Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 21
Sans Soleil October 26, 1983
Sans Soleil opens

In 1982, when the French avant-garde director Chris Marker released his travelogue essay Sans Soleil, most critics were uncertain what to make of it. While Marker, a fellow traveler with the French New Wave, had made his mark twenty years earlier in 1962 with La Jetée, a half- hour science fiction poem that The New Yorker’s critic Pauline Kael called “The greatest science fiction movie I’ve ever seen.” But Sans Soleil, a meandering video diary involving different to trips to Africa, Japan and beyond, was hard for most to define. At the New York Times, Vincent Canby spat out, “In Sans Soleil, Mr. Marker pretends to be examining the quality of contemporary life, though what he actually is doing is examining his own, not always coherent or especially interesting reactions to our world.” In a more kind way, The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman termed it “philosophical journalism,” adding “Sans Soleil’s Tokyo is a comicbook futuropolis more startling than Blade Runner’s.” But over time, the film’s poetic and perplexing mix of video and voiceover, photography and philosophy, helped shape the emerging documentary form of the “essay film.” And even more, Marker’s jittery narrative, darting quickly from observation to digression, presaged what we have come to call new media. In his recent review for The Onion, Scott Tobias notes, “at a time when technology has given rise to ‘vlogging’ and other forms of personal expression, Marker's Sans Soleil stands as a model of the essay film.” And Nathan Lee at the Village Voice adds, “Engaging this multivalent polyphonic poetry is strikingly akin to surfing the Internet.”


More Flashbacks
Rocky November 21, 1976
Rocky premieres

Though Rocky, released November 21, 1976, tells the great underdog story of Rocky Balboa, the tale of how the movie got made is arguably an even more inspirational example of an outsider beating unthinkably long odds.

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November 21, 1944
Harold Ramis born

Harold Ramis, born today in 1944 in Chicago, is the kind of director that Hollywood loves.

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November 21, 1924
Scandal at Sea

On 21 November 1924, Hollywood’s elite, such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, gathered to bury Thomas Ince, the man who’d practically founded the studio system. After working for years as a silent film actor, he graduated to director, engineering an assembly line procedure that became the prototype for studio productions. Ince put his theories of production into practice in 1912 when he found his own studio “Inceville” –– which later moved to Culver City to become Culver Studios –– and started to churn out western after western. But in November 18, 1924, at the young age of 41, Ince died of acute indigestion on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht Oneida. Or so the death certificate said. But many attending his funeral on November 21 believe something else happened, something Hearst’s absence all but confirmed. The story being whispered about town was that Hearst killed Ince by accident. Believing that Chaplin was having an affair with his mistress Marion Davies on his own yacht, Hearst had taken a shot at a man he believed to be the little tramp, only to discover afterwards that he had fatally shot Ince in the head. The rumors grew so fierce that the San Diego District Attorney was forced to open up an investigation, but by that time there was little evidence to examine, and no one willing to talk. One possible witness, entertainment reporter Louella Parsons, remembered nothing. Of course, immediately after the trip Parsons had coincidently been promoted from Hollywood reporter to nationally syndicated columnist, thus initiating her own dynasty. (The suspected murder was dramatized years later in Peter Bogdanovich’s 2001 drama The Cat’s Meow).

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