On Movement and Change

Memories of Marker

“La Jetée”, 1962

Nile Valley, Egypt. A young filmmaker is wandering down a riverbank atop his trusty steed, wobbling along in search of images to trap and adventures to pursue. He is later mesmerized by an object glowing from within a cave not far from the river. It beckons him into the dark, lures him into its depths, leads him to the sacred tombs, and eventually to the secrets of the ancient kings. There, amongst precious treasures, he meets Guillaume, a mysterious feline who claims to have come from a time yet unknown to the young wanderer. A world too fantastic to be believed. They instantly form a unique friendship, one of special company and unspoken trust that would deepen further as they journey together through life, death, truth, memory, and time.

They shall go like this, meet on several occasions, in many different places. No memories, no plans. Just travels that would allow them to see countless truths, ones that they will ultimately feel compelled to tell. Only later would they realize that what they’ve chosen to share would create obsessions in those who beheld those images, an uncontrollable compulsion to go back and experience those moments again and again.

 * * * * * *

This is part of Chris Marker’s profile page, which I wrote for Video Art World some years ago. He was known to avoid interviews, and preferred that the writer invent his own story, his own version of reality. His fascination for the nature of truth and memory, along with death, life and time are just some of the themes that one will encounter in his visual works. Mostly reflections of his meandering thoughts and obsessions, but more importantly they are his versions of the realities out there, waiting to be told.

“Je pense à un monde ou chaque mémoire pourrait créer sa propre légende.”
– CHRIS MARKER (Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve)

– Author, activist, filmmaker, photographer, Internaut, critic, media artist, poet, journalist.

– 29 July 1921 – 30 July 2012

The Walls We’ve Built

News of my brothers from La Solidaridad has reached me. They who used to write with me, they who have gone back home, they have lost their audience. Nobody, not even their children, could now comprehend anything they had to say. Nor could anyone comprehend the pain, the pain of this loss. For, now, what purpose do their lives serve without the sympathy of those who succeed them? Of those who are meant to continue their cause? Our cause. In our quest for liberty, we ultimately drove ourselves into this prison of sorts. Trapped in the homeland by the very people we had wanted to set free.

I say “we” as I also find myself trapped in this prison of sorts. Although not in the homeland where my brothers are held unheard, un-speaking, but in a land and with a people we had wanted to break free from. I wander freely in this prison, it’s true, although my words are just as lost. But it is of my own doing… I am trapped here where I chose to remain, and here I shall stay till the end of my days, it seems. Till the end of my days.

And the end of my days is near, I feel. I stumble into the shadows of these narrow streets. I feed on scraps to satisfy my hunger and my craving for one last smoke, just one more… Now and again I wonder if it would have been better to go back with them, if it would have been wiser to leave all we had built up here and carry on with our work in our land. But I was convinced that someone had to stay, that we had to wield the poison of our pens from both sides. I was convinced and so I stayed. And now I am here, at the end of my days, a vagabond with neither purpose nor salvation. Such is my fate.

And such is our fate, my people and I. We are meant to see each of our own slowly drift away. I see walls that have been built all around us, stopping us from moving forward, blocking our past, forbidding us from really knowing where we’re headed and where we’ve been. A people without memory. We have become a blind race, groping our way to a future so uncertain, from a present so clean yet so untrue. And I am here to bear witness to more walls being built, more intricate, more intimate, new walls that divide us and keep even brothers apart. For even brothers have ceased to believe in each other. We no longer see the virtue of unity on this journey. Or, perhaps, we never did. Now there are walls all around us and as we meet our dark fate, we discover that we have built them with our own hands. That which divides us is of our own doing after all.

Staggering, hungering, I wander the streets of this land in search of some answers. Not to be found in the bosom of its trees that sway gracefully in the Mediterranean breeze, but in the turbulent winds of my soul. I wander wearily down these crooked streets as I strive to break through the walls we’ve built… Denying despair, I keep hitting, asking, pushing into knowing, into remembering. Brick by brick, layer by layer… so goes the undoing. I try, I direly try to get through these walls we’ve built so that our history may be passed on to our offspring, so that knowledge of our own may not be thrown over to the other side, given over to forgetting.

I walk these streets to remember, I write these words to remind them. The light on the horizon is slowly fading. But I must write, as they must be made to understand. Soon, it will be night… Shall I read to them in their long and empty sleep? They who have been forgotten must not forget, and they who have forgotten must be made to remember… lest we all die out like faint stars in the vast heavens of time.

For as my people drift away from home, as they now come to where I am, crossing paths with this waning vagabond they walk on unseeing, unfeeling, unhearing. How do I make them listen to the pleading of a past long gone? My people, unknowing. And I am weak… They come here barely conscious of how we once were, how we thought, how we fought. I try to get close to them, tell them about us, our dreams and our glorious past. My voice, almost none… I whisper into their ears in hushed desperation, but I am drowned by this city’s roaring. I am drowned for as they come here, and as I speak, new walls are swiftly built.

