Part of the mythos of Chris Marker’s La Jetée is that he made a film composed almost entirely of still photos shot on his 35mm camera, because he was unable to rent a movie camera except for a small shoot one afternoon – one of the ultimate statements of DIY filmmaking, a film made from essentially no film footage. The soundtrack is composed of narration, music and an evocative collage of jet engines, heartbeats, and whispering; very little of it location sound. La Jetée is an incredibly influential piece of storytelling, a classic of cinema, made with a tape recorder and a still camera in the age of film. It’s hard to find a clearer demonstration that content can far outweigh technology.
The technical creation of La Jetée poses questions about the medium of film and the idea of what a film is. Is film the capture mechanism, or just the delivery mechanism? What format is the original work of art and what is the adaptation? Marker described the story as a photo-roman in the opening credits, simply a photonovella; with La Jetée now available as a book, “not a [book of a film], but a book in its own right — the real ciné-roman announced in the film’s credits,” as well as the original film, it becomes less clear which medium this story was designed for and which is the adaptation. While the original film is certainly definitive, Marker’s calling the film a book and the book a film is an interesting way of muddying the waters, and the fct that the story is equally at home on film and on the page is an interesting statement on photographs as a bridge between paper pages and celluloid frames.
Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) – turn on captions if you’d like English subtitles: