Saturday, July 28, 2018

Worlds within worlds: Deceased Artiste Steve Ditko (part one of 2)

Comic book fans can argue endlessly about which artist was (or is) the best-ever. Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Alex Ross — all have a place in the Patheon. But for the title of single “strangest” comic book artist (and writer and essayist and ideologue) the late Steve Ditko truly must take top honor.

Ditko had an incredible work ethic that kept him busy until his death at 90 last month. He also had a singularly stubborn political philosophy that infiltrated his comics and became a major stumbling block for readers, who had to embrace it or attempt to ignore it (most of us went the latter route).

Two biographies of Ditko have been published, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko by Blake Bell (2008) and Ditko Unleashed by Florentino Flórez (2016). The latter is better for those who want an overview of Ditko’s artwork; the former is more of a view “behind the mask” at the man himself, and the little that was known about him. Ditko spoke through his comics — in the wordy and often off-kilter dialogue of his heroes and villains and in a series of rather dense essays he wrote that appeared in the self-published work he did with his friend Robin Snyder.

Thankfully, most of Ditko’s best comic work is currently in print in “archive” and “omnibus” editions. His 65-year output (1953-2018) is daunting indeed, but the books that collect his finest comics do much to spotlight his incredible creativity and innovation.

He put it quite plainly in 2010 in a quote for a book about the comic artist Mort Meskin: “The function of a comic artist is to TELL A STORY! He must get across an idea or point of the story and he should do it clearly so a reader knows what is going on….” [cited in Flores, pp. 15-16] His best work, however, finds his art driving the plot and warping the storyline to suit the two things in which he was just about peerless: conveying tension and anxiety, and limning an infinite space in which his most way-out characters dwelled.

The first stories he illustrated (starting in early 1953) appeared before the Comics Code lowered the boom on “adult” content in comics. The Fantagraphics collection, Strange Suspense: the Steve Ditko Archives Volume 1, offers this material in sequence, showing just how intense and crazy the young Ditko’s work was — the comics he worked on were major swipes from EC Comics, but his style was already recognizable, and the colors added to his work were truly bizarre (characters’ faces were primary colored when they professed their evil, or their fear).

Due to health problems (tuberculosis), he quit comics for a year; when he returned to New York in the fall of 1955 the Code was in place. His work from the late Fifties is still top-notch and was made richer by the fact that reaction shots had to substitute for graphic horror.

The next step in his career is the one that everyone — even those who don’t like comics — knows about. His collaboration with Stan Lee on dozens of short fantasy comics lead to Ditko becoming the “other genius” (along with Kirby) in the Marvel stable.

Reams of text have been written about Stan Lee taking credit for things invented by Ditko, Kirby, and others. This was a result of the ingenious system dubbed “the Marvel method,” whereby Lee would discuss the plot with the artist and then leave him (or her, in the case of the great Marie Severn) to fully conceive, lay out, and draw the comic with spaces left for dialogue and text boxes that Lee would fill in later (with the artists having indicated the content of the dialogue in the margins).

Ditko wasn’t as compliant as Kirby was (initially), and so became the first Marvel artist to get the credit “Plot and art by,” since he was in essence writing the damned thing as well.

Although he’s best known for co-creating Spider-Man (and for that alone became a key figure in comic history), Ditko pretty much single-handedly (minus dialogue and text boxes, of courses) created Dr. Strange. Truly the trippiest comic ever (until Ditko-fan Alan Moore came up with Promethea), Dr. Strange remains a high-water mark in terms of sheer weirdness and pure imagination, most specifically in the creation of alternative universes that one senses are just as internal as external. 

Dr. Strange never sold as well as any of the top-line Marvel comics, but it opened new doorways for those of us who grew up reading it. While the character has been handled by many other writer-artist teams, the 36 Ditko Dr. Strange originals remain the gold standard of Silver Age comic psychedelia, combining fantasy fiction and superhero adventures in an incredibly new and exciting way.

Lee claiming credit for having “created” the characters rankled both Ditko and Kirby, but the latter put up with it for a longer amount of time. By 1966 Ditko was done with Marvel, after having conceived of drawn and written (er… plotted) Spider-Man and Dr. Strange for more than three years. In the last few months of working for the company, Ditko and Lee weren’t on speaking terms, although they continued to collaborate.

