Magazine article Artforum International

Chris Marker

Magazine article Artforum International

Chris Marker

Article excerpt


Some purists rue the monkeys in Terry Gilliam's new film, but none of them complain about seeing Chris Marker's name again in theaters (Twelve Monkeys having been inspired by La Jetee). Marker, with Godard, one of the grand old men of revolutionary film in France, has been missed. Missing the slash La Jetee, 1962, froze in the mind, staying close, mesmerized - by Sans Soleil, 1982, wondering what he was doing, for such a man does not completely leave or go idle, even at night. Not knowing that Marker has in recent years been using video on his travels. He returns, as always, with even more existential surprise in his arms.

This time, he might have titled it Happiness.

It is called, more prosaically, Silent Movie, 1994-95, an installation commissioned by the Wexner Center, and is currently touring American museums. It is and is not a movie: at its core five monitors are stacked one on top of the other, a vertical rower releasing the softest flow of counterpoint and chord. In the tower, clips taken from old black and white films yield to Marker's long black and white portrait of the beautiful Catherine Belkhodja seen over many days and moods. Still, like La Jetee, the memories from a man's childhood trade against the sights of his present. Whole expanses of time charted within a self detach. Can they become images? Feet tightrope-walking sidewalks, fast trains of faces - hers, Asta Nielsen's, Kiki de Montparnasse's, cats' - Marker's idea of TV is not much like anyone else's. By the way, the tower is not silent.

Yet Marker himself does not speak.

Those waiting were not expecting that.

Silent Movie forgoes his voice, the quiet one that used to muse over the spiraling images, a voice-over resetting tempos, temporarily calling hairs. His language seemed to provide the ground for all reflection, the alter-mirror that would not tell you who you are and were. No one can forget such language. He used it in Sans Soleil to say:

"Poetry is born of insecurity, wandering Jews, quaking Japanese. By living on a rug that jesting nature is ever ready to pull out from under them, they've got into the habit of moving about in a world of appearances, fragile, fleeting, revocable, of trains that fly from the planet, of samurais fighting in an immutable past. That's called the impermanence of things."

Unsilvered reflections pulled vocal threads from the image, stretching them out from it or across it into webs, or better, a thick expanding edit, an edit that seemed to deny the dialectical cut of classic montage, an edit of layers where words opened up spaces and behaved like colors, an edit capable of cruel kindness and vertical clouds. Sometimes the language would speak of these things:

"I'm writing all this to you from another world, a world of appearances. In a way the two worlds communicate with each other. Memory is to one what history is to the other, an impossibility. Legends are born out of the need to decipher the indecipherable. Memories must make do with the delirium, with their drift. A moment stopped would burn like a frame of film blocked before the furnace of the projector. Madness protects, as fever does."

People used to like to speak of this as ecriture but was it?

To say so takes away the spiral's twist. Sans Soleil was full of these twists:

"The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images. He wrote me, one day I'll have to put it at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader. If they don't see happiness in the picture, at least they'll see the black."

It was simple. The language kept its ground in a notion of direct reference that most fans of ecriture can neither read nor see. Threads tied. Black led. Marker's references tied words right into images, to points like the Icelandic road in 1965, form touching particular people's lives, as well as their parallel lives. …

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