I've only been moved to attempt a filmmaker obituary blog post once before, but learning of Chris Marker's death this morning, just a day after his 91st birthday, compels me to do it again. For a compendium of information and criticism on Marker look no further than the incredible David Hudson, now blogging for Fandor. This piece, although it includes more links I think are well worth clicking, will be more about my personal history with Marker's work than about the man himself.
Purely by coincidence, La Jetée will screen along with Maya Deren's Meshes Of The Afternoon, at a free noontime screening at SFMOMA next Tuesday, as part of the museum's ongoing Cindy Sherman Selects series.
|The notoriously camera-shy Chris Marker spied in Wim Wenders' 1985 film Toyko-Ga|
I thought that I knew this Hitchcock film, but Marker opened doors into head-spinning interpretations that would never have occured to me. "The Spiral of Time," he called the film's metaphorical referent in the whirlpool of Madeline's hair, the swirling waters of San Francisco Bay, the tree rings of the Sequoia, the twisting dizziness of Scottie's acrophobia.While wandering in the Mission Dolores cemetery, Pendas told us of his own opportunity to meet the famously-shy Marker, and Nayman cited Sans Soleil as his favorite film. It was, after all, just as much a tour of that segment of the Marker film that we were making.
Marker shot at least one other film here on Frisco Bay, however, and it must surpass even Sans Soleil and La Jetée as my own sentimental favorite of the octet of Marker films I'm lucky to have seen. It's called Junkopia, and though running only six minutes in length, it has two credited co-directors, both local filmmakers who had worked on Apocalypse Now for Zoetrope Studios, the local film company which Marker visited during the shooting of Sans Soleil. John Chapman, a local documentarian who made Nicaragua: Scenes From The Revolution died in 1983 while working on a documentary about the island nation of Palau and its nuclear-free constitution. Marker's death leaves Frank Simeone as the last survivor of this Junkopia trio (although Simeone credits himself only as producer, not co-director, on his own website.)
Growing up here in the seventies and eighties, I fondly recall every time I rode in a car toward Contra Costa County and beyond, the highlight of the drive was the stretch of bayside highway where artists built giant animals and other structures our of driftwood and similar found materials. It seemed that this collection of sculptures was new every time we drove by, like a rotating collection of works displayed in an art museum. But the Emeryville Mud Flats, as this makeshift exhibition site is called, was purged of its wooden wonders many years ago. So when I first saw the Pacific Film Archive's 35mm print of Junkopia before a screening of The Case Of The Grinning Cat, alongside my cinephile cousin visiting from New York City, I was agog that Marker and his cohort had not only documented some of these structures at a point (July 1981) when I might have driven by them myself, but done so extremely artfully. Unlike Marker's other films (at least those I've seen) there is no voice-over narration, and in fact the only words in the film besides the end credits are beginning title cards marking San Francisco's (not Emeryville's) latitude and longitude, and the seemingly-random voices recorded from static-y local radio broadcasts that appear on the soundtrack in the film's final minute or so, paralleling the visual introduction of contexts of so-called civilization: the racing automobiles, the first of the Watergate Towers, etc.
A television broadcast version of Junkopia is viewable at Ubuweb, and the short was also included on the recent Blu-Ray edition of the Criterion Collection edition of Sans Soleil and La Jetée. But seeing it in its native 35mm can't be beat; I'm lucky to have done so twice. The PFA screened their print again in 2010 at their launch of the release of Kathy Geritz/Steve Seid/Steve Anker-edited book Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000. That book includes a terrific little paragraph on Junkopia written by Michael Sicinski, which I shall now excerpt:
A 35mm evocation by a visitor acutely attuned to the ability of detritus to speak our story, Junkopia is itself something of a castoff, relegated to a line or two in Marker monographs and passed over on the way to Sans Soleil. . . . The film departs from Marker's essayistic style, instead adopting the rhythms of experimental cinema. Still, its status as a standard-gauge court métrage has kept it out of dialogue with the tradition of co-op filmmaking. Is there no place where this film could possibly belong?I hope it can, like La Jetée, belong on a local screen sometime soon. Any number of Frisco Bay cinemas would be appropriate venues for a proper Chris Marker send-off. If it can be organized anywhere near as quickly as next month's Yerba Buena Center For The Arts tribute to another politically-committed director, Kaneto Shindo, who died shortly after his own 100th birthday this year, I'll be impressed.