Friday, March 13, 2009

The Elusive Genius: Chris Marker

As we speak about arthouse films starting to “disappear” into odd legal limbos (see below), we needn’t worry about one genius French auteur. Chris Marker’s films have always been hard to see in the United States. Sure, there is the one excellent Criterion Collection release of his two most famous films, the perfect La Jetee(1962) and the unclassifiable documentary/essay/travelogue/memoir Sans Soleil(1982). Recently a group of four other Marker films were put out on DVD in conjunction with the Wexner Center in Ohio (from which someone posted a comment on this blog, back on this entry.

Here’s a snippet from the most recent Marker slice of brilliance The Case of the Grinning Cat(2004):

Aside from the odd inclusion on a Criterion disc (his A.K. can be found on the Ran package) all of Marker’s other films (he’s made over 40, and collaborated on several more) can’t be obtained over here. And thus, we depend on (where else?) YouTube for some exposure to the missing work. His very first feature, Olympia ’52(1952), can be found

That is a rare find, as are these two items, a piece of
recent Marker computer animation and a gorgeous study of a woman's face (in this case, actress Catherine Belkhodja, the mother of actress Isild Le Besco) made for a gallery exhibition.

Also a piece of space-art from our favorite Marker of time and space:

For those who are Marker initiates, there’s always been a desire to see the reclusive, secretive master at work. Well, YouTube gives that away that mystery too (don’t look if you’d rather preserve the enigma of the man who was described by his friend Alain Resnais as perhaps being “an alien” – spoiler alert!):

The two most interesting things I’ve discovered recently (besides the above “spoiler”) concerning Chris the brilliant is the original version of one of the films described above, namely Chats Perches which is an alternate version of Grinning Cat minus the very poetic but top-heavy English narration. In France it was apparently shown as a silent film with intertitles (imagine any American filmmaker doing that in 2009 – although I wish they’d try….):

And finally, the piece de resistance, one of only three other film projects Marker worked on (besides his masterpiece La Jetee) that belongs to the sci-fi genre (these are his only overtly fictional scenarios, btw). Here we have a nice slice of history, Marker’s collaboration with Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk (best known for his later erotic features). It’s called Les Astronauts(1959) and is a wonderful cut-out animation short. It is not subtitled, but it doesn’t need to be:

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