Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
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Category — La Jetée

The Aural Zone

Echo Chamber: Listening to La Jetée by criterioncollection

I’ve always been fascinated with the soundtrack of La Jetée, and indeed the enigmatic, complex soundtracks Chris Marker crafted throughout his long career. Here’s a short video essay to be found in YouTube’s ‘criterioncollection’ channel that delves into this aspect with insightful detail. The film was written & narrated by Michael Koresky, produced & edited by Casey Moore and audio mixed by Ryan Hullings. As Hillary Weston points out on the Blackbook blog, the music alone is a ‘hall of mirrors.’

Marker’s subliminal audio beds have been one of the least foregrounded elements in the endless reviews and critiques his work has received. The juxtaposition of large musical themes with enigmatic background audio is part of his signature. Consciously, the viewer is drawn to focus on the base relationship between the image stream and spoken text/commentary (already requiring a mental engagement rare in cinema). Secondarily, there is often a emotional wash of the main musical themes. Underneath or at times as counterpoint, we are drawn into an underground audio river by subtle synthesizer sequences, foley sounds, ambient sounds, dreamlike audio collages – unfamiliar audio languages registered perhaps only at a deeper level of the human sensorium.

Thinking along these lines recalls the passage of the image in Marker’s work from the documentary image tout court to the distortions of the Zone, as evoked in Sans Soleil. Long before the image veered into the irreality or surreality of the Zone, Marker had woven layers of his soundtracks into a kind of Aural Zone. La Jetée is a prime example, but also already in Les Statues meurent aussi (1953) and Si j’avais quatre dromedaires (1966) there are enigmatic aspects to the soundtracks. There are hints of time going backwards, or sideways, or looping. There are the musical stairs, dream audio of train sleepers in Sans Soleil. There are whisperings in German in La Jetée by the future captors, almost impossible to decipher. In Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the source of the Zone, there is an extraordinary audio move in the ‘railroad’ sequence from realistic to otherwordly ambient. Take a close listen to this…

In Catherine Lupton’s book Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, there is a whole chapter called "Into the Zone". She traces its inception to Quand le siècle a pris formes (1978). She defines the Zone as “a machine with the power to create a realm outside space and time, designed for the contemplation of images in the form of memories.” We might say that zonal audio is the hypnotizing agent that provides access keys to this machine and its nonlinear domain.

Jean-Louis Schefer writes: "It’s that the subject (I don’t know whether to call him the hero or the narrator), confesses, articulates, discovers something that is the constitutive principle of his soul (and no philosophy stops us from imagining this as the producer of synthetic time, an excess)." This ‘Synthetic time, an excess’ is quite like the Zone, the turn from linearity to the spiral, a dominant motif in La Jetée as it was in Vertigo, Marker’s obsession film that resonates throughout La Jetée before being directly investigated in Sans Soleil.

Some further references:

May 25, 2013   3 Comments

Criterion Releases La Jetée & Sans Soleil on Blu-Ray

Criterion Collection La Jetee + Sans SoleilAs you probably know by now, swimming as we are in era of no news is new news, Chris Marker’s incomparable masterworks La Jetée and Sans Soleil have been released again, this time on Blu-Ray by Criterion. Originally paired on DVD in a French edition by Arte Video in 2003, the films came to Criterion DVD in 2007.

I believe some of the extras on the Blu-Ray edition, released last week on February 7, 2012, are new, others appearing already on the earlier release (and, indeed, some already on the Arte DVD). Junkopia‘s inclusion is, I believe, new. I’m going to have to spend some money to find out for sure. A partial list of extras is presented by Criterion for the GUILLAUME-APPROVED EDITION:

  • Restored high-definition digital transfers, approved by director Chris Marker, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks
  • Two interviews with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin
  • Chris on Chris, a video piece on Marker by filmmaker and critic Chris Darke
  • Two excerpts from the French television series Court-circuit (le magazine): a look at David Bowie’s music video for the song “Jump They Say,” inspired by La Jetée, and an analysis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and its influence on Marker
  • Junkopia, a six-minute film by Marker, Frank Simone, and John Chapman about the Emeryville Mudflats
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Marker scholar Catherine Lupton, an interview with Marker, notes on the films and filmmaking by Marker, and more

For a (technical) review of the Blu-Ray with some nice screen captures, see: criterionforum.org. This reviewer, Chris Galloway, is most impressed by the high-definition transfer of La Jetée: “contrast is perfect with rich blacks and distinct gray levels…” He is, however, left wanting to know more about Marker himself. Clearly, that’s going to take more work than viewing the extras. As Montaigne said, “All the world knows me in my book, and my book in me.”  The work is the life-mirror. Convex or concave, this mirror is the gateway to the man, biographies be damned.

