Postapocalyptic Bleakness
December 24, 2006 10:57 AM   Subscribe

La Jetée. Following the postapocalyptic bleakness of the Threads posting, you may wish to watch La Jetée,, a 28-minute film told nearly entirely in stark black-and-white photos (and, in this version, with an English narration). This has quite a following, especially since Terry Gilliam's eerily similar 12 Monkeys.
posted by John of Michigan (50 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
La version francaise.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:09 AM on December 24, 2006

I remember 12 Monkeys having an official credit line that always made me curious: "Based on the French film Le Jetee by Chris Marker".

Mr. Marker even got an official writing credit. So, I'd say the similarity is less "eerie" and more "paid for".

But I've always been curious about the original — thanks for the post.
posted by cabel at 11:21 AM on December 24, 2006

I thought it was always understood that "12 Monkeys" wasn't "eerily similar" to "La Jetee"-—it was based on it.

Anyway, thanks; it's been a couple of years since I last saw this.
posted by interrobang at 11:27 AM on December 24, 2006

i think terry gilliam has pretty much acknowledged that La Jetée was the inspiration for Twelve Monkeys, so i don't think you can imply any underhand plagiarism. Also - you absolutely have to watch La Jetee in the french - it's just not right to lose the original voice.
posted by silence at 11:32 AM on December 24, 2006

oh. I should preview. What everyone else said.
posted by silence at 11:33 AM on December 24, 2006

Thanks for this - I saw it in film school a number of years ago, loved it, but completely forgot it existed. Awesome.
posted by asuprenant at 11:37 AM on December 24, 2006

You can buy the DVD from Bijouflix (the "Shorts" version on amazon has the english narration).

And yes, it's very good and it looks fantastic on DVD.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:48 AM on December 24, 2006

Good stuff. Not that it will replace "It's A Wonderful Life" on my seasonal viewing list, but thanks.
posted by hal9k at 11:53 AM on December 24, 2006

This would be better if it was colorised and had a score by Randy Newman.
posted by 2sheets at 12:08 PM on December 24, 2006

Posts like this cause me to eerily remember why I love metafilter. Thanks.
posted by shmegegge at 12:22 PM on December 24, 2006

I saw La Jetee at the MCA in London several years ago. It was part of a film night where musicians were invited to provide soundtracks to the films. La Jetee wasn't that interesting to me (as a film or the added soundtrack), but they did Stalker (by Tarkovsky -- an amazing film that you should see) afterwards. The band (a trombone and computer trio) left the original soundtrack in, and embellished it. Quite amazing.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 12:29 PM on December 24, 2006

you absolutely have to watch La Jetee in the french - it's just not right to lose the original voice

But I don't speak French! Is there a subtitled version?

In other news, I've recently discovered a children's book that bears an eerie similarity to that Judy Garland movie with the yellow brick road. Also, those Peter Jackson movies seem to be a lot like the writing of this British professor. Seriously, you guys should check it out -- the similarity is downright eerie.
posted by jjg at 12:33 PM on December 24, 2006

It was part of a film night where musicians were invited to provide soundtracks to the films.

Similarly, Tortoise, Isotope 217, and The Chicago Underground Duo pay homage to the film with a composition called "La Jetée" / "Jetty"; different versions that appear on different albums.
posted by pfafflin at 12:42 PM on December 24, 2006

I could be mistaken, but I believe that Chris MArker actually got a co-writer's credit for '12 Monkeys'. As in he might have actively collaborated with David Webb Peoples to write it.

Which would officially make it an authorized remake.
posted by vhsiv at 12:59 PM on December 24, 2006

I've long been under the distinct impression that the 12 Monkeys credit was added belatedly and under threat of legal sanction...but what do I know?

Anyway, thanks for posting one of my long-lost favorites. You r0xx0r.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:20 PM on December 24, 2006

12 Monkeys is a shitty rip-off job. That's not to say that it's "underhanded plagiarism;" that's to say that, if Terry Gilliam really cared about the state of film, he would've helped them re-release La Jetee, as there's nothing good in 12 Monkeys that wasn't in the film that inspired it.

In fact, all of Chris Marker's films are incredible, and are sadly hardly available nowadays. He may have gotten a small credit there on a crap film, but one can see, looking around, how much credit it got him.

