Genius (Gregory Markopoulos, 1970)
The film I watched most of all during the year was Chris Marker’s last one, KINO. This wasn’t hard to do: the short history of cinema with Méliès, Griffith, Welles, and Godard each searching for “the perfect viewer” is less than two minutes long. The film opens with the image of an empty movie theater and ends with the famous shot of Bin Laden, the one that appeared in the press after his death. It shows him sitting on a dirty floor, immersed into the news coverage of himself and the speeches of Obama, the man who would later become his killer. In Marker’s versio n, Bin Laden is fascinated by Tom and Jerry cartoons. And there are no other viewers left – or no perfect viewers at least.
A few days before the world premiere of KINO, in the summer, Marker died. It happened on the day of his ninety-first birthday. July 29, 1921 – July 29, 2012: there is a sort of a mesmerizing symmetry in these numbers. Presumably the last photo of him was taken at a rally: the lean, bald director wearing basketball shoes is squatting to get a better angle of a man with a flyer that says, in capital letters: «L’EGALITE».
As I was trying to find other photographs of Marker, I accidentally came across an entry on the cinephile website, MUBI, made by some big fan of the director. Marker was always the most contemporary artist. Back in the 1990’s, he gave up film and got into photography, video and all sorts of web applications. Instead of films, he made multi-media projects on CD-ROMs. In his last years, he was a dedicated user of Second Life – an online virtual world that allows you not only to pick an avatar and talk to other people, but also to create your own environments. The MUBI user joined Second Life and went to Marker’s virtual house to pay him tribute. According to him, there are no more than one or two visitors at a time in that strange and lonely place. Empty houses, be they real or virtual, are rather similar to each other: they turn into memorial museums where the items once laid out casually by the owner remain only to safeguard the memories of the order that has been. There is a shot from La Jetée on the wall; a sketch of a poster for an imaginary film, A bout de souffle, and in the corner sits Marker’s beloved red cat, the symbol of the last years of his life.
Five months have passed since these pictures were taken, and the house might have already been demolished. Square footage rarely remains unoccupied, even in virtual reality. Cinema turns everything into poetry: there are two images that have been haunting me the whole year, - Paris breaking down into pixels in Holy Motors, and the exploding sky over New York in the fifth Resident Evil, turning into a glass dome just before crashing down. Everything is simpler in real life: Chris Marker’s house will be deleted automatically due to unpaid account.
Fernando Lopes, Tony Scott, Marcel Hanoun, Eduardo de Gregorio, Koji Wakamatsu, Paulo Rocha.
This picture was taken at the Rotterdam film festival. Its program included the beautiful «Boca do Lixo» retrospective, called after the working class neighborhood of São Paolo which in the 1960s gave birth to a cinema of its own. The nouvelle-vaguesque Lilian M.: Relatório confidencial by Carlos Reichenbach became one of the festival’s peaks. I believe however that Reichenbach had very few opportunities to present his work in front of an audience, and he was already too ill to make it to Rotterdam. Gabe Klinger, the retrospective’s curator, wanted to make a collective photo of those present at the screening in order to cheer the director up. We are all smiling and waving at him. Did Reichenbach have the time to examine the photo, I wonder? Has he notice anyone of us? The picture is quite weird: red eye reduction made us all look like a crowd of comic stripe characters or rather like the sleeping viewers out of Holy Motors prologue...
In 2012, film dies out completely. Out of inertia, film festivals still retain “film” as part of their name, even though they have abruptly – and, by now, definitely – become file festivals. During his introductory speech before the projection of James Benning’s Easy Rider, the director of The Austrian Film Museum looks visibly uncomfortable; he apologizes to the viewers, saying that he isn’t yet used to screening films without actually screening from film in these walls. On the first day of the Cannes Film Festival, regulars are indignant as they share the news: out of the entire list of movies to be shown during the festival, only one will be screened from a film print. In Venice, things are marginally better: they will have two film print projections. It’s a new and frightening feeling, watching every film as if it were the last one. Miss a screening, and you might never get another chance. Like in the dreamy L'Apollonide by Bertrand Bonello, where girls spend the entire film with bottles of champagne; they run their fingers along the rims of their glasses, failing to see that crystal has long ago been replaced by glass, and there’s almost no champagne left.
Dead cinemas. In his lecture, Kubelka, a celluloid fundamentalist, tells the story of film theater workers who are forced to destroy analog equipment: they are provided digital projectors in exchange for the photographs of broken gear. In Pol Pot’s Cambodia, movie houses were wrecked with hand grenades (see Le Sommeil d'Or by Davy Chou)… I can’t forget Ghosts in the Darkness, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s magical essay about the film theaters of his childhood; they no longer exist. The characters of Fritz Lang’s magnificent film, American Guerrilla in the Philippines, take the generator out of the last working cinema – way back in World War II. The best experimental film of the year, The Great Cinema Party by Raya Martin, was made in the Philippines; the director organized a dinner party for his friends in a wooden villa near Manila. The house used to be a popular filming location; guests flip through albums containing old photos of famous Filipino movie stars; many of the films have since been lost. Among the dinner guests, I spot more than a few new friends – as I travel from one festival to another, I actually see them more frequently than my friends in Moscow. On the screen, Lav Diaz pronounces: «We heartily welcome you to our party. André Bazin and Andrei Tarkovsky will be there».
