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Chris Marker, RIP

[ 57 ] July 30, 2012 |

Chris Marker, one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers, died today. Best known for his science fiction short La Jetée, in my view the greatest science fiction film ever made*, Marker really should be known as an experimental creator of political films, most notably his opus, Grin Without A Cat, his lengthy 1977 documentary about the hope and collapse of the revolutionary European left in the late 60s and early 70s. What I love about Marker, and I feel this even more strongly about Agnes Varda, is his ability to experiment while creating politically and socially relevant film. He could subvert and play with narrative while not abandoning it entirely. I contrast this with so much experimental American film, which too often tends towards exercises in imagery without even a pretense of storytelling (the descendants of Stan Brakhage). Or if the filmmaker does try to tell a story, the person is afraid to break away from early 21st century faux-ironic posturing and craft a story that not only fits the experiment but moves it forward (basically this is how I sum up the whole mumblecore thing).

A great loss.

* Note that I actually dislike science fiction as a genre. Put something in space, the future or with a monster and I am basically disinterested. This is probably why my two favorite science fiction films are La Jetee and Solaris. Solaris may be in space but basically nothing happens at the same time that everything happens. Anyway, take my science fiction opinions with a grain of salt. And this is real salt that is on Earth. Not some phony space salt.

…[SL] Kenny has a great Marker quote about Vertigo. I will also add that I think Sans Soleil is almost as great as La Jetee.

…[EL] Reading that Marker quote on Vertigo Scott references, I not only think that sums up so much about Marker himself, but it reminds me that his generation of French intellectuals really did some amazing film criticism.

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  1. Warren Terra says:

    I’d never heard of him – and the New York Times doesn’t seem to mention him on its Obituary page – but there was a nice tribute to his passing in tonight’s edition of the CBC’s As It Happens.

  2. Leeds man says:

    Note that I actually dislike science fiction as a genre

    Neither film version of Solaris is science fiction, unlike the novel, which IMHO is one of the best speculations on what human-alien contact might actually be like (absolutely fruitless and frustrating).

    I’ll have to look up La Jetée.

  3. Batocchio says:

    Shucks. I also liked his documentary A.K. on Kurosawa and the making of Ran. (I have a photo book of La Jetée, appropriately enough.) Thanks for passing on the news, sad though it is.

  4. Dixie Dean's Ghost says:

    This is sad news. La Jetée is the greatest science fiction film ever. And I would go one better and say that it’s one of the greatest film ever. For those not in the know, please check it out. It’s just 28 minutes. Watch it in the French. There’s a version with English narration, but you should skip that.

    • JS says:

      This is generally extremely sound advice, but I’d make an exception with La Jetée. I think with La Jetée, it’s worth it not to be distracted by subtitles/staring at the bottom of the screen. (Same with Sans Soleil in fact.)

      Although, really, best to just watch it twice–once with French narration and once with English.

  5. Adrian Luca says:

    Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys was inspired by La Jetée.

    And what sort of dick is disinterested in Blade Runner? or Planet of the Apes?

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Meh to both. Though the latter does have excellent over the top Heston, which has its own appeal.

    • Leeds man says:

      Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys was inspired by La Jetée.

      I thought 12 Monkeys had a French feel. I love French drama, but French SF and comedy (except for Jacques Tati!) leave me cold. Forbidden Planet was much better.

      Like most of Ridley Scott’s films, Blade Runner looked fantastic, and was a fairly ripping yarn. An example of waste-of-space, overblown, vapid sci-fi? Avatar.

    • calling all toasters says:

      what sort of dick is disinterested in Blade Runner?

      I see what you did there.

  6. skippy says:

    don’t know the man or his work (but i did see 12 monkeys), so no disrespect is intended here, but did you really mean to say in the same (opening) sentnce that the man is both alive and dead? is this schroedinger’s obit?

    • Cody says:

      I had to scroll back to the top and reread to see that! Interesting.

      I guess if you’re watching his movies he’s alive, but if you are not currently observing then you cannot know his state of life for sure.

      • skippy says:

        well, i meant more that the idea that some one who is (one of the greatest) living (whatever) has died. rather like saying “one of the greatest breathing film makers isn’t breathing…”

  7. Lurker Delurking says:

    I know that it is de rigueur among a certain set to declare La Jetee the greatest SF film ever made every time it or 12 Monkeys is mentioned, which would be fine, except that, well, La Jetee isn’t a film at all. It’s a set of still photographs that purports to tell some murky story apparently involving time travel. I personally found it pretentious and boring, and until now, I still have to find one person that can explain to me why exactly it is supposed to be the greatest SF “film” ever. Any volunteers?

  8. Tom says:

    In defense of science fiction:

    Most Hollywood sci-fi films are very bad, and even the better ones rarely move far away from the template of “future space adventure with many explosions.” Really good science fiction is to be found in literature, although the shelving conventions of your local Barnes & Noble doesn’t help by placing the good stuff alongside some of the most hideous-looking books in the store.

    Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Kim Stanley Robinson…those are a few American science fiction writers worth checking out (there are many more). These writers are political*, socially engaged, and not interested fawning over technology or guns. (Though Robinson is certainly “hard sci-fi,” and his Mars trilogy is definitely in love with geology.) I’d particularly recommend Le Guin, whose The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness are very good.

    *And while literary science fiction does have a tradition of right-leaning or libertarian writers (e.g., Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card), my examples, and I believe many of the best, are from the left.

    • John Protevi says:

      I haven’t read him yet, but my friends rave about China Mieville as a writer of leftie sci fi: http://www.panmacmillan.com/author/chinamieville/

      • Tom says:

        Yes, he is good, too, though more a writer of fantasy than science fiction (sometimes a difficult distinction, admittedly).

