Statues Also Die (1953)
Directed by Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Ghislain Cloquet
Sunday, August 26, at Light Industry, part of "For Chris Marker"
“An object dies when the living glance upon it disappears.” The great French artist Chris Marker, who will receive a daylong tribute at Light Industry after dying last month at age 91, wrote these words early in his career for the voiceover of the short film Statues Also Die, giving a taste of themes he’d follow over the next several decades. Whether sending a Letter from Siberia (1957) or a series of missives to be read by a female perhaps-companion in Sans Soleil (“He wrote me,” her voice rings throughout), his playful, mysterious “I” characters struggled to figure out their own thoughts by exploring themselves in foreign lands. They searched to hold onto what they had learned and thought that they already knew, because as long as they were thinking, articulating, reflecting, and self-challenging, perhaps, they’d stay alive in mind.
At the very least, they wouldn’t be statues. “When people die, they enter history. When statues die, they enter art,” we hear at the outset of this film. “The botany of death is what we call culture.” This specific botany is Paris’s Musée de L’Homme, where a number of African statues stand on display. We see them up close, and while studying dark wooden chins and noses we hear that, robbed from their culture, these works have also been robbed of context. Two carved figures link arms, and in so doing support a table. “We realize that by its turning the world of rigor composes the world of beauty.” Seeing them only as works of art, or as historical objects, denies them their usefulness as both. It also denies the full creativity of their makers.
“The museum is where we send black things.” But whether it’s a museum or a basketball court or a football field, the film shows, the modern theme is always the same—black labor entertaining whites. This film was censored in France for over a decade, largely because it addresses a great evil of colonialism: the present can kill not just individuals, but also histories and traditions.