LA JETEE (1962)

Tune in every #TBT for a review of an obscure indie film, courtesy of HuluPlus’ choice selection of films from the Criterion Collection. Allow Eric Michael Kochmer to lead you through some film history, proselytize the importance of these films & convince you of why they are relevant to indie filmmakers now.
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La Jetée (1962) directed by Chris Marker 

Hulu Plus’ Criterion Collection releases have a wide variety of selections from fiction to documentary, to also a style of film called the “film essay”.Here’s the Wikipedia definition:


A film essay (or “cinematic essay”) consists of the evolution of a theme or an idea rather than a plot per se; or the film literally being a cinematic accompaniment to a narrator reading an essay. From another perspective, an essay film could be defined as a documentary film visual basis combined with a form of commentary that contains elements of self-portrait (rather than autobiography), where the signature (rather than the life story) of the filmmaker is apparent. The cinematic essay often blends documentary, fiction, and experimental film making using a tones and editing styles. 


LaJeteeOne of the artists who defines the genre is the great visual composer, the late Chris Marker, whose body of work can be seen today in the work of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock on a mainstream level.Marker was born in 1919 and started his professional career as a journalist and photographer. In 1962, Marker first became well known internationally with the film La Jetée , a science fiction tale told almost completely with still images and a voice over that was recorded on a cassette recorder. In the film there is one shot on a 35mm motion picture camera. While the film does hit a certain sci-fi “genre” (hence the notability), as a whole it is a work of high art. The budget itself was extremely limited and was created the way it was because of a lack of funds. But none of this kept Marker from making a masterpiece for all times. This film was a unique work when it came out more than fifty years ago and is still a rarity of imagination.Marker is classified as one of the founders of the Left Bank film movement in France — one of the predecessors of the French New Wave, though Marker himself was openly disgusted with the Cinema Verite movement. Marker was a revolution in and of himself.
The futuristic atmosphere is set with still photographs accompanied by an intimidating orchestral score. Honestly the film does so much more than most narrative features of the genre. The run-time is 32 minutes but the sense of drama and romance intertwined in the post-apocalyptic atmosphere that Marker creates, is untouchable.The story centers around a survivor of the future who is deemed smart enough to participate in time travel for research purposes. The man is haunted by a memory of something he saw when he was a boy in an airport: he saw the older version of himself shot to death. The dialogue and narrative is conveyed by a monotone narrator (in English). Incidentally, the vocals were actually recorded on a primitive cassette recorder. This a the ultimate example of no-budget film-making excellence.Scene-from-La-JeteeTerry Gilliam directed the most noted adaptation of this, called “12 Monkeys”, which succeeds on a commercial and critical level moderately enough, but will never match Marker’s originality and bleakness. In fact, since its creation, sci-fi films of this ilk are always shooting for Marker’s atmosphere and never succeeding.In truth, the content of the film feels heavily influenced by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot), with all of its style and post-modern existentialism, while the images seem like black and white interpretations of Bosch.No matter what his influence, Marker was committed to his concept — he wasn’t focused on a budget or a star — the commitment to concept is the lesson here.