La Jetée

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Earlier this week, Variety chief film critic Justin Chang wrote about time travel romance films in response to the new Richard Curtis movie, About Time. It’s a fair reading of the genre, focusing narrowly on Somewhere In Time, The Lake House and The Time Traveler’s Wife (which like About Time stars Rachel McAdams). These are all cinematic equivalents of the time travel romance novel (two are actually adaptations), of which there are hundreds of examples, and they’re all pretty sappy, whether they have sad or happy endings. Of course, they’re concentrated on not only love stories, but ones putting the ideas of destiny and its obstacles to the extreme of temporal distance. So either concluding in a final parting (death) or union (finally getting together forever), there’s going to be a great sentimental power breaking through the tension at the end, a power that probably leaves its audience in need of a tissue. But those four movies, including the latest, hardly represent the full extent of time travel romance in the movies. It’s just that most of the others are concentrated on the time travel narratives over the romantic. Still, they feel the need for those love interests, and the love story elements are always very interesting given the plots. See some notable examples below.

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Over at IndieWire, A.D. Jameson has written a compelling article about whether or not GIFs (the bitmap image format known as Graphics Interchange Format) can be considered cinema. The piece is miles from a imminently clickable gimmick made to start an argument – Jameson’s case is intelligently and thoroughly argued, and he trots out everything from Bruce Conner’s A Movie to Charles and Ray Eames’s Atlas to make it. While far from a heated question (as Jameson points out, the question of whether or not gifs are movies presumes an argument that does not, in fact, exist), it’s an important one. With something as seemingly simple and trivial as the gif, we can ask not only what something called cinema means in and for the 21st century, but also how moving image communication in the age of the Internet communicates in particularly cinematic terms. So I offer something of a refutation, or perhaps a clarification: gifs are certainly cinematic, but they are considerably more than cinema.

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Chris Marker

Documentarian, experimental filmmaker, essayist, photographer, multimedia guru, and all-around Renaissance Man Chris Marker passed away in his home country of France yesterday, allegedly his 91st birthday. Marker had a long, accomplished, celebrated, and prolific career as a pioneer of what is now known as the essay film – a form of documentary that artistically investigates a thesis rather than seeking to “objectively document” its subject. Marker, along with other French cinematic pioneers Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda, was part of the Left Bank Cinema movement of the 1950s, a coalition that influenced and overlapped with the French New Wave. Marker made many powerful and expressive non-fiction films, but he was perhaps most famous for his sole fiction film, La jetée (1962), a time travel short told masterfully through still images.

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For a filmmaker who completed only seven feature films in his lifetime, Andrei Tarkovsky has made an enormous impact. In addition to his artistry, perhaps the enduring fascination with his work has to do with the story of a life cut short. After all, several European filmmakers who were born before Tarkovsky, like Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, are still around and making new films. Each of Tarkovsky’s seven films are brilliant works that each possess an ambition towards perfection and cinematic transcendence, but when bringing the filmmaker’s abrupt death by lung cancer into the equation it’s difficult to avoid the saddened feeling that there’s a great deal more time-sculpting he had left to share. So it makes sense then that the number of documentaries about Tarkovsky (or prominently feature the filmmaker) far exceed the number of films the director himself completed, and this fact gives a clear indication of his broad cinematic influence. These films are made because people want more, and desire to understand the depth of Tarkovsky’s work better. Films like Voyage in Time (1983), Moscow Elegy (1987), Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1988), and Meeting Andrei Tarkovsky (2008) have examined the auteur’s method, life, philosophy, and impact. But easily the best documentary about Tarkovsky thus far is French visual essayist Chris Marker‘s One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich (1999), recently released on DVD by Icarus Films.

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Like the dinosaur blood found inside ancient, tree sap-encased mosquitoes, short films can often be cultivated and grown into something bigger and more rewarding: a feature film (sorry if you were hoping for a T-Rex). Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, there are more and more quality short films popping up everyday (and we’ve been trying our darndest to pay them their due around here), many of them hoping to hit it big and make a name for the filmmakers. It’s not an impossible dream — in fact, while you have heard of most of these writers and directors, they weren’t all that famous back when they made their shorts. Here are twelve films that started small before hitting the cineplexes:

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Why Watch? Because sometimes we have to understand the past to understand the present. That goes for our favorite films as well. This short film, created in 1962 by Chris Marker, was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. It’s done entirely in black and white with stunning still photography – the story told by a deep-throated narrator. And that story? In Paris, after World War III, a man informs our hero that mankind is doomed and that the only salvation lies in time travel. What Will It Cost? Just 26 minutes of your time. Does it get better any better than that? Check out La Jetée for yourself:

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Culture Warrior

This editorial contains spoilers for Source Code and Moon. If you haven’t seen the movies yet, go check it out first before diving in. When I watched Duncan Jones’s sophomore effort Source Code, I couldn’t help but think about how much it resembles, nearly beat for beat in its structure, his first film Moon. This is not necessarily a criticism of Source Code or Jones, as repeated thematic occupations and narrative revisitation can be the sign of the auteur, and I’ve enjoyed both his films. But the films are, admittedly, structurally identical in several ways. Both involve a lone protagonist who discovers something unexpected about their identity that changes their relationship to their given tasks (Sam Bell realizing he is a clone in Moon, Captain Colter Stevens’s “near-death” state in Source Code), and combat some form of repression against a bureaucratic organizational body (a private corporation in Moon, military scientists in Source Code) while being assisted by an empathetic, benevolent subordinate of that organization (GERTY the robot in Moon, Vera Famiga’s Captain Goodwin in Source Code). But it is rather appropriate that both of Jones’s films be so structurally similar, for the major themes connecting them, and the narratives by which those themes are exercised, are enveloped in the topic of the repetitive structures of everyday life.

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Criterion Files

The Criterion Collection if full of important films of epic length, films whose thematic and philosophical wanderings require a breadth of screen time and a multitude of events manifested – films like Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1969) or the theatrical and television versions of Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1982). But a lengthy running time is hardly a requirement for achieving profound and challenging aesthetic brilliance – and in twenty-eight brief minutes, Chris Marker’s dystopian sci-fi masterpiece La Jetée (1963) does exactly that. The only fictional film by experimental documentary filmmaker and moving-image-essayist Chris Marker, La Jetée is as much a film about the functions and threats posed by memory and nostalgia as it is about cinema itself.

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