The Times, The Chronicle, The Witness, And The Observer Essay Sample
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Chris Marker’s “Sans Soleil” as an Essay Film
In the recent past, essay films have come to be widely recognized as one category in the world of film practice, with their own history, as well as canons. Essay films have gained a description as being the most elastic of all film types. Indeed, there has been a proliferation of films of this type since the term was first identified. Whereas many scholars agree that it is almost impossibly difficult to give a definition for essay films, they do agree that these films have certain characteristics in common (Rascaroli 24-47). Scholars are divided on whether essay films are worthy of being called a genre. The main opposition to their classification as this arises from the fact that these films are seen to break all the established rules of film construction. Chris Marker’s “Sans Soleil” (Marker and Stewart n.p) is the film that has come to be most closely identified with this type of films. This essay looks at how this film exemplifies the word essay film.
Perhaps one of the most iconic films to be produced yet, Sans Soleil is a French film, shot in 1983 that meditates on the human memory and the nature of this memory (Marker and Stewart n.p). Specifically, it focuses on how the failure of the memory to recall both the finer details and the context, and how this affects the view or perception of both the individual history and that of the world. The film is made up of thoughts and images plus also scenes from majorly Japan and Guinea-Bissau. It uses a series of letters, written by an imaginary cinematographer to tell the story of globalization (Marker and Stewart n.p). This film has been described in various ways; some referring to it as a documentary and others as a travelogue. However, the description that best applies to it is as an essay film.
One of the primary characteristics of an essay film is that it is usually a short documentary subject (Corrigan 58). This is exemplified by Sans Soleil, which has a running time of just 100 minutes (Marker and Stewart). The film also covers a topic, and in this case, it tells a story about the human memory, making use of some stock footage, as well as excerpts obtained from other films and some clips obtained from various TV shows in Japan (Marker and Stewart n.p). The film fuses fiction with reality in order to tell this story. Instead of following a certain fixed plot, the film instead demonstrates a certain theme, while showing its evolution.
Another characteristic of essay films is that a personal voice or vision permeates the film. This personal voice is that of the filmmaker, and it serves to give the story that personal touch (Corrigan 58). However, despite this personal touch, the film is not essentially an autobiography. Rather, this can best be described as some sort of self-portrait since it allows us to see the filmmaker’s perspective (Corrigan 58). That is, his personal touch is evident throughout the film, although it is not essentially all about him. This personal voice often appears in the form of voiceovers, and this is evident in Sans Soleil where Marker’s personal imprint is left throughout the film (Marker and Stewart n.p).
The third key characteristic of an essay film is that it fuses fiction with reality (Corrigan 58). This is then brought out well through the voice of a narrator. However, this inclusion of some fictional content should not lead to the misclassification of the film as a ‘mockumentary’ or in full, a mock documentary. Whereas it is not a documentary, which tells a true story, it is also not a fictional account. Instead, it uses a narrative style to fuse the two together.
The application of this aspect is rather obvious in Sans Soleil, beginning at the start, with the use of a fictional character, the photographer, Sandor Krasna (Marker and Stewart n.p). Through the letters of this photographer, we are able to relate to his story quite easily. The fictional content used in the film is obtained from the juxtaposition of image, with narrative. The fictional content serves to give some meaning to the film.
Another key characteristic of the essay films is that they are reflective and provoke thought (Corrigan 58). Essay films aim to serve as inquiries or testing and questioning of a certain reality. They also aim to test or question the subjective. The essay films do this by adopting a tone, which can be described as searching.
In doing this, essay films oscillate between fiction and non-fiction, or documentaries while never truly appearing to fit perfectly in. Instead, the films are always on the border of these two genres. This characteristic is quite clearly evidenced by Marker in his film. Sans Soleil uses the juxtaposition of cuts taken from different places, ranging from Japan to Iceland, to make a sort of inquiry into the globalization (Marker and Stewart n.p). Marker flits between a documentary style and an element of fiction.
Hence, it is quite clear that whereas essay films are yet to be fully accepted by all as a genre by themselves, they quite clearly exhibit some distinctive characteristics. These characteristics are well evidenced by the film Sans Soleil (Marker and Stewart n.p). Hence, essay film is an apt classification of this work. Through this clever interchange of fiction and documentary styles, coupled with a narration, the film writer is able to build the inquisitive attitude that is a hallmark of these types of film.
The Gleaners and I
The Gleaners and I is a documentary shot by a French woman, Agnes Varda, in the year 2000. The film tells the story of different types of gleaning by tracking gleaners both in urban areas and in the villages as they search for food (Callenbach 46-49).