An illustration by Ditko for one of his essays
about the nature of "creating" a comic character.
Over the years Lee has praised Ditko but has still claimed Spider-Man and Dr. Strange as his own ideas. One particularly galling quote that must’ve bothered Ditko is quoted in the Florez book [p. 138]: “I don’t plot Spider-Man any more. Steve Ditko, the artist, has been doing the stories. I guess I’ll leave him alone until sales start to slip. Since Spidey got so popular, Ditko think he’s the genius of the world. We were arguing so much over plot lines I told him to start making up his own stories…. He just drops off the finished pages with notes at the margins and I fill in the dialogue.” [New York Herald Tribune, Jan. 9, 1966]

The most commented-upon aspect of Ditko’s work was his deeply held belief in Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. This belief led him to commit what many critics view as self-destructive acts, such as deciding that he shouldn’t earn money for work he had done in the past. The video below, from the documentary Masters of Comic Book Art (1987, hosted by Harlan Ellison!) was the only time Ditko allowed his voice to be recorded. He reads a very serious tract outlining his beliefs about morality, art, and heroes, specially his fascinatingly ardent (and identity-less) character “Mr. A.”

“Aristotle said that art is philosophically more important than history. History tells how men did act; art shows how men could, and should, act. Art creates a model, an ideal man as a measuring standard. Without a measuring standard, nothing can be identified or judged.”

The two most interesting things about this clip are the fact that Ditko not only thought in this fashion, he wrote this way (thus the denseness of his essays) and his accent. Ditko was born in Johnston, Pennsylvania, to parents with an Eastern European background (his father was a first-generation American, according to the Bell bio; no info is provided on his mother). In this video his voice moves back and forth between a proper, affected elocution and a more “familiar”-sounding Slavic accent.

Back to Ditko’s belief that he should not accept money for work he had done in the past (thus it being noted in the Bell book that at one point he was living on Social Security and a veteran’s pension). 

At a Ditko seminar held at the New School on Feb. 6, 2018, it was noted that he turned down any and all royalties from the Fantagraphics “Ditko Archives” series. Editor Craig Yoe has also publicly announced that Ditko refused to accept royalties for the various Ditko-themed comic-reprint books that Yoe has put out. The books published by both Fantagraphics and Yoe consist of reprints of comics that have fallen into the public domain, but both publishers wanted to remunerate Ditko, who turned down their offers.

In a similar vein, he didn’t look to earn profits from Spider-Man, a character he created and which has been an IMMENSE cash-cow for Marvel Comics. Kirby was not so doctrinaire — he pursued Marvel for the return of his original artwork (a project that Ditko did not support; in an essay about the matter he considered both sides of the situation and stated that all artists had to get their work back, or none should get it back).

While he sought to make no profit from his past work, Ditko did, however, want appropriate credit for it. Anytime Lee claimed sole credit for Spider-Man in an interview, Ditko fired off a letter of complaint to the publication in question. He also wrote several essays for his self-published comics and his friend Robin Snyder’s fanzine The Comics addressing this issue. In these essays he analyzed and criticized Lee’s specious claims.

The essays are as dense as Ditko’s other prose (confession: this reviewer finds Ditko’s text nearly impenetrable, repetitive, and, worst of all, both logic-driven yet still oddly vague in verbal terms). But this quote, cited in Florez [p. 170], lays out his true feelings about Lee, in 2015: “Why should I continue to do all these monthly issues, original story ideas, material for a man who is too scared, too angry over something, to even see, talk to me…

An illustration by Ditko accompanying an essay on the matter
of who is the "creator" of a comic-book superhero.
“The only person who had the right to know why I was quitting refused to come out of his office or to call me in. Stan refused to know why.”

The word that best describes Ditko’s attitude toward his work, no matter what it was, is “pride” — his deeply held beliefs insinuated their way into not only his writing but his deal-making in the comics world. In the Florez book [p. 349], it’s mentioned that Ditko withdrew from the comic Dark Dominion because the story professed Platonic ideals, and he was Aristotelian.

Thus Ditko’s view of the relationship of a comic artist and his employer was eccentric, to say the least. What makes him unique, though, is the fact that his art remained a space for experimentation and mind-melting surrealism throughout his life, from age 26 to 90.

His output included many works for hire that he took just to pay the bills. Alternately, even when they contained head-scratching dialogue and cookie-cutter plotting, his personal self-published remained unique and wonderfully psychedelic (although the man himself never, ever did drugs by all accounts). One can readily understand why Dr. Strange was the favorite comic of Ken Kesey (as noted in Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). 

