Memories of the Future
Chris Marker’s Travels and Trials
Memories of the Future Minato Chihiro
Memories of the Future
A letter arrives from a far away land, a place that is not here. The sender was a traveler, who made films, who took photographs, who wrote novels, and who invented imaginary video games. This special program is a true retrospective on the French filmmaker Chris Marker, best known for his films La jetée and Sans soleil, providing a full view of a body of work that spans six decades. In the 1950s, after directing the short documentary Statues Also Die with Alain Resnais, Chris Marker traveled the world from Europe to Asia, to Latin America and Africa, experimenting with various modes of expression that largely surpassed the common confines of cinema. Marker hated being classified in commonsensical categories, and never explained his own work. Nevertheless, one can identify several common threads in his films selected for this program.
The first would be the act of traveling to a place, sympathizing with the people there, and supporting their struggles against authority through film production. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon—which records a demonstration against the Vietnam War—and the omnibus film Far from Vietnam are clear expressions of the antiwar movement. From the founding of the Group Medvedkin and the documenting of strikes and demonstrations, to the interviewing of Chile’s Salvador Allende, to the criticism of mass media news broadcasts in a series of “anti-information magazines,” Marker’s work in the 1960s and 1970s all supports some form of anti-authoritarian struggle. The long-form Grin Without a Cat, released in 1977, could be said to be his opus in this regard.
The second body of Marker’s work treats issues of cinema and memory. La jetée follows a main character as he travels into the past from a future following the Third World War, in a story that overlaps with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Sans soleil inserts the memories of Marker’s films into the memories of a traveler, creating a multilayered structure. Marker’s contributions to film theory can be found in A.K., which records Kurosawa Akira on the set of Ran, and in The Last Bolshevik, his homage to Alexander Medvedkin.
Marker was consistent in his concern for cinema as a technology of memory. From the beginning of his career, he employed many forms of media such as magazines, books, photographs, and video. From the late 1980s he began incorporating multimedia in his investigation into technology and the changing appearance of memory. His work was not limited to the cinema—he also displayed video installations in museums and released CD-ROMS. Approaching the history of the Battle of Okinawa in a story about an imaginary video game, Marker’s Level Five deserves special mention as a film focused on Japan. After 2000, Marker would photograph the Paris subway, or appear as an alter ego in an online video game to respond to interviews, always emerging in unexpected places.
Chris Marker left many footprints in Japan, and by touching upon the entirety of his varied documentary work, the world as depicted by this traveler allows us to look upon emergent forms that differ radically from the maps that we have become accustomed to seeing.