Chris Marker

02/11/2011

The Complex Weave

To what degree do we expect a documentarist to be a writer? Not just someone who puts words on a page and then reiterates them over images, in the grand tradition of the documentary voice-over, but someone for whom words bring out the complexity of the images that allow for word and image to become one. In Chris Marker’s work (from Letter from Siberia to Sans soleil, from The Last Bolshevik to Level Five) we feel word and image combine to create a sort of complex weave, a tightened fabric of materials that leads less to an argument conveyed, than a perspective expressed. If we compare Marker’s methods, say, to Adam Curtis’s in The Power of Nightmares, or Michael Moore’s in Fahrenheit 9/11, we realise that one approach offers jaundiced information; and the other creative and conceptual possibilities. This isn’t especially to decry Curtis and Moore’s political angle (essentially, useful takes on neo-con conspiracies and dodgy war-mongering that take to task Bush and co’s belligerent and contradictory attitude to Islam), but it might be to question their method. They completely lack Marker’s double-jointed capacity to think contrary thoughts simultaneously.

Hence in Curtis’s film we see numerous images that barely exist as images at all, but instead function, at best, like examples for the information we’re given in voice-over. When the film informs us about a climate of fear in contemporary political culture, it runs a series of visual cues. These include anything from shots of Bin Laden, Bush and Blair, the Nuremberg Rally from Triumph of the Will, clips of dodgy Middle-Eastern films, of the Northern Ireland situation, and footage of what looks like an Afghan being pushed into and beaten in the back of a vehicle. Dozens of images pass before the viewer’s eyes, contained by an assertive voice-over informing us of western governments’ manipulation of fear that replaces the sort of hope politicians in the past possessed. Now putting aside the numerous contradictory aspects and lazy historicizing present in the voice-over (no mention is made of the McCarthyism of the fifties, Hitler scare-mongering in the thirties), we should still have an aesthetic problem with the way the images themselves are presented to us. As Jean-Paul Sartre once proposed, “every image is surrounded by an atmosphere of world.”  But looking at these opening images to Curtis’s film, it’s as though they have been ruthlessly removed from their worlds – they are orphan images, devoid of contextual parentage. When we see the frightened look on the young man in the back of the truck, what does the filmmaker expect us to do with such an image? If it merely serves as an example of his text, doesn’t it force upon us a certain dehumanized over-simplification? We’re neither especially concerned with the singularity of the political event shown, nor can we feel especially empathic towards the person in the shot. He is an image amongst images; an image which has not been allowed an atmosphere of world.

If Marker is one of the great documentary filmmakers it resides in his respect for the complexity of memory – of which more, later – the atmosphere that surrounds an image, and his intellectual and literary capacity to explore that world. We might think of the amusing scene in Letter From Siberia, where, over one particular set of images, Marker offers three different voice-overs. One comments on the hard, out-moded, struggling doggedness of the workers while another talks of  the Communist ideal put into practise as the workers pursue their ideological dream. What Marker insists upon here is of course the degree to which voice-over contextualises; like some variation of the Kuleshov effect, where an image of a face changes according to what that same face seems to be responding to in the images that precede and follow it. Let us accept, Marker seems to be saying, that if we take an image out of context, and text that context, then ought we to give to that text a flexibility and complexity equal to the images themselves? The answer may generally be no we don’t, but if we enquire into the image, not just simply voice-over it, then text and context can become one. We have the weave we proposed at the beginning of this article. This is really what we’re proposing when we suggest Marker is as readily a writer as a documentarist: because his work is text heavy, then he needs a literary talent equal to atmosphere of world that resides in the image.

Not everybody admires Marker’s gifts, and Noel Burch once proposed in Film Quarterlythat “Chris Marker is a personable young man with excellent taste and a fine cultural background (he edits a series of books for that enterprising post-war publishing house Les Editions du Seiul: in short the ideal young French intellectual.” That Burch gratuitously mentions Marker’s youthfulness twice in the same sentence (no matter that, at the time of the article Marker was in his late thirties), indicates that Burch is interested in something else. It suggests that despite Marker’s verbal brilliance Marker found Siberia dull and, Burch implies, arrogantly relied on his own literary gifts. Burch does acknowledge that maybe, “his movements were so restricted that he wasn’t allowed to film anything of interest…”. But this is just part of a wider Burch problem with French documentary. “Many French director of the post-war generation have, at some stage of their career, done documentary work (Louis Malle, Pierre Kast, Alain Resnais, George Franju), but with very few exceptions they look upon this field merely a bonne école, a good way to learn their trade.” As he says “they have always been most interested in transcending the subjects they are given to treat…”

But can we not differentiate between two forms of transcendence here? One happens to be where the image is used for the purposes of a socio-political message, evident in both The Power of Nightmares and Fahrenheit 9/11, and where the image has no autonomy as it furthers the filmmakers’ informational aims. The other is the voice-over as a verbal-visual enquiry, evidenced of course not only in Marker’s films, but also present in, for example, Pare Lorentz’s The River, with its Pulitzer prize-winning voice-over written by Lorentz himself, Resnais’ Night and Fog, written by Jean Cayrol, Agnes Varda’s self-conscious examination of contemporary gleaning in The Gleaners and I, and Patrick Keiller’s London and Robinson in Space. Here the image is not taken for granted; it is utilised for its multi-faceted or poetic possibilities. In both The River and Night and Fog, for example, the directors create a parallel world of voice and image, as the voice-overs give texture to the magnitude of the images we see. This is man’s inhumanity to nature in the first instance, as we watch the Mississippi being carved up for material gain, and man’s inhumanity to man in Resnais’ examination of the camps as they look ten years after the Holocaust. These are examples where the images are in some way transcended by the voice-over, as if the filmmakers suggest we do not want simply a contextualizing narration, but a narration that will contribute to capturing the aesthesis of the subject. If Curtis and Moore want to offer a prescriptive take on their subjects, the directors interested in transcending their subjects are looking for a sensitively descriptive take. Resnais and co. want to describe the enormity of meaning within the image – they want to try to explain and explore the atmosphere of world. In the prescriptive, the documentarist would perhaps prefer if the footage contained no extraneous information, if it were, in David Mamet’s terms in On Directing Film, all about telling “the story through the juxtaposition of uninflected images”.

