Download All 36 of Jan Vermeer’s Beautifully Rare Paintings (Most in Brilliant High Resolution)


Imag­ine the scene: you uncov­er a paint­ing stored away in the clos­et of an elder­ly rel­a­tive’s home, coat­ed in a blan­ket of dust so thick you can hard­ly make out any­thing but more dust under­neath. You slide it out, begin to care­ful­ly brush it off, and find two pierc­ing eyes peer­ing out at you. You brush away more dust, you are cov­ered in it, and the image slow­ly reveals itself: a stun­ning oil paint­ing of a young woman in a blue head­dress and gold tunic, her red lips part­ed slight­ly in an enig­mat­ic, over the shoul­der glance.

You have just dis­cov­ered Johannes (or Jan) Ver­meer’s Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring, the so-called “Dutch Mona Lisa.” The year is 1881, and the painting—in poor condition—will sell at auc­tion for two guilders and thir­ty cents, the equiv­a­lent of about twen­ty-six U.S. dol­lars in today’s cur­ren­cy.

This most­ly fic­tion­al anec­dote is meant to illus­trate just how much Ver­meer’s fortunes—or rather those of the own­ers of his paintings—have risen since the late 19th cen­tu­ry. (The paint­ing was indeed sold in 1881—to an army offi­cer and collector—for that tiny sum.)

Though Ver­meer him­self achieved mod­est fame dur­ing his own life­time in his home­town of Delft and in The Hague, he died in debt in 1675, and was sub­se­quent­ly for­got­ten. Since then, of course, he has become one of the most famous Euro­pean painters in his­to­ry, with as much name recog­ni­tion as fel­low Dutch stars, Rem­brandt and Van Gogh.


With the excep­tion of the rare Bib­li­cal or mytho­log­i­cal scene and two paint­ings of gen­tle­man schol­ars, Ver­meer’s few paintings—portraits and tran­quil domes­tic scenes of almost preter­nat­ur­al still­ness and poise—depict mid­dle class women and their ser­vants at work and at leisure. The Girl with a Pearl Ear­ring is unusu­al: not a portrait—though the best-sell­ing nov­el and award-win­ning film recre­ate its fic­tion­al referent—but what is called a “tron­ie,” depict­ing, writes The Hague’s Mau­rit­shuis muse­um (who own the paint­ing), “a cer­tain type or char­ac­ter; in this case a girl in exot­ic dress, wear­ing an ori­en­tal tur­ban and an improb­a­bly large pearl in her ear.”

Part of the rea­son for Ver­meer’s obscu­ri­ty is also the rea­son for his works’ pre­cious rar­i­ty today—his rel­a­tive­ly mea­ger out­put com­pared to oth­er Dutch painters of the peri­od. “Most Dutch painters turned out hun­dreds of pic­tures for a much broad­er mar­ket,” writes the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. Ver­meer pro­duced “per­haps about forty-five (of which thir­ty-six are known today).” To learn many fas­ci­nat­ing details about the com­po­si­tion, tech­nique, his­to­ry, and influ­ence of those thir­ty-six paint­ings, you should vis­it Essen­tial Ver­meer 2.0, a thor­ough­ly com­pre­hen­sive site with an inter­ac­tive cat­a­logue, bib­li­ogra­phies, research links, inter­views, essays on tech­nique, list of Ver­meer events and online resources, and much, much more.


In one of the most recent post­ings on the site, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of archi­tec­ture Philip Stead­man writes an intri­cate­ly illus­trat­ed essay on the most prob­a­ble loca­tion of the rare exte­ri­or paint­ing, The Lit­tle Street (c.1658), which, the Rijksmu­se­um tells us, “occu­pies an excep­tion­al place in Ver­meer’s oeu­vre.” The Rijksmu­se­um also allows you to download—with a free account—a very high res­o­lu­tion scan of the paint­ing, as well as oth­ers like The Milk­maid (fur­ther up), Woman in Blue Read­ing a Let­ter, and more. Oth­er gal­leries, phys­i­cal and online, offer sim­i­lar­ly high res Ver­meer down­loads, and stu­dents and devo­tees of his work can col­lect all thir­ty-six known paintings—digitally—by vis­it­ing the links below. As for the real thing… well… you’d need to cough up more than a cou­ple dozen bucks for one these days.

