Arts exhibition review

Retrospective of an innovative filmmaker

Chris Marker’s visual media on display at the List Center

Chris Marker: Guillaume-en-Égypte

In collaboration with the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University and the Harvard Film Archive

Hayden and Reference Galleries, Bakalar Gallery at the MIT List Center for the Visual Arts

Through Jan. 5, 2014

La Jetée (The Pier), Chis Marker’s best-known film, kicked off the comprehensive retrospective of his films, and the wide variety of other media he produced over 60 years, which is underway at the MIT List Center for the Visual Arts and the Harvard Film Archive. Introductory receptions and talks were held on Thursday, Oct. 17 at both institutions.

Chris Marker (1921-2012) has been an important voice and visual artist from the political left throughout the second half of the 20th century. As a journalist, essayist, and innovative filmmaker who was a precursor of the French New Wave, Marker reported and commented on the major conflicts of the era, and developed new forms of presentation, including digital ones.

The List Center’s curator, João Ribas, introduced the exhibit at the informal reception that was held in the Carpenter Center at Harvard and was followed by a film with introductory remarks by David Pendleton, the Archive Programmer.

La Jetée is a challenging and powerful science fiction film that broke new ground in film style, using many close-up stills and music and voiceover narration with a text about contemplating the memory of the present from a dystopian, post-nuclear-war future. The protagonist is the subject of a study about the effects of time travel, and the film focuses on his memories at Orly Airport. While today the film is known for its innovative filmmaking by an extremely creative and inventive filmmaker, at the time it was surely read as an anti-war film, as it was made at around the time of the end of the highly contentious Algerian War, by a member of the Left Bank Cinema group, which always concerned itself with political and anti-war issues.

Some 40 of Marker’s films will be shown in this retrospective, along with numerous photos, prints, and installations at MIT and Harvard. Some that were already shown include Statues Also Die, a long-banned film about the loss of African art to French colonialism, the very diverse and amusing Letter from Siberia (1957), an innovative documentary that includes travelogue, animation, stills, and commentary, as well as an early view of China in Sunday in Peking.

Others that are still to be shown include Description of a Struggle (1960), a positive view of Israel, which was long withdrawn after the ’67 war, Class of Struggle (1969), a radical response to another portrait of a factory strike including multiple views and cameras used by workers, and The Last Bolshevik (1993), a tribute to Soviet filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin and a humorous fantasy about collective farming. Last but not least, his famous Sans Soleil (1982) will be shown on Dec. 7. It is a montage film essay on the Vietnam War, with sensitivity to the French responsibility for its groundwork during its long prior occupation and war.

This year’s Annual Max Wasserman Forum on Contemporary Art will focus on the life and works of Chris Marker, and will be held on Saturday, Nov. 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Bartos Theatre, Building E15. The Forum is free and open to the public, and advance online registration is strongly suggested. See for the full schedule.