        I’ll also just pitch in that Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, though technically the book Blade Runner was based on, is a much richer and far superior novel than the Ridley Scott film.

        • firefall says:

          it’s hard to think of a film where the book it sourced from, isn’t richer and deeper.

          • ddt says:

            Well, I haven’t read the series, but years ago, on a whim, one of my lit profs and I went to see “Miami Blues”, which was based on the Charles Willeford genre novel of the same name. We had no knowledge of the books, but were really surprised by the conscious cynicism and tricks the filmmaker used to comment on, well, The American Dream. We found out later that what seemed a side character in the movie was, in fact, the novel’s protagonist and protagonist of the potboiler series.

            Later I read the book and was surprised that most of what was so wickedly amusing in the movie wasn’t quite there in the book. So, I’ll hold that up.

            • Anderson says:

              All I can remember of Miami Blues is Alec Baldwin pretending to be a cop and telling a crowd that he IS a cop and he’s going to leave now and get into his POLICE car. Which was pretty funny. Need to watch it again — thanks for the reminder!

          • Hogan says:

            The Godfather?

        • Colin says:

          I’d throw in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and The Man in the High Castle for required reading of Philip Dick.

          Also, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr. [the pseudonym of Alice Bradley Shelton] is an incredible work.

      • djw says:

        Mieville is pretty fantastic.

    • (the other) Davis says:

      I would highly recommend Iain M. Banks’s Culture series of novels. Banks himself is a serious lefty — he campaigned for Blair’s impeachment following the invasion of Iraq — but I’m not sure if I would describe his novels as lefty, though he has described his work as a reaction to right-wing American sci-fi. At the low level they’re adventure stories/space opera (subverted somewhat), but at a higher level they’re about a truly utopian society that uses questionable means to intervene in other civilizations’ development.

    • Cody says:

      I didn’t know Orson Scott Card was right leaning. I can see that thinking about it though. He is definitely one of my favorite authors. Xenocide brought tears to my eyes!

      • daveNYC says:

        He was probably always on the conservative side, but he seemed to succumb to Dennis Miller Syndrome. Wrote some crazy left vs right US civil war novel. Also made some statements against teh ghey, which was just weird given the open minded nature of Ender’s Game and Xenocide.

        • Rhino says:

          I have said it often before, it is difficult to reconcile the author or ‘speaker for the dead’ with the right wing whack-Job I saw in his blog.

          I seriously wonder about tumors, or serious brain injury.

          • Cody says:

            Perhaps he only thought logically when he sat down to write a book.

            I’m glad I’m not alone in seeing that his books seemed to argue for open societies and compassion. I’ve never had the displeasure of reading his blog, perhaps I will look it up.

          • Cody says:

            Also, I just glanced at Card’s “Essay to Mitt”. It says he needs to declare he will not deport children under 16 who are here illegally, declaring it a tenant of their shared Mormon faith!

            ZING!

            • John F says:

              From Orson Scott Card’s letter to Mitt:

              And when members of the Know-Nothing wing of your party whine that this “rewards illegal immigrants,” your complete answer should be:

              We do not punish children who have done nothing wrong. These kids deserve to have all the opportunities of American life, and shame on anyone who tries to hurt them because their parents might have broken a law. They are our children now.

              The moment you issue this statement, you take away all the political advantage Obama hopes to get from his executive order.

              He goes on to say that it will show indys that Mitt is not beholden to the ugly know-nothing wing of the party…
              of course what Card wants Mitt to say is not all that different than what Perry of all people said during the primaries- and Mitt immediately outflanked Perry on the right while the know-nothings howled at Perry.

              Essentially not responding after Obama’s executive order was probably one of Mitt’s better decisions lately- if he attacked Obama to appease the know-nothings he’d come across as a neanderthal thing to those outside the “base”
              supporting Obama or even trying to outflank Obama on the left would likely had been too much for the “base” to bear and a know-nothing revolt might have been stirred..

  9. rea says:

    Science fiction works betttter as a genre in print rather than in film, because print leaves more to the individual imagination, and science fiction is about imagining things that don’t really exist. Middle Earth lost something by becoming just New Zeeland

    • Leeds man says:

      I think Middle Earth lost something because New Zealand doesn’t look like Middle Earth, or Jackson chose locations badly (among many other things).

      Just heard he’s stretching The Hobbit to three films. Can we impose sanctions on NZ now? Bombing should be a last resort.

      I think sc-fi doesn’t work on film because there are no producers/directors with the savvy or the balls to make it. Alternatively, the audience for good sc-fi is a dodgy entity at best.

  10. rea says:

    No thread critical of science fiction is compeltee without mention of Sturgeon’s law:

    I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

    • Cody says:

      People just don’t appreciate the hilarity of sci-fi films! I mean, just look at Snakes on a Plane. You just need to be in the right mindset…

      • rea says:

        You just need to be in the right mindset…
        Stoned?

        But seriously, how is Snakes on a Plane science fiction?

        • Cody says:

          Didn’t you see all the CGI? I thought that’s what made things Science Fiction…

        • UserGoogol says:

          The closest it gets is that the snakes are treated with a special hormone to make them more aggressive, but a little technobabble does not necessarily make an action movie into a science fiction movie, even in the most vulgar sense of scifi.

        • Leeds man says:

          Cody is taking the piss, and at the same time making a valid point about what seems to constitute contemporary SF cinema. Lazy, but not quite smackworthy (Cody, I mean). “Fuck Cameron, Lucas and Spielberg” works for me.

  11. Satchel says:

    Might I politely suggest that you are “uninterested” rather than “disinterested”?

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