Thanks for the interesting post.
posted by koeselitz at 1:52 PM on December 24, 2006

Seriously koeselitz, you may have hated 12 Monkeys, but isn't it quite clear to you that many, many people love it? I mean, I know Terry Gilliam clearly doesn't care about the state of film as much as yourself, but shouldn't that count for SOMETHING?
posted by haveanicesummer at 2:17 PM on December 24, 2006

Metafilter: Your favorite movie is a rip-off of my favorite movie
posted by Artw at 2:21 PM on December 24, 2006

I had a walk-on in 12 Monkeys and was only called for less than a week; Gilliam's vision was truly astounding, but on the set his first a.d. Mark Egerton was calling most of the shots as Gilliam was spending ninety percent of his time trying to keep Bruce Willis from shitting on a very young and scared Brad Pitt.
Why are so many big-shots such dinks?
posted by Dizzy at 2:41 PM on December 24, 2006

Yay! Always wanted to see this, and now it's free! I love the internet. Thanks.
posted by fungible at 2:42 PM on December 24, 2006

I saw La Jetée on a double bill with 12 Monkeys at the excellent Castro theater in San Francisco. I'm a little surprised that no one has mentioned Terminator - I've read that the writer acknowledged the French short as a direct inspiration as well.

I think you overstate the case, koesilitz. I didn't love 12 Monkeys, but the shots of the human-less future are pretty sweet, and while La Jetée is certainly cool, the cinematography is not exactly on the same calibre, or even cinematography at all, albeit by design.
posted by mzurer at 2:51 PM on December 24, 2006

I have this lovely book which is now out of print.

if Terry Gilliam really cared about the state of film, he would've helped them re-release La Jetee

Helped who? And what makes you think he would have the power to do such a thing? In the pre-dvd days, many of the great short films' rights holders made a conscious effort to not get their films out to the home market because there is a considerably more lucrative market for the works in the education/libraries world, where universities/film schools/etc would pay big bucks (compared to the cost of a single vhs tape) to rent a print or video for screening purposes. I'm pretty sure this was the case with most of Marker's films. In fact, prior to 1998 and dvds, I only know of one of his films being available outside of institutional pricing: San Soliel, which was released on video by New Yorker Video in 1996, if I remember correctly.

And, if Gilliam is to be believed (and I'm normally one to doubt him as I think he's mostly a shit-ass filmmaker), he claims to have never heard of or even seen La Jatee prior to reading Peopleses' script, which the Peopleses never denied having based on Marker's film. (The main reason I believe him in this instance is because every person I know who ever saw La Jetee prior to 12 Monkeys saw it in an educational setting. Gilliam also claims to have intentionally not seen the film after reading the script so that he would not be tempted to steal from it directly.)

As I say, I'm no fan of Gilliam, but thinking it's his responsibility or within his power to sway rights-owners of a film he had nothing to do with it is pretty silly.
posted by dobbs at 2:53 PM on December 24, 2006

The whole film is shot with stills except one scene with movement... see if you can find it.. I had watched the movie 3 times and never noticed till a friend pointed it out.

(look at her eyes)
posted by joelf at 2:53 PM on December 24, 2006

I pretty much agree with haveanicesummer. I also think it's a bit of a false dichotomy to imply that you can't like both La Jetée and 12 Monkeys.

A lot of snobbery seems to make this argument -- the original and the derivation cannot be of equal worth; and because the original is the harder to find version, and because popular = lowest common denominator, the original must therefore be better than the derivation. It is sometimes true that the original and its derivation are not of equal worth, but it is not necessarily so; and not all popular things are ipso facto worse.

Anyway -- Thanks, John of Michigan, for posting this.
posted by jiawen at 3:11 PM on December 24, 2006

Either pretention, or threat of hypertension,
must quell within my heart
any desire to enjoin
discussion about film
with anyone who dislikes:
12 Monkeys, Donnie Darko, Joe Vs. the Volcano, True Romance, Fight Club, OldBoy/Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance/Lady Vengeance, Dark City, Blade Runner, Run Lola Run.
posted by HyperBlue at 3:12 PM on December 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

12 Monkeys is one of the few films that "gets" time travel and does the concept justice.
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:33 PM on December 24, 2006

