Category Archives: La Jetée

It was a Strange Thing by Chris Marker

It was a strange thing. A small box of metal with irregularly rounded corners, with a rectangular opening in the middle and in front of it a tiny lens, the size of a euro. We had to slip a piece of film – real film, with perforations – that was pressed by a rubber wheel, and by turning a button connected to the roulette, the film was unrolled one by one. Actually, each image represented a different scene, so that it seemed more like a slideshow than home theater, but these scenes were beautifully reproduced shots of famous films, Chaplin, Ben Hur, The Napoleon of Abel Gance … If you were rich you could put the little box into a kind of magic lantern and project onto the wall (or onto a screen, if you were very rich). I had to be satisfied with the minimal version: press the eye against the lens, and look. This now-forgotten gizmo was called a Pathéorama. It could be read in gold letters on a black background with the legendary rooster Pathé singing before a rising sun.


The egotistic joy of being able to look at images that belonged to the inaccessible realm of cinema just for myself quickly produced a dialectical by-product. While I could not even imagine having anything in common with the art of filming (whose basic principles were naturally far beyond my comprehension), I grasped something of the film itself, a piece of celluloid not so different from the negatives that came back from the lab. Something I could feel and touch, something of the real world. And why then, (dialectically insinuated my own Jiminy Cricket), could I in turn do something similar? It was enough to have translucent material and the right dimensions. (The perforation was there to be pretty, the roulette ignored it). So, with scissors, glue and crystal paper, I made a faithful copy of the actual Pathéorama reel. After that, frame by frame, I began to draw a series of poses of my cat (who else?), inserting a few comment boxes. In one fell swoop, the cat began to belong to the same universe as the characters of Ben Hur or Napoleon. I was on the other side of the mirror.

Out of my schoolmates, Jonathan was the most prestigious. He had the gift of mechanics and inventiveness, he made models of theaters with moving curtains, flashing lights, and a miniature orchestra that emerged from a pit while a wind-up Gramophone played a triumphant march. It was therefore natural that he should be the first to see my masterpiece. I was quite proud of the result, and by unwinding the adventures of the cat Riri I announced “my movie” (my Movie). Jonathan quickly brought me back to sobriety. “But, silly, movies are moving images,” he said. “You can’t make a movie with still pictures.”

Thirty years passed. Then I made La Jetée.

– Chris Marker

Post-script: Text from the French edition booklet of La Jetée – Sans Soleil DVD, 2003. Translation © Sophie Kovel, 2017.

Many thanks Sofie! The original French piece can be found here: C’était un drôle d’objet.

Philippe Dubois, “La Jetée de Chris Marker ou le cinématogramme de la conscience”

Philippe Dubois presenting on La Jetée

I’m seaching still for the full text of this presentation, published in Théorème 6: Recherches sur Chris Marker (Paris, Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2002), and whose table of contents were published here a while back. Hopefully it might be available still somewhere, as it contains a great selection of texts on Marker. An excerpt follows, and then a link to the presentation (no embed code was available).

“La Jetée” de Chris Marker ou le cinématogramme de la conscience, Philippe Dubois

Philippe Dubois (Université Sorbonne – Paris III) : « La Jetée est donc ce film que Chris Marker réalisa en 1962. C’est un court métrage de “seulement” 29 minutes. (On a souvent fait remarquer que Chris Marker – il a les initiales de court métrage – n’avait quasiment jamais fait de film “normal” en termes de durée : des courts ou des [très] longs. Cela ne veut certes rien dire, sinon que chez lui le temps n’est pas un “standard”, qu’il ne se mesure pas, qu’il est chose infiniment extensible, et vertigineux.) Ce film, court donc, mais qui raconte toute la vie d’un homme en la condensant dans un instant-image paradoxal, ce film-vertige du temps est et reste absolument singulier, autant que mythique. C’est, si l’on veut, le seul film de fiction (et même de science-fiction) dans l’œuvre de Marker. À mes yeux, il se présente, avec une intensité remarquable, à la fois comme un acte théorique, une sorte de film-pensée articulant des modèles conceptuels complexes (du temps, de l’espace, de la représentation, de la vie psychique), et comme une pure œuvre, non une illustration d’un enjeu conceptuel, mais une création d’une force vive encore aujourd’hui irrésistible, sans équivalent, et qui finit par emporter toute théorie. C’est à ce double titre que cette œuvre m’intéresse et me fascine, comme elle a fasciné et intéressé plus d’une génération de théoriciens autant que de créateurs, son propre auteur compris : “La Jetée est le seul de mes films dont j’ai plaisir à apprendre la projection”, aime à dire Chris Marker. »

Philippe Dubois, presentation of paper “La Jetée de Chris Marker ou le cinématogramme de la conscience” – Video

Chris Darke Publishes La Jetée

Chris Darke is coming out with a new book on La Jetée and has arranged for to publish the first chapter. Many thanks to Chris and to the British Film Institute! It’s an honor to get a sneak peak at this important, extremely perceptive take on Chris Marker’s most famous creation. Please click below to read the chapter. If you wish, you can order your copy at Also now available at

