We are saddened to learn of the death of Chris Marker, one of French cinema's most influential artists and author of Staring Back and La Jetée (Zone Books), based on his legendary short film of the same name. As a tribute to him, here is a passage from Chris Marker: La Jetée by Janet Harbord (Afterall Books).
In a short piece of writing to accompany the digital release of La Jetée in 2003, Marker gives us a memory, a recollection of his first attempt at making a film. Inspired as a boy by a hand-wound projecting box, a Patheorama, he drew a series of pictures of his cat, glued them together and added captions. As he scrolled the images along, ‘all of a sudden, the cat belonged to the same universe as the characters in Ben Hur or Napoleon. I had gone through the looking glass.’ Cinema is at once more complex and more simple than previously imagined. It may be resourced by a complex array of materials, but it can also be reduced to the simple movement of frames through a gate. ‘Thirty years passed. Then I made La Jetée,’ he writes, as though this childhood image took its own time of return. Marker’s fondness for composing film from bits and pieces, material gleaned from unassuming aspects of everyday life, can be glimpsed in the intervening period in his documentary projects. Cartoons, drawings, posters, maps, advertisements, poems, archive footage, paintings and engravings are used, pasted in, mixed up and drawn into some sort of narration. In what appears to be a highly idiosyncratic practice, Marker also incorporates various art movements that pre-date him: the political photomontage of the 1930s, Dadaist cut-ups, Surrealist juxtaposition and the Lettriste passion for writing systems.
Going through the looking glass is to enter a place of different scales and where time may run backwards as well as forwards. Yet there is something else here to do with frames. The looking glass is, after all, a mirror, a framing device, and in La Jetée we are given the opportunity of viewing photography through the frame of cinema.