3:44 pm Jul. 30, 20121
The renowned French filmmaker Chris Marker died on Monday, just one day after his 91st birthday, according to a statement released by the French Cultural Ministry. Tributes to Marker have already begun appearing online.
French president Francois Hollande said in a statement that Marker's most famous film, La Jetée, “will be remembered by history," while the Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras told the French newspaper Le Monde Monday that Marker “was a profoundly honest man, both politically and cinematographically.”
In an email, Karen Cooper, the director of Film Forum, where many of Marker’s films have been screened throughout his career, called Marker a "genius."
“He was one of the first documentary-essayists who could make seemingly casual personal musings the subject of his movies," she wrote. "But what musings! Sans Soleil is but one example of his brilliance, originality, humor, and humanity. A great light has gone out.”
One of the most siginificant experimental filmmakers of the postwar era, Marker is perhaps best known for his classic 1962 film La Jetée—a 28-minute science-fiction film composed almost entirely of black-and-white stills, with the exception of a single moving image sequence. Still, it took many years for his work to reach American shores.
Legendary New York experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas, writing in an email, praised Marker's achievements while lamenting the unavailability of his films in the United States. "[T]he sad reality," Mekas wrote, "is that due to the unavailablity of Marker's (and [Jean-Marie] Straub's) films outside of France, very few of us [...] had a chance to see their work in the Sixties, Seventies and even Eighties. I had many arguments with them about why they had made [it] so difficult/expensive to show their work outside of France, all to no avail. So [...] Chris Marker's work had no affect of any kind on the American avant-garde/independents. But this fact doesn't diminish his importance as a filmmaker, working in the poetic, persenal, formal documentary genre."
Yet, particularly in the past few decades, Marker's films ultimately did influence scores of Hollywood and independent film directors, including Terry Gilliam, who used La Jetée as the inspiration for his 1995 movie Twelve Monkeys.
Marker, who was born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve but is said to have changed his name to Marker out of admiration for Magic Markers, was friendly with the filmmakers of the French New Wave like Jean-Luc Goddard, Francois Truffaut and Alain Resnais. He made narrative as well as documentary films (he's credited by many with inventing the genre of the essay film), which were often socially and politically charged. He was also known as a recluse, rarely making public appearances or giving interviews (and in some cases doing so in disguise). Others of his celebrated films include A Grin without a Cat (1977) (which Seth Colter Walls wrote about for Capital here), the art-house favorite Sans Soleil (1983), and AK (1985), an essayistic meditation on the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.
A prolific artist, Marker remained active as a filmmaker into his 80s. One of his most recent works, Immemory, a multimedia memoir in the form of a C.D.-Rom, was re-released for Mac OS X in 2008, and deals with the state of memory in the digital age.
Marker's influence extends to artists and writers as well. Geoff Dyer, the British author whose most recent book is an essayistic meditation on the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker, remarked in an email on Marker's singular vision.
"The essay is a strangely underdeveloped genre or possibility within film history," he wrote. "I say 'strangely' precisely because its potential is so enormous. Chris Marker's Sans Soleil remains a high water mark after almost thirty years, setting the standard by which later attempts are judged. Yesterday was a sunless day indeed."
Many of Marker's films are available in their entirety online, as well as through the Criterion Collection, viewable via Hulu Plus.
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