Chris Marker, 1921–2012


“A recurrent rumour says that Chris Marker and the cat Guillaume-en-Egypt sank with the Titanic.” Photo credited to Wim Wenders.

In our moments of megalomaniacal reverie, we tend to see our memory as a kind of history book: we have won and lost battles, discovered empires and abandoned them. At the very least we are the characters of an epic novel (“Quel roman que ma vie!” said Napoleon). A more modest and perhaps more fruitful approach might be to consider the fragments of memory in terms of geography. In every life we would find continents, islands, deserts, swamps, overpopulated territories and terrae incognitae. We could draw the map of such a memory and extract images from it with greater ease (and truthfulness) than from tales and legends. That the subject of this memory should be a photographer and a filmmaker does not mean that his memory is essentially more interesting than that of the next man (or the next woman), but only that he has left traces with which one can work, contours to draw up his maps.

Chris Marker, introductory notes to Immemory (2002)

Memory is the key word: it’s at the heart of Chris Marker’s most well-known films, his science fiction short La Jetée (1962), and the feature-length film-essay Sans Soleil. Both those films reference Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a film concerned with layered memories, both real and invented. Memory also comprises the subject of Marker’s most ambitious work from his later years, the CD-ROM Immemory, a unique creation which few will have experienced since it appeared after the great wave of ROM-mania in the 1990s, and was also Mac-only at a time (2002) when Macs were even more of a minority concern than they are today. My own copy is now unusable since it only runs on the outmoded OS 9 system (later copies were upgraded to OS X), leaving me with nothing but memories of Immemory and a box which sports a still from Vertigo among its cover images. The loss is regrettable but somehow fitting, and there’s a lesson here about impermanence for all you boys and girls planning bright new iPad apps. La Jetée is the film that receives the most attention, made on a budget that even when adjusted forward wouldn’t have covered the catering costs on Inception, it was one of JG Ballard’s favourites, and the source (of course) for Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. But it’s to Sans Soleil that I always return, a place where the complex interleaving of documentary footage and fictional—or is it?—narration proves endlessly rewarding.


The Beckoning Cats from Sans Soleil (1983). an essential resource
Chris Marker’s YouTube channel
Chris Marker interviewed by Samuel Douhaire and Annick Rivoire in 2003
The New Yorker: In Memoriam: Chris Marker by Richard Brody
Guardian obituary by Ronald Bergan
Telegraph obituary
Things That Quicken The Heart: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil by David Moats
The Humanists: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil by Colin Marshall
Brian Dillon on La Jetée

Previously on { feuilleton }
Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal
Monsieur Chat
Sans Soleil


The Catherine Wheel by Twyla Tharp


The music links this weekend were all related to my favourite Talking Heads period, 1979–1982, which not only encompasses the release of the band’s Fear Of Music and Remain In Light albums but also saw the individual group members produce some great solo records. I’d been playing one of these, the first Tom Tom Club album, all week while the sun was out. Now the temperature has dropped again, and we’re back to this summer’s default setting of perma-rain, the music doesn’t feel quite so appropriate. In 1981 while Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz were exercising their funk muscles David Byrne was recording My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts with Brian Eno. The score Byrne produced immediately prior to this for the Twyla Tharp Dance Company often sounds like My Life… avant la lettre, with similar musicians (Eno included), sounds and rhythms. This is one reason I favour Songs From The Broadway Production Of “The Catherine Wheel” over Byrne’s subsequent solo albums.

The Catherine Wheel was a seventy-two minute dance film choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp. The film was part-produced by the BBC and as far as I’m aware was only ever broadcast the once in Britain in 1983. Byrne’s score runs continuously as on the CD and cassette versions, the vinyl release being a re-sequenced editing of the tracks favouring the handful of songs. In dance terms the film was very innovative for the time, employing some subtle video effects and a couple of sequences where a duet is danced with a wire-frame CGI figure. A long end sequence, The Golden Section, predates The Catherine Wheel, and was apparently the origin of the project. Since I hadn’t seen any of this in nearly thirty years my search for Tom Tom Club videos at the weekend made me wonder whether YouTube had any Catherine Wheel clips, only to find that the entire film can be viewed here in a recording from Italian TV. (That copy was removed, link now goes to another one.) I’m so familiar with Byrne’s album it’s been fascinating seeing this again, especially since I only saw it on a small black-and-white TV originally and recalled very little of the performance. All the music works well enough on its own but seems completed when heard in this context, especially during The Golden Section. The film is also available on DVD from Kultur so this is another item for the shopping list.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Moonlight in Glory
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Weekend links 119