Note: Although most images list­ed below are in high res, sev­er­al aren’t, and they tend to appear toward the bot­tom of the list. If any­one knows where we can find bet­ter ver­sions, please drop us a line.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

300+ Etch­ings by Rem­brandt Now Free Online, Thanks to the Mor­gan Library & Muse­um

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 210,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces Includ­ed!

Down­load Hun­dreds of Van Gogh Paint­ings, Sketch­es & Let­ters in High Res­o­lu­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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New Rosa Parks Archive is Now Online: Features 7,500 Manuscripts & 2,500 Photographs, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

It’s telling that the Library of Con­gress, in dig­i­tiz­ing its vast Rosa Parks Col­lec­tion in close to its entire­ty, had to resort to a “rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple” of chil­dren’s greet­ing cards. The lady had no short­age of admir­ers at the ele­men­tary school lev­el.

Parks Kids Card

It’s not sur­pris­ing that Parks’ refusal to yield her bus seat to a white pas­sen­ger in Mont­gomery, Alaba­ma in 1955 res­onates with chil­dren. The sto­ry has the sim­plic­i­ty of a fable, and Parks’ pluck is irre­sistible. It’s as if she took a sling­shot and aimed it right between the eyes of the seg­re­gat­ed South.

It’s easy to con­vey how impor­tant her spon­ta­neous act of resis­tance was to the Civ­il Rights Move­ment. How­ev­er, those few min­utes on Bus 2857 can­not be all there is to a woman whose life spanned nine decades (1913–2005). They are just the his­tor­i­cal equiv­a­lent of a role that an actor can­not escape—great, but ulti­mate­ly lim­it­ing.

The online archive helps to flesh out this icon­ic fig­ure beyond the con­fines of a child’s cray­oned por­trait.

Among the trea­sures are:

Scanned book cov­ers from her per­son­al library

Parks Gandhi
A busi­ness card from her stint as a staffer for Con­gress­man John Cony­ers of Michi­gan… (Parks moved to Detroit short­ly after the Mont­gomery Bus Boy­cott, after both she and her hus­band were dis­missed from their jobs.)

Parks Business Card

Hand­writ­ten rem­i­nis­cences about her rur­al Alaba­ma child­hood…

Parks Childhood

Doc­u­men­ta­tion of speak­ing engage­ments and oth­er pub­lic appear­ances…

Parks Baltimore

A hand­writ­ten pan­cake recipe…

Parks Pancakes

Cor­re­spon­dence from a bevy of high­ly rec­og­niz­able names

And of course, many, many reflec­tions hav­ing to do with the most pub­licly mem­o­rable day in an extreme­ly long life.

Most of the col­lec­tion can be viewed online and the Library has a teach­ing aid with sug­ges­tions on using these pri­ma­ry sources in the class­room. The video below con­tains some high­lights of the col­lec­tion, as well as tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion on how its con­tents have been pre­served for future gen­er­a­tions.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

‘Tired of Giv­ing In’: The Arrest Report, Mug Shot and Fin­ger­prints of Rosa Parks (Decem­ber 1, 1955)

Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Writes a List of 16 Sug­ges­tions for African-Amer­i­cans Rid­ing New­ly-Inte­grat­ed Bus­es (1956)

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

How the Coen Brothers Put Their Remarkable Stamp on the “Shot Reverse Shot,” the Fundamental Cinematic Technique

Even if you don’t think you know what a shot reverse shot is, you’ve prob­a­bly seen thou­sands of them. Tony Zhou, cre­ator of the video essay series Every Frame a Paint­ing, calls it “the most basic thing we have in film gram­mar. Near­ly every­thing you watch is going to be filled with it.” Why? Because a shot reverse shot brings togeth­er, and often oscil­lates between, two shots: one shot, say of a char­ac­ter, and its reverse shot, tak­en from a cam­era turned around to face what­ev­er the char­ac­ter in the first shot faces — usu­al­ly, anoth­er char­ac­ter.

“Most film­mak­ers use it as quick way to record dia­logue,” Zhou says. “Keep the actors still, use mul­ti­ple cam­eras, shoot ten takes, and then make deci­sions in post.” But not Joel and Ethan Coen (the auteurs behind films like Far­goThe Big Lebows­ki, No Coun­try for Old Men, and A Seri­ous Man).

