Go-for-Broke Games of History: Chris Marker between "Old" and "New" Media

By Warner, Rick | Post Script, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Go-for-Broke Games of History: Chris Marker between "Old" and "New" Media


Warner, Rick, Post Script


Chris Marker is too elusive, too mercurial to be labeled a filmmaker. Over the past six decades, he has written poems, short stories, a novel, and criticism on a broad range of topics. He has worked as a translator, cartoonist, and photo-essayist. Quick to embrace emergent technologies, he has made forays into television, video, and computer imaging. In recent years, he has made himself at home in the art museum, creating multi-screen installation exhibits with still and moving images collected from disparate sources. He has designed a CD-ROM, Immemory (1998), a virtual museum in its own right which synthesizes his career-long explorations of rime, travel, memory, and mourning. He has even displayed his talent for cartoons and collage in cyberspace, authoring a news column on international politics under his longtime alias, "Guillaume-en-Egypte."

And yet, while shifting among these various media, Marker has often shown a continuity of practice, namely a poetics that uses found images as a means of historical inspection. He sketches such a view of creative continuity in a 1978 essay on the equally versatile painter / photographer / filmmaker William Klein:

The trouble with people like this is that we tend to cut them into pieces and to leave each piece to the specialists: a film to the film critic, a photograph to the photographic expert, a picture to the art pundit.... Whereas the really interesting phenomenon is the totality of these forms of expression, their obvious or secret correspondences, their interdependence. The painter does not really turn to photography, then to the cinema, be starts from a single preoccupation ... and modulates it through all the media. (qtd. in Lupton 10)

Marker thus notes the exchangeability of aesthetic forms and opposes any field-specific attempt to keep them separate. He regards media difference as a range of options for an already existing spirit of inquiry, and media change as a change of scenery.

Marker's openness to new technologies and intermedia relationships contrasts sharply with a recent direction in film studies, one which this essay seeks to complicate. As Laura Mulvey has observed, the cinema's putative 100th anniversary in the 1990s was an occasion imbued with anxieties and pressures to pinpoint film's specificity. Celluloid seemed to be nearing its extinction. Digital technology had infiltrated all aspects of the production process, and home video had become the main locus for film viewing. The medium needed to be defined before it could be laid to rest, and so the Bazinian question "what is cinema?" came back to the fore of critical and theoretical interest. While some film scholars met newer media with an eagerness to rethink ingrained definitions, (1) others latched on to what they thought the digital could not provide in its reduction of all input data to 1s and 0s--namely a physiochemical bond between object and image secured by the photograph. In these accounts, indexicality (i.e., a semiotic link between object and trace on the basis of causation) often becomes the guarantor of truth conditions, the sure sign of realism, and thus, by negative definition, the mark of cinema's essence. In many instances this position is shot through with a panicky cinephilia, as Mary Ann Doane has noted while arguably adhering to this tendency in her own project: "It is no accident that cinephilia and the consequent return to ontology should now emerge as the bearer of such high theoretical stakes. A certain nostalgia for cinema precedes its 'death.' One doesn't--and can't--love the televisual or the digital in quite the same way" (228).

At its best, this view of the medium rekindles interest in neglected figures--such as Andre Bazin and Siegfried Kracauer--and attends to the experience that an indexical cinema supports. (2) At its worst, it reduces the complex views of these same recuperated figures to serve its iwn agendas--such as the safeguarding of film studies as a discrete discipline with a unique object of study-and fails to grasp the technologies it rejects a priori on the grounds of being non-indexical and non-photochemical. …

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