Thursday, May 11, 2017

Letter from Siberia {American-Language Version}

A Place on the Earth

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)


Chris Marker (Господин Маркер) was interesting to me because he self-fed genuine and insatiable interest re: planets' civilizations, cultures, societies. — Could I keep up such enthusiasm from day to day? It would always be difficult... and these days, 2017!... The suitability of self-extinction regards the face of mediated terror, repression, and — resultant guilt... — I might piss a spider-line of faith to social governments in better moods... Yet they are metonymies of indifferent ecocide and of petty self-interest, they double-dog-down my typical temperament to the level of red-state farmers (au contraire to Rohmer's Fermière de Montfaucon), my parents, and all those who sow 'good' poison wisdom.

Never take Marker for an optimist. (If you can believe it, never take me for a pessimist.) There's no surprise that the opening shots in Lettre de Sibérie [Letter from Siberia, 1957] will be landscapes. And I recognize it's very easy to get upset with the exploratory mode 'striking off.' Yet Marker begins the narration and his consideration post-haste — does a quick switch to contemplate the Tyga: "I'm writing you this letter from the edge of the world..."

For Marker, Siberia is the earth and the sky. The Eastmancolor does what it can to reproduce the blue of the latter — but it was really made for the tan of the pastures. After all, Siberia is something of a byword for 'Geography' itself: it's always spoken of in terms of "it could contain the United States" or "it sports the longest railway in the world." Marker puts it better: "A rationalistic aspect of Siberia is that a hiker walking in a straight line is always sure to get lost in the forest. If he walks north long enough, his reward will be 2,250,000 square miles of tundra and ice-floe that will have to be transformed and studied."

Implicitly, explicitly, no easy categorization for this monster-mass Siberia on our planet can be told. Marker in Letter from Siberia — his letter mind you — allows the escalation of the fortitude of thought to jump from the "epistolary" which was always just a feint past the framing "film"-form itself! — Letter from Siberia is films within films! Animated films about the woolly mammoths, with voice-over written by Marker in terrible (he knew it) English pentameter! — the peril of the rhinoceroses!

He can't help himself but cut to (mechanical) cranes, the good materialist... He can't help himself but cut from the frames to the predicament of the native black fox!

Reindeer as an alternative to vehicles! The preciousness of Chris Marker is the eradication of the line between the ironic observation and the critique. He always grants us, the spectators, the respect of being equal to the intelligence or to the innate-quotient of the animals...

You've got to see the owl-interludes. No Tootsie-Pop, but...'s hard to gauge how much the Siberians loved Yves Montand. This is not, after all, a documentary film, let the permits read what they will. Four impressions of the Irkutsk foundation-laying with the drag-beam — the patriot, the critical, the objective poet...

"The season of dying water is winter..."

Letter from Siberia is Marker's newsreel — even though the black-and-white segments are false. When he goes back to color: "We might realize what a victory even the simplest achievements represent: houses protected from the cold; schools; libraries; and all the other things which they point out to us so proudly, we can't help smiling. And yet our irony may be more naïve than their enthusiasm."

Images of both the blank fields and the construction of the houses recall the method of Resnais's Night and Fog — and, adding the "I Hate Elvis" and "Mishka" scenes, of live-action Disney television. Ten or fifteen minutes after, sure enough, the narrator remarks of Aldan, the Camp Invisible prospectors' settlement: "You're in frontier-America."

Unabashedly I admire the gaiety of Marker's investigations — cf. Siberia's gold rush, "on those same steamers with the tall smokestacks that would one day bring Charlie Chaplin home a millionaire."

(Sidenote of personal local interest: "The American 49ers were already exploring Arizona...")

As in Marker's previous Sunday in Peking a local theater performance cadenzas the final section of the film. From opera to Sputnik: "Switching from sleds to rockets is the Siberian way of keeping abreast with the times."


Other writings on Chris Marker at Cinemasparagus:

Sunday in Peking [1956]

Leila Attacks [2007]
(posted in 2007, and including a note in the Comments from Chris Marker himself)