Chris Marker the influential French artist and film-maker has died aged 91. Marker died on his birthday, July 29th, which oddly reminded me of the time traveler in his 1962 film La Jetée who returns back in time only to see his own death at Orly Airport.
La Jetée is Marker’s best known work, which questioned the form of cinema, and the role within it of image, sound, editing and script. The film consisted of a series of still images, and one film sequence, which told the story of a post-apocalyptic world where a time traveler returns to the past to change the future. The film was the basis for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and original conceit for James Cameron’s Terminator. Today, French President Francois Hollande led tributes to Marker, saying La Jetée “will be remembered by history.”
Born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve on July 29th, 1921, Marker was vague about his biography, preferring to mislead and fictionalize elements of his story. He variously claimed he was born in Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine, and Outer Mongolia. Marker never gave interviews, and refused to be photographed, though in later years pictures were secretly taken.
Marker was studying philosophy when the Second World War broke out, he served with the French Resistance, after the war he wrote a novel, Le Coeur Net (1949), joined the left-leaning magazine Esprit, contributing to poems, stories, and co-wrote the film column with André Bazin. He then wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma, before starting the globe trotting that would continue for the rest of his life, photographing and documenting his many excursions.
Marker’s first experimental film was a documentary on the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He then worked with Alain Resnais on Les Statues Meurent Aussi, a hugely controversial film dealing with colonialism and art, which was banned in France on the grounds it attacked French foreign policy. Marker was a Marxist and his politics informed much of his work. However, Marker could be critical of Soviet Russia as he was of the west. In Letter from Siberia (1958), he famously critiqued Soviet and Western propaganda by showing the same piece of film three times, reporting it twice through East/West propaganda, and finally, ‘telling it like it is.’
Durng the 1950s, he also started a series of photographic books, one in particular on Korean women, developed Marker’s idiosyncratic style of mixing image and text, which possibly inspired the form of La Jetée.
Marker followed La Jetée with the less successful Le Joli Mai (1962), a 150 minute film made up from almost 60 hours of interview material on the lives, loves and politics of Parisians. He was then involved in establishing Société pour le Lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles (SLON), which made collectively directed films and documentaries. Their first film was on Vietnam, and continued with the style of documentary Marker had devised with Le Joli Mai.
During the 1970s, Marker seemed to lose his way, making films about the politics of previous generations rather than the issues of feminism, sex, and personal liberty, that were central to the decade. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Marker returned to form with the cinematic essay, Sans Soleil (1983) and AK (1985), a documentary on Akira Kurosawa, making his epic movie Ran.
Marker continued working through his seventies and eighties and began developing a more personal and intimate style of film-making, focussing on his pets and zoo animals, creating his own bestiary.
Chris Marker wrote with the camera - his best works told cinematic essays that mixed the personal with the social and political.
Chris Marker (Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve), July 29 1921 - July 29 2012
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Chris Marker: ‘Bestiare’ from 1990