La Jetée by Chris Darke, BFI Classics, Chapter One

Chris Darke, La Jetée. BFI Classics. Published July 2016

Chris Darke Biography

Chris Darke is a writer and film critic. For over twenty years his work has been published in newspapers and magazines including: Sight and Sound, Film Comment, Cahiers du cinéma, Trafic, Frieze, Vertigo, and The Independent. He is the author of four books: Light Readings: Film Criticism and Screen Arts (2000); a monograph on Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (2005); Cannes: Inside the World’s Premier Film Festival (with Kieron Corless, 2007); and a study of La Jetée in the BFI Film Classics series (2016). He has contributed essays to catalogues and edited collections, as well as translating texts by Raymond Bellour, Jean-Pierre Oudart, Pascal Bonitzer, and Marc Augé, among others.

He has also made short arts documentaries for British television: his 1999 film about Chris Marker’s La Jetée was included (at Guillaume’s insistence) on French, UK, and US DVD releases of La Jetée and Sans soleil. He was creative consultant on Grant Gee’s Patience (After Sebald) (2012), a feature-length essay-film about W. G. Sebald’s novel The Rings of Saturn. He co-curated the major exhibition Chris Marker: A Grin without a Cat at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 2014, for which he also co-edited the catalogue. He is a Senior Lecturer in Film at Roehampton University, London.


Light Readings: Film Criticism and Screen Arts (London: Wallflower Press, 2000)
Alphaville: French Film Guide (London, IB Tauris, 2005)
Cannes: Inside the World’s Premier Film Festival (with Kieron Corless. London: Faber, 2007)
Chris Marker: A Grin without a Cat (co-editor with Habda Rashid. Whitechapel Gallery, 2014)

Selected essays, articles, reviews, and interviews

Review: Antonioni exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française, Film Comment, July 2015

Uneasy Listening: Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, UK, 2012), Film Comment, May-June 2013

Interview with Patricio Guzmán on Nostalgia for the Light (Chile, Spain, Germany, France, 2012), Sight & Sound, August 2012

Systems Analyst: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Adam Curtis, UK, 2011), Film Comment, July-August 2012

Interview: Adam Curtis, Film Comment, July-August 2012

Antonioni – the afterlife, Sight & Sound (online), March 2011

“Les Enfants et les Cinéphiles” The Moment of Epiphany in The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, Spain, 1973), Cinema Journal, 49, no. 2, Winter 2010, pp. 152-158.

On the Threshold: on Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK & Ireland, 2008), Criterion Collection, 2010

Three Images of May: Cinema and the Uprising, Vertigo, Vol. 3 Issue 9, Spring-Summer 2008

Review: Yella (Christian Petzold, Germany, 2007), Film Comment, May-June 2008

First Person Singular: on the essay films of Agnès Varda, Film Comment, January-February 2008

Freedom and Dirt: on Vagabond (Agnes Varda, France, 1985), Criterion Collection, 2008

Once More … into the Zone: Chris Marker Looks Back, in Wonder, Vertigo, Vol. 3 Issue 6, Summer 2007

Sweet Bird of Youth: Kes (Ken Loach, UK, 1969), Film Comment, July-August 2007

Films of Ruin and Rapture: In Search of Jean-Daniel Pollet, Film Comment, May-June 2007

Chris Marker: The Invisible Man, Film Comment, May-June 2003

Chris Marker: Eyesight, Film Comment, May-June 2003

Letter from London (on surveillance and cinema), Senses of Cinema, Issue 25, March 2003

William Gibson on La Jetée

From: ‘Thrilling and prophetic’: why film-maker Chris Marker’s radical images influenced so many artists –

William Gibson, novelist

I first saw La Jetée in a film history course at the University of British Columbia, in the early 1970s. I imagine that I would have read about it earlier, in passing, in works about science fiction cinema, but I doubt I had much sense of what it might be. And indeed, nothing I had read or seen had prepared me for it. Or perhaps everything had, which is essentially the same thing.

I can’t remember another single work of art ever having had that immediate and powerful an impact, which of course makes the experience quite impossible to describe. As I experienced it, I think, it drove me, as RD Laing had it, out of my wretched mind. I left the lecture hall where it had been screened in an altered state, profoundly alone. I do know that I knew immediately that my sense of what science fiction could be had been permanently altered.

Part of what I find remarkable about this memory today was the temporally hermetic nature of the experience. I saw it, yet was effectively unable to see it again. It would be over a decade before I would happen to see it again, on television, its screening a rare event. Seeing a short foreign film, then, could be the equivalent of seeing a UFO, the experience surviving only as memory. The world of cultural artefacts was only atemporal in theory then, not yet literally and instantly atemporal. Carrying the memory of that screening’s intensity for a decade after has become a touchstone for me. What would have happened had I been able to rewind? Had been able to rent or otherwise access a copy? It was as though I had witnessed a Mystery, and I could only remember that when something finally moved – and I realised that I had been breathlessly watching a sequence of still images – I very nearly screamed.William Gibson

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: