Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)

Sans Soleil is an essay film that follows in the footsteps of F for Fake, a film made by Orson Welles about art forgery, which takes many detours and makes many references and plays with editing to make statements and connections without ever forming a complete whole. Chris Marker’s film is a more serious, wide-reaching, and conclusive travelogue that explores an endless array of philosophical and anthropological topics, but can be boiled down as an exploration of memory, and by extension history. It is about how videogames interpret reality through delirious imagery, television is a substitute for our dreams, a city is a monumental comic strip, a seemingly lifeless procession through a subway is its own symphony, and Pacman is the perfect graphic metaphor for the human condition. Just about every idiosyncrasy of Tokyo is a gateway into a cultural history that is at once made expansive and compressed. Everything can be connected or represented in a multitude of ways, and one feels that Marker’s juxtapositions and graphic parallelisms are but a few among infinite possibilities. He is interested in memory as a circular phenomenon as opposed to a linear one. I can finally see how Vertigo is a reference point for him, and his intensive analysis of it as it pertains to time and space describes the opening spirals as the perfect embodiment of a memory that is at once expanding outward and concentrated in a singular point, both moving along a fixed path and yet concentrically situated. The abstract and the specific are all swirled together in a grand symposium of humanity’s collective memory; two dogs prancing about on the beach on an overcast day cuts to a grand scale ceremony for the year of the dog, a few girls in kimonos exist to the exclusion of every possible apocalyptic catastrophe, and a transient ritual performed by a priestess, upon whose death it will dissipate forever, transpires in spite of the bombastic, Americanized city just two miles away. The film’s fascination with technology as a means of supplanting memory comes to a head in the ending, when our narrator peers into the year 4001, when perhaps nothing in history will ever be forgotten, and it is at this moment that all of history is neutralized and strung together in a fluid progression toward an arbitrarily marked, hypothetical pinnacle, and the concept of collective human experience becomes beautiful, exciting and poetic.

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