Mamet is actually talking about fiction filmmaking, but the way Moore and Curtis make documentary films resembles the way Mamet talks about fictional ones. They want to produce uninflected shots out of actually often complexly inflected ones. Marker on the other hand wants to find these complexly inflected shots and muse over their complexity. This is the case in almost all his work, but perhaps never more so than in Sans soleil, where in the semi-fictional device of letters from a traveller whom the credits inform us is called Krasna, and read by a woman whom we never see, we’re given numerous images, and numerous observations on those images. Out of this complexity Marker seems to want some kind of psychic implosion. As Terrence Rafferty says in his essay collection, The Thing Happens, “Trying to remember Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (Sunless) after seeing it for the first time, a viewer might recall nothing but how he feels at the end, dazed and excited, overwhelmed by a smooth, rapid flow of images and ideas.” But central to this dazed feeling is less our response to an argumentative through-line, with the documentarist as single-minded polemicist, than the director as schizoanalytically exploring possibilities within the image.  Rather than the authoritative all-knowing voice-over that Oedipally tells us what is right, Marker is anti-Oedipally exploring what is possible. That is, Anti-Oedipally as Deleuze and Guattari use the term in relation to schizoanalysis in Anti-Oedipus. “A schizoanalysis schizophrenizes in order to break the hold of power and institute research” Mark Seem’s intro offers, “into a new collective subjectivity and revolutionary healing of mankind”. This form of filmmaking does not want to convey an argument; it wants to explore the possibilities, to try and open up the atmosphere of world that surrounds the image, well aware that to contain each image, to hold it too readily within the realm of a single-minded argument, is a form of phenomenological bullying.

How does Marker avoid this approach? In Sans soleil, the director quotes Levi-Strauss’s notion of the poignancy of things in relation to the Japanese capacity to become things, to enter into them, and lists the items that Japanese bless, including inanimate objects, from brushes to rusty needles. As the woman in voice-over reads the comments offered to her by the letter writer, on the screen we see the Japanese blessings, and a shot cutting away to Africa when the letter writer suggests certain differences and similarities between Japanese and African forms of worship. First, we have a disembodiment of certitude through a speculative letter writer being quoted by a woman narrator, while at the same time we witness images that touch upon a belief system so incorporative, so willing to accept the union of all things, that it shatters any singularity of thought or image. In A. K., an examination of Akira Kurosawa’s work and specifically Ran, Marker isn’t just interested in the making of the film, but also the many peripheral aspects of it. At one moment we see Kurosawa sitting on set receiving a massage whilst the voice-over informs us that he is known as ‘sensi’, which means master, and the master of everything from flower arranging to karate. The sensi searches out technical perfection and out of this mastery gains a broader respect. There is nothing in the voice-over to question this notion of respect, and yet Marker chooses at this moment not to show Kurosawa at work, illustrating his capacity for mastery, but at rest. It is as though the film respects the notion, but doesn’t quite see it as the whole story. In Marker’s work there is always a sense of the world as vastly more complex than we can fathom, and the director’s purpose is to explore this multiplicity; whether that happens to be by suggesting objects have souls, or that part of one’s sensi can reside in rest. As the voice-over says, the sort of respect Kurosawa garners has nothing to do with the reign of terror lesser directors demand, and we sense that though technical perfection is central to Kurosawa’s genius, no less so is what is called ‘the spiritual bonus’ that comes out of that brilliance.

The spiritual bonus for Marker seems to lie in the way he approaches his own work, taking into account Heidegger’s comment that questioning is the piety of thought. In his epic thirteen part exploration of Greece, The Owl’s Legacy, Marker asks filmmakers like Theo Angelopoulos and Elia Kazan, cultural commentator George Steiner, and mathematician/philosopher Michel Serres, as well as numerous Greek writers, artists and thinkers, about what Ancient Greece means to them. Marker doesn’t try to create a coherent narrative out of such disparate thinking; he wants to suggest the way in which Ancient Greece becomes present in contemporary life. Neither does he want to take us back to Ancient Greece in an act of dodgy historical re-enactment, or to force an interpretive polemical perspective on the greatness or mediocrity of the Greeks. It is instead a process of constant enquiry; and herein lies the spiritual bonus: present in Marker’s questioning, and offered to the viewer as we witness many different angles on Ancient Rome. Marker’s schizo-analysis here resides in the babble of takes on the subject matter.

So it is not only an image which of course has an atmosphere of world, but also each subject, each person interviewed. One of the intriguing things about Marker’s The Owl’s Legacy is the degree to which he draws out of so many of his subjects an intense passion for their area of expertise. Generally filming against the backdrop of a huge owl that gives the set a surrealist absurdity, or filming in actual locations where the sound of kids playing and traffic zooming past can be heard on the soundtrack, Marker does not want information that is merely factual: he wants us to understand information in its manifold revealing. As one woman, Manuela Smith, tries to explain her personal and professional relationship with Greek culture, it is as if Marker is as readily fascinated with the way her eyes look modestly beseeching in the telling, as in the telling itself. In many ways, this is of course a talking heads documentary, but Marker also takes a close look at the heads that talk.

Like that great American documentarist as epistemologist, Errol Morris, Marker wants to see how much atmosphere of world he can capture as he observes these talking heads. When critic Chris Chang in Film Comment says of Morris, utilising Roland Barthes’ idea in Camera Lucida of the punctum – of some “innocuous aspect of a photograph that somehow manages to transcend its own mundane existence, puncture the surface of the commonplace, and arrest the eye” – he insists in one particular film all the compositions have a punctum. What he is just as readily talking about is an image containing an atmosphere of world. As Chang astutely suggests, Morris “captures moments when you can see people with their own production design strategies laid bare, as his film sets become analogous of, and vacillate with, the realities they present.” As Morris interviews various Californians about pets and their burial in Gates of Heaven, so the documentary subjects reveal the degree to which they seem to be aware of the camera not so much as the camera rolls, but as they prepare for their moment in front of it. Certainly they talk of their fascination with pets, but they also reveal much about their self-image in how they appear on screen. One character is surrounded by sporting trophies from his athletic past; another wears, in Chang’s words, “bright red polyester dress socks that all but drown out his interview”. Information is never just info given; it is also info taken, for as Chang suggests, the punctum is, finally, a subjective thing, and thus generates the possibility for thought and observation around an image. The filmmaker might not categorically state what the punctums should be, of course, but he should create the freedom of mise-en-scene that can incorporate their possibility.

