Sunday, January 24, 2010


A final association. It seems like a joke, but it is not: Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, two old pals of the pre-Nouvelle Vague Left Bank group of filmmakers, are today great fans of certain very slick American TV shows. Where Resnais' taste runs to Millennium (1996-9) and The X Files (1993-2002), Marker goes for the likes of The Practice (1997-2004), Deadwood (2004-6), Firefly (2002-3) and The Wire (2002-8). The maker of La Jetée and Level Five (1997) sets us straight:

I feed my hunger for fiction with what is by far the most accomplished source: those great American TV series... There is a knowledge in them, a sense of story and economy, of ellipsis, a science of framing and of cutting, a dramaturgy, and an acting style that has no equal anywhere, and certainly not in Hollywood. (2003: 37)

Two men in their eighties, watching their favourite series on DVD sets and computer monitors, in their separate homes, just as once they watched certain Hollywood musicals (An American in Paris is remembered) together in London, during their collaboration on Statues Also Die (1952). In Resnais‟ lovely 1956 essay-doco about the Bibliothèque Nationale, All The Memory of the World (which contains the immortal credit to "Chris and Magic Marker", no doubt for the use of his "Petite Planète" travel guide to Mars!), there is a moment which is in fact pure musical, pure Kelly/Donen/Clair/Lubitsch: three workmen deliver the day's journals to the library, marching in synchronised steps... But what is there in these modern American fictions of gruesome death and forensic detection, alien invasion and paranoid conspiracy, that attracts our two Eternal Modernists?

The American television program that makes me flash onto Marker the most is Crossing Jordan (2001-7), about the investigative work of autopsy experts in a city morgue. Like many shows of its ilk – about profilers, vice cops, psychic detectives – Crossing Jordan often builds to grand dramatic recreations of crime or murder scenes that are in fact more like visionary projections: our inquiring heroes suddenly walk around inside images of the imagined past, sometimes magically animating still photos, computer schematics or police sketches in order to do so. This is interesting enough already as a cultural phantasm, but Crossing Jordan, in particular, brings this taste for revivification, this remembrance of things past or "time re-edited" (as The Case of the Grinning Cat puts it) to an especially urgent and poignant point. So many of its plotlines, large or small, are precisely about reconstructing, in a flash, the life-stories of largely anonymous people: children, the homeless, loners, ordinary folks either below the radar or entirely off the map of society's record of itself. And the flash that matters most, the pivotal moment for Crossing Jordan, is the exact moment of death: how someone fell, was hit or shot, how long their body has been left to decompose; and what history can be read once the body is scanned for its surface marks and then opened up to its archaeological and geological levels of trace-experiences...

(Adrian Martin, "Crossing Chris: Some Markerian Affinities," available here & already cemented onto anyone's list for film-related essay of the year)


Adrian said...

Thanks, Zach ! BRING ON THE CEMENT !!

Clenbuterol said...

There is some interesting elements in American series.