In the new Every Frame a Paint­ing video essay on their use of the shot reverse shot, Zhou finds what makes a Coen Broth­ers shot reverse shot a Coen Broth­ers shot reverse shot, includ­ing a ten­den­cy to film their dia­logue “from inside the space of the con­ver­sa­tion,” as well as to work with cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Roger Deakins who—in a piece of inter­view footage Zhou includes—describes him­self as a man with “a very strong feel­ing about lens­es,” and who for dia­logue scenes prefers wide-angle lens­es rather than long ones.

These pref­er­ences and oth­ers result in a fil­mog­ra­phy full of shot reverse shots that feel both “kind of uncom­fort­able, and kind of fun­ny,” a visu­al evo­ca­tion of the Coen Broth­ers’ fre­quent use of iso­lat­ed char­ac­ters trapped in “sit­u­a­tions they real­ly have no con­trol over” — and because of the choice of lens and place­ment of the cam­era, “you’re trapped with them.” And that set­up gives them a host of options when they want to empha­size or even exag­ger­ate cer­tain qual­i­ties of the char­ac­ters talk­ing or the sit­u­a­tion the sto­ry has put them in.

It even allows them to show more of the set­ting in which that sto­ry takes place, whether snowy North Dako­ta, Los Ange­les by night, 1980s west Texas, a 1960s Min­neso­ta sub­urb, or any oth­er of the regions and eras of which they’ve so vivid­ly made use. Add to that the kind of snap­py edit­ing rhythm that can make their movies’ dia­logue itself so mem­o­rable, and you may nev­er feel sat­is­fied by oth­er film­mak­ers’ shot reverse shots again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

The Art of Mak­ing Intel­li­gent Com­e­dy Movies: 8 Take-Aways from the Films of Edgar Wright

The Geo­met­ric Beau­ty of Aki­ra Kuro­sawa and Wes Anderson’s Films

Watch the Coen Broth­ers’ TV Com­mer­cials: Swiss Cig­a­rettes, Gap Jeans, Tax­es & Clean Coal

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Brian Greene Breaks Down Einstein’s Theory of Gravitational Waves for Stephen Colbert

Ear­li­er this month, we gave you this news bul­letin: “sci­en­tists announced that they had record­ed the sound of two black holes col­lid­ing a bil­lion light years away, pro­vid­ing the first real proof that grav­i­ta­tion­al waves actu­al­ly exist–something Albert Ein­stein pre­dict­ed 100 years ago in his famous paper on gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty.” This news actu­al­ly gets much more inter­est­ing if you wrap your minds around the whole con­cept of Grav­i­ta­tion­al Waves, which is exact­ly what physi­cist Bri­an Greene–fea­tured on this site many times before–set out to do when he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Col­bert last week. Watch his visu­al-rich expla­na­tion above, and you’ll start get­ting a hang of the con­cepts. Below, for extra cred­it, you can watch anoth­er pop­u­lar­iz­er of sci­ence, Neil deGrasse Tyson, tak­ing his own stab at explain­ing this phe­nom­e­non.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Grav­i­ta­tion­al Waves Sound Like: New Audio of Black Holes Col­lid­ing Con­firms Pre­dic­tions Ein­stein Made 100 Years Ago

Free Online Physics Cours­es, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 1150 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Grav­i­ty Visu­al­ized by High School Teacher in an Amaz­ing­ly Ele­gant & Sim­ple Way

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Watch the Trailer for a “Fully Painted” Van Gogh Film: Features 12 Oil Paintings Per Second by 100+ Painters

Lov­ing Vin­cent, an homage to Vin­cent van Gogh, promis­es to be “the first ful­ly paint­ed fea­ture film in the world.” What does that mean exact­ly? Accord­ing to film­mak­ers Doro­ta Kobiela and Hugh Welch­man, every frame of Lov­ing Vin­cent will be an oil paint­ing on can­vas, cre­at­ed with the same tech­niques Van Gogh used over a cen­tu­ry ago. To make these frames, Kobiela and Welch­man plan to hire skilled painters and put them through a 3‑week inten­sive train­ing course, teach­ing each to paint like Van Gogh him­self. Or so that’s how they explained things dur­ing their Kick­starter cam­paign sev­er­al years ago.

Although pro­duc­tion is still ongo­ing, you can see the first fruits of their labors. Above, watch a trail­er for Lov­ing Vin­cent, which fea­tures (accord­ing to the Youtube blurb accom­pa­ny­ing the video) “12 oil paint­ings per sec­ond, all done by over 100 painters trained in the same style.”

