing summary project “to extract a subjective journey through the 20th century.” Its first installment, Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men, is a two- channel, eight-screen rumination on the traumas of World War I, echoing T. S. Eliot and set to a Toru Takemitsu composition for piano, which debuted at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2005. As for the supremacy of cats and owls as essential guides in navigating within Marker’s firmament, it’s as we’re reminded in Level Five: “Computer at night, barn-owl’s delight; computer in the morning, tom-cat’s warning.”
- 3. Going back several decades, Marker’s films have periodically been included in, or shown as adjunct screenings to, visual arts exhibitions, but his presence in that arena has dramatically increased through his multimedia installations destined expressly (unlike his films) for a gallery context. Among the few exhibitions to include his still photography are Hard Light (P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Doug Aitken, 2004), a group show in which storyboard and photo material from La jetée was on view, and The Unhomely: Phantom Scenes in Global Society (2nd International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Seville, curated by Okwui Enzewor, 2006), which included a group of Marker’s anti-CPE images. A notable recent example of Marker’s work “inspiring” visual artists is Anachronism (Argos, Brussels, curated by Elena Filipovic, 2007), a group show installed against the exhibition’s backdrop of a continuous screening of La jetée. In 2006, Peter Blum Gallery in New York produced Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men as a limited edition, as well as editioning selected digital photo prints by Marker.
- 4. I wrote a brief text to accompany “The Revenge of the Eye: A Portfolio by Chris Marker,” a portfolio of the images that appeared in the summer 2006 issue of Artforum, 313–317.
- 5. The full inventory of Marker’s photos as reproduced in books and journals remains to be taken, particularly those appearing outside his own authored works (see the bibliography at the back of this volume for a list) and those in the Petite planète volumes both during and after his editorial stewardship. Photos he took during the events of May 1968 in Paris were reproduced in various French- and English-language books and journals (e.g., Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville’s Red Flag/Black Flag, New York: Ballantine, 1968, and the very similar British edition, French Revolution 1968, published by Penguin Books in association with William Heinemann Ltd, and in François Maspero’s journal, Partisans 42, May–June 1968), both under his own name and as credited to Snark International, the loosely organized photo agency formed around that time. As for the Petite planète series itself, an “authorized” poster consisting of cover images selected by Marker was produced by the artist Jason Simon, for New York’s Orchard Gallery, in 2006. In providing Simon mild guidance on this endeavor, Marker located the cover for the spoof Petite planète guide to Mars, which is glimpsed several times as it wends its way through the Bibliothèque Nationale en route to being catalogued in Toute la mémoire du monde, Alain Resnais’ 1956 film on which Marker assisted.
- 6. The Charonne massacre in 1962 was itself a deathly epilogue to the roundup in October in 1961 of hundreds of Algerians in Paris, spearheaded by the Vichy-tainted chief of police, Maurice Papon, resulting in as many as an estimated 200 among the disappeared. Both the atrocities and their subsequent erasure from popular memory over the next several decades are analyzed in the 1992 documentary Drowning by Bullets (directed by Philip Brooks and Alan Hayling), which includes footage from Le joli mai. As it happens, I was writing this note on the day Papon’s death was announced (February 18, 2007). Peace be to his victims, and then to him.
- 7. Marker elaborated on his Pentagon experience, in an e-mail from August 10, 2006: “As you remember, there was something fishy in the whole affair. How came that an unbreakable line of armed soldiers was precisely interrupted at the outset of the small path that leads to the main entrance by a single rope guarded by a few marshals? During the night I spent on the steps of this illustrious building in the company of my colleagues from the press corps, I heard them exchanging their own puzzlement. ‘There’s something weird here,’ I remember one of them saying aloud. I chose not to enter that debate in The Sixth Face. Having held the ground for a whole night could symbolically be taken as a point for the Movement, that was enough (see how you can enter the field of propaganda against your will?). Perhaps on the other side it appeared useful to exaggerate the danger of the protesters (‘these irresponsible kids come to threaten our most sacred places’) – hence the surprising facility of our breakthrough. So everybody was manipulating everybody as usual. A new detail came recently by an unexpected twist: it happens that the man in charge for the Pentagon security was none other than Donald Rumsfeld ... And in an interview where he heavily described his glorious life, he mentioned that in order to avoid any regrettable accident, the weapons of the soldiers were not loaded!”
- 8. Immemory contains within its dizzying multitudes a series of charming monologues, “Beast Wishes,” by zoo animals (Albert of Okinawa, Sophie of Copenhagen, Marfa of Moscow, Molly of London, and Ty Lai of Paris) flaunting their connoisseurship as they ponder masterpieces by the likes of Modigliani and Botticelli.
- 9. An appalling casualty of the politics of “international coproduction,” Marker’s thirteen-part L’Heritage de la chouette [The Owl’s Legacy] (1989), about the foundational residue of Greek antiquity within the developed world, remains inaccessible following its “withdrawal” by the Onassis Foundation, its primary funder. As Marker recently remarked, “If ARTE hadn’t kept, fortunately, a Beta master of the editing, the whole film would have sunk to the bottom of the Aegean Sea.” (February 6, 2007).
This text appeared originally in Chris Marker: Staring Back 2007, the catalogue for Staring Back, an exhibition produced by the Wexner Center for the Arts, curated by Bill Horrigan. The catalogue was co-published by MIT Press, edited by Ann Bremner.
With thanks to Bill Horrigan and Edwin Carels