Speaking of biography, Marker fans will perhaps know of the far-ranging new website on Marker located at chrismarker.ch (sub-titled “On a Quest from Switzerland”). It’s quite an experience—full of arcane research, humour and crazy little graphics, hard on the eye and surely subject for a different post—but en bref, directly on the home page we’re presented with a wild ride of phantasmagorical biography, that goes from Mongolia to Chinese pirates to the Himalaya, then Argentina (“pour ses études, en échange Nostradamus des écoles primaires”), before arriving in Paris. If you read French, definitely take this new site for a weekend Harley (or Ducati) ride through the Alps. Don’t miss the great page on censorship and the fascinating one on music in Marker’s films.

But back to the Blu-Ray. You can get a look at the packaging on a different page of the Criterion Forum. Guillaume holds a sign above the Blu-Ray mark on the sticker, partially obscuring a revered Japanese cat (the nerve).

The Criterion Collection is known to cinéphiles throughout the world. I was curious how they summarized their work, and found this passage on their site, criterion.com:

Each film is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen. Every time we start work on a film, we track down the best available film elements in the world, use state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then take time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound. Whenever possible, we work with directors and cinematographers to ensure that the look of our releases does justice to their intentions. Our supplements enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director’s cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards.

So, what exactly is Blu-Ray? Guillaume may know more than we do, but maybe it’s worth defining a term once in a while. So off to Wikipedia:

Blu-ray Disc (official abbreviation BD) is an optical disc storage medium designed to supersede the DVD format. The plastic disc is 120 mm in diameter and 1.2 mm thick, the same size as DVDs and CDs. Blu-ray Discs contain 25 GB per layer, with dual layer discs (50 GB) being the norm for feature-length video discs. Triple layer discs (100 GB) and quadruple layers (128 GB) are available for BD-XL re-writer drives.

The name Blu-ray Disc refers to the blue laser used to read the disc, which allows information to be stored at a greater density than is possible with the longer-wavelength red laser used for DVDs.

So now you know nothing new about the films themselves, but suffice to say they will look as good as it gets outside of real screenings (real reels, real projectors, real audience, fake popcorn). Enjoy, and let us know what you think. O, and one more thing: have you noticed how Chat écoutant la musique has begun to go viral? 44,272 views (and counting) on YouTube in this upload. If you search twitter for Chris Marker, you’ll see what I mean. Even Criterion tweeted about it recently. Maybe this short, exquisite rêverie is on its way to becoming the 3rd most famous film by the most famous of unknown filmmakers.

February 12, 2012   1 Comment

Scenes from La Salle

As a visual addendum to the recent Beaubourg + Second Life screening of La Jetée, organized by Les Films du Jeudi, we present some images Laurence Braunberger sent along, for which we are grateful. The cinema and the screening room for the event (and we hope of course that it is the beginning of a series) were constructed by Max Moswitzer aka MosMax Hax and the bar La Jetée (based on the famous Tokyo watering hole as seen, among other places, in Wenders’ Tokyo Ga) by Frederick Thompson aka Balthasar Truffaut.

Les Films du Jeudi informs us that on the front of the virtual cinema you could find this notice:

La Jetée (1962) is a 28-minute black and white science fiction film by Chris Marker. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. The film won the Prix Jean Vigo in 1963 for best short film.

Synopsis: In a Paris devastated in the aftermath of WWIII, the few surviving humans begin researching time travel, hoping to send someone back to the pre-war world in search of food, supplies and perhaps a solution to their dire situation. One man is haunted by a vague childhood memory that is to prove fateful.

Chris Marker aka Sergei Murasaki is a French Filmmaker, part-time photographer, computer geek, traveler, cat lover.

In virtual worlds, he deliberately enters the “Ouvroir” prepared for him by MosMax Hax aka Max Moswitzer and plays with his own work, in the company of his longtime guide, Guillaume-en-Egypte, a cat and a furry entity in Second Life. When asked for a photograph of himself, Chris provides one of his Guillaume-en-Egypte.

Childhood Amnesia (L’amnésie Infantile) (2009) is a 15 minute mixed media short born in SL. The film has been described as a cinematographic love letter to La Jetée of Chris Marker and as a response and answer to his cult film.