The BFI’s recent DVD release of Peter de Rome’s gay porn films has been mentioned here a couple of times already but I only bought a copy this week. It’s a remarkable release for a number of reasons, not least for showing how much attitudes towards pornography in Britain have changed in recent years. De Rome’s films are explicit enough to ensure that in the 1970s and 1980s anyone caught selling them in the UK might have been imprisoned. That you can now buy them uncut from a high street shop on a disc packaged with the usual care by the British Film Institute means another small part of our iniquitous past has gone for good. Among the extras there’s a documentary with the 88-year-old director discussing his work. This week he talked to BUTT magazine who also have one of his shorter films from the DVD, Hot Pants, on their site.

• “Reading this book, it is hard not to feel that the largest mental health problem – the really crazy thing – is society’s attitude to drugs in general and LSD in particular…” Phil Baker reviews Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain by Andy Roberts.

• “Loved by aristocrats and immortalized in literature, Denham Fouts remains virtually unknown in his own hometown.” Richard Wall on The World’s Most Expensive Male Prostitute.

The very etiology of rabies is mythic: once the bite heals and the virus has traveled to the brain, “the wound will usually return, as if by magic, with some odd sensation occurring at the site.” Then there’s the fact that no definitive diagnosis can be made without taking a biopsy of the sick animal’s brain, leaving only one gory solution: decapitation.

Rabies is horror’s muse. In almost all iterations of the genre, those we most trust suddenly turn strange: a boyfriend morphs into a wolf at midnight, a fiancé turns out to be harboring a mad first wife in the attic, a friend is bit by a zombie and goes berserk.

Alice Gregory reviews Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy.

• The Horror of Philosophy: Erik Davis talks to Eugene Thacker about Lovecraft, medieval mysticism, and thinking the world-without-us.

Eagle Scouts Returning Our Badges: A Tumblr for those protesting the current anti-gay stance of the Boy Scouts of America.

• His Father’s Best Translator: Lila Azam Zanganeh on the late Dmitri Nabokov.

Les Liaisons dangereuses: illustrations by Alastair (Hans Henning Voigt).

• Andrea Scrima looks at Robert Walser’s Der Spaziergang (The Walk).

10 Great Places to Meet Lesbians If You Have a Time Machine.

• Jesse Bering in Scientific American asks “Is Your Child Gay?

As Above, So Below (1981) by Tom Tom Club | Genius Of Love (1981) by Tom Tom Club | Mea Culpa (1981) by Brian Eno & David Byrne.

Greek games


Ganymede from an Attic red-figure bell-krater, ca. 500–490 BC.

And ye Megarians, at Nisæa dwelling,
Expert at rowing, mariners excelling,
Be happy ever! for with honours due
Th’ Athenian Diocles, to friendship true
Ye celebrate. With the first blush of spring
The youth surround his tomb: there who shall bring
The sweetest kiss, whose lip is purest found,
Back to his mother goes with garlands crowned.
Nice touch the arbiter must have indeed,
And must, methinks, the blue-eyed Ganymede
Invoke with many prayers—a mouth to own
True to the touch of lips, as Lydian stone
To proof of gold—which test will instant show
The pure or base, as money changers know.

Theocritus, Idyll XII, translated by Edward Carpenter.

One Ancient Greek tradition yet to be revived by the International Olympic Committee is the Diocleia, an annual contest held in the Dorian city of Megara. William Smith’s A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1882) gives a brief explanation:

DIOCLEIA, a festival celebrated by the Megarians in honour of an ancient Athenian hero, Diocles, around whose grave young men assembled on the occasion, and amused themselves with gymnastic and other contests. We read that he who gave the sweetest kiss obtained the prize, consisting of a garland of flowers. (Theocrit. Idyll. xii. 27, &c.) The Scholiast on Theocritus (l. c.) relates the origin of this festival as follows – Diocles, an Athenian exile, fled to Megara, where he found a youth with whom he fell in love. In some battle, while protecting the object of his love with his shield, he was slain. The Megarians honoured the gallant lover with a tomb, raised him to the rank of a hero, and in commemoration of his faithful attachment, instituted the festival of the Diocleia.

