In 1962, the pioneering French experimenter Chris Marker irrevocably altered the landscape of modern cinema with a film made up solely of still photos. Part essay and part story, La Jetée examines the abstruse concept of time travel in a post-apocalyptic world where the last remnants of society have been driven underground. The narrative is told from the vantage point of a man sent through time in order to save his destroyed civilization, only to be distracted from his mission by a mysterious woman who's been haunting his memories for as long he can remember.
Fifty years later the piece possesses the same level of urgency it ever did; it's to aspiring film students what The Canon of Medicine became to medical students--an archetype, a guide and a never-ceasing source of old world inspiration, demonstrated through the recycling of its ideas in contemporary science-fiction films from the Terminator series to Looper and Source Code, not to mention La Jette's most famous adaptation, 12 Monkeys.
The trailer for "Her Ghost"
Given Chris Marker's death this year, it’s even more fitting that sonic explorer Kode 9, visual artist collective MFO, and lecturer and performer Ms Haptic, combined their considerable artistic muscle to pay homage to La Jetée in a new film/performance called "Her Ghost." The piece re-edits all of the stills and sounds from the original to present a refracted rework of La Jetée, this time told from the perspective of the mysterious woman whose history and identity are never truly revealed.
After a year of sporadic touring the performance finally came to the British Film Institute in London last month. In the rear of the opulent, gilded auditorium of the BFI, Kode 9 was perched behind his decks, manipulating sonic contortions in real time. Though an ardent enthusiast of sonic warfare, he kept his cool while allowing room for Ms Haptic, the narrator, to anchor the performance with her serene voice, delving deeper into the themes of space and time with a more comprehensive and encompassing narrative then the original. Visual collective MFO mutated and vibrated the stills in real time, warping images, adding subtle vibrations and shifting hues to go with the trajectory of the storyline, adding to an already present sense of uncertainty and trepidation. The audio and visual modulations gave the film a kind of movement and development that was missing from the static procession of the original.
The stellar new script seamlessly evolved the ideas developed in Marker's film while filling the holes and revealing its blind spots and impressively all without alienating the hardcore fans of La Jetée. (The head of visual culture at Goldsmiths, Kodwo Eshun, said he was “overwhelmed by the experience” of the performance.) "Her Ghost" isn't just an exhumation of a cultural artifact, polished and presented to a new generation of film students; it's a painstaking decoding, and you could say, a purposefully unravelled mess, reassembled in a format that in some strange way brings that “fateful” day on the jetty into another future.