Marker, Chris


As exams near, the blog takes a new turn, one with a much stronger focus around documentary cinema. Herein lies my revision in multiple forms – both french and not… so maybe it reads a little awkwardly, but it is my revision, and that’s what I want, so that’s what I’ll do

A well-rounded, profound cinema with routes in documentary filmmaking, the nouvelle vague movement and embodies modern cinema. He lived through and was a part of the biggest stages of the cinematic revolution that took place from the mid 1900’s.

Some may say he is for documentary cinema what Godard is for fiction. And the two are closely linked, having left traditional cinema after May 1968 – la rupture de la nouvelle vague. The events of May 1968 in Paris and the beginning of the semi-revolution would forever shape the way the Marker brought to the picture a new equilibrium between objectivity and subjectivity.

As time progressed, Marker’s films took a new route; more experimental perhaps. My favourite film of his is La Jetée (1963). The photo-documentary-like science-fiction film is still engaging despite being made up of still photos. It is eerie but at the same time moving. The black and white film is set in the future, the grainy images still feel futuristic. The soundtrack of ambient sounds add another layer, whilst fictitious, it gives the images life. The film is intriguing because of it’s odd construction – the unconventional composition just makes it an even better science-fiction film.

Marker was heavily influenced by the events of Mai 1968 and soon after established the Medvekin group. This group of cineastes centred around a want to give cinema to the people, the factory workers. They would go into industrial areas, factories and such, and not just introduce themselves (Marker, whilst coming from a bourgeois background, never saw himself above the working class, les ouvriers). He was not only there to film them, but to teach the workers how to make films. Il ne fait pas des films sûr, mais avec! The equipment was there – by the late sixties filming and recording sound could be done by one person – the technology continued to improve and things continued to become easier and easier. Documentaries changed too; the term cinema direct came into use to describe this new type of documentary- no longer simply le cinema du réelle – this was more observational, less about searching for truth, but expecting and understanding that the appearance of the camera does modify the way we act.

I return to my favourite quote:

“new technologies do not in themselves produce social change, though they can, and do facilitate it” Fiske, 1993

The appearance of equipment and a new way of thinking encouraged more people to make films – so less significance began to be placed on the shot construction, more significance on the problematique, or the viewpoint that the filmmaker is trying to give to us. Whilst more people begun making films, and one of the motto’s of Godard and Marker’s post-68 realisation was about creating cinema pour tous,

Maker and the Medvekin group worked more with the the working class – having split from the more extreme communist ideals supported by the students of the Sorbonne and the Russian’s. It was the cinéma des peuples

Marker continually moved, filming political engagement and revolutions around the world – ou le monde bouge. Chile (En vous parle du Chile (1973)), Algeria, Vietnam. He followed the

An interesting work, L’ambassade (1975),  is comprised almost completely of close-up shots. With a voice-over  that constructs the story and an interesting reveal at the end, we are left to wonder how much is actually true and how much is fiction in this documentary-esque film. But with it, Marker proves that cinema is possible, sans producteurs, sans acteurs, sans son directe,  simply with a camera and with an idea; with a story to tell.

He later embraced the digital bandwagon, with Level 5 (1997) he investigated the digital world where the narrator becomes a character in hi own story, and featuring his cat.

Chris Maker was important to the history of cinema, and the history of documentary for multiple reasons. He jumped on board the portable camera, synchronised sound and the digital revolution, grabbing the technology and investigating all that it had to offer. His films were not constructed with only one category of spectators, his his films are for all different audiences; his goal being to create cinema for all.


Lena Dunham: Creative NonFiction

Lena Dunham is my new favourite.
Yes, I know, again a bit late coming to the table… Girls and stuff, I’ll get there, the internet is just a tad slow chez chateau Triolet and my laptop has no memory.

Creative NonFiction is a one-hour long film Dunham made whilst in College. It is great, and it kind of isn’t. It almost does sit somewhere towards the more non-fiction end on the scale of truth.

More then anything (more then the fact that I seem to have found a kindred spirit, someone I can identify with 100% in Dunham) I like this film because I am beginning to realise the importance of just doing things, maybe they don’t have a big budget, flashy cameras, or a great editing suite, but the fact is she made a film – and it’s really not that bad at all.

Maybe the shots could use work, maybe the acting isn’t great, but it’s 50 or so minutes of actual produced work that makes sense, and is entertaining.

It is especially interesting to note the creative process Dunham used when creating the work. As outlined in the conversation, she had the scenes on sticky notes and would just go through it slowly – it’s a really interesting approach… something to keep in mind.

The camera … to shake or not to shake

Editing a documentary is proving to be rather a challenge.

It has been everything the opposite of a short film.
Here you go out, you film, you let the wind carry you. Sometimes you go nowhere, sometimes you go somewhere… And then you come back and you have all this stuff….

The curse of the digital age has to be an almost endless amount of storage, allowing for a great-deal less forethought.

But now, with all the footage one has to compile it, sort it, and label it just so it can be decided whether or not it is useful!
Some of it is great, some of it okay, some of it not… So what is useable, what is still okay?
Whatever helps you to communicate the contention of you story yes?

I’m not sure….
Having more then one person film means that essentially this story is being told through more then one set of eyes (here’s where the reality of why it’s best to make documentaries alone set’s in). Because each individual has their own manner of looking at things, if seeing, noticing, and therefore their own ideas about how others should see and notice what they see.

My question that I’m trying to arrive at here is: does it matter that the camera shakes? And that it does in some instances more then others?

Recently, the rise of DSLR’s, and mobile filming have made it easier for audiences to stomach a shakey-home-video-style camera. But maybe for a documentary it shows a lack of technical discipline. I’m not saying that every shot should always be set up on a tripod, but maybe we should arrive at a set of conventions as to how much shake is acceptable…

Documentary Studies 101

I am finding Documentary Studies to be far more interesting then I ever thought it would be. But also rather overwhelming.

If everything is clear, and laid out in fiction filmmaking – in how to achieve the look; a well-made, polished, even fashionable film (pull focus… ) – documentary filmmaking is on the other side of the world.

And to make a documentary here, in Montpellier truly seems fitting.

The raw, sometimes harsh, nature of the camera and the sound add a texture to the final project. (All the same there is still much that can be, should be, well-polished and neat) But the documentary does not demand perfection in the way that the short film does. In fact, maybe the short film demands it more-so then a longer length film (or a television episode). Lighting continuity, editing faux-pas can both often fly under the radar with a longer piece (or a well known TV series *cough* Offspring – I still love you to bits), but in the short film everything matters. Characters need to be developed quickly, but they cannot be too stereotypical! The story needs to not be overly complex, but it needs to be engaging, and not let the audience work out the end too quickly.

Let’s say there exists a scale, a line, joining fiction and non fiction. For what IS fiction and what IS not? How can we classify it? To what degree? Essentially, even a fiction film could be a documentary; it is the act of recording a group of people (actors), doing their job… right?

 Let’s give the scale seven degrees (or really it should be eight… these french, can’t even count):

0. Camera Caché  – Hidden Camera
The camera is hidden so that no-one knows that action is being filmed/recorded.

  1. Camera à l’exterieur
    A camera is set up, for example, outside a window of a classroom looking in. Easily forgotten or unnoticed, the subjects are not necessicarily told that they are being filmed.
  2. Suivre en accord
    The subjects are aware that they are being filmed and
  3. *I missed what this level is called* something like mise-en-scene du réelle dans la réelle – it is the act of filming with the intention of narrating – those filmed are aware they are being filmed so maybe they recount stories… but the scene is left largely untouched by the director (however much untouched a scene can be given the obvious presence of a camera)
  4. Provoquer une situation du réelle dans la réelle
    The act of asking people to do things, to come into the room, and cause a scene. Everyone is themselves, but it begins to blur the lines because a definite intention has entered into a real-life scenario.
  5. Fait le tournage en décor réelle, mais travailler avec des comédiens, suivent la réelle.
    Here, the perspective of the audience begins to change, it is clear that the situation has been fabricated.
  6. Je tourne en studio – construire des salons, pas limiter par les horaires, par du bruit – les modéles/comédiens/personnages peuvent jouer leur propre rôles mais créer des situations/scenarios – shot in studio, but with actors/people/comedians who play ‘themselves’
    Here we begin to question how to judge the film because many more elements are under the control of the director – mise-en-scene, even to a point the writing or construction.
    Is it a pychological drama, or a docco?
  7. Total fiction
    This is filmed in studio, the production revolves around mise-en-scene, creating drama and being technically correct. The audience is aware that all (or most) has been constructed.

So, somewhere in the middle there exists a pseudo documentary/fiction group of works that are especially rule-breaking… The stuff of Bresson, and of pieces of Godard where some elements of control have been given up generating a new effect.

Les Parapluies de Demy

As part of the French Contemporary Cinema class – which, thanks to the strikes will now be re-dubbed 60’s french cinema, because we never got any further then that – we dipped our toes into Demy today.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. I don’t know, it just get’s me every time. I’m not one for the love stories, but Legrand’s fabulous score, the ironic cinema references famous from nouvelle vague cineastes and Demy’s extraordinary use of colour are all pretty much enough to make my eyes well up.

So I sit here, on my Thursday night, huddled under the blankets with a heater that is not living up to it’s name, revisiting the film, a true work of art.

As the American’s might say…. Happy Thanksgiving?

Lightning Storm

I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with an extraordinary Australian woman who works in Montpellier. She is an absolute delight, even more so, she took pleasure in hosting me, cooking delicious food for me and engaging in conversation with this somewhat-lost-and-midly-frazzled-twenty-year-old.

Thank-you Karen!

On Saturday night, we drove out to the little village of St Juste to see a play put on by an amateur theatre group. Les Belles-Soeurs, is about a dinner hosted by a couple for his brothers and their wives. The sisters-in-law not wanting to be there, things quickly unravel… and relationships become strained.

On the drive back, there was lightning, but not like I’ve ever experienced before. There was no thunder, no rain, no noise. Just these great sheets of lightning.
So I filmed it.
The appearance and disappearance of light. My obsession.