A Video Montage: La Jetée

Studio Montage: Plot Summary and Interpretation 

La Jetée by Chris Marker (1962) explores memory and time imbued in a psychological journey which conceptualises recurring traumatic memory.

Set in Paris prior to the outbreak of World War III, survivors are forced to live in an underground network where prisoners are subjected to experiments “to summon the Past and Future to the aid of the Present” (Chris Marker n.d. para. 16). These experiments can lead to disappointment, death and madness, but may result in the the hope for survival where there may be able to reach for food, medicine and sources of energy. An unnamed man is selected to go through a series of experiments to time travel due to his vivid childhood recollections in a form of a dream. In the end he realises the death he witnesses as a child, is his own. The missing piece of identity he had been questioning had given him a nightmarish answer. (La jetée 1962)

The black and white still images allow the viewer to observe the frozen horrific ruins of a post war torn city. These archival images are grainy and the image as a whole shakes which evoke a feeling of nostalgia, it is also complimented by a voice-over narrative and music. As it is visually a sequence of montages, audio becomes a narrative which guides you. The voice-over describes scenes which engraves the meaning of the shot although some scenes are left unvoiced for the viewer to self interpret. The eerie melancholic orchestral choral sets a mood of terror as it accompanies the montage. The beat of a drum symbolises a heartbeat which builds up suspense as it becomes louder and faster. As it drums over still images it creates an atmosphere of tension, holding the attention of the viewer to see where it would lead to until its last beat.

Where it falls short is the flat mundane voice-over and although the film is only 28 minutes long, it can be tedious to follow and some parts are difficult to understand. Some photographs are re-used and the editing of transitions could have more thought put into it. However the concept of the film was interesting and innovative as a short science-fiction film.

Our group montage is based on an in-class exercise we did using words given to us in an order and creating a story out of it. It ended up being based on a girl where her actions mentally tore her apart as she did not know what to do. Using illustrations and plain wall backdrops, the group thought it was the best way to execute the story. By doing this, it was a convenient way as we wanted to visualise the script in a conceptual manner using the space around us. This is a montage that combines the art forms of photography and illustration through minimalism to tell a story.

We could have been more conceptual, symbolic and metaphorical when capturing a series of images as we were too literal. Using a space that was around us did not give us an advantage as it had no depth and meaning as opposed to finding and exploring other ways and places. This exercise gave us an insight that we shouldn’t limit ourselves and go beyond the boundaries to create something innovative.

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