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“Chris Marker” at BAM: five reasons to go

Joshua Rothkopf

He never allowed photos of himself, rarely granted interviews and kept his private life a mystery. But when Chris Marker died in 2012 at age 91, the film world mourned an artist it seemed to know intimately, just from the power of his work—a singular body of suggestive diary-making, globe-hopping visions and the romance of ideas. Simply put, Marker is the most important filmmaker you’ve never heard of. With BAM currently unspooling its retrospective (several key titles play this weekend), here are five ways to salute the genius—and get behind your own camera.

1. He worked cheap.
Marker’s most famous film, the 28-minute-long “La Jetée” (1962), manages to tell a tale of nuclear holocaust, sci-fi time travel and heartbreaking romance using only still photographs and narration. It can’t have cost him more than a few hundred dollars to finish. Yet the movie’s ideas are so poetic, so utterly radical, it was remade by Terry Gilliam into Twelve Monkeys.

2. He invented his own genre.
Next time you’re forced to watch your uncle’s vacation videos or your girlfriend’s latest Vine, consider that Marker turned the video essay into a potent form. Sans Soleil (1983) transforms footage of Tokyo into a provocative piece on modernization and memory.

3. He loved cats.
It’s impossible not to be charmed by Marker’s fondness for felines: He smuggled them into several of his sociocultural classics, including the Paris-shot street documentary Le Joli Mai (1963). Cat videos, people!

4. He was politically plugged in.
A chronicler of France’s political left, Marker felt a duty to expose occupations, injustices and the slow creep of compromise. His magnum opus, A Grin Without a Cat (1977), is the place to start for a total history of violent revolution, stacking footage of Fidel Castro and the Black Panthers against American bombings in Vietnam.

5. He had good taste in movies.
When he wasn’t watching his favorite film, Vertigo, Marker made profiles of Russian giant Andrei Tarkovsky (2000’s One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich) and Akira Kurosawa (1985’s A.K.).

Now in progress, “Chris Marker” runs at BAMcinématek through Aug 28.


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