Alain Resnais & Chris Marker – Les statues meurent aussi aka Statues Also Die (1953)


Documentary about the disintegration and desecration of black African art
by white Europeans, who have removed it from its sacred animist context
to be viewed in sterile museums.The strong anticolonialist message precipitated
a ten year ban after its premier at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953.

Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die)

Production : Presence Africaine, Tadie-Cinema
Direction : Alain Resnais, Chris Marker
Photography : Ghislain Cloquet
Editing : Henry Colpi
Screenplay : Chris Marker
Sound : Rene Louge, Studios Marignan
Narration : Jean Negroni
Music : Guy Bernard

the extra is a 2:30 montage of various scenes from the movie,
with a voiceover that tells what happened with the movie after
its release at Cannes in 1953. no subs

Chris Marker, Nora M. Alter wrote:
The use of film to produce and disseminate knowledge is at the base of most of
Marker’s work. In Olympia 52, ostensibly a report on the 1952 Olympic Games in
Helsinki, Marker focused on the political maneuvering behind the scenes and on
the process of commodification of athletes that was taking place. Similarly,
Statues Also Die is a “pamphlet film” that scathingly critiques the lingering effects
of the colonization of Africa. The film opens on a dark screen and is followed by
a series of still shots of Afrian masks and statues. The opening commentary
introduces several basic themes that will recur in many of Marker’s texts: animism,
history, culture, art, and preservation. As was the case with Letter from Siberia,
one detects an ambivalent stance toward the process whereby everyday life
becomes transformed into culture and thereby is “museified”, or mummified. Cinema,
by its very nature, participates in this process by documenting and recording events,
people, objects, the past, and the present and freezing them in a two-dimensional
audiovisual verisimilitude. Marker’s films excel in calling attention to their own artifice
and thereby encourage a self-reflexive questioning of what happens when life
becomes celluloid. The act of filming does not discriminate between living beings
and inanimate objects but rather freezes what is in front of the camera on the same
representational plane and renders interchangeable all that it captures. To that
extent Marker’s camera treats all subjects in front of its lens without differentiating
between humans, statues, animals, landscapes, architecture, or signs. The magic
of cinema both imbues inanimate objects with life and carries out the mortification
of living subjects. The resulting animism, based on the ancient belief that even
inanimate objects are endowed with a soul, finds a striking illustration in Marker’s
cinema when images of objects return the gaze of the spectator. In Statues Also Die,
Marker and Resnais film statues and masks as if they were alive. An unusually
disturbing sequence, featuring the violent death of a disemboweled gorilla, appears
toward the end of the film. These are not the only images of animals being hunted
and killed in Marker’s films. Indeed, a giraffe is slaughtered in Sunless, wolves are
shot in Grin without a Cat, and whales are stalked in Vive la baleine (1972). To
film the slaying of an animal doubles the mortification process. On the other hand
there is the aesthetic and symbolic death that occurs when life is fixed in filmic
images, and on the other there is literal death captured, replayed, and relived
filmically. These effects are only amplified by Marker’s curious treatment of animals
in his films – they function somewhere between humans and objects, animate and
inanimate actors, agents of action and figures of contemplation.

Just as humans and animals die, so do civilizations and their artifacts. The
commentary of Statues Also Die reminds us that the inanimate figures represented
once had practical or symbolic functions or roles: they served as tributes to fertility,
to the health or beauty of children, to the gods, to the telling of stories – all features
of a civilization that has been lost. With bitter irony the film notes that the history of
Europe from the Middle Ages to the present is relatively well known, whereas that
of Africa is an epistemological void. The process of disenchantment and demystification
of African statues persists to the present day and is directly related to colonialism.
Ard and culture are promplty reified when money is introduced into an economy
that had previously relied exclusively on barter for exchange. This point is underscored
in the film by a clip depicting the factory production of African “objets d’art” in the
Congo. The commentary continues: “And because the white man is the buyer, and
the demand exeeds the offer, and one is in a hurry, African artists are turned into
mere native craftsmen.” Satues Also Die thereby illustrates the process whereby
a religious fetish in transformed into a commodity fetish by Western civilization.

The film also tracks the instrumentalization of the African body by Western culture.
It moves from a focus on inanimate statues of the consumption of African ritual
performances and dances in the West where white audiences are often entertained
by black performers. Meanwhile the commentary reminds us that the same blows
that are applauded when delivered in the boxing ring are met by shots from policemen
when they are given by protest marchers in the streets. Tellingly, Marker and Resnais’
subversive critique of colonialism and its sequels was at the time in sharp contrast
with the popular appeal of negritude, which promoted the unproblematized
consumption of the culture and objects of the exotic Other. The film’s final commentary,
clearly a revolutionary statement in its original historical context, asserts: “There is no
break between Africa and our civilization. Faces of the African art are shed by the
same human faces, like snake’s skin.” No wonder then that the French Center National
de la Cinematographie censored Statues Also Die until 1963. Its committee claimed not
to have problems with the first half of the film, which summarizes the religious and
cultural history of African art. Inadmissible, however, was the film’s second part,
which critiques the practice of colonialism and implicates policies of contemporary
France. The latter was fighting a colonial war in Indochina in the 1950s and was
increasingly apprehensive of the possibility of a war of liberation in Algeria. Several
of Marker’s films would be censored for one reason or another during this period,
even though the focus of his cinema shifted from France to the historical conditions
of faraway countries such as China, the Soviet Union, Israel, and Cuba.


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