This is a point Marker addresses in relation to Le Joli Mai, a film he made about Parisians, politics and life in the early sixties, a film that some critics thought was biased and partisan, and Marker more or less admitted so by rephrasing it Ciné, ma verite. A title suggesting that he wasn’t so much interested in cinema truth, so much as his ciné truth. Yet at the same time he insisted he wanted to offer atmosphere of world, to allow for the punctums.  He had a number of ground rules, Catherine Lupton notes in Chris MarkerMemories of the Future, including “avoiding selecting the participants, or manipulating the interviews (either by trick questions or strategic cutting), in order to confirm a ready made conclusion about the state of France in 1962. He insisted “people exist with their complexity, their own consistency, their own personal opacity and one has absolutely no right to reduce them to what you want them to be.”

So obviously the documentarist needs to be not merely a great writer, but also a fine observer, or rather, more especially, be a great creator of the space for the possibilities of observation. Marker is an impressive combination of both; even though they are surely activities that would ostensibly move in opposite directions. For to write is a ‘pro-active’ activity – it is to offer one’s own observations reliant on no more than the contingency of the quality of one’s own mind, and this is really what Burch is getting at when he attacks him in the Film Quarterly article quoted above. As Burch says,”my first impression on seeing Lettre de Sibérie was that Marker must have found Siberia a pretty dull place…” and so consequently “the mainstay of this operation was, of course, the inevitable commentary…” this would pretty much be Marker pro-actively generating meaning out of the minimally contingent with the overly determined.

But what about a film like Sans soleil? Certainly there is much contingency  when the voice-over offers various observations on Japanese life based on Krasna’s hours of watching television, but then the narrative pro-actively and insistently sees interesting thing in the television the narrator watches. We sense that the narrator, so intriguing is his mind, will manage to conjure something out of next to nothing: this might be for Burch a criticism, but it can just as easily be read as a compliment: we simply have to see it as a pro-active documentary technique and not some intrinsic flaw. For Burch’s argument here is a little like that of the scriptwriting manuals, which insist voice-over means you can’t tell your story visually. But what if the pro-active is merely one side of the coin and what we’ll call the sub-active the other? For the ‘sub-active’ must hope for something out of the nothing that the documentarist cannot too pro-actively generate. In documentary, the sub-active might take the form of the framing of the shot in such a way that punctums would be possible, but hardly certain. When Morris says, in the Chang article, he likes the “idea of making films about absolutely nothing. I like the irrelevant, tangential, the sidebar excursion to nowhere that suddenly becomes revelatory,” he is really talking about this sub-active dimension over the pro-active element. In Morris’s first two features, in Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida, he proves himself a master of the sub-active, as he wonders what this framing of nothingness might contain. Surely central to Direct Cinema is this sub-active aspect, the degree to which Wiseman, Maysles, Pennebaker and others patiently observe the potential nothingness and allow for an observational meaning to come through.

This isn’t simply to say that the camera and mise-en-scene function sub-actively and the voice-over pro-actively, and it is useful to digress from Marker for a moment longer to clarify a few points. Some documentarists would clearly arrange their mise-en-scene with more assertiveness than the sub-active would demand, and one may think of the teacher in Nicholas Philibert’s Etre et Avoir who sued the director for some of the film’s profits. He felt that he wasn’t just a documentary subject, but an actor who was given lines and advised where to stand in scenes that were more or less recreations. This is, if you like, and paradoxically, pro-active Direct cinema, or more accurately pro-active observational cinema. For the difference here between Wiseman and Philibert would be that Wiseman sub-actively frames the shot and edits the many hours of footage he shoots, relying on a high degree of contingency in front of the camera, and a high degree of work in the editing suite to shape the footage into a pro-active whole. There is of course no-voice over in Wiseman but there is a very far from an arbitrary editing schema. Philibert presumably is less interested in the direct truth of the image, than the quality of observation he can extract from it, and is willing to collapse clear lines between fact and fiction to maximise that observation. His style might be less sub-active than we would like or expect from the observational form, but in his lengthy scenes of scrutiny, Philibert still clearly respects the image that possesses an atmosphere of world over the uninflected shot.

For Marker the issue is never really about notions of truth anyway, at least as some easily definable documentary verisimilitude, and he has always eschewed ready definitions of the form. In Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, Lupton mentions Bazin’s belief that the “primary matter of Marker’s was intelligence”. As she says, “Intelligence is a quality of mind that may choose to express itself through whatever medium is at hand, whether it be a typewriter, a Rolleiflex, a 16m camera, a Sony Handycam or an Apple Mac loaded with image processing software.” In Marker’s work, the medium is not the message, though the medium may be a self-conscious aspect of it. This is clearly the case in a film like Level Five, where, as Lupton says, “the crucial innovation made by Level Five…is that the computer is firmly established as the mediating link.” When Burch earlier suggested that Marker seemed more interested in narration than in imagery, this seems a half-truth, because we feel for Marker while images certainly matter, the composition of these images means less than the retrieval of the decomposition of them: of images that are either disappearing from the archive of accepted images, or have become accepted images that actually contain no ‘truth’ quotient in them, yet are taken as signifiers of authenticity. We might think, in relation to the former, of the George Steiner quote from The Last Bolshevikwhich goes “It is not the literal past that rules us, it is images of the past.”  And of the latter, as Lupton suggests, the “all-purpose burning man of the wartime newsreels [who] gets up and walks away in a few frames that were never shown.” Or for that matter the war scenes in The Last Bolshevik which weren’t war scenes at all but filmed after the event. Marker thus wants the image not so much to be composed beautifully (a la Patrick Keiller, whose work shares Marker’s interest in the dense voice-over but whose images tend to be much cleaner, more precise and who in London and Robinson in Space works with found realities but frames them in such a way that they very much become his own); he wants to utilise images (many his own; many not) as mosaically constructed to create maximum memory density.

