In the 2007 English-language update of Mario Ruspoli and Chris Marker’s Vive la baleine, voiceovers compete: the masculine “master,” disseminating facts about whales and whaling, and the feminine “interior voice,” expressing feelings (“Whales, I love you”), questions, surmises, wonder. Marker, who wrote and edited this masterpiece, synopsizes the history of whaling against a backdrop of engravings, paintings, photographs. A film snippet glimpses the modern practice of whaling; but, towards the end, such film graphically overtakes the visual content, much as the “interior voice” has overtaken the “master voice.”
Marker discredits the Japanese with turning the whale into industry, but—keep in mind this film was made during its Southeast Asian war—he reserves equal contempt for the United States: “. . . at the end of the nineteenth century the birth of the biggest modern empire was accompanied by the birth of a powerful whaling fleet. The Americans helped themselves to all the resources needed for beginning their industry, and you[, whales,] were no exception. Your oil would make machines run and lights softly burn. . . .” The havoc that America is willing to wreak in its quest for oil (and other resources) has found, since, other targets.
Marker: “Americans reduced you[, whales,] to a commodity on the Stock Exchange.” But it is a Norwegian who invented the “exploding” harpoon-gun that moved whaling from a small-scale practice to “industrial extermination” conducted “aboard factory ships.” Yet this vicious weapon becomes American-by-association when Marker likens it to an “atomic bomb.” Marker: “Every whale that dies hands down to us, like a prophecy, the image of our own death.”
The zip of the harpoon-gun; the unearthly moans of the struck whale; the blood: Not since Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts (1949) has there been a documentary like this.
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