Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chris Marker's "Level Five" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Aug 22 - 28 | Chris Marker Retrospective at BAMcinématek Brooklyn: Aug 15 - 28

A kickback from the astounding comprehensive retrospective currently at the BAMcinématek, next week The Grand Illusion hosts one of the rarest works in all of Cyberpunk cinema, "Level Five" by one of the genre's unlikeliest voices, experimental filmmaker Chris Marker. This piece of historical inquiry is both a exercise in Marker's obsession with what he called "life in the process of becoming history" and one of his other great life-fascinations, the nature of perceiving the past and present through the scrim of technology. The film watches as a sometimes documentarist, sometimes personal, investigation into the tragic events and related atrocity surrounding the Battle of Okinawa through the labyrinthine interface of cryptic technology and it's hidden avenues. We go down the rabbit hole of this densely layered mashup of video-art, historic documentary and fictionalized webgame in Howard Hampton's review in Film Comment and further into it's depths with Nick Pinkerton's "Magic Marker" for Artforum and A.O. Scott's "It’s All Just a Game, Now Take It Seriously: ‘Level Five,’ Directed by Chris Marker".

Marker is probably best known for almost single-handedly inventing essayist film with his "Sans Soleil" and "Le Jetee" in the decades spanning the 60's to the 80's, but it's his more surrealist, explicitly political work that I've gotten the most pleasure. We had a rare thing in the man; a deeply devoted artist and cultural/political figure, working for the most part absolutely outside the commercial frameworks of his medium, who not only tackled the 'big questions' in his own eccentric fashion, but did so with a wry inquisitive sense and vibrant curiosity. An (often visionary) octogenarian intellectual who had a wicked sense of the satirical, was obsessive about the minutia of history and it's framework and really, truly loved cats. Astoundingly, he was capable of bridging all of the above and creating works reflective of this impossible confluence of real-world social consciousness and flights of fantastical fancy. One of his final films, "The Case of the Grinning Cat" perfectly encapsulates these multitudinous concerns, as poetically incisive and observational as it is cheeky and satirical. And that's not touching on his fictional alter-ego and omnipresent feline parallel-self, Guillaume-en-Égypte.

Elusiveness was one of the other constants in Marker's life, rarely photographed or interviewed, it was his work that he chose to represent himself in the world. Writer, photographer, editor, filmmaker, videographer, and digital multimedia artist. Marker remained for many years, just until shortly before his death, one of cinema’s better-kept secrets, famously reclusive and shrouded in protective layers of legend, self-generated fiction and pseudonym. To this day, two years after his death, Chris Marker the polymath remains a tantalizingly impenetrable enigma within the world of contemporary cinema. Catherine Lupton's "Chris Marker: Memory’s Apostle" for Criterion investigates Marker's representation of self and the world through one of the great constants of his work, the inwardly-turned nature of reflection and memory. Not only a prominent theme in his work, it was the embodiment of the man himself as his friends, cohorts and collaborators would often attest. The global arts community made many inspired and touching tributes to Marker in 2012. Foremost among them for me were those offered by his friends, Chilean filmmaker and documentarist, "Patricio Guzmán Pays Tribute to His Late Mentor from Another Planet: What I Owe to Chris Marker" and fellow cinema adventurers Patrick Keiller and Agnès Varda in the pages of Sight & Sound, "The Owl’s Legacy: In Memory of Chris Marker". As a more formal overview Ronald Bergan's piece for the Guardian achieves the conceptual feat of encompassing the man's many-faceted qualities, both his life and as a creative force of his times, "Chris Marker Obituary: The Experimental French Director Acclaimed for His post-Apocalyptic Film La Jetée".