Density of memory is really what Marker’s work is about, and if he muses over the truth of an image this is often not because he doesn’t believe in truth and sincerity, but that memory destroys its certitude. Vital to Marker’s work is the retrieval of truth from memory, and so if truth remains difficult to locate, this is by no means a facileimpossibility, but if anything a pained impossibility, the pain of which Marker addresses of course in his own short fiction film, La Jetee, as well as his semi-documentary, Level Five, his fascination with Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and, more optimistically perhaps, in relation to his own life as Catherine Lupton – imaginatively? – describes it at the end of her book.  Lupton perceives Marker thus: “Imagine an apartment in Paris…inside seven or eight television screens are perpetually switched on…the room is immaculately tidy, crammed with books, tapes and the mementoes of a lifetime of travel and friendship. ..He sits and sleeps with his legs folded up in an armchair, like an elderly monkey who has no use for a bed…At the end of the day, he is happiest to be by himself, creating his own worlds by recording and reflecting upon the images of this one…”  In an essay on Hitchcock’s film published in Projections 4 ½, Marker says of Vertigo, “the vertigo the film deals with isn’t to do with space and falling; it is a clear, understandable and spectacular metaphor for yet another kind of vertigo, much more difficult to represent – the vertigo of time”.  How to live in time, how to create the sincerity of living within time when it constantly passes us by, and makes grasping the truth so difficult? As Marker says, where the scheming and manipulative Elster sets in motion the plot to have his wife killed and reduces “the fantasy to mediocre manifestations (wealth, power etc.), Scottie transmutes it into its most utopian form: he overcomes the most irreparable damage caused by time and resurrects a love that is dead.”

For many the problem of time is barely a problem at all: is history not bunk? And time is on their side, for since it slips off into the past so rapidly then why not focus much more on the present? If the future is not ours to see, then so the past is impossible to recollect with any certitude. But then the certitude of recollection has never much interested in Marker, but the sincerity of memory does. This is really what he’s talking about when he says of Vertigo, “the entire second part of the film, on the other side of the mirror, is nothing but a mad, maniacal attempt to deny time…” Where Elster lives in the assured present and consequently lives without deep feeling; Scottie may be duped, but he’s at least caught in the deepest of affective responses. Firstly by falling for Madeleine, and secondly by making the woman who played the role of Madeleine for Elster to dupe Scottie, now play Madeleine for him. But as Marker suggests, Elster just wanted a facsimile to pretend to be Madeleine, but Scottie wants her to become Madeleine. Now despite all the problematic sub-texts the film raises, and that of course Laura Mulvey famously addressed in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Tania Modleski in a feminist focused article on the film republished in Post-War Cinema and Modernity, what Marker wants to extract from Vertigo is Scottie’s curious relationship with memory. He simply has too much of it; so much so that it occupies his body as readily as his mind, as we see early in the film that the vertigo he suffers in the wake of a colleague’s death still very much haunts him. He can barely hold his balance standing on a chair.  Scottie is one of the great Hollywood characters of too much memory, psychological and physiological. How can the past be bunk when it occupies so many bodies and so many minds?

Which might make us think of La Jetee, and also Level Five, where in the latter Marker simultaneously examines the self-inflicted atrocities of Okinawa, and the personal tragedy of a character in the present in Paris who leads us into the Japanese story. Laura has a loss of her own to deal with (the death of a lover), and Marker constantly draws parallels between personal and public loss, and would seem to suggest that there is little difference: there is never a clear line between self and other emotionally, physiologically and psychologically. After all, Scottie does not fall to his death in Vertigo, but three people he knows have. Is he not by the end of the film infected, disease-ridden, vertigo-ridden by those very deaths? We can swear blind that self and other are separate entities, and the past lost to us, but Scottie is a perfect example of this collapse of self and of temporal coordinates as he remains haunted by the lives he would feel responsible for losing. The question Marker addresses, in both his Vertigo essay and Level Five, is the connectiveness of lives to others and to memory. This is also of course true of La Jetee, a short film made up of still shots and one briefly moving image, where sincerity of memory takes precedence over future possibilities.

This is the sincerity of memory that we proposed a little earlier. If Elster believes in utilising love for power and money, in La Jetee the central character is true to Scottie’s obsessions: he wants a love that is deeper than the rudimentaries even of time. At the start of the film he remembers an image at Orly airport of a woman’s face and of a man dying. This image proves so strong in his consciousness that, after a nuclear apocalypse destroys much of Paris and drives the survivors underground, with many used as guinea pigs for time travel experiments, that it temporarily saves him. Because the man’s so fixated on this image in the past, he’s capable of living in another time dimension, and thus shuttles through time and realises that in the future Paris will once again be rebuilt. When it looks like he’ll be killed by the people who’ve been experimenting upon him; the man has the chance to escape into the future but instead chooses the past. In this past he finds that the man killed in that lasting image he couldn’t forget turns out to be himself. His fidelity to memory proves his undoing, but in Marker’s world this is less tragedy than sweet melancholy – the ultimate ontological gamble for someone who lives not in the co-ordinates of the present, but searches out constantly also the co-ordinates of the past. Better it seems to respect memory and die than ignore memory and live. Marker is is like a variation on curiosity killing the cat: memory kills man, but this is not reason enough to ignore it.

Perhaps now we can return to one or two of our original points about Marker’s work. The Sartre notion of every image having an atmosphere of world, and the other that Marker is a literary filmmaker in the best sense of the term. Both notions bring out the texture of the work; both contribute to its sincere ambiguity. First of all, Marker wants his images to be never quite in themselves nor at the service of the narration. The images have to be complex enough to suggest the sub-active, and the voice-over nuanced enough to offer the pro-active, but a narrative pro-activity that doesn’t dictate the images, but gives them a still greater complexity. Marker wants images that have an atmosphere of world, but also to give to these images a texture that leaves the film with a vertiginous sense of possibility. Thus, though we’ve talked a great deal about the importance of memory, memory in itself isn’t enough. For memory suggests too readily a return, and we should remember in La jettee that though the central character does in fact choose the past over the future, he can do so because he works from a position of living outside the present moment as readily as he can choose to live in the past. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest in What is Philosophy?, “memory, which summons forth only old perceptions, is obviously not enough…”, and what Marker often works with is a kind of memory frisson – a moment where the past returns in some way to haunt the present. This is exactly what happens at the end of La jetee, where the central character realises that the haunting moment he couldn’t forget was actually the moment of his own death. In The Last Bolshevik the narrator realises that the ‘last Bolshevik of the title was a more ambiguous figure than even he expected, as he finds Alexander Medvedkin’s name attached to a particularly dubious film. It’s a moment that forces the narrator to reassess much that he’d taken for granted due to new information that calls the entire past into question, and also the present assumptions of the perceiver. If we were to settle merely for the re-enactment of memory, then the past would simply be brought into the present. But not only is Marker interested in images that have whole worlds surrounding them, and a narrative consciousness equal to the psychic implosiveness we proposed in relation to Sans soleil, there is also this sense that memory is not a passive recollection but a constantly active process waiting to thrust upon the men of the present, as Nietzsche would say, that history can never quite be bunk.

