Chris Marker was one of the most distinguished artists of his generation. Active as a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and multimedia artist, he was the director of such cinematic cult classics as La jetée (1962), A Grin Without a Cat (1977), and Sans soleil (1983). He was a member of what British film critic Richard Roud dubbed the Left Bank group, part of the Nouvelle Vague cinema movement of the 1950s. Others in the group were filmmakers Alain Resnais, Armand Gatti, Henri Colpi, and Agnes Varda, as well as novelists Jean Cayrol and Marguerite Duras.
Born Christian Francois Bouche-Villeneuve, Marker joined the French Resistance when the Third Reich occupied France during World War II . After the war he worked as a journalist, writing for Esprit, where he met the film critic Andre Bazin, and became an early contributor to Bazin’s legendary journal Cahiers du cinéma. In 1949, Marker published his first novel, Le coeur net (The Forthright Spirit). In 1952, he made his first film, Olympia 52, a documentary on that year’s Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. During the early 1950s, Marker also began his lifelong practice as a photographer.
Marker’s commitment to politically engaged and experimental filmmaking, and to the photographic documentation of assemblies of protest and resistance, was informed by his Leftist political stance. The film Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die), his 1953 collaboration with Alain Resnais, studied African sculpture and mask-making traditions from a perspective critical of French colonialism. The film was banned in France. Marker’s Letter from Siberia (1957) combines newsreel footage, stills, cartoon illustrations, and a fake TV commercial, held together by a voiceover in the form of a letter from the director. The film critiques the Soviet modernization program that had exploited the region’s natural resources and destroyed its shamanic culture. A vocal critic of the Vietnam War, in 1967 Marker cofounded the film collective SLO N (Societe pour le Lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles, or Association for Launching New Works; also the Russian word for “elephant”), which later morphed into IS KRA (Images, Sons, Kinescope, Realisations, Audiovisuelles; also the name of Vladimir Lenin’s political newspaper, Iskra). Between 1967 and 1974, Marker collaborated with SLO N filmmakers Valerie Mayoux, Jean-Claude Lerner, Alain Adair, and John Tooker.
Across nearly six decades, Marker’s work was characterized by his attention to both the epic and the intimate repercussions of historical crisis. A concern with the translationof memory into narrative—with the layering and lacunae that this process entails—lies at the heart of his work. In more recent decades, his work also demonstrated a preoccupation with the relationship between the poetic and the technological as polar opposites within human consciousness. His use of photomontage and the essay enriched the language of world cinema; this was seen to advantage in his science-fiction meditation La jetée (1962) and Sans soleil (1983), which shuttles between Japan, Africa, and California, reflecting on travel, memory, and the varied modes of narrative by which a subjectivity fashions itself. In his later years, Marker engaged with both the museum and the art world as extended contexts of practice. He produced an interactive multimedia CD-ROM, Immemory, for the Centre Georges Pompidou (1997), and a 19-minute multimedia work, Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men (2005), a homage to the poem by T.S. Eliot (1925), for the Museum of Modern Art, New York.