The film captures various aspects of gleaning and highlights different types of gleaners. Gleaning in the film is not limited to food, as is illustrated by Varda when she shows the gleaning of artists.
Varda demonstrates that there are different motivations for gleaning, and whereas the main one is survival, it is not necessarily the only one. This she illustrates through the story of Alain, the French teacher, and a masters degree holder who gleans even though he can afford not to (Litnanski and Wertheimer).
Through this film, Varda covers a variety of themes, cleverly interweaving them. This essay looks at the various themes brought out in this film, and how Varda links them together. It also looks at the role of technology as brought out in the film.
One of the themes brought out in The Gleaners and I is the theme of social and political justice (Callenbach 46-49). Varda’s film has been described as a political film, and this is evident in her clever use of various shots to perpetuate this theme.
Social justice is clearly elucidated by Varda when she talks of how it is illegal for the gleaners to access the farms and the dustbins to forage for leftovers. Varda, through the narration of the story about the two boys who are prosecuted for foraging in a dustbin, is showing us how socially unfair the French society is. Through the shots of the dead birds after an oil spill, Varda brings out the political side of things and questions whether this is wrong.
The story becomes a personal one since even she personally shows how she is a gleaner and hence, this is why the film is also an essay film (Callenbach 46-49). The theme of social justice is also evident where Varda shows that food is being thrown out as leftovers while others are starving. Varda captures these two groups to show how socially unfair it is to deny the impoverished gleaners access to this.
She also brings in the element of political justice by speaking to the lawyers and judges who tell her about the ancient, as well as the existing laws governing gleaning. She does this to question the rationality of the laws and show how socio-politically unjust they are.
Another theme covered in the film is that of inequality (Callenbach 46-49). Varda brings out this theme through highlighting the two distinct groups that exist in the society. On one hand, there is the rich and wealthy urbanites who are throwing away leftovers. This group is also shown in the countryside, where the landowners represent it. These rich people have everything in abundance. On the other hand, we have the group known as the gleaners.
Gleaners are cast as a group of the downtrodden, poor and even cast away by society like the gypsies (Litnanski and Wertheimer n.p). This group barely ekes out a living, and they struggle even to find enough to eat. Through gleaning, whether for wheat in the farms after harvest or for leftovers in the dustbins, these people find something to eat.
Through the use of juxtaposition of the two groups, Varda manages to show the inequality existent in the French society. There is a gulf between the two groups, where one has more than they could ever need while the other has almost nothing.
Varda manages to link these two themes by using the two groups. The haves and the have-nots.
While the gleaners are poor and cannot afford meals, the other group, the rich can afford anything they want. Not content with being richer than the poor and having dominance over them, the rich still harass the poor. This they do using punitive laws for people who trespass on their property to look for food. Hence, Varda uses the gleaners and the rich to show how the inequality leads to social injustice. This establishes a link between the two themes.
Another theme in this film is hope (Callenbach 46-49). This theme is brought out using the gleaners. The gleaners have hope for a better future despite their current situation. Despite the fact that they feed on leftovers, they are not sad. Instead, these people are optimistic and can even afford to make fun. For instance, where the gleaners in the urban center are laughing at how the wealthy panic and throw out food just because it is close to the expiry date (Litnanski and Wertheimer). The theme of hope also comes out in the portrayal of the other kind of gleaners who are the artists who get their raw materials from the trash bins. These artists bring out hope in the way they sift through the trash, all the while optimistic that they will find something valuable.
Yet another theme that presents itself is that of culture (Callenbach 46-49). This theme is well exemplified by the gleaners. Gleaning is shown to be a part of the French culture since time immemorial. Varda shows the evolution of this culture with time. From the part when gleaning was only agricultural and limited to the farms, to the present day, when gleaning is urbanized. The key point is that gleaning has an ancient history and has never ceased to exist. It continues to prevail to the modern day and is entrenched in the fabric of French society.
Technology is utilized in the film for various effects. One of the roles of technology is that it is used as a receptacle. Varda uses her digital camera in order to record the different types of gleaners and their reasons for gleaning. This camera captures it all and centralizes all the different shots into one place. The other role of technology is that it helps to create a bond between the gleaner and Varda. The digital camera is the medium Varda uses to show that she, just like the subjects of her film, is a gleaner too. This she does by capturing herself gleaning in various settings such as when she drops the wheat she had gleaned and grabs the camera (Litnanski and Wertheimer). Another example is recording her own hands and the mold on her ceiling. This helps to establish herself as a gleaner too.