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Chris Marker

The Complex Weave

To what degree do we expect a documentarist to be a writer? Not just someone who puts words on a page and then reiterates them over images, in the grand tradition of the documentary voice-over, but someone for whom words bring out the complexity of the images that allow for word and image to become one. In Chris Marker's work (from Letter from Siberia to Sans soleil, from The Last Bolshevik to Level Five) we feel word and image combine to create a sort of complex weave, a tightened fabric of materials that leads less to an argument conveyed, than a perspective expressed. If we compare Marker's methods, say, to Adam Curtis's in The Power of Nightmares, or Michael Moore's in Fahrenheit 9/11, we realise that one approach offers jaundiced information; and the other creative and conceptual possibilities. This isn't especially to decry Curtis and Moore's political angle (essentially, useful takes on neo-con conspiracies and dodgy war-mongering that take to task Bush and co's belligerent and contradictory attitude to Islam), but it might be to question their method. They completely lack Marker's double-jointed capacity to think contrary thoughts simultaneously.

Hence in Curtis's film we see numerous images that barely exist as images at all, but instead function, at best, like examples for the information we're given in voice-over. When the film informs us about a climate of fear in contemporary political culture, it runs a series of visual cues. These include anything from shots of Bin Laden, Bush and Blair, the Nuremberg Rally from Triumph of the Will, clips of dodgy Middle-Eastern films, of the Northern Ireland situation, and footage of what looks like an Afghan being pushed into and beaten in the back of a vehicle. Dozens of images pass before the viewer's eyes, contained by an assertive voice-over informing us of western governments' manipulation of fear that replaces the sort of hope politicians in the past possessed. Now putting aside the numerous contradictory aspects and lazy historicizing present in the voice-over (no mention is made of the McCarthyism of the fifties, Hitler scare-mongering in the thirties), we should still have an aesthetic problem with the way the images themselves are presented to us. As Jean-Paul Sartre once proposed, "every image is surrounded by an atmosphere of world." But looking at these opening images to Curtis's film, it's as though they have been ruthlessly removed from their worlds - they are orphan images, devoid of contextual parentage. When we see the frightened look on the young man in the back of the truck, what does the filmmaker expect us to do with such an image? If it merely serves as an example of his text, doesn't it force upon us a certain dehumanized over-simplification? We're neither especially concerned with the singularity of the political event shown, nor can we feel especially empathic towards the person in the shot. He is an image amongst images; an image which has not been allowed an atmosphere of world.

If Marker is one of the great documentary filmmakers it resides in his respect for the complexity of memory - of which more, later - the atmosphere that surrounds an image, and his intellectual and literary capacity to explore that world. We might think of the amusing scene in Letter From Siberia, where, over one particular set of images, Marker offers three different voice-overs. One comments on the hard, out-moded, struggling doggedness of the workers while another talks of the Communist ideal put into practise as the workers pursue their ideological dream. What Marker insists upon here is of course the degree to which voice-over contextualises; like some variation of the Kuleshov effect, where an image of a face changes according to what that same face seems to be responding to in the images that precede and follow it. Let us accept, Marker seems to be saying, that if we take an image out of context, and text that context, then ought we to give to that text a flexibility and complexity equal to the images themselves? The answer may generally be no we don't, but if we enquire into the image, not just simply voice-over it, then text and context can become one. We have the weave we proposed at the beginning of this article. This is really what we're proposing when we suggest Marker is as readily a writer as a documentarist: because his work is text heavy, then he needs a literary talent equal to atmosphere of world that resides in the image.

Not everybody admires Marker's gifts, and Noel Burch once proposed in Film Quarterlythat "Chris Marker is a personable young man with excellent taste and a fine cultural background (he edits a series of books for that enterprising post-war publishing house Les Editions du Seiul: in short the ideal young French intellectual." That Burch gratuitously mentions Marker's youthfulness twice in the same sentence (no matter that, at the time of the article Marker was in his late thirties), indicates that Burch is interested in something else. It suggests that despite Marker's verbal brilliance Marker found Siberia dull and, Burch implies, arrogantly relied on his own literary gifts. Burch does acknowledge that maybe, "his movements were so restricted that he wasn't allowed to film anything of interest...". But this is just part of a wider Burch problem with French documentary. "Many French director of the post-war generation have, at some stage of their career, done documentary work (Louis Malle, Pierre Kast, Alain Resnais, George Franju), but with very few exceptions they look upon this field merely a bonne cole, a good way to learn their trade." As he says "they have always been most interested in transcending the subjects they are given to treat..."

But can we not differentiate between two forms of transcendence here? One happens to be where the image is used for the purposes of a socio-political message, evident in both The Power of Nightmares and Fahrenheit 9/11, and where the image has no autonomy as it furthers the filmmakers' informational aims. The other is the voice-over as a verbal-visual enquiry, evidenced of course not only in Marker's films, but also present in, for example, Pare Lorentz's The River, with its Pulitzer prize-winning voice-over written by Lorentz himself, Resnais' Night and Fog, written by Jean Cayrol, Agnes Varda's self-conscious examination of contemporary gleaning in The Gleaners and I, and Patrick Keiller's London and Robinson in Space. Here the image is not taken for granted; it is utilised for its multi-faceted or poetic possibilities. In both The River and Night and Fog, for example, the directors create a parallel world of voice and image, as the voice-overs give texture to the magnitude of the images we see. This is man's inhumanity to nature in the first instance, as we watch the Mississippi being carved up for material gain, and man's inhumanity to man in Resnais' examination of the camps as they look ten years after the Holocaust. These are examples where the images are in some way transcended by the voice-over, as if the filmmakers suggest we do not want simply a contextualizing narration, but a narration that will contribute to capturing the aesthesis of the subject. If Curtis and Moore want to offer a prescriptive take on their subjects, the directors interested in transcending their subjects are looking for a sensitively descriptive take. Resnais and co. want to describe the enormity of meaning within the image - they want to try to explain and explore the atmosphere of world. In the prescriptive, the documentarist would perhaps prefer if the footage contained no extraneous information, if it were, in David Mamet's terms in On Directing Film, all about telling "the story through the juxtaposition of uninflected images".