Synopsis: A gas is released making mankind immortal, but also sterile. Despite the infinite opportunities made possible, mankind quickly becomes disillusioned. To prevent widespread depression, a machine is invented to enable people to travel through memory…

Indira Solovieva aka Vivre Mai was born in India to a family of Russian/Polish artists. She currently lives in France. Until now, Indira’s primary media have been writing and musical composition. Childhood Amnesia is her first short film.

La Jetée bar is the famous Tokyo hang out for filmmakers around the world. Francis Ford Coppola, Wim Wenders (who immortalized the bar in his docu-pic, Tokyo-Ga), Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarentino and of course Chris Marker himself each have their personal bottles, painted with a cat. This bar was specially recreated in SL by Frederick Thompson aka Balthasar Truffaut, a French media artist.

November 10, 2010   2 Comments

Les Films du Jeudi Screens La Jetée in Second Life

Though we missed the party, we did want to let you know about a unique event organized by Les Films du Jeudi, who on the 5th of November held a screening of Chris Marker’s La Jétee simultaneously at the Centre Pompidou and within Second Life.

Marker’s film, whose fame has grown by leaps and bounds worldwide since its 1962 release (one need only search for the title on Twitter to see the many tweets in myriad languages that reference the always-fresh frisson of discovery) and whose impact on viewers and place in film history has only deepened through time, was paired in the dual event with Indira Solovieva’s Childhood Amnesia (L’amnésie infantile) (2009-15mins).

As Marker’s Second Life installation Ouvroir, a virtual gallery of things past, cinematic homage and aleatory encounter, had already realized the dream of architecting a viewing space / screening room online, it is fitting that the distributor of some of his most sought after short films would layer this homage within a Zone of the space he embraced, within the gesture of a ‘farewell to cinema,’ as a destination for those traveling without moving.

We received a nice note, invitation and press release from Les Films du Jeudi, stating:

Even if only for an evening, I wanted to put together Chris Marker’s film-myth La Jetée (1962 -28 mins) with Indira Solovieva’s Childhood Amnesia (L’amnésie infantile) (2009-15mins) at Beaubourg and also on Second Life so that everyone, wherever they may be, may see or rediscover this movie.
Come and join us to find out why…
- Laurence Braunberger

Braunberger is, among other things, the Producer of Marker’s Chats perchés and, according to IMDB, the Manager of Les Films de la Pléiade, Producer and Manager of Les Films du Jeudi and Manager of Les Films du Panthéon.

Solovieva’s film receives the following synopsis in the accompanying press release for this event:

A gas is released making mankind immortal, but also sterile. Despite the infinite opportunities made possible, mankind quickly becomes disillusioned. To prevent widespread depression, a machine is invented to enable people to travel through memory…

The Chris Marker catalog at Les Films du Jeudi includes the following gems, some available as extras on existing DVDs, other still awaiting what one might wish could be a comprehensive DVD collection of the Marker’s wonderful, wide-ranging shorts:

  • Berliner Ballade de Chris MARKER (1990) – 29 mns
  • Casque Bleu de Chris MARKER (1995) – 26 mns
  • Chat écoutant la musique de Chris MARKER (1990) – 2 mns
  • Chats Perchés de Chris Marker (2003) – 59 mns
  • Détour, Ceaucescu de Chris MARKER (1990) – 8 mns
  • E-clip-se de Chris MARKER (1999) – 8 mns
  • From Chris to Christo de Chris MARKER (1985) – 24 mns
  • L’Ambassade de Chris MARKER (1973) – 20 mns
  • Le 20 heures dans les camps de Chris MARKER (1993) – 28 mns
  • Matta ’85 de Chris MARKER (1985) – 14 mns
  • Sixième face du Pentagone (La) de François REICHENBACH & Chris MARKER (1967) – 27 mns
  • Slon Tango de Chris MARKER (1990) – 4 mns
  • Théorie des ensembles de Chris MARKER (1990) – 11 mns
  • Trois vidéos Haïkus de Chris MARKER (1994) – 3 mns

You can view the Jeudi catalog here: www.filmsdujeudi.com.

You can view the invitation (again, late, we apologize) here, in pdf format.