The cinemas that are still alive. The most brilliant of them: an open movie theater in Greece, close to Arcadia, next to the small mountain village of ΛΥΣΣΑΡΕΑ. The father of experimental film classic Gregory Markopoulos was born there; in the 1980s, Markopoulos found the place and screened his films here in the open field together with his companion, Robert Beavers. Before he died, Markopoulos spent ten years laboring over his monumental ENIAIOS – a complete reedited compilation of his works from 1948 to 1990. He managed to finish it, splitting it into 22 cycles, yet never got to see his 80-hour magnum opus projected – it wasn’t printed on film until after his death. Since then, Beavers has been involved in an expensive and difficult process of restoring and printing ENIAIOS; in 2004, he managed to hold the first set of screenings at the Arcadian site. In 2012, the third set followed, comprised of chapters six, seven and eight. Since developing three chapters takes roughly four years each time, no one dares to predict how many more years the completion of the project will take. In my life, I’ve seen very few people like Beavers, dedicated completely to his mission, to the work of his life. The graceful Robert softly yet firmly instructs the viewers before the screening: no talking, no phone calls, no glowing screens.
Vienna. A huge eye from the outer space attacks a Swiss mountain resort. An invasion of giant humanoid mushrooms. A blue flying saucer races towards the Earth with the Thing on board. The hills have eyes. All of this and more in a special horror program taglined They wanted to see something different, but something different saw them first! curated by Jörg Buttgereit.
The brilliant Fantastic Voyage by Richard Fleischer left one of the greatest impressions of the whole year. It starts with introduction: «This film will take you where no one has ever been before; no eye witness has actually seen what you are about to see. But in this world of ours where going to the moon will soon be upon us and where the most incredible things are happening all around us, someday, perhaps tomorrow, the fantastic events you are about to see can and will take place». This is a true manifesto of cinema. If only the directors of today followed this manifesto instead of Dogma 95, the world could have been a much better place.
M. HENRI: Put on your coat, the night is chilly. Leave the city by the road that lies before you. When the houses thin out, you'll reach a little rise, near a small olive grove. That's it.
ORPHEUS: That's what?
M. HENRI: The place for your appointment with death. At nine. It's nearly time, don't keep it waiting.
Vous n'avez encore rien vu by Alain Resnais. Paris once again, for a last time (and without pixels). A hazy olive grove.
Jorge was a baker. He lived in a small Portuguese village that I never knew existed; this summer, he died at the age of 28. I knew him by his nickname, fitz. Like most of my friends, I was convinced he lived in New York or some other such place, worked for Jonas Mekas and wrote for important academic magazines. He was a principal member of Karagarga, a private torrent club for the exchange of rare films. fitz shared his collection of experimental and avant-garde cinema: most of the of 189 films that he made available to other members had never been published either on DVD or on tape. For example, it was he who once managed to find, through other collectors, 8 × 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements by Hans Richter and Jean Cocteau – a surrealist fairytale featuring Paul Bowles, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy. It was his copy that had later spread across the Internet, appearing recently on YouTube.
Only after Jorge was gone, I found out that he had spent his days doing noble manual work, watching films at night in his improvised home theater. He collected pictures that were almost impossible to obtain – some copies were only available on 8 mm film – and corresponded with young experimental filmmakers from all over the world who sent him their works. He confessed once that he had not a single friend in real life who shared his interests. How can you hope to find film lovers in the middle of nowhere, when even in Moscow no one anymore remembers the Museum of Cinema, which had been forced, long ago, to vacate its premises?
The cinema he loved so passionately is considered a privileged, elitist form of art meant solely for intellectuals. Tactfully, Jorge explained to us that a film doesn’t have to have a message. As an example, he pointed to his favorite avant-garde picture: «What meaning? It's a garden. I love gardens and I love watching gardens. I think they're beautiful» I’ve written several hundred thousand words this year, yet I’m not sure I was even half as persuasive.
Unlike the sadly gone Ebert, fitz will never have a film made about his life. Marker was slightly wrong in his definition of a perfect viewer: if he ever existed, his name was Jorge, and he was a bread baker.
Boris Nelepo, a film critic and programmer based in Moscow, is editor-in-chief of Kinote online film journal and contributing editor to the film magazine Séance. He has also published in Cinema Scope, MUBI, and Museum of the Moving Image, and is the Russian film consultant for the Locarno Film Festival.