Martian montage: Chris Marker’s sf
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Martian montage:
Chris Marker’s sf
The Case of the Grinning Cat (Chris Marker France 2004) with Three Cheers for the Whale (Chris Marker France 1972) and A Bestiary (Five Short Films on Animals). Icarus Films 2008. US NTSC Region 1. US $29.98.
A Grin without a Cat (Chris Marker France 1977). Icarus Films 2009. US NTSC Region 1. US $29.98.
La jetée (Chris Marker France 1963) and Sans soleil (Chris Marker France 1983). The Criterion Collection 2007. US. NTSC Region 1. US $39.95.
The Last Bolshevik (Chris Marker France/UK 1993) and Happiness (Alexander Medvedkin USSR 1934). Icarus Films 2008. US NTSC Region 1. US $34.98.
Level Five (Chris Marker France 1996). Optimum Classic Releasing 2011. UK. PAL Region 2.
Remembrance of Things to Come (Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon France 2001) and Collette (Yannick Bellon France 1950). Icarus Films 2008. US NTSC Region 1. US $24.98.
The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (Chris Marker France 1967) and The Embassy (Chris Marker France 1973). Icarus Films 2008. US NTSC Region 1. US $24.98.

This cluster of DVD releases allows us to ask the serious question, Can we consider the Left Bank avant-garde editor and director Chris Marker an sf filmmaker? This does not, at first, seem that promising a line of inquiry. Marker has consistently worked at the margins even of the French Nouvelle Vague since the early 1950s, maintaining a political commitment to fugitive forms, anonymity and remorseless experiment in his essay films. In the way his work has been recently framed by scholars, he is a figure who explores memory and forgetting, a master of collating overlooked footage snatched from the jaws of mediatised oblivion or a political artist motivated by an exploration of post-war legacies (of the Second World War, of Algeria and other African colonial wars, of Vietnam, of the Cold War, of Yugoslavia). He declares himself, in the final dedication of the three-hour act of recovery of radical 1960s politics that is A Grin without a Cat (Le fond de l’air est rouge), as ‘constantly opposed to the Powers who wish [End Page 273] we had no memory’. He offers a political critique of the empire of signs, constantly interrogating the truth status of footage, reframing it, rescuing the lost or suppressed records of history, tracking the misdirection of the edit, the fusion of fact and fiction in records of history, all the while questioning the power of cinematic spectacle itself. Marker is thus more likely to be considered as a film essayist of history and trauma, quite the reverse perspective of sf, or else as an experimentalist resolutely opposed to the low cultural spectacle of popular sf cinema. Laura Rascaroli discusses his work under the title ‘The Musealisation of Experience’, and a familiar array of metaphors about haunting and spectrality, concerning things that stubbornly refuse to die and return from the past, often frames academic discussion of Marker’s work (see Murray, for instance).

Of course, one of Marker’s very rare solely fictional films, the atypical La jetée (1963), had a certain influence in sf. J. G. Ballard hailed it in the pages of New Worlds as a model for New Wave sf, although exactly to the extent that it transcended the genre: ‘Not once does it make use of the time-honoured conventions of traditional sf. Creating its own conventions from scratch, it triumphantly succeeds where science fiction invariably fails’ (29). Nevertheless, Marker’s sparse and stately use of still images to unfold his post-apocalyptic time-travel story was too much for Terry Gilliam, who translated La jetée into his typically chaotic mise en scène in Twelve Monkeys (US 1996), a film which lashed Marker’s Cold War scenario into the melodramatic conventions of time-travel paradox narratives. Too much emphasis on La jetée can be distorting – after all, it was a short side-project that emerged reactively inside Marker’s unmanipulated vérité set of interviews with complacent bourgeois Parisians, Le joli mai (France 1963), and helps to be read in that context as a sort of extrapolation of a post...