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One Day with Chris Marker, Film Essayist and Influencer

Thompson on Hollywood By Howard Rodman | Thompson on Hollywood July 31, 2012 at 4:29PM

One day, sometime deep in the last millennium, I had the good fortune to be on the receiving end of a phone call from the filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin telling me not to make any plans for the next day, and if I had plans, to cancel them. Why, I asked. Because, he said, we’re going to visit Chris Marker. That was all he needed to say.

The day rolled from the restaurant to a long stroll through North Beach to some time spent talking.  (Gorin and Marker were old comrades, and indulged in fabulous catch-up; Luddy was, among his other insufficiently noted achievements, one of Santa’s elves for the San Francisco sections of "Sans Soleil.")  

Eventually it was time for Gorin and me to head back south.  I’ve rarely stepped onto a plane wanting so little to depart.  I felt that if I could have just stayed in the Marker world, not intruding, two or three steps behind, I would have access to all the wisdom I would ever need.  I can’t think of anyone who better embodied Gramsci’s dictum: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

There were always filmmakers whose work one treasured.  But Marker’s older work seemed more central in retrospect, and his newer work more vital.  Whether it was the essay films he continued to make, or the videos, or the museum installations (Bill Horrigan of the Wexner seemed especially adept at bringing forth the best in Marker), or the thoughtful and deeply knowing portraits of fellow filmmakers (Kurosawa; Medvedkin), or the volumes of photographs, or the Guillaume-en-Égypte cartoons (an homage to his beloved cat), Marker never stopped working, never stopped being engaged with the world (and the emerging technologies via which that world might be interrogated, depicted, understood).  He never became cranky, or merely idiosyncratic, or a caricature of himself.  The work demanded his engagement, and he gave it: wryly, generously, with perception and real heart.  No one saw the world like Marker did, or more effectively put a sensibility – over the course of a lifetime – on film.  

His death – on his birthday, at age 91 – leaves a hole in the world.

(with thanks to the extraordinary J.-P. Gorin, for making this and much else possible)

This article is related to: Obit

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.