Assignment Four

In this assignment I am to choose one of 6 options, write a short essay that expands on my opinion of the relationship between the creative aspects of the artwork, the message the artist is trying to convey and to what extent I feel photography is a necessary part of the process.

The option that I chose was;

2. Accumulating photographs together as a way of producing a hybrid between film and stills. See La Jetee, a 1962 French science fiction short film by Chris Marker.

I used Youtube to view La Jetee and then started to read around the topic of the film to gain a broader understanding of the messages it contains. Several online articles referred to the Terry Gilliam film ’12 Monkeys’ which was inspired by La Jetee, I found it online and watched that too. I was glad I did because I think it has helped me to better understand a lot of the insinuation of Markers original.

Usually a documentary maker, Marker both broke his own trend and joined French cinemas New Wave with this new experimental method of working. I have never seen a film made entirely from stills before, during my initial viewing I was struck by how much it reminded me of a storyboard, an idea for something else as opposed to a finished product. In this sense it also reminded me of Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘Jockey on a galloping horse’, the use of still images to imply motion. This was again highlighted to me during my research in which I found it referred to as both a photo-roman (picture novel) and a cine-roman (film novel).

Initially I wondered if the use of stills as opposed to film was due to a lack of resources of the Director, as I explored the potential different messages the film contained, I came to believe that it was an intentional choice to emphasise the points that he wanted to make.

The depiction of the scientists reminded me very strongly of the Nazi bad guys in Indiana Jones films. As it was made in the 1960’s I wondered if this was a bit of a statement on fascism and control? The use of stock imagery gives a documentary feel to the film whilst the narrator ties the sequential imagery together, and gives it meaning, just as it does in a factual documentary.

 There is a recurring theme of an individual not being able to escape their present. A person can escape into memories of the past or daydream about the future, but the present is the ruling narrative of the moment. Peoples perception of the past can be altered depending on at which age and in which circumstances they review the same memory. The increase in life experiences will alter both your perception and interpretation of it. This was demonstrated in La Jetee with the recurring use of the same photo frame at different points as the story progressed but with new narrative attached. It was further repeated in 12 Monkeys in which the two characters hide in a cinematic showing of Hitchcocks Vertigo (this film is also referenced in La Jetee) and one character feels like he has seen the film before but also that it is different and new because he is older.

The message of not being able to escape the present is further reinforced by the entrapment of the male character in his circumstances. Whether it is as the character attempts to break free from the course of La Jetee’s events and accidentally fulfils them or getting physically returned to his time by the scientists, the message of ‘not escaping the present’ is relentless.

Another message that I found was around memories. Memories are a form of time travel, to recall a previous experience is to move mentally in both time and space. In a way each memory, a mental snapshot of a moment, is like a film still. A singular scene captured and open to new interpretations as the life experiences of the individual who references it evolve. Several articles that I read referred to this as the idea that when we return to the past we realise we do not understand it at all.

A slightly more depressing message that I noticed was that even when attempting to change circumstances for the better, an individual is trapped on a pathway dictated by fate. Hopefully if this is remade again, it’ll have a slightly happier overtone.

The relationship between the creative use of photographic stills and the message that the Director had is essential to the final product. If the message of the film was different to that of time and space, then there would be little to be gained from using still images in the place of motion picture. The photography is required to reinforce the idea that time is made up of individual moments, each of which can be remembered differently and need a narrative to make sense of them. Without the narrative of an individual to give context it is just a jumble of images to which many different contexts can be applied.

In this way it is reminiscent of peoples photo albums. One moment is chosen over another in which to make a recorded image of a scene or occasion. With a narrative, these choices can be explained but without that they are just a random series of recorded memories.

In conclusion, in my opinion, photography is essential to the success of La Jetee and the strong message which Chris Marker wishes to communicate. Individuals can manipulate time and space temporarily but in the end they must always return to their present. Memories are like film stills in the reel of a life, requiring context for better understanding and whilst allowing temporary escape, unable to harbour the individual from their present life.  

Word count – 888

YouTube. (2019). La Jetée (1962) [english subtitles]. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019]. (2019). La Jetée. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].

Dillon, B. (2019). Brian Dillon on the French director Chris Marker and his enigmatic masterpiece, La Jetee. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].

The Criterion Collection. (2019). La Jetée: Unchained Melody. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].

Hinkson, J., Cameron, R., Rose, K., Rocket, S., Mikalatos, M., Rocket, S. and George, J. (2019). “There’s No Escape Out of Time”: La Jetée. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].

Palmer, L. (2019). Criterion Files #387: La Jetée. [online] Film School Rejects. Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2019].

Anon, (2019). [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Oct. 2019].