How 3-D imaging technology influences our conception of sensuality in Pina
Pina is a film about a German dance choreographer known as Pina Bausch, who specialized in contemporary dance (Bausch n.p). The film exhibits some of the most recognizable pieces from a style of Dance Theater known as Tanztheater for which Bausch was widely known (Bausch). The film makes use of extracts obtained from four of her pieces. These are then boosted using interviews and other choreographies shot later
. The film is a tribute to Bausch, who died suddenly during shooting of the film (Bausch n.p). The film was quite revolutionary, in regard to the fact that it was shot using 3-D imaging technology, which resulted in a stunningly excellent film. This essay looks at the influence of 3-D imaging on our perception of sensuality in this film, as well as the effects it produced.
The use of digital technology permits the absolute control of the image, throughout the full production procedure of the film. This encompasses the filming itself, the postproduction phase, and the film’s screening. The boom in use of 3D technology is the culmination of the adoption of digital technology in place of the analog technology that was previously used in 3D production (Garnier n.p).
In Pina, the digital cameras used acted in synchrony through the use of mirror rigs. This resulted in a completely stable image that influenced the perception (Garnier n.p). A telescopic crane had been set up in the audience, and this was operated through a complex and advanced system. In 3D shooting, two cameras are used, and a mirror is installed in the middle of the cameras (Garnier n.p).
This is what was used in Pina. This created a new dimension, depth, which influenced the perception since it made viewers feel as if they were actually part of the movie. It increased the sensuality as a viewer feels as if they can reach out and actually catch hold of the actors. In short, 3D Imaging influences perception by recreating a lifelike experience. Due to the camera always being active, it delves in and reaches all the spatial depths. This pulls the viewer nearer to fresh horizons, and this has the effect of mobilizing the viewer’s body (Berthoz 105).
3D imaging produces various effects that differ in a great way from the traditional viewing experience under 2D imaging. 3D imaging also goes by the name stereoscopics (Garnier n.p).
Although 3D imaging has been around for quite a while, it was not really used a lot because of the great amount of resources that were necessary in the acquisition of equipment for shooting the movies. However, the use of digital technology has helped in this largely. This has led to the renewed surge in interest in production of 3D films.
3D films work by creating an illusion of depth in the films. However, an illusion of depth is created using stereoscopy. Stereoscopy works through the presentation of different images to the eyes. The difference between these images is slight. These images are usually in 2D form. The brain them combines the two images in order to create a perception that there is depth. This creation of an illusion of depth represents the addition of a cue not usually present in 2D imaging, known as stereopsis (Berthoz n.p). This all normally creates two major effects for the brain. The first of these is action, combined with quest, plus pursuit (Garnier n.p). Due to the activity of the camera, which explores the complete depth of the space, the viewer‘s body is mobilized due to the drawing towards the horizons that are freshly developed.
The second effect that comes about on the human body is the face-to-face element (Garnier n.p). This comes about when the shape is projected closer to the viewer who is then able to see it to within arm’s length. The body of the actor is then made present and close enough so that it appears even more sensual. The viewer even feels like he or she has the ability to touch the image. This I related to the stereoscopic vision that includes us in our relation to others, that is, the perception of form in our senses (Garnier n.p).
Hence, it is evident that the film Pina was a massive success because of the sensations that it managed to evoke in viewers. The viewers were able to view the dancers in 3D which gave the dancing a realness that was almost ethereal in nature. The motion was made to appear so lifelike that the viewer felt almost as if he or she was a part of the film. This was only possible thanks to the adoption of the 3D technology and its stereoscopic viewing technique.
Berthoz, Alain. The Brain's Sense of Movement. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Callenbach, Ernest. "The Gleaners and I (Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse)." Film Quarterly (2002): 46-49.
Corrigan, Timothy . Film and Literature: An Introduction and Reader. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1999.
Garnier, François. "A place for low-budget art-house Stereo 3D cinema?" n.d. Cross Channel Film Lab. 26 March 2015 <http://crosschannelfilmlab.com/is-there-a-place-for-low-budget-art-house-cinema/>.
Pina. Dir. Wim Wenders. Perf. Pina Bausch. 2011.
Rascaroli, Laura. "The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments." Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 49 .2 (2008): 24-47.
Sans Soleil. Dir. Chris Marker. Perf. Chris Marker and Alexandra Stewart . 1983.
The Gleaners and I. Dir. Agnès Varda. Perf. Bodan Litnanski and François Wertheimer. 2000.
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