Right after he left Marvel, he took two paths. For money he did procedural assignments, including pencils for the Get Smart (above) and Hogan’s Heroes (below) comics from Dell. This wasn't new right before and during his successful run at Marvel he had drawn several issues of Gorgo and Konga (both tie-ins to big-ass-monster movies) for Charlton. 

At the same time he started contributing his personal work for free to fanzines and creator-owned comics, most prominently Wally Wood’s witzend.

The most impressive work he did in the immediate post-Marvel period were the 16 stories he did for Creepy and Eerie. The stories were well-written by Archie Goodwin, and Ditko’s art was just amazing. He used the “wash” technique for most of the stories (the technique is described in the Bell bio as being “achieved with various degrees of water-and-ink mixtures applied by brush to create a series of tonal values”).

The effect is absolutely stunning, and the Warren stories are definitely a high-water mark for Ditko, ranking with his best comic work. Goodwin felt so as well, noting that Ditko did the layouts for every page and in fact added creepier elements to the storylines in his art.

The book that is now available which contains all 16 stories, Creepy Presents Steve Ditko is a beauty. It does great justice to Ditko’s art and lets one see what could have happened if he had continued to head in an “experimental” direction and had stayed away from inserting a philosophical message into his comics. 

He stopped working for Warren when Goodwin left — as with a few later situations, Ditko worked happily with many colleagues, but when they left the company in question, he was adrift and just stopped working for that particular company.

For several years in the Sixties and early Seventies, he was able to reconcile the two types of comics nicely with his work for Charlton, a company he preferred to the “big two” because it gave free reign to its artists — but paid incredibly low rates compared to Marvel and DC. Ditko’s solution was to do even more work for the company to make up the difference. The results of this flurry of activity included a number of memorable short horror comics and three influential but low-selling superhero titles.

Of these Captain Atom (an irradiated superhero) was the most traditional and the least interesting. Ditko’s revamp of the Blue Beetle was a more eccentric creation who gets into arguments about modern art in one fairly insane issue (in which a crazed abstract sculptor is driven mad by the notion that there exists perfect Greco-Roman art — the kind that Blue Beetle loves and gives to his girlfriend!).

The peak of Ditko’s unfettered creativity at Charlton was the Question, a TV commentator who fought crime in an odd guise, that of a nattily attired, faceless avenger whose views on human behavior were clearly Ditko’s own.

The famous and controversial last page
of the first Mr. A comic in witzend.
He noted in his last formal interview that the Question was a “commercial” version of Mr. A. He also stated outright his loathing for “flawed heroes” (this was the reason he became increasingly uncomfortable with the comic industry and turned down jobs that included such flawed superheroes and detectives). For Ditko, the only true hero is an unflawed paragon of virtue (who, as with both the Question and Mr. A, was an identity-less cipher who dealt justice to those who deserved it). “Where other heroes choose to be self-made neurotics, the Question and Mr. A chose to be psychologically and intellectually healthy. It’s a choice everyone has to make.” [the Marvel Main fanzine, issue 4, 1968]

Mr. A is an Objectivist hero who lectured other characters on right and wrong as he saved the innocent and condemned the guilty to death. Ditko introduced Mr. A in witzend and various fanzines in the Sixties; he revived the character in his more recent self-published work, and the character remained his most obvious mouthpiece.

The most unique aspect of Ditko’s career was that he steadfastly did not want to play the game of corporate comic book creation after he left Marvel in 1966. And yet he needed to keep the bills paid, so rather than devote himself to quality material that would be edited, he often took whatever job came along, as long as: a.) he wouldn’t be edited,  or b.) it was simply a work for hire.

Thus, while there are some excellent continuing characters he worked on and/or created after Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, there is an incredible amount of crap comics he cranked out merely for the dough. These began with the Dell TV tie-in comics mentioned above.

In the Seventies and Eighties he drew a lot of tie-in comics to keep the bills paid: WWE-licensed comics, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Gobots (children’s books), Transformers (coloring books), a tie-in comic for the Big Boy restaurant chain, and the as-good-as-its-goofy-title Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos. (more on this period in the second part of this piece)

But there were truly great things in amongst the works for hire. They were done for DC, where his old artist friends, and younger fans, brought him on board to do comics in his own style. There was no quibbling this time – he was given full status as the plotter (or writer) right from the first. He worked with a number of young writers, who supplied the dialogue and text; of all these collaborations the best were done with Michael Fleisher (yes, the man called “bugfuck crazy” by Deceased Artiste Harlan Ellison) and Paul Levitz.

