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Friday, 6 July 2018

Chris Marker at the Cinémathèque française

I wasn’t going to do this until challenged by Adrian Martin.

Not long after the entrance to the Chris Marker exhibition, which begins with a timeline down a passage, there was one (for me) initial revelation. When you get to 1973, it mentions that Marker made his second fiction that year. It was called Ambassade and there’s no other information anywhere about it until you reach the bookshop elsewhere in the Cinémathèque française building. There you can find a copy of the edition of “L’Avant Scene du Cinema” devoted to Marker which contains the script of the film and a host of stills. Seeing that you can find the film on Youtube I guess it means I just wasn’t paying attention to the length and breadth of Marker’s career. However, I should also mention that in the leaflet accompanying the exhibition the timeline therein also fails to mention anything for 1973 and thus omits Ambassade. 

And the length and breadth on display in this exhibition are remarkable, most especially in the way that Marker remained active, engaged and true to himself for his entire 91 year life. He never seemed to stop working and never seemed to stop agitating on behalf of the oppressed as he saw them. I haven’t got the intellectual firepower to analyse his politics, especially as they evolved over time from a sort of cheery leftism to an engagement with all the forces of the state that have developed over time as means of controlling and managing the citizenry.

The exhibition has a lot of screens where you can see short extracts of lots of his films. That’s sensible in itself because most who attend these things drift up to and then in and then away at random. The only film shown in full at the exhibition (but see Mary Stephen’s Facebook post below which I’m incorporating) is the monumental La Jetée. But, here’s a thing that should be incorporated in every exhibit of this kind. When you walk up to the room where La Jetée is screening, a small screen outside has a digital clock telling you exactly how many minutes and seconds you have to wait before the film starts again. Brilliant. Randomness overcome.

Be Gibson asks if I noticed a letter to him from Marker that’s in the exhibition. Sorry, no. There’s a wealth of such material in glass cases, typed up in the old-fashioned way with a carbon copy on display, testimony to Marker’s meticulous record keeping among all else.

I confess I am not one who delves into biography so there was much here that was new. Marker’s day job at Editions du Seuil was one such and the covers, among many things, of the series of travel guides he commissioned, all featuring photos of gorgeous young women, was an interesting sidelight. The viewpoint they claimed to take - a book in the form of an intelligent conversation about a country was/remains unique you’d have to say.

Finally I can report that when we get to the La Jetée  section, the connection is made with Hitchcock’sVertigo and illustrated by, inter alia, a copy of the Vertigo poster from the Cinémathèque  collection. The poster however is for the Italian release of the film (“Capolavoro”) not the French which changed the title on the poster to Sueurs Froides. Which is what I have mounted on cheap chipboard at home. I wonder if it’s worth anything.

Here’s Mary’s note: A dense and precious exhibition in great company, especially appreciated the multiple soundspaces coming from different angles and the layers of play on visual displays, mirrors and negative spaces in the Art nègre box, noticed that the same ticket gives the viewer right of entry to a room downstairs to screen and rescreen all films mentioned in the show, good idea! 

Then had a field day lingering at the Cinémathèque bookstore and both wishing there were more euros/Australian dollars in the respective credit cards ... a sudden downpour while having to run under it in order to get from the building to the cafeteria within the same space (don’t ask why) adds to the drama. La Jetée music fills the headspace and wish I had a turntable to play that never-before-released music track on vinyl...

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