And I am driven away…

What pain! What pain! To be spurned by your own kin! No words could ever fathom the depth of this pain. There is only refuge in the company I keep – my brothers in our prison of sorts, reviling the present and our generation’s bitter end. Soon, it will be night.

I retreat into the deepest shadows of this city, deep into its hours of darkness, and there I shall surrender to the wave of profound sadness that has been waiting to take me in. For no words of ours would ever be heard… For my brothers and I have long been forgotten… We are no one. We are lost. We are dead.

Notes from a Traveller

Fragments on “Memory” from Chris Marker’s film SANS SOLEIL

The first image he told me about was of a man in a gray suit, under a gray sky, walking towards the sea. It was an image of longing and sorrow, seeming to have lost something precious, or missing something so far away. He told me the man was all alone, strolling with leaden feet down the breakwater. Was he to meet anyone? It didn’t seem like it. He was just there, taking in the last of the day’s light. The waves were getting bigger… it was beautiful, he said, and at once sad. He then started thinking of home, perhaps just like that man.

When he first arrived he said he was in awe of its wide-open streets and its modernist buildings. He said it all looked so vibrant and full of promise. All possibilities seemed to be calling out, ready for him. He said he knew it was the place where his dreams would come true. He wrote me, “The promise feels real here, as if somebody’s finally giving me a chance. As if somebody truly knows my worth.” He would walk down its avenues filled with radiant optimism. He knew he was right to come.

Yet everyday was filled with hard work; his body worn down to the spirit. There were many of them, he said, and that made it easier. But there were always harder days despite the company. He later wrote me, “It was not my plan to be lonely and tired here. But one day I will have my dreams, and so it has to be this way for now.” With each day the call of promise seemed to fade away. He would take long walks around the city to remember. He would let its avenues remind him of why he came.

He told me about a madman he once met while waiting for the train. He was really just a drunk, sputtering out whatever it was that drunken madmen talked about. Then he started making sense, he said, lest he be the one who had gone mad. He told me the madman was lamenting being there by himself, far away from everyone he loved. He lamented his lowly state, a lesser man than he once was in his land. He said he remembered, and wanted to go back home to be whole again. He wrote me, “I came to think of my own completeness, and how in my land I was more. How could a place make you feel less than who you truly are?” He told me he remembered what he was worth.

But he thought of them. Everyday he was reminded of why he came, and each time he knew he had to stay. It was as if his memory of them was stronger than his memory of himself. Or it simply had to be. He said he needed to re-write himself into another man in order to keep on going.

He later told me about the breakwater – his rendezvous with the sea, his new place of refuge. And what of those long walks around the city? Has he forgotten about them? He said those wide avenues no longer gave him comfort. They no longer held the promise he once felt. But the sea, the vast sea… it was always there to remind him of why he left, where he was, and of how far he had gone. He said he was now a different man. Perhaps not more than before, but at least he had changed. He told me that it was surely worth something.

He sat by the sea to think of home and take in the last of the day’s light.

As They Move

A scene from Béla Tarr’s SATANTANGO

Abel moves in religious paces- careful, contemplative, infused with a singular devotion. He has studied every step and every turn taken by his people. And he is intent on staying, walking behind them. Much like that shepherd who never left his flock, he guides them in their desire to tread.

Pushing against a force unseen yet carried forth by one even stronger, more urgent, they opt for another existence. They jump at scant grace as they are deprived of a life that is rightfully theirs. They move as others have moved, choosing a road that has been tirelessly taken by others like them. Lost, in need. Needing to simply live, missing something they never quite had, they set off for that proverbial land and hope that what they seek can be found there. Anywhere.

Abel watches them and whispers to his distant god. He aches for them, his people.

The two men keep going. They are inseparable, always in pairs it has been. They walk because they search; they search because they have lost something they need most to live. Perhaps they have even lost life itself. And so they move. They believe with all the trust handed to them by their needing families that a better life can be found elsewhere. Straight ahead, don’t look back, just keep moving. So much faith in what is unseen.

Abel pushes them forward.

They walk on and the path is constantly changed. They see everything, and nothing ever stays the same. Offensive colors, hostile faces and strange hands that seem to know nothing but night welcome them with every step. Their defenses and understanding are attacked by everything new, ridding them of that protection familiarity gives. They are exposed – layer upon layer upon fragile layer – until a shaky determination reaches a crossroad, where each of the two men must decide between staying together and growing apart, between remembrance and forgetting.

Though it doesn’t really matter which they choose. They are nevertheless changed along the way. The winds of time make that choice for them, and all they have to do is take it, walk the road that’s been opened up in front of them. They may tire, their energy may falter, and their bodies may grow old, but the choice is inevitably made. Each man and what he holds within- they must both keep going.

Abel remembers everything. He never forgets. Just as his god never does anything without reason, so goes his resolve to stay with his people. He is their flock as much as their shepherd.

The men move in religious paces- careful, contemplative, infused with a singular devotion. They move forward, intent; they move for their families and will not stop. They will remember to move until they have forgotten; such is their fate.

Where are they going?

Abel stops and watches them walk away.