Mamet is actually talking about fiction filmmaking, but the way Moore and Curtis make documentary films resembles the way Mamet talks about fictional ones. They want to produce uninflected shots out of actually often complexly inflected ones. Marker on the other hand wants to find these complexly inflected shots and muse over their complexity. This is the case in almost all his work, but perhaps never more so than in Sans soleil, where in the semi-fictional device of letters from a traveller whom the credits inform us is called Krasna, and read by a woman whom we never see, we're given numerous images, and numerous observations on those images. Out of this complexity Marker seems to want some kind of psychic implosion. As Terrence Rafferty says in his essay collection, The Thing Happens, "Trying to remember Chris Marker's Sans Soleil (Sunless) after seeing it for the first time, a viewer might recall nothing but how he feels at the end, dazed and excited, overwhelmed by a smooth, rapid flow of images and ideas." But central to this dazed feeling is less our response to an argumentative through-line, with the documentarist as single-minded polemicist, than the director as schizoanalytically exploring possibilities within the image. Rather than the authoritative all-knowing voice-over that Oedipally tells us what is right, Marker is anti-Oedipally exploring what is possible. That is, Anti-Oedipally as Deleuze and Guattari use the term in relation to schizoanalysis in Anti-Oedipus. "A schizoanalysis schizophrenizes in order to break the hold of power and institute research" Mark Seem's intro offers, "into a new collective subjectivity and revolutionary healing of mankind". This form of filmmaking does not want to convey an argument; it wants to explore the possibilities, to try and open up the atmosphere of world that surrounds the image, well aware that to contain each image, to hold it too readily within the realm of a single-minded argument, is a form of phenomenological bullying.

How does Marker avoid this approach? In Sans soleil, the director quotes Levi-Strauss's notion of the poignancy of things in relation to the Japanese capacity to become things, to enter into them, and lists the items that Japanese bless, including inanimate objects, from brushes to rusty needles. As the woman in voice-over reads the comments offered to her by the letter writer, on the screen we see the Japanese blessings, and a shot cutting away to Africa when the letter writer suggests certain differences and similarities between Japanese and African forms of worship. First, we have a disembodiment of certitude through a speculative letter writer being quoted by a woman narrator, while at the same time we witness images that touch upon a belief system so incorporative, so willing to accept the union of all things, that it shatters any singularity of thought or image. In A. K., an examination of Akira Kurosawa's work and specifically Ran, Marker isn't just interested in the making of the film, but also the many peripheral aspects of it. At one moment we see Kurosawa sitting on set receiving a massage whilst the voice-over informs us that he is known as 'sensi', which means master, and the master of everything from flower arranging to karate. The sensi searches out technical perfection and out of this mastery gains a broader respect. There is nothing in the voice-over to question this notion of respect, and yet Marker chooses at this moment not to show Kurosawa at work, illustrating his capacity for mastery, but at rest. It is as though the film respects the notion, but doesn't quite see it as the whole story. In Marker's work there is always a sense of the world as vastly more complex than we can fathom, and the director's purpose is to explore this multiplicity; whether that happens to be by suggesting objects have souls, or that part of one's sensi can reside in rest. As the voice-over says, the sort of respect Kurosawa garners has nothing to do with the reign of terror lesser directors demand, and we sense that though technical perfection is central to Kurosawa's genius, no less so is what is called 'the spiritual bonus' that comes out of that brilliance.

The spiritual bonus for Marker seems to lie in the way he approaches his own work, taking into account Heidegger's comment that questioning is the piety of thought. In his epic thirteen part exploration of Greece, The Owl's Legacy, Marker asks filmmakers like Theo Angelopoulos and Elia Kazan, cultural commentator George Steiner, and mathematician/philosopher Michel Serres, as well as numerous Greek writers, artists and thinkers, about what Ancient Greece means to them. Marker doesn't try to create a coherent narrative out of such disparate thinking; he wants to suggest the way in which Ancient Greece becomes present in contemporary life. Neither does he want to take us back to Ancient Greece in an act of dodgy historical re-enactment, or to force an interpretive polemical perspective on the greatness or mediocrity of the Greeks. It is instead a process of constant enquiry; and herein lies the spiritual bonus: present in Marker's questioning, and offered to the viewer as we witness many different angles on Ancient Rome. Marker's schizo-analysis here resides in the babble of takes on the subject matter.

So it is not only an image which of course has an atmosphere of world, but also each subject, each person interviewed. One of the intriguing things about Marker's The Owl's Legacy is the degree to which he draws out of so many of his subjects an intense passion for their area of expertise. Generally filming against the backdrop of a huge owl that gives the set a surrealist absurdity, or filming in actual locations where the sound of kids playing and traffic zooming past can be heard on the soundtrack, Marker does not want information that is merely factual: he wants us to understand information in its manifold revealing. As one woman, Manuela Smith, tries to explain her personal and professional relationship with Greek culture, it is as if Marker is as readily fascinated with the way her eyes look modestly beseeching in the telling, as in the telling itself. In many ways, this is of course a talking heads documentary, but Marker also takes a close look at the heads that talk.

Like that great American documentarist as epistemologist, Errol Morris, Marker wants to see how much atmosphere of world he can capture as he observes these talking heads. When critic Chris Chang in Film Comment says of Morris, utilising Roland Barthes' idea in Camera Lucida of the punctum - of some "innocuous aspect of a photograph that somehow manages to transcend its own mundane existence, puncture the surface of the commonplace, and arrest the eye" - he insists in one particular film all the compositions have a punctum. What he is just as readily talking about is an image containing an atmosphere of world. As Chang astutely suggests, Morris "captures moments when you can see people with their own production design strategies laid bare, as his film sets become analogous of, and vacillate with, the realities they present." As Morris interviews various Californians about pets and their burial in Gates of Heaven, so the documentary subjects reveal the degree to which they seem to be aware of the camera not so much as the camera rolls, but as they prepare for their moment in front of it. Certainly they talk of their fascination with pets, but they also reveal much about their self-image in how they appear on screen. One character is surrounded by sporting trophies from his athletic past; another wears, in Chang's words, "bright red polyester dress socks that all but drown out his interview". Information is never just info given; it is also info taken, for as Chang suggests, the punctum is, finally, a subjective thing, and thus generates the possibility for thought and observation around an image. The filmmaker might not categorically state what the punctums should be, of course, but he should create the freedom of mise-en-scene that can incorporate their possibility.