The most grating of the DC books on which he had a continuing run was surely The Hawk and the Dove. The book’s gimmick was that two brothers receive super powers. The first brother is a brawler who believes that violence solves everything, while the other is a peacenik. Ditko added a “referee”/voice of reason character who seemingly voiced his (Ditko’s) own opinions – the boy’s father, a judge who encouraged them to find a sensible, ethical middle course.

Ditko only stayed with Hawk and Dove for three issues, again because of disputes with the editor. His second DC creation, the Creeper, was a more successful character that has been brought back in various contexts over the years. The character is a former TV commentator (Ditko’s heroes frequently were reporters for print or TV stations) who dresses in a patently ridiculous costume — a green fright wig, yellow body paint, and a red sheepskin rug for a cape — to scare evildoers.

The Creeper belongs to a small group of really weird DC characters, among them Metamorpho and  Ragman (some would throw Deadman on the list, but his insane, insurmountable angst has always appealed to this reviewer). Thanks to the taut writing of Denny O’Neil (who initially mentioned the silliness of the character in his thought balloons, which was a nice touch to “explain” all the weirdness) and the truly psychedelic nature of Ditko’s panel layout, his framing, and the color scheme, the comic is a lot of fun, in the manner of The Blue Beetle.

Part two to come...

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

'Une vraie' Second Life: Chris Marker at the Cinematheque Francaise

The mysteries of art can be solved with personal interpretation, or by absorbing the opinions of experts and historians. The mysteries of those who made the art can never be solved, and we are probably all the better for that.

In the case of Chris Marker (in the top rank of Funhouse favorites), we encounter an artist who refused to let himself become a media personality the kind of artist who explains his work and ultimately draws attention away from it. Marker’s creation of a personal “absence” was the best way of letting his work speak for itself.

So what to make of the beautifully rendered tributes that have appeared since his death in 2012, in the form of articles, books, film retros, gallery shows, and now a comprehensive retrospective and exhibit at the Cinematheque Francaise (running through Marker’s birthday, July 29)? Marker changed his opinions about a lot of his early work thus his withdrawal of films that espoused political beliefs he no longer had, and his continued reworking (for a quarter century) of one of his masterpieces (Le fond de l'air est rouge).

One can imagine he would have appreciated the careful arrangement of his work in the Cinematheque exhibit, as well as its focus on his techniques and the hopeful messages with which he ended even his most tragic accounts of political turmoil. He might have even been okay (I emphasize that “might”) with the many photos of his face that are on display.

Marker was a world traveler for most of his professional life, but he always kept an apartment in Paris as his HQ. It’s only fitting therefore that the most comprehensive retro of his work should appear in that city, in his native France (he was born Christian Bouche-Villeneuve), where serious film appreciation isn’t viewed as a specialized or “cult” course of study. The fact that the Cinematheque is the premier cinephile institution in the world makes it even more perfect for Marker to be saluted there.

This exhibition comes at an excellent time: when Marker’s films have nearly all been released on DVD in France (the most famous titles have been issued in the U.S. as well). But Marker’s other work as an essayist, a novelist, and a multi-media artist – isn’t readily available (unless you want to shell out big bucks for certain items on eBay or

One of the rarest bits of footage in the exhibit:
a surreal short Marker codirected for TV in 1949!
La Clef des songes is a tribute to, and spoof of, the surrealist films.
Marker was a lifelong bachelor who, while having several serious relationships, never married and had no children. The fact that he left no will has made rights issues complicated since he died, but his papers and possessions ended up in the proper place in the archives of the Cinematheque.

The many boxes containing the contents of his apartment are still in the process of being indexed, but the discoveries that have already been made are incredibly enlightening. These include many documents relating to Marker’s personal life, clarifying the details of his time as a fighter in the Resistance during WWII, his short stay in prison for crossing the wrong border (surely ironic, given his later traveling around the world), his time fighting with the American Army, his pseudonymous post-war writing, and the “militant” period in which he worked within a filmmaking collective and wasn’t credited on the films he edited or directed.

The book that has been written to accompany the exhibit is thus the best-researched and most reliable account of Marker’s life to date (although with little to no mention of his love life that, for the present, will remain a succession of secrets) and his work in several fields, from writing plays, reviews, poetry, and short stories in the post-war period to putting up a website that contained the bulk of his photography and a few complete films (at and his final works (brief videos made for YouTube).

