31 January 2017

La Jetée, 1962

Fig. 1 Poster

Chris Marker’s ‘La Jetée’ (1962) is an interesting French film with a complex narrative told through a serious of still black and white images. It follows the story of a man in an underground post-war camp as he is subject to an experiment involving time travel. William Whittington comments in his book ‘Sound Design and Science Fiction’ (2007) that the ‘narrative pattern is cyclical and evocative’ (Whittington, 2007:63). As a boy, the man saw a woman on a pier as she saw a man die. The woman's face stayed with him and his time travel sees him meet her again and again. As the man reaches the moment he first saw her for the second time, he is killed; the ending sees the same scene as the opening of the film. This scene is shown from the perspective of the same person at a different point in his life, as he travels backwards through time towards his own death.

Ernest Callenbach comments in his review of the film that it isn’t science fiction, as ‘it springs from our lives here now, and the threat under which we live them’ (Callenbach, 1965:51-52). The film is different from many science fiction films, but perhaps this is most evident in ways that it is different from all films, rather than in relation to genre. As William Wittington points out, the film represents an anxiety around state control of advanced technology, which is a theme present in much science fiction cinema of the time, for example; Planet of the Apes (1968), THX 1138 (1971), and Westworld (1973) (Whittington, 2007:62-64). Using a different setting to serve as a metaphor for contemporary issues is a recurring theme in science fiction, in this way ‘La Jetée’ is a good example of the genre.


Fig. 2 Statue

The film consists almost entirely of a series of still images, presented much more slowly than ordinary film. Jean-Louis Schefer comments that it could read as a ‘montage that replicates gaps in recollection’ (Schefer, 1990), and this connects with the themes of memory and perception in the film. Looking at it in this way it is as though the audience views the film as they might recall a memory, and the time travel element reflects the disjointed way people sometimes experience their memories when trying to piece together a sequence of events in their mind. Themes of stasis are recurrent; Bruce Kawin notes the statues (seen in Fig. 2) and stuffed animals placed throughout the film and. Kawin describes the film as being 'an essay on the limits of mortal consciousness.' (Kawin, 1982:20) There is a sense of being trapped, by time or the subject’s experience of it; though time travel is key in the development of the story, the audience sees the film in chronological order from the point of view of the subject experience. The subject moves towards his death as though destined to do so. In the final scene of the film the stills speed up slightly as he runs towards the woman (shown in Fig. 3), Kawin describes it as ‘an intense attempt to break into movement’ (Kawin, 1982:19). It is as though the man is desperate to escape his destiny, but there was never any chance of him doing so. 


Fig. 3 Run

The editing techniques work well to give the film a sense of progression, as Callenbach points out, ‘the shots are cut or dissolved into one another with a great fluidity and variety’ (Callenbach, 1951). Fig. 4 shows the transition between two stills, the shots and transitions used are similar to those found in an ordinary ‘moving’ film, and this helps to move the story without the use of a moving picture. Rather than counteract the effects of the still image technique, it complements it, encouraging the audience to sink into their viewing experience a little more, without interfering with the themes of stasis produced by the stills. Marker also makes use of sound in much the same way, sound is continuous and so is not broken up in the same way as the images in the film. Whittington comments that the sounds in the film are ‘applied to exacting and elegant effect’ (Whittington, 2007:62) and the score lends well to the effect of using traditional editing techniques to create a series of still images that reads as a film.


Fig. 4 Transition

Bibliography:


Callenbach, E (1965). '‘La Jetée’' Review In: Film Quarterly 19 (2) pp. 50-52. [Online] at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1211255.pdf (Accessed on 29.01.17)

Kawin, B (1982) 'Time and Stasis in “La Jetée”' In: Film Quarterly 36 (1) pp.15-20. [Online] at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3697180?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents (Accessed on 29.01.17)

Schefer, J (1990). On ‘La Jetée’. At: http://chrismarker.org/chris-marker-2/jean-louis-schefer-on-la-jete/ (Accessed on 29.01.17)

Whittington, W (2007). Sound Design and Science Fiction. Texas: University of Texas Press. [Online] At: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5VNQhYwnSK4C&pg=PA63&dq=la+jetee+narrative&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjg2ar1utvRAhVrIsAKHWz4ALIQ6AEIPjAH#v=onepage&q&f=false (Accessed on 29.01.17)


Illustration List:

Fig. 1 Poster
Marker, C (1962). La Jetée [Poster] At: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/1e/4b/ac/1e4bac10ab35f74f5eb0a0b3e8df460b.jpg (Accessed on 29.01.17)

Fig. 2 Statue
Marker, C (1962). La Jetée [Film Still] At: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m54acfTOTm1qb83nho1_1280.png (Accessed on 29.01.17)

Fig. 3 Run
Marker, C (1962). La Jetée [Film Still] At: http://film.thedigitalfix.com/protectedimage.php?image=JohnWhite/La_Jetee_Sans_Soleil-2.jpg_12082007 (Accessed on 29.01.17)

Fig. 4 Transition
Marker, C (1962). La Jetée [Film Still] At: http://www.highonfilms.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/La-Jette_HOF5_Featured.jpg (Accessed on 29.01.17)


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