This is a point Marker addresses in relation to Le Joli Mai, a film he made about Parisians, politics and life in the early sixties, a film that some critics thought was biased and partisan, and Marker more or less admitted so by rephrasing it Cin, ma verite. A title suggesting that he wasn't so much interested in cinema truth, so much as his cin truth. Yet at the same time he insisted he wanted to offer atmosphere of world, to allow for the punctums. He had a number of ground rules, Catherine Lupton notes in Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, including "avoiding selecting the participants, or manipulating the interviews (either by trick questions or strategic cutting), in order to confirm a ready made conclusion about the state of France in 1962. He insisted "people exist with their complexity, their own consistency, their own personal opacity and one has absolutely no right to reduce them to what you want them to be."

So obviously the documentarist needs to be not merely a great writer, but also a fine observer, or rather, more especially, be a great creator of the space for the possibilities of observation. Marker is an impressive combination of both; even though they are surely activities that would ostensibly move in opposite directions. For to write is a 'pro-active' activity - it is to offer one's own observations reliant on no more than the contingency of the quality of one's own mind, and this is really what Burch is getting at when he attacks him in the Film Quarterly article quoted above. As Burch says,"my first impression on seeing Lettre de Sibrie was that Marker must have found Siberia a pretty dull place..." and so consequently "the mainstay of this operation was, of course, the inevitable commentary..." this would pretty much be Marker pro-actively generating meaning out of the minimally contingent with the overly determined.

But what about a film like Sans soleil? Certainly there is much contingency when the voice-over offers various observations on Japanese life based on Krasna's hours of watching television, but then the narrative pro-actively and insistently sees interesting thing in the television the narrator watches. We sense that the narrator, so intriguing is his mind, will manage to conjure something out of next to nothing: this might be for Burch a criticism, but it can just as easily be read as a compliment: we simply have to see it as a pro-active documentary technique and not some intrinsic flaw. For Burch's argument here is a little like that of the scriptwriting manuals, which insist voice-over means you can't tell your story visually. But what if the pro-active is merely one side of the coin and what we'll call the sub-active the other? For the 'sub-active' must hope for something out of the nothing that the documentarist cannot too pro-actively generate. In documentary, the sub-active might take the form of the framing of the shot in such a way that punctums would be possible, but hardly certain. When Morris says, in the Chang article, he likes the "idea of making films about absolutely nothing. I like the irrelevant, tangential, the sidebar excursion to nowhere that suddenly becomes revelatory," he is really talking about this sub-active dimension over the pro-active element. In Morris's first two features, in Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida, he proves himself a master of the sub-active, as he wonders what this framing of nothingness might contain. Surely central to Direct Cinema is this sub-active aspect, the degree to which Wiseman, Maysles, Pennebaker and others patiently observe the potential nothingness and allow for an observational meaning to come through.

This isn't simply to say that the camera and mise-en-scene function sub-actively and the voice-over pro-actively, and it is useful to digress from Marker for a moment longer to clarify a few points. Some documentarists would clearly arrange their mise-en-scene with more assertiveness than the sub-active would demand, and one may think of the teacher in Nicholas Philibert's Etre et Avoir who sued the director for some of the film's profits. He felt that he wasn't just a documentary subject, but an actor who was given lines and advised where to stand in scenes that were more or less recreations. This is, if you like, and paradoxically, pro-active Direct cinema, or more accurately pro-active observational cinema. For the difference here between Wiseman and Philibert would be that Wiseman sub-actively frames the shot and edits the many hours of footage he shoots, relying on a high degree of contingency in front of the camera, and a high degree of work in the editing suite to shape the footage into a pro-active whole. There is of course no-voice over in Wiseman but there is a very far from an arbitrary editing schema. Philibert presumably is less interested in the direct truth of the image, than the quality of observation he can extract from it, and is willing to collapse clear lines between fact and fiction to maximise that observation. His style might be less sub-active than we would like or expect from the observational form, but in his lengthy scenes of scrutiny, Philibert still clearly respects the image that possesses an atmosphere of world over the uninflected shot.

For Marker the issue is never really about notions of truth anyway, at least as some easily definable documentary verisimilitude, and he has always eschewed ready definitions of the form. In Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, Lupton mentions Bazin's belief that the "primary matter of Marker's was intelligence". As she says, "Intelligence is a quality of mind that may choose to express itself through whatever medium is at hand, whether it be a typewriter, a Rolleiflex, a 16m camera, a Sony Handycam or an Apple Mac loaded with image processing software." In Marker's work, the medium is not the message, though the medium may be a self-conscious aspect of it. This is clearly the case in a film like Level Five, where, as Lupton says, "the crucial innovation made by Level Five...is that the computer is firmly established as the mediating link." When Burch earlier suggested that Marker seemed more interested in narration than in imagery, this seems a half-truth, because we feel for Marker while images certainly matter, the composition of these images means less than the retrieval of the decomposition of them: of images that are either disappearing from the archive of accepted images, or have become accepted images that actually contain no 'truth' quotient in them, yet are taken as signifiers of authenticity. We might think, in relation to the former, of the George Steiner quote from The Last Bolshevikwhich goes "It is not the literal past that rules us, it is images of the past." And of the latter, as Lupton suggests, the "all-purpose burning man of the wartime newsreels [who] gets up and walks away in a few frames that were never shown." Or for that matter the war scenes in The Last Bolshevik which weren't war scenes at all but filmed after the event. Marker thus wants the image not so much to be composed beautifully (a la Patrick Keiller, whose work shares Marker's interest in the dense voice-over but whose images tend to be much cleaner, more precise and who in London and Robinson in Space works with found realities but frames them in such a way that they very much become his own); he wants to utilise images (many his own; many not) as mosaically constructed to create maximum memory density.

