Chris Marker, the great French documentary filmmaker, died in Paris this week at the age of 91. He was an innovator, with many famous films to his credit, including the science fiction short film La Jettee and the film essay Sans Soleil.
I had a long correspondence with Marker over the years, most of it in attempts to release a collection of his short video pieces, which he produced prolifically throughout his 80s. Writing Chris was fun in at leaset this one regard: His email name was “Stalker,” a reference, of course, to The Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, a filmmaker Marker admired, and about whom he made a wonderful documentary, One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich.
Another thing I admired about Marker: He was never afraid to take a stand. When, also in the '80s, Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani was arrested and an international protest ensued, Marker was among the very first to sign the petition demanding her release.
Marker was also, noteably, a great lover of cats. Sans Soleil features a scene in a Japanese temple dedicated to cats. A cat named Guillaume factored in many of the short films that Marker created, especially his 80s, some of which are viewable on YouTube. Even Marker's massive 1977 documentary on the political events of the 1960s, first titled Le fond de l'air est rouge – roughly, The abyss of the air is red, was re-titled as Grin Without a Cat. A 2004 film, also about French politics, was titled The Case of the Grinning Cat.
Marker's obsessiveness with giving cats super-human and empathetic characteristics are evident in his last short piece, in which Guillaume (or the latest reincarnation thereof) is listening to and participating, in a bored way, to music:
Many of the most-watched "home movies" now posted on YouTube are about cats. What's happened to dogs? (Disclaimer: I have a dog). In reality, dogs have been typecast in films. They are always the saviors, trekking thousands of miles to find or save their master, whereas cats are – what? – they lay around, look cute, stretch, jump in your lap and purr? Does this mean that cats are now more reflective of how WE are as humans? Or simply that dogs in movies have been typecast with unrealistic expectations? (My dog, now 14, is a complete chicken who is afraid of a leaf flying across the sidewalk.)
I don't know the answer. Do you?