One day after his 91st birthday, Chris Marker, one of the most influential and inventive filmmakers to emerge from post-war France, has died.
Called a recluse, Marker always avoided talking with the press, but Ronald Bergan's obituary in The Guardian reveals quite a lot about his life. Marker was born in 1921, probably somewhere in or around Paris (though Marker actively encouraged rumors that he was born in Mongolia). During WWII, he took up arms with the French Resistance. After the war, he would join the French Communist party and become an active figure in Paris' Left Bank intellectual scene. During this era, he was a prolific writer of fiction, poetry, criticism and journalism. He made some of the first contributions to French New Wave bible Cahiers du cinéma.
In the 1950s, Marker began making films. Along with French contemporaries such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Agnès Varda, and Alain Resnais, Marker helped pioneer innovative techniques in the language of film, ushering the form into new intellectual territory. Marker is perhaps best known for 1963's La Jetée, a science fiction film about time travel and desire set in an obliterated post-World War III Paris. Comprised almost entirely of still images, La Jetée is a remarkably resourceful film, told through simple, poetic narration and clocking in just under a half-hour. Terry Gilliam would remake it as Twelve Monkeys in 1995.
But La Jetée was an outlier for Marker, who primarily made documentaries and film essays. In works like Sans Soleil and A Grin Without a Cat, he pieced together intricate cinematic musings about his favorite subjects: socialism, Japan, the nature of memory, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, and of course, cats. Long before anyone uploaded videos to Youtube, Chris Marker pretty much invented the cute cat clip. Later in his career, the prolific filmmaker branched out into multimedia. One of his final projects was a CD-Rom called Immemory, an interactive work comprised of stills, film clips, music, text and sound that lasts over 20 hours.
Here is La Jetée in its entirety: