This collaborative film, banned for more than a decade by French censors as an attack on French colonialism (and now available only in shortened form), is a deeply felt study of African art and the decline it underwent as a result of its contact with Western civilization. Marker’s characteristically witty and thoughtful commentary is combined with images of a stark formal beauty in this passionate outcry against the fate of an art that was once integral to communal life but became debased as it fell victim to the demands of another culture.
After World War II, Marker traveled across the world as a journalist and still photographer and as editor of a series of French travel books that combined personal impressions with facts—a style that would come to inform his own highly personal film essays. This was his first solo film (after collaborating with Resnais again, as assistant director on Night and Fog) and must be one of the first accounts by a western filmmaker of Mao’s China. The film gives us plenty of Beijing city life and glimpses of a China unknown in the West, all set to a witty voiceover commentary that delights in the oddities and contradictions of Chinese society.
The peripatetic and famously elusive Marker created this film essay, his first account of Tokyo, during the Olympic games, acting as usual in the triple role of cameraman, scenarist, and editor. The tour of Tokyo is conducted by Koumiko Muraoka, a young Japanese woman the director claims to have discovered in the crowds at the games. Mixing elements of the city symphony—street scenes, neon signs, crowds, the monorail—with fragments of comic books and other cultural materials, Marker creates a rich portrait of modern-day Tokyo.