The book, it should be noted, is in French (naturellement), but one hopes for an English translation in the future. (The writing style isn’t academic, so it is a fairly straightforward read for students of French.) There are several standout essays in it, including: the first handful about Marker’s life, pre-filmmaking; Raymond Bellour’s brief but still fascinating (and amusing) explanation of what was in the 576 (!) cartons of Marker’s archives that wound up in the Cinematheque; and Jean-Michel Frodon’s piece about the relationship between Marker and Godard (which wasn’t super-friendly, but remained cordial until CM’s death).

There are several amazing items in the CInematheque exhibit. Two of the most mind-blowing are the many scrapbooks containing surrealist collages he made and collected...

...and the the sunglasses-camera he wore to take photos in the Paris Metro. His last photography project was the beautiful "Passengers," images taken on the subway that liken the tired but beautiful passengers to figures in classical paintings. 

Marker did, on rare occasions, send photos of himself to his friends. This is one he particularly seemed to enjoy, in which he is wearing his camera-glasses. (His good friend Alain Resnais did say that Chris was an "alien" who didn't seem to require sleep....)

The most surprising inclusion in both the exhibition and the book is the number of photos of Marker. One of the most important pieces of his mystique as a filmmaker was that he didn’t let himself be photographed or filmed, but apparently, he did keep copies of all the pictures his friends took of him after the early Sixties (the point at which he “disappeared” from public view).

The cat on the prowl -- Marker in the late Sixties.
The photos show an intense but mostly unremarkable-looking man (somewhat hawk-like in appearance, shaved head, rarely if ever photographed smiling). The descriptions his friends have given of the “uniform” he wore when out in public are more memorable he preferred to wear boots, shirts with many pockets, and affected the look of a “soldier” (although I’m thinking the many pockets aspect was key for a photographer/filmmaker).

The Cinematheque screenings included the films he withdrew from circulation, due to changed political opinions about the countries profiled: Dimanche à Pekin (China), Letter from Siberia, Description of a Struggle (Israel), and Cuba Si!. He wasn’t fully satisfied with anything he had made until 1962, in which his landmark short La Jetee was released (one of the greatest films ever made, and certainly his best-known work), followed shortly after by his only “cinema verite” feature, Le Joli Mai, inspired by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronicle of a Summer (1961).

The biggest rupture in his work, as with that of many of his filmmaking colleagues, was his commitment to radical Left-wing politics in 1967. The Cinematheque exhibition offers us ample documentation of that period, in which Marker even erased his name from his films, which were signed by the collectives he was in, SLON and Iskra.

A vintage '68 poster included in the Cinematheque exhibit.
The artifacts from Marker’s militant period are particularly timely this year, as many countries are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the events of 1968. In France, May ’68 was a turning point the moment at which the unions joined the students in their protests against the government, and it looked as if the Left had won a major victory.

Marker beautifully summarized ‘68 and what followed in his masterful Le fond de l'air est rouge (1977) (Grin Without a Cat in the U.K. and U.S.), which is one of the best records in any medium of the tumultuous events that occurred in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Grin was a turning point he made it at the end of his militant period as a “summing up” of sorts and continued to re-edit it for the next quarter century.

May '68. Photo by Chris Marker. In the CF exhibit.
The Cinematheque exhibit reviews the many legacies that Marker left us. La Jetee is one of the greatest science-fiction love stories of all time; it challenges young directors to break filmmaking down to its core: moving images (in this case, photographs made to move via their sequencing and editing) and jarring sound. His best nonfiction features offer a clear path for documentarians the essay film, which wove together journalism and tenets of the finest fiction. (American political filmmakers like Michael Moore have fully developed “stories” but avoid any traces of fiction which, as Marker discovered, reaches a greater truth – opting instead for the “confessional” or “op-ed” mode of address.)

Marker also did pioneering work with video, the CD-rom format, cyber-"traveling" (in the simulated environment Second Life, in which both he and Guillaume-en-Egypte "lived" as computer-animation figures), and the Internet. But perhaps his most valuable legacy, especially in a time like this, was his faith in the future. His militant films dwell entirely in the present as with Godard’s radical cinema, it was a case of a filmmaker who had never “commanded” the viewer to come to a specific conclusion telling his audience what they *had* to think.

