James Quandt writes beautifully about the diverging “Late Styles” of Nouvelle Vague messieurs Godard, Rohmer, Rivette, Chabrol in the February Artforum, but what about they of the Left Bank? Varda’s beaches still turn up jewels, but I thought the last Resnais was hokey—much of its critical praise read to me as if written on a vanity mirror. Meanwhile, Chris Marker, always elsewhere… Occasionally a fresh dispensation comes across my desk, always unannounced—a stolen subway still life, murmurs of Second Lives, and now a picture postcard for a new Damon & Naomi song, “And You Are There” [The musicians are still best known for their falling out with Dean Wareham. This is not just. Besides their fine run as a duo, they run the Exact Change press, purveying books of disquiet, hearing trumpets, Denton Welch and many remarkable works by strangers to the publishing industry, including Marker’s own Immemory). Naomi writes that this ode to lost time was partly inspired by Marker’s work, and he responds in kind with a lustrous collage that, as per the lyrics, “reappears and disappears” without moving. It’s especially nice when Michio Kurihara’s guitar streaks across the long close, swirling in with the woman’s hair.
It has taken me a long time to realize that although you may find an intelligent defender for every filmmaker of merit, no intelligent person would defend them all. This does not mean one should necessarily trust one’s instincts—but we must be mindful of difference and insistence. I often think, “What would Marker make of this?” (wishing recently, for instance, that it was he and not Spielberg that had the rights to the WikiLeaks story, though maybe he’s already made that movie—it’s yet another “current event” his work has prepared me for). His forever uncollected works do not reach us via the heavily leveraged channels of the film festival; he seems too busy exploring to abide the rules of reputation. Not an oeuvre, but a consciousness.
Frozen in reverie and protest, are his subjects looking backward or forward? Let the creative mind be a little promiscuous, conspiratorial, punning—this will help with the serious work. That’s one thing Marker teaches us. Another is to work the wires. Yang includes a note Marker appended to his video: “Dunno if it fits your pretty proustian melancholy, but I thought it could…And thanks for linking me to music, the only real art for me as you know (cinema? you kiddin’…).” I hope you won’t think I’m a complete bore if I say that it reminds me of something Edward Said wrote in his essay “Professionals and Amateurs,” about the role of the intellectual in society (a concern in all Marker’s films). The argument is not new, but his lucidity serves the point. He cautions,
In the study of literature, for example, which is my particular interest, specialization has meant an increasing technical formalism, and less and less of a historical sense of what real experiences actually went into the making of a work of literature. Specialization means losing sight of the raw effort of constructing either art of knowledge; as a result you cannot view knowledge and art as choices and decisions, commitments and alignments, but only in terms of impersonal theories or methodologies. To be a specialist in literature too often means shutting out history or music, or politics…Specialization also kills your sense of excitement and discovery, both of which are irreducibly present in the intellectual’s makeup. In the final analysis, giving up to specialization is, I have always felt, laziness, so you end up doing what others tell you, because that is your specialty after all.
And then near the close,
In addition, the intellectual’s spirit as an amateur can enter and transform the merely professional routine most of us go through into something much more lively and radical; instead of doing what one is supposed to do one can ask why one does it, who benefits from it, how can it reconnect with a personal project and original thoughts.
Always keep an eye out.