I remember fondly a summer of research on Chris Marker in 1991, where I spent the month of July exploring the resources of the Cinématèque in Les Halles with its mezmerizing robotic retrieval system and personal viewing/research stations (at one of which Marker was himself working). I also remember the cassettes that could be checked out in much more manual fashion at the Centre Pompidou—most vivid is my one and to date only viewing at Beaubourg of Si j’avais quatre dromedaires—as well as encountering Marker himself at the Les Halles “Forum des Images” (which did much to ‘quicken the heart’)—a story for another time…

November 6, 2010   5 Comments

La Jetée: Academy One by J.G. Ballard

This strange and poetic film, a fusion of science fiction, psychological fable and photo-montage, creates in its unique way a series of bizarre images of the inner landscapes of time. Apart from a brief three-second sequence—a young woman’s hesitant smile, a moment of extraordinary poignancy, like a fragment of a child’s dream—the thirty-minute film is composed entirely of still photographs. Yet this succession of disconnected images is a perfect means of projecting the quantified memories and movements through time that are the film’s subject matter.

The jetty of the title is the main observation platform at Orly Airport. The long pier reaches out across the concrete no man’s land, the departure-point for other worlds. Giant jets rest on the apron beside the pier, metallic ciphers whose streamlining is a code for their passage through time. The light is powdery. The spectators on the observation platform have the appearance of mannequins. The hero is a small boy, visiting the airport with his parents. Suddenly there is a fragmented glimpse of a man falling. An accident has occurred, but while everyone is running to the dead man the small boy is looking instead at the face of a young woman by the rail. Something about this face, its expression of anxiety, regret and relief, and above all the obvious but unstated involvement of the young woman with the dead man, creates an image of extraordinary power in the boy’s mind.

Years later, World War III breaks out. Paris is almost obliterated by an immense holocaust. A few survivors live in the circular galleries below the Palais de Chaillot, like rats in some sort of abandoned test-maze warped out of its normal time. The victors, distinguished by the strange eye-pieces they wear, begin to conduct a series of experiments on the survivors, among them the hero, now a man of about thirty. Faced with a destroyed world, the experimenters are hoping to send a man through time. They select the young man because of the powerful memory he carries of the pier at Orly. With luck he will hom eon to this. Other volunteers have gone insane, the but extraordinary strength of his memory carries him back to pre-war Paris. The sequence of images here is the most remarkable in the film, the subject lying in a hammock in the underground corridor as if waiting for some inward sun to rise, a bizarre surgical mask over his eyes—in my experience, the only convincing time travel in the whole of science fiction.

Arriving in Paris, he wanders amon the strange crowds, unable to make contact with anyone until he meets the young woman he had seen as a child at Orly Airport. They fall in love, but their relationship is marred by his sense of isolation in time, his awareness that he has committed some kind of psychological crime in pursuing this memory. As if trying to place himself in time, he takes the young woman to museums of paleontology, and they spend days among the fossil plants and animals. They visit Orly Airport, where he decides that he will not go back to the experimenters at Chaillot. At this moment three strange figures appear. Agents from an even more distant future, they are policing the time-ways, and have come to force him back. Rather than leave the young woman, he throws himself from the pier. The falling body is the one he glimpsed as a child.

This familiar theme is treated with remarkable finesse and imagination, its symbols and perspectives continually reinforcing the subject matter. Not once does it make use of the time-honoured conventions of traditional science fiction. Creating its own conventions from scratch, it triumphantly succeeds where science fiction invariably fails.

Transcribed from mat3i.tumblr.com

October 7, 2009   5 Comments

2058

Strange days have found us. The Tate Modern has published an article from the future (about a current exhibit) called “TH.2058″ by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, dated October 2058. We like the choice of films and novels offered to the soaked inhabitants of this London to come. We are reminded even of a haunting song: “Lost Rivers of London,” by the late great COIL. In any case, here is an excerpt:

2058 by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster - Tate ModernA giant screen shows a strange film, which seems to be as much experimental cinema as science fiction. Fragments of Solaris, Fahrenheit 451 and Planet of the Apes are mixed with more abstract sequences such as Johanna Vaude’s L’Oeil Sauvage but also images from Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Could this possibly be the last film?

On the beds are books saved from the damp and treated to prevent the pages going mouldy and disintegrating. On every bunk there is at least one book, such as JG Ballard’s The Drowned World, Jeff Noon’s Vurt, Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, but also Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

It seems Bolaño’s future is more future than this future, and it may well be that La Jetée’s is even further out and farther in. The Man in the High Castle was a novel about a parallel or alternate past, constructed meticulously out of coin tosses at the I Ching.  En plus, it seemed to be raining all the time in Blade Runner. Still, this is all just prehistory to the distant future of 4001, the era of perfect memory. What will the humans or otherwise reigning intelligences be viewing and reading then on their möbius magnetic bible?

February 6, 2009   No Comments