On Chris Marker

Chris Marker made films that felt like dreams and reveries. He was French, and his work was probing, politically engaged, generous in spirit and often poetic.

Most know of him tangentially: his short film “La Jetee,” a post-apocalyptic fever dream of a time travel film, was the springboard from which Terry Gilliam wrought 12 Monkeys. I first saw “La Jetee” in my Intro to Film class, and I will never forget the memory of its haunting, tortured black-and-white images: a disquieting procession of stills, sound and one exquisite moment of moving image that unfurled in the dark and invited you into its mysteries. I left class that day inspired: a film could be anything I wanted it to be — it could bend time and space and sound and image beyond the typical rules. As long as you had something to say, a story to tell, a strong point of view: anything was possible. He was a punk in the most elegant sense.

As seminal as “La Jetee” is, my favorite work by Marker is Sans Soleil. Both intimate and enigmatic, it is often described as a documentary or a travelogue, but it is really a river of footage and sounds that makes intimate the relationship between globalization and its impact on memory and personal history. Images from all corners of the globe sweep over you — Japan, Iceland, Paris, san Francisco: the way it is edited together, complete with a beautiful score and layers of sound, is a remarkable exploration of how time and place pass through us, sievelike, and sometimes sediments of location and history remain behind, echoing again and again no matter where we go.

Chris Marker reportedly passed away yesterday, apparently on his birthday. For a filmmaker who explored the strange elasticities of time and memory, this seems fitting and slightly ironic. Through his films I felt an affinity to a questing, mysterious, discerning creative spirit and philosopher, someone who mapped how politics and society impacted the terrain of subjective experience, someone who kept working well into his 80s. He inspired me, and he will be missed.

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