If you’re a tal­ent­ed painter and want to con­tribute to mak­ing this orig­i­nal film (you can get an idea of what that looks like below), please vis­it the Lov­ing Vin­cent web­site and scroll down to the recruit­ment sec­tion. The site also includes oth­er mate­r­i­al that takes you inside the mak­ing of this inno­v­a­tive film.


via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

13 Van Gogh’s Paint­ings Painstak­ing­ly Brought to Life with 3D Ani­ma­tion & Visu­al Map­ping

Watch as Van Gogh’s Famous Self-Por­trait Morphs Into a Pho­to­graph

Van Gogh’s 1888 Paint­ing, “The Night Cafe,” Ani­mat­ed with Ocu­lus Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Soft­ware

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Gershwin Plays Gershwin: Hear the Original Recording of Rhapsody in Blue, with the Composer Himself at the Piano (1924)

There are a great many com­po­si­tions I can nev­er hear again the way I did the first time around. Aaron Copland’s Amer­i­can sym­phonies, for example—sentimental child­hood favorites that once evoked mem­o­ries of land­scapes I knew well—have since become insep­a­ra­ble from adver­tise­ments for the meat indus­try and oth­er dis­agree­able things. Many oth­er icon­ic pieces of music from major com­posers have become woven into the fab­ric of mar­ket­ing that blan­kets our lives, in part because many of those pieces don’t require expen­sive per­mis­sions for their use. Anoth­er unfor­get­table exam­ple: George Gershwin’s Rhap­sody in Blue, the jazz con­cer­to from 1924 that I can­not hear with­out think­ing of “spa­cious seat­ing options and thought­ful inflight ameni­ties,” care­ful­ly orches­trat­ed for my com­fort and con­ve­nience.

But if there is some way to recov­er the puri­ty of hear­ing Gershwin’s piece for the first time, no bet­ter one exists than the abridged record­ings we have here, which rep­re­sent some of what the very first audi­ences of Rhap­sody in Blue heard in 1924, includ­ing Gersh­win him­self play­ing the piano.

They also rep­re­sent exact­ly what the first lis­ten­ers of Gershwin’s piece on record heard—the rather thin sound we’ve come to asso­ciate with ear­ly audio tech­nol­o­gy, which did not fea­ture any elec­tron­ics until 1925. Up until then, small clas­si­cal ensem­bles, opera singers, and jazz and rag­time bands would stand around a horn, with engi­neers plac­ing them for­ward or back depend­ing on their empha­sis. (Some jazz record­ings with mul­ti­ple soloists were made on rotat­ing plat­forms for this pur­pose). As the musi­cians played, a vibrat­ing diaphragm moved the sty­lus, mechan­i­cal­ly etch­ing the per­for­mance onto the record. At the top of the post, you can hear a mod­ern remas­ter that removes most of the noise of the orig­i­nal, which is in two parts above and below.

In addi­tion to Gersh­win, the record­ing also fea­tures the orig­i­nal clar­inetist, Ross Gor­man, who played that famous open­ing glis­san­do at the debut of Rhap­sody in Blue on Feb­ru­ary 12, 1924, at New York’s Aeo­lian Hall. Gersh­win’s piece was the cap­stone of an event billed as an “Exper­i­ment in Mod­ern Music,” orga­nized by Paul White­man, who con­duct­ed the orches­tra onstage and record. The pur­pose of the event, writes, was to “demon­strate that the rel­a­tive­ly new form of music called jazz deserved to be regard­ed as a seri­ous and sophis­ti­cat­ed art form.” It sounds con­de­scend­ing, to say the least, but it brought us Gershwin’s won­der­ful com­po­si­tion and helped him “tran­scend the cat­e­go­ry of pop­u­lar music” and become a well-regard­ed com­pos­er. New York Times crit­ic Olin Downes wrote of Rhap­sody in Blue, with its “out­ra­geous caden­za of the clar­inet,” that the “com­po­si­tion shows extra­or­di­nary tal­ent, just as it also shows a young com­pos­er with aims that go far beyond those of his ilk.”

