Statues Also Die

“When men die, they enter history. When statues die, they enter art. This botany of death is what we call culture.” So begins the commentary of a remarkable half-hour French documentary (1953) about African sculpture, cosigned by Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet. (I haven't been able to preview the English subtitles, so the translation here is my own.) To my mind, it's the first major work by all three men—though it comes five years after Resnais' Van Gogh, which won him his only Oscar to date. One reason why it's almost never been seen in its integral form is that the French government suppressed its final reel, a blistering attack on French colonialism, for almost 40 years. The beauty and anger of Marker's provocative text are perfectly matched by Resnais' exquisite editing and Cloquet's piercing images. As a poetic meditation on how we perceive, exploit, and sometimes destroy other cultures, this is essential viewing. Showing with Sans soleil (1982, 100 min.), perhaps Marker's greatest feature-length film essay.

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