Density of memory is really what Marker's work is about, and if he muses over the truth of an image this is often not because he doesn't believe in truth and sincerity, but that memory destroys its certitude. Vital to Marker's work is the retrieval of truth from memory, and so if truth remains difficult to locate, this is by no means a facileimpossibility, but if anything a pained impossibility, the pain of which Marker addresses of course in his own short fiction film, La Jetee, as well as his semi-documentary, Level Five, his fascination with Hitchcock's Vertigo, and, more optimistically perhaps, in relation to his own life as Catherine Lupton - imaginatively? - describes it at the end of her book. Lupton perceives Marker thus: "Imagine an apartment in Paris...inside seven or eight television screens are perpetually switched on...the room is immaculately tidy, crammed with books, tapes and the mementoes of a lifetime of travel and friendship. ..He sits and sleeps with his legs folded up in an armchair, like an elderly monkey who has no use for a bed...At the end of the day, he is happiest to be by himself, creating his own worlds by recording and reflecting upon the images of this one..." In an essay on Hitchcock's film published in Projections 4 frac12;, Marker says of Vertigo, "the vertigo the film deals with isn't to do with space and falling; it is a clear, understandable and spectacular metaphor for yet another kind of vertigo, much more difficult to represent - the vertigo of time". How to live in time, how to create the sincerity of living within time when it constantly passes us by, and makes grasping the truth so difficult? As Marker says, where the scheming and manipulative Elster sets in motion the plot to have his wife killed and reduces "the fantasy to mediocre manifestations (wealth, power etc.), Scottie transmutes it into its most utopian form: he overcomes the most irreparable damage caused by time and resurrects a love that is dead."

For many the problem of time is barely a problem at all: is history not bunk? And time is on their side, for since it slips off into the past so rapidly then why not focus much more on the present? If the future is not ours to see, then so the past is impossible to recollect with any certitude. But then the certitude of recollection has never much interested in Marker, but the sincerity of memory does. This is really what he's talking about when he says of Vertigo, "the entire second part of the film, on the other side of the mirror, is nothing but a mad, maniacal attempt to deny time..." Where Elster lives in the assured present and consequently lives without deep feeling; Scottie may be duped, but he's at least caught in the deepest of affective responses. Firstly by falling for Madeleine, and secondly by making the woman who played the role of Madeleine for Elster to dupe Scottie, now play Madeleine for him. But as Marker suggests, Elster just wanted a facsimile to pretend to be Madeleine, but Scottie wants her to become Madeleine. Now despite all the problematic sub-texts the film raises, and that of course Laura Mulvey famously addressed in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Tania Modleski in a feminist focused article on the film republished in Post-War Cinema and Modernity, what Marker wants to extract from Vertigo is Scottie's curious relationship with memory. He simply has too much of it; so much so that it occupies his body as readily as his mind, as we see early in the film that the vertigo he suffers in the wake of a colleague's death still very much haunts him. He can barely hold his balance standing on a chair. Scottie is one of the great Hollywood characters of too much memory, psychological and physiological. How can the past be bunk when it occupies so many bodies and so many minds?

Which might make us think of La Jetee, and also Level Five, where in the latter Marker simultaneously examines the self-inflicted atrocities of Okinawa, and the personal tragedy of a character in the present in Paris who leads us into the Japanese story. Laura has a loss of her own to deal with (the death of a lover), and Marker constantly draws parallels between personal and public loss, and would seem to suggest that there is little difference: there is never a clear line between self and other emotionally, physiologically and psychologically. After all, Scottie does not fall to his death in Vertigo, but three people he knows have. Is he not by the end of the film infected, disease-ridden, vertigo-ridden by those very deaths? We can swear blind that self and other are separate entities, and the past lost to us, but Scottie is a perfect example of this collapse of self and of temporal coordinates as he remains haunted by the lives he would feel responsible for losing. The question Marker addresses, in both his Vertigo essay and Level Five, is the connectiveness of lives to others and to memory. This is also of course true of La Jetee, a short film made up of still shots and one briefly moving image, where sincerity of memory takes precedence over future possibilities.

This is the sincerity of memory that we proposed a little earlier. If Elster believes in utilising love for power and money, in La Jetee the central character is true to Scottie's obsessions: he wants a love that is deeper than the rudimentaries even of time. At the start of the film he remembers an image at Orly airport of a woman's face and of a man dying. This image proves so strong in his consciousness that, after a nuclear apocalypse destroys much of Paris and drives the survivors underground, with many used as guinea pigs for time travel experiments, that it temporarily saves him. Because the man's so fixated on this image in the past, he's capable of living in another time dimension, and thus shuttles through time and realises that in the future Paris will once again be rebuilt. When it looks like he'll be killed by the people who've been experimenting upon him; the man has the chance to escape into the future but instead chooses the past. In this past he finds that the man killed in that lasting image he couldn't forget turns out to be himself. His fidelity to memory proves his undoing, but in Marker's world this is less tragedy than sweet melancholy - the ultimate ontological gamble for someone who lives not in the co-ordinates of the present, but searches out constantly also the co-ordinates of the past. Better it seems to respect memory and die than ignore memory and live. Marker is is like a variation on curiosity killing the cat: memory kills man, but this is not reason enough to ignore it.

Perhaps now we can return to one or two of our original points about Marker's work. The Sartre notion of every image having an atmosphere of world, and the other that Marker is a literary filmmaker in the best sense of the term. Both notions bring out the texture of the work; both contribute to its sincere ambiguity. First of all, Marker wants his images to be never quite in themselves nor at the service of the narration. The images have to be complex enough to suggest the sub-active, and the voice-over nuanced enough to offer the pro-active, but a narrative pro-activity that doesn't dictate the images, but gives them a still greater complexity. Marker wants images that have an atmosphere of world, but also to give to these images a texture that leaves the film with a vertiginous sense of possibility. Thus, though we've talked a great deal about the importance of memory, memory in itself isn't enough. For memory suggests too readily a return, and we should remember in La jettee that though the central character does in fact choose the past over the future, he can do so because he works from a position of living outside the present moment as readily as he can choose to live in the past. As Deleuze and Guattari suggest in What is Philosophy?, "memory, which summons forth only old perceptions, is obviously not enough...", and what Marker often works with is a kind of memory frisson - a moment where the past returns in some way to haunt the present. This is exactly what happens at the end of La jetee, where the central character realises that the haunting moment he couldn't forget was actually the moment of his own death. In The Last Bolshevik the narrator realises that the 'last Bolshevik of the title was a more ambiguous figure than even he expected, as he finds Alexander Medvedkin's name attached to a particularly dubious film. It's a moment that forces the narrator to reassess much that he'd taken for granted due to new information that calls the entire past into question, and also the present assumptions of the perceiver. If we were to settle merely for the re-enactment of memory, then the past would simply be brought into the present. But not only is Marker interested in images that have whole worlds surrounding them, and a narrative consciousness equal to the psychic implosiveness we proposed in relation to Sans soleil, there is also this sense that memory is not a passive recollection but a constantly active process waiting to thrust upon the men of the present, as Nietzsche would say, that history can never quite be bunk.


© Tony McKibbin