Cer­tain­ly those of Gershwin’s “ilk” made their own extra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tions to mod­ern Amer­i­can music, as did Gersh­win him­self in Broad­way show after show. But Gershwin’s inter­est in bring­ing jazz to the clas­si­cal world has been shared by oth­er famous jazz com­posers, from Duke Elling­ton to Charles Min­gus. The results may not “tran­scend” more straight-ahead jazz in some hier­ar­chi­cal sense, but they inno­vate in the way that the very best “exper­i­ments in mod­ern music” do, by bold­ly putting two or more forms in con­ver­sa­tion with each oth­er. In Gershwin’s piece, we hear jazz and clas­si­cal fig­ures argue and come to terms, jostling against each oth­er as they come together—the laugh­ing clar­inet, pompous brass, roman­tic piano—producing the kind of gen­teel ten­sion that… dammit, I guess is pret­ty well rep­re­sent­ed by reclin­ing in an air­plane seat, 30,000 feet above the ground.…

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ella Fitzger­ald Sings ‘Sum­mer­time’ by George Gersh­win, Berlin 1968

Such Sweet Thun­der: Duke Elling­ton & Bil­ly Strayhorn’s Musi­cal Trib­ute to Shake­speare (1957)

Charles Min­gus Explains in His Gram­my-Win­ning Essay “What is a Jazz Com­pos­er?”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

City of Scars: The Impressive Batman Fan Film Made for $27,000 in 21 Days

The sys­tem is bro­ken… 

A com­mon enough sen­ti­ment in an elec­tion year, but in this case, the speak­er is Bat­man, and the proof is the 30-minute labor of love above.

Five years ago, father and son Bat­man fans Sean and Aaron Schoenke spent $27,000 to make City of Scars, this thrilling­ly grim entry into the canon.

The Jok­er may have escaped, but the Schoenkes part ways with a cer­tain Hol­ly­wood fran­chise by con­fin­ing the cyn­i­cism to the sto­ry. The prospect of measly box office returns did­n’t stop them! They knew from the get go that their take would be zero. DC Comics allows ordi­nary mor­tals to use its char­ac­ters in their own inde­pen­dent projects, pro­vid­ed they don’t attempt to real­ize a prof­it.

Pre­dictably dis­mal box office fig­ures aside, the Schoenkes’ efforts have paid off splen­did­ly in oth­er ways. City of Scars, and its 2011 sequel, Seeds of Arkham, below, have gar­nered a gen­er­ous help­ing of atten­tion and awards (The Wall Street Jour­nal called City of Scars “impres­sive”), and the tal­ent­ed vol­un­teer cast and crew have ben­e­fit­ed from increased vis­i­bil­i­ty. Rather than reward­ing him­self with a new car or a man­sion in Bel Air, Schoenke the Younger broke with tra­di­tion, and cast him­self as Nightwing.

These days, the Shoenkes’ pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, Bat in the Sun, has legions of fans, just like Bat­man! Super­hero devo­tees are a noto­ri­ous­ly tough crowd, but Bat in the Sun’s dark psy­cho­log­i­cal vision pass­es muster with them, as does its taste in vil­lains.

Box office totals notwith­stand­ing, the same can­not be said for the stuff the stu­dio churns out. (The sys­tem is bro­ken, remem­ber?)

The Schoenkes have chan­neled their indie suc­cess into a fran­chise of their own, Super Pow­er Beat Down, a month­ly web series where­in view­ers get to decide which super­hero won the staged bat­tle. Watch it below, in prepa­ra­tion for choos­ing the next vic­tor.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Evo­lu­tion of Bat­man in Cin­e­ma: From 1939 to Present

Bat­man & Oth­er Super Friends Sit for 17th Cen­tu­ry Flem­ish Style Por­traits

Russ­ian Super­heroes: Artist Draws Tra­di­tion­al Russ­ian Folk Heroes in a Mod­ern Fan­ta­sy Style

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. You don’t need to cos-play to hang with her at the New York Fem­i­nist Zine­fest this Sun­day. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

How Chris Marker’s Radical SciFi Film, La Jetée, Changed the Life of Cyberpunk Prophet, William Gibson

Every­one remem­bers the first time they saw La JetéeFor cyber­space- and cyber­punk-defin­ing writer William Gib­son, author of such sui gener­is sci­ence-fic­tion nov­els as Neu­ro­mancer, Vir­tu­al Light, and Pat­tern Recog­ni­tion, that life-chang­ing expe­ri­ence came in the ear­ly 1970s, dur­ing a film his­to­ry course at the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia. “Noth­ing I had read or seen had pre­pared me for it,” he tells The Guardian in a reflec­tion on the lega­cy of Chris Mark­er’s “thrilling and prophet­ic” 1962 short film, a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic time-trav­el love sto­ry told almost entire­ly with still pho­tos. (You can get a taste of it from the short clip above and a longer one here.) “Or per­haps every­thing had, which is essen­tial­ly the same thing.”

