Chris Marker (1921-2012)

The legendary filmmaker, Chris Marker, died on July 29, which happened to be his birthday. (It also happens to be my birthday.) His real name was Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve. He once said that the reason he used the name Chris Marker was because he traveled a lot and he wanted to use a name that people could easily pronounce. He served in the French resistance during World War II. After the War, Marker was one of the founders of the influential journal, Cahiers du cinéma. Marker worked in different media, but his best known work is the short film, La Jetee, in which he uses a series of black & white photographs to tell a haunting story about time travel. It is often shown in college art courses as an example of how simple images can be used to convey complex ideas and associations.

Marker’s other best known work is Sans Soleil, which is often called a documentary, although it would more accurately be called a cinematic essay, or perhaps a cinematic meditation. A woman narrator reads a series of letters sent to her by a fictitious cameraman named Sandor Krasna (presumably the letters were written by Marker himself), while film footage shot by Krasna is shown on screen. The film is structured in a non-linear, free-associative manner. It touches upon a vast array of ideas ranging from Japanese religious ideas to anti-colonial struggles in Africa to Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The film seems longer than its hour and forty-four minute length. I actually mean that in a good way; one of the film’s ideas is that our perception of time can vary. Here is the full film:

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