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Me & Chris Marker
Me & Chris Marker
By Mikkel Aaland
In a working class neighborhood in Paris, in a small flat on rue du Courant, I met the legendary filmmaker and visual poet, Chris Marker. It was 1994 and Marker was in his mid 80s. I was in my early 40s, working on a profile of the famous, but reclusive, French artist for Wired magazine. It had taken a flurry of faxes between my apartment in Washington, DC, where I was living at the time, and Paris, before he agreed to meet with me.
Sitting at a table in Marker’s spacious apartment I took out my tape recorder and my camera. As soon as he saw me do this he held up his hand and said, stop. No taping. No photography. No using direct quotes. He would only continue our meeting if I agreed to his conditions.
Turning off the recorder and setting my camera aside, I sat back, frustrated. What do I do now? Marker leaned forward and offered me a shot glass filled with vodka, making a point to say it was from Russia. It was only noon but I eagerly took the glass and gulped the potent liquid down. After nodding and taking a swig from his own glass, Marker promptly refilled mine. I must have looked really disappointed because what he said next gave me hope. It’s ok if you make this interview your own story, he said. Use your imagination. Put us on a boat on the Nile, or something.
At that we launched into a several hour conversation, starting with a discussion of his 1962 film La Jetée, and ending with him telling me about his latest foray into the world of new media with Silicon Beach’s SuperCard and CD ROM.
La Jetée is what attracted me to Chris Marker in the first place. It is a 29-minute dystopian film comprised of all stills, with the exception of one seamless scene of motion. It falls into a genre known as kinestasis, which literally means “moving stills”, a technique used by Ken Burns in his popular PBS Civil War series. (Later I asked Burns if La Jetée influenced him and he said no.)
La Jetée was the inspiration for Twelve Monkeys, a Hollywood movie directed by Terry Gilliam and staring Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, and Madeleine Stowe. When I met Marker it was currently in production and there was interest in the story behind it. Marker told me about meeting Twelve Monkeys’ screenwriters David and Janet People and striking a deal with them for the rights to option his film. The terms, he said, were scribbled on a paper napkin and signed. Marker used some of the money he got in return to buy a Mac 8100, one of the more powerful personal computers at the time, and one he was using to create new electronic media. (A year later, when Twelve Monkeys was finally released, it was a blockbuster. I was surprised to see how excitedly Marker responded to the movies success, especially since I knew how purposely he lived in the shadow of public attention.)
By the time I staggered out of his apartment the sun was low on the horizon and I was transported by vodka and heady conversation into a dream-like state, not sure what had happened but sure that I had just spent time with one of the rare creative forces that land on this earth from time to time.
Over the next several years I carried out an intense correspondence with Chris, mostly via fax and occasionally by post and email. I met him twice more in Paris, once at an outdoor café, and once more at this home when I delivered a batch of Russian videos I bought for him in Prague that he had requested. Mostly it was our ongoing fax correspondence that created a lasting impression on me. They would come in during the night when I was living in Washington, DC and in the early morning when I moved with my young family to San Francisco. I was happily married, but I read Marker’s correspondence like they were love letters. I fixated on every word and every simple drawing that would often accompany them.
Chris Marker died on his birthday, the 29th of July 2012. In 2021 we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of his life. I would like to do something to honor this great artist who inspired me. I not sure how it will look. Stay tuned.
©2023 Mikkel Aaland
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