So I didn’t do any work.
Instead I watched La Jetée, a strange short film directed by Chris Marker. Itâ€™s a photomontage telling of a sci-fi romance. The stream of motionless, flickering images is interrupted by only the brief smile of a young woman.
Photomontage isn’t exactly a popular method of telling stories in film, oddly it’s seen more often in games than anywhere else (Bet On Soldier was the last videogame with photomontage I saw, and also an export of France), but in La Jetée the sequence of stills tells a story of aching emotional distance and conceptual travel that seems to benefit from the distancing effect of the black and white images.
It’s sci-fi as psychological landscapes, weird logic and inexplicable conceptual breakdowns. There’s no science to the fiction, just something that jumps away from everydayness. Time travel for the story’s protagonist is a hazy memory made real: the ghosts of old photographs. His past and the potency of his mental images are the focus for the possibility of travel to past and distant future.
The protagonist is a prisoner, a leftover from the present in a post-holocaust future. Paris has been destroyed, presumably by the H-bomb terror that loomed over the Sixities, when this film was made. In the wake of World War 3, the protagonist is forced into time-travel experiments that he will not survive. He travels back and falls in love. It’s as if he were always in love, but in need of something to fix that childhood memory upon, something that only Marker’s weird non-science can deliver: the lost woman of his pre-apocalyptic past.
Ballard calls it “a psychological fable”, and I think that’s probably an accurate description of it. Failing to adhere to any sci-fi conventions, it sits apart from our traditional tellings and retellings of old myths. Like, say, Lost Highway, it’s a film that reminds us that the better part of life follows no proper logic, and offers no desirable conclusions.
The word “dream” is so regularly given positive connotations, but it seems to me that there should be another word, which refers neither to joyous, aspirational dreams nor to dread-filled nightmares; a word for the grey area of unconscious experiences, those streams of images infused with emotion which leave us stunned and oblique to the world in the few seconds after we shake off sleep. La Jetée is that kind of film. Not dreamlike as such, but representative of something chaotic in subconsciousness.
Also remarkably silly in the sequences where the far-far-future people have buttons stuck to their foreheads… but yeah.
La Jetée is the film that inspired Twelve Monkeys. That gives it a weird familiarity: you know the story, since Gilliam and a sweating Bruce Willis have recently exploded it up to Hollywood volumes. It’s almost a shame to have arrived at this film from that angle (although I like Gilliam) but I doubt I’d have seen it at all if Gilliam hadn’t delivered later fame by proxy.