From French New Wave to SyFy Original Series, The Strange Journey Of 12 Monkeys

It’s impossible to predict which artistic creations will stand the test of time. How many movies have won the Best Picture Oscar and promptly been forgotten? How many flops have gone on to gather cult audiences and be drawn on as inspiration for other works? The unpredictable path of media through the linked machinery of history can be fascinating. Take the path of La Jatee, a short video montage about time travel, over the course of more than 50 years, to a SyFy television series.

La JatéeChris Marker

In 1962, French creator (he does much more than film) Chris Marker shot La Jatee in the background of another project. In his own words in a rare interview with Film Comment:

I was filming Le Joli mai, completely immersed in the reality of Paris 1962, and the euphoric discovery of “direct cinema” (you will never make me say “cinema verité”) and on the crew’s day off, I photographed a story I didn’t completely understand. It was in the editing that the pieces of the puzzle came together, and it wasn’t me who designed the puzzle. I’d have a hard time taking credit for it. It just happened, that’s all.

Through narration, still frames and a single moving picture segment a startlingly deep story of time travel, romance and apocalypse is told. The whole clocks in at under half an hour, and was shot in a single day.

(Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched the video)

It relates the story of a prisoner, the next in a long line of prisoners, to be sent back in the past to stop a terrible virus being released that has already decimated the human population and driven them underground. He is chosen because of a strong memory of the past that should allow him to get reliably back to the time before the plague. Unfortunately he goes off script and falls in love, leading to his own death in front of his younger self, creating the memory that will put him in the time machine in the first place.

It’s pleasingly circular and tragic, and tends to stick in the craw. It sticks so much that this not quite half-hour, technically simple piece of film has continued inspiring today.

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