I can’t remem­ber anoth­er sin­gle work of art ever hav­ing had that imme­di­ate and pow­er­ful an impact, which of course makes the expe­ri­ence quite impos­si­ble to describe. As I expe­ri­enced it, I think, it drove me, as RD Laing had it, out of my wretched mind. I left the lec­ture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, pro­found­ly alone. I do know that I knew imme­di­ate­ly that my sense of what sci­ence fic­tion could be had been per­ma­nent­ly altered.

Part of what I find remark­able about this mem­o­ry today was the tem­po­ral­ly her­met­ic nature of the expe­ri­ence. I saw it, yet was effec­tive­ly unable to see it again. It would be over a decade before I would hap­pen to see it again, on tele­vi­sion, its screen­ing a rare event. See­ing a short for­eign film, then, could be the equiv­a­lent of see­ing a UFO, the expe­ri­ence sur­viv­ing only as mem­o­ry. The world of cul­tur­al arte­facts was only atem­po­ral in the­o­ry then, not yet lit­er­al­ly and instant­ly atem­po­ral. Car­ry­ing the mem­o­ry of that screen­ing’s inten­si­ty for a decade after has become a touch­stone for me. What would have hap­pened had I been able to rewind? Had been able to rent or oth­er­wise access a copy? It was as though I had wit­nessed a Mys­tery, and I could only remem­ber that when some­thing final­ly moved – and I realised that I had been breath­less­ly watch­ing a sequence of still images – I very near­ly screamed.

You’d think that would count as enough Chris Mark­er-grant­ed aston­ish­ment for one life­time — and what­ev­er inspi­ra­tion Gib­son drew from La Jetée, he’s cer­tain­ly put to good use — but the film­mak­er, ever-curi­ous tech­nol­o­gy and media enthu­si­ast, and “pro­to­type of the twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry man” had anoth­er shock in store. Two years after Mark­er’s death, and about thir­ty after Gib­son’s first view­ing of La Jetée, the lat­ter found that he had actu­al­ly appeared, unbe­knownst to him­self, in one of the for­mer’s oth­er movies.

“I was in a Chris Mark­er film and I nev­er knew until today,” tweet­ed Gib­son, append­ing the entire­ly under­stand­able tag #gob­s­macked. His image pops up at the begin­ning of Lev­el Five, Mark­er’s sto­ry of a com­put­er pro­gram­mer’s search for a way to vir­tu­al­ly recre­ate the Sec­ond World War’s Bat­tle of Oki­nawa, released in 1997 in France but not until 2014 in the Unit­ed States. As a work con­cerned with real­i­ty’s rela­tion­ship to its recon­struc­tion by human mem­o­ry — a fas­ci­na­tion of Mark­er’s all the way through his career — as well as with real­i­ty’s rela­tion­ship to its only-just-begin­ning recon­struc­tion by com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy, it makes sense that its nar­ra­tion, which takes the form of the pro­tag­o­nist’s video diary, would ref­er­ence Gib­son’s con­cep­tion of cyber­space.

Always mak­ing max­i­mal­ly cre­ative use of the rela­tion­ship between their words and their images, Mark­er does­n’t hes­i­tate to flash the author’s face onscreen between bursts of gray sta­t­ic (an ele­ment famous­ly evoked in Neu­ro­mancer’s open­ing) and footage of Japan (anoth­er site of deep inter­est for both cre­ators). Gib­son him­self always comes off as calm and reflec­tive in per­son, espe­cial­ly for a crafts­man of such stim­u­lat­ing­ly real­ized, infor­ma­tion-over­loaded, sweep­ing­ly influ­en­tial visions of the inten­si­fied present. But could any­one ever ful­ly recov­er from the aston­ish­ment of see­ing them­selves pass­ing through one of Chris Mark­er’s?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William Gib­son Reads Neu­ro­mancer, His Cyber­punk-Defin­ing Nov­el (1994)

Take a Road Trip with Cyber­space Vision­ary William Gib­son, Watch No Maps for These Ter­ri­to­ries (2000)

The Owl’s Lega­cy: Chris Marker’s 13-Part Search for West­ern Culture’s Foun­da­tions in Ancient Greece

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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