Posts Tagged ‘la jetee’

La Jetée, as defined by Chris Marker, is neither a film, nor video, nor even an essay; instead, its own title sequence defines it as follows: ‘un photo-roman.’

If my limited knowledge of the French language serves me, Marker’s calling La Jetée ‘a picture book.’ Now, it might be my stream of consciousness or my stream of craziness writing this here and now, but whenever I hear picture book, my mind tends to drift towards the fantastic, of worlds decidedly beyond our own and of boundless imagination, the fictional, and in this case the science fictional.

My mind similarly drifts towards and invokes memories of childhood, of the first stories being encountered as those told not by means of reading a given text, but by the oral and visual experience of seeing, first-hand, the story play out in snapshots forwarded by the narration of my father over the book’s images.

And this is precisely where the narrative of La Jetée begins — with a memory, an image, from one’s childhood. A series of still photographs make up a memory, sparse in their continuity but organized so as to function in a linear fashion. Marker’s narrative guides us through the proverbial picture book of the mind’s eye — the fragmented nature of recall, of the own edits we impose perhaps partially selectively and others which disappear into the caverns of our consciousness.

I have long thought that our minds store the minimum amount necessary, only those moments (or images, in this case) necessary to complete the whole. If we were to recall every second of any given memory, surely our process of recall would be overlong and perhaps even mundane, whereas when we think back about an event, moments are encased in sensations that act as descriptors (ie. sight, sound, smell, etc.). Senses bind us to a moment, an instant — senses fill in the gaps of a moment, extend the memory by means of the complexities inherent in each sense; no sense is an instantaneous process, after all.

And perhaps this is what I love best about La Jetée, which is that it illustrates so elegantly how a picture might be worth a thousand words, that even a single image (in contrast to twenty-four frames per second) can be overwhelming in the detail it can communicate in five sustained seconds. It goes without saying that the perfect example of this contrast is held in the single, perfect moment of motion featured in La Jetée, when the woman appears to wake from the science fiction web of memory, the proverbial picture book that Marker has a stranger narrate for us. The image becomes real, a thing which a picture book by all restraints cannot do, except by means of imagination. The viewer either misses it entirely, mistakes it for an illusion or becomes so utterly taken aback that he or she might seize up in disbelief. Movement becomes shocking, alarming, overwhelming even. Either way, the power of a single image is made clear.

So, too, a single image serves as a vortex of sorts — an endless spiral as in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a mesmerizing abstraction which traps the viewer in time. Or, rather, does looking at the image, engaging in the ferocity of nostalgia place oneself outside of the rings left by dendrochronology at a place on the outskirts of time? Does time spent reminiscing become stored in the same way as that original time does? Is a memory made of recall? Or… is time spent in rueful recollection time not worth remembering; uncollected, uncategorized, unavailable to the conscious mind?

I’ll let you know if I sit down today, tomorrow or a time in the coming years and remember the time that I remembered the time that I remembered the time that I remembered the time that I remembered the time and so on into infinity, when I look back into the picture book of my memories, the snapshots of the significant, those most special of days that deigned to be documented and fall away from time.

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