space between past, present & future

This week I looked at the film ‘La Jetée’ by Chris Marker.

For those of you who don’t know, ‘La Jetée’ is a 28-minute long film which is almost entirely made up of still photographs; and deals with a World War 3 scientific experiment linked to time travel. The protagonist is obsessed with an image of his childhood – and this leads him to travel towards this image – only to find that this is part of his future.

The film is interesting in that it leads you to question temporal space, and whether your own body/mind is the vessel of time travel – the mind is constantly going back and forth between a present moment, past memory, and fictional (always wishful) future.

How powerful is memory? Can we get locked in the past? Or convince ourselves that an imagined future is real? What memories change our perceptions on the present moment? Why are some more prominent than others?

The form of the piece is also interesting – made up of still photographs, can it be called a film? Why use images rather than film? Personally, for me, the images have more of a haunting effect with their black & white grainy quality; the repetition of each is haunting – the viewer becomes unnerved as the piece goes on, not always sure of where the protagonist is in time. Temporal space is displaced.  What is real?

What if we all found out we were living in our pasts – that this wasn’t the future, but a mind’s projection into a past memory – and that we were stuck there, unable to progress?  What if we were living in someone else’s memory?  Or someone else was manipulating our perceptions of time?

To accompany Chris Marker’s genius of a work, I read Susan Howe’s essay ‘Sorting Facts’ (Howe, Susan.  ‘Sorting Facts, or Nineteen Ways of Looking at Chris Marker.’  Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film.  Middleton, CT: Wesleyan U Press, 1996. 295–344) where she talks about Marker.

She describes the piece as:

‘…at once between lyric poetry and murderous history.’

What does this mean?  Is it a documentary? Is it fiction? Is it poetry? Is it something different?  I see it as a sort of warning for the future – the piece uses devastating & haunting images from the destruction of World War 2 – I see this as a warning that one day we will annihilate everything on the planet.  This will include annihilation of mind, memory, time & space.  All will become the same.  Howe even says:

‘In fact space is imaginary.’

Maybe space, in any sense, doesn’t exist at all – everything merges together.

One other quote that I particularly found interesting was:

‘The immense indifference of history.  The crushing hold of memory’s abiding present.  Compared to facts words are only nets… Action is the movement of memory searching for a lost attachment a make-believe sentiment…’

What are you trying to find today?  What memory are you trying to recover?

I find that this week has brought me to ask a lot of questions about the human mind that I had never considered before.  We may be moving forward literally, as the clocks tick, as each hour finishes & a new day is entered; but in our minds the direction in which we are moving is not linear.  We move backwards, forwards, sideways, diagonal – pretty much all over the place.  There is no stopping memories from colliding and blending into one another, transforming and diverging from their original.

Where are you going?

(Whilst writing this blog post, I find myself listening to Rob Thomas’ song ‘I am an illusion’.  The title alone seems to resonate with the ideas I am writing about.  Though the song may be about the normal girl-guy-romance-heart-break topic of most pop songs, the title really says something to me.  So does the lines in the song ‘I’m not real any more.’  His identity is affected by the present as he plummets into the future.  He asks the question ‘What’s that gonna make me now?’  The three lines that I have picked out, taken as separate entities, are interesting – they question reality & identity & creation: all products of memory.)

Other essays that I read this week are:

Perry, Canaan.  ‘Time, Memory and Time Travel in Chris Marker’s La Jetée.

Shefer, Jean-Louis.  ‘On La Jetée.’  Trans. Paul Smith.’

Sontag, Susan.  ‘The Image-World.’  On Photography.  London: Penguin Books, 1973.  153-82.

Briefly, I’m just going to mention a few ideas about image which Sontag brings up in her essay.  She unravels the effects of photography.  A quote:

But a photograph is not only like its subject, a homage to the subject.  It is part of, an extension of that subject, and a potent means of acquiring it, of gaining control over it.

… Through being photographed, something becomes part of a system of information, fitted into schemes of classification and storage…

…the force of photographic images comes from their being material realities in their own right, richly informative deposits left in the wake of whatever emitted them, potent means for turning the tables on reality – for turning it into a shadow.  Images are more real than anyone could have supposed.

Photography as an ‘extension’ of a subject is an idea that had never occurred to me before.  I always say photographs as a reminder of that subject, a documentation of what had happened at that particular date and time, not an extra part of it.  But maybe Sontag raises a valid point, there is something about photographs which is powerful – in taking a photo, you are forcing a type of silence, a stillness, on to a movement or action.  You are not stopping something from happening, but perhaps you are suggesting that this moment is more worthy of memory.  What drives you to take a snapshot at that particular time?  Why not one second earlier? Why not one second later?  You are claiming that moment as yours, even if it is not.   If I take a photo of a stranger walking down a street, part of him or her comes into my possession.  And photos always jump-start a memory…  That stranger, unaware themselves, will eternally be in my head.  (This is also perhaps what Marker was playing with in ‘La Jetée’ with the girl from the protagonist’s past. The still image of her is repeated and repeated, flickering in his memory, waiting to be accessed.)

I don’t really know what my main point of this post is – I just thought I’d raise a few thinking points because there was so much that was going through my head whilst reading all of this material.  For my creative response… well that is yet to come.  Maybe I’ve already made it, or am making it, or am yet to make it.  Maybe all of those implied times are the same moment.

Over and out.

(I might well write more on these topics)


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