The Last Bolshevik

Dear Chris Marker:

No one would mistake you for a True Believer—they're the ones causing all the trouble in the world, as Hank Quinlan put it—but there's no denying a certain aura of Keeper of the Flame. Actually several Flames, the sheltering of which might derive from an early personal (or collective) trauma of wartime uprootedness. Of course you'd find that sort of psycho-biographical speculation odious, and yet it is not, I think, entirely alien to patterns of interpretation in your films and videos, especially the handful made to staunch postmodern amnesia around Left culture—and, yes, to honor old friends. There are, to be sure, preservationist currents in your work that seem reflexive, in more than one sense; the impulse to reclaim a “usable past,” nearly involuntary (if hardly Pavlovian). No image is allowed to stand as frozen artifact, each one cracked open for purposes of present-tense revision. More precisely, the past as self-satisfied display expires in a burst of synthesis in which—abjuring our customary archival footage triumphs—you replay, primarily, the follies of political certainty actively transformed by collapsing spatio-social borders. Internationalist at the cinematic marrow. You were born in the afterglow of the Bolshevik Revolution so it is surely no accident that you drew visual heat and intellectual light from the inheritance bequeathed by early Soviet cinema. Of the filmmaking generation at the forefront of the uphevals of the Sixties, only your friend Godard and fellow maverick Dusan Makavejev extended classical montage aesthetics with the same consistency or vigor. And you were the only one to do so exclusively in the sphere of documentary, bypassing what Dziga Vertov called the “cine-nicotine” of fiction as you doubled back to rephrase, in a double-take of critical fascination, what could be gleaned from the idiolects, indeed the living careers, of Eisenstein, Vertov, Medvedkin, and other stewards of the Great Experiment.

You can read the complete version of this article in the July/August 2003 print edition of Film Comment.