Not only does Gilliam credit Marker in the film, but I'm almost positive that the DVD version of 12 Monkeys actually includes a full version of La Jetee in the original french with subtitles. The Amazon page doesn't list it, but I'm 99% sure that when we watched this in a film class, we watched it on the 12 Monkeys DVD. I think the reworking in Gilliam's version is interesting, but part of what makes this such a fascinating piece of work, for me, is this aforementioned fact: The whole film is shot with stills except one scene with movement To me, this is genius. It speaks to the entire project of the work -- what i believe Marker was trying to say about both life and film in general.
posted by theantikitty at 3:54 PM on December 24, 2006

When I was in my Gilliam worshipping mode I found that I had to drive 50 miles to the nearest "big" city to rent a copy of Baron Munchausen but my local Blockbuster had a vhs copy of La Jetée. I never figured that one out.
posted by M Edward at 4:47 PM on December 24, 2006

I was at the 1998 Midnight Sun Film Festival in northern Finland. Terry Gilliam was among the guests. Chris Marker was there too, but didn't tell anyone or show up at any official events. He just wandered around anonymously, checking out films. I assume he talked to Gilliam privately. Gilliam was very charming and the only invitee who took a train, rather than a plane, from Helsinki to Lapland so he could see the country. Then he bought a large reindeer coat.
posted by liam at 7:35 PM on December 24, 2006

joelf, it looks as though it's still stills, just more of them in quick sucession. Look at the shadows on the pillow.
posted by stavrogin at 8:27 PM on December 24, 2006

There's a scene in a Wenders film where Chris Marker shows up. I think he was filming pieces of Sans Soleil, which is also well worth watching. The aforementioned Wenders film may have been Tokyo Ga. I can't remember.

I've seen La Jetee several times in various locales, but the most interesting screening was outside in the beer garden of zeitgeist in SF. Odd, but enjoyable.
posted by shoepal at 9:46 PM on December 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ah, I'd never understood the use of the term jetée. They call the Orly observation decks "piers" because they look just like fishing piers. (Are those still open post 9/11?)

And holy cow, this is not that long ago and how natural history museums have changed. The Field in Chicago was still a little like that well into the 80s but today only a few of those uncontextual exhibits remain, much changed.

You definitely see at a few key points the reason for filming it as a series of photographs, but those only come later. I was underwhelmed at first. It isn't comic-book narrative, either, it's much more within the New Wave montage tradition.
posted by dhartung at 10:12 PM on December 24, 2006

This was released on tape back when 12 Monkeys first came out. Like M Edward, my dinky little Blockbuster had it, of all places. I haven't seen it since. It's the kind of striking work that makes you want to go to film school.

posted by dgbellak at 10:14 PM on December 24, 2006

The aforementioned Wenders film may have been Tokyo Ga

Yes, it was.
posted by Wolof at 10:41 PM on December 24, 2006

god DAMN this is why i love metafilter. find me a place where a discussion like this happens, and where people can find out which wim wenders film this dude appeared in that isn't a specificially film oriented site. you guys rock. thanks.
posted by shmegegge at 10:51 PM on December 24, 2006

Nice post. Thanks.
posted by hifiparasol at 11:55 PM on December 24, 2006

This is amazing. Thanks.
posted by honeydew at 11:59 PM on December 24, 2006

Not content to stay dead forever, David Webb and Jan Peoples come marching back up from the graveyard of the unconscious mind. Ladyhawke, Soldier and some scifi channel film with Rutger Hauer aren't enough to block them from my mind. And yet, somehow, maybe via Marker, 12 Monkeys remains watchable.

I really do think La Jetee deserves another run on the wall of Zeitgeist. I'd do that as a saturday night anytime.
posted by electronslave at 12:18 AM on December 25, 2006

If you want postapocalyptic bleakness, I highly recommend Children of Men, opening today. It's the most detailed dystopian future since Blade Runner, and it's one hell of a movie.
posted by muckster at 4:05 AM on December 25, 2006

La Jetee has to be one of my favourite films, if not my favourite. I found it extraordinarily moving. Anyone fascinated by memory and loss has to see it (and it's not that hard to get hold of, you can buy it on Amazon along with Sans Soleil, another incredible film).
Chris Marker is a very interesting character too.
posted by chrispy at 4:39 AM on December 25, 2006

Oh and I agree with dhartung about being underwhelmed at first - it only really 'worked' for me on the second viewing.
posted by chrispy at 4:40 AM on December 25, 2006

all of Chris Marker's films are incredible, and are sadly hardly available nowadays

Yeah, I went way out of my way to see a showing of Sans Soleil a few years ago. La Jetée was what introduced me to him, many years ago, and I'll never forget the chill it gave me. 12 Monkeys was fun but on an entirely different level; I don't care if I ever see it again, whereas I have to watch the Marker at least every few years. The man is a true genius.
posted by languagehat at 7:31 AM on December 25, 2006

Despite having spent ten years wanting to see it, I couldn't help but think, in those last couple of minutes, "Lou Reed Meets The Beatles!"

