He seemed immortal, Chris Marker. For so long the basic empirical data of his life – his name, date and place of birth, his private identity – were all up to rumour, speculation and second-guessing. Mystery trailed Chris Marker. Like so many of the “presences” in his films, he seemed, more than anything, a spectral being. But of course he was human, all too human.
Chris Marker passed away at the age of 91 in July of this year, and in memory of his passing, a good portion of this issue is dedicated to his films and legacy. Though mostly associated with the “essay film”, Marker remains an unclassifiable filmmaker. Forms and genres are essentially fluid for Marker, documentary and science fiction, for example, could easily rub up against one another at the drop of hat. His grand theme may finally circle around memory and its vicissitudes.
Its precisely this theme that Murray Pomerance so eloquently picks up in his “My Letter from Siberia”. As he riffs on the Marker trope of “time-travel” he recalls his first–and possibly only– viewing of Letter from Siberia at a New York theatre in 1969. It’s within the gap between the film and the “remembered film” that the Markerian drama resides, as he says: “May I suggest that something of Marker’s spirit and working method, something of that film, continues to speak to me now and urge that I write about it as though the work is amply constituted in my recollection of it.”
Our dossier of articles is far from a complete overview of Marker’s filmography and career, but it is eclectic enough to cover everything from Marker’s editing strategies to his obsession with his beloved cats.
Also, soon after our last issue went online the sad news filtered through that American film critic Andrew Sarris (1928-2012) had passed on to the far side of paradise. Or should that be the near side of paradise? There’s no real need to document Sarris’ long and distinguished career, his reputation is well known among film enthusiasts. Long-time critic at the Village Voice and Professor of film at Columbia University, more recently, one could follow his writing in his monthly column “The Accidental Auteurist” for Film Comment. Mostly, he will, inevitably, be remembered for adapting the principles of the French derived politique des auteurs to the American film scene. His early landmark book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, provided a valuable roadmap to American film history and its directors for a whole generation of cinéphiles. While there’s room for debate, the list of the greatest American directors that constitute his Pantheon has stood the test of time. And like the mythical gods of ancient Greece, Sarris, the son of Greek immigrant parents, has secured his own seat in the pantheon of American film critics.
Hope you enjoy the issue.