The essay film, a form pitched between documentary and personal reflection, exploring the subjectivity of the cinematic perspective, has now become an accepted genre. Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Errol Morris and Michael Moore are among its main recent exponents, but Chris Marker, who has died aged 91, was credited with inventing the form.
Marker’s creative use of sound, images and text in his poetic, political and philosophical documentaries made him one of the most inventive of film-makers. They looked forward to what is called “the new documentary”, but also looked back to the literary essay in the tradition of Michel de Montaigne. Marker’s interests lay in transitional societies – “life in the process of becoming history,” as he put it. How do various cultures perceive and sustain themselves and each other in the increasingly intermingled modern world?