Also, at one point, the music reminded me of the Twilight Zone, and I realized another forebear of this this movie is "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge." The TZ version of it was a French short film that was released in 1962, the same year as La Jetee. Based on Ambrose Bierce's 1886 story, of course.
posted by kimota at 9:58 AM on December 25, 2006

I'm almost positive that the DVD version of 12 Monkeys actually includes a full version of La Jetee in the original french with subtitles

OK, I just pulled out my copy of 12 Monkeys and spent hours looking through it for the La Jetee... it's not there (on my edition). There are clips from La Jetee, but not the full version.
As far as post-apocalyptic films go, I have to say Le Dernier Combat floats my boat the most. 12 Monkeys is the bee's knees, and despite losing that particular sense of bleakness that La Jetee delivers, it creates its own, somehow more human sense of loss and desperation.
posted by eparchos at 12:00 PM on December 25, 2006

Also, just as a bit of aviation/linguistic geekery, "pier" was used widely in English to describe what we would now generally call a "concourse." I'm willing to bet that "jetée" was the equivalent standard term in French aviation prior to around 1965.

Mmmm, Caravelles...
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:32 PM on December 25, 2006

I gotta disagree with muckster and discourage anyone from seeign Children of Men. Holy crap is it boring. Been years since I've seen such a vapid film. In addition, it's easily the worst scored and shot/blocked films I've ever seen. What a waste of a terrific premise and some alright actors. Ick.
posted by dobbs at 4:08 PM on December 25, 2006

thank you so much. this is one of my favorite films of all time.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:13 PM on December 25, 2006

Dobbs, are you serious? Some people have issues with the plot of Children of Men but there is pretty much critical consensus that cinematography and mise-en-scene are masterful. My favorite review is by J. Hoberman.
posted by muckster at 7:12 PM on December 25, 2006

muckster, yeah, I'm serious.


I hated it. There wasn't a single character that was at all compelling--you found out absolutely zero about Owen except that he was married and had a kid. I'm not the kind of viewer who thinks everything needs to be explained nor am I looking for sympathetic characters--but I am looking for compelling characters, which this film had none of. I also think much of it was just nonsense and spectacle.

Also, the production design was grand but the blocking/photography was for shit. I can't count the number of times a character was supposed to be hiding and their predator would easily have seen or heard them. It was laughable. I mean, jesus, put a shorter lens on there or something--have your actor at least duck *below* the window line or wait till the predator's head is turned before doing something in their peripheral vision. The scene with blood on the lens? wtf? Blood that then disappears so that you get taken out of the film *twice* by the same poor decision.

And could there really have been more coincidences of timing? The people who all die *immediately* after they've completed their function. The baby that never cries until it's important for the plot? It was ridiculous.

And I hated hated hated every single musical choice. Can you say overwrought? Good to know that 20 years from now there will be no new music, just lacklustre covers of songs from long before. Drivel.

Really, given the premise, the director, and the cast, I couldn't have been more disappointed with the film. I can't believe that a movie based on a book took five people to write it and that's what they came up with. Sad.
posted by dobbs at 9:31 PM on December 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I thought that this movie was excellent. I've always wanted to see it, but haven't been able to until now.

It seems to me that the way the story was crafted allows for many different interpretations of what is really going on. I'm really interested to hear what those who had an opportunity to see it in film school have to say, because they may have had more opportunity for discussion.

***probably some spoilers at this point***
I'll start of with saying that it seems like the entire story after being approached for the experiment could occur entirely in his mind (more so than 12 Monkeys). Everything is crafted around the one memory that he holds onto. Most of the descriptions of scenes mention his memory. For example, in the museum the narrator mentions remembering it from the past. The scenes from the future contain no images of futuristic cities, just images of nature (spiderwebs, etc...) so he might have constructed his idea of the future from images from his past as well. Also, since the entire experiment is based on his one image it would be expected that it would end there, placing himself in the position of the murdered man when it could have possibly been someone else entirely.
posted by kookywon at 10:35 AM on December 26, 2006

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