The "tech" area in the Cinematheque exhibit.
Marker’s best political films emphasize hope not the hollow hope promised by U.S. politicians, but more of a non-spiritual belief in the possibilities offered by the future. The conclusion of Grin Without a Cat offers a sharp metaphor for the manner in which the New Left went astray in the Seventies (with the obvious message being to avoid that pitfall). The Last Bolshevik (1993) and The Case of the Grinning Cat (2004) look to youth as the answer.

As he grew older, Marker didn’t disappear into the comforts of the past but continued to look forward to future struggles, to be carried on by young people who have been enlightened by alternative sources in the new media the kind of media that grew out of or reflects Marker’s pioneering work.

Marker abandoned writing conventional fiction in the late Forties after publishing one novel (Le coeur net) and a short story. But storytelling remained his strong suit, a storytelling based on details of his own life viewed through a fictional frame and powered by incredibly precise and moving images. As we await a definitive biography of Marker, we can only experience his life through comprehensive film festivals and exhibitions like the one at the Cinematheque.

However, he did supply some clues. One of the best autobiographical nuggets, and one of the purest illustrations of his tagline “You never know what you might be filming,*” appeared in the “Staring Back” show of photography that was first mounted at the Wexner Center for the Arts in the Spring of 2007 (and then was put on in the fall of ’07 at the Peter Blum Gallery in NYC and a portion of the show was included in the MIT exhibition called “Guillaume-en-Egypte” in October 2013).

In the exhibit and the accompanying book, Marker had one set of photos arranged chronologically. They were pictures from different demonstrations that took place over four decades. Visitors to the gallery were asked to look at the photos in a strictly chronological sequence because Marker had discovered something as he went through his pictures of “demos.”
The 1961 photo, by Marker.
He starts out in the book version with the exhortation to “Watch the tree.” Then he describes how, on Feb. 13, 1961, he shot photos of a public gathering in Paris to honor those who had died in the preceding week’s demonstration against the Algerian War. Marker sets up his metaphor: “Straight in the middle of the frame, on the balcony, among those tense faces, a young tree recently planted. Forget the faces for a moment. Just watch the tree.” [Chris Marker, Staring Back, Wexner Center for the Arts, 2007, p. 1]

He next includes pics from the 1967 march on the Pentagon, and Paris in May ’68, offering more faces and actions to contemplate. He closed this sequence out with pictures taken at a protest in early 2002 in Paris at a time when “the consensus is that the French youth are fed up with politics.” The protest was held to condemn the positions of the ultra-right wing candidate for president, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Picture from a 2002 demonstration by C. Marker.
“At once the youngsters invade the street. Many for the first time. Thanks to Mr. Le Pen, a new generation takes the baton.” [ibid, p. 21]. The next 21 pages show the pictures Marker took at that protest. Marker declares that “Today’s mottoes deal with unemployment, income, fears of uncertain retirement (at 20… and yet in the long run they’re right). As my lens slips inside the crowd like an inquisitive snake, what it frames is, despite the apparent cohesiveness of the groups, the everlasting face of solitude.” [ibid, p. 27]

The photos from '61 and 2002,
by Marker. Via
He ends the section with a picture taken on that day in 2002, showing the exact same location seen in the 1961 photos, in Paris’s Place de la Republique. He tells us how many, many moments of turmoil (and hope) he had seen around the world in the four decades that came between the two photos taken on that street.

“… In the middle, on the balcony, the tree has grown, just a little.

Within these few inches, forty years of my life.” [ibid, p. 43]

One is struck by the sincerity and emotion that drives Marker’s political cinema. To him, though, it clearly was the product of a seed he was given early on by mentors and friends, a seed that kept growing over the decades until…. well, you get the picture.

"I remember that month of January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory. I wonder how people remember things who don't film, don't photograph, don't tape. How has mankind managed to remember? I know: it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed.” – CM, San Soleil 

The Cinematheque exhibit is at the Cinematheque Francaise until July 29.

Marker’s website “Gorgomancy” has remained fully operative.Visit it!

The best English-language resource online for information about Marker is the “Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory” blog at

Merci beaucoup to Jean-Michel Frodon and Ody Roos for their insights into Marker the artist and Marker the man. (It was a helluva birthday present for me this year!)

*The line has been translated in English as “You never know what you are filming,” “You never know what you’re filming until later,” and “You never know what you may be filming.” I have stuck with the clearest variation on this phrase.