So the Diocleia was primarily a same-sex kissing contest, a detail that 19th century accounts do their best to skirt around, as they tended to do when faced with the unavoidable yet unacceptable sexual proclivities of the Ancient World. Here’s another account from a typewritten thesis by Ernest Leslie Highbarger, Chapters in the History and Civilization of Ancient Megara (1923):

In his honor public games, the Diocleia, were celebrated. These were as important at Megara as were the Pythia and Eleusinia elsewhere. According to Megarian belief, Diocles was a Megarian ruler of Eleusis. But the Alexandrine tradition claimed that he was an Athenian who had fled to Megara for some cause and had become a hero after dying in defense of a boy friend. […] These Diocleia were held at the beginning of spring. The prize is said to have been a crown of flowers and was presented to the boy who gave the sweetest kiss. Boeckh and Reinganum, however, maintain that we must not limit such a contest to kissing but must extend it to contests in general such as the ones in which Diocles was victorious. But if we are to judge by the elegies of Theognis, boy-love was as common at Megara as in other parts of Greece and the osculatory contest at the games may have constituted no insignificant part.

Edward Carpenter, on the other hand, being a pioneering activist for gay rights, regarded these festivals as one of the many valuable precedents that might be used to argue a defence for same-sex relations:

Further [Bethe] suggests that the competition which yearly took place among the youths at the tomb of the great hero and lover, Diocles, in Megara – and which is known to us through Theocritus (Idyll xii.) – had a similar origin; and represented the survival of actual betrothals which once were celebrated there, as at a holy place. There is certainly something very grand about this whole conception and manifestation of the Uranian love among the Dorians. The wonderful stories – treasured in the hearts of the Greek peoples for centuries – of heroic bravery and mutual devotion inspired by it; the high seriousness with which it was cultivated both as a political safeguard and as a means of the education of youth, the religious sanction and dedication to the gods, and withal the absolute recognition of its human and passional origin, cannot fail to make us feel that here was a great people with a unique message for the world. Certainly we shall never in modern times understand this love until we realise this quality of it and its immense capabilities.

Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk (1914)

Dorian: Yes, the word is the origin of Dorian Gray’s first name, and Oscar Wilde was fully aware of its referring to proscribed passions. He was sufficiently well-acquainted with Greek poetry to pen a poem of his own to Theocritus so would have been very familiar with the Idylls and their paean to the Diocleia.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Achilles by Barry JC Purves

Charles Ricketts’ Salomé


Here is my scheme. I proposed a black floor – upon which Salomé’s white feet would show; this statement was meant to capture Wilde. The sky was to be a rich turquoise blue, and across by the perpendicular fall of strips of gilt matting, which should not touch the ground, and so form a sort of aerial tent above the terrace. Did Wilde actually suggest the division of the actors into separate masses of colour, today the idea seems mine! His was the scheme, however, that the Jews should be in yellow, the Romans were to be in purple, the soldiers in bronze green, and John in white. Over the dresses of Salomé, the discussions were endless: should she be black “like the night”? Silver, “like the moon”? Or – here the suggestion is Wilde’s – “green like a curious poisonous lizard”? I desired that the moonlight should fall upon the ground, the source not being seen; Wilde himself hugged the idea of some “strange dim pattern in the sky”.

Thus artist, designer, publisher and writer Charles Ricketts (1866–1931), describing in later years his proposal for what would have been the first staging of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé in London. The scheme never materialised since the play was banned but Ricketts did create costume and stage designs for subsequent productions elsewhere, including performances in Japan in 1920. The V&A has Ricketts’ sketch of the stage for a private production in 1906 by the Literary Theatre Society, London. (The ban on Biblical themes in theatre kept the play from public performance in London until 1931.) In the Tate archives there’s what may be one of Ricketts’ costume designs from the Japanese production. Ricketts’ painting of Salomé dates from 1925, and for such a lurid and passionate subject seems rather passionless and inert. This isn’t so surprising, he was always a better designer and graphic artist than a painter; his lifelong partner, Charles Shannon, was the one who excelled with oils.

And speaking of Ricketts and Shannon, searching around turned up this recent blog devoted to the pair which contains much detail about their celebrated book designs.


Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Salomé archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Charles Ricketts’ Hero and Leander