The Meaning of a Second

Like most of you, I have a closet of plastic shoeboxes filled with printed photos. Last week began scanning many of them. One of them is the image above of my grandmother, mother, aunt, and me sitting on the steps with dappled light. It's not particularly well composed, but it feels like summer. It reminded me of the scene in Blade Runner, when Harrison Ford looks through his own family photos. For a second, the light dappling on the subject of the photo he holds begins to move.

That scene has its roots in Chris Marker's La Jettée. La Jetée is the story later remade into 12 Monkeys. It was created with only still images, no motion. But there is one moment in the film when, for a brief second, one of the characters opens her eyes. Then the film continues with the series of still images.

A similar concept is used in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up. A series of black and white photographs display the sequence of events of a murder. There is no motion, but the sound of the trees is added to strengthen the narrative. The effect in all of these is an increased sense of connection for the viewer.

I may be simple, but it's those quiet moves that I like in a film. I'm okay with blowing up spaceships too, but I think Guardians of the Galaxy would have been improved with a sequence of still images and the sound of trees.

sequence begins at 1:00

Blade Runner

Blow Up, sequence begins at 1:15

In Time

One of my favorite films is Chris Marker's La Jetee from 1962. If you've seen 12 Monkeys, you know the plot, minus Brad Pitt's crazy person. If not, here's the gist of it: A boy is at the airport in Paris and witnesses a man being shot. Later, this same man is sent back in time after the 3rd World War. He meets a woman and falls in love with her. She sees him as a spirit. He wants to stay in the past, but this isn't allowed. He goes back and is shot at the Paris airport by a man from the future. He is the same man he saw as a boy.

Okay, on paper this sounds very sci-fi action packed, with car chases and explosions. But the 26 minute Marker film is poetic. The entire film is made with narration and black and white still photographs. There is one moment of live action that lasts for a couple of seconds as the woman in the film opens her eyes. The images individually are genius. Paired with the standard French film of the 1960s existential questions, they are dreamlike. The book version designed by Bruce Mau reproduces the images with the script.

I'm not using the French version here because I'm tres chic and continental. The film loses something when it's redone in English. I have no problem with 12 Monkeys which is based on this. La Jetee, however, strips away all excess, is simple, and concise. I know it could be a stretch if you're hoping for Terminator-esque action sequences, but think of it more like an exhibition of photographs in a quiet dream.

La Jetee, the book