The Guy Who Invented Cat Videos On The Internet Before There Were Cat Videos (Or The Internet)

Filmmaker Chris Marker died today. You might not know who he is, but you know his work, if indirectly. Marker is known for pioneering the essay form in film — personal, wide-ranging, political, poetic. He imposed narration over images that were as often banal as dramatic, and it created a unique and powerful viewing experience.

But one thing that might not be said as often is his prescience in today’s Internet video world — and not just because he may have filmed one of the first cat-on-a-keyboard short films.

Take La Jetée (1962), for example. Save for one shot, of a woman opening her eyes, it’s entirely composed of still images. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it was the inspiration for 12 Monkeys.

How many thousands of YouTube videos utilize precisely that technique, stringing together still images and using text or sound narration to pull it together? Perhaps it’s more about the ease of creating such videos rather than the stylistic power of that choice, but still: it is a very common form these days.

Perhaps Marker’s best known film is Sans Soleil, a kind of travelogue that throws in images sourced from stock footage and Japanese television along with Marker’s own work. It was released in 1983 but feels totally modern: the female narrator’s musings on time and place are like the smartest blog posts on the planet. The lingering shots of ordinary activities — Japanese men reading comic books at a newsstand, for instance — were not as often filmed before the era of easy, cheap personal recording. But now, we expect to be able to document every waking second, and extract meaning from it. Here is the first minute, courtesy of the Criterion Collection:

And then, before the Internet met cat videos, Marker was onto the possibility of putting a cat on a keyboard and turning on the camera. Hat tip to Dummy Magazine for this video, shot in 1990. Marker, who died at the ripe age of 91, should be recognized for making art videos that were the opposite of the arch, incomprehensible, “experimental” cliche — his films were smart and deeply personal, the emotional stuff at the heart of every good meme.

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