Enigmatic French filmmaker Chris Marker died at age 91 at home in Paris this past Sunday, the same day as his 91st birthday. Often considered on par with Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais and as a master of the avant-garde, Marker is responsible for La Jetee, a pioneering science fiction film considered by some to be the greatest achievement in the genre to date.
Over the length of his six-decade career, Marker produced over two dozen films including the documentaries A Grin without A Cat (1977) and Chats Perchés (2004). Known for creating his films in the style of essays, Marker uses A Grin without A Cat to interview important French leaders of the time to shine a light on the political upheaval permeating the world in the 1960s and 70s. His later non-fiction work Chats Perchés looks at M. Chat, the graffiti cat that started appearing around France in the late 1990s. He is also responsible for co-creating Far from Vietnam (1967) with his contemporaries Godard and Resnais, which express their strong views against American involvement in the Vietnam War.
After the announcement of his death, Los Angeles Times speculated about Marker’s early life:
Little is known about Marker's life, which apparently was just as the filmmaker, who called himself "the best-known author of unknown movies," wanted it.
Most biographies say he was born Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve in Neuilly sur Seine, France, on July 29, 1921, and studied philosophy with Jean-Paul Sartre in the late 1930s. It may be apocryphal, but some sources say his affection for the Magic Marker felt-tipped pen inspired him to change his last name.
Doubts also surrounded his birthplace. Marker told film historian Thomson during a meeting in Berkeley in the 1980s that Thomson's "Biographical Dictionary of Film" was in error and that he actually was born in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
Few images of Chris Marker exist, as noted by The Guardian: "Throughout his career, Marker, who was notoriously secretive about his private life, was rarely interviewed or photographed, often responding to requests for his photograph with a picture of a cat – his favourite animal."
Read our review of a DVD reissue of A Grin without a Cat from our Summer 2009 online issue.