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La Jetee - Report

Chris Marker’s 1962 La Jetйe is one of the most influential films of its time. The 28-minute film is almost entirely compiled of black and white stills, supported by narrative throughout. Marker expresses his desire to recreate and re-write reality through exploring aspects of science fiction such as futuristic apocalyptic events and time travel; subjects that were not as widely exploited then as they are today.

Marker’s usage of stills, haunting score and sparse narration captured the imagination of storytellers in the film industry. His original and alluring story has been the inspiration of many modern cinematic pieces. Michael Sragrow is cited in Huchins review of La Jetйe & Sans Soleil; “It hasn’t lost its potency, even for audiences familiar with coiling time-jump narratives or with nonfiction films made up almost entirely of stills. Marker’s images suggest unfathomable mysteries of fate and desire”.

La Jetйe starts with a boy’s memory of a woman’s face and a man being shot at an airport pier at Orly, Paris. Then, there is a war; “And Sometime after came the destruction of Paris” (Marker’s script cited in La Jetйe: cine-roman, 1992). ‘Peace-time’ is over, and we are now in the ‘present’ of the story in post-destruction. The few survivors of the war are forced to live in an underground ‘network of galleries’ to escape the rotting radioactive land above. The image of beauty and tragedy belongs to a prisoner of the ground, now a grown man. He is chosen as a ‘lab-rat’ for a time travel experiment to reach food and energy supplies, because of his strong mental imagery. The scientists performing the experiment believe that if he can dream of another time, he may be able to live in it without the trauma of time travel.

The story content is based on science, but it is not the most important aspect of the film. Marker does not glorify technology, nor war. The scientists are not seen as positive figures, attempting to save the people of post-world-war-three Earth from starvation. They are portrayed as mad victors, and technology as what led the world to destruction, “the technology offers a chance for humanity to survive, but technology is what has destroyed everything in the first place” (Lorefice, 2003). Marker does not preach of the ‘evil’ of nuclear weapons, but focuses on the life we have as not existing as it does after war and nuclear destruction. He picks out the ‘real’ in our lives and what we would miss through what the man misses in La Jetйe, “…a real bedroom. Real children. Real birds. Real cats. Real graves” (Marker, 1992). In Terry Gilliam’s 1995 adaptation of La Jetйe, 12 Monkeys, the emphasis on technology and war is still apparent, but not so great. I believe this is partially due to the nature of the times we now live in, where war and technology are a part of life; we see it constantly in the world around us. The emphasis is instead on the heroism of the main character, a popular theme in Hollywood movies. The memory of the man still plays a predominant role in the movie, but I feel it is lost within the way the movie is delivered.

Marker explores memory through the concept of time travel. The way that he has presented the images as stills mimics the way in which we recall our memories, “as flashes instead of a continuos flow of images” (Geeky Marcus, 2003). Marker seems to scan “these slices of time, trying to animate then, much like the protagonist attempts to revitalise his memories” (Heilman, 2002). In La Jetйe, he translates the language of cinematography into photography through his stills by breaking away from traditional still projection methods. He does not keep to a set time lapse for the images, but instead suggests movement by changing the pace of the image flow in relation to the scenes’ momentum, or the content of the photograph. It is this aspect of the film which I am studying in relation to my own work. I am also interested in the way in which Marker chose to display his images in black and white, completely void of colour. Marker avoided colour, so that he could better control the overall effect of the final image, for example, through contrast. While I watch La Jetйe, I am absorbed into the emotion of the scene through the mood created by the treatment of the images. If these were in colour, I believe that this would have been distracting from the true essence of the photograph. I aim to treat my images in a similar way to which Marker has treated his, for a video I plan to make this year. I will narrate a story through a series of still photographs in a very similar technical manner as Markers, as I feel that this is a very effective and engaging way of story telling.


Geeky Marcus. (2003). La Jetйe. Available: http://www.naturalbornviewers.com/archive/j/jetee/review.htm

Heilman, Jeremy. (2002). La Jetйe (Chris Marker). Available: http://www.moviematyr.com/1962/lajetee.htm

Lorefice, Mike. (2003). La Jetee. Available: http://www.metalasylum.com/ragingbull/movies/lajetee.shtml

Marker, Chris. (1992). La Jetee: cine-roman. New York: Zone Books.

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