Nora M. Alter

  • John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea, 2015, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 48 minutes. Installation view, Central Pavilion, Venice, 2015. From the 56th Venice Biennale. Photo: Cristiano Corte. © Smoking Dogs Films.


    WATER PERMEATES the recent film installations of John Akomfrah. Productions such as Vertigo Sea, 2015, Tropikos, and Auto da Fé, both 2016, are replete with shots of rippling waves, crashing surf, winding rivers, and babbling creeks, intermixed with images of lakes, inlets, bays, lochs, and oceans, whose shores retain their natural, undeveloped topographies. Clips featuring flowing liquid, the currents of which parallel the sinuous movement of film through a camera, are mixed with theatrically staged tableaux or archival footage, music, and other sounds to craft intense siren songs whose splendor,

  • Chris Marker, La Jetée, 1962, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 27 minutes. The Woman (Hélène Chatelain).

    Nora M. Alter


    A cat is never on the side of power.

    —Chris Marker, A Grin Without a Cat (1993)

    IN A REVIEW of Chris Marker’s Lettre de Sibérie (Letter from Siberia, 1957), the French critic André Bazin extols the film for its formal innovations, editing style, and animated sequences. Singling out the production’s essayistic quality as its most important feature, Bazin describes Letter from Siberia as “an essay in the form of a filmic reportage. . . . An essay documented by film.” The term essay film stuck and subsequently came to describe a new genre of filmic production, with Marker (born