Nationality: French. Born: Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve in Neuilly sur Seine (one source says Ulan Bator, Mongolia), 29 July 1921. Military Service: During World War II, resistance fighter, then joined American army. Career: Novelist, poet, playwright, and journalist, from late 1940s; formed SLON film cooperative (Société pour le Lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles), 1967. Awards: Golden Bear, Berlin Festival, for Description d'un combat, 1961; International Critics Prize, Cannes Festival, for Le Joli Mai, 1963.
Films as Director:
Olympia 52 (+ sc, co-ph)
Les Statues meurent aussi (co-d, co-sc)
Dimanche à Pekin (+ sc, ph)
Lettre de Sibérie (Letter from Siberia) (+ sc)
Description d'un combat (+ sc); Les Astronautes (co-d, sc)
Cuba Si! (+ sc, ph)
Le Joli Mai (+ sc)
La Jetée (completed 1962) (+ sc)
Le Mystère Koumiko (The Koumiko Mystery) (+ sc)
Si j'avais quatre dromadaires (+ sc)
La Sixième Face du Pentagone (collaboration with Francois Reichenbach) (+ sc)
A bientôt j'espère (+ sc)
La Bataille des dix millions (Cuba: Battle of the Ten Million) (+ sc); Les Mots ont un sens (+ sc)
Le Train en marche (+ sc)
Le Fond de l'air est rouge (in 2 parts) (+ sc)
Sans soleil (Sunless)
2084 (+ sc)
A.K. (A.K.: The Making of Kurosawa's Ran) (+ sc)
Hommage à Simone Sihnoret (+ sc)
L'Heritage de la Chouette (for TV, 13-part series) (+ sc, pr)
Le Dernier Bolchevik (The Last Bolshevik) (+ sc)
Level Five (+ ph)
Le Mystère de l'atelier (commentary, collaborator on production)
Loin du Vietnam (Far from Vietnam) (Resnais) (pr, ed)
L'Aveu (The Confession) (Costa-Gavras) (asst ph)
Kashima Paradise (commentary)
La batalla de Chile (The Battle of Chile) (Guzmá) (co-pr)
La Spirale (contributor)
Les Pyramides bleues (artistic advisor)
Twelve Monkeys (co-sc)
By MARKER: books—
Le Coeur net, Lausanne, 1950.
Giraudoux par lui-même, Paris, 1952.
Coreennes, photographs, Paris, 1962.
Commentaires, Paris, 1962.
La Jetée: ciné roman, New York, 1992.
By MARKER: articles—
"Kashima Paradise," interview with G. Braucourt and Max Tessier, in Ecran (Paris), November 1974.
"Interview with Chris Marker," with D. Walfisch, in Vertigo, no. 7, 1997.
On MARKER: articles—
Cameron, Ian, "I Am Writing to You from a Far Country . . . ," in Movie (London), October 1962.
Graham, Peter, "Cinéma Vérité in France," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1964.
Jacob, Gilles, "Chris Marker and the Mutants," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1966.
Roud, Richard, "SLON," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1973.
Valade, P., "Un Programme Chris Marker," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), February 1975.
"Si j'avais quatre dromadaires. La Solitude du chanteur de fond," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), March 1975.
Roud, Richard, "The Left Bank Revisited," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1977.
Hennebelle, Guy, "Le Fond de l'air est rouge," in Ecran (Paris), December 1977.
Gaggi, S., "Marker and Resnais: Myth and Reality," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), no. 1, 1979.
Van Wert, W. F., "Chris Marker: The SLON Films," in FilmQuarterly (Berkeley), no. 3, 1979.
Rafferty, T., "Marker Changes Trains," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1984.
Durgnat, Raymond, "Resnais & Co.: Back to the Avant-Garde," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1987.
Bensmaia, R, "Du photogramme au pictogramme: a propos de 'La Jeteé' de Chris Marker," in Iris (Paris), no. 8, 1989.
Leeuwn, T. van, "Conjuctive Structure in Documentary Film and Television," in Continuum, no. 5, 1991.
Downie, John, "'I Know Not Where Russia Lives," in Illusions (Wellington), no. 23, Winter 1994.
De Geer, Carl Johan, Mikaela Kindblom, and Petri Knuutila, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 38, no. 2, 1996.
Lapinski, Stan, "Kroniek: Op de pier van Orly," in Skrien (Amsterdam), June-July 1996.
Aude, F., "Level Five," in Positif (Paris), March 1997.
Kohn, Olivier, "Chris Marker," in Positif (Paris), March 1997.
Logette, Lucien, "Pesaro (juin 96): Autour de Chris Marker," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), May-June 1997.
Smith, Gavin, "Straight to Film," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1997.
