Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chris Marker's La Jetee´

This is the first of many posts related to my Comparative Literature class, The Sublime & The Sci-Fi Film. There is a difference in watching a film in an analytic mode versus sprawled out on the couch with a bag of Cheetos. I have already noticed that I am looking with a more critical and appreciative eye. If you love film, I would recommend taking a similar film class, which emphasizes the visual image as much as the narrative. The following and future posts on this subject will be more stream-of-consciousness so I apologize if it is hard to follow.

La Jetee´ (1963) directed by Chris Marker is the first film we viewed. It is only 27 minutes long but is dense with powerful images so it did not feel like a short film. It is interesting that one theme of the film concerns time and the unique style plays with the viewer’s perception of time. The film was shot in black and white and is not a motion picture per se but rather like looking a series of photographs. Instead of 20 or 30 frames per second, it is closer to one frame every 10-20 seconds. It was odd at first but it become less noticeable as the story unfolded. The film opens with an overhead shot of a Paris airport (Orly to be precise) frozen in time but with the scream of jet engines in the background. Oh, I’m pretty sure La Jetee´ means “jet” but I also think it is a play on the term “jetty”, which refers to a structure extended in to the sea. This is relevant to the paradoxical nature of time travel the film touches upon. The sounds transition from the screaming of jets to beautiful opera/choir music, which makes the disconnect between sight and sound even more distinct. The narrative (in French, English subtitles) tells the story of little boy on the observation deck of the airport who has the image of a woman frozen in his memory just as the images of the film are frozen to the viewer. It is interesting that the narrative mentions that it is a Sunday. Maybe a commentary on the religiosity of technology? At the same time the image is frozen in the boys memory, a man dies nearby … the viewer does not know how or why. The narrative then says that WWIII starts shortly after that. The frozen images show Paris before and after nuclear devastation. It mentions that there are victors and prisoners but also that all are driven underground due to radiation. Victory without salvation. Victory but life like a rat.

The narrative speaks of experiments that drive the subjects to madness or death. The boy on the observation deck is now a man, the next subject of mysterious tests. It is subtly implied that the victors are German and whispers in German are heard softly in the background. Feel of Nazi camps and human experimentation. There is even a camp director. The man expects Dr. Frankenstein or a mad scientist but finds a “reasonable man” who explains that the human race is doomed, that space is out of the question, and the only hope is through time. Past and future must come to the aid of the present if they are to survive. Living in the moment theme throughout? What’s up the glasses with multiple-lenses? Questioning of memory? Technology destroyed but the technology will save them? The experiments do not seem to be of a mechanical nature but rather of mental/pharmacological nature. Shots and masks over the eyes that make me think if insane asylums. The first time he “goes under” or “travels back” he comes upon a past in a park with children. The narrative repeats the word “real” many times. Real park, real children, etc. Traveling through time to a timeless world. Am I dreaming or sleeping? If mental, then definitely some Cartesian dualism going on here. Mind body problem. Living in the moment.

This is the end of Part I. I’ll add the rest as a comment later. Now I’m off to read Plato.

Best wishes,

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