Saturday, July 06, 2013

Dimanche à Pekin / Sunday in Peking (2013 Argos / Éclair restoration)

FR 1956. D+SC+DP: Chris Marker - Eastmancolor. ED: Francine Grubert. M: Pierre Barbaud. S: Studios Marignan. Conseil sinologique: Agnès Varda. C: Guilles Quéant (narratore). P: Madeleine Casanova-Rodriguez per Pavox Films, Argos Films. 2K DCP. 18'. Col. Da: Argos Films. Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), earphone commentary in Italian and English, 6 July 2013.

Restored by Éclair laboratories from a 16 mm Kodachrome negative and L.E. Diapason (for the sound).

André Bazin: "I think Chris Marker must have taken into consideration the inherent difficulties involved in trying to get a film distributed that only lasts just over twenty minutes. In any case, he certainly knew how to transform a necessity into a style, so much so that our own sorrow gives way to reflection. The subject matter is so vast that a documentary on it could only be either extremely long or extremely short. As it is, Dimanche à Pékin does not leave us dissatisfied, but intrigued. Like Les Statues meurent aussi, a film Chris Marker made together with his friend, Alain Resnais […], Dimanche à Pékin seems to reflect a new concept of documentary filmmaking. The term ‘documentary’ is too banal to describe this kind of film. We use it here for convenience sake to refer to the origin of the images […] The report Chris Marker brings us from China is at once a body of information, an expression of poetry and a critique. What truly distinguishes this film from predecessors produced with the same intent is the means by which it was made. Dimanche à Pékin is without a doubt a montage film, but Chris Marker imbues this generic term with radically new meaning. In a traditional sense, montage is based on what supports the images and the meaning expressed by their sequence. Whatever the function of montage editing, its power comes from the images chosen and the rhythm with which they are shown. It is in a way adding another dimension to the flatness of the screen. If it is further able to evoke feelings and ideas, it is by induction, like electro-magnetically induced current. In Chris Marker’s films, the montage process relies on three elements: the images, the relationship between the images and their relationship to the commentary, conceived as an explanation of the images and as a constitutional element of the film, which could not be defined without reference to these three components. We could also say that Dimanche à Pékin is essentially as much a literary piece of work as it is a cinematic one, although both of these assertions may also be false. We certainly have heard other brilliant, profound and poetic comments […] but none have been so dialectically linked to the images. Displayed frozen in an album, the images offered here are often very beautiful, and other times extremely banal, but the text rubs against them like the steel wheel of a lighter on the flint, producing sparks." André Bazin, ‘Sur les routes de l’URSS’ et ‘Dimanche à Pékin’, “France-Observateur”, June 27, 1957

Chris Marker's true birth as an essayist poet of the cinema. Olympia 52 was a well-made mainstream documentary. Les Statues meurent aussi was a personal masterpiece co-directed by Alain Resnais and Marker. Dimanche à Pekin is Marker's first solo tour-de-force.

Dimanche à Pekin is a colour-driven film. The bright and fabulous colours are usually in the warm register, with a lot of red, of course. "Couleurs partout".

Much of the imagery is not so different from travelogue. The images include - cycling in the fog - morning exercises with a sword - a steamroller - the alleys of Peking - trams - vegetable carts - construction sites everywhere - schoolchildren - une petite fille modèle - acrobatics - dances - rikshas - ancient frescoes - legends of ancient China - the marionette theatre - the dragon - parades - Mao saluting a big parade - goldfish -the zoo - a bear - glimpses of life. Not forgetting cat imagery, appearing already in the opening credits.

In Marker's hands all this does suffer a sea-change into something rich and strange.

The visual quality: the colour is bright and beautiful, but perhaps the mastering has not been conducted in full definition, perhaps dvd quality has been targeted?

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