Buchet, J.M., "Level Five," in les Cine-Fiches De Grand Angle, August/September 1997.
Eisenreich, Pierre, "Les petites fictions du documentary," in Positif (Paris), April 1998.
Mount, John, "Slient Movie: Chris Marker," in Sight and Sound (London), July 1999.
* * *
Chris Marker's principal distinction may be to have developed a form of personal essay within the documentary mode. Aside from his work little is known about him; he is elusive bordering on mysterious. Born in a suburb of Paris, he has allowed a legend to grow up about his birth in a "far-off country." Marker is not his name; it is one of a half-dozen aliases he has used. He chose "Marker," it is thought, in reference to the Magic Marker pen.
He began his career as a writer (publishing poems, a novel, and various essays and translations) and journalist (whose travels took him all over the world). He is the writer of all his films and cinematographer on many of them. Their verbal and visual wit almost conceal the philosophical speculation and erudition they contain. Their commentaries are a kind of stream of consciousness; their poetry is about himself as well as about the subjects—his reactions to what he and we are seeing and hearing.
Marker is the foreign correspondent and inquiring reporter. He is especially interested in transitional societies, in "Life in the process of becoming history," as he has put it. His films are not only set in specific places, they are about the cultures of those places. Though he has tended to work in socialist countries more than most Western filmmakers, he is also fascinated by Japan. Concerned with leftist issues, he remains a member of the intellectual Left, politically committed but not doctrinaire. "Involved objectivity" is his own phrase for his approach.
In Le Joli Mai, for example, Marker interviews Parisians about their ambitions, their political views, their understanding of the society they live in. His sample is a cross section—a street-corner clothing salesman, a clerk, a house painter, a black student, a young couple wanting to get married, an Algerian worker—with a substantial working-class representation. The interviewees find that work offers no satisfaction. Its goal is money; what happiness money will bring is by no means certain. Marker insists to one interviewee who opts for material success that his view of life is "a trifle limited." "No interest in other things?" Marker asks. This exchange is characteristic. Marker's tone is frequently ironical and implicitly judgmental. He engages in argument with the interviewees and makes known his disappointment in some of their answers. The interviews assume the form of a dialectic.
In the second half of Le Joli Mai Marker breaks away from individuals and interviews altogether. Instead he deals with news events—a police charge which crushed eight people to death in the Métro, the half-million mourners at their funeral, violent responses to the acquittal of General Salan (former commander-in-chief of French forces in Algeria), massive railroad and Renault strikes—intercut with nightclub revelry. The events refer back to those interviewed in the first half who felt themselves "unfree" to alter or even to question the social system.
The Koumiko Mystery, set amidst the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, begins but never stays with them for long. Its real subject is a young Japanese woman named Koumiko Moroaka, her city (Tokyo), her country, and the Far East as a whole. If, in a sense, Koumiko is protagonist, there is also an antagonist of sorts. The Western world and its influences are seen again and again in images on television screens, in the tastes evident in department store windows. Part of the film is photographed directly off black-and-white television screens. In this way the concerns and attitudes of the larger world are isolated. The rest of the film, which is in color, is wholly personal. Marker's fascination with foreign, particularly Japanese, cultures is evident in the making of Sans soleil and A.K. The former is an idiosyncratic travelogue about Japan, narrated by a fictional cameraman, while the latter is a documentary about Akira Kurosawa's (arguably Japan's most renowned filmmaker) making of Ran. In both films, Marker's point of view remains that of an observer, a bystander. It is exactly through such deliberate distance and distanciation that the filmmaker contemplates issues that have dominated his work to date: How do various cultures perceive and sustain themselves and each other in the increasingly intermingled modern age? How, on the other hand, can one find the space of him/herself when time, place, and memory are obscured, constructed, and forgotten? In the case of Sans soleil, not only are images of Japan—purposefully inserted with those of Guinea Bissau, Ireland, Iceland, and elsewhere—robbed of any consistency and specificity, but memories and perceptions are also fictionalized and therefore called into ultimate question.
Following the failure of communism, as most brutally indicated by the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, comes "one of the most trenchant commentaries Marker has ever allowed himself," according to David Thomson, in his 1993 film Le Dernier Bolchevik (The Last Bolshevik). Although this film still maintains a sense of "involved objectivity" stylistically, it also may suggest a stark disillusionment of a sort in Marker, the Marxist-inspired documentarist. There is, however, no reason to stop anticipating further works by Marker that demonstrate the willingness to impose his own shaping intelligence and imagination on his materials. His films will continue to be most valued for what he perceives and understands about what he is observing, and for their whimsical juggling of forms, their tweaking of conventions and expectations, and their idiosyncratic style.